What Dangerous Topic Jeffe Longs to Write

Marcella, sister SFF Seven bordello mate and longtime crit partner, sent me this amazing glitter card. She’s been reading – and giving excellent insight on – this series from the very beginning. If I’d had more time, she would have been top in my thank you’s in the acceptance speech. I remember hitting midpoint on that book, The Pages of the Mind, panicking and sending it to Marcella. Braced for her to tell me I’d gone horribly wrong, down some twisted path of no return, I opened her email reply. In which she scolded me for stopping where I did and to keep going, dammit.

I tell you, folks, there’s nothing better to keep you sane than good writing friends.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven regards Third Rails in Genre Fiction: What subjects are too dangerous for you to touch? Or do you touch them anyway? Come on over to the SFF Seven to find out what mine is. 

Doing Right by Our Friends

boundbyinkHappy Release Day to Marcella Burnard with the newest in her Living Ink urban fantasy series, BOUND BY INK!!

This is such a cool series, with tattoos that capture demons and bind them to people. Marcella has been a friend for a long time, so seeing her books release is always fun for me. I met Marcella online through RWA’s Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal (FFP) chapter, back in… wow – 2009, I think. We used to “meet” every morning in the online water cooler and do writing sprints. Later, when I happened to be out in Olympia, Washington, she drove down to meet me for dinner. I’ve had a number of writing friends come and go over the years. This business seems to be particularly hard on friendships, with some people withdrawing as our careers and fortunes wax and wane.

Marcella, though, has been a steadfast friend to me throughout – something I’ve really come to value.

There’s a saw that friends are the family you choose and I think there’s a lot of truth to that. I have friends who go back most of my life, nearly as long as some of my family and some longer than the younger/newer family members. How closely in contact we are changes all the time, but the best friends are the ones where that doesn’t matter. I recently saw two college friends while I was out in Baltimore and it was lovely to visit with them, touch base with their lives.

The people who are our friends form the fabric of our lives, their threads interweaving with ours. Maybe part of one space of time, maybe running throughout the length. Their impact on us, and of us on them, can be profound.

This is on my mind because a friend of my mother’s died last week. They’d known each other for around thirty years. They shared a whole group of mutual friends, couples who spent lots of time together, partying, traveling, celebrating each others’ milestones. Her death came as a shock to most everyone in that more-dispersed circle. Largely because no one knew she’d fallen ill. All her friends knew was that they’d left messages that she hadn’t returned. Finally she didn’t return so many that one of them pinned down the husband. Turned out she’d not only been sick, but she’d gone comatose, was on life support and the family was meeting to make a decision. She died the following day and the service set for the end of the week.

None of them got to see her before she died.

Of course, by the time they knew, she was beyond communicating. But, while it’s understandable that a family in crisis will circle the wagons and not communicate such a terrible event, it hurt my mom and the woman’s other friends terribly not to be able to say their own goodbyes. They could have let her know one last time that they loved her. For themselves, they could have tied off that thread, instead of it hanging as a ragged edge.

It’s something to think about – if we suddenly fall ill, is there a list of who to contact? For many of us, a phone call to one or two friends will set in motion a chain of communication. It’s probably worth it to make that list. Just in case.

If not for ourselves, then for our friends who love us.

On Juggling Projects, Starting New Novels and Title Angst

HEA USA TodayWhat’s that? Oh, just Ruby as a recommended read at USA Today. 😀

Okay, I might be a little THRILLED AND GIDDY!

*ahem*

This has been a bit of a transition week for me. On Saturday I finished making the additions to Oro that Carina asked for and sent that off.  That one will be in the Erotic Holiday Anthology (which I’ve been referring to as the Ero Ho Ho Antho), scheduled to release November 21. With that production deadline looming, the Carina team has been busy with getting cover ideas and, sadly, retitling the story. Apparently a surprising number of people out there don’t know that Oro means gold in Spanish.

~drums nails on desk, looking mean~

I haven’t ever dug in my heels on a title before – and, now that the ever-patient Carolyn Crane talked me out of my tree – I won’t now. But that story will always be Oro in my heart.

So, I’m also aware that, after ORO, I don’t have anything contemporary or erotic romancey lined up for next year. Thus I spent a few days this week working up new project ideas. With the brainstorming and insightful feedback of my lurvly CPs, Carolyn and Marcella, I’ve now got concepts for six novels. One would be a contemporary romance trilogy and the other three would be new installments in the Facets of Passion series – but longer stories. And now all six are sketched out.

