About McKenna Dean

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

The Panther’s Lost Princess (Redclaw Security Book 1)

I am so pleased to announce that The Panther’s Lost Princess, Redclaw Security Book 1, is now available on Amazon and KU!

If you love shifter romances, this one’s got a little of everything for you: fated mates, a princess in disguise, lovers on the run, and a heroine learning to come into–and accept–her power.

Blurb:

Ellie West has always known there was more to her story than being abandoned at birth. A child of the foster-care system, she didn’t get many breaks, but the one thing she can do is sing. It’s her only ticket out of poverty and obscurity. Nothing else matters, not even the nagging sense that she’s different. She’s headed for great things. She only needs a chance.

Jack Ferris couldn’t agree more. His firm, the elite paranormal agency Redclaw Security, has been hired to find a missing princess and return her to her family. Discovering that Ellie, a waitress in a hole-in-the-wall diner, is both the princess and his fated mate is like being hit with a sledgehammer. Ellie West can’t be his mate. She’s the mission.

The sooner Jack completes this job, the better, only Ellie has no intention of throwing her dreams away for a kingdom she’s never known. With hired assassins on their trail, Ellie might not have a choice. They must do whatever it takes to stay alive.

 

Excerpt:

She closed the distance between them with grace and determination. When she stood a mere breath away, she looked up at him from underneath her bangs. At some point when he’d been upstairs, she’d taken out those horrible fake blue contact lenses. Now she gazed at him with eyes that glowed gold in the firelight. With her index finger, she lightly traced down his arm, hesitating as she neared his wound.

“Does it hurt much?” Her voice, velvety-soft, connected with something inside of him and pulled him a step closer.

The words dried up in his mouth, and he had to swallow hard before he could speak. “Ellie.” He wasn’t sure where he was going with that, only that he had to try to make her understand why he couldn’t accept her invitation.

“Jack.” The way she said his name, with such amusement at his futile attempt to resist, battered at his remaining intentions.

“We can’t… I can’t. It would be wrong. I’d be taking advantage of you. Surely you can see that, right?”

“What if I want to be taken advantage of? What if I choose you?”

Her words pulled a groan out of him. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“I know what I want. Better than anything I’ve ever known as long as I can remember. I want you, Jack Ferris.”

Take her. Mark her. Make her our own.

Book 1 in the Redclaw Security series is waiting for you–pick up a copy today!

Feed Your Creativity through Play

I don’t treat my writing like a hobby. I treat it like a second job. There are days when I don’t feel like writing, but I do it anyway. I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration to strike or handing my creative power over to a capricious Muse. There are times when I look at the disaster that is my house and think perhaps I shouldn’t devote so much time to this endeavor. There are days when I say, “Screw it!” and take the dogs for a walk instead. Sometimes when the words don’t come easily, you need to examine the story and determine what’s wrong with it. There are times when it is best to let that particular scene sit for a while until your subconscious can work out the knots.

But that doesn’t mean you should stop writing in the meantime.

Writing is a muscle that needs to be used daily to stay strong. Too much time off and it becomes harder to get back into the habit of ‘exercising’ daily. But any athlete will tell you it’s possible to over-train, and that you need to give certain muscles a rest while exercising others. So what’s a writer to do in this situation?

When I find myself in a situation like this, I give myself permission to play.

So much of my life has been spent trying to talk myself out of writing. I told myself there was no future in it for me, that I’d never be a published author. To be fair, until the advent of digital publishing, which broke the stranglehold on the industry and its ability to dictate what people would read, this was true. But it went deeper than that. I told myself that making up stories about my favorite characters in movies and television was somehow wrong. A self-flagellating monk couldn’t have been more repressive about an innocent habit than I was.

For twenty years, I shut that creative part of me away, concentrating on my education, my career, my family. Then one day, I discovered online fanfiction archives when I was at a very dark time in my life. I mainlined stories in my favorite fandoms, tentatively opening a Word Doc and starting my own fanfic. After logging in over a million words, someone encouraged me to write original fiction for publication, and here I am.

But I haven’t forgotten my roots—that marvelous feeling when you write for the sheer joy of it, when you spin stories out of thin air, and the ideas come flying at you like barn swallows, weaving into your current narrative until you have a story that makes you smile. These days, I keep telling myself I don’t have time for fanfiction anymore, and that is true. When I hear that internal voice telling me it’s ‘time to put away childish things’, I remember that’s exactly what I told myself when I shut the door on my creativity the first time.

