Tag Archives: fiction

Reflections on my first convention & blogger blackouts

This past weekend, I took my self-published dark fantasy novel to Vermont ComicCon as a vendor. I’d last been to a con in college, so it was a pretty exciting thing. First signing event, first vendor event, lots and lots of firsts.

I’d love to be one of those people who could construct for you an organized narrative of how things progressed, but unfortunately, that sort of writing only seems to happen in my fiction. So let’s make a list of awesome things that happened at the first VTComicCon:

  • Selling and signing books! After years of going to various events and seeing the authors behind the tables, it was pretty awesome being the one there with my pens at the ready.
  • Seeing all the amazing cosplay. I’m more likely to be found in my geeky T-shirts than rocking a styling X-23, but I have so much admiration for people who have the visual creativity to put together some of the amazing costumes I saw. I tweeted some of my favorites.
  • There was a moment when an author came up to my table-buddy and myself and shook our hands, and said “I’m going to be published in a month, how do I get one of these tables, and what do I need to know?” It blew my mind, being the one who is considered to have the authority to answer those questions. Very very cool.
  • Being in a room with so many people who are passionate about the thing they love. I was very strongly reminded of the great answer Wil Wheaton gave a while back to the question of what’s awesome about being a geek, and that it’s not about what we love, it’s about how we love it. It seems like every time I look at Twitter, there’s authors being jackasses to bloggers, there’s Gamergate, there’s nasty and miserable crap happening everywhere. No good.

About the blogging blackout. I support it, both as an author and as a kind-of-blog-reviewer. Book bloggers do not exist to be the PR machine of authors. Book bloggers are book geeks. They do it because they love it, not just reading, but sharing the books they love (or don’t love) with their fellow book geeks. They deserve respect, especially because their love is so useful and important to us. I don’t feel like I’d be doing anything more than lip service by saying I was participating in the blackout, because nothing I’ve reviewed recently, or plan to review in the near future is a new release. I’d be lying if I said I was doing that deliberately.

I may spend the next week focusing on more writing topics rather than reading topics, or talking more about what the con meant to me. I also have an exciting bit of news that I’ll share tomorrow!

Review: The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen

The sport she loves is out of reach. The boy she loves has someone else. What now?

She expected to start Harkness College as a varsity ice hockey player. But a serious accident means that Corey Callahan will start school in a wheelchair instead.

Across the hall, in the other handicapped-accessible dorm room, lives the too-delicious-to-be real Adam Hartley, another would-be hockey star with his leg broken in two places. He’s way out of Corey’s league.

Also, he’s taken.

Nevertheless, an unlikely alliance blooms between Corey and Hartley in the “gimp ghetto” of McHerrin Hall. Over tequila, perilously balanced dining hall trays, and video games, the two cope with disappointments that nobody else understands.

They’re just friends, of course, until one night when things fall apart. Or fall together. All Corey knows is that she’s falling. Hard.

But will Hartley set aside his trophy girl to love someone as broken as Corey? If he won’t, she will need to find the courage to make a life for herself at Harkness — one which does not revolve around the sport she can no longer play, or the brown-eyed boy who’s afraid to love her back.

Year we fell downLike many of the books I’ve read recently, I came to this book in a roundabout sort of way. I read a few stellar reviews of the third book in the series, and added the first book to my sample list on my Kindle. Then, I read Bowen’s post on NA Alley where she questioned whether or not an author could put an m/m title in what was otherwise an m/f series. In that post, she says that she’s gotten at least a few responses to her newest book, The Understatement of the Year, where some people decided to pass on it because it’s a m/m story.

My feelings about this are deeply conflicted. On one hand, no one is obligated to read anything, and if you don’t want to read a story about two men, then that’s fine. On another hand, the fact that most m/m romance is written by women with a target audience of women also kind of weirds me out. Most stories are awesome and amazing, but there are some that I’ve read that are pretty fetishizing and creepy. Of course, some section of EVERY romance genre is kind of fetishizing and creepy, so why pick on m/m romance? On YET ANOTHER hand, I’d like to think that the average reader might be willing to give a m/m romance a try, if they know and enjoy the author, and possibly have a new genre of romance open up to them. On another hand…

You see how it is. This is an octopus issue for me, and I don’t have an easy answer. But, I did have something I could do. I commented on Bowen’s NA post that I would be buying the book to read myself, and “so there mean reader,” or something like that. (I was very tired at the time. I might have had a beer. My husband regularly disregards my requests that he take away my internet when I’ve been drinking, because I entertain him.)

