Learning to Love the Winter Garden

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is, verbatim, On Your Mind (Winter).

So, I’m posting a photo I took this morning from the winter garden. We’ve had a mild winter, and the secret garden is walled and makes a protected microclimate, so I actually have a winter garden.

Some of you may know that I love to garden. I mention it in interviews when I’m asked what I do that isn’t reading or writing. Gardening is a big piece. It sounds like a small thing when I say it, but nurturing a garden, planning it, spending time in it, all shape how I live.

I became interested in the concept of a winter garden back when I lived in Wyoming and winters were so very bleak. The idea is to plan a garden with the entire season in mind. It’s easier to envision the spring flowers, the midsummer lushness, adding in the plants that bloom in the autumn, but thinking toward the largely leafless winter is a different kind of vision. What plants bring visual interest in their starker, hibernating states? What offers spots of color in a more monochromatic landscape?

Part of the trick is loving the winter garden for what it is, not trying to replicate the garden of warmer seasons.

I think this is a metaphor for a great deal in our lives, as gardens tend to be.

A Few of My Favorite Contractors

This week at the SFF Seven we’re talking about Contractor Best Practices. And already CharissaJames, and KAK have posted great articles about communication and clear expectations. I whole-heartedly ditto everything they said.

So, instead of reiterating, I thought I’d share my own favorite contractors. It’s a great opportunity to give them a shout-out. One of the best parts of being an author who self-publishes is that you become the source of work for other people. I love that I, by creating words, am a font which then flows money out to the people who do work for me. They are vital parts of my business and I’d hate to be without them.

These days, after years of honing my practices, they’re a pretty lean team.

My Assistant

First and foremost, my amazing assistant is the fabulous Carien Ubink, aka book blogger Sullivan McPig. Whenever someone asks what my assistant does for me, I reel off the list and then – for about half an hour afterward – I’m adding “Oh, and she also does this!” We’ve been working together for years now. (She could tell you how many, which is one of the things she does for me.) She’s the best.

My Cover Artist

While I occasionally use other cover artists, my go-to and favorite is Ravven. She’s done the majority of my covers and I hope will do many, many more. She has an uncanny ability to take my inadequate descriptions and hand me back a gorgeous cover that exceeds my imagination. She’s timely, helpful, goes the extra mile. No one else comes close to her in talent, skill, and clean business practices.

My Proofreader

Crystal Watanabe at Pikko’s House handles all of my editorial. She’s super fast, thorough, and a delight to work with. She also operates a business that offers the gamut of editorial services. I highly recommend checking out Pikko’s House.

My Formatter

Yes, I farm out my formatting – largely because my formatter, Paul at BB eBooks, is so fantastic. He accommodates my sometimes screechingly tight turnaround times, always doing a stellar job, and with a great attitude. There’s nobody I trust more to get the job done right.

Jeffe’s Top 5 Writing Resources

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re sharing our Top 5 Writing Resources. Charissa and KAK have already shared some excellent ones. Mine are below. But first, check out this great fundraiser sponsored by Romantic Fantasy Shelf. It goes through January 6, 2022 and the response has already been amazing!

Jeffe’s Top 5 Writing Resources

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)

Charissa mentioned SFWA’s Writer Beware already, but I feel – as the current President of SFWA – that I should recommend the entire organization. I’m clearly biased, but I think SFWA provides all kinds of tremendous resources for writers. Go check it out! 

First Cup of Coffee with Jeffe Kennedy

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my own podcast! Four days a week I chat for about 20 minutes over my first cup of coffee about being a career author. I talk about my own process, the ups and downs of that and my career, the business side of writing and occasionally industry gossip. I even answer listener questions!

Synonym Finder

This is my absolute favorite paper resource. Mine is falling apart. Forget the thesaurus, every writer should have the Synonym Finder!

David Gaughran

Whether or not you self-publish, David Gaughran is an amazing and generous resource. His books and free newsletter are chock full of up-to-date information. Highly recommend!

