Tag Archives: musings

My First Five Years of Publishing

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As I mentioned last time, my 5-year publishing anniversary came and went last month. Feb. 11, to be exact, the day I published Urdaisunia. Here it is with its original cover, which I made with a piece of stock art in Photoshop Elements 5. Not too bad, considering the knowledge and resources I had at the time.

Since then:

  • I’ve published 12 novels, 4 story collections, and 2 boxed sets each containing three of my novels, for a total of 18 titles.
  • I’ve been through about 29 different covers and cover variations (including having a pro put new lettering on cover art I was already using).
  • My bestselling book over the last five years was Beneath the Canyons, followed by The Lost Book of Anggird, Urdaisunia, and Chosen of Azara.
  • The store where I’ve sold the most is Amazon.com (not surprisingly), followed by Smashwords, AmazonUK, AmazonAU, and Apple.

In the last five years, I’ve met some amazingly kind, helpful, and talented people. (You can see links to some of their websites in the sidebar.) Technically, I suppose authors are in competition with each other, but the indie author community is the most cooperative and supportive competition I’ve ever seen, with so many people willing to share resources and tips, band together in marketing, and help each other along.

Sales-wise, I’m not where I hoped I would be at this point. But I’ve been correcting some things that might have been holding me back, and making new plans for moving forward.

Some things I’ve learned in the last 5 years:

  • It’s hard to build a career on standalone novels. I love my standalone books, but from here on out, new projects need to fit into a series (preferably a trilogy, a nice, manageable series length) and/or into a world I’ve already written in.
  • My books are not Romance. They do have strong romantic storylines that mostly follow genre conventions for Romance, but the emphasis is more on the fantasy storyline than the romance, which, I’ve learned the hard way, makes them less appealing to the Romance audience. So that led to some futile marketing efforts, and some covers that, while wonderful, were wrong for my books’ genre and real readership. But I learned something, so it’s all good πŸ™‚
  • My books are also very much not Paranormal Romance. When I first started out, I couldn’t really find anyone else writing the same genre mix of fantasy and romance that I write. Paranormal Romance seemed to come closest, so I got in with that group and again learned the hard way that my books don’t fit. Paranormal Romance has its own requirements and expectations – real world, mostly contemporary setting, and magical creatures like vampires, shapeshifters, or angels, none of which my books have.
  • While the common wisdom is that most fantasy readers don’t like romance in their books, there are some who are hungry for well-done romantic storylines. Fortunately, there are now more authors who are writing high/epic fantasy with strong romantic storylines, so hopefully that readership will continue to grow!
  • Typos get together and make baby typos when no one is looking.
  • It’s too easy to spend all day fiddling around with “publishing tasks” when what I really need to be doing is working on the next book πŸ˜›
  • It’s also too easy to spend all my money on books by the amazing authors I’ve met!
  • Contrary to the above, promoting books to other authors is a wasted effort.
  • Coding my ebooks by hand, while cool and kind of satisfying, also gets old and tedious. I resisted formatting by converting a Word doc for a long time, but I’ve finally given in, using Draft2Digital’s awesome formatting tool, and boy does that make life easier.
  • While I’m competent to do my own lettering on my covers, it doesn’t come close to what a real book designer can do!
  • I’ve also learned how to make international re-directing Kobo and iTunes links, to make things easier for my international readers on those stores. Just click and the link will take you to the right store for where you live! My Amazon links are also international re-directing links. (At least, this is the theory. Anyone from places outside the US want to click them and tell me if they really work?)

What lies ahead?

  • Trilogies: Defenders of the Wildings (in the revision and editing stages), and one set in the Islands of the Wildings world (planning), and I’ve got my very first novel ever and its sequel printed out and waiting to be revised and for a third book to go with them to make that into a trilogy.
  • I also have some thoughts on revisiting some of my older projects, to see if I can bring out more of their potential.
  • I’m learning ways to make my email newsletters even more useful and engaging.
  • Most importantly, what lies ahead is (hopefully) many more years of writing stories I love, the way I want to write them, and sharing them with readers who I hope will enjoy them as much as I do πŸ™‚
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Urdaisunia Revisited

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One of the reasons I started writing was to write the kinds of books I wanted to read and had a hard time finding. So it makes sense that I would want to go back and re-read my older books, and I’ve been wanting to do so for a while. It isn’t quite that simple, though. A lot of authors, including me, have a fear of reading their own books. We tend to read our own work in highly critical mode, and we’re terrified of finding mistakes, or that our older writing style will make us cringe, or that we’ll end up wanting to just rewrite the whole darn thing. Finally, though, I decided I wanted to read my books and revisit those stories and characters I love enough to brave the dangers. So I decided to start at the beginning and read Urdaisunia.

And it was actually a lot of fun. It’s been so long since I looked at Urdaisunia that I had forgotten a lot of what happens and a lot of the neat details in it that I love. Once I got over my initial terror of finding mistakes and sucky writing in every paragraph, I even got lost in the story, reading it like a reader would. That’s a rare and fun thing when it happens for an author, to be able to read their book from a reader mindset. Would I do some things differently now, 2 1/2 years and many books later? Yes. As with most authors, my writing style has evolved and maybe improved with practice. And I did find two minor proofreading errors that I have corrected in the uploaded books. But I didn’t find myself cringing or wanting to rewrite the whole thing; I thought it stands very well as it is. And I was reminded of some story threads to bring into planning the sequel (which is in Β the development stage, though it isn’t at the top of my list of projects to work on).

