What Would You Write If You Weren’t Afraid?

CDSdpCIUsAEKz9EI saw this question go by on Twitter a bit ago and, as things seem to do at certain times, it really struck me. I can’t recall who posted it – if it was you, please say so and I’ll give you credit!

Some of you out there will be shaking your heads at me and joyfully proclaiming that you are not afraid. I know you are because some people said that back to me on Twitter. You write exactly what you want to write and screw the rules! Screw the critics, the gatekeepers and reader feedback!

Good on you!

I mean that seriously. It’s a great place to be. I used to be there and I miss it.

And probably “afraid” isn’t exactly the right word for what I feel at this point in my career. It’s more an umbrella sense of caution, of all the voices in my head, whispering as I write. With newbie authors I’ve often given the advice to throw people out of the room who are metaphorically looking over their shoulders. I think pretty much every one of us has to figure out how to overcome that in the early days – writing sex scenes that would shock your grandmother, expressing opinions your dad would have a fit about, starting a sentence with a conjunction which would have been points off in AP English. That’s a big challenge and not easy to do.

Then you get past that – you have to, if you’re going to free up your writing voice – and you write books and everything goes swimmingly for a while.

Until you find yourself writing book four of a popular series that straddles genres in a way that’s generating a lot of interest and discussion and suddenly new, different and LOUDER people are in the room with you. I’m hearing voices I never heard before about the marketplace, what my agent thinks, what my editor expects, what my author friends are saying, what reviewers identify as ways I need to grow as a writer or how I do or don’t fit within the genre. These voices are in many ways much more difficult to shut up because I have respect for their opinions. This isn’t my grandmother reiterating an uneducated attitude. These are smart people with intelligent things to say.

Things that can get in the way.

I heard this before, when I was a newbie writer, and professional writer friends advised me to enjoy that time. They said there’s a freedom to writing then that you lose later, when you have expectations laid on you from people like editors, agents and so forth. Naturally, I barely listened, caught up in my envy for their book contracts and success. But they were spot on correct.

I think it comes down to this – that I’m not always writing what I would if I didn’t have those expectations. Or rather, more accurately, writing what I would if I didn’t have those voices is more of a battle.

I want to write what I’d write if I wasn’t afraid, if I didn’t anticipate the reactions to the book it will become. So I’m focusing on this question. As I’m spinning the story, when I hit a decision point and the voices rise up, chattering about how other authors did it, what the market wants, what the award-givers will value, I ask myself how I’d do it if I weren’t afraid of their censure.

And I do that.

It’s an ongoing process. A lesson I feel like I’m learning anew every day, with every writing session. Maybe this is part of growing as a writer in this stage of my career – finding ways to stay true to my own storytelling in the face of more and more people having an investment in what I do.

Anyone else out there dealing with this? Any advice on banishing those voices? I’m open to advice!


Sharing the Love

Going Underthe talon of the hawkOne of the fun things about writing in several genres and series is that sometimes exciting things happen in multiple worlds at the same time – a very frisky kind of serendipity!

If you haven’t seen it yet, the USA Today HEA Sci-Fi Encounters Blog has a great write up on Fantasy Romance, with terrific insights from the leading writers of the genre – including me, wow! – along with selections from their TBR (to be read) lists.

Also, Going Under tied for Honorable Mention (3rd Place) for Best Book of 2014 at the Love Romances Cafe! This is a readers’ Yahoo loop, so I don’t *think* there’s any way for me to link to it. That came as a total surprise – a thrilling one!

One of the most fun parts of being a writer – particularly in the romance community – is sharing the love with other authors. I’ve been so privileged in the last year to have developed even more friendships with writers who are writing similar stories and even reading mine. We get to have the great pleasure of talking about each others’ work with sincere enthusiasm. Two authors who I’ve been reading and loving – and who’ve been really great about suggesting my books to their readers – are Grace Draven and Jennifer Estep. Really fabulous ladies. 

and the possibilities for collaboration go up.

For example, I’m participating in an anthology with five other amazing authors. We’re calling it DARK SECRETS: A PARANORMAL NOIR ANTHOLOGY. It’s going to be SO delicious, people!! The participating authors are Rachel Caine, Cynthia Eden, Megan Hart, Suzanne Johnson and Mina Khan. I’ve only read Megan Hart’s story – a chilling and sexy deal-with-the-devil tale – but I’ve read everyone’s blurbs. Really excited about this!