Which is when I typically say, “Screw it!” and scribble out a story just for me. I’ll throw in all my favorite tropes: opposites attract, misunderstandings, rescued kittens, damaged-but-salvageable heroes, The True Meaning of Christmas—you name it. As I write, I’m convinced it’s the silliest story in creation, but that’s okay, because it’s just for me, right? Only when I share it, I discover that other people like it too. The very things I’m somewhat embarrassed about for liking are the same things that other people enjoy. I mean, tropes are tropes for a reason, right? Sometimes you should just let ‘er rip and see what your subconscious comes up with.

The lovely thing about imaginative play is that it unlocks the mind for more imaginative play. Before I know it, I’m daydreaming about the story I’m working on, and solving the problems in it while washing the dishes or walking the dogs. And yes, time writing a silly ‘just-for-fun’ story IS time away from a marketable one. But if your story is just plodding along, or you’re stuck between stories, struggling to find the mojo for the next one, I suggest that you take a little time to play. Go on. It’s allowed. 

Every Day is National Book Lover’s Day: Share Your Favorites!

Today is National Book Lover’s Day! I’ve been thinking about that a lot today, how books came into my life when I was a sick child, frequently kept home from school, but going on adventures with my elderly dog to Middle Earth or Narnia while still confined to bed.

I was very fortunate to have grown up in a family of readers with a mother who believed in the power of books. Every couple of weeks we went to the library and checked out dozens of books–so many we had to get special permission to bring home more than the standard allotment. We wanted nothing more than to go home and start reading, but our mother made us write down all the titles on sheet of paper kept pinned to the fridge so we’d know how many books we’d checked out and what to collect to take back to the library. We chafed at this onerous task, but as soon as it was done, the books were ours.

I can clearly recall swinging in a hammock, reading a book. Sitting under a tree in the June sunshine doing the same. Reading with a flashlight under the blankets when we should have been asleep. Reading on long car trips while adults marveled at the lack of motion sickness. On buses and waiting in lines at the bank. On trains and airplanes. I can’t imagine going anywhere without something to read.

My early love (and what I still reach for on bad days) were horse and dog books. Misty of Chincoteague and Lad: A Dog. Black Beauty and Big Red. The day that the Scholastic Book Sale came to school was a major day of celebration for me.

I moved on from those early, comforting loves to the grittier books of Jack London. But I read almost anything: the Golden Age of Mystery was meat and drink to me. When I hit high school, I fell hard for sci-fi and fantasy. Oh! And I discovered the racing thrillers of Dick Francis and read them all. I love historicals, romances (especially Regencies), paranormals, and urban fantasy. My idea of the perfect way to spend the afternoon? Take me to a library or bookstore and then sit beside me on the sofa in front of the fire (or under a tree in the summer sun) and read with me. My Amazon wish list is 97% books.

So when I came across this post by The Bloggess, asking people for their favorite reads, I couldn’t help but gush over my favorites. Seriously, check out the post because the suggestions in the comments are pure gold!

I posted this: 

OMG. Where do I start? I adored the Beekeeper’s Apprentice (and the whole Mary Russell series by Lauren R. King) and the Lady Emily series by Tasha Alexander (And Only To Deceive not only had me cheering because it was the best book I’d read in years but also weeping because I’d never write anything that good…) And my go-to comfort reads are the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters, and I re-read Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers at LEAST once a year, and have you read the Mary Stewart heroine-in-jeopardy books? I used to read The Moonspinners every summer and now I’m going to have to re-read it again!

The Honor Harrington series by David Webber. The Heris Serrano books (along with the Deed of Pakesenarion) by Elizabeth Moon. Echo Robin McKinley, and L.M. Montgomery–if you haven’t read The Blue Castle YOU MUST! Because how can you resist a story about a downtrodden young woman who decides to say exactly what she’s thinking? 🙂

I’m trying to avoid the tried and true classics I’m sure others will name (like Pride and Prejudice, because seriously, as scary as the world is these days, I love a story where the worst thing that can happen to you is getting cut dead at a party or your sister running off to Gretna Green…)What a great post for National Book Lover’s Day!

