Becoming a Better Writer – How to Do It?

ROGUE FAMILIAR has a cover!! I’ve been loving the enthusiasm for it, too. It’s a great inspiration to me as I write Selly’s hunt for Jadren.

This week at the SFF Seven we’re talking tools for writers who aren’t beginners. I seem to be hearing a lot of interest in this topic lately. I’ve been contemplating setting up some online classes and not long ago I asked for input on what kinds of classes people would like to see from me. (Feel free to comment or message me if you have ideas or requests!) One of the suggestions that came up often was a desire for classes for more advanced writers, targeting those who’ve written several books but want to learn how to keep getting better at it.

So, I’ve been working up some lists of more advanced topics I could teach – and thinking back to where I learned the intermediate and higher stuff. Some of it is always going to be self-study. Reading other authors. Listening to other writers talk about their process. Re-reading favorites to study how those writers accomplished what they did. I think those are the best tools.

But I’d also like to see more craft-focused workshops, classes, and discussions out there. For quite a few years, it seems, the bulk of information offered to writers seems to focus on business. There are countless opportunities to learn Facebook ads, newsletter marketing, keywords, BookBub ads, Amazon ads, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Why? Because those are easy to teach. Teaching craft is a much more daunting prospect. In fact, I’ve heard debates among creative-writing professors about whether the craft of writing can be taught at all.

At any rate, this isn’t a very informative post, I know. I’m not offering any good tools here (other than the above), but rather food for thought. Improving craft is something we all (well, most of us) want to do. I’m thinking up some ways to get at it. Suggestions welcome!

 

 

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.

Book Clubs – Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em?

Introducing my new supervisor: Killian! He loves being present for the podcast, this blog, and morning wordcount, though he has a tendency to fall asleep on the job. Still, I have high expectations and the Cuteness Quotient™ is off the charts.

This week at the SFF Seven we’re talking book clubs. We’re asking each other what bookish groups we belong to and what do they provide?

Like KAK, my answer is: none.

Oh, I have belonged to book clubs in the past. I was in one for a while back when we lived in Wyoming – though it was, in part, a thinly veiled subterfuge to get people to read MY newly published book. Which they did! And discussed, which was fun. Mission accomplished.

Otherwise… I don’t love being in a book club. It’s fun to chat with people and I love to talk about books. Book clubs are, however, rather noteworthy for not actually discussing the books (or reading them) and devolving into gossip instead. I’m also a steady reader, finishing a book every two-three days, so I don’t need incentive to read. I find I don’t like “required reading” either. One cool thing about book clubs is they get you to read books you otherwise wouldn’t; they also get you to read books you otherwise wouldn’t because you don’t want to. While I know there are genre book clubs out there, most tend toward the erudite and fashionable books, and not the kind of thing I love to read.

Besides which, I can always find people to discuss the books I *do* love to read. Or there’s always the cats. Killian’s reading comprehension needs work still, but he’s an excellent listener.

Thank You, 2022, for All the Fish

As we wind down the last few days of 2022, looking forward to a new year and the waxing of the light, this week at the SFF Seven we’re offering thoughts or blessings for the year that has been or the year to come.

For me, 2022 delivered a kick of a ramp-up back to life closer to pre-pandemic levels. Though spring started slowly, with several in-person conferences canceled, I was able to return to hanging again with other writers in person in April at the Jack Williamson Lectureship. It was SO GOOD TO PEOPLE AGAIN. One of the great lessons of the pandemic for me has been how much of my social life depends on conferences and conventions. (Can I just call them both “cons” for short? What even is the difference?)

Seeing people in-person again meant I also made new friends this year, which has brought light into my life I didn’t realize I was lacking. Not unlike as the days grow longer and sunshine returns, warming the earth, and you begin to realize just how long and dark the winter has been.

I had a less productive year, wordcount-wise – in fact, my lowest year ever for wordcount, though I’ll give final numbers next week – but it looks like it will be my best income year ever. So, looking ahead at goals for next year, I’m considering decoupling my wordcount goals from my sense of success and focusing on what makes me most comfortable financially.