Through this anthology – and another weird, random connection – I’ve become quite chatty with Megan lately. Yesterday on IM she suggested an idea for a future project. Did I want to play? Yes, ma’am! I’m already percolating on that one. Her idea is terrific and I love being inspired that way. In a similar vein, I read and loved, loved, loved Rachel Caine’s PRINCE OF SHADOWS. Seriously amazing book. It’s a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but from Benvolio’s point-of-view. Almost impossible to describe how super good it is. That said, Rachel doesn’t go for the smexy like I do, and I complained to her about the scene we did NOT get. (I don’t want to be spoilery, but if you’ve read it – and if you haven’t, you should! – you’ll know exactly what scene I mean.)

So she wrote it for me.

Ha! How awesome is that? Even better, I get to make it even hotter. I don’t know if she’ll share it publicly, but what a fun thing for me.

At any rate, this is kind of a rambly, gushy post, but that’s my mood today.

Sharing the love, people!

New Cover for Petals and Thorns!

PetalsAndThornsCheck out my fabulous new cover for Petals and Thorns from the awesome Amber at Book Beautiful! I’m totally in love with her very pettable gown. This is the book that started my fiction and erotic-romance writing career – my BDSM version of Beauty and the Beast.

I’m so happy to buy her a new dress. 🙂

In exchange for her father’s life, Amarantha agrees to marry the dreadful Beast and be his wife for seven days. Though the Beast cannot take Amarantha’s virginity unless she begs him to, he can and does take her in every other way. From the moment they are alone together, the Beast relentlessly strips Amarantha of all her resistance. If Amarantha can resist her cloaked and terrifying husband, she gains his entire fortune and will be allowed to return to her family and a normal life. But the Beast seduces her at every turn, exposing, binding, tormenting, and pleasuring Amarantha until she no longer knows her own deepest desires. Increasingly desperate to break the curse that chains his humanity, the Beast drives Amarantha past every boundary. But her desire for a normal life may jeopardize the love that will save them both.


Places to buy

 All Romance eBooks


Barnes and Noble







The Talon of the HawkI’m just thrilled and nearly breathless to report that RT Book Reviews gave The Talon of the Hawk a 4.5 Star Top Pick review! The reviewers there are just so incredibly good to this series.

RT Top PickHere’s the review:

“The saga of The Twelve Kingdoms returns in grand style! It takes a great deal of trust for Ursula to accept that Harlan is interested in her as a woman; his position as a mercenary means he’s skilled at playing courtly games. She’s always possessed a physical strength, so it’s beautiful to watch her accept her own personal power, as a woman and as a daughter of Salena, even when her stubbornness gives you fits. Harlan is her perfect match because his talent at observation allows him to see beyond the tough warrior image she employs to avoid showing her feelings. This is a complex world full of danger, subterfuge and secrets with empowering female characters who are not afraid to fight for their future.”– RT Book Reviews, 4.5 Stars Top Pick

Personal Best – Chasing that Moving Target

shoelacesI have not always been this person I am these days. The one who puts on her cross-trainers to run in the morning and later to walk at my treadmill desk. In fact, I recall this one time that my colleagues teased me about it. I arrived to work with them in Salt Lake City after the main team had been there a couple of days already. We were starting a big project and a bunch of newbies were being trained. I walked in the room, having just flown in, and my boss says, “I told you all that would be Jeffe.” I asked how she knew and she said by the clicking of my heels. I happened to be wearing a pair of high-heeled Enzo Angiolini boots I still miss – a lovely light buff suede that eventually became too soiled to rescue – that I’d bought at DSW in Boston on another work trip. At any right I told her that heels didn’t necessarily mean me and she said no, but that I always wear them. Then she asked me if I even owned a pair of sneakers or athletic shoes.

At the time, no, I did not.

Like I said, I’m a different person now. Especially since I’ve learned to tie my shoelaces correctly.

It’s funny to remember this, but once upon a time, tying my shoelaces was a Big Freaking Deal. I must have been five, in Kindergarten, and I got pulled out of class for a series of days for “Special Tutoring.” Because I could not tell time or tie my shoelaces. I know, right? With the telling time thing, keep in mind that they wanted me to be able to on an analog clock and we had all digital clocks at home. With the shoelaces…we’ll get to that.

