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

 

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.

 

 

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!!

The Death of Net Neutrality: The Impact on You as an Author or Artist

With everything else that is going on these days in US, it may seem like the battle for Net Neutrality is not such a great priority. After all, the sitting President is facing impeachment and his entire administration, as well as the elite of the GOP, are looking at charges of knowingly working with the Russian government to influence the outcome of the last presidential election. Then there are the charges of money-laundering, as well as corruption and collusion on such a grand scale it is breathtaking.

While nearly every day the Trump administration commits yet another unthinkable act, at the same time, alarming legislation is being forced through Congress: bills that strip Americans of their health insurance, or defund women’s organizations and public schools. Bills that suppress the right of some people to vote because they might not vote for the GOP, bills that set back civil rights fifty, sixty, seventy years. Bills that protect our environment and public safety are being overturned. Regulations put in place to protect us as investors or when buying a home are being overturned. Irreplaceable national parks and natural resources are being targeted for development. Unpopular bills are being called to a vote in the middle of the night in order to avoid full participation by members of Congress and in the hopes of eluding the attention of the press.

When it comes to all the things wrong with the current administration, as well as everything we need to be fighting to protect each and every day, I’m barely scratching the surface. The problem is there’s a fresh scandal relating to the Trump administration popping up almost every day, and nearly every day there are fresh calls to contact your members of Congress and share with them how angry and upset you are about their policy-making of the moment. It’s enough to make one give up out of sheer fatigue.

Believe me, they’re counting on that. So stay salty, my friends.

We all have to pick our battles. I only have so much time, money, and energy to devote to an outraged resistance. There are some bills and regulations I care more about than others, and I’m sure your list doesn’t look the same as mine. That’s perfect. This way we cover all the bases. But there are some things that we shouldn’t let slip by us out of outrage fatigue or because we don’t think it’s that big a deal.

This is one of those times.

So why is Net Neutrality a priority for me? What is it, and why should you care about it?

Okay, I’m no expert here. There are better sites, posts, and videos that can explain this issue with greater depth, clarity, and precision than I can. The way I understand it is that companies like Verizon and Comcast are carrier services that provide us with Internet access, much like the water company provides us with water for a fee through a system of pipelines they own. As it stands now, the pipes are all the same ‘size’. Information flows freely across the board. It doesn’t matter if I want to look at a small blog or the Huffington Post, because I’ve paid my fee to the company, everything comes down the pipe at the same speed.

Verizon lobbied hard to have this changed back in 2013, to be able to establish big and little pipes, to have the right to slow down or speed up information based on how much the owner of the information was willing to pay. Think about that for a moment. Now the owner of the pipeline wants to decide who gets the water first, as well as how much and how fast. In 2013, Verizon sued the FCC, saying the organization didn’t have the legal authority to insist on Net Neutrality. The FCC blocked this move by re-designating ISPs so they were subject to tighter regulations.

But now Trump, the GOP, and the current people in charge at the FCC want to change this regulation. The newly appointed head of the FCC, Ajit Pai, used to work for Verizon. See where this is going? Do me a favor: from now on, when you read the word ‘regulation’, replace it mentally with the word ‘protection.’ Because that’s what it is. Laws put into place to keep companies from establishing practices that might be unfair or harmful to us, the consumer.

If we lose Net Neutrality, Comcast, which owns Yahoo, could say to you, “If you use our internet carrier, you have to use Yahoo as your search engine and email service. You can use Google if you want to, but you have to pay additional for it.”

Big companies such as Netflix and Hulu would certainly be able to afford to purchase more bandwidth, but what if Verizon started its own entertainment service? They could conceivably slow down the streaming of any competitors unless you paid an additional fee to get it at the same download rate as their preferred site.

Not only that, but without Net Neutrality, your internet provider could determine, much like a television company, what sites and information it would make more readily available. Suppose your child is researching climate change for a class project–but only the sites that deny climate change are loaded first. Anyone with a vested interest in getting out their information ahead of someone else’s (and the money to do it) will influence the reporting. We could see the Internet turn into FOX News.

It could also greatly impact freedom of speech if a provider decides to block unpopular points of view or someone with a lot of money pays to have their views take top tier. Right now, marginalized voices have a platform and the ability to be heard by anyone interested in what they have to say, same as any major outlet. Yes, this has allowed certain right wing organizations to foment and organize their followers, but it has also allowed for hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world to gather and march in support of women’s rights, immigration, and science, among other things.

What does this have to do with you as a writer, artist, photographer, or anyone who creates original content? How does this affect you as the small business-owner? Well, it’s simple. Remember when you had dial-up? Remember how long it took to load a site? How do you think the loss of Net Neutrality will affect you when your website takes over five minutes to load because you aren’t a major publisher with a big budget to pay for more bandwidth?

When I first began publishing my stories, Facebook was a great place to meet other people and share content. If you were an author or artist of any kind, a Facebook presence was (and still is) considered mandatory. After the stocks went public in 2012, Facebook gradually began implementing policies that altered its usefulness as a platform for small artists and publishers. It used to be Facebook was like my old LiveJournal account–I saw everything my friends posted in the order they were written. Now, half the time I don’t see the posts of friends and colleagues unless they’ve paid to promote them or enough of my other friends have commented so that Facebook deems it worthy to show me. If I post something with a link in it now, Facebook hides that post more often than not. At one point, I had an author page with over two thousand followers, yet whenever I posted something to that page, maybe fifteen or twenty people tops saw the post. I could pay to promote the post or buy ads, but the people with the most money who already have recognition get priority when it comes to the visibility of their posts.

And that’s exactly what will happen to our websites if we lose Net Neutrality.