I read The Year We Fell Down hoping to enjoy myself, but I had no idea that I would be so blown away by this book. Corey Callahan is the main character. She is currently using a wheelchair for mobility, and she needs braces and forearm crutches to walk. She is mad about this, mad about what she’s lost, and she’s not apologizing for that, but she’s also not a bitch to all and sundry just because her life has changed. She is actively trying to figure out how to live when her life has taken a sharp left turn.

She is intrigued by Adam Hartley, her cross-the-way neighbor who has broken his leg very badly, and so is also sitting in the “gimp section” as they put it in their gallows humor. Hartley slowly encourages Corey to reconnect, slowly convinces her that it is possible for a man to see her, and not just the chair or the braces. Corey is rapidly falling for him. Only problem? He’s already got a girlfriend, Stacia, who by all accounts brings out the absolute worst in him.

Things I absolutely loved about this book:

  1. It is made clear that Hartley and Stacia have an “arrangement” while she’s in Europe for her semester abroad. Hartley’s flirting and … more with Corey are therefore easier to stomach without making her “the girl he cheated with,” something I hate.
  2. Corey never defines herself in terms of Hartley. She actually recognizes at one point that her reliance on him is keeping her from making other friends, and she tells him that they can’t be friends right now, because she needs to find her own feet.
  3. When Hartley makes up his mind, and realizes that he’s treating Corey like crap, he acts decisively. He doesn’t hem and haw and tell the reader all about how AWFUL this is, he just does the right thing. Bam.
  4. Did I mention that Corey is freaking amazing, and strong, and powerful? She’s neither the angelic girl in a wheelchair who’s going to make everyone appreciate their functioning legs, nor is she the angry, bitter cripple out to ruin everyone’s life. She’s a girl, a girl who has some “shit to shovel,” and she’s going to move that crap as best as she can.

Excellent book, wonderful, brilliant, I love it. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series, and it’s not even just so I can stick my tongue out at some random email person anymore.

Review: The Courtland Chronicles (EC Author, Non EC Book)

When I was twenty years old, I fell in love with a girl. I was both surprised and not at all surprised by this development. After six months of dancing around the subject, which drove our mutual friends utterly insane, we ended up together. Which was when I found out that she hadn’t come out to her parents yet, despite the fact that she’d identified as either bisexual or as a lesbian since she was in junior high, and had multiple girlfriends in high school and college before me.

Maybe this is why I sympathize with Eric more than Nick in the early novels of The Courtland Chronicles by Cat Grant. According to Cat, Eric fans have been few and far between over the years.

CourtlandIn the early days of the EC fuss that has dominated Romland for the past few weeks, Cat Grant went public, asking readers not to buy the series she’d published with EC. I got in touch with her to express my sympathies, saying that I didn’t want the free copies she was offering of the Icon Men series, but that I’d love a recommendation to another, non-EC series that I could purchase, to support her that way. We discussed some of what she had out, and she suggested this, for the sweet MMF that develops in the later books.

I enjoyed the Courtland books, without doubt. I love Eric, in all his brokenness, which tells me something about Grant’s writing ability; I have joked before that I have a fetish for broken boys, but Eric really should have made me madder. In fact, as things went on, it was Nick that I lost patience with. Always hiding from his parents, always expecting Eric to give him a little longer, and be okay with waiting. Maybe it’s because I’ve been there, or because times are just different from when this book was originally published, but I was very cranky with Nick, no matter how gorgeous his equipment might have been.

The later books see Eric and Nick establishing a relationship with their friend Ally, and creating a stable poly relationship, which is delightful and wonderful. The story of discrimination they face is mentioned, but never dwelled on, and the smutty bits are excellently smutty.

I understand Grant is now working on sequels that will focus on the Courtlands’ kids? I’m excited to read them!

Review: A Case of Possession by K J Charles

Earlier this year, a friend lent me The Magpie Lord, a great historical paranormal by London author K. J. Charles. I loved everything about the book, but for some reason, it took me until now to pick up A Case of Possession. There will be spoilers for the first book below, but they should be minor.

a-case-of-possession

Lord Crane has never had a lover quite as elusive as Stephen Day. True, Stephen’s job as justiciar requires secrecy, but the magician’s disappearing act bothers Crane more than it should. When a blackmailer threatens to expose their illicit relationship, Crane knows a smart man would hop the first ship bound for China. But something unexpectedly stops him. His heart.

