Handling Negative Reviews with Poise and Humor

Here’s a little tease of the cover of ROGUE FAMILIAR, book 2 in Renegades of Magic, releasing at the end of February. Cover reveal coming soon!

This week at the SFF Seven we’re talking about the Mentality of Negative Reviews. Specifically, the person who posed the question asked: do you recognize your fight-or-flight response to negative reviews and do anything to stop it?

I’m including the full text of the question because I’m disagreeing with the initial premise. I don’t think I have a stress response to negative reviews. It could be that I’ve been writing long enough (nearly thirty years *gasp*) that I’ve become more or less inured to negative reviews. I remember a review of my first book, the essay collection WYOMING TRUCKS, TRUE LOVE, AND THE WEATHER CHANNEL, that was mostly glowing – but also said I used adverbs too much. It came from a professional reviewer at a venue I can’t recall, and that was long before I realized that many reviewers are aspiring writers who cling to the “rules” of writing with the tenacity of an apprentice seeking the magic formula to catapult them to true wizard status. Mostly I was surprised that, if my professional, experienced editor at a university press hadn’t minded my adverbs, then why did a reviewer? I understand now. I also know more about the weird anti-adverb stance some writers absorb.

Mostly. <- See what I did there? Humor is key.

Anyway. Experiencing a flight-or-fight response to a review means that you feel attacked. I suppose some reviewers intend it that way. They like to speculate about the author’s emotional life, intentions, or deadline pressure. Authors are occasionally accused of manipulating readers to extract profit. Sometimes our moral integrity is questioned. But that’s all par for the course on social media. I think what’s most important for writers to do is separate themselves from their work. YOU didn’t receive a negative review; the book did. Even if the reviewer specifically attacks the author, they’re still not actually reviewing you as a human being, because they don’t actually know you. The author is a construct in their mind that has very little to do with reality.

Keeping your poise, a sense of yourself as a person separate from the work, and keeping a sense of humor about it all is what gets you through. After all, a review isn’t a tiger. No one’s going to die over a review. It’s fangless, toothless, and ultimately dust in the wind.

Jeffe and her Iconic Scene

 

SHADOW WIZARD releases tomorrow!! Preorder price of $4.99 will be good into tomorrow, then it goes up. (Along with my grocery bill, alas!) The audiobook is being recorded now and should be available in about 2 weeks.

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re asking: Do you have an iconic scene that inspires your writing?
I think most of my stories arise from certain pivotal images. For most every book I’ve written, I can almost certainly identify what the core image was. It’s more than visual, however, and feels more like a snippet of a moment: a character in a situation. For a long time I have had an iconic scene. I started drawing it when  was a little girl and it’s found its way into any number of stories over the years. I’ve never quite felt like I fully wrote the story of it, though it’s haunted me less recently, so maybe I’ve come close enough for it to leave me alone.
The scene:
A woman stands on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Waves rise in whitecaps, dashing themselves against the rocks below. A wind off the water blows back her hair and gown. She’s waiting…  Perhaps for an enemy to arrive on her shores? That’s my usual feeling. Sometimes a large wolfhound is with her. Sometimes I think she’s a sorceress, other times a queen.
If you’ve read a lot of my books, you’ll probably recognize ways that this scene appears in various forms. I might’ve finally worked it out of my system with the Forgotten Empires trilogy, although it still didn’t feel precisely like that iconic scene. Maybe I’ll wend my way back to it someday!
For the time-being, however, I’ve been in the marshes and woodlands with the denizens of the Renegades of Magic world. SHADOW WIZARD takes us to a new high house (if you’re familiar with the Bonds of Magic trilogy), and increasingly wild adventures. In this book, this snippet of a scene is one of my favorites:

She flung herself against him, embracing him with fierce tenacity, face buried against his neck, her chin digging rather sharply against his collarbone. For a slender, barely-there wraith, Seliah possessed a surprising amount of tensile strength. And she smelled of water in the moonlight, her tough, tense, thin little body vibrating with spiky silver magic, her breasts surprisingly—and distractingly—soft and full pressed against his chest. He couldn’t help a tiny fantasy of how it would feel to be buried inside that intensity, to have that passionate body surging against his, embracing and engulfing.