I hope it doesn’t sound like bragging to say I enjoyed revisiting Urdaisunia and I’m proud of it. My books might never burn up the bestseller charts, but I can say that every book I write is a book I want to read, and I put my very best efforts and all my heart into each book. If I touch even one or two readers for whom that book is exactly what they wanted to read, and they feel the emotions and enjoyment that I put into writing the book, then I’ve done my job, and knowing I’ve touched readers this way is the best validation I could ask for.


Happily Ever After?

PictureHappy endings – boring and unrealistic? Or uplifting and fulfilling? Every once in a while I come across this discussion on one blog or forum or social media site or another. Sometimes I weigh in, sometimes I don’t, but it’s something I feel very strongly about – I love happy endings. I hate it when I’ve invested a lot of time and emotion in characters (and, where there’s a romance, in their relationship) only to have things turn out badly for them. If I wanted to read something depressing, I’d go read the newspaper. I feel this way about the books I read, and I especially feel this way about the books I write.

Three of the main complaints I’ve heard about happy endings are that happy endings aren’t realistic, a happy ending means the whole book is nothing more than fluff, and the story is boring if there isn’t the possibility that one (or more) of the main characters could die.

1. Happy endings aren’t realistic – this just isn’t true. Yes, there are lots of bad outcomes in real life, but there are also lots of good outcomes. It’s just that the bad ones get most of the attention. Also, I think it’s destructive to believe that happy endings aren’t realistic. If there are no such things as happy endings, then why should anyone even bother trying to make the world a better place or improve their own lives?

Now, I’ll admit that a perfect happy ending, where everything is bunnies and rainbows and unicorns and no one ever faces any more problems or challenges for the rest of their lives, isn’t realistic. Plus it would be boring. But, to me, a happy ending doesn’t mean there aren’t any problems still to be faced. True happiness comes in the face of challenges and trials. If you don’t know what sorrow and hardship are like, then how can you truly appreciate happiness?

2. A happy ending means the book is lightweight fluff – this just isn’t true, either. Like I said, happiness in more meaningful when you’ve had to come through trials and challenges. Therefore, my theory goes, the greater the problems the characters have to deal with, the happier the happy ending. I make my characters earn their happy endings. When you’ve followed the characters through a whole novel and all kinds of troubles and struggles and dangers, it feels even better to see them finally get their reward.

3. The story is boring without the possibility of the main character(s) dying – Life and death aren’t the only possibilities in fiction, or in life. Actually, from a narrative standpoint, death is boring (unless the possibility exists for the character to continue developing and making a difference after death). To me, the questions of “HOW are they going to survive?” and “How are they going to live on in the aftermath of everything that’s happened?” are far more interesting and filled with possibilities than “ARE they going to survive?”

The one criticism I’ve read of happy endings that I think is valid is that sometimes they seem to come out of nowhere and just be stuck on the end of the story without regard for plot, characters, world, or the expectations that have been set up in the story. But this is more a problem with the writer’s craft than with happy endings themselves. You can also have tragic endings that come out of nowhere and are just stuck on the end of the story without regard for plot, characters, world, or expectations.

Part of the craft of structuring a story is laying down the seeds of the ending from the very beginning. So, for example, you can have something that looks like a deus ex machina (god on a machine, from old operas based on Greek/Roman mythology where at the end, when it looked like everything was lost, a god would suddenly swoop down from “heaven” on a piece of stage machinery and fix everything) and have it come out of nowhere and have nothing to do with the story, or you can carefully plant the possibility of divine intervention and what the characters have to do to earn or invoke it. Whether the god saves everyone or destroys everyone, it doesn’t matter – the important thing is to build the foundation for it from the beginning of the story.

A lot of the “tacked-on” effect might also be due to the author’s outlook on life. If an author doesn’t believe happy endings are really possible but she feels obligated for marketing reasons to slap on a happy ending, it isn’t going to be sincere. A writer should be true to their own vision, but maybe, I’d gently suggest, a writer whose worldview precludes any possibility of happy endings would benefit not only her stories but herself by expanding her worldview to include more positive possibilities.

Also, I suppose it’s possible to write characters who don’t naturally gravitate to a happy ending, so that they have to be forced into it, but I guess I don’t write those kinds of characters. One of the common threads my characters have is that they want to take responsibility for their actions and be in charge of their own fate and be free to make their own decisions (even when they’re in situations where they feel like they aren’t in charge and don’t have that freedom; they still long for it), and they want to use this freedom and responsibility to make something good of their lives. Again, this might have a lot to do with the author’s own outlook on life. I believe in human freedom and agency and that no matter how bad things are, we always have the power to try, in some small way, to make something good of it, even if it’s only in our refusal to give up hope or to let our trials make us into someone less than we are.

I’ve said before, since my books are partly romance, where Happily Ever After is a given of the genre, it’s no spoiler to say that my books have happy endings. The questions isn’t “Do they make it through?” but “How do they make it through?” and “How do they go on with the rest of their lives?” The characters have to endure a lot to get to that happy ending, and sometimes it isn’t clear how things are going to work out, and there are always consequences from the events of the story – destroyed lands, consequences of their actions, lasting effects from the traumatic events of the story – to be dealt with in the future. The main thing is, they do make it, good overcomes evil and love triumphs over all, and my characters come to the end of the book facing the future and its challenges side by side and hand in hand. This is the payoff that I as a reader hope for when I read a book, and that I as an author like to give my readers.