Friends

I can’t link to this one but… Get you some author friends and nurture that circle. They are the most invaluable resource you’ll ever have.

Adjusting Those Variables for the New Year

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re sharing thoughts about the changing of the year.

I like the reflection the end of one year and the beginning of a new one brings. You all know I’m into metrics, so the end of a year – however arbitrary a measure – provides me with a milestone to group data. I can look back at the past year, compare it to previous years, and make plans for the one ahead.

Am I a maker of resolutions? Some years more than others, yes, but mostly I look on the process as adjusting my variables for the year ahead. Life is an ongoing experiment this way. We try stuff, see how it works out, then make changes accordingly. This is how all experimentation works: make a hypothesis, test it by gradually adjusting variables, and keep track of the resulting data.

I know a lot of people react negatively to the concept of new year’s resolutions, especially given the daunting statistics about them. For example, from this article, after 6 months, only 46% of people who make a resolution are still successful in keeping it, and by the end of the year only 9% feel they are successful in keeping it.

Interesting to me, a third of the people who failed to keep their resolutions didn’t keep track of their progress and another quarter of them forgot about their resolutions. This may sound funny – I laughed! – but it’s actually super easy to forget those aspirations in the tumult of daily life.

One year I tried writing down goals for the coming year and sealing them in envelopes to be opened on New Year’s Eve, so I could see how I did. People, I’m telling you: if I hadn’t made myself a reminder to open the envelopes, I’d have forgotten they existed! Reading my goals from Past Jeffe of only a year before was truly eye-opening. It almost didn’t matter which goals I’d met, exceeded, or fallen short of – simply comparing the reality with my aspirations taught me a great deal.

This is partly why I’m a believer in tracking all kinds of metrics about myself. Remember, a third of the people who failed to keep their resolutions didn’t track their progress while another quarter forgot about them! That’s 60% of the failures that might have been successes if they’d had daily tracking and reminders.

So, I’m doing a series on my podcast this week about the metrics I keep – particularly regarding my writing process – along with the how’s and why’s. Feel free to ask questions!

And Happy New Year to all!!

A Midwinter Holiday Gift – FIRE OF THE FROST Is Out Now!

Today is release day for FIRE OF THE FROST

A midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology…

A Wynter Fyre by Darynda Jones

In a world where vampyres have been hunted to near extinction, the daughter of a demon is sent to save their race. Wynter ends the Blood Wars, but a single drop of vampyre blood accidentally crosses her lips. As punishment, she’s encased in stone for a hundred years. When she awakens, she vows revenge. Even if it means her demise. Her quest leads her to the vampyre prince who supposedly started the wars. He comes to her aid after she’s attacked, and Gareth’s deadly prowess may be exactly what Wynter needs to defeat the woman who created her. Or exactly what she needs to thaw her frozen heart.

Of Fate and Fire by Amanda Bouchet

The Kingmaker Chronicles meets modern-day New York City! Piers, an exiled warrior from Thalyria, finds himself in the Big Apple just before the holidays. The world and everything in it might be utterly foreign to him, but that won’t stop Piers from helping to complete a vital mission for Athena and protect Sophie, a French teacher from Connecticut who’s suddenly knee-deep in inexplicable phenomena, danger, and henchmen after an Olympian treasure that should never have ended up in her hands—or remained on Earth after the Greek gods abandoned it.

The King of Hel by Grace Draven

Castil il Veras, daughter of lesser boyars, attends the gatherings that celebrate her best friend’s upcoming marriage to the cursed king of a sorcerous kingdom. She soon learns that even marked by the magic of the Wastelands, Doranis of Helenrisia is everything she’s ever desired in a mate—and absolutely forbidden to her. Bound by duty to crown and country, Doranis has traveled to the Caskadan empire to marry a woman who loathes the sight of him. During the prenuptial celebrations, he meets a scribe who finds him fascinating instead of repellent, but Castil is beyond his reach. Fate, however, would have it otherwise, and a beseeching letter from a dying queen will bring them together again in a land gripped by endless winter and old magic.

