Seven Things You Must Avoid If You Want to Write

These three books are on sale right now. THE MARK OF THE TALA, the book that started it all, first in The Twelve Kingdoms series. Also THE PAGES OF THE MIND, my RITA® Award-winning novel, which kicks off a new phase in the overall series, and PRISONER OF THE CROWN, first in a stand-alone spin off trilogy, The Chronicles of Dasnaria. If you’ve been thinking about reading my books or this series, it’s a great time to start!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week regards the writer’s Seven Deadly Sins: the list of things you MUST avoid if you want to finish a project on time. Of course, if you’re supposed to be writing, and you’re reading this, you’ve already broken three of mine. Oops. But never fear! There is still hope for you. Read on.

Finding Solutions to Conflict – in Life and in Fiction

Lonen's War Book Cover

I received a very interesting set of questions on Facebook from a reader who just finished reading WARRIOR OF THE WORLD. They’re such good questions that they deserve a thoughtful answer, so I decided to do that here. I hope she doesn’t mind! 

She said:

…one of the things that I feel like you do extremely well is create empathy for both “sides” of a war/ disagreement/conflict. In art, as in life I see most often empathy/sympathy being created with blame/making the other side the “bad guy”, etc. You seem to…skip that part? So this is a two part question:
1. Do you find yourself able to do that within your own life? (like are you less of a blamer, more of a solution finder – I’m working so so so hard on that with my kids and am interested in the HOW of it)
2. And two, HOW do you do it, first within yourself, and then secondarily, how do you WRITE it so that I, as a reader, don’t find myself coming down overly hard on one side – how do you make the gray the overwhelming tone, rather than the black and white?

So, here are my answers, plus a few more thoughts.

  1. I would say that I’m more of a solution finder than a blamer. I’m an INTJ and the Thinker/Judger very much plays into a lot of how I approach life. I’m pretty good at stepping back and taking an analytical, less emotional view of a situation. I think that kind of objectivity and critical thinking is key to problem-solving. It’s not always easy – and sometimes I have to wait for the initial emotional storm to blow through before I can get to that place of greater objectivity (none of us can ever be fully free of bias) – but once I can reply the situation from their point of view, then I can get closer.
  2. Part of being a storyteller is being able to tell ALL sides of a story, so that’s part of how I do this, both in fiction and in real life – I look at how I’d tell the story from THEIR point of view. In life, one my mantras is “compassion and tolerance.” I don’t always *practice* this as well as I’d like to, but if someone pisses me off in traffic, for example, I try to imagine the person driving that car is one of my closest friends, who I adore, but who is a TRULY TERRIBLE driver. Or I imagine their story – they just had a big fight with their spouse, or they’re sick and feel miserable and just need to get to the store to pick up their prescription. That makes it much easier for me to forgive their behavior and move on. One of the truths of life is that everyone is struggling with something. We may not know what it is, but we can either try to find out (not always practical) or imagine what their story might be (always an option). So, I think as a writer, what I do is give you a window into the story of the people on the other side of the conflict. I suppose that, in my heart, I don’t believe in good or evil – I think everyone does what they do for what they see as very good reasons of their own. Some of those reasons have horrible consequences for other people, but they do have them. Understanding those reasons helps us to cut off their actions at the root.

Looking at the story in WARRIOR OF THE WORLD, part of what I wanted to get was the female perspective on war. I think a whole lot of war – both in real life and in fiction – tends to be driven by male aggression. It’s not across the board, but I think it’s a strong driver, particularly in this century when so many wars have been driven by political ambitions and corporations wanting to monopolize resources. The war pending in this book is about controlling scarce resources, with those on the lean end wanting to attack those with plenty. The women in the book point out that just because one arm of a society is aggressive, however, doesn’t mean that everyone in that culture feels the same. A large part of any society gets dragged along with whatever the leaders decide – and often those being dragged along are women, children, the elderly, and those unable or unwilling to be warriors, for whatever reason. I think this was maybe different in other wars. I like to imagine the women of the American Revolutionary War and Civil War were much more involved because those were conflicts that directly impacted daily living and quality of life.