But that’s just scratching the surface of my lifelong love affair with books. So what I want from you, dear reader, is to share your favorite books with me as well. Because I suspect when you do, I’ll be all “OMG, I loved that book/series too!!” and then we can share the joy.

Because for a book lover, every day is National Book Lover’s Day

 

The Power of Self-Forgiveness

WARNING: Discussion of self-harm and other destructive behaviors

I’m a tiny bit embarrassed to admit it, but this past weekend, I was tooling around the back roads in my car, listening to my iPod when a song by a favorite artist queued up. Most of the songs on the CD are about standing up for yourself, not letting anything hold you back any longer, and there is an underlying theme of getting out of abusive relationships and situations. It’s a powerful CD by a great artist, Anna Nalick. So when “Scars” began playing, I started singing along–only to be struck like a sledgehammer when I finally realized what the song was about.

It was about cutting.

I was staggered by two things: first, the fact it took me so long to recognize the meaning of a song I’ve listened to several times before. I’ve lived with a cutter. I know the signs. Sadly, knowing the signs doesn’t always mean you understand what compels some people to self-harm. In my defense for not picking up on the meaning of the song, in it, the singer speaks to that part of her that self-harms as though it is another person outside of herself, and the first couple of times, that’s how I heard it: that the singer cared about someone who she wasn’t going to give up on, someone in a dark place that needed help. Once I realized she was speaking about herself–the part of her that was twisted and in pain, I was gobsmacked.

The second revelation followed closely upon the first: there are many more ways to self-harm than cutting. You can practice self-harm by staying in a bad relationship, or eating the wrong foods, drinking too much, using drugs, or simply by hating yourself.

I hit replay on the song I don’t know how many times. All because of one line: Know that I forgive you.

Wow. I can’t tell you the effect that had on me. Here I am, on a lovely Sunday morning, tootling along country roads with a tired puppy in the back, having just gone on a hike in the woods. And this song hit me with something on the level of an epiphany: we have to accept the part of us that is destructive in order to heal. We have to learn to love the whole of us, even the parts we hate, in order to get better. Sure, today we might not be the person we want to be, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be that person tomorrow. Aside from habit and exhaustion, two things that make it very hard to change anything about our lives, I think it’s critical we stop denying that part of us that hurts, the part that uses pain and distress as a coping mechanism, that says, this pain (be it the way you feel when you slice skin or the way you feel when you binge and purge or whatever your not-so-great coping mechanism might be) is better than the pain you were feeling before–of being unloved, unwanted, unworthy.

And when I sang those lyrics about forgiveness, I felt something inside me shift. Something I hadn’t even realized was bound in chains. Something gave, took a deep breath, and said, “Okay. We’ve got this.”

We. As in all the parts of me. The good and the bad. The parts I like (which admittedly are few) and the parts I dislike (the list of which seems to grow longer each year).

No, I don’t think I’m magically healed. You don’t spend a lifetime running a negative commentary on yourself and erase its effects overnight because of a pop song. I don’t think I’m going to immediately stop doing the things that are counter-productive to the life I want to lead. I suspect I’m going to find myself choosing between the lesser of two evils for a long time to come. But I think I’ve taken a big first step here because I realize now it is a choice. I can choose to keep walking in the direction I want to go or remain stuck in a quagmire of angry thoughts and bad decisions.

I choose to sing.

 

What a Difference 10 Years Makes: Publishing in 2007 vs 2017

I’ve been doing some cleaning up around the house and I recently came across some old journals. I’d gone to a sci-fi convention back in 2007 or so, and had attended all the writer’s panels they held. I scribbled down every bit of advice, every shared experience, every tale of woe shared by the authors on the panel. Believe me, it wasn’t a cheerful or encouraging discussion.

Let’s place this in perspective though: at the time of the convention in question, smartphones had yet to exist. Amazon had just launched its first Kindle (with a $400 price tag) and readers swore up and down it would never catch on. Instead, Amazon sold out of them before the day was out and they were on back-order for months afterward. Google Maps wasn’t yet a thing–and I don’t know about you but I can’t go anywhere without it today! There was also no such thing as ‘the cloud’, if you wanted to save important material, it went on an external hard drive. Heck, I used to back up all my stories to a thumb drive before there was such a thing as dropbox or Google drive!