Familiar Winter Magic by Jeffe Kennedy

It’s holiday time at Convocation Academy, but best friends Han and Iliana are finding it hard to celebrate. As a familiar, Iliana is facing her assignment to a life of servitude to a wizard, very soon. And Han… despite being tested by the oracle daily, he is still uncategorized. As Iliana and Han face being separated forever, they at last find the courage—or desperation—to break the rules and acknowledge their deeper feelings for each other. But it will take more than true love to save them from the laws of the Convocation…

Three Reasons I’ve Loved Doing FIRE OF THE FROST!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our three favorite… anything!

Since I’m down to the last few days of coordinating the upcoming FIRE OF THE FROST midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology, I’m thinking about my three favorite aspects of putting together this annual project.

The anthology releases next week on December 22, 2021 and you can still preorder it for the special sale price! The price goes up on release day.

    

Working with My Friends

I always say one of the perks of being an author is getting to be friends with your favorite authors! While I love chatting with them online, putting together these group projects is the most fun. We get to collaborate in the best of ways. This year, working with Darynda Jones, Grace Draven, and Amanda Bouchet has been a real treat.

Getting to Read the Stories

Did I mention these friends are all authors I love??? I just finished Amanda’s delightful Of Fate and Fire, and am diving into Grace’s The King of Hel. I can’t wait to read Darynda’s foray into fantasy, A Wynter Fyre.

Sharing the Cross-Promo

What makes this project so great, too, is that we share the promotion and cross-pollinate with our readers. It’s super fun to see readers say “I discovered this author through your anthology!” It’s a celebration of each other and something lovely to share with our readers.

Only a week away!

    

FIRE OF THE FROST Fantasy Holiday Romance Yumminess

This week at the SFF Seven we’re doing a little winter holiday self-promo! Many of you know we had to push back the release of FIRE OF THE FROST, but it’s coming soooooon! We are on target to release on December 22. So if you are someone who celebrates Christmas, this should hit your eReader just in time to relax and enjoy some holiday downtime. 

And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, there’s lots of midwinter, romantic holiday goodness for you, too! Only Amanda’s story is literally Christmas. Everyone else’s is a fantasy midwinter holiday. Mine includes a magical sleigh race and elemental festive lights. It’s a story that takes place in the Bonds of Magic world, roughly after DARK WIZARD and semi-concurrent with BRIGHT FAMILIAR. It takes place at Convocation Academy and you just miiiiigght see some of the characters in GREY MAGIC.

The delay means you have just that much longer to preorder the anthology for the special preorder price, before it goes up on release day.

Here’s the official (still in progress) blurb:

A midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology…

From Darynda Jones, a standalone novella set in a world where vampyres are hunted for sport. The only thing standing between them and total annihilation is Winter, a warrior bred to save them from extinction. Forbidden to fall in love, Winter cares only about her oaths… until she meets the devilish prince of the underworld.

Of Fate and Fire by Amanda Bouchet

The Kingmaker Chronicles meets modern-day New York City! Piers, an exiled warrior from Thalyria, finds himself in the Big Apple just before the holidays. The world and everything in it might be utterly foreign to him, but that won’t stop Piers from helping to complete a vital mission for Athena and protect Sophie, a French teacher from Connecticut who’s suddenly knee-deep in inexplicable phenomena, danger, and henchmen after an Olympian treasure that should never have ended up in her hands—or remained on Earth after the Greek gods abandoned it.

The King of Hel by Grace Draven

A novella-length expansion of a stand-alone short story in which a cursed mage-king from a frozen kingdom is obligated to marry a woman of high-ranking nobility but meets his soulmate in a lowly scribe.

