Passes

I wanted to write a blog post about the passes I make when I’m finished with a novel. By all means, these things are good to work on WHILE you’re writing it as well, but concentrating on too many things at once during the initial drafting process can be overwhelming and sometimes bring you to a halt. That’s why I came up with a handy list of elements to go back and focus on after the first draft was written, in order to make my world feel as full and rich as possible. With each item on this list, I go through focusing on only ONE at a time.

 

·     DIVERSITY. This should be something you’ve thought about already, before you even started writing, and seen what you could do with your main characters to pull them out of the same roles we usually see for protagonists. I’m talking, of course, about race, sexuality, gender orientation, mental or physical health issues, emotional imbalances, age, body type, etc. Operating under the assumption that you’ve already focused on this for your MC’s, I am referring to taking an after-draft look at the side and background characters you made up as you went. Did you automatically revert to the same sort of character you usually see in a certain role? This is also a fantastic opportunity to teach us more about your world or time period simply by showing how a background character of a marginalized group acts or is treated. Without even turning into a huge plot point, it will automatically make your world deeper and more realistic to show us little windows into your cultures by diversifying characters you’ve already included.

 

·     ADDING PEOPLE IN GENERAL. I don’t know if everyone has this issue, but when I write my first drafts, I hone in on the characters in the scene and forget about the people around them. So what I do during this pass is find the scenes that take place outside or in public places and add some extras in. Just little moments, like my MCs having to step aside for a bicycler while they’re talking, or accidentally bumping someone’s shoulder. They’re only short blips in the manuscript, but once you show a reader a couple of those, they’re already picturing the rest on their own, and have a good idea how busy the space is. It’s also good character-building, since you can show how your MC reacts to these small encounters.

 

·     CHARACTER HABITS. This sort of goes hand-in-hand with the last one. What little things is your character likely to do during these informative conversations? Think outside of simple facial expressions and show us your character’s habits. Do they pull out a cigarette as they talk? Pick at a scab? Lick their lips and not hold eye contact? You don’t want to overdo these things too much, but picking a character habit and sprinkling it in sparingly will make your character more realistic.

 

·     CULTURAL IDIOMS. Think of a few choice idioms from your character’s culture or home. Then look for places you’ve used clichés, and replace them. It will teach us a lot about your character’s background, and is much more fun to read!

 

·     WOUNDS AND INJURIES. Did your character get wounded at some point in an awesome and emotional scene? That’s great fun when it happens. Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget during a fantastic scene three chapters later that they’d still be feeling the effects of that wound. During this pass, I jot down all the places my characters got wounded—even the little things—and go through the rest of the novel to see what would be harder for them and find ways to remind the reader that injury didn’t just disappear. If it’s too big of an injury for what they’re doing later on, I either go back and tone down what happened or I crank them up on pain meds if I need to. Either way, it ups the stakes to know those wounds will affect your characters down the line.

 

·     SMELLS. I add a minimum of one smell per scene, preferably more.

 

·     ANIMALS. Look for places to add glimpses of animals. Dogs scrounging in a city, birds flying overhead, a deer in the forest. It’s amazing what those flashes can teach about your world and characters.

 

·     SURROUNDINGS. I’m talking specifically about your world’s daily and monthly rotations. Depending on what time period your novel encompasses, some of these things will change and some won’t. Change them up where you can, so your characters aren’t going out every day in the same sunny warm summer weather. And these may seem like small details, but again, it goes far in making your world richer and more realistic.

 

o  TIME OF DAY

o  TEMPERATURE

o  SEASON

o  WEATHER

 

·     CLOTHING. Makes things easier to picture, teaches us about your different cultures. Make items specific to certain cultures, and down the line, it will be easier to picture where certain characters are from by just mentioning a piece of apparel.

 

·     FOOD. All cultures have favorites. What makes yours different? What do visiting foreigners think of it, compared to their usual fare? It’s also a great opportunity to teach individual character preferences.

 

·     LANDSCAPE/HORIZON. Mountains? Ocean? Desert? Faraway glimpses beyond the city or during a journey ignite the mental possibilities, even in readers.

 

I THINK that’s all I have for now, but I’m always looking for ways to expand my list and my worlds. Drop in a comment if you have thoughts on any of this, or other things to add. I’d be happy to hear from you. Thanks for reading!

Journey to Shrouded Loyalties

The journey to Shrouded Loyalties has gone both very slowly and very quickly. Slowly, because after over a decade of writing, editing, and self-publishing, I had yet to receive any manuscript requests or interest from anyone on the traditionally-published path. Quickly, because when I did receive my first manuscript request—through a mentor contest called Pitch Wars—I didn’t know that less than two months later, I would sign my first publishing contract. The publisher was Angry Robot. I had submitted my beloved novel to them 11 months earlier, during their Open Door Program, and the offer arrived in my inbox a week before Pitch Wars winners were to be announced. I did not get picked for Pitch Wars. Instead, I had jumped past the mentor stage, past the agent, and straight to the publisher. It was the most insane thing that had ever happened to me—and no less insane for happening on my 10-year wedding anniversary.

