Hunting the Siren Release Day!

Today is the day HUNTING THE SIREN hits the world!

So far you can only buy it on the Ellora’s Cave site here, but they have it in .docx, .zip, .epub, .pdf and .prc, if that’s any consolation. Or you can be patient (I know, I know – not our forte) and wait for it to pop up on the third party retailer sites like Amazon, B&N and ARe.

This story is a follow-up to Feeding the Vampire, which many of you know started with a dream. I was in something like a church basement, badly lit with flickering green fluorescent lights, and I know I’m there because the world is in chaos and there’s nowhere else for me to go. I sat in a circle of folding chairs with a bunch of other people I didn’t know, like a self-help group, and a vampire was sitting across from me. Someone says as how he needs to be fed and I volunteer.

I had to figure out the rest from there. Why the world had ended, why there were suddenly vampires. And so forth.

So, when the lovely and persistent Editor Grace bugged me about a sequel, I had to really think about the what next. I had no convenient dream to draw from this time. I did know about another story, about a woman dealing with this same post-apocalyptic world, but I wasn’t ready to write it yet. Instead, I scanned this world in my mind, which is kind of like being a superhero and flying over the broken and drowning earth, looking for life. I thought maybe people would have survived on the Russian Steppes, since it’s a relatively stable earthquake zone. And there I found my Vampire Queen and her band of Night Riders. I also spotted Kasar, an engineer in Moscow whose noble bloodline serves him well in surviving the fall of the city – and his hike to find his sister. Then my CP, Laura Bickle, got all revved up about furry boots and yurt sex and the story rolled along from there.

This series, officially dubbed the Blood Currency series, because blood is now the major commodity for trade between the unevenly matched and struggling populations of vampires and humans, is a different one for me in that the heroines are not much like me at all. Misty, in Feeding the Vampire, wasn’t terribly well-educated, had no real skills and no confidence in herself. Imogen, my Vampire Queen, is ancient, ruthless and rule with an iron will. Both of them were really fun to write – for totally different reasons.

Will they all meet up someday?

Seems inevitable…


Is Writing to Spec Selling Out?

Flax is very nearly a weed – popping up volunteer-style just about everywhere. And yet, the blue flowers almost luminesce, making up for everything.

Selling out. It’s the cry of the artist. The accusation of the betrayed fan. I’ve blogged before about whether I think this is a real concept and where it came from. Essentially, for a writer, it’s sacrificing the story for commercial gain. That can mean even the gain of not violating an existing contract. We’ve all seen it happen. Charlaine Harris reportedly kept writing the Sookie Stackhouse books long after she wanted to. I would say that I’d love to have that problem – deciding between writing a book I don’t care about and a multi-million dollar contract, but I think it would be an extraordinarily painful decision to make.

All the same, I think brand new authors, especially pre-pubbed authors, worry about this a great deal. Maybe it’s because the artistic vision, the fledgling storyteller is so very fragile and new. It’s very difficult to know – definitely an acquired skill – how to separate good feedback from bad. Agents and editors famously reject anything that’s too outside the marketing box, even as they ask for “fresh ideas.” It takes time and confidence to know when to believe in a story nobody wants to buy. Because, sometimes, it can be true that your carnivorous shape-shifting sunflower story is and idea that plain should just not ever see the light of day.

The other end of the spectrum is writing to spec. The worst examples are those authors who get into writing particular series, like Vampire Diaries, where they have no artistic control, a corporate ideal dictates the characters and stories and straying from dogma is brutally punished.

As with all things, there’s a place somewhere in the middle. I’ve discovered it gets easier to find that sweet spot once you have a good editor relationship.

See, when you’re a new writer, you’re nearly throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. Some are better than others at writing for the market, knowing what kind of thing sells fast and what doesn’t. I have a friend who’s an NYT Bestselling Author who absolutely planned her series with that goal. I, myself, am terrible at this. I tried the same thing, the same approach she did, and my “fresh take” on things is apparently so out in left field that no one has any idea how they’d sell it. So far, I have two totally different novels that have decidedly not stuck to the wall. They slide off into a disheartingly floppy pile on the floor. Sometimes I just let them lie there for a while.

But others *have* stuck.

And there, my friends, is the key.