{{Content Warning: eating and body image}}

I’m also completing a year of 16/8 intermittent fasting, where I fast for 16 hours and eat during an 8-hour window. I also vastly decreased added sugars from my diet. I’m thrilled with the results. I’m down 18 pounds since January 3, 2022, 16 pounds of that from body fat, and I’m down over 4″ around my waist and hips. It feels like really healthy weight loss, like I’m no longer so insulin-resistant, and I just feel tons better overall.

{{Content over}}

While in many ways, it’s been a difficult year, the work I did at the end of 2021 to break the stress cycle has really paid off. While we’re facing the loss of our senior cat Isabel, who is 17 and declining, we’ve also welcomed in a new life, with kitten Killian joining our household. So many wonderful things have happened to me this year – including wonderful people entering my life – that it feels truly miraculous.

I’m grateful for the blessings of 2022 and eagerly look forward to what 2023 will bring.

Jeffe’s Three Joys

 

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re talking joy!

As in, three things that give us joy. As many of you know, I’m a big fan of making decisions based on what will yield the greatest happiness. Thus choosing the happy means a lot of things in my life bring me joy. But I’ll try to keep it finite.

  1. Shiny new books
    While Christmas shopping yesterday, I bought myself a present – this Fairy Atlas! It’s technically a children’s book, but it has a lot of cool stuff in it from around the world that I’d never seen, and I love the illustrations. Perfect for what I’m writing now! And it looks pretty on my desk.
  2. Friends
    I’m so blessed in the community of my wonderful friends, many of whom check in on me daily and remind me of what’s important. From friends who’ve been part of my life for years to people who entered my world in just this past year, I am rich in companionship of simply amazing hearts and minds.
  3. My profession
    Like any career, being an author presents its trials and it can be easy to focus on the difficulties, but this kind of poste offers an opportunity to step back and truly appreciate that I am able to wed my passion, my avocation, with my vocation. Making my living as a writer is a tremendous privilege and the realization of lifetime goal.

 

I am so blessed.

 

Midwinter Holiday Romance Reads!

This week at the SFF Seven we’re talking books! Well, we always talk books, but this time we’re jingling our wares for your delectation. You can find all of my books on my website, of course, but today I’ll focus on a few that are perfect for your midwinter holiday reading pleasure.

First off is FIVE GOLDEN RINGS, which is a bit of a throwback to my early days writing contemporary erotic romance, and is a re-release. It’s a kinky, Christmas, Caribbean holiday romp. I’ll be re-releasing this entire four-book series, the Facets of Passion.

The Twelve Days of Christmas were never quite this naughty…

All Matilda Campbell wanted was to spend a romantic and relaxing Christmas in the Mexican Caribbean. When her lover dumps her—at the airport, no less—she decides to go solo. But fate and a well-timed margarita intervene, introducing her to the charming and seductive Miguel D’Oro on the plane.

Miguel offers Tilda an outrageous bargain, involving escalating naughty gifts for each of the twelve days of Christmas. The only rule is that she must accept what he gives her and what he tells her to do, or face a sensual punishment. Giving up control is just what Tilda is looking for, so she impulsively agrees.

As Tilda embraces a newfound freedom in abandoning herself to pleasure and Miguel’s demands, she only wonders what will happen when the holiday is over…

 

If you prefer my fantasy romances, THE LONG NIGHT OF THE RADIANT STAR is my newest release. It rounds out the Heirs of Magic series and is a midwinter holiday (the Feast of Moranu, for those who know the Twelve Kingdoms world) wedding extravaganza!

At long last, Jakral Konyngrr—lowly sailor, gambler, and sometime rogue—has won the heart and hand of Princess Stella of Avonlidgh. Never mind that Stella’s mother is determined to make their wedding the event of the century, he’s happy to endure any trial to marry the love of his life and his guiding star. Very soon they can sail away together into the rest of their lives. Unfortunately the wedding becomes delayed for several months, until midwinter.

Stella—sorceress, empath, and bearer of the mark of the Tala—has been through great trials. But nothing has tested her as sorely as her passionate and flamboyant mother planning their wedding. Even Jak’s steady love and companionship isn’t enough as Stella finds herself crumbling under the pressure of being snowbound in a castle with the press of so many minds and emotions. When she lashes out, she hits the worst possible target, jeopardizing her chances for happiness.

With several kingdoms and a former enemy empire bearing down on them, Jak and Stella’s wedding on the longest night of year might not happen at all… Unless they can create their own happy ever after.