It’s never going to happen, he told himself firmly.

Are you sure? part of him whispered back slyly.

Yes. Ruthlessly banishing the image, he refused to touch her any more than he already had. Holding his hands out, even more awkward than ever, he kind of waved them around as he waited for the hug to end.

It didn’t. Instead she held on, a buzzing bundle of intoxicating magic and tempting woman. Jadren tried patting her back, thinking maybe that would satisfy her enough to encourage her to go away, but she only purred, snuggling closer, like a cat who’d found the one cat-hater in the room and had no greater goal in life than encamping on his lap forever.

Jeffe’s Top Five Worldbuilding Tips

SHADOW WIZARD coming September 29, 2022! Preorder now!!

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re sharing our top five worldbuilding tips. Since I just returned from WorldCon in Chicago, where I gave a workshop on worldbuilding from a character-driven perspective, I’m going to cheat ever so slightly and pull from that.

1. All stories require worldbuilding

Even a story set in our contemporary world, written as realistically as possible, still requires worldbuilding because it’s impossible to to replicate the complexity of our world. You will always be picking and choosing relevant details. Choose wisely. (And see Tip #5.)

2. Don’t allow worldbuilding to be displacement activity for writing the actual story

Worldbuilding is fun! Writing is hard. It’s easy to spend tons of time on research and worldbuilding and kid yourself that it’s writing. It’s not. Don’t become the person with megabytes of maps and details and no actual text.

3. The world is yours to shape however you like – build it to challenge your characters

Story is about characters facing conflict. The world they live in creates external conflict for them and informs their internal conflict. Since you get to play deity here, build the world with challenging your characters in mind.

4. RPGs – role-playing games can distort your worldbuilding sense.

Many creatives learn worldbuilding from gaming, which can be a great exercise, but – as dedicated gamers have pointed out (I am not one) – game worlds often don’t make any internal sense. Use caution in emulating that model.

5. Use the iceberg model

While you should know – or discover – all about your world, most of that detail should be like the iceberg beneath the surface. Only the tip of all that knowledge should show up in the story. If you’ve done the work and your world is internally consistent, that tip of the iceberg will be representative of the rest.

Preventing Burnout with Non-Monetized Creativity

If you missed it, SHADOW WIZARD is now available for preorder! It releases September 29, 2022. This is Book One in my new trilogy, Renegades of Magic, and continues the story begun in the Bonds of Magic trilogy. Preorder links below!

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven involves our non-writing hobbies.
In various discussions around burn-out and sustainably productive writing habits, I’ve discovered that many professional authors (as in, getting paid to do it) have another creative outlet that is non-monetized. Ted Kooser, a U.S. Poet Laureate (1004-1006), told me that he painted as a hobby. His paintings were apparently glorious and much-sought, but he’d made the decision to only give them away. It was important to him to have a creative outlet that wasn’t connected to money. This was a startling thought to me at the time, and one I’ve come back to often.
Other authors I’ve talked with in various scenarios have also discovered that approach: that having a non-monetized creative outlet not only refills the well, but prevents burnout (or allows a creator to recover from it).
What happens to many of us – and I’m speaking of authors, but I imagine it happens with all creatives – is that we begin with writing as the hobby. It’s the passion, the special something that we do because we LOVE it. Eventually, with persistence, hard work, and luck, we make that hobby into the profession. Then it’s no longer the alternative to the day job and other responsibilities. It’s become work.
Which, let me be clear, is good and natural. I’m a big believer in treating writing like my job. That’s how I support myself and my family.
Still, to manage the creative self, I’ve found I need other outlets to refill the well and take the place of that other, special, and relaxing Thing. Keeping it non-monetized is the challenge. Especially since the pandemic began, I think we’ve all become adept at casting about for side-gigs. In fact, the gig-culture was going strong before that. It’s tempting to take that successful hobby – I imagine Ted Kooser’s friends admiring a painting, offering money for it, and him turning it down with a slight smile and shake of his head – and begin to dream of taking that art viral and making an avalanche of comforting money from it.
I sometimes think there’s a certain magic in refusing that temptation, in enjoying creativity for its own sake.
And magic is precious.