Now, men often criticize women writers for focusing on what they perceive as minutiae. Naturally, however, the person who sits down at table to consume a meal has a very different perspective than the person responsible for putting three nutritious meals on that table every day. This doesn’t have to fall out along gender lines, but it often does, particularly in the last century. When you have pretty much one gender in another country fighting a war and the other back at home, then you know which one is thinking about the daily minutiae of living. So, in this story, I wanted to deliberately draw that out and have the women of the family say, “Hey, who are you raging at? Do you think the babies and eldsters want to attack you?” They’re taking that position of recognizing the other’s story.

This is something that’s important to me as a person and as a writer, which is part of why I love the trope of enemies-to-lovers. That’s part of why I put LONEN’S WAR at the top, though I also explored similar themes in THE MARK OF THE TALA. That LONEN’S WAR cover encapsulates a great deal of that theme for me – of confronting the supposedly monstrous enemy and coming to not only understand them, but to love them. That whole Sorcerous Moons series is about two warring cultures coming together in part by learning each other’s stories. 

How’s that for a long answer?

 

Worldbuilding – Foundation Process or Procrastination?

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven – one entirely appropriate for science fiction and fantasy authors – is “spending time on worldbuilding vs. actual drafting – what’s your balance?” Come on over to find out more. 

The Myth of the Debut Year

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “If I could go back to my Debut Year…” You can tell I didn’t suggest this one because I don’t believe in the “Debut Year.”

See, the “Debut Year” is a bit of magical, sparkle-pony mythology of Author Land. Come on over to find out more. 

The RITA® Award – 2018 Scores

This morning I got a new comment on an old post, which is always interesting. When I saw which post, I totally got it. Last year I put up an article on my blog: The RITA® Award – Is It Worth Entering? Right away I knew why that post, because we all got our scores from the 2018 RITA® Award contest. 

That’s me above, by the way, at this year’s RITA ceremony, with my fantastic agent, Sarah Younger, and one of her newest clients and Golden Heart finalist, Alexia Chantel

I won’t reiterate everything I said last year about the contest, except to say that I still believe in everything I said then, 100%. Even though I didn’t final with either of the books I entered this year. And I’m going to share my scores again, because so many people said they appreciated that I did so last year. 

I entered two books, The Shift of the Tide in Paranormal Romance, and With a Prince in Short Contemporary Romance. 

My scores?

The Shift of the Tide: 9.6, 9.5, 8.9, 7.9, 5.9 – Final Score: 8.7666666667
With a Prince:  9.5, 8.6, 8.3, 7.9, 7.2 – Final Score: 8.2666666667

The Final Score is figured by dropping the highest and lowest scores, then averaging the other three. Finalists in each category are the top 4% of scores, unless there are fewer than four or more than ten, in which case it’s adjusted. 

I’m super pleased with these scores! The average for The Shift of the Tide is second only to that for The Pages of the Mind, which finaled and won last year, so score! And I’m pleasantly surprised by the consistent scores on With a Prince

One interesting trend, the score for the Top 25% in the Paranormal Romance Category has been going up. (25% of all entries had final scores equal to or above that score.) In 2015, it was 8. In 2017, 8.23. And in 2018, 8.3. That indicates to me that overall scoring is higher, and the field even more competitive. I don’t have the 2016 data when I entered The Talon of the Hawk. Maybe I didn’t get my scores that year? Or maybe I deleted the email in a fit of pique because I’d been so hoping it would final. (It won best Fantasy Romance from RT that year after all!) I seem to recall a judge marked it “Not a Romance,” which also happened with The Mark of the Tala. Happens to all of us. 

I also haven’t really tracked the trend in averages for Contemporary Romance, as it’s not my primary genre, but I can tell you the Top 25% score was 8.36, even higher than for Paranormal. Very competitive!

So, onward and upward. You bet I’m entering again for 2019. 🙂

 

A Better Answer to: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Last week I attended SFWA’s Nebula Conference and got to meet our 2018 Grandmaster, Peter S. Beagle. I legit teared up when we talked and he signed my battered old copy I received forever and a day ago. I felt like a teenager again and all those feelings that led into my early love of fantasy rose up and swamped me.

The conference in 2019 will be at the Marriott Warner Center in Los Angeles. I highly recommend it! It’s become my absolute favorite gathering of SFF writers and industry professionals.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is “Where do you get your ideas – the least popular question ever.” Come on over for three avenues I rely on for ideas. 

 

Books on Sale!