Because once you’ve sold that book to an editor who loves you (and she will or she wouldn’t have bought your book – my editor Deb recently tweeted that part of her decision to buy a book hinges on whether she loves it enough to read it 4-5 more times in the course of editing, a hell of a lot of love), then you have a relationship where you can discuss the next story. In my case, I don’t have contracts for the next books, so they’re always careful not to guarantee me anything. Which is good for me because I don’t have to guarantee anything either. But they will give you an idea of will or won’t work for them. Editor Grace guided me towards a different word count and essential elements she’d like to see. I wrote Hunting the Siren with those guidelines in mind, but it was still my story. When I mentioned to Editor Deb what I was working on as a follow-up to Sapphire, she pointed out a few things that would make it a hard sell to the acquisitions team. I set that story aside and wrote Platinum instead, which the acquisitions team snapped right up.

Is this selling out? I just don’t think so. Mainly because I’m still writing all of my other stuff. It might also be that I have two fabulous editors who really respect that writing isn’t something that can be controlled and dictated. They give me freedom, but they also give me guidance for the market. That’s their part of the job, as far as I’m concerned.

And heck, at least they’re not cluttering up my kitchen floor.

A Glimpse Behind the Curtain

This is my Ellora’s Cave editor, Grace Bradley, sharing a meal and cocktails with me and Laura Bickle. I’m not sure why Laura looks so glowy – must be her radiant spirit.

This week I’m doing a series of posts over at Novel Spot, for their “Behind the Scenes” feature. This series lets authors tell, over the course of seven days, how they got where they are today.

So you can go see Day One: The Before Time and Day Two: Putting It Together, Making It Happen.

It was interesting to write these, to go back over the last twenty-some years and see how my writing career – and my ideas about it – have changed. And grown. Always a good thing to see some growth.

I think you have to register and log in to comment there, which I know is a  pain, so feel free to comment here!

Sunshine and Silken Sands

Okay, I’m getting my feet under me again. Thank you, everyone, for all your kindness and support.

I might even have looked at some kitten pictures yesterday. David is egging me on for a Norwegian forest cat. Wouldn’t that be fun?

So, finally, here’s my break-down of the Gulf Coast Writers Silken Sands Conference last weekend. It was a lovely conference and I’m so glad I went, even with what happened while I was gone. A small conference like this lets you have so many more opportunities to hang in a casual way with the editors and agents in attendance. That OMIGODINEEDTOPITCH OCD frenzy just never develops.

It’s actually fun.

So, when I got in, the fabulous conference organizer, Jillian Chantal, picked me up from the airport. My hotel room had a view of the beach.

AND of the pool bar. You folks know me. I just love me a pool bar.

I soaked in the view – and the moisture – then hooked up with Jillian and Angela James, executive editor of Carina Press, to head to this We Got Crabs place next door.

Very fun place. We sat outside, enjoyed the live band. AND they had $2.50 martinis.

There’s Angela, looking happily dwarfed by her martini.

I got to have fresh crab. Even though it took me a while to get the bib open.

Thank you, Angela, for the picture!

On Friday morning, I grabbed a little beach time with Carolyn Crane’s second book in her Disillusionists trilogy, Double Cross. Man, did I gobble up these books. Such a fascinating approach to the use of psychic energy. Her cast of characters is like a deeply twisted Justice League. I’m working on getting her to write more! This is one of my favorite parts of being an author – I can stalk other authors without them being so suspicious and then badger them into giving me more of what I want. Guerilla author – that’s me.

Then Angela took me and two other Carina Press authors out to lunch. Katie Reus and Wynter Daniels were delightful companions and Angela a charming and generous hostess. I got this amazing shrimp boat platter:

Afterwards, we attended Angela’s seminar on building your author brand and author websites. Very informative. And she analyzed our websites, too. She took great care to make us feel like valued members of her publishing family. It was really lovely.

That evening was the costume party – come as your favorite literary character. That’s the picture at the top. Me as Robin McKinley’s Sunshine. I carried the book with me as a clue, but nobody got it. Mainly because very few people there had read the book. Seriously people, this is such a good book! How can I make more people read it???

On Saturday morning, I got to pitch The Middle Princess to a lovely editor from St. Martins, who I’d already chatted with (small conference for the win!), so it was laid back and pleasant. It helped that we sat on the patio overlooking the beach. Okay, it was a little weird because Angela and my Ellora’s Cave editor, Grace Bradley, were also taking pitches at nearby tables. I felt like a pitch-slut. But, I also know that Middle Princess isn’t right for either of those presses and I’m writing stuff for them.

I may or may not have put in a little more beach time after that.

After that, I had lunch with Grace, which was lovely and low-key. The conference provided yummy box lunches and they made a (mostly) Vegan one for her, so we took our lunches and had a long, leisurely conversation. I attended some workshops that afternoon and spent a bit of time at the pool bar with the charming Keri Ford.

This was St. Patrick’s Day and by evening the beach was a MADHOUSE like you would not believe.