Looking Ahead at 2014

Picture I’ve been thinking about this post since reading Dean Wesley Smith’s post on setting writing goals for 2014. This year got off to a rocky start for me; I had an abnormal EKG a week before Christmas, which was kind of alarming, and I’ve been dealing with tests and a lot of anxiety since then. Everything is still inconclusive so far, but right now it looks like we’re not dealing with anything immediately dangerous; most likely it’s nothing serious, or we’ve caught something more long-term serious in the early stages.

Getting this glimpse of my own mortality had the contradictory effects of making it hard to make future plans and goals (who can make plans for the future when they’re afraid they’re going to drop dead at any moment?) (seriously, I’m a terrible hypochondriac) and making me really zero in on what I want to accomplish in my life. The main thing I realized, besides wondering who would make the Christmas fudge and homemade dinner rolls at our house if I wasn’t around (getting alarming health news right before Christmas really sucks) is that I would be extremely bummed out were I to shuffle off the mortal coil before getting Daughter of the Wildings out. I’ve instructed my husband that should something happen to me, DoW is to be made available however seems best at the time – put up for sale, or just posted for free, or whatever. The problem is, as it is right now, still in rough draft, it kind of sucks. It’s not terrible, but there are parts that make me cringe or that are just wrong, and I really don’t want it to go out into the world this way.

So, with that as my focus, and now that I’m not quite so convinced that I’m going to drop dead at any moment *knock on wood*, here are my plans and goals for the coming year.

Although Sarya’s Song is the next book scheduled to come out, I’m going to be spending most of my work hours on the initial revision of Daughter of the Wildlings. DoW is a huge project, nearly 300,000 words, and if I’m going to get it released on any kind of schedule, it needs to take priority. This shuffling of priorities will mean that the release of Sarya’s Song may be delayed a bit. I’m hoping for a February release, but it may take until March.

My target for releasing the first DoW book, Beneath the Canyons, is June, though that may be a bit optimistic. The plan is to get all six books to where once I start releasing the series, a new book can come out about every other month.

Once Sarya’s Song is out and DoW is well under way towards being released, there are a couple of different areas I’m thinking I’ll turn my attention to. One is a couple of partially-written novels set in Estelend, the world of Chosen of Azara. I also had a reviewer say they wished Chosen was a trilogy instead of one book, because they wanted more backstory on some of the characters and events. Rewriting Chosen as a trilogy isn’t going to happen – I just don’t feel it that way – but I’d like to do a set of stories giving some of the backstory the reviewer mentioned they’d like to know more about. Maybe I’ll make this a Camp NaNo project in April or July. And the very first novel I ever wrote, Prince of the Trozdozh, and its sequel are sitting on my hard drive, calling out to me. I think they’re probably salvageable, so I want to run them through my revision process and see it they really are something I can release to the public.

As far as production goals, right now I can’t really set a word count goal. By the end of the year I aim to have released 5 novels (Sarya’s Song and the first four Daughter of the Wildings novels) and at least one short story collection (the Chosen of Azara companion stories). I had five releases in 2013, so six releases in 2014 sounds like a good progression.

And, onward. Happy New Year, everyone! May it be happy and productive and with a minimum of unpleasant surprises.


Billionaires, Bad Boys, and Bondage, Part 4

And now, the blog post you’ve all been waiting for, Billionaires, Bad Boys, and Bondage, Part 4: Bondage! (past installments: Billionaires, Bad Boys: Inner Torment, Bad Boys: Jackassery). (Caution: soapboxing may occur. If I cause offense, I make no apologies; I stand by my words.)

I’m going to start out with two basic ideas. The first is that there’s nothing wrong with a certain amount of roleplay and fun and games between consenting partners, the key word here being consenting. I’m not conversant with the BDSM lifestyle or practices, but from online discussions I’ve read on the subject of Billionaire Bondage novels (both in forums and in book reviews), I’m given to understand that among those in that community, consent is key. In other words, you don’t do what Bux Cashton does: he informs Sweet Young Thing that he is the dominant and she is going to be the submissive, and if she wants to be with him that’s how it’s going to be; they’re going to play by his rules. By this time, she’s far too taken with him (goodness knows why; see the Jackassery installment) for it to be easy for her to say, “Get lost,” and even if she does, he isn’t one to take “Get lost” for an answer. So, basically, she is being coerced, emotionally bullied, and manipulated into entering into this sexual practice.

Idea number two: While there’s nothing wrong with a certain amount of roleplay and fun and games between consenting partners, the desire to cause feelings of pain, humiliation, and helplessness in one’s partner has no place whatsoever in a loving, healthy relationship.

That should be self-explanatory; I can’t imagine that it isn’t. So I’m not going to bother trying to explain further. I’m just going to say that if you are in a relationship with someone who takes pleasure in hurting you or making you feel bad, you need to get out. In Billionaire Bondage books, Bux Cashton does enjoy those things. He gets off on it; it makes him feel powerful, and it’s an outlet for his feelings of Inner Torment. I don’t understand why Sweet Young Thing sticks around long enough for Bux to eventually reform (to the extent that he does), except Hot Tormented Billionaire.