Youtube was just becoming a thing. No one had heard of a Roomba, much less videotaped their cat riding it to upload it to Youtube. The guy that used the 3D printer to create an arm for his son? Yeah, didn’t happen yet. Virtual reality devices and space travel remained concepts for science fiction. Now my husband has a VR device and space travel is looking more and more possible.

Ten years ago, the main way for someone to get published was through the Big Six (or Big Five now, since the Penguin-Random House merger). Self-publishing back then meant ‘vanity publishing’, and was the mark of someone who couldn’t get published any other way. It’s taken a decade to diminish that stigma, and there are still people out there who refuse to read any self-published work.

One of the YA authors on the writer’s panel spoke of the difficulty in getting published, and why so many authors accepted terrible deals as a result. They wanted so badly to be published that any offer seemed like manna from heaven and was accepted without question. This author explained that she’d submitted a story and had been told by the publisher they loved it so much they wanted it spun out into a ten book series. What unpublished author wouldn’t jump at that kind of offer? But she didn’t really examine the contract details or what the press would require of her. Without fully comprehending what it would entail, she signed a contract agreeing to produce 70 K words every six weeks–and that later books in the series could be written by other people. She was responsible for creating a ‘Bible’ that could be used by other authors to follow the story arc. She told us that she had to write a minimum of 5 K words a day and never had a chance to look over what she’d written–she just submitted it and hoped the editors would catch anything wrong.

This young woman looked exhausted. And you could see in her eyes that the joy of writing had become a drudgery of pounding out words that she scarcely cared about any longer. Her take-home message was about reading contracts and standing up for what you believe in, but when asked if she would do it again, she said yes because she was published. Wow.

The guest of honor had even harsher words for the industry. He spoke of how publishing houses used to be run by people who loved books, and for every mega-seller like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and one moderate best-seller, the firm would carry eight mid-listers. In his opinion, that was all changing. When he began writing, the expectation was that once you had one hit seller, sales from that first book would help produce others in the series. Now, every book had to sell in the stratosphere, and each book you wrote had to outperform the one before. Publishers were getting greedy, and demanding greater production with no care as to the content. Authors could no longer get by on writing one book every year or so. The guest speaker, by the way, was George R. R. Martin.

Another writer agreed with him, saying that she’d known many authors unable to live up to the ‘outsell your last book’ production model who’d been dropped by their publishers and had re-invented themselves under a new pen name with a new press–which meant dividing their original audience even more and having to build from scratch again. And with the number of Big Publishing Houses getting fewer and more interconnected, finding a new publisher wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

I basically came away from the panel thinking I’d never be a published author.

And yet I am.

In 2013, I was one of the authors at a sci-fi convention on a writer’s panel, giving advice to eager wanna-bees in the audience.

What changed?

Remember that list of tech I mentioned? Yeah, the one that has had the biggest impact on publishing is the Kindle–or e-reader in any form–but face it, Amazon has been the largest driving factor here. Amazon put e-readers into the hands of thousands, and then has nearly singlehandedly created the self-publishing industry by making it so darn easy to do. Advances in tech have also made it possible for people to make cover art, format stories, promote newsletters and so on–and if you can’t do these things yourself, the Internet has made it possible for you to find the skilled services you need. (Another reason why we need Net Neutrality, damn it!).

Now I’m not saying Amazon is the Great Hero here. The rise of e-readers has made it possible for me to become published because the rise of small digital presses meant someone would take a chance on a no-name like me. But that same juggernaut has slowly crushed a number of these small presses over the years because many of them can’t compete with the behemoth that is Amazon. I’m just saying that as a company, it revolutionized the way we read–making books more accessible, making self-publishing an option many didn’t have before, and also freeing the industry from standards set by a select few as to ‘what will sell.’ But I also believe that Amazon will grind us all to dust if we let it. That’s why though I use Amazon and KU, I don’t rely on them alone for sales. I distribute to other outlets when that KU wave crests. I support my local B&N (sadly, B&N’s website TANKS compared to Amazon’s–ordering an e-book from them is a huge PIA in comparison) and independent bookstores too. Once Amazon has ALL the publishing market, we’ll discover Amazon isn’t really a publishing company. They sell e-readers. Authors aren’t their priority.

But they have made it possible for me to be a published author. Something that never even seemed remotely possible in 2007.