I know, I know. Can this really be me? Is the non-plotter actually pre-plotting?

Noooo… Don’t be silly. These are just overall road maps. But I am getting better at preconceiving how a story will go. It takes a different kind of writer muscle, but I think I’m developing it. Fabulous Agent Pam will take those out on the road, so I’ll keep you posted!

Then yesterday, I started in on Book 2 of The Twelve Kingdoms. This is the sequel to The Middle Princess, which I’ve been calling The Flower Princess. Those names will change, but that’s what they are to me until then. I set up my storyboard for Flower Princess – which meant retiring all the notes for Master of the Opera, which is pretty much done now, except for line edits, etc. – and dug into the opening scene.

It feels less huge now, but it’s always interesting to start a project I know I’ll be working on for the next three months or so. I expect developmental edits for Middle Princess during that time, but those two should dovetail nicely. In fact, I’m delighted by that timing as it will let me really submerge in that world.

It also occurred to me yesterday that, with turning in Flower Princess by November 1 and with the Book 3, The Sword Princess, due May 1, that I’ll have the whole trilogy written before most readers ever see the first book (out in June). In some ways I think that’s a really good thing for me. I’ll have less of a sense of anyone looking over my shoulder. I felt a lot of that in the Covenant of Thorns cycle, when I wrote Rogue’s Possession, with Rogue’s Pawn being out for so long. Twelve Kingdoms will be in more of a bubble. I’ll be interested in the difference.

What I am noticing is that I’m also getting much better at compartmentalizing projects. A very useful skill to have, the way I’m wanting to get these different stories out there.

So, that’s a rambly recap of where I’m at right now. Apropos of nothing, really.

You all have a fab weekend!

How Not to Be a Neurotic Writer

033I spent the last few days on “writers retreat” with my critique partners Laura Bickle and Marcella Burnard. Laura treated us to a cabin in the Hocking Hills and took us on her favorite hikes to these amazing nooks and grottoes. It was so lovely. There’s something about all that pure water springing through rock crevices that’s magical, too. It felt purifying and inspiring.

The reason I put “writers retreat” in quotation marks is because we are all writers and we did retreat – no cell service or internet – we didn’t actually write all that much.

We talked about it. A lot.

And normally I’m a proponent of the “don’t talk about it, just do it” school of Getting Your Writing Done, but this was a chance for us to hash out all our Thoughts on career, peers and gossip. It was more like a corporate retreat. What have we done and where are we going?

My favorite moment: when Laura referred to my career “strategy.” Yeah. Like I planned this.

Among our topics of gossip were the inevitable rehashes of the various colleagues who’ve flamed out for various reasons. The ones who inexplicably posted highly inadvisable rants to blogs. The ones who burned bridges with publishing houses for no apparently better reason than because they had a barrel of lighter fluid handy. The neurotic divas who threw fits in bookstores or at conventions. Talking about the Great Cautionary Tales is fun, especially while drinking wine in the hot tub while fireflies dart about, but it’s also useful. There’s an unfortunate tendency for writers to be nutbags. Almost like it goes with the job. But I just don’t believe that has to be the case.

Extract the lesson from these tales, please.

That’s often what stories do – they illustrate lessons for us. Often the message speaks to a deeper part of ourselves. In fact, the best stories work that way.

In thinking about the whole concept of “I’m an artist and therefore neurotic” concept, I started thinking about the hero’s journey. There’s the classic tale of journeying to another world to bring back the prize. This “other” place – the underworld, dreamworld, faerie, what have you – is equivalent to the subconscious. Wherever we believe our stories come from, it feels like a journey to get them. We metaphorically travel to this other landscape – not the world of traffic lights and alarm clocks – to connect to the creative principle.

(You can call it the muse or the subconscious or the Great Storyteller or whatever – I don’t think it matters.)

In the stories, the dreamworld follows different rules, but the hero who survives, who triumphs, is the one who is pure of heart. She’s the one who can face herself in the mirror and accept who she truly is. It takes discipline, self-knowledge and brutal clarity to journey to the dreamworld and bring back the prize.

When the hero triumphs, she travels the night-dark sea, returns with the magic elixir, neatly bottled and labeled, turns it into her editor ON TIME and saves the village. Much rejoicing.