 

I was given a couple weeks to find an agent before accepting the offer. I had no idea where to start, but I had sent queries out to my top three agent picks a month and a half earlier, and started by nudging those with a mention of my offer. Just ten days later, I signed with one of them, Cameron McClure of Donald Maass Literary Agency! A week after that, we accepted the offer.

 

This is my roundabout way of saying I wrote for a long long time with very little return outside my own circles. Because writing is my passion and my life, I kept at it, but I can’t overemphasize how difficult the path is sometimes. It can be lonely and frustrating. It can feel like a waste of your life. It can be a refuge, but it can also be a source of self-loathing, when you have trouble meeting your own goals or can’t get things to work the way you picture. But there is absolutely no feeling like the moment you realize it has not all been in vain. The moment you realize others have read your work, not just as a favor to you, but because they were as excited as you about your world and your characters. It made every second of my life suddenly explode with meaning and possibility. My words meant something. The thoughts in my head MEANT something to someone else. This is a feeling that every writer with this fire in their hearts should experience someday. But it doesn’t happen in a year. It doesn’t happen with one novel. It happens because somehow, through the frustration and the lack of readers and the frequent rejection, you kept on going. Because writing was all you knew, and it was never a choice. It was who you were.

 

Keep going. The possibilities are real.

 

Holding the Ashes Release!

HoldingtheAshes Cover 2x3 medium.jpeg

I hold you tight, to keep you alive

As though my heart could make you thrive.

I see every second your spirit deprived...

But if I keep you close, maybe something will survive.

 

I am excited to finally announce the release of Holding the Ashes! Told in 10 episodes, this post-apocalyptic western is about a thief named Svana who withholds a soul from her death god. Plagued by grief and guilt, and hunted by her loved one’s killer, Svana struggles to save those she can, armed only with the ashes and words in a dead rock star’s journal. Dark and gritty, but with splashes of hope, Holding the Ashes is a journey through grief, memory, and regret, and addresses the ultimate question about whether it’s ever okay to let go.

From now through September 1st, I am offering a new-release deal of only $10 for the paperback (plus shipping) if you contact me directly! I’ll send you a signed copy, plus info about other books in the storyverse and Fiction Vortex’s StoryShop app. And if you don’t have my first book yet, 1920’s Soviet thriller The Deadliest Echo, I’ll include that for only $5 until the end of the promotion!

As always, I appreciate shares and word of mouth, and am ecstatic to finally share a novel that’s been near and dear to my heart for the past couple years. I hope you love it as much as I do!

Samplers

The first episode samplers are in! This volume includes the first episode from each of the four stories in our world:

Witness Song, Episode 1: The Company of Horses

Midnight Agency, Episode 1: Restless Spirits

Holding the Ashes, Episode 1: Shattered Ashes

I Speak for the Kraken, Episode 1: Our Little Island by the Sea

 

The sampler is available in paperback on Amazon. You can also download the Fictionite app on your mobile device and follow any or all of these series' for free during their live runs! Visit fictionite.io to learn more!

Current Projects

It’s been a while since I’ve given an update on my work, so thought I’d write up a quick post to catch folks up:

 

I am currently working with Fiction Vortex on a storyverse called The White Event. The project is set 200 years after a nuclear apocalypse summoned death gods. The setting has a weird western vibe, with eldritch gods and monsters roaming the earth. My story arc, Holding the Ashes, is about a pensive thief who withholds a soul from the death god who rules over them. As the god fights to take the soul, she must search within the pages of a dead rock star’s journal for a way to save those still surviving. Holding the Ashes will be released in 2018 in a ten-episode format, rotating with the story arcs of three other authors writing in the same world but with different storylines.

 

I am also back at work on my sci fi military trilogy. I’ve been struggling with both the magic system and POV’s on this one, but after completing a complex, 8,000-word outline, I’m diving into a new draft with high hopes it will be my last rewrite. It is set on a secondary world with throwbacks to 1940’s technology. Without giving too much away, it deals heavily with submarines, spies, enemy collaboration, and the harrowing searches for religious truth and personal identity. I am very excited about this one, and hope to have this draft completed over the next few months.

 

Thanks for stopping by! Contact me any time for updates or news, or sign up for my newsletter.

Out of Excuses Writing Retreat and Cruise 2016

This year’s Writing Excuses cruise was absolutely incredible. I spent a lot of last year’s cruise overwhelmed and exhausted, so this year I took care to give myself private blocks of writing time every day. The difference was amazing! Recharging myself this way gave me a freedom and energy I didn’t feel last year. Between the insightful lessons (on both writing and life) and the unique feeling of being amongst others like myself, this experience doesn't compare to anything in the world. Here is an overview of the trip’s highlights:

 

Saturday

 

Best part? Meeting up with friends I haven’t seen since a year ago and feeling like not a single day has passed. Other best part? Meeting brand new people and realizing within our first conversation that we aren’t strangers at all. The ship—Oasis of the Seas—is huge and overpowering, but this time I’m ready. I’ve got this.