Never Throw Out That Scene

Never throw out a scene you’ve written. I’m not saying don’t cut scenes–sometimes the story needs judicious trimming for the sake of pacing and to keep the pages turning. Sometimes the scene you’ve written just doesn’t belong. Sometimes you realize in retrospect it told you something about the character and it’s very useful to you, but not to the story. Cutting it only makes sense. But don’t throw it away.

Sometimes all you have is a scene. An idea, a thought, a single snapshot, as it were. You have something you want to say but you’re not sure what. You have an inkling of a story but don’t know what the rest of it will be. Be patient. Let it simmer on the back burner of your mind. But don’t throw it away.

Some time ago, I attended a sci-fi convention in which the guest of honor was George R.R. Martin. At the time, I knew of his series A Song of Ice and Firethough I’d only heard of the first book, A Game of Thrones. I knew he’d worked on Beauty and the Beast, a television show I’d enjoyed, so I was interested in hearing what he’d had to say. Mind you, GOT as well know it, the television show everyone is talking about, didn’t exist. Only two or three books in the series had been written at this point. Even so, Martin was well-known in the sci-fi community for his work and it was considered a coup for the convention to have him as a guest speaker.

For a little perspective: at the time of the convention in question, there were no such things as Smartphones. People still used MySpace and Twitter didn’t exist. E-readers where just starting to become available and they cost a bloody fortune. And the only way to self-publish was through a vanity press. Wow. Hard to believe, eh?

Martin had some fascinating and harsh things to say about the publishing industry, which I plan to share in a different post, but the thing that struck me most about his address was when he told us that once he’d written a scene that didn’t belong to anything else he was working on. It wasn’t a complete story–it was just a scene he’d pictured in his mind: a woman and a white wolf. 

After he’d completed the short scene, he didn’t know what to do with it. Shrugging, he tossed it into a drawer, where it sat for the next ten years. One day he ran across it again and somehow, after all that time lying dormant, the seeds within it came to life. Apparently his subconscious never forgot about the scene because now a story sprang up to go with it–and A Game of Thrones was born.

So the next time you write a scene because you just can’t get it out of your head until you do, don’t hit delete when you’re done. Even if you think it’s incomplete and serves no purpose, you never know.

You could hold the next great series, the stories that everyone is talking about, in your hands.

Why Paranormal Romance?

Of all the genres out there, paranormal romance is its own little niche. There are people who won’t touch it–I frequently see open calls for stories (no paranormal) or invitations for group events (no paranormals). I get it. It’s different. It’s not for everyone.

So why do I write it, when obviously the big money is on contemporary romance or even romantic suspense? Heck, historical romances are still going strong, centuries after Jane Austen gave us Pride and Prejudice. And I like these genres too–I won’t say I’d never write a contemporary romance because I probably will some day. But the real draw for me right now is paranormals and urban fantasy.

The why is simple: as someone who has felt like an outside most of her life, I’m drawn to characters who, for one reason or another fall outside the norm. Paranormal romances, and in particular shifter stories, allow me to explore what its like to be ‘other’ in a world that demands normality, while at the same time allowing me free reign to play in my imagination. I’m a huge sci-fi and mystery fan–writing paranormal romances lets me draw on that background while giving me the romance I crave.

Urban fantasy delights my imagination because I love the juxtaposition of the every day with the supernatural. J.K. Rowling gave us the magical world hidden from the world of Muggles. Harry Potter receives a letter on his eleventh birthday and discovers that he’s he’s a wizard in the making–and we go on that journey with him, learning about Hogwarts and Quidditch and Voldemort as he does. It’s brilliant storytelling. Harry is both the outsider (raised in ignorance of his heritage) and the hero–displaying abilities far beyond what would be expected of an eleven-year-old boy. Rowling’s universe is captivating, in part because it could exist side-by-side with ours and we’d never know it. And deep inside each of us is a child who wishes we’d received a letter to Hogwarts. In fact, most of us are convinced it went astray somehow. I know mine did.

Another author who uses this outsider-more-powerful-than-expected theme to great advantage is Margarita Gakis. Her Covencraft series has some of the same elements: in Trial By Fire, Jade, a naive heroine (though much older than Harry), develops the ability to spontaneously start fires with her mind. This brings her to the attention of the local coven–and she is given an ultimatum: join or be forcibly stripped of her powers. Jade is not the sort of person you force to do anything–and she’s more powerful than anyone suspects. Some things come very easily to her–dark spells that most people take a lifetime to master. I adore this series. I read Trial By Fire in a single afternoon, unable to put it down. I love that Jade is an outsider in so many ways, even to herself at times as she battles her inner demons and the very real ones living in her closet. I love too that the author explores some dark themes about control and the right to one’s self and abilities.