The others? They can make it to the dreamworld all right, but return in a shambles. The vial of the elixir she went to obtain is half-full, the hero is drenched with the stuff, the label has fallen off. She’s weeks late and stumbles into the village that burned long ago, wondering what the hell happened.

I explained this idea to Laura and she nodded sagely. “This,” she said, “is why Douglas Adams said the most important tool is a towel. We need the towel to soak up all that extra subconscious water, so we don’t drown in it.”

Very wise, my writer friend.

She’s right. We balance our creative journeys with practicality. Being neurotic or crazy or an unbalanced diva is never okay. Yes – journey to the dreamworld. But keep your objectives in mind. Bottle the elixir, wipe off the bottle and get back to the village in time.

Be your own hero.

Upping the Wordcount and Keeping the Faith

2_27_13Jackson, in a post-breakfast stupor. Not that any of us can relate to this.

Regular readers know I’ve been plugging away on the Phantom e-Serial. I’ve got another month to finish it, which sounds like a lot that way, but when you realize that’s 31 days, it sounds much worse. Still, I have it in hand, I believe. I’ve been working fairly steadily at about 1,675 words/day. That puts me finishing around March 24 – with a week to spare for revising. Fortunately the CPs all took a look at the first half – while I took a week-long break and wrote a new Facets of Passion story for a Christmas anthology (I hope) – and they all liked it! They really liked it!! (Cue Sally Fields Oscar gif.)

For you math whizzes out there, that rate is, yes, around NaNoWriMo levels. A while back, I never thought I could steadily produce at that rate while working full time. Amazing how things change! Last month – ooh, on February 1, even! it’s like a recurring THEME – I posted my cumulative wordcount numbers. I’ve been tracking my weekly and monthly numbers lately, to better understand how I work.

March weekly wordcounts

Here’s the chart of my weekly wordcounts. The first and last “weeks” of February are a bit artificially low, as they were partial weeks. Still, that second to last week of February, I hit 20K, which might be a personal best. (I haven’t been tracking weekly counts long enough to be sure.) I got there via a vacation day and a holiday, plus a solid weekend of work, to write that new Facets of Passion story. I like how I can see my rate increase through the month, however. This week was down, due to dealing with family illness and travel. I was feeling kind of bad about that, until I saw my monthly stats.

March monthly wordcountsYes, I just made 50K for February, which I’ve only done once before. Plus, as the lovely Laura Bickle generously pointed out, it was a short month. It will be interesting to see what March and April bring. I predict March will be another high month and April will drop considerably, because I’ll be revising two novels in that month. Editing time makes for poor metrics – even if you count pages revised and you’re clipping along at 30/day, that looks kind of pitiful. I need a way to weight that. Hmmm…

Oh! And the other fun news is that a spin-off story from the upcoming fantasy trilogy (The Twelve Kingdoms) has been accepted to a sword and sorcery anthology! Former Word Whore James R. Tuck is editing. CP Marcella Burnard will have a story in there, too, so it should be loads of fun. Turns out they’ll do two volumes of the anthology. She and I, of course, wrote very female-centric stories (not usually the thing for sword and sorcery), so we’re curious to see if Tuck divides the volumes by male/female, which would be interesting. It should be out in June, so we’ll keep you apprised!

Writing Cheerleaders – and Naysayers

Some of the birthday sussies from my writing gals. Allison Pang sent the fab martini glass. It’s a quote from Dorothy Parker: “I like to have a martini, Two at the most. Three, I’m under the table. Four, I’m under my host.” Apropos in so many ways! Marcella sent the dramatic Mardis Gras ring, which embodies Ruby. And Laura Bickle sent the gorgeous sun pendant, which has a special meaning, celebrating this summer.

This kind of support – thoughtful celebrations like this – mean a great deal to me as a writer. It can be a lonely and difficult business, so these little joys, and reassurances that someone else cares, can make all the difference.

We all know – there always seem to be plenty of people waiting to undermine what you’re doing.

I read this article the other day. It’s an excellent and insightful essay by nonfiction writer Rebecca Solnit on how men reflexively tend to explain things to women. Often without regard for the woman’s expertise and education. And if you guys out there are feeling irritated – I followed this link from a male Twitter friend, who recommended it. But it was funny, as these things often seem to happen, I read this article on the same day that I had an annoying encounter.

We were having lunch with one of David’s colleagues and the conversation was quite stilted. At one point, I think in an attempt to find a congenial topic – and to include me in the conversation – David said that my book had come out a few weeks ago and my pic was in the NYT. The man looked puzzled and asked, “your book?” I said yes, the most recent one. He asked how many I have written, so I explained about the various novellas and the recent published novel. When I finish, he frowns at me and says, “I thought it was really hard to get published.”

I was so taken aback that I didn’t have an immediate reply. Other than to toss my hair and giggle. He didn’t need me to answer that, though, because he launched into a story about a friend who wrote a book – which he thought was a really good and valuable book – and could never get it published. I just nodded, smiled and ate my lunch. And let him explain the publishing business to me.

I’m at a point in my career where this kind of idle slam means little to me. I can shrug it off, because I clearly have more expertise in this arena than he does. Yes it’s difficult. I happen to be good at what I do. Plus, I’m persistent – something his friend wasn’t.

But for all of you out there still aspiring, who don’t have that real- life experience to fall back on? Don’t listen to these people, please. Never listen to the people who haven’t done it.

And trust in yourself and your own dreams. Your own persistence.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Focusing a Murky Story

I really wanted to capture how these 4 o’clocks glow in the evening light – their luminosity – but then the focus isn’t crisp. It makes me wonder if it’s always a trade-off between the two.

I’ve been working up the third story in the newly christened Facets of Passion series, which started with Sapphire (last October), continues with Platinum (out in February) and will culminate with Ruby. Normally I wouldn’t have started on this third novella yet, keeping to my established rotation. (And because I need to work on RP2 for all of you bugging me for it!) But Editor Deb asked me to work up a polished partial and a synopsis for her, with an eye to bundling the three books. Very exciting! This is something you only get to do after you’ve proven yourself to your editor and your press.

She’s so funny, because she asked how long it would take me to do that and I said, it depends on the amount of partialness she’s looking for – and I assured her that is, indeed, a word. She told me she told me she needed 20-30 pages of extra sparkly partialness. I love her.

So, at any rate, I’ve been working up Ruby. Even though each story involves different characters, and different emotional arcs, they are intertwined for me, thematically. Ruby is a kind of culmination of the three. (Though I do have an idea for Book 4.) I know this is part of me being a character-driven writer, who doesn’t really plot ahead, but some stories just feel “murkier” than others. The characters in Ruby are more complex people in many ways, with layers of “psychological candy,” as CP Carolyn Crane just put it.

It took me longer than it should have, to work up these sparkly pages – maybe because I felt more pressure, knowing I couldn’t just spin along with the story to see what happened. I reworked the opening several times. The whole thing felt a little formless still. Out of focus But I sent it to the CPs for feedback, cringing, waiting for them to ask me WTF I’m doing.

And they say it’s working!!

Funny how, as a writers, sometimes you just can’t tell.

But Carolyn just told me she thought this is a super strong book shaping up. Which is so good to know. Laura said “very complex and fun stuff!” Marcella just wants more. This all reassured me that the luminosity is there, shining through – and the comments they gave me are helping me to focus it.

Maybe I *can* have both.

Final Wrap-Up of RWA. Includes Dancing.

Hey, it’s Friday, which means it’s my last day to wrap up the final two days of the conference. Which pretty accurately captures how it all feels at that point: fast and compressed.

First thing that Friday morning, I dragged myself together in time to meet several other Carina authors (Jennifer Bray-Weber, Adrienne Giordano, Ruth Casie, Rita Henuber, Julie Rowe) and Carina freelance editor Mallory Braus for breakfast with our Brenda Novak auction winner. We had a lovely time – including mimosas! Poor Joyce had managed to sprain her ankle the day before, tripping over tape at the doors of the keynote luncheon, and was a real trooper. She asked us for the honest dirt on writing for Carina and we all raved with the lurv. So much for dirt!

I made it back over to the convention in time to catch the tail end of Marcella’s workshop on using acting techniques to add tension and emotion into your writing. She even put me on the spot to talk about Feeding the Vampire, which she’d used early on as an example of starting with action. Hey kids – I’m an example! And not a cautionary tale this time!


Robyn Carr spoke at that day’s luncheon and did a marvelous job. She gave us her personal story, which is my favorite kind of talk. It took her thirty years to make the NYT Bestseller list, so she said she wasn’t inspirational to anyone. She so was. You might have seen all the people tweeting her best line: “Success is not measured by fame or fortune or power. Success is measured in moments of satisfaction.”