I had a lovely low-key dinner with several author friends, Katie, Wynter, Cindy Eden and new friend Manda Collins, who suggested a perfect high-concept pitch for Middle Princess.

Sunday morning – well, if you’ve been reading you know Saturday night and Sunday morning were bad for me. But I did my workshop on the Erotic Story Arc. (Thank you Keri Ford for the pic!)

Grace came to the workshop and had great input. Keri took a pic of us together, but it’s on Grace’s phone and she’s on vacation in the Caribbean, which makes me bitter on several levels. Hopefully I’ll get that eventually and post it here.

The always-generous conference organizers gave me a ride back to the airport, along with Jenny Bent. It was fun to get to talk to her and discover we have surprising things in common. What a delightful person she is.

That’s the round-up. In case you haven’t been reading carefully: try the small conferences. *Totally* worth it.

Sand, Sun and the Erotic Story Arc

I’m starting to think beach.

Not this particular beach, but the one I’ll be visiting in Pensacola, Florida for the Silken Sands Conference March 16-18. I’m so looking forward to this conference, not just for the warm and the beach, but because it’s a small conference packed with a lot of really great people. Two of my favorite editors, Angela James (Carina Press) and Grace Bradley (Ellora’s Cave) will be there, along with Holly Blanck (St. Martin’s) who I’d like to be one of my favorite editors. 😀 There will also be fabulous author friends there and I’m looking forward to hanging with them.

So, I’m working up my presentation in my head. Brewing it up so I can start making some slides. My workshop? The Erotic Story Arc: Not a Contradiction in Terms.

Yeah – you know what I mean.

A lot of people think an erotic story is simply porn and nothing more. And – hey, let’s face it – some can be. Over on Word Whores this week, we’ve been having an interesting debate on action scenes and whether we skim them as readers. The consensus has been that both action scenes and sex scenes suffer by being all stage direction without real story. So, in the erotic story, the sexual interaction takes center stage, but it still must serve to move the character from one place to another. That’s the core of a story: how the characters change.

Often the change in the characters in an erotic story is the simple coming together. They start out strangers and end up together – classic romantic story arc. There’s also the sexual journey, which usually involves some kind of self-discovery. I like the stories about breaking taboos or old beliefs, liberating the characters to embrace more of the world than they did before.

Any that I’m missing? I’m also looking for suggestions, of really well-done erotic stories that were also moving and meaningful.

And, if you want to see my workshop or just come hang at the beach with some fab writing and publishing people, you can still register!

Having It Both Ways

A storm rolled in yesterday afternoon, producing rain, sleet (or hail – we weren’t sure) and then snow. I love all the looming shadows and the layers of cloud here.

I was IMing with one of my Critique Partners yesterday, about how I’m hitting this new place in my writing career. KAK (who just redesigned her blog AND actually posted to it here) is pre-published and is hitting the querying and submitting now. She was catching up with me on how Sapphire is doing, and I said it seems to be doing really well, though I make a point of not looking at sales rankings, etc. (With the glaring exception of that run on the Carina Press website, which I caught by surprise and then all the people who love me kept checking and telling me that I was still #1. That was pretty damn fun.) One way I knew was that my Carina editor, the insightful Deb Nemeth, emailed to ask if I was sending them more BDSM romance. Check that, she said “you are submitting more right?” and then said things about building readerships and frequency of publishing and so on and so forth and other things that I just don’t like to keep in my head for very long. KAK holds marketing stuff in her head much better than I do – one of the reasons I love her – and she said that Deb is right and that you need 3-4 books a year to build a readership. And I asked her if she wanted the email address for my boss at the day job.

Okay, I might have been whining a little bit.

Because she said, hey, you should be happy that editors are ASKING for your work. (I may have mentioned that my Ellora’s Cave editor, the lovely Grace Bradley, has been making similar noises.) I was chastened. I should be grateful. I *am* grateful.

The thing is, they ask what I’m working on and the novel I’m finishing is not one they’re asking for. So far, nobody is really asking for The Body Gift, either. So, I’m in this funny place where I have limited writing time and I’m spending it writing the books nobody is asking for instead of the ones they really want.

I’m insane, right?

I’ve seen career writers talk about this particular struggle – the work you want to write vs. the work they want to pay for. From that I know that this will never change. Charlaine Harris wrote the Sookie books way longer than she wanted to because of this. And you keep reminding yourself how tremendously lucky you are that they want to pay you to write more.

But then there’s that other reason we write. The love of it. “To touch the hem of the gown that is art itself” as Ann Patchett says. (Yes, I’m still reading that book. I went back, slowed way down and now I’m highlighting great lines to share here.)

I suspect the next step will be finding a way to do both.