So, this was kind of humiliating for me. I mean, I saw myself as a smart kid. I could already read on my own by then. I’d shocked the hell out of my mom by spelling, then sounding out the name of our grocery store. (Naturally, words were my first and best skill.) I really hated feeling stupid about the time thing and the shoelace thing. Frustrated, too, because despite all that Special Tutoring, I still got it wrong easily half the time.

Looking back, I’ve realized I probably had dyslexia. I only figured this out in college, when I was tired and actually saw a road sign arrow flip back and forth horizontally. It explained the analog clocks that showed me two different times at once, my baffling tendency to run the ball over the wrong goal line and those shoelaces that wouldn’t stay tied.

It’s amusing then to find out that I’d been tying my shoelaces WRONG. After all that Special Tutoring, they didn’t even teach me correctly.

If you don’t know, there IS a correct way to tie shoelaces so that they don’t come undone. Even better, this knot tightens as you run or walk.

All goes to continuing to grow, improve and learn new things. One of the many bounties of the Internet, that we can escape the embarrassment and frustration of Special Tutoring.


How *Not* to Talk to an Agent

spring blossoms, Eldorado, Santa Fe, NMRecently I had occasion to research my agent’s Twitter feed, looking for a link he’d posted. Along the way I found a number of writers commenting on him not responding to their queries fast enough. Some of their tweets had a fairly terse and impatient tone. One was downright antagonistic.

It truly gave me pause.

First of all – I totally get the frustration. I queried agents (and editors) for years. Some I never heard any kind of response from. Others took approximately forever to reply. One in particular sent me a rejection a year after I’d signed with my first agent. On one level, we hear what they tell us – that client work comes first, that queries come at the far end of a long list of priorities – and intellectually we understand that. But emotionally we also understand what they’re too polite to say: that we are not that important to them at that stage.

Now, before any agents jump in and argue that, OF COURSE queriers are important, that this is where they get new clients and they’re always looking for something exciting in the slush pile – which is all absolutely true – let me clarify. A potential client is exactly that: a possibility. This person and their book lie in the intangible realm. Whereas the agent has very tangible clients and books to deal with. No matter how much as authors we believe in the vast potential of the book we’re querying, no one else has that same emotional charge as we do. And it’s painful.

It’s cranky-making.

It made me cranky, too.

But here’s the thing. The crankiness never goes away. Publishing is a strange business. Things can move at a glacially slow pace. There’s rarely ever a direct relationship between any two things. Hard work does not necessarily equal success. Brilliant writing does not necessarily equal great sales. Awards and rave reviews don’t mean the book will succeed. People you thought supported you turn out not to. Exciting things happen out of the blue and expected things evaporate. Yes, it’s exciting and creative and I wouldn’t trade it for any other career, but my point is this: it’s a cranky-making business. Everybody gets cranky at some point: authors, editors, agents, publishers, marketers, etc.

So, here’s my point. Agents know this. They know that there will be times in working with their authors that things will get stressful. There will be annoying contract negotiations, offers will fall through, books will fail to live up to expectations, editors will change their minds, difficult conversations will be had. This is part of the business. In point of fact, I mentioned in a blog post last week how I was cranky and snarky to my agent about advice he gave me. He probably didn’t love me for it, but he also gave me some latitude on it. (At least, I *think* he still loves me…) And I’m taking the advice, I decided once my cranky subsided. But part of why I get a bye (the one I hope I got) is that’s as cranky as I get. (And we have a pretty easy relationship at this point, where we get each other.)

To him. Or in public. I absolutely get crankier than that in private. That’s what DMs, IMs, text messages and tearful, ranty phone calls are for. Otherwise, I try to keep my professional relationships relatively cranky-free.

Imagine then, if an author is hostile and impatient with an agent they don’t know, have never talked to and have no relationship with. This is like the standard dating advice: he or she is not going to get BETTER after you marry them. Nobody turns out to be sweeter, better behaved and with more diligent hygiene AFTER the vows are said. No, when we’re dating and courting is when we are wearing our best selves. An author who’s impatient about queries, and is cranky about it, is not likely to be pleasant to deal with when the chips are down and a deal is going badly. If you think agents don’t know this and consider it, think again.

Most agents are in the business out of love and passion, much as authors are. There are easier ways to make money. But there’s also a reason we’re not stockbrokers. Agents want to love authors, want to love the books they write and help bring them into the world. If they make a bunch of money doing that, even better. But no book is brilliant enough to make an agent want to work with you if they think it will be a miserable experience.

Because life is too short.