Stephen has problems of his own. As he investigates a plague of giant rats sweeping London, his sudden increase in power, boosted by his blood-and-sex bond with Crane, is rousing suspicion that he’s turned warlock. With all eyes watching him, the threat of exposure grows. Stephen could lose his friends, his job and his liberty over his relationship with Crane. He’s not sure if he can take that risk much longer. And Crane isn’t sure if he can ask him to.

The rats are closing in, and something has to give…

There are so many things to love about Charles’ Charm of Magpies series. The effortless capture of the British class society. The way Lucien is given an actual reason to not care about it. The rocking women. Esther Gold, introduced here as Stephen’s justiciar partner, is fantastic. The way Lucien and Stephen’s romance continues to develop, without taking the focus off the actual paranormal storyline. The smutty, delicious sex. Oh, the sex. Ahem.

Writing a story with romantic elements that isn’t actually a romance (I define the difference as which plotline is given the most “screentime” or importance in the story, other definitions might vary) is trickier than your average writing student might think. Too many authors focus too heavily on one or the other, leaving the more minor storyline to feel as tacked on as it usually in. Charles keeps them in perfect balance throughout the book. It matters that Stephen and Lucien are lovers, their dynamic matters, and both drives the action and is driven by it.

I adored this book, and as soon as I’d finished it, I pre-ordered the third book, Flight of Magpies, due out October 28th. I can’t wait.

Review: Damaged Heart by S. C. Wynne (EC Author’s NON EC book)

scwynne_damagedheart_1Just twenty years-old, Cory Johnson fled Bayville after his father’s suicide to escape his abusive mother. He made a life for himself in Los Angeles, as different from Bayville as a place could possibly be. While his successful legal career is rewarding, Cory can’t connect with the people in his life. He’s terribly alone. When his mother dies, he must–reluctantly–return home to handle her estate, which he knows will only make those feelings worse.

Rhys Tucker owns the construction company that will renovate Cory’s childhood home. He’s harbored a crush on Cory since high school, so he seizes the unexpected opportunity to get close to Cory. Or at least try to. Their physical chemistry is immediate and undeniable, but Cory’s so closed-off, Rhys worries he’ll never penetrate that guarded, damaged heart.

Cory wants Rhys. He does. But can someone as scarred and broken as he is ever really come home?

Let me be clear: Damaged Heart by S. C. Wynne won me over as soon as Cory described himself as “twitterpatted” in Rhys’ presence. After that, it really couldn’t go wrong for me.

This gorgeous, lovely, steamy book really lays itself out there in the premise. Cory is broken. He grew up in an incredibly abusive home to parents who seemed to notice him only to verbally and emotionally abuse him. He is drawn to Rhys in ways that shock and frighten him, and he is paralyzed.

Too many books in this genre try to completely “heal” the hero in their few short pages. It doesn’t work that way. People don’t “get over” years of abuse and emotional horror. But they can, slowly but surely, and with the proper encouragement, begin to make a change.

This book is a short, sexy read, and it keeps its focus narrow and tight. I could wish that Wynne had shown more of Cory and Rhys’ interactions; given that I was inside his head, I knew that he was worth waiting for, but I wondered why Rhys was willing to put up with it all. Still, these were some of the more smoldering m/m scenes I’ve read recently, and I will be eagerly seeking out more of Wynne’s work.

Review: Opening Act by Suleikha Snyder

OpeningAct-500pxHow I found my way to Opening Act by Suleikha Snyder is a little convoluted, so bear with me.

During the Twitterverse conversations over the weekend regarding That Publisher, Jaid Black got drawn into the conversation more than once. At one point, the topic of cultural appropriation came up, and someone linked to Snyder’s wonderful post about the Bollywood party that was given at RomantiCon 2013, and discussed the concept of cultural appropriation as it surrounds South Asian women. It put into words a lot of the things that make me uncomfortable with henna tattoos and saris that are sometimes popular in my area of the country, and gave me a lot to think about.

I also bought several of Snyder’s books, because they looked fascinating.

Reporter Saroj Shah has been in love with bass player and bartender Adam Harper since her first day of college—seven years ago. Forever thinking of her as part-friend and part-little sister, he’s just been too blind, and too clueless, to see it. Until one pivotal moment pulls her into the spotlight.

The moment Saroj steps on stage, Adam sees his friend in a new light. He can’t take his mind off of her and realizes they could make beautiful music together. But seven years is a long time and Saroj is ready to move on. Adam will have to hit the right note if he wants to prove to Saroj he was worth the wait.

If there’s any trope I love, it’s best-friends-to-lovers, because I (like half of my female friends) was completely obsessed with my male best friend all through high school. I dreamed about him, fantasized about him, and wished he’d give me the time of day. So reading stories that I can fall into like this? Yummy to the extreme.

Opening Act is a quick read, and the love scenes are hot without being explicit. There was a fair amount of JUST SIT DOWN AND TALK ALREADY, GOD, but it was the kind of stuff that couples really do need to sit down and talk about, and have a hard time sitting down and talking about, so that didn’t bother me.

I especially appreciated the multicultural nature of Opening Act. Sometimes, when you’re a white girl living in New England, you can feel incredibly lost when it comes to topics of race. While I thoroughly respect the idea that it’s not the job of people of color to teach white people about racism, at the same time, it can be hard to figure out where the problems are, and how to be an ally, without someone who is willing to provide that education.

Great books like Opening Act help to start those conversations.

Race is not a focus in Opening Act, it’s a fact. Saroj is brown, she is desi, and as a teenager, she sometimes pretended she couldn’t remember her native language so that her mother would leave her alone. She’s a wonderful character, someone I wanted to be friends with from the moment I met her, and when she got her Happily Ever After, I was beyond delighted.

Next up on my kindle, Snyder’s set of Bollywood romances. I was going to buy just the first to try them out, but on her blog she stated that she was donating royalties received from when she posted in mid-August through October from the third book, Bollywood and the Beast to The Trevor Project. So I have some books to read.

Yummy.

Becoming a romance writer

This isn’t a thing I actually did on purpose, if you can believe it.

The story starts like this: I was about eleven, and a family member who was about my age knew that I loved to read, and wanted to give me an awesome Christmas present. Somehow, he got his hands on a subscription card. The deal was that you sent in this card, and then the person that you registered would get six books in the mail every few months. He thought this was the best thing ever, and signed me up right away. Neither of our parents knew about it until the first shipment of books came.

As you may have guessed by now, the books in question were a bunch of the Harlequin imprints.

My mother took the books away, but I figured out where she’d hidden them, and took them back. I read them all, and hated them. There was something cloying about those romances, about the way the heroines always let their men come first, no matter what else happened. I hated the secret babies and the ugly ducklings and the smart girls who pretended to be stupid. Oh, I hated those girls the most. But you know what I loved?

I loved the sex scenes. Oh my goodness, did I ever.

So I read the sex scenes until the books fell apart, looking up words like turgid and tumescent in the dictionary, and trying to figure out how they would relate to a penis. (This was 1991, after all, and we wouldn’t have internet access for another four years at my house). But other than that, I went back to my Stephen King, and my Mercedes Lackey, and my Anne McCaffery.

I loved the romantic elements in those books. I sobbed over Talia and Dirk, Vanyel and Stefen, Elspeth and Darkwind. But I didn’t try to read romance again.

When I started to write my own books, I found romantic plotlines creeping into the stories, but they were never the focus. And then, I went through a really bad patch for a lot of reasons (this is a theme I run into for a lot of people who get WAY into genre fiction, and it always interests me), and I found the works of Lani Diane Rich. I devoured every single book she’d ever written, then moved on to her alter-ego Lucy March, and her roommate, Jennifer Crusie. I realized that something had happened in the world of romance in the twenty-mumble years since I’d been away, and I found that I wanted to play in this world in a way I never had before.

I’d started my freelancing career writing blogs, both for independent clients, and also for content mills. All of that work dried up over night, though, and I went looking for more places to write. I found my way to oDesk, and I found a request for erotica. The pay was better than any of the blog offers I’d found on the site. I stared at it for a while, and then I shrugged my shoulders, and thought “Well, why not give it a try?”

One try turned into another, and within about six months, I was paying my bills by writing erotica and erotic romance in a work-for-hire environment.

There’s something incredibly freeing about just writing the story. It’s made me a better writer overall, because I don’t doubt myself like I used to. And because I don’t want to sell my work for a flat fee forever, I’m here, working on writing things for myself, that I can eventually sell, and hopefully see royalties for.

I never thought this is where I’d end up. Especially, all the drama with That Publisher that everyone is currently trying to weather. But early on in the debacle, someone tweeted something about how Romanceland is like a big French family (going with the heritage I can actually lay claim to here); we may not all agree with each other, but holy hell, if you unite us together? A force to be reckoned with.

I know I’m just a wee baby in this word, but I’m glad to be a part of it.

Today was supposed to be…

…the most exciting day of my writing life to date.

I’ve actually been planning today for years. What I was going to say, how I was going to do the Big Reveal. The cutesy things I’d reveal about the story.

I don’t get to do that.

I got this in my inbox last night.

SweetMistake_HiRes

I’m not going to link to the publisher. I’m not going to tell you where to buy it. I don’t feel right asking you to purchase it, because it seems fairly obvious that profits from that publisher are going to silence free speech and reduce blogger rights (IN MY OPINION, lawyers, go the hell away). But I couldn’t face letting it just die in my inbox.

I just wanted you all to see.

I want to say as well that my experiences with my cover artist, my editor, were amazing, and everything this was supposed to be. I’m quite proud of this little story, and the work that went into it. But I said it on Twitter last night, and I meant it: some things are more important than our individual sales or even our careers. This is one of those things.

Thanks for sharing this moment with me, even if it’s not what it was supposed to be.

Freelancing has improved my writing process

My 25 year old self wouldn’t recognize my writing process any more. That’s a good thing.

When I was 25, writing looked like this:

  • Stare at the computer for a while, wondering why the story isn’t writing itself
  • Log into World of Warcraft and pretend that writing will happen tomorrow.

Once I had kids, things had to get organized if I didn’t want to give up entirely (and I didn’t). My process started to look more like:

  • Bargain with husband for child-free time
  • Write for five minutes
  • Help wrangle for a diaper change
  • Write for two minutes
  • Make a sandwich for someone
  • Write for thirty seconds
  • Realize someone else needs to nurse
  • Decide that Virginia Woolf was really on to something with that Room Of One’s Own thing, and you’re going to look into that. As soon as the children stop screaming for thirty seconds.

My spouse was wonderful, and was a true partner during those years, but kids take energy (so much energy). As much as I could, I wrote at downtime at my day job, spending my evenings transcribing my fountain pen scribblings, which was possible even when I wasn’t feeling utterly creative.

Since writing is now my full time job, things had to get much more organized. I’ve found a few little tips and tricks along the way. For example, my older daughter is in school full time, while my younger daughter is in preschool three days a week. If I make both their lunches first thing in the morning, I don’t have to stop working to make lunch for my younger daughter on the days she’s home with me.

Barring interruptions from the kids, my writing day now looks like this:

  • Start with any blogs due that day; try to complete these within 90 minutes or so.
  • Move on to personal fiction or edits due under contracts. Work for approximately 2 hours on my fiction.
  • Work on freelance fiction. 3000 words a day minimum are necessary to meet budgets and pay the rent
  • Paperwork time! An NDA that needs to be signed and sent, a contract that needs review, an application for a new content creation site, all of that goes here.

Some days, it takes twelve hours to make it through the list. Yesterday, I was free by noon, and got to spend some quality time with my family. My 25 year old self would be shocked. I like to think she’d also be impressed.

(Photo by MeaganJean, used under CC 2.0 licensing)

And here’s where I find myself.

Six months ago, I quit my day job to embark on a career as a freelance writer.

It wasn’t my first choice, if you can believe it. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid, but I always figured I’d have to maintain a day job, squeezing the words in between dinner and bedtime. I actually started freelancing in 2012, making enough income in that first year that I needed to claim it on my taxes.

But then, life happened, as it is wont to do. My husband and I had been piecing together childcare for a lot of years, and too many pieces came apart at once. The logical solution became for me to leave my job, and see what I could do about making this writing gig go full time.

license free image downloaded from pixabay
it would be better if it were a fountain pen.

I’ve been moderately successful at it for six months now. By moderately successful, I mean that we’ve mostly managed to pay our bills with his job and my writing. I mean that I have stories in two anthologies, one published and one forthcoming, and that I have a book contract with Ellora’s Cave. I have feelings about Ellora’s Cave based on the rumor mill that is churning fullsteam right now about the company, but I’m still excited that Sweet Mistake will be available on 10/10/14.

I hope to be here every other day or so, and I hope you’ll join me.