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In my books, sex between the main characters is an act of love, or at least mutual liking and attraction (later developing into love), between equal partners (equal regardless of whatever differences in age, social status, or previous experience might exist between them) who are each as deeply concerned with the other person’s comfort, enjoyment, and well-being as with their own. Consent is asked for and received, at least the first time (with one exception, but in this instance they’re too busy tearing each other’s clothes off to stop and talk about it, so I guess the consent is implied), and after that first time there continues to be a sensitivity to the other person’s mood and willingness.

Being tied up does become a running joke during one story (and no I’m not going to say which one; you’ll have to read and find out, bwahaha), because of something that happens accidentally – something that the woman does, incidentally, so the roles here are switched around.

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It’s the villains who engage in sexual sadism (btw, I did mention at some point that my books are not for young readers but for adults and older teens, right?). Not in every book, but there are a few who use that as part of their power play. And occasionally one of the main characters is involved in a wrong relationship (before taking up with the right person, the other main character) and the ideals I talked about above don’t necessarily apply to those relationships. But when the main characters do get together, that’s how it is, because that’s what I believe a loving, healthy intimate relationship should be.

So, the Bondage Scale:

Eruz (Urdaisunia): He does have concubines (common in his culture for a man of his ranking), but he usually feels like it’s really more trouble than it’s worth, and would never force any of them to do anything they don’t want to. And where he lives, pain and suffering are so common that he would rather use sex to escape from it, not to indulge in more of it.
Bondage Rating: 0

Sevry (Chosen of Azara): No time for sex, never mind kinky sex. Plus, he’s seen too much suffering in his life to find anything fun or sexy about it.
Bondage Rating: 0

Roric (The Lost Book of Anggird): Nope, no way. Uh-uh. Forget it. He’s experienced too much personal suffering to want to inflict it on another person.
Bondage Rating: 0

Adan (Sarya’s Song): He already blew it once with Sarya; if he ever gets another chance, he isn’t taking any risk that he might blow it again. As for other relationships, he’s just too easy-going and too much of an all-around nice guy to want to hurt anyone.
Bondage Rating: 0

Silas (Daughter of the Wildings):Β  He’s seen people hurt other people just because they can, and he has no desire to be that kind of person.
Bondage Rating: 0

Edit: I’ve had some complaints from the gentlemen that this rating makes them all sound like they’re boring in bed. So I’ll note that the Bondage Rating is based strictly on disregard for consent and the degree of enjoyment obtained from causing feelings of pain, humiliation, and helplessness (with fun and games, adventurousness, etc. not being considered.)

And to soothe some ruffled pride here, I’ll give them all a big 10 on the special Red-Hot Lovers scale. Or, ok, 11.Β  That better, guys? (Aw, look, I made Sevry blush!) And no, Silas, the scale does not go to 12. *sheesh*

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So, in conclusion, on a scale of 0 to 40 points on the Billionaires, Bad Boys, and Bondage rating, we have:

Eruz (Urdaisunia): 12 points
Sevry (Chosen of Azara): 10 points
Roric (The Lost Book of Anggird): 17 points (scored high on Inner Torment)
Adan (Sarya’s Song): 17 points (scored high on Billionaire)
Silas (Daughter of the Wildings): 9

I am therefore forced to conclude that I am not really in step with the BBB&B trend. That’s okay, though. It’s been a fun way to look at my heroes from some different angles, but, in all seriousness, it isn’t something I would want to write. It’s just too far removed from my ideal of what men, women, and the relationships between them can be, an ideal that I feel it’s important to convey through my writing. I’m writing what I love and what I believe in, and I’m happy with it.


Billionaires, Bad Boys, and Bondage, Part 3

In this series, I’ve been looking at how my novels stack up against the hottest trend in fiction right now: billionaire bad boys who are into bondage. So far I’ve covered the Billionaire factor and one of the two components of the Bad Boy, Inner Torment. In this post: the other half of the Bad Boy factor, Jackassery.

The guys in these books, I don’t know. It’s a good thing they’re rich and they’re hot, because it’s kind of hard to tell why any woman would want to have anything to do with them at all otherwise. They refuse to take No for an answer, they manipulate or coerce Sweet Young Thing into sexual practices that are outside of her normal preferences and comfort zone, they control where she goes and when and who she sees… If you’ve ever read any of those Top Ten Signs Your Partner Is An Abuser lists, this is probably starting to sound familiar.

Sweet Young Thing usually does stand up for herself against Bux Cashton eventually (reviews are divided on whether or not readers appreciate that development), and that does sometimes seem to be a turning point in the plot, with the guy maybe coming to realize that there are other ways of interacting with women besides being a complete jerkface to them.

Yeah, it’s a common fantasy, the tormented jerk who comes to appreciate the woman who is so patient and understanding with him and is reformed into a nice, loving, romantic, wonderful guy. But there has to be something there in the first place to make Sweet Young Thing think it’ll be worth all the jackassery she has to put up with in the meantime. Are hot, rich, and tormented enough? Apparently so.