 

Finally, there’s FAMILIAR WINTER MAGIC. This novella in the Bonds of Magic world first appeared in the Fire of the Frost anthology. For those who’ve read the Bonds of Magic and Renegades of Magic books, this story follows Han and Iliana.

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…

Happy Holidays, all, and happy reading!!

 

Five Golden Rings

In time for your holiday delectation… I have re-released FIVE GOLDEN RINGS!

This is the kinky Caribbean Christmas holiday contemporary romance I did with Carina Press. I’m re-releasing it – and the other three Facets of Passion books – over the next month or so. For now, if you like your holiday romance with sunshine, beaches, and a bit of BDSM (who doesn’t???), then check out FIVE GOLDEN RINGS!
This week at the SFF Seven, we’re talking social media. We’re asking each other on which social media platform are you most active as an author? Why that one? What makes it work better for you than others? How often are you there?
These questions, more than most, are dynamically changing ones. This becomes even more apparent with the passage of time.
~ clears throat and grabs cane for shaking ~
So, I’ve been on social media for a long time now. I had a website (which I programmed myself) in the nascent days of the internet. I used A-1 mail in the late 80s and had a MySpace account. I joined Facebook in January 2009 and Twitter that September. I’m still on those two. Heck, even this blog, of which I am one of three remaining founding members, is over ten years old! That’s like a century in internet time.
Right, actually answering the questions posed:
I’m most active (thinking in terms of daily and weekly activity) on a couple of Discords, then Instagram and Facebook, followed by Twitter, which are all at least daily, if not more often. After that is my podcast (4x/week), and this weekly blog. I am theoretically on Tik Tok – because I feel I should be – but I’ve yet to grok it. With the exception of the Discords and my podcast, which are pleasurable social interactions for me, the rest are pretty much driven by business considerations. I use the ones where my readers are. (With the salient except of Tik Tok, which I really need to learn. In my spare time.)
The stuff I do most often, as I mentioned, is the stuff I enjoy. I made that decision early on – that social media is social, and therefore if one hates the medium, that will come through.
My other point in going into this history is that social media is an ever-shifting sea. Lots of Twitter people are fleeing to Mastodon, which I haven’t done yet, but likely will. Ask me these questions tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year and you might get a different answer!
And that’s okay, too.

Quitting the Day Job – What’s It Really Like?

THE LONG NIGHT OF THE RADIANT STAR – a midwinter holiday fantasy romance in the Heirs of Magic world – is out in the world!

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re talking Secret Identities! As in, the work we do on the side to make ends meet, partners helping to support us, and quitting the day job.

I’m fortunate that I was able to quit the day job – 18 years of a career as an environmental consultant – about 7 years ago. It was one of those things where the day job quit me: my team was downsized, I got laid off with affection and good severance pay, and I decided to try making a go of it writing for a living and NOT getting another day job. In truth, I was more than ready for that moment. At the same time, I kept waiting to make as much money from writing as I did from the day job (including the value of benefits), which was never quite happening. If I hadn’t been kicked from the nest, I might never have voluntarily left it.

That said, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. My husband has Parkinson’s Disease and is no longer able to work, so apart from a small retirement income and his social security payment, keeping us afloat is up to me. That reality has made me really hustle with my writing. Between self-publishing and traditional publishing, I’m now making what I was with the day job.

And I’m ever so much happier. Seriously, after having essentially two careers for over 20 years, it was such a relief to focus on just one. Plus, all the meetings and phone calls I have are about books and writing. It’s the best life!

I don’t do much work on the side. I do some author coaching and teach the occasional workshop – I’m considering doing more classes – but it’s important to me for the happiness quotient. I want writing and making books to be the priority. That’s what I quit the day job to have.

Paying It Forward Without Breaking the Bandwidth

THE LONG NIGHT OF THE RADIANT STAR – Jak and Stella’s midwinter holiday wedding – is out now!

Did anyone give you truly sound advice?

Did you have a mentor and if so how do you pay it forward without getting buried by requests?

I’ve been truly blessed in having numerous mentors and lovely, gracious people willing to give me advice. The one I’ll single out today is SFWA Past-President, Nebula-Award winner, and wonderful author of science fiction, sf mysteries, fantasy, and near future thrillers, Catherine Asaro. When I was shopping my first fantasy romance novel, sometime around 2008/2009, Catherine did me the huge favor of reading the book for me. I kept getting enthusiasm from agents and editors, and full manuscript requests, but they all came back with “no,” saying they didn’t know what to with the book or how to market it. I’d run out of ideas for how to revise the book so it would sell.