In fact, that’s one of the things I love most about the genre. Paranormal stories allow such wonderful scope for exploring important, uncomfortable themes on a metaphorical basis. In my upcoming Redclaw Security series, one of the themes I’ll be developing is the fear ‘normals’ have for shifters, and how even though they are more powerful than humans in many ways, this has lead shifters to hide their true natures. A new President wants to institute shifter registration–possibly even internment camps. The possible storylines this could generate are endless. *rubs hands together with evil glee*

And in my sister series, Bishop and Knight, our ‘normals’ are charged with investigating the sudden onslaught of paranormal activity at the end of WW2. The reader will go on the journey with them as they discover the real reason for the creation of shifters in a world changing faster than anyone ever expected.

Writing in this genre lets me poke fun at tropes, take my fancy on soaring flights of imagination, expand upon political and social themes, all while spinning a tale about two people falling in love.

Who wouldn’t want to write that?

Yes, he’s my Hero, but does he have to be an A*hole?

New Cowboy Boots–freeimage.com

I confess, I’ve been a little worried about the hero in my debut novel (release date hopefully sometime in August). See, the thing is: he isn’t a jerk.

Now, put that way, it sounds kind of odd, like that might be a good thing. And normally, I’d agree. But we’re talking romance novels here, and tropes exist for a reason. Readers have come to depend on their tropes. They love them and don’t want a story that disappoints them in any way.

I get that. I do. But one of the reasons for the longest time I avoided writing stories featuring women is because I grew up reading stories in which the heroines were defined by the tropes of the time. No sex without marriage and every epilogue had a baby on the way. Or if there was sex, it was only because the heroine was a) forced/seduced against her will by pirates/sheikhs/bosses/rival clan chiefs/marriage of convenience husband or other types of men who had complete domination over her or b) she was a widow. In fact, if a historical romance described the heroine as a widow in the blurb, I knew that as code for ‘there will be sex in this book.”

I didn’t recognize myself in any of these heroines.

Codes and tropes are all very well and good because they help readers identify those stories they want to read. Likewise certain genres have certain kinds of book covers, the better to help the reader spot their particular form of catnip and not waste time wading through tons of material they aren’t interested in reading. That may be even more important today, as readers have so many choices. But those older tropes were largely the ones that made me lose interest in most romances growing up, and it is only recently that I’ve come back to the genre.

I’ve been reading a lot of romances lately, in part because I desperately need that HEA, but also because I want to know what the new tropes are and how to use them. Part of that use means knowing when to turn them on their head or not use them at all. But that’s where the concern for my hero comes in.

Because he’s not a jerk. He’s not an “Alpha” male, which has always been sort of synonymous with ‘asshole’ for me. He’s not a Navy Seal, former Special Ops agent, billionaire playboy, cowboy, or arrogant anybody. Okay, so he’s a panther-shifter (that’s cool, right?) and he’s charged with protecting my heroine against unknown assassins, so he’s not a pushover, but just the same, he’s a pretty nice guy.

And I worry that will doom him with my readers.

I love opposites attract as much as the next person. That’s MY catnip: the witty repartee, the snarky banter. Give me snappy dialog and chemistry between the characters and I’ll forgive you plot holes you could drive a Mac Truck through.

One of the reasons the first couple of seasons of Castle worked so well for me was just that: the snark and banter between the lead characters. And even though practically speaking, opposites attract seldom works out as well in reality as it does in fiction, I love it just the same. I recognize it’s a trope, and it’s one I will read and write anyway.

Still, I worry my hero isn’t heroic enough. That readers will think he’s not not manly enough because he’s not a jerk. He doesn’t berate or belittle her. He is cognizant of her feelings and tries to include her in the decision-making when things get dangerously out of hand. He wants what’s best for the heroine–even if that isn’t what is best for him.

I can almost hear the reviews now:

What a wimp! You call that a hero?

I don’t know what she saw in him.

BOR-ING.

They had absolutely no chemistry together at all.