Familiar Winter Magic by Jeffe Kennedy

It’s holiday time at Convocation Academy, but best friends Han and Iliana are finding it hard to celebrate. As a familiar, Iliana is facing her assignment to a life of servitude to a wizard, very soon. And Han… despite being tested by the oracle daily, he is still uncategorized. As Iliana and Han face being separated forever, they at last find the courage—or desperation—to break the rules and acknowledge their deeper feelings for each other. But it will take more than true love to save them from the laws of the Convocation…

 And here’s a little snippet from my story, Familiar Winter Magic:

Once the races finished, Iliana let Han talk her into more dancing. With the excellent whiskey warming her blood, not to mention the heady glow of Han’s undivided attention, she could hardly resist. She loved him so much and he was right: this was their last Founding Festival together. Rather than try to hold him at arm’s length, in anticipation of their imminent parting, she decided to enjoy his company while she could.

Han at his most charming was impossible to refuse. Which would be a major problem when he manifested as a wizard, but she wouldn’t think about that tonight. Since it was a holiday, the thought-seekers gave everyone a break—and were celebrating themselves. The festival was a rare excuse for everyone to loosen up.

A little bit tipsy, the lights and dancing making her feel giddy, she danced with Han until she was so warm she had to shed her cloak. Among his many skills, Han was also an excellent dancer—far better than she, but he was so skilled that he made his partner look good—and they found themselves more than once in a circle of cheering spectators as he whirled her through the vigorous dances.

Then the music slowed, and she fanned herself, blowing out a breath, and headed off the dance floor. Han caught her hand. “Hey, where are you going?” Expertly he twirled her under his arm, then snugged her close, a hand on the small of her back as he led her through the dreamy rhythm.

Iliana braced one hand on Han’s chest, his heart thumping rapidly beneath her fingertips, his blue eyes lambent in the starry light. “We never dance the slow dances,” she breathed.

“A grievous lapse of judgment on my part,” he murmured, gaze traveling over her face. “You feel perfect in my arms, lovely Iliana. I want you here forever.”

She tore her gaze from his heartbreakingly beautiful face, focusing on his throat instead. That wasn’t much help, as his skin begged to be kissed and nibbled. “I don’t understand what’s changed between us, why you’re being so…”

“Seductive?” he suggested in a warm purr. “Devastatingly handsome and charming?”

Snorting, she made a face at him. “Aggressive. And annoyingly persistent.”

 

3 Tricks to Destress (and Non-Coincidental Release Date Changes)

This week at the SFF Seven we’re talking destressing. We’re asking, “What’s one thing you do to keep (or reestablish) your equanimity when life is too much?”

That’s always the question, isn’t it?

It’s especially pertinent for me today because I’ve been stressing about whether I can get GREY MAGIC, book #3 in Bonds of Magic, written in time for release. See, I’ve known for a while that I wouldn’t make my original release date of December 20. Yes, the December 20 that’s nineteen days from this post. I made a deliberate choice there when Agent Sarah asked me to write more on a book she really wanted to take on submission this fall. “I’ll just postpone the release date,” I thought to myself. Then, yesterday, I was deciding what I should push the date to, as Amazon requires that we change the date at least five days ahead. Yes, that still gives me two weeks, but I wanted to get a feel for that – and if it means I also have to push the release of THE STORM PRINCESS AND THE RAVEN KING. (Reader: I do. Apologies! These things have a cascade effect…)

So, I was picking my ideal, least-amount-of-stress date when I realized: Amazon only allows us to push the date by 30 days. For those not wanting to do the math, that made the new release date January 19. At first I tried manipulating my schedule and wordcount goals, considering writing on weekends, which I normally take off to relax and refill the well, and then I realized that I would be incredibly stressed trying to do that. I ended up soliciting advice. My plan is to call Amazon and see if they’ll grant me dispensation to push both release dates out to a comfortable distance. Apparently they sometimes will, and I stand a good chance as I haven’t done this before. Wish me luck! And I’ll report back.