A lot of you have been sharing that the book that kicked off my Twelve Kingdoms and Uncharted Realms series, THE MARK OF THE TALA, is on sale for only $2.99 for 

the ebook version.

 Which is awesome of you all – thank you! Just thought I’d let you all know that the first book in The Uncharted Realms cycle, my RITA® Award Winning Fantasy Romance, THE PAGES OF THE MIND, is also on sale for that low, low price. 😉

Happy Weekend All!

 

Meeting Your Heroes – Awesome Experiences Chapter

A week ago, last Friday, I got to see Dar Williams in concert.

I didn’t get to tell you all about it before this, because we left early the next morning for the long road trip to my mother-in-law’s funeral. But I was super excited for this concert and so happy that the timing worked out so that I could go, as Dar has long been one of my all-time favorite singer/songwriters. I have all of her CDs. Yes, actual CDs, because I started listening to her in the early 90s and I collected every single one. (Admittedly, her two most recent releases I have on iTunes only.)

Back in the early 90s – well, and in the mid and late 90s – I was living in Laramie, Wyoming. I’d bailed on my PhD program, got my Masters degree in ’94, and had decided to become a writer instead of a neuroscientist. As one does.

I’d gotten a job with a petroleum research group as an editor/writer, in order to build my writing chops. I had a terrific boss, and a lovely quiet office, with lots of sunshine and not a lot of pressure. Every morning I listened to Wyoming Public Radio on the local station which broadcast right there from the University of Wyoming campus. After the national shows and news, it went over to Don Woods’ Morning music, which played until noon.

Don loved Dar Williams, and soon I did, too.

My memories of those days are all tied up with learning how to write and to be a writer. I first submitted work to a Wyoming Arts Council literature award because I heard about it on that station. An award I eventually won, years later.

I’d been to see Dar perform twice over the years, but in much bigger venues. That she was coming to the GIG in Santa Fe – an intimate space in my new home town – promised much. I dragged the delightful Megan Mulry along with me – who’d never heard of Dar, but is always up for art excursions of any kind. With the general seating, we snagged chairs in the front row. 

After the show – which was a mix of reading and singing, because Dar has a book out on community and what she’s learned from all her years as a traveling musician – she invited people to stay and chat, get autographs, etc. Unfortunately, in a SNAFU all writers understand far too well, her books didn’t arrive, so she couldn’t sign and sell those. 

Megan – and this is one of the reasons I love her – suggested we hang until the end, then invite Dar to come have a drink with us. “After all,” she said, “this is what the writers do, right?” And Megan and I were already planning to hit up Second Street Brewery for drinks and a late dinner.

So, we hung out, and took a series of silly selfies while we waited. It didn’t take long for the line to wear down and then I got to chat with Dar. Total fangirl moment, which I got out of the way first. I told her how I loved that she talked about public radio and local stations and how they build community, because I first listened to her music on Wyoming Public Radio. Looking back, I see now how important that connection to the greater world was for me, and how much her storytelling via song influenced me. It was funny to discover that we are almost exactly the same age, too.

For fans, I also asked her if “I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono” was a response to “Be My Yoko Ono” by the Barenaked Ladies. The answer? Amazingly enough, though the songs came out at the same time, they were unrelated. Dar said that if she’d been more media conscious, she might’ve done a throw-down with them. It could still happen.

Megan took our picture together – a first for me, though I’ve happily posed for many photos with readers – and Dar asked about my books. She planned to download the audio book of The Mark of the Tala to listen to on the road the next day. 

Did you get that part? DAR WILLIAMS WAS GOING TO READ MY BOOK.

I can’t even. I think back to that younger me, listening to Wyoming Public Radio and trying to figure out how to be a writer. I came away feeling like I’d made a friend of one of my heroes.

Alas, Dar couldn’t come for a drink as she was leaving early, though she said she normally would. I believed her. She even said she was glad to have met us, especially as the people who wait until the end to talk to her are often weird. Like the guy who sincerely believed she was an alien and they needed to discuss that.

As Megan and I walked out, Dar called my name and hurried after us. She gave me her reading copy of What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician’s Guide to Rebuilding America’s Communities—One Coffee Shop, Dog Run, and Open-Mike Night at a Time. She’d spilled water and coffee on it, which made it even better. 

Pretty awesome.