 

Sunday

 

A day at the Bahamas! We go to an incredibly hot and muggy botanical garden and zoo, where we walk through a rainforest path and see beautiful parrots and lizards and flamingos and some awesomely huge spiders. Then we sit down for some writing time. I’m stuck on something, and it’s frustrating. But I have some great conversations with a couple writers on the way home, and store the ideas I get.

 

Monday

 

We spend today on the ship. We take a great class on outlining, then watch the Writing Excuses cast (Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler) record several episodes of the podcast! No spoilers here, but there is some really great stuff coming out in the next few months. Also, two veteran members of the retreat, Miko and Jessica, get married on the ship today, officiated by Mary herself!

 

Tuesday

 

We are at St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands. Trever and I, in the interest of saving cab money, decide to try walking to a beach. Our writing friend Steven comes along. We walk through an industrial district we clearly aren’t supposed to be in, then head down a narrow curvy road without sidewalks. It is intermittently rainy, with lush vegetation all around us. We are rewarded; we walk past a hotel and find a virtually empty beach. We jump right in and swim for a while. There is nothing like swimming in the Caribbean—absolutely no shock value of cold when you get in the water. It’s amazing. Later that night, we have dinner at the same table as Brandon Sanderson. I talk to him about some of the things I’ve been struggling with in my book. He has great answers to my questions.

 

Wednesday

 

We are at St. Maarten. We shop for a little bit, but it is an extremely hot day, and before long, we go back to the ship and swim in the pool. Trever helps me realize I have been trying to start my book in the wrong place. I go back to my room and write 2,800 words. Adding that to my 1,300 of the day before, I have reached 4,100, which is my second-best record in a 24-hour period. I can’t stop smiling.

 

Thursday

 

We watch Dan Wells’ film adaptation of I Am Not a Serial Killer. It is pretty good! Then we take an amazing class about Personal Narrative. We participate in a free-writing exercise, something I have never tried. In the course of this exercise, I have an epiphany about things that have challenged me my entire life, and give me new insight about why I am the way I am. In fact, self-discovery has played an unexpected role this whole week. It’s a big part of what makes this trip a life-changing experience for me. At night, we participate in a cosplay, with the theme of sci fi or fantasy weddings. It is my first ever cosplay. Sandra Tayler gives me a prize for her favorite costume. I have to keep the train of my dress from getting stepped on all night, but it is worth it!

 

Friday

 

Today is jam-packed with classes and Q&A sessions. There is another mindblowing class about world building as related to our own ancient history, as well as a really cool one on characterization. I’m exhausted by the end of the day. But I am happy the cruise has been such a success this year—I wouldn’t change a single thing. There’s no other vacation I can say that about.

Life In Writing

A big thanks to fellow sci fi author Daniel M. Quilter for welcoming me onto his blog today! Quilter asked questions about my writing career, my latest novel, and some of the projects I have in progress right now. Read the full interview here.

Joyeux Noel

For a good Christmas movie this season, I’d like to recommend a rendition of my favorite Christmas story of all time—the World War I truce of 1914. The movie is called Merry Christmas, or Joyeux Noel. It’s a spectacular version of a truly amazing event.

Writing Excuses Retreat 2015

Just got back from a wonderful week-long writing retreat and cruise with the members of my favorite author podcast, Writing Excuses! It was an absolute whirlwind and I learned SO much and met the most wonderful group of writers and new friends. I hope to be able to attend something like this again in a couple years. Thanks so much to Brandon, Mary, Dan, Howard, and all the guest authors who made this event possible and extraordinary!

Caught Between the Pages Blog

I had the honor to be featured on a blog today--Caught Between the Pages--where blogger Kayla called The Deadliest Echo "one of the best books I've read so far this year." Thanks for having me, Kayla! Read the full review here.

Kayla also featured me on Career Talk Tuesday! Click here to read a little bit about how I came to become an author.

Check out the new Recommendations tab on my website to read reviews of some great books I've read!

Don't forget about The Deadliest Echo for the sci fi lover or alternate history buff on your xmas list! Only $10 when you buy from me personally, and shipping fee is waived for the holidays!

Yesterday's signing at Barnes and Noble was a great success! I got to meet some fun new people and spend time in the beautiful Albuquerque store. I look forward to doing it again sometime!

Join me at the Albuquerque Barnes and Noble this Saturday at 2:00 to discuss my recent sci fi thriller, The Deadliest Echo, and pick up a signed copy for yourself or a friend!

Congratulations to the winners of the giveaway! The books will be shipped out in the next few days. To those who didn't win, I will still happily sell you a signed copy for no extra charge if you contact me through my website and request one. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Happy to say maintenance went quickly...The Deadliest Echo is once again available on iBook for any iOS device. Still also on Kindle and Nook, too!

The Deadliest Echo is currently offline for Ibook, as some issues are being fixed, but should be available again very soon. Please stay posted. Still available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon, either as a paperback or an ebook.