Anyway, here’s the Jackassery ratings on my own heroes (with bonus notes about how the ladies deal with it):

Prince Eruz (Urdaisunia): Considering everything he’s dealing with in his personal and professional lives, Eruz is really a pretty nice guy. He commits two main acts of jackassery where Rashali is concerned, neither of which are intended to be controlling, bad, evilly underhanded, or otherwise offensive, although they certainly come across that way. One is more a matter of social ineptitude than anything else (Eruz isn’t really a people person), the other is a matter of urgent political necessity. Rashali’s reaction is to renew her resolve to make sure the Sazars are destroyed or driven out of Urdaisunia, though she later comes to realize that his actions weren’t what they seemed to be and maybe there’s another solution to the Sazar-Urdai conflict.
Jackassery Index: 3

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Sevry (Chosen of Azara): Again, considering everything he has to deal with, he’s a pretty nice guy. His main problems are the pressure he’s under to complete his task and, as with Eruz, a lack of social skills. For all his many and varied experiences, he’s never had to deal with someone like Lucie before. When he realizes that she’s the person he’s been looking for all this time to help him complete his mission, he uses a number of tactics to try to persuade her, including guilt-tripping. His worst act of jackassery certainly isn’t intended to be that way; it kind of just happens. He still gets himself slapped by Lucie, plus she’s never afraid to tell him that what he wants from her is out of the question.
Jackassery Index: 2

Roric (The Lost Book of Anggird): Roric scored highest on the Inner Torment scale. He’s worked very hard to build a new life for himself, and everything in his life and his world is very carefully controlled. He dislikes having any kind of chaos or unpredictability in his life. When Perarre comes into that world, he is fairly overbearing in his attempts to make her obey all his little rules for how things should be done. They work for him; shouldn’t they work for everyone? Perarre really really wants this job – or, more specifically, she wants the future opportunities that a good reference from the renowned Professor Roric Rossony will open up to her – so she goes along with it to some extent, though never without pushback, and he eventually comes to see that a little chaos in his life won’t hurt anything. Which is good, considering what happens next.
Jackassery Index: 4

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Adan (Sarya’s Song): When Adan and Sarya first met, when they were teenagers, he did one thoughtless thing that caused her a lot of pain, but he didn’t mean to. She still hasn’t forgiven him. He also has a number of other faults – he feels no need at all to demonstrate false modesty, and he’s extremely fond of, er, female companionship, but he never does anything with the intent to make Sarya feel bad or to control her. He actually isn’t as big a jackass as Sarya thinks he is, but she cuts him no slack whatsoever.
Jackassery Index: 5

Silas (Daughter of the Wildings): Silas commits one supreme act of jackassery, fairly early on in the series. Even while I was writing it I was thinking, Dude, no! You don’t do that! To his credit, he realizes almost right away what he had done and why it was bad, and feels really bad about it. Lainie doesn’t hesitate to let him know how bad he’d made her feel, but after some awkward conversations and a really spectacular act of redeeming himself, she forgives him. And he’s just been a doll ever since πŸ˜€
Jackassery Index: 5

Conclusion: No one’s perfect, and everyone does stupid things that hurt someone else, even when they don’t mean to. But just because you might have had a good excuse for making a stupid mistake or otherwise doing something hurtful (past trauma, the demands of your job, temporary stupidity), there’s never a reason why you can’t apologize, do something to make up for it, and try to do better in the future.

Coming up: Bondage.


Billionaires, Bad Boys, and Bondage, Part 2

So, I’m taking a look at the heroes of my novels in comparison to the current hot trend of novels about hot, tormented billionaire hunks who like to play rough. The previous post evaluated them on the Billionaire scale, with Adan Muari from Sarya’s Song topping out at 11 (on a scale of 1 to 10), and the others coming in considerably under that. Next up: the twin factors on the Bad Boy scale: Inner Torment and Jackassery.

These two are linked because, in my extensive analysis of the trend (that is, reading lots of reviews, both positive and negative, of books on the “Falling in Love With a Billionaire” list on Goodreads), the male protagonist’s past trauma and inner torment are what lead to his extreme narcissistic, hedonistic, selfish, and domineering behavior (aka his jackassery) and provide the excuse, nay, the justification, for any and all such acts. The overall idea is that the sweet young thing he fixates upon as his conquest (female in the examples I’ve seen, though I suppose this trend could also exist in the M/M romance sector) eventually comes to peace with and/or helps him overcome his inner torment and the accompanying bad behavior.

(Because I’m analyzing Inner Torment and Jackassery separately, this is going to turn into a four-part series. Me and series, it always turns out there has to be one more installment.)

My heroes on the Inner Torment scale (ratings are a function of badness of the stuff they’ve had to deal with combined with how well they deal with it) (Also, these are the characters as they are at the beginning of the books, more or less. Sometimes things get better, sometimes they get worse, bwahahahaha):

Prince Eruz (Urdaisunia): His father hates him. His brothers hate him. His wives are mad at him, and his concubines aren’t too terribly thrilled with him either. His country is falling apart, and he’s wrestling with all these inconvenient ideas about equality between the Sazars and the Urdai and how just because you conquered someone doesn’t mean it’s ok to abuse and oppress them. But Eruz is mostly too busy trying to do his job and figure out how to do what’s best for everyone to go all emo over this stuff. And at least his daughter loves him ❀ πŸ˜€
Inner Torment rating: 3

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Sevry (Chosen of Azara): His country was at war from the time he was three until he was twenty-three. After that, his people destroyed and his country in ruins, he spends a very long time on a seemingly hopeless quest to try to restore what was lost. His circumstances keep him isolated, constantly on the run, unable to tell the truth about himself or form close relationships with anyone. He’s dedicated to his duty and determined to carry it out, but he’s lonely and he’s getting pretty tired. He still manages to keep it together, barely.
Inner Torment rating: 7