Catherine read it and said – the first person to say this to me – that the only “problem” was that I was writing cross-genre. She told me the story was good and that I was a good writer (things I desperately needed to hear), but that if I kept writing this fantasy + romance cross-genre, it would be like wading through hip-deep snow to succeed with it. She also told me she thought it was worth doing.

She was right on both counts.

As for paying it forward… I do that as much as I can. I volunteer to mentor through SFWA and other fundraisers. I offer advice in various arenas where I think people genuinely want to hear it. (Few things are more frustrating to me than putting energy into offering advice to people who don’t listen.) I have my podcast, First Cup of Coffee with Jeffe Kennedy, where I talk about writing and publishing (and other random thoughts). All of these venues allow me to control how much bandwidth I devote to mentoring others. In truth, I started my Author Coaching side business entirely so I’d have a way to charge money for my time and energy, when the bandwidth wasn’t enough.

That said, if you catch me in person at a con, I’m always happy to chat over an adult beverage. Offerings of chocolate are also acceptable!

When to Ditch Showing and Just Tell

Coming Soon! THE LONG NIGHT OF THE RADIANT STAR.

This is a novella in the Heirs of Magic series and occurs after THE STORM PRINCESS AND THE RAVEN KING. It’s Jak and Stella’s wedding on the longest night, the Feast of Moranu. I think I’ll release it on Monday, November 21, 2022. No preorder this time. I’ll post when it goes live!!

***

At long last, Jakral Konyngrr—lowly sailor, gambler, and sometime rogue—has won the heart and hand of Princess Stella of Avonlidgh. Never mind that Stella’s mother is determined to make their wedding the event of the century, he’s happy to endure any trial to marry the love of his life and his guiding star. Very soon they can sail away together into the rest of their lives. Unfortunately the wedding becomes delayed for several months, until midwinter.
Stella—sorceress, empath, and bearer of the mark of the Tala—has been through great trials. But nothing has tested her as sorely as her passionate and flamboyant mother planning their wedding. Even Jak’s steady love and companionship isn’t enough as Stella finds herself crumbling under the pressure of being snowbound in a castle with the press of so many minds and emotions. When she lashes out, she hits the worst possible target, jeopardizing her chances for happiness.
With several kingdoms and a former enemy empire bearing down on them, Jak and Stella’s wedding on the longest night of year might not happen at all… Unless they can create their own happy ever after.

***

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re talking about Telling vs. Showing, particularly we’re examining when some narrative exposition is needed.

It’s an interesting question, and one very much focused on genre fiction. Many of you know I began my writing career in creative nonfiction. For many years I wrote and sold essays. My first book was an essay collection. At no point in that time – in classes, in critique groups, in discussions with editors – did anyone bring up Telling vs. Showing. It was only after I began writing fantasy romance (etc.) that the concept was introduced to me. I had to learn not to use the narrative exposition that had worked so well for my creative nonfiction voice, but to “show” instead.

Why is this a thing?

The oft-cited example is attributed to Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” It turns out this exact quote is probably apocryphal. A passage from the article I linked to says:

In May, 1886, Chekhov wrote to his brother Alexander, who had literary ambitions: “In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.”

It’s salient to note that he’s talking about description here. When my genre-fiction editors and critique partners introduced the concept to me, they framed it as a way to deepen the point of view (POV). In genre fiction, in particular, readers love to be immersed in the characters and world, thus the incentive to deepen POV.

I worked diligently to learn to show, not tell.

Fast-forward to my current agent, the insightful and incisive Sarah Younger at Nancy Yost Literary Agency. One day, after reading one of my manuscripts we planned to take on submission to traditional publishing, she said, “Jeffe, I know you work really hard to show, not tell, but sometimes we just need a line or two telling us what the heck is going on.”

And she was right. I was so busy describing the glint of light on broken glass that I was failing to explain that this world had three moons.

In the end, as with all things, it comes down to balance. We need both in order to tell effective stories: immersive description and deep POV, along with some clear narrative exposition to ground the reader in the world.

I’m getting better at it!