The Drive to Develop a Writing Practice

Look for the cover reveal for SHADOW WIZARD, book one in Renegades of Magic, the new trilogy continuing the Bonds of Magic epic tale! I’m getting the preorders set up today and plan to do the cover reveal on Instagram tomorrow, August 11, 2022. Members of my private Facebook group, Jeffe’s Closet, may get a sneak peek 😉

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re asking: how has your writing practice changed over time?

It’s interesting because the topic-suggester framed it as “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – my college French demanded I get the saying correct – which is a French saying that acknowledges that the more things change, the more they stay the same. In other words, that surface details may alter over time, but the essence of the thing, the recognizable cycle of events, is fundamentally inalterable. Often it’s applied to history. So this suggests that our writing practice may change over time, but it also stays the same. Is this this case?

I’m saying no, at least for me. My writing practice has changed considerably since my newbie days. I was reflecting recently that, as a teen and young woman, I didn’t really know how to apply myself to improving at a task. This largely came from the fact that, in school all the way through high school, I could get by without really trying. I had a good auditory and visual memory, and I tested well, so I didn’t need to work hard to get A’s. (Except in math, which I thought I wasn’t good at, even though they put me in accelerated math classes. Turns out I likely wasn’t good at it because I didn’t like math, so I didn’t listen in class. Oops.) In college and grad school, a number of professors began riding me to apply myself, to study and do the practice problems. I kind of tried to – especially when I had to retake Immunology for my biology major and really didn’t want to have to retake second semester of organic chemistry – but there was a major problem: I didn’t know how to study.

I remember thinking I needed to learn how to study, but I was mostly flailing about. It was only when I had novel deadlines to meet that I got very good at refining my ability to work in concentrated ways, incrementally, day after day. I don’t often think of messages I’d like to give to my younger self, but I now wish I could advise that college student, that graduate student, to develop the habit of working for a couple of hours every morning. This is my best brain time. If I had done that in school, if I had spent just that much time working practice problems and reviewing the material, I likely would have done much better.

Of course, then I might have ended up as a research scientist after all, when I’m so happy as a novelist. Maybe it took working on something I truly cared about to inspire me to develop the practice to do it. Que sera, sera!

 

 

LONEN’S WAR Now in Audio!

On my mind this week is the audiobook release of LONEN’S WAR!
A little while back, I sold the audio rights for this self-published series, Sorcerous Moons, to Scribd. Megan Frampton is my editor there and she’s been great to work with. Many thanks to Agent Sarah Younger of Nancy Yost Literary Agency for negotiating the deal. I feel like I should give Sarah a special shout-out because it’s really great to have an agent who supports the indie side of my career, too. She invested a lot of time and energy into getting me the best possible contract with Scribd. Another plus: Scribd gave me a free subscription for a year! This is pretty amazing since other audiobook publishers of my books have refused to provide me with copies of my audiobooks. If I want to listen to my own freaking book on audio, I have to buy it.
Grr.
Not so with Scribd! I’ve been super pleased with the process of working with them. There was a SNAFU in the original recording and they fixed it by re-recording the first three books. It set the production schedule back but they did it without complaint and I was impressed by their professionalism.
The ensuing five books will be out on the following (tentative) schedule:

#2 ORIA’S GAMBIT August 16

#3 THE TIDES OF BARA September 13
#4 THE FORESTS OF DRU September 27
#5 ORIA’S ENCHANTMENT October 11
#6 LONEN’S REIGN October 25
Also, LONEN’S WAR is now wide and should be available on all retailer platforms. Print is coming any day now and just wait to see how super cool the set is together with the new covers!
Very exciting to see this rejuvenation of my first entirely self-pubbed series.
In other news…
Look for the cover reveal and preorder link for SHADOW WIZARD, Book #1 in Renegades of Magic, the trilogy that picks up after Bonds of Magic! Look for SHADOW WIZARD coming September 29, 20222! Here’s a sneak peek of the cover: