Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year's Eve !

 2012 is about to sing its final song. Thank goodness. It's been an interesting years of successes, disasters and set backs. It's the time of year that we make resolutions, most of which we won't keep. Every year we hope to be better, slimmer and sexier than the year before. Every year at this time we're saddened by not having achieved those goals. If I've learned anything from living with a criminal defense attorney for almost 20 years is that often you need to redefine the term "win."

This year the main theme of my life seems to be change. My son changed schools. I've changed law firms. Opened a new office in Fairfax, Virginia. Had my paralegal quit for slightly more money. I became a professional writer, and am making head roads on my dream to make writing the day job. While it's been a volatile ride, I'm mostly happy with where things are.

Still, I think I'm going to adopt a Festivus tradition for this year. I've been thinking of this since I wrote last week's post on Christmas. One of the Festivus traditions is "the airing of the grievances." I think with a little tweak, it would really work. Here's my tweak: Rather than airing grievances at any one person, I think they need to be told to the Universe and then let go. After all, the New Year is all about new beginnings and a "fresh start." How can you get one of those if you're still holding on to last year's baggage?

So, at 11:55 pm tonight, tell your regrets, your slights and angers to the Universe and let them go at midnight. Start the New Year with hope and a clear heart. At least, that's what I'm going to do.

Wishing you health, happiness and good reading for 2013. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Everything I needed to know about the business of publishing, I learned at Superstars Writing Seminar

Three years ago my life changed.

Before dismissing that statement as being melodramatic, just hear me out.

It was 2010 and I was thinking that I might actually be interested in maybe someday pursing a writing career. I was receiving Dave Farland's Daily Kicks, and he mentioned he was putting together this seminar-thing (okay, he was far more eloquent than that) with a bunch of other top-notched and top-selling fantasy writers about everything you needed to know about the publishing industry but no one was willing to tell you. The other instructors - Kevin J. Anderson, Eric Flint, Rebecca Moesta and Brandon Sanderson - all had equally impressive resumes. The seminar-thingy was the Superstars Writing Seminar. I figured what the heck, I'd been going to "skills" seminars for about 5 years now, maybe it was time to get an insider's look at the industry I wanted to be part of.

Best (professional) decision of my life.


The information and insight into the publishing market, including the self-publish v. traditional publishing debate, was invaluable. Knowing the risks inherent for a publisher in taking on a new writer, I understood (and could work to circumvent) the barriers to publishing.

The time with the instructors was unprecedented. Remember that I said I'd been attending seminars for 5 years. Even with instructor intense workshops, there wasn't a whole lot of out of class time with the instructors. Superstars blew that distance out of the water. We went to lunch with the instructors. We went out drinking with Kevin Anderson. If you wanted a few minutes of their time, all of them where happy to oblige.

The instructor time ties in with a very important point. Brandon, Dave, Eric, Kevin and Rebecca are some of the nicest and most open people you could every want to meet. They genuinely want to help other writers succeed. They are invested in helping them do so. They are a wealth of information on many disparate topics and are more than happy to share that knowledge whether its publishing, queries, hiking, micro brew beers, mafia, European history or whatever.  For the price of asking, they've given us hours of their time to help the Superstars attendees move their careers forward.  The picture above is Brandon Sanderson talking to a group of Superstars alum at the 2012 World Fantasy Con. He gave us three and a half hours of his time to talk about anything and everything. I could spend many posts talking about the other instructors and how they've helped my career as well, and probably will in future posts. And the guest speakers are just as open and wonderful as the regular instructors.

Then, of course, there's the connections you form with the other attendees. The Superstars attendees are as amazing as the instructors. A group of the 2010 Superstars alums formed the a writing group We blog about writing and the writing life at Fictorians. The picture to the right is of some of us at World Fantasy 2012. In addition to Fictorians, Superstars alums have an active Facebook group. We encourage and commiserate with each other. We are our own best cheerleaders. That network of people going through exactly what you are is invaluable. It's also how I found my publisher.

Most of all, what Superstars did for me was give me the confidence to say, "I am going to be a professional writer." It's not a crazy dream. It's a goal. Superstars gave me an understanding of the business side of the industry that I couldn't get anywhere else.

So, I'm a repeat offender for Superstars. The 2013 session (May 14-16, 2013) will mark my fourth attendance. If you are interested in a career as a writer (or even if your just curious), I highly recommend you attend Superstars Writing Seminar, which will be held in Colorado Springs, Colorado this year. Prices go up on 12-21-12, so sign up now.

Feel free to e-mail me off-line if you have any questions about Superstars. And I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Looking to make the holidays last longer - Forget the Mistletoe

Looking to extend the holiday season? Then check out fellow Word Wench Lizzie T. Leaf's Forget the Mistletoe. 
Marta's cold on the retail holiday season, but warming to the hot hunk from home office, even if he loves Christmas.
Marta Holt hates Christmas and all the fuss that goes with it, which isn’t a good way to feel about the biggest money making season in her chosen career field, retail management.

Linc Blanchard’s family owns the chain of retail stores and shows up in Denver to make sure that Marta, the temporary manager, doesn’t affect the bottom line of that store’s Christmas season with her lack of appreciation of his favorite holiday.

Mix in Claude, an elf with attitude that has been sent into the human world to help Santa correct the mistake he made with Marta when she was a little girl and you have a hot, humorous fantasy to relieve the stress of your holidays.


Aspirin. A whole bottle would be great about now Marta thought as she followed Linc to yet another department. His suggestions covered every area of the store. He asked, never told, managers to consider moving merchandise around. Change a display here, add something to a display there he said with too much enthusiasm for her taste.

In the fur department, he suggested to the manager that she and her employees wear the fur collars and scarves. He even pulled Marta over and demonstrated what he had in mind as he arranged a fur scarf around her shoulders.

They left the department with the manager salivating at his every word, just as all the managers in the prior departments did.

Personally, she’d rather have left with one of the sable coats, but that didn’t fit her budget now. She envisioned being wrapped from head to toe in sable.

Someday, she thought. Someday.

Linc strolled through the various departments greeting employees and customers alike. “There’re lots of very nice people in Denver. I can understand why my grandfather chose this to be one of the five cities for our stores.”

He left the employees fawning in his wake as he oozed charm and smiles. Marta didn’t know how much longer she could keep the grin on her face plastered in place. If this goodwill tour didn’t end soon she would have to excuse herself to puke.

“One more department to go, and then it should be time for lunch. We’ll eat in the fourth floor dining room. Does that work for you, Miss Holt?”

No way would she let his charm affect her. Instead, she ignored the reference to lunch and said, “From my calculations the last area to cover is the toy department. Right?”

“Thought we’d save the best for last.” Linc headed toward the back of the store.

Marta dreaded what ideas he’d throw out when they reached their destination. She didn’t trust this man since his suggestions turned out to affect everything she and Mr. Peterson thought worked. Who knew what he had in mind for toys? Then again, maybe he’d put Mr. Pain in the Ass elf in his place.

“Claude.” Linc greeted the head elf like an old friend.

“Linc. Good to see you again.” Claude reached up to shake hands with the man who loomed above him.

Good heavens, they’re on a first name basis.

Wonderful, Marta thought as she observed the interaction between the elf and her employer.

“Marta, you look a little pale today.” The little man turned his attention to her.

“Thank you, Claude. Nice of you to notice.” Yep, she needed to strangle the little shit.

“Claude, Marta and I are going to the dining room to grab a bite of lunch. I hope you can take a break and come with us. I’d like to hear more about the ideas you mentioned last night.” Linc placed his hand on the small man’s shoulder and the men walked away leaving Marta to follow.

Damn, damn, double damn. Marta felt like the outsider here. No way would they shut her out through their male bonding. She rushed to catch up.

Lunch confirmed what Marta had come to suspect when she and Linc toured the various departments. He loved Christmas. She fought to keep her lunch down when Linc and Claude got on the subject of Santa Claus. It sounded like the fools still believed, especially the pointy-eared fellow. Heaven save her from idiots.

“So shoot, Claude. What other ideas do you have that would make this season our best ever?” Linc poured himself another cup of coffee as he encouraged the elf to reveal his thoughts.

“Yes, Claude. Please share.” Marta clenched her teeth to keep the smile in place. Obviously head elf made more of an impression on the big shot than she did.

“I think things in the toy department are pretty well under control.” Claude stirred the coffee to dissolve the six packages of sugar he’d added. “I hear through the grapevine that the malls are offering incentives to lure the customers back to their Santas.” The elf wiggled his ears and continued to stir his coffee. “There is one suggestion I have, but it would affect the whole store.”

“I’m always open to new ideas. What do you have in mind?” Linc encouraged.

Marta watched in disbelief. With Claude she could understand the need to stir his coffee friggin’ forever with all the sugar he added, but why in hell did Linc start stirring the liquid in his cup? He took his decaf black. It must have something to do with the male bonding thing. Men were strange creatures.

“I think it would be a great idea to place mistletoe around the store in various areas. When an employee catches a customer of the opposite sex standing under it, they’d go over and give them a quick kiss on the cheek.”

The swallow of coffee that Marta had just taken spewed across the table. “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard and you’ve come up with some doozies since I met you.” Marta glared at the elf.

“No. Wait a minute.” Linc held up one hand for Marta to stop as he picked up his napkin with the other and wiped off the coffee she’d deposited on his face. “This is an interesting idea. I can see merit here. Something no other store has done, and if we do it right… Yep, I can see the customers getting a good laugh out of it.”

“I disagree. Screw the mistletoe idea. Forget it. We’ll be the laughing stock of Denver.” Marta couldn’t believe he actually took the preposterous suggestion seriously.

“I don’t think so, Miss Holt.” Linc’s flashing dark eyes left no doubt in Marta’s mind she’d lost this argument.


To find out what happens next, you can check out Forget the Mistletoe here.
Learn more about Lizzie T. Leaf on her website and blog. Connect with Lizzie on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.lo

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays

This time of year we hunker down with family to celebrate life. Whether that celebration is called Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus, the winter holidays celebrate passing the darkest day of the year, passing through death, and moving toward the spring and rebirth (well, okay, maybe not Festivus).

To quote Frank Cross (Bill Murray) from Scrooged (1988) with a little editing since I'm a bit late on this post:

 It's Christmas . . .! It's... it's the one [day] of the year when we all act a little nicer, we... we... we smile a little easier, we... w-w-we... we... we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!

Anyway, whether you celebrate around a decorated tree, group of candles or a stack of 23 Bud Lite cans, happy holidays to you and yours from me and mine. Let us all strive to be the people we always hoped we would be.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Toolbox Part II

I talked about having a Writer's Toolbox on Monday. A Writer's Toolbox contains, well, everything we know and learn about the people and world around us as well as the books and other reference materials we can consult. It's where we go when we're stuck. When you dig deep, it's these tools you are relying on. So, on Monday I gave you a list of my top 10-6th items in it., and today I round out my top ten.

5. The Three Hs – humor, humility, and hope.

Writing challenges on many levels. You can hit a wall and fight with your characters. You can become despondent waiting for and receiving rejections. Just the opposite happens when you get an acceptance or someone leaves a positive review. You have to take the positive and negative in stride otherwise you’ll give up.

4. On Writing by Stephen King, Million Dollar Outlines by David Wolverton, and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

Of the writing books I’ve read, these three were the ones that spoke to me the most. On Writing is less about how to write than the writing life, but it should be a must read for everyone that wants to be a writer.

Million Dollar Outlinesand Save the Cat both focus on outlining to the “Hollywood Formula”. Between these two, I’m making the slow transition from discovery writer to outliner. Applying the structure to Falcon, one of my works in progress, during rewrite/ revision has made it a stronger story. I’m using the method to outline Nocebo Effect, an urban fantasy, and I’ll let you know how that process goes.

3. The Smithsonian Institute and the Library of Congress.

This is a resource I need to take better advantage of. I live a short distance outside Washington, DC. If I want to learn more about ancient Egyptian culture, I can take a trip to the museum. If I’m willing to put the time in, I could probably arrange to interview an Egyptologist.

2. My camera and photo albums.

I’m pretty visual and often have trouble making up features without a template to work from – see tool # 7 from Monday's post. One of the things I’ve done in the past is flip through my photos of people I know, and don’t know and assemble a new character from bits of many real ones. I’ve taken candid shots of strangers with interesting faces. By having this photo library, I’ve been able to add depth and detail to my characters.

1. My friends and family.

I couldn’t do half of what I do without the support of my family and friends. They’ve been sounding boards, alpha or beta readers, and my cheer leading team. Contrary to popular belief, not all of writing is a solitary exercise. To quote the Beatles, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

So, that’s some of the items in my writer’s toolbox. What’s in yours?

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Toolbox - Part I


 As a writer, you often hear about having a “writer’s tool box.” The first time I heard this phrase was on Orson Scott Card’s Hatrack writer’s workshop. Writer’s toolboxes vary. They are the reference materials and experiences we rely on when we find ourselves wrestling with a story. So, here are the top 10 things in my tool box:

10.  The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell.

Everyone needs inspiration from time to time. I love this little book.

 9.      Garner’s Modern American Usage, and other usage guides.

We’re writers. We’re supposed to get the grammar right. But, I have to confess, it’s not always my strongest skill. I have a number of usage books for reference.

8.      Every book, and podcast by Grammar Girl.

The rational is the same as #9, but sometimes I can often the answer faster with Mignon Fogerty’s (aka Grammar Girl’s) resources. And I’ll admit it; I like the funny little illustrations. Grammar Girl takes the often highbrow discussions about usage and makes them easy for everyone to understand.

7.      The Describer’s Dictionary by David Grambs

Okay. There are only so many ways to say someone has blue eyes. Or is there? The Describer’s Dictionary helps me vary my descriptive prose. It also helps when I’m suffering from the tip of the tongue phenomenon. Often I can visualize what I want but recalling the proper word escapes me. This little dictionary helps ensure I don’t have any malapropisms that I didn't plan.

6.      The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kennon.

I admit it. I’m crap at naming things. If it were up to me, the entire universe would be named “Bob”. My oldest son is. Anyway.  I’ll thumb through the book at least once a writing project.

That's enough for the moment. Please check back on Wednesday for the top 5 things in my toolbox.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why writing is like farming.

Recently, I've heard writers lamenting about their sales and royalty checks. Some of them have gone as far as saying that the cost of writing a story so outweighed the financial benefit that they have received from that story that they will no longer write.

When I was talking to my husband about this, he said that it seemed to him that "writing was like farming."  I asked him to explain what he meant. It struck me that his analogy was a lot like Kevin J. Anderson's popcorn theory, and like Kevin's also particularly apt. The analogy that follows is Matt's:

Writing is like farming. First, when you start you have to work very hard to clear the land, prepare the soil, and plant the seeds. You work to weed and fertilize the crops. The first harvest is never what you want it to be. But it's a start. Once you've harvested that first crop, you have to work the land and reseed it for your next one. Then the weeding and fertilizing starts again. You have to move sites every once and a while so you don't use up the land and make it useless. And you have to do it year after year never knowing what the sun, rain and pests will do to your harvest.

When you have your very first harvest and take it to market, no one knows you or what you're selling. They don't come and buy that harvest in droves. If your lucky you have a few brave souls willing to take a risk on you. And you spend hours at farmers' markets and other venues trying to get those few precious sales.

After a couple of years, people begin to learn about you and come by to see if they like what you are growing. And if you have a bad year, some of your customers will go away and not come back. But you have to keep putting your harvest out there for sale, and tell people about it at the grocery store, gas station and every other place and time you can.

Then, years and years after you start, people will be coming by regularly for your crops. You will know them, and want to grow better crops for them.

And then a bunny will come and eat your lettuce, but you won't mind so much.

Nancy again -

Our neighbors across the street are farmers. They grow hay, corn and about half a dozen other crops, as well as, hogs, goats, chickens and cows. He and his family perform massive and exhausting labor every day. After Leighton's heart attack, his first question wasn't "should I give up farming" but "how long before I can get on a tractor again?" If I suggested he should stop farming just because his hogs aren't selling well this year, he'd look at me like I was insane. And he'd be right. You don't give up when one crop fails. You have other crops in the works because at some point every crop will perform poorly.

It seems to me that you can substitute the word "book" for harvest, and crops, and the word "writing" for growing fairly easily. Breaking out in the writing industry is hard work.  First, when you start you have to work very hard to come up with the idea and write the first draft. Then, you have to work at editing (weeding and fertilizing) the story. When you have your very first novel and take it to market, no one knows you or what you're selling. They don't come and buy that book in droves. You spend hours in promotions, blog hops and doing everything you can think of to sell that book. The first book is never what you want it to be. But, you keep writing.

Most writers who have "broken out" didn't do it with their first book, or the second. If I recall right, Kevin J. Anderson quit his day job after his tenth published book, and with a year of savings in the bank. A recent Daily Kick from David Wolverton advocated having no back-up plan for writing. If writing is what you want to do, you need to sink your heart and soul into it.

Leighton, Dave and my husband are all right. (Yes, Matt, I said that on the Internet so now you have proof).  If a story isn't performing as well as you'd like, and all your marketing isn't helping, work on your next one. Get more product to the market. Eventually, all your time, effort and energy will pay off.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Work in progress update for November

With the first two major fall holidays past, thoughts turn to the dying of the light, and the old year. While 2012's not over yet, it's been a heck of a ride so far. I expect December will keep pace.

I'm still experiencing transition pains with the new law firm. I (read that as my very manly husband) moved from the basement office where I was squatting into my new office on the second floor this weekend. That means Matt had to carry my very heavy (so he tells me) furniture up two flights of steps. For some reasons houses built before the Civil War don't have elevators.

New Bohemia was my NaNoWriMo novel this year. I added the 30,000 words I wanted, but like most discovery writers, I learned I was still 20,000 words from that magic phrase "the end." So, December's goal is to get that done. I did write nearly every day in November so NaNo was a sucess even if I don't get to put that little banner up.

Apollo Rising, which released on September 10, 2012 from Musa Publishing, is free on Amazon from December 3-5, 2012.  Please check it out. This is the buy link if you want a free copy and are reading this during the promotion period.

I've rewritten 130 pages of Falcon, the novel I took to Dave Farland's rewriting seminar. If my estimate on New Bohemia is right, I should be able to get half of Falcon rewritten by the year's end.

So, that's my plan for the rest of 2012. What's yours?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Guest Post - Ted Mendlessohn

I write primarily fantasy. Even then there are times, especially in my urban fantasy, where I need to refer to some technological marvel that doesn't yet exist. There's an inherent tension between flash and comprehensibility when technobable creeps in. And to round out the cyber-shopping week, I've asked my friend and fellow Musa writer, Ted Mendelssohn to talk a bit about writing technology into stories.

Take it away Ted.
Ted Mendelssohn

There's an inertial surge in the soliton matrix!
Stabilize the meson beam with a lithium resonator!
Reverse the polarity!
Reverse the polarity!

Like we haven't heard that before. Am  I right?

Welcome to the world of technobabble - made-up jargon, fake terminology intended to give the impression that something terribly high-tech and science-y is going on.

Technobabble is a long-established tradition in science fiction, but it drives me crazy. Even ordinary readers will be irritated by too much of the stuff, and for good reason: It is literally meaningless. (The writers of ST:TNG (* Nancy Note - that's Star Trek: The Next Generation for all of you who aren't Trekkies) would actually write "TECH" as a placeholder in dialogue for which they hadn't yet made up new technobabble. (The tech lifts right out, you see.) As a reader, I have a limited amount of time on earth. The time I spend reading shouldn't be wasted on even a couple of meaningless sentences. When that happens, I know the author isn't doing his job – and he is wasting a tiny bit of my life.

Why do writers use technobabble in the first place? For the same reason, I suppose, that some fantasy writers use archaic, pseudo-historic language for their characters: They think it sounds cool. "Cool" means scientific for the purveyors of space opera; it means "ancient" for the fantasists. To me, it means "sloppy." It indicates a fundamental lack of respect for science and technology…which just might be the wrong attitude for a writer of science fiction.

If you don't get why technobabble is offensive, no worries. Some people like it. Head on to the next post and ignore me. I am now – at Nancy's request – going to talk about how to get rid of the stuff, and you wouldn't want to waste your time with this.

So. How to reduce the amount of technobabble in your story...Well, let's be honest. You have to decide to make the stuff up and put it in. It's not as if it just sprouts in your prose like mushrooms. It isn't something you catch with a spellcheck. To write technobabble, you have to actually create it, and know, while you're writing it down, that you yourself don't have a clear idea of what it means.

So it's not about making sure you don't unintentionally technobabble. It's about writing a story in which technobabble is unnecessary. You do that by understanding your tech from the beginning, and by making sure that your characters' conflict is never technical, even if the obstacles are.

"But, but, but-" you stammer. "I'm writing about immortality and FTL travel. That doesn't even exist yet. It may never exist! How can I understand tech that hasn't been invented yet?"
(* Nancy Note again - FTL is Faster Than Light)

 Meet technobabble's arch-enemy, the Theory of Operation. A ToO is a mental model of how a device or technology is supposed to work - and that device doesn't have to exist in the real world. For instance, it's impossible to go faster than the speed of light in a vacuum, but let's say that we really, really want our characters to take weekend trips to Procyon. Enter the FTL drive.

 There have been dozens of FTL drives dreamed up in the fertile brains of SF writers, the majority of them variations on the themes of hyperspace, wormholes, and warp space. Never mind that they're all (probably) impossible, and that they all (definitely) require a level of technology far beyond our own. What makes them fictional technology instead of straight-up technobabble was that they have at least a limited ToO – which means that they have clearly defined advantages and problems.

The classic example is the Alderson drive, named after Dan Alderson, the JPL scientist who helped writer Jerry Pournelle work out the science and use it as a fictional device. The Alderson drive is a fundamental "wormhole" drive: Ships vanish at one point of "equipotential thermonuclear flux" and reappear at another. The two points are connected by a hyper-dimensional "tramline." The limitation is that you have to look hard for those "Alderson points," and not all star systems have points that will take you where you want to go. That has implications for interstellar travel, trade, politics and warfare. It helps shape the CoDominium, Pournelle's fictional universe. It makes the story solid.

If you don't want to play with a ToO, your other choice is the Star Wars option. In the original Star Wars, there is no ToO for the hyperdrive. In fact, at some points it even seems like the hyperdrive is no more important for FTL travel than the nitrogen afterburner on a race car. But there is actually remarkably little technobabble in that original movie, because the characters' problems and triumphs are ultimately non-technological. Luke will save Leia whether he's using a light-saber, or a sword. Everybody has hyperspace, so it's not an advantage for any one character over another; it's just part of the background. It works.

Now consider a science fiction series that's infamous for technobabble – so infamous, in fact, that it has its own technobabble variant. In Star Trek – the later versions – they neither follow a theory of operation, nor do they keep technology in the background. It is always in the foreground, front and center; but the producers don't work out a consistent vision for it. Miraculous new substances are routinely discovered, only to vanish after one episode; incredible space obstacles menace the ship, but never seem to pose a threat to space navigation at large; and the space-time continuum malfunctions so regularly, in so many different technobbably ways, that it seems like only a matter of time before Roman legionaries are running the Federation and all the Klingons are pink dwarves. A hazy, inconsistent technology is the both the source and the resolution of a multitude of plot points. The result: Treknobabble.

Now, clearly there were a lot of people who loved Treknobabble. It could be viable strategy, if that's really the way you want to play it. But the choice is with you. Always.


Thanks Ted.

Ted's young adult book, The Wrong Sword, is now available. Even though this is YA it's a great read for adults. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

What happens when Excalibur resurfaces and her bearer is a cheat and a thief? Henry and his crew are cons. Their latest endeavor? Forge the greatest swords in history. But Henry cons the wrong knight and ends up on a quest to find the real Excalibur. If he fails, Prince Geoff will put Henry's two best friends to death.

When he actually finds the sword, he learns that SHE has a mind of her own. And she has some definite ideas about being welded by a thief. Henry agrees to find a suitable bearer for Excalibur. His quest takes them across France. Throw in a a princess pretending to be a bar maid, a royal wedding, and, well, you're starting to get the gist.
Like I said, I really enjoyed the story.


Gray sky, white ground, black trees. Sound muffled by snow, until all you heard was your own breathing, and all you felt was the cold, sharp in your ears and your nose, dull in your boots and leggings.

Or, if you were tied to a mule on your back, wearing nothing but your shirt and hose, cold everywhere and pain in everything. Henry tried to clear his throat and keep moving, even if that amounted to no more than shivering inside his manacles.

They had long ago left England behind. Now they traveled through a dismal waste, thick forests broken by ruins that were ancient before the Romans, standing stones that gave no shelter, roads that vanished under bridges leading nowhere. It was all pretty eldritch. Henry knew it from Alfie’s tales - the borth Annwn, the Door to the Land of Shadow. A stone cairn appeared through the snow, wiped clean by the wind. Brissac turned in his saddle. “There it is. How are you, thief? Comfortable?”

Henry tried to control his chattering teeth, without much success. “C-couldn’t be better. How’s the body odor? Taken a bath yet?”

The Swiss mercenaries laughed. Brissac wheeled on Henry, his sword drawn-

“Ah-ah-ah! You k-kill me, wh-what will Geoffrey say?”

Brissac turned away, but Hauptmann, captain of the Swiss, rode up to Henry and examined him.
“Ritter…he could die. Let us cover him.”

“The tower is near enough. Cover him then.”

To be fair, Brissac hadn’t shackled Henry until AFTER he’d tried to escape. But they had just landed in Southampton; Brissac was still seasick; Henry could speak the local dialect, while the Swiss were practically mute; and by then, Geoffrey would have released Alfie and the others he was holding as hostages.

Really, it had been too good an opportunity to ignore.

But as Henry had leaned over the inn’s stable roof and gently lowered himself to the ground, crossbow bolts had hissed out of the darkness, aimed so well they had pinned his clothes to the wall behind him without even drawing blood. He had been trussed up like a chicken in his own breeches-

“There it is.”

Henry craned his neck to see. Wow. It was a genuine, honest-to-goodness Dark Tower.

Black and ancient, it rose above the pines like a castle guarding a border. Beyond it the land opened out in a wide valley, shrouded in fog, indistinct except for the top of the Glastonbury Tor, a terraced hill poking out of the sea of mist. The road zigzagged up the slope and then cut through a dark wood, vanishing into shadow long before it reached the tower.

“The Chapel Perilous,” Brissac leaned down and spoke in Henry’s ear. “The key to Excalibur’s resting place. Twelve good knights have entered, never to return. My lord Geoffrey thinks you may solve the riddle where they did not.” Brissac squinted up at the high black walls. “I think he is an optimist.”

Buy Link:


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Guest Post - Lizzie Leaf and Dead Hot

 Lizzie T. Leaf Brings the Dead to Life with DEAD Hot, a new book in her best selling DEAD series.

Will family secrets let her find love with a guy that cats around?


Sharla Gomez’s dream encounter with the man she’s lusted over for months turned into rain-soaked nightmare. Her hopes of love and passion have gone to the dogs. Being a shifter is hell, especially when you’re a Pug/Chihuahua mix, or as some call the breed, a Chug. Even dogs don’t want to be told they’re so ugly they’re cute.

Dorsey Smith wants to get to know the exotic number-cruncher in charge of the strip club’s books. Just his luck she disappeared before he could ask her out for coffee. Instead of taking home the woman he lusts for, he takes home the small, drenched dog shivering in the rain. When he discovers the animal missing the next morning and he senses magic in the air. Has his safe haven been discovered and will his secrets be revealed?

Can two people with deep secrets discover the truth about each other and still find love. Or will the secrets and the evil lurking drive them apart?


Damn, he’s hot!

Sharla Gomez clamped her lips tighter to stop the drool pooling in her mouth from running down her chin as Dorsey Smith lowered the case of beer off his shoulder. The sweat drenched tee-shirt clung across his back and the muscles under it rippled. She clinched her thighs together. In her dreams of the hunk nothing obscured the bare skin of this chocolaty delight and she could lick every inch.

"Oh Dorsey, I need a refill." One of the model type chicks clustered around the other end of the bar waved her glass and blew a wet kiss from her injected lips.

Dumb bitch thinks she looks sexy, but that puffed up mouth makes her look more like she kissed an offended beehive. Sharla swallowed hard to force back the bile. Hell yes I’m jealous! What wouldn’t I give to be one of the beauties that muscular bartender rushes to accommodate.

Instead, she had been blessed by the gods with her Mexican grandmother’s love of enchiladas, which also led to inheriting Grandma Gomez’s ass. From her German grandmother, Sharla got her large boobs that helped balance her ass. Those genetics also passed along her big blue eyes, but thanks to Oma Chen being an open-minded kind of gal who married a Chinese, they slanted. Yep, her life had been one big joyful event of teasing when she was a kid.

The combination of mixed genetics led to dreams of finding a male who appreciated unique, if not downright weird.

Weird is exactly where I fall when I start trying to explain I’m a shifter.  Any normal guy will run like hell.

The only guys she’d come across outside her community who would appreciate the shifting detail were the really kinky ones. And kinky didn’t appeal to her.

But the guys back home didn’t appreciate her either. Most seem to think the teasing that had followed her through her school years needed to continue. That was the top reason she decided to try a big city once she had her accounting certification in hand.

She rested her chin in her palm and watched Dorsey’s interaction with the women. The sigh that escaped held all the longing she tried not to show.

"Girl, if the lust on your face could be bottled I’d make us both wealthy." Dovey slid onto the barstool beside Sharla, her gaze glued to the other end of the bar. "He is a yummy delight. If he were a chocolate milkshake, I could slurp him up in nothing fast."

"For being the club’s owner, you’re a dirty old woman. Comments like that can get you slapped with sexual harassment if the wrong person overhears."

Buy Links: MUSA Publishing Amazon Kindle Barnes & Noble All Romance eBooks

Nancy again.

I haven't read this particular installment of the Dead series, but the first book in the series, Dead Awake, is really wonderful. Lizzie's characters are strong and well defined. You get pulled into the story from the outset. So, please check out Lizzie's Dead series.

Learn more about Lizzie T. Leaf on her website and blog. Connect with Lizzie on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Kill Your Darlings

I have a long post at Fictorians today about what to do with your novel in the aftermath of NaNoWriMo so I'm going to try to keep this post short. Yea, I know. My chances aren't high. Still, I'm going to make the attempt.

There's something I said at Fictorians that I wanted to spend a bit more time with here. For the full story, check out the Fictorians post here. The short version is I've seen stories where the writer's unwillingness to trim out the fat i.e. his "darlings" (those bits that while the writer loves them don't advance plot or character) have poisoned the entire story and made it unpalatable. I've seen this tendency to keep "darlings" in stories I've rejected at Flash Fiction Online as well.

Stephen King coined the phrase "kill your darlings" in On Writing. For this we all owe him a debt. But, killing our darlings isn't easy. The first step in the process is identifying a "darling."

So, how do you know when something is a "darling" to be killed rather than a bit that needs reworking?

For me, there are three ways I know a section, or an entire story, is a "darling."

1. The section doesn't advance plot or character, or is misplaced.

These are the "darlings" you hope to discovery on your first editing pass. Sometimes they are hard to pick out though.  You may have a scene characters walking around a bazaar to set the place. If that's all the characters are doing though, the scene may really be a darling. The scene could be saved by showing character - what the point of view character notices - or somehow advances the plot by giving the reader a hint he might not realize at the time. I find my "darlings" tend to be more like "in jokes", funny to those who know, but incomprehensible to the rest of your readers.

In the play I mentioned in my Fictorian's post, I remember a "darling" where the main character's (a writer) characters were trying to figure out what an item was. The payoff for the scene was a bad pun. From a technical stand point, the scene is a good example of how point of view affects a story. From a storytelling point, the scene was a disaster as the joke didn't advance the arc in the play. It needed to be deleted even though more than 20 years later, I can still remember it.

Clever turns of phrases also fall into this slot. The image might be vivid, but if it's in the wrong spot, it's a "darling" that needs to be killed. As an example the phrase "threw it away from her like last week's rotten fish" is evocative but it doesn't belong in a love scene where the main character rips off her boyfriend's shirt and hurls it across the room.

2.  The section doesn't fit into any plot box.

I've written about the Hollywood formula, but in essence, the "formula" states that to bring the viewer a satisfying story, that story must hit certain "beats" and turning points. Some of these points are the "bad guys close in" and "all is lost" moments. If I can't name the beat the scene is serving, it is probably a "darling."

3. My readers' feedback is "hu?" or many people note a problem with the section.

Beta readers are invaluable. Sometimes the best feedback a reader can give you is "hu?" A "hu" means either your writing wasn't clear or the reader doesn't understand why the scene is in the story. The second is a "darling" that must be killed.

If a number of your readers are calling your attention to a particular section, you have a problem there. While the reader might not be able to articulate the problem, those sections need to be scrutinize. If the problem is that the section is a "darling" you may need to kill it. 

I had several of these "darlings" in Kalypso's Song, published in Shots at Remdemption. This story started as an experiment. I wanted to see if I could keep the feel of a Homerian story in a contemporary romance. I read about thirty different translations of the Odyssey, many of which were in the public domain to get the feel of the style. Yet, as I got feedback, the sections where I most closely imitated the Homerian-era voice were the ones were I received complains of being too "purple." Despite the fact that those bits were the ones I was the most proud of, I cut them because the were hurting my story.

"Killing your darlings" isn't easy. But it's necessary. I hope my guidelines for ferreting out "darlings" help make your writing strong.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving.

For most of us in the United States today is a day we pause to reflect on the good things in our lives. And, to be truthful, eat far too much turkey and fixin's.

So, what am I thankful for?

I'm watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade with my sons. Although, my husband growled something about being in the next room where he could hear the parade was close enough for him, thank you very much. Hurricane Sandy did not hit Virginia with force it was originally expected to. My families, birth, surrogate and by affinity, are still intact although members in each group still struggle with serious health issues.

I've had a fabulous year with my writing, including being published in an anthology, having two short story collections and a novella published by my fabulous publisher, Musa Publishing. Because I've had a fabulous year, I was able to meet lots more people in the industry. I joined Flash Fiction Online as a staff member and will attend this year's Superstars Writing Seminar as staff. I am thankful for all of you who read my blog and who have bought my books.

Sure, there are things I can complain about. There always will be. But today's not a day for complaints. It's a day to rejoice in what we have, and realize that there are always others who struggle through with less.

So, thank you. I am deeply moved and honored that you take the time out of your day to spend a little of it with me.

I hope you and your family have a joyous Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2012

NaNoWriMo - Status update

I have a love/hate relationship with NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo is National Write a Novel Month. Every November, writers, professional and amateur, sign to write 50,000 words or more in the month. So, technically, it's not a full novel. Heck, for epic fantasy, it's a half novel. The point isn't as much as completing a novel in a month as it is to get motivated and write. A lot.

I love the idea and the competition, even though it's just myself I'm competing against. I hate the idea that writers should dedicate themselves to this lofty goal for only one month a year. Evan Braun did a great post on being a professional writer all year-round on the Fictorian's site under the title: The Year-Round Professional so I won't replow that ground.

In it's own way, NaNo teaches us how to be a professional writer. To get to 50,000 words, you have to spend some real BIS (Butt in the Seat) time. Sometimes hitting 50,000 words is easy. Other times, not so much. This is my third year participating in NaNo. The last two times, I hit or surpassed the 50,000 mark. After rewriting, I probably only wrote 30,000 usable words each time. But that's nothing to sneer over.

This year I wanted to take a different approach. I knew I was going to lose five or six writing days because I was attending the World Fantasy Convention. Rather than a modest 1,666 words a day, I need to average closer to 2,000 to catch-up. Every day I missed after, and I've missed some, meant my needed daily word count average is closer to 2,500. Knowing that this year was going to be a challenge, I cheated.

Before you scowl. I haven't really cheated. I picked a story that was almost finished. I need about 30,000 words to reach "happily every after." If I hit that point, I'll consider myself a winner. Even if NaNo doesn't. If I finish New Bohemia: Just One Night, I have another novel that I can work on for the other 20,000. So, I'm not that upset that I'm at 16,000 words. I'm halfway to my real goal.

Okay, back to my point. While I can bust 50,000 words in a month, I've done it before from when I was even further behind, my super secret goal is to write 30,000 words I can keep. The writing is slower for my attempt, which is why I'm hovering closer to 20,000 words than the 36,000 I "should" have. So, no tricks for me. No describing a meal in excruciating detail, a suggested tip for making up word count. Honest words. Good clean words. Well, not "clean" since this is erotic romance, but you get the point. So, how am I doing?
“I don’t want to think. If I think, I won’t be able to do this. Please make me warm. Stop me from thinking,” May said.  
"Oh fuck, May.”
When Pete rolled his eyes, she sank her teeth into his neck.“That’s sort of the point." 
But I'm being a little dishonest with you too. I'm a competitive SOB. You don't get to be a good trial lawyer without being competitive. I hate to lose. I'm pushing for 50,000 words across two stories.

There's a point I made that I want to circle back to. I said I "should" have 36,000 words written by now. Why did I put should in quotes? Because "should" means nothing. Writing means everything. NaNo is just one more reason for me to sit down at my desk (or in bed), break out the computer and write.

If you're participating in NaNo, I wish you fast fingers and a prolific muse. You can write 50,000 words in 30 days. See you at that finish line.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guest Post - Sloane Taylor and Masquerade

Today I turn my blog over to Sloan Taylor and her new release from Musa Publishing, Masquerade.

Take it away, Sloane.  .

Chicagoan Clancy Marshall has planned her dream vacation in Venice down to the last detail. From gondola rides to masked balls, and anything else that just happens along, she is determined to experience all pleasures. But those careful plans fly out the door when she literally falls into the arms of a masked stranger.

Vittore Ricci comes from an old Venetian family that claims two doges in their lineage. A straight-laced Count and owner of a prestigious hotel, he never does anything without serious consideration. Until a sexy American tourist offers an opportunity no man can refuse.


Green eyes sparkling behind delicate shades of purple feathers held him hostage. Vittore thought he had recognized her the moment she walked onto the pier. When she spoke, he knew his search had finally ended. Determination and desire had persevered.  The gods had delivered her into his hands and he wanted to learn more about this mystery woman with her gay laugh and quick wit, even if it was only for one night.

Clancy opened her door, then switched on the entry light. At the bedroom, she glanced over her shoulder, the long plumes brushing her creamy bare shoulder. “Make yourself comfortable. I’ll be just a moment.”

He wandered around the room, straightening the pillows on the sofa, adjusting a wing backed chair and, finally, the magazines scattered across the pecan desktop. It was there he found a handwritten note caught between the pages. A little guilt crept in for snooping, but he shoved it aside, eager to discover more about this sensual woman who intrigued him.

Note to Self — Loving Venice
1.    Ride in a gondola
2.    Climb the Campanile in St. Mark’s Square
3.    Attend a masked ball
4.    Dance under the stars in St. Mark’s Square
5.    Tour a professional kitchen
6.    Buy one special piece of Murano glass
7.    Fall in love—at least for the night
8.   Hear a Vivaldi Concert
9.    Attend an opera at the Fenice

Vittore reread the paper, paying close attention to number seven. He looked out at the waning moon and sent a prayer of thanks to Raphael the Archangel, the patron saint of happy meetings, for his good fortune.

On a whoosh of material, he slid the list back under a book.

“Vittore, I have a suggestion, a little game to add to the Carnaval mystique. Sort of an adult Twenty Questions. Are you willing to play?”

“You spark my interest.” He liked games, particularly in the bedroom. A myriad of erotic foreplay flitted through his mind. Before they said farewell, his princessa would experience pleasures she had never imagined. “What are the rules?”

Sloane's a sensual woman who believes humor and sex are healthy aspects of our everyday lives and carries that philosophy into her books. She writes sexually explicit romances that takes you right into the bedroom. Being a true romantic, all her stories have a happy ever after.

Her books are set in Europe where the men are all male and the North American women they encounter are both feminine and strong. They also bring more than lust to their men’s lives.

Taylor was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago. As a young adult she lived in the Pullman neighborhood created by that old curmudgeon George Pullman. Studly, her mate for life, and Sloane now live in a small home in Indiana and enjoy the change from hectic city life.

She is an avid cook. Check out “It’s Wednesday. So What’s Cooking?” with complete menus posted once a week on her blog  The recipes are user friendly menus, meaning easy. Feel free to email her at to be included on the Cooking Pals list. These are people who receive an advance email of the new menu.

I hope you enjoyed Masquerade. I know I did. After all, what's not to love about a strong heroine, an Italian Count and a magic weekend in Venice? Please check out Masquerade.


Monday, November 12, 2012

A Veteran's Day Thank You

In the United States today, we pause to remember the men and women who have served to protect this country. Because they were willing to put their lives on the line for us. we are able to vote for our leaders without fear of death or injury as we did a few days ago.

Take time on Veteran's Day to thank a member of our armed services. If you're in the Washington, DC area visit the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington Cemetery. Remember that those soldiers stood guard over the Tomb during Hurricane Sandy. The dedication and courage of our troops is awe inspiring.

All I can say is


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Guest Post - Zane's Art

Today, I'm hosting another Musa writer, Sara Daniel and her new release Finally Ever After: Zane's Art.  Take it away, Sara . . ..

Finally Ever After: Zane’s Art

Early this year when Musa posted a submissions call for a series called Finally Ever After, I jumped at the opportunity. The stories were to be short, happily ever romances about lovers who have loved each other and lost.  Now, they have a second chance to create the happy ending they didn’t get the first time.

 I love characters with a past history, especially in a short word count. They have instant attraction and long-standing unresolved conflict—the perfect elements for a fast-paced, emotion-packed read.  Zane’s Art had all these things coupled with a strong present conflict.  The story flowed out of me so fast I knew it was meant to be!

 Zane’s Art

High school art teacher Julianne Truman's last chance to save her beloved art department from budget cuts is to sell the old sketches that her former boyfriend—and now famous artist—Zane DeMonde drew for her. But is she prepared to let go of his artwork and the last traces of him in her life?

Desperate to save his artistic reputation from the exposure of his early works, Zane returns to the home town he wanted to forget. He accuses Julianne of profiting from his success and demands she take his art off the market and cancel the auction.

Their high school attraction flares back to life, forcing Julianne to choose between the students who count on her and the man she never stopped loving.

 A high school art teacher must choose between her students and the artist she never stopped loving.


Cancel the auction.”

Julianne Truman’s head snapped around at the hard male voice. The stapler fell from her hand and cracked open on the floor, as she caught sight of the extraordinary face that went with the voice. Her knees shook as she climbed down the ladder. She hadn’t faced Zane DeMonde in nearly fifteen years. At one time she’d believed he’d be part of every single day of her future.

“Zane, I didn’t expect you to come.” She stepped toward him. His black hair was a little shorter than the last time she’d seen him, but at shoulder length it was still far longer than most men’s. Gone were the black hoodie and ripped jeans of his youth. Now he wore chinos and a sharply pressed blue button-down shirt, open at the neck.

The dark storms in his cobalt blue eyes were exactly the same as the day he’d walked away from her. “Cancel the auction. The sketches and painting are not for sale.”

She swallowed. “I own them. If I choose to sell them, that’s my business.” And it was breaking her heart to part with the only piece of him that she’d been able to hang onto all these years.

“When they have my name on them and you’re getting rich off me, it’s my business.”

Getting rich was so far from the truth Julianne would have laughed if her chest weren’t so tight. “It’s an honor to have you back in town.” At least her students would think so. Her brother would likely burst an artery. And she—well, she couldn’t even begin to process the mix of emotions she was feeling. “Do you have a minute to talk? I can explain what’s going on.”

“I know what’s going on.”

She hoped he couldn’t hear how hard her heart was hammering or sense how desperately she longed to wrap her arms around him and pick up where they left off fifteen years ago, as if he’d never left her. “Then you know that the arts are at the bottom of the school district’s priority list. To have supplies for the classroom, to restore the school mural, to give my students a chance to explore different mediums, the art program needs an alternate source of funding.”

“You’re the Dentonville High art teacher?”

She couldn’t help feeling defensive at his derisive tone. “Yes, and I love my job.”

“Do you? Or have you never moved beyond your high school life?”

Nancy here again.

Can't wait to see the sparks fly? I know I couldn't. I have to say, I really enjoyed the story.  Julianne's dedication to her students prompts her to make a decision she didn't want to, letting go the art that's the only thing she has left from her high school love. Both Julianne and Zane are really likable and Sara does a great job with making the reader understand why the relationship ended the first time. I recommend this lovely novella. To find out how it ends, please check out Zane's Art.  It can be found at:


Musa Publishing.  - Kindle,  IPad, Nook, Android, mobi and .pdf formats

Amazon - Kindle Format
Amazon UK - Kindle Format

Barnes and Noble - Nook Format

To learn more about Sara Daniel and her work, please visit her website and blog. Stay connected on either or both of her Facebook pages