Because somehow, chemistry means slamming doors and broken whiskey bottles. Apparently it means hiding your attraction to someone by being rude and unpleasant. I recently DNF a romance 4% into the novel because both main characters were so unlikable I had absolutely no desire to see them work their differences out.

But here’s the interesting thing… today I saw someone on Twitter say they were incapable of reading any romances with military heroes at the moment because of the behavior of so many real-life military-types on Twitter. And I noted I couldn’t read billionaire romances because while it’s fun to read Cinderella stories where the billionaire saves the broke heroine from her wretched existence (wouldn’t we all like to be rescued like that?), I can’t help but think about how the billionaire became so rich–and what his politics are like. And I hate to break it to you, but I grew up around a lot of cowboys and wanna-be cowboys, and let me tell you, they are the reason I remained single as long as I did.

Does that mean these tropes are wrong or bad or passe? Not at all. It means that I can’t read certain kinds of stories at the moment. That doesn’t mean you should stop reading them (or writing them for that matter). I love marriages of convenience stories, no matter how unrealistic they are, and coming-home-for-the-holiday stories, and stories where two people who are truly different find common ground. I love Regencies, and space opera, and cozy mysteries where everyone is trapped on an island or at a house party in the snow. Sometimes I want my sex on-page, in-your-face, thrust-up-against-the-wall sex, the kind that makes you fan yourself and press a cold beverage to your forehead. Other times I want my sex implied–a saucy closing of the bedroom door or a gentle fade-to-black. My cup of tea might not be yours. That’s okay because these days, with the advent of self-publishing in particular, there are fewer limitations on storytelling. In part because men in publishing houses aren’t making all the decisions about what women can–and should–read.

If anything, it means there may be room for my kind of hero after all.

 

Leopard silhouette.

 

 

Dear Nietzsche: I’m Strong Enough Now, Thanks

I’d originally intended to title this post: Nietzsche Can Bite Me. It would have been catchy and clever, no? It also would have clearly stated how I feel at the moment. Nietzsche, of course, is known for the statement “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

I thought that title, paired with this image, would perfectly highlight what I was about to say.

So I Googled Nietzsche to get the exact wording of the quote, only to discover he began suffering from health issues that forced his early retirement, and at the age of 44, suffered an acute collapse that destroyed his mental abilities. He lived in the care of relatives the rest of his life.

Oh dear.

I think Karma was being a serious bitch there.

So I re-titled my post, though my basic feelings haven’t changed. I’d very much like it if the universe could lay off me for a while. But that’s not how it works, is it?

2017 has been an incredibly difficult year for me. I’m not going to bore you with the tally of losses, but suffice to say if I put them all in one story, no one would believe it. It’s the equivalent of living inside a country music song, the kind where the singer prefers the ‘bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy’. Imagine if you will, a heroine who, while trying to outrun a tornado on her way home from her daddy’s funeral, flipped the car, killing a child/spouse/pet. And then she staggered home, bloodied and grief-stricken, only to discover a foreclosure notice on the front door and a wildfire raging toward the house from the back forty. While she is trying to put the fire out, she gets a text message that she’s been laid off and her health insurance has been canceled. And then the doctor’s office calls to tell her she has cancer.

Okay, things aren’t that dire for me here, but it has been bang-bang-bang, one loss after another with more on the way and scarcely any time to recover my breath. And certainly no time to grieve. ‘Take all the time you need’ in reality means ‘you can take Friday afternoon off before the funeral if you must.’ The demands of work are such that even if you do take time off, you end up paying for it before and after your return in terms of additional work.

I tend to be a ‘put it on the back burner’ kind of person. I’m the sort of person of whom people say, ‘She’s really managing quite well, all things considering.’ I don’t cry at funerals or family gatherings. I’m the one who organizes and sees that the appropriate things get done. I’m good at my job and I work hard at it. I walk out of a funeral and right back into the office.

But the stress fractures are starting to show. I’ve become a real weenie when it comes to my entertainment, avoiding anything that might be too sad or violent. Recently, the unexpected turn of events in La-La-Land left me unsuccessfully trying to smother sobs on the couch so no one else would notice–something that wouldn’t have affected me six months ago. I’m losing my temper over things that normally wouldn’t bother me–or at least, not openly. Health issues that had been dormant are becoming active again.