I’m linking to John Oliver’s video on the subject here, not only because he does a great job of explaining the ramifications of losing Net Neutrality while also making the subject funny, but he tells you what you can do about it too. As of May 18, 2017, the FFC has already ruled in favor of doing away with the earlier regulations. As you will see from John Oliver’s video, you can go to the FCC website to register your complaint, but the process is deliberately cumbersome and frustrating. Fortunately, he created a more convenient process! It’s a long video, but it’s definitely worth watching.

 

Here’s an update on the response of Internet to John Oliver’s request. This was filmed prior to May 18, 2017, but the site that takes you to the FFC page in question is back in service again. Now we only have until mid-August to voice our dismay and how this will impact our businesses.

 

Finding Your Creativity in a World That Seems Hopeless

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My creative friends and I are having a hard time being productive these days. I don’t know of a single one who isn’t struggling. Most of my social media timelines have at least one friend noting that trying to write during the current political upheaval in the US is like pretending nothing is going on while the house is burning down. They punctuate this observation with gifs of people seated at a table while bombs explode, shots are fired, and victims run screaming with their coats on fire. You know the ones I mean. You’ve probably posted some yourself.

I feel the same way. I haven’t been nearly as productive as I’d like for longer than I care to admit. First I was devastated by the election results. And yes, they’ve been as bad for our country as I feared. Then I had some personal losses, one after another, so many in such a short period of time that had I put them in a story, readers would have rolled their eyes in disbelief. 

I had a hard time believing that anything I was working on mattered. I was both angry and terrified, while at the same time grieving. I tried to do one of those online meditation things about finding hope in uncertain times but it only pissed me off more. The message was about acceptance–and at the time, it infuriated me. My inner voice kept screaming that there are some things that we should never accept, that should outrage us, that we should resist. I gave up that particular meditation for the time being.

Face it, the insanity of American politics aside, when you read articles like this one, in which Steven Hawking and other scientists believe humans will be extinct in less than 100 years, it’s hard to believe there is any value in writing love stories about paranormal investigators.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the apocalypse. I began reading messages of support and encouragement. They came from my friends at first—reminding me how much pleasure writing gives me, but also how much pleasure my stories give other people. For years now, I’ve said my main goal in telling stories was to make someone’s crappy day a bit better—to provide a few hours entertainment, to let someone lose themselves in another world for a little while—so they could forget the stressful job, or their chronic illness, or the burdens of their daily life. My dear friends reminded me of that, and I deeply thank them for their unwavering support and belief in what we do as creators. What I do as a creator. Now, more than ever, we are going to need relief we get from reading stories that make us happy.

But it’s more than that. A friend of mine, a wonderful writer, penned this statement as a means of encouragement to us all:

“We are the people who create. And I don’t just mean that we’re creative, I mean that in no matter how big or small a way, we bring something good into this world, make it better. We build instead of destroy, make things move forward instead of back. We create friendships and fandom families that stick together. We create positive thoughts and energy that will always spread farther than we think. We create better versions of ourselves, and help others grow that way too. We create stories, crafts, art, discussions, pictures, and so much more, and bring joy to others through what we do. We create love. So many times this place, the fandom, all you people, have saved my day when I have needed it the most. And every time I hear that something I did or created did the same for someone else, I feel a little surprised that I had such power, but also very happy that I could shine some light on a day that might have been anything between mildly grey and near dark.”

Her words came into my darkness like a shining beacon.

Chuck Wendig, an author who posts kick-ass blogs about being a writer, posted a list of constructive things we as creators can do, titled Mourn, Then Get Mad, Then Get Busy. I found this post heartening as well. In particular because it acknowledged my fear and despair, and then gave me practical things I could do about it.

My husband sent me this link, which also inspired me. It’s from the comic, Oatmeal, entitled It’s Going To Be Okay. I confess, I didn’t want to read it at first because I didn’t want someone trying to persuade me things aren’t going to be as bad as I fear, but I was very glad I did. You should read it too.

Last night, long after I should have been asleep, I came across this tweet from George Takei:

The Ministry has fallen. Death Eaters are about. But, my wizards, together we can defeat the dark tides of bigotry and intolerance. #WandsUp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It made me smile in a painful sort of way, but it also reminded me the power of the written word. The magic of stories that makes us not only see similarities between world events and books we grew up loving, but it makes us want to be better people. We want the Ring to get to Mordor. We want to see Voldemort vanquished, the Empire defeated and Palpatine destroyed. We want to believe that one day, ignorance, hatred, and intolerance will give way to the kind of society that creates Starfleet, and that people of all races, genders, nationalities, and species can serve together—as a team—on the greatest starship of all time. Because otherwise, we’ll all be living in Panem and the Hunger Games will begin soon.

I won’t kid you. I’m terrified for the future of my planet, for society as a whole, for my personal health and safety. And I’ve been wondering what one exhausted, frightened, middle-aged woman can do. The answer is, I can continue to write. My stories might not change the world. I probably won’t create the next Harry Potter series, or write something that catches fire like the Hunger Games. I write romances, and heck, I probably won’t even write the next 50 Shades of Gray. But what I can do, in my own quiet way, is tell stories where diversity and acceptance aren’t dirty words, and where love wins in the end.

If I make someone fall in love with a character who is not like them—if I humanize that person for them and make that reader want what is best for them—then I’ve taken steps that might make them stop viewing ‘different’ as ‘other’. And if the only thing I achieve is that I make one other exhausted, frightened person feel a little bit better, a little bit calmer, even for a few hours, then I’ve done a good thing. If I can make one person say, “Whoa, that isn’t right, and we need to change that,” then I have done a great thing.

Let’s all go out there and do great things.