After lunch, an incredibly handsome man gave me a massage. He’d been set up there all week and, by this point, had three other handsome young men working with him. Brilliant business idea. I told him a lot of heroes would be modeled on him after that. He laughed but, after he finished, he knelt down and put my shoes on, which involved tying the ribbons around my ankles. He gave me a sexy smile and said how into those shoes he could get. Several women watching said they nearly swooned on the spot.

After more workshops, that evening was the Carina Press Author Cocktail Party. Always a delight. I made two new friends there, Cathy Perkins, who I’d vaguely known from Twitter before that, but never really talked to, and Monique Domovitch, a brand new author, who is also with fabulous Editor Deb. We hit it off so well that we retired to the pool bar for a glass of wine before the Harlequin party. Alas, Monique had signed too recently to go, but we had lunch the next day, where I think we talked for two hours. My favorite part of conference: new friends!

The Harlequin party was, again, awesome. Held off site with a tight invitation list, the party showers us with treats. Wait staff were lined up at the doors with trays of a special pink Harlequin martini. I may have had three that night… Which isn’t as bad as it sounds, because I danced and danced and danced.

The lead photo up top is from that party, showing one of my local chapter mates, Robin Perini, explaining something to agent Laurie McLean. And here’s Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, a junior agent with Laurie’s agency, giving us the Vogue pose.

Here’s the ever-vivacious Victoria Dahl, being unnaturally demure.

And Carina Press Executive Editor Angela James, with photo bomb provided by the wiley Andrew Schaffer.

And Carina Press Editorial Assistant Carrie Holden holding an incredibly earnest conversation with freelance editor Rhonda Helms.

Mallory Braus, looking deceptively sweet.

And the dancing, of course.

Hope to see you all next year!

The Glamour, the Excitement – the Pools and Palm Trees!

When I posted this particular picture to Facebook, my mom commented, asking what was with me, pools and palm trees.

What can I say? I’m consistent!

(But not a foolish consistency – fie on you hobgoblins!)

So, the second day of conference was still pretty laid back. The Wednesday of RWA is largely for special interest events. There’s the leadership retreat for chapter presidents and some of the chapters have “mini-conferences” and so forth. A lot of people were arriving that day. The big event is the Literacy Signing, which starts at 5pm. If you’re signing, you might consider getting there the night before, just for the frazzle-factor. Yes, that’s a real thing. Especially if you’re flying!

But I didn’t have a lot of obligations that day, which was lovely. After a morning of day job phone calls (necessary ebil), I hung out and socialized with the incoming frazzleees in the lobby and dropped by the Carina Press Digital Day session.

I know I tend to wax on about Carina, but this is one of the things I love. As a digital publisher, they’re committed to giving us the tools to deal with the digital world. In the conference room set aside for this, they had tables set up for various stations – Facebook, Twitter, Websites, Pinterest, etc. You could go from table to table, ask questions of the lovely, vivacious and charming Carina staffers and get personal lessons and feedback. I went in thinking I pretty much knew All The Things already and came out having learned several very interesting tricks. Those gals spent the entire day on their feet, too, coaching all of us. Just one of the many things I love about Carina.

My website designers, Liz and Sienna from Bemis Promotions, attended the conference, so Sienna and I had a late lunch and talked about the website. Since I’m handing out praise, I really like that Liz and Sienna are at RWA and know the pool I swim in. Makes everything so much better!

The Carina authors met up early for the Literacy Signing, to meet each other and for solidarity, and we all got helium balloons to tie to our chairs. You’ve already seen the pic of me at the signing.Here’s one of CP and roomie Marcella Burnard at her table.

I had a wonderful time – much better than I expected. I figured with all the truly fabulous and famous authors in the room, no one would notice little ol’me. Several of you have asked how I signed books, being Digital Girl. Carina put our books on CD, with this lovely packaging. I signed the CD covers like, well, a Rock Star!


Vivian Arend, who is so wonderful in so many ways, had “Autographed by Author” stickers for all of us first time signers. (She’d asked us to rais hands on Twitter.) Here she is at the Harlequin Ball, later that same week.

As I was leaving the signing, the lovely and so-smart Courtney Milan said she liked my jacket. (Told you she’s smart!) We chatted on the walk back to the hotel. Vivian and I sat at the lobby bar after that, having wine and snacks, and talking to the 50 bajillion people who walked by.

So, I’ve heard some of you making high-pitched noises about wanting one of those Rogue’s Pawn buttons. If you want one, leave me a comment here and I’ll email you for your address. Buttons for everyone!!