Roric (The Lost Book of Anggird): Hoo boy. Roric. Wow. I struggled with this novel for years, just not quite sure where Roric was coming from. And then one day he opened up and told me about his past, and I was both horrified by what he’d been through and terrified of writing about it. I thought there was no way I could write about a character with stuff like that in his past. I’m just not qualified (and I’m expecting some pushback for taking on a subject like this when the novel is released). On the other hand, I finally understood why he is the way he is – the accomodations he’s come to in his effort to deal with his past and rebuild his life. Once I understood him, the story was much easier to write.
Inner Torment rating: 10. Possibly 11.

Picture Adan (Sarya’s Song): Incredibly rich, good-looking, popular, and talented, from a large and loving family. His father actually expects him to work, as in manual labor, on the family plantations during his visits home, so he knows what hard work is like and he understands, to an extent, what life is like for those less fortunate than him. He’s pretty easy-going and content with life, except that as a teenager he did one incredibly thoughtless thing which totally ruined all his chances with the only girl he’ll ever love. Not that he’s given up hope, though.
Inner Torment rating: 2

Silas (Daughter of the Wildings): As a kid, he made some selfish and thoughtless decisions, which had devastating consequences for someone he cared about. Rather than (or, in addition to) being traumatized by that, he learned from it. Eventually, spurred on by the ideals he came to embrace as a result of that incident, he threw away the wealth and privilege he was born to and chose the life he’s living now, and is happy with it.
Inner Torment rating: 2

Conclusion: My guys have all been through bad stuff (and continue to go through it). Some of it only mildly traumatizing, some of it devastating. They do have bad dreams and bad memories and painful, complicated emotions. But life is hard for everyone. Harder for some than for others, but no one is entitled to a bump-free ride through life, so they deal with it and go on as best as they can.

Next time: The Jackassery rating (or, Why in the world do the ladies put up with this $&%@#???)


Billionaires, Bad Boys, and Bondage, Part 1

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You see them all over the place, on the bestseller lists, in ads on Goodreads, on the front pages on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and probably on the front tables at brick&mortar bookstores and prominently displayed at Target. Novels about a fabulously wealthy, hot, tormented hunk who sets eyes on some sweet young thing and decides he is going to have his way with her (or possibly him; I’m not conversant with m/m romance but I wouldn’t be surprised if this trend exists in that sector too) and won’t take No for an answer. Kink ensues. (Note: I haven’t actually read any of these, but I’ve read a bunch of book descriptions and reviews on GoodReads. Close enough for literary analysis, right? :-D)

So, being the hard-blogging author that I am, I decided to examine my own novels through the lens of the 3 B’s to see how they stack up to the latest hot trend, on a totally arbitrary scale from 1 to 10. This will be a series of three posts because there’s a lot to talk about. (Oh, and as I’ll be talking about books of mine that I haven’t released yet, I will do my utmost to avoid spoilers. As always, the disclaimer is that these are romances in addition to being fantasy, so the more-or-less HEA is a given.)

First up: Billionaires.

The guys in these books are all fabulously, obnoxiously, breathtakingly rich. They are in their 20’s and own half of Manhattan or Seattle or wherever. They seduce women in the offices of their world conglomerate headquarters and at expensive hotels where one night costs the same as a mortgage payment or two or four for us regular folks.

Let’s examine the heroes from my first five books (Urdaisunia, Chosen of Azara, The Lost Book of Anggird, Sarya’s Song, and the Daughter of the Wildings series – which is actually six books but I’ll consider it as one) through the billionaire filter.

In Urdaisunia, Prince Eruz is the High Prince, the heir to the throne. Pretty good deal, right? He’s gonna be king one day! Awesome πŸ™‚ But…the land of Urdaisunia has been suffering from worsening drought, food shortages, and epidemics for years, and has enemies from all sides, inside the country and out (and above), eyeing it so they can exploit what few resources it still has. Still sounds great, right? Oh, and his position as heir to the throne depends on the approval of his seriously disapproving father and his ability to outsmart his scheming brothers. All things considered, just chucking everything and running off to start over from scratch somewhere else starts to look pretty good.
Billionaire rating: 6

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Chosen of Azara: Sevry is an actual, real live king. Yay! But he’s got no country, no people, no home, no nothing. All he’s got to offer a girl is an empty land, a ruined convent, a pure heart, and a willingness to work hard.
Billionaire rating: 1

The Lost Book of Anggird: Roric is a professor, a highly valued breed in the Vorunne Dominion, and he’s one of the elite of the elite. He’s extremely well-compensated, both in salary (though he seldom has to actually handle any money himself) and in the living accomodations and other perks he’s provided with. And then one night it all goes kablooey and he finds himself left with nothing but the love of a good woman (or not?), a price on his head, and an interesting new talent (as one of the test readers put it).
Billionaire rating: 2

Sarya’s Song: Adan is the heir of a fabulously wealthy family. Want to know how wealthy? Allow me to refer you to this quote from the book:

Adan Muari, tall, handsome, well built, auburn haired, heir of a family that owned nearly a quarter of Msaka Ras and a substantial portion of Msaka Dolna, possessed a True baritone voice of divine quality and extraordinary [magical] strength, and an equally extraordinary opinion of himself.