Fair warning: those dates I’ll be requesting are mid-February and mid-April, just to give myself plenty of room since I don’t want to have to try to change them again.

Onward to the actual topic!

Stress isn’t easy to combat, especially since it can be so insidious. Our neurological systems are built to constantly re-establish baselines, so we can be alerted to new dangers. This means we become inured to the presence of chronic stressors, in order to be aware of acute ones. In essence, we forget about the alligators in the watering hole that are always there, so we can be alert to the arrival of the tiger.

But only our conscious awareness “forgets” about the alligators. Our adrenal system is revved about those stinking alligators, punching up our nervous system every time we take a drink. For modern humans, our alligators are those constant concerns of our lives: money, health, family, deadlines, politics, etc. We think we’re not stressed about these things all the time because we’re used to it. Often it’s only when the stress relents that we become aware of its absence – with sheer, blessed relief.

For me this means being proactive. I make an effort to combat stress even when I don’t feel particularly stressed. What do I do?

1) Take deep breaths. I know this may feel like hackneyed advice, but really is the best. Studies have shown we hold our breath when reading emails or when social media notifications arrive. By reminding myself to consciously and conscientiously breathe deeply, I release and fend off stress.

2) Speaking of email and social media notifications, I silence as much as possible. All those pop-ups, pings, and badges? Turn them off! Very little needs our immediate attention. For email, I try to confine my engagement with it to once a day. Much like the paper mail. I treat it like it arrives once and I read and respond then.

3) I try to be kind to myself, doing those things that others have mentioned here. Yoga is great, not only for the energy realignment and breathing (!), but also because it makes me step away from the phone and computer for an hour and be only in my body. Being outside works for this. Long walks. Reading in the sun. Unplugging and focusing on non-monetized creative tasks.

What do you all do to destress?

 

Black FaRoFriday Fantasy Romance Readathon!

Love romantic fantasy and fantasy romance? Because it’s U.S. Thanksgiving – and Black Friday, the apparently now global celebration of our worldwide religion: consumerism – the FaRo gals are sponsoring a readathon!! Details here, with reading lists and templates for participating. As a bonus (and sacrifice to the deities of consumerism) all of these books are on deep sale!

My DARK WIZARD is on sale for only 0.99c!

This is a great time to grab this first in the Bonds of Magic series as a standalone novella in the world, Familiar Winter Magic, will be out December 22 in the FIRE OF THE FROST anthology, and book 3, in the series, GREY MAGIC, now has a cover and will be out in January!

Two Great Stories to Read

This week at the SFF Seven we’re throwing out some promo to other creatives in our community. I’d like to give a shoutout to two people who’ve been a huge help and source of insight and calm guidance to me in the last week, P.H. Lee and Phoebe Barton.

Lee, who prefers not to be gendered, is a writer of mostly fantasy and science fiction, and is a member of SFWA. Lee has a number of stories you can check out, but I recommend starting with Your Own Undoing. It’s a haunting and compelling take on the wizard-familiar relationship, and explores a fall from power with gut-wrenching and unflinching empathy. Lee told me it’s a metaphor for an abusive relationship, which I absolutely can see. So, fair warning on that content, but if you can take that, absolutely give it a read.

Phoebe Barton is a queer trans science fiction writer who serves on the SFWA Board of Directors as a Director at Large. You can check out her storiesgames, and nonfiction. The one I’m recommending today is The Mathematics of Fairyland. This is a delightful and mind-bending mashup of fantasy and science fiction that explores how Martians handle faeries and how a princess can access Fairyland from a space station in order to rescue her princess. It’s a heartbreaking and deftly woven glimpse into the madness of grief.

***

In news from my world, I’m sorry to say that we’ll be delaying release of FIRE OF THE FROST. Not by much! It will still release in December, just a couple of weeks later. Ish. As soon as we set the new release date, we’ll let you know!