The thing is, even for those of us who set aside grief to be dealt with at some future date, that date always arrives. My problem is I haven’t allowed myself to deal with the first loss before the others began piling up. Now I’m walking on a thin crust of barely cooled lava, hoping it will support my weight as I go about my day, trusting that no one will notice the ominous glow shining through the cracks, the sulfurous odor, or the smoke coming off my shoes.

We’re not a very forgiving society when it comes to grief. Hell, we’re not a forgiving society when it comes to anything at the moment, if the current state of affairs in the US is any indication. Stiff upper lip, and all that. It was the way I was raised and I know no other way of behaving, to be honest. But I strongly suspect this time, this year, it’s not going to be enough.

I’ve been collecting–but not reading–links to articles on grief. I intend to read them. You know, when I get the time. Today, I did click on one–an article about a letter of consolation Seneca wrote to his mother.

One passage in particular struck me: It is better to conquer our grief than to deceive it. For if it has withdrawn, being merely beguiled by pleasures and preoccupations, it starts up again and from its very respite gains force to savage us. But the grief that has been conquered by reason is calmed for ever. I am not therefore going to prescribe for you those remedies which I know many people have used, that you divert or cheer yourself by a long or pleasant journey abroad, or spend a lot of time carefully going through your accounts and administering your estate, or constantly be involved in some new activity. All those things help only for a short time; they do not cure grief but hinder it. But I would rather end it than distract it.

It occurs to me that I’m not going to get the kind of time I need to process all my grief right now. Not in one block of time. I certainly won’t be able to package all grieving into a specific time frame, after which I will declare myself done and move on. But if I don’t do something, it will lie beneath the surface like a festering wound, unable to heal and with the potential of becoming truly toxic with time.

The only solutions I can see at the moment are to take little mini-breaks. To say no to things I don’t want to do. Stop filling up every free minute with commitments and promises. Turn off social media. Play more music. Walk outside barefoot. Appreciate what I have, let go of what I’ve lost, and fight for what I want in the future. Honor grief by being quiet enough to listen to it.

But Nietzsche can still bite me.

 

June Recommended Links on Writing

Hah. I need to find a better image for these ‘links’ posts! This is the first of what I hope to be monthly posts where I share useful links to posts on writing, marketing, and any aspect of the business I found useful.

Starting right off the bat, the first article I wanted to share dealt with impostor syndrome. It was written from the viewpoint of a photographer, but everything the author said applied to writing as well. Unfortunately, the link I’d saved no longer works, but I found another one: 5 Tips for When You Feel Inadequate.

If you’re not already following Chuck Wendig’s blog, terribleminds.com, you should be. He has one of the best blogs out there on writing. This post is a gem: Wrestling with Writer’s Block by Maurice Broaddus.

Thinking about creating an audiobook? This post by Isobel Starling walks you through the process on ACX: Indie Authors: Using ACX to Find a Narrator.

One of the terrific things about indie publishing is the ability to make your own rules. Kristen Ashley shares her success story here: The Secret to This Romance Author’s Success? Breaking All the Rules.

Jane Friedman is another author who posts excellent advice on writing. This one here about How to Spot Toxic Feedback is something we all should read and understand.

The Write Practice also had some words to say on How to Give and Take Better Writing Feedback.

I have a confession to make here: despite the fact I’m a romance writer, I sometimes struggle to write kissing scenes! Face it, when you write a lot of such scenes, you have to find new ways of keeping it fresh! Ride the Pen has a nice little post here about How to Write a Kissing Scene.

Molly Wetta posts about the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal romance, which is a handy reference guide, as I write both! Urban Fantasy for Paranormal Romance Readers.

Kristen Lamb is another writer with a fantastic blog on writing, marketing, and social media. I’ve said before, I don’t always agree with everything she says, and this post is an example. Her post: Shame, Shame, We Know Your Name. Or Do We? Shame and Fiction had some interesting things to say about shame as a driving force in all great stories. I quibbled a bit with the argument that all great literature had shame as a central impetus for character behavior, but I was hard-pressed to think of stories that did not… 

And last but not least, Lit Hub posted an essay constructed out of quotes from Jamaica Kincaid on How to Love and How to Write. I wasn’t familiar with the author when I read the post, but I found the quotes to be pithy, amusing, and thought-provoking.

I wish I had time to read all the posts I bookmark for future reference! Ah, some day. In the meantime, I’ll share the ones that resonated with me. And I’ll keep searching for a better link image!!