Msaka Ras and Msaka Dolna are not companies, nor buildings, nor city blocks. They aren’t cities, or counties, or provinces, or even countries. They’re continents. So yes, he’s incredibly rich. But if the world’s going to end, what difference does money make?
Billionaire rating: 10. or maybe 11.

Daughter of the Wildings: Silas was born into one of the elitest of the elite mage families in Granadaia. He walked away from it all because he seriously disapproves of everything his family stands for and believes in, and they feel the same way about him. So now he’s just making his way as a bounty hunter across the Wildings. If he catches a good bounty with a good price, he lives well for a while. No captures, no money. But he has his freedom and his integrity, which mean more to him than money any day.
Billionaire rating: 2

Conclusion: Money and status aren’t everything, and can be lost just like that. When you’ve got nothing left but yourself (or, in a relationship, when you’ve got nothing left but each other), that’s when you see what you’re really made of: money and status, or something more substantial.

So far Adan is in the lead with a B,BB,&B rating of 11 (on a scale of 1 to 10). Next post: we’ll see how he and the other guys stack up on the twin measures of Bad Boy-ness, inner torment and jackassery. Stay tuned!


Lucie, Character Growth, and Learning Curves

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Something I read recently has led me to musing on Lucie’s character development in Chosen of Azara. Lucie was kind of a risky character to write, and very difficult to get right (assuming I got her right). In fantasy, young noblewomen who go off on adventures are usually spunky and rebellious and seize eagerly at the chance to run off somewhere and do exciting and dangerous things. But with Lucie, I wanted to do something different – something that is pretty much the complete opposite of almost every fantasy heroine I’ve ever heard of.

Lucie is pretty happy with the way things are and the life she has. She does have a bit of a free-spirited streak that pushes the bounds of convention and propriety, but she is willing (though somewhat reluctantly so) to accept the reasons why one day she will need to give up the things she enjoys doing. She also has the occasional complaint about her fiance, Estefan, but she understands that in her society, marriage is about a lot more than the whims of the heart. In spite of her “eccentricities,” she wants to do what’s right and proper and expected of her and to be a credit to her family. She wants the handsome husband, the beautiful house, the fashionable clothes, the social standing. She is looking forward to devoting her life to raising her children and managing her household.

And then the dream, the things she wants and that she’s always been taught that she should want, starts to fall apart at the same time that she’s presented with an alternative that, according to everything she’s been raised to believe, is unthinkable, that would cost her her family, her friends, her reputation, and everything that’s important to her. Lucie finds herself in a quandary: cling to what she believes is right and important, for the sake of her and her family’s name and reputation and her own security, or throw everything away and take a leap into the unknown. Either option requires more courage and resolve than Lucie possesses at the beginning of her story, and a major part of Lucie’s story is watching her find the courage to do what her heart insists is, in the end, the right thing to do.

I knew I was taking a chance of turning off readers with a character who seems weak, who wants to be proper and conventional, who is not only indecisive but outright offended when the handsome stranger says, “Throw everything away and come on my quest with me,” and who wants to cling to the life she has even as it becomes increasingly clear that that life is detrimental to her. But it’s a common source of conflict and growth in the real world: the person who hates their boring cubicle job but is afraid to quit because then how will they pay the bills? Or the person who hangs on to the same circle of friends they’ve known since junior high even though those friends aren’t progressing beyond a junior-high mentality and the person wants bigger and better things out of life but they’re afraid to leave those friends behind because what if they never make any new friends? Or the woman who can’t bring herself to leave a bad relationship because what will she do once she’s out on her own?

We see spunky, rebellious, and strong-willed all the time in fantasy. With Lucie, I wanted to start with a character who is the opposite of that and show her growth into, not necessarily spunky and rebellious, but strong-willed and courageous enough to do what her heart is telling her is the right thing to do, no matter the pressures on her from other people or the consequences to herself.

So that’s the character growth part of this post. As for learning curves, that’s my part.

The great thing about being an independent author is that you’re in charge of every aspect of your book, from what you write about in the first place to the final presentation. It’s amazing to have that much control, but also involves learning a lot of new things. And one of those things is book covers.

Book covers (though with ebooks what you’re talking about is an image that represents the book on a website or on your ereader) are a hugely important tool for drawing attention to a book. They need to be eye-catching, attractive, and convey a good sense of what the book is about. For authors who publish with traditional publishing companies, the art/marketing departments take care of all that, and sometimes they do a good job and sometimes they don’t. (Caution: any and all of those links may be NSFW. Brain bleach available in aisle 2.) Either way, the author generally has little if any input into or approval over what goes on the front of their book.

Independent authors have the opposite problem: It’s all up to us. We have to think of the concept and then license or commission the appropriate images. And it isn’t easy to think of a single image to represent your whole book. One character? Multiple characters? Just a landscape? An object? A literal representation of a scene in the book or something more general? It’s mind-boggling if you aren’t used to doing this, and sometimes it takes trial and error.

With Chosen of Azara, I wanted something representing one or more of the characters (I very much prefer book covers with pictures of the characters), and something representing the cove of Azara or another aspect of the magic in the book. I fiddled around with pictures of various crystals and necklaces, trying to get the magical talisman that is an important object in the book, but that didn’t go anywhere. Finally I settled on a picture of someone who sort of looked like Lucie, and a picture of a rocky ocean cove, and tried putting them together, with results I wasn’t entirely happy with.

When I went looking for a cover artist for the Daughter of the Wildings series, I came across Design by Katt and fell in love with her fantasy portraits of women. I knew I’d found just the artist I needed to turn my Chosen of Azara cover concept into something wonderful. And she did – she took my original images and concept and did a gorgeous job with them. Her rendition of Lucie captures Lucie perfectly.

It’s a gorgeous cover and I love it, but I started feeling like maybe my concept doesn’t really represent what Chosen of Azara is really about. Lucie is only one main character of three in the book, and the main main character is actually Sevry. So I started thinking he should be on the cover. As well, just having Lucie on the cover doesn’t convey the dark, angsty, romantic, adult (as in grownup, not as in porno) nature of the book – it looks more like a Young Adult book, or maybe fantasy with a chick-lit-ish twist. So, reluctantly, I came to the conclusion that my original concept was a misfire.

In the meantime, as I saw more of Katt’s work and as she did the lucious cover of Sarya’s Song, I came to realize what a really skilled and talented artist can do with photomanipulation and digital painting. It was okay if I couldn’t find a photo of two people who look exactly like my characters – the main things to look for were the basic physical type and the positioning. Everything else, hair color, hairstyle, even clothing and facial expression, can be altered. So I went browsing for stock images for a new cover and almost instantly came across the PERFECT picture to become Sevry and Lucie. I ran it by Katt and she roughed out an idea of what can be done with it, and oh my, it’s going to be amazing! She’s working on it even as I write this. πŸ˜€

So watch this space for the new cover for Chosen of Azara. Once I’ve revealed it here, I’ll start uploading it to the various retailers where the book is available. The old cover isn’t going away, though; it will still be around on the site, because I do think it’s the perfect picture of Lucie.


And Then There Were Six

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So I finished the first draft of Book 4 of Daughter of the Wildings and was planning Book 5, when one night it came to me, as I was brushing my teeth, that there needs to be a sixth book in the series.

I panicked, wondering if there was enough story left to make up a whole other book. But as I thought about it that night (I usually lay awake late at night working out plots and story problems in my mind) and sat down and did a bunch of scene brainstorming and story development the next day, I realized that yes, there does have to be a sixth book, and there’s plenty of story for two books instead of one. So a Book 6 there will be.

I think I’ve known, way deep down, for a long time that it would take another book to finish off the series properly. For a long time I had envisioned the events of Book 5, which moves the story from the frontier – the Wildings – into the civilized land of Granadaia, as being the climactic events of the series. But that just didn’t seem right. The series is called Daughter of the Wildings, and it’s about that uncivilized frontier land, its unique magic, and the connection between Lainie Banfrey (the Daughter in the series) and the land and its magic. Finishing it off in Granadaia without coming back to what is the heart of the series would be an unsatisfactory ending that doesn’t fit with what the series is about. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the events in Granadaia are the leadup to the climactic events, and not the actual climax themselves. The story has to come back to the Wildings, to the threats to the land and the people that have been building up through all the other books, and to the real significance of Lainie’s unique power and her relationship to the land, and also integrate Silas fully into that relationship, in order to tie everything together and bring the story to a meaningful and satisfying conclusion.

As I thought this through, I thought that maybe the Granadaia part and the return to the Wildings part could just be two halves of the same book. But the more I developed the storyline, the more it became clear that the two halves of the book are also two totally different story lines, each with its own central story problem, instigating events, development, and conclusion. I aso realized that if the book was going to be an equivalent length with the previous books in the series, I was going to have to skim over or leave out a lot of important stuff, or else the book was going to be twice as long as the other books.

Therefore, the obvious answer, which waited for that brainless and bored moment of brushing my teeth to hit me upside the head, is to split “Book 5” into two books.

I think I’m about ready to start writing the last two books. As with the other books so far in the series, there’s this feeling of jumping into the deep end without really knowing how deep the water is or what’s waiting in there. I know where the books start, and where they end, and have a general idea of what happens in between, but very few details are clear. But so far it’s worked out well, so I just have to make that leap of faith two more times. I think I’ll just write straight through, without stopping between books 5 and 6, since I’d already been planning them as a single unit. With hard work and a minimum of interruptions, I hope to finish the drafts of both books by October.

So, yay! More time with Silas and Lainie! And none of this is even taking into consideration my idea for a possible follow-up series.

Note on the story blurbs for Daughter of the Wildings: All six are up. I apologize for any cheesiness, especially in the last few. Writing blurbs is hard, especially if you’re trying not to give away any spoilers. And I want to stipulate that in my books, suggesting that the hero and heroine end up together is not a spoiler. In addition to being fantasy, my books are also romance, and to be a proper romance (as opposed to more general love story), you have to have the Happily (even if things aren’t easy) Ever After. It’s expected, as a hallmark of the genre. (Plus I hate unhappy endings.) The question isn’t if they end up together, but how.

In the meantime, edits on The Lost Book of Anggird are progressing apace (I’m planning a blog post on the worst writing advice ever and how it nearly killed Lost Book), along with the first major revision of Sarya’s Song. Maybe I’ll do a post on that too, how I struggled with it for years, then applied some very helpful story-planning techniques, and now have the least-broken first draft I think I’ve ever written.