Green Wild Pre-Order

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Princess Tiana has discovered the identity of her family’s ancient enemy, but that’s only the beginning. Now she must find three gods scattered across Ceria and convince them to lend her divine power. An already momentous task is complicated by jealous fiends, squabbling siblings, and a demigod who seems more interested in games than salvation. 

Meanwhile, her elder sister Queen Jerya struggles to mobilize the armies of Ceria against the Blight. But politics, shady ambassadors, and assassins stand in the way of the military support and royal leadership her country so desperately needs.

Can Jerya stay alive and regain control over her kingdom? Can Tiana survive the Green Wild?

Available March 15, 2016

Get it at Amazon: http://amzn.to/1UmXv5r
NOTE: If you know you want the print version, you can hold out for that and if you get it via Amazon you’ll be able to pick up the ebook version for free. I believe the print version will be available within a few weeks of the ebook version, with a small but not impossible chance of ‘within a few days’.

EPUB/MOBI ebook combo pack: https://gum.co/hLXd

Add it on Goodreads!

Writing About Problematic Relationships

Hi there and welcome to my extremely intermittent series on writing techniques! Today I’d like to talk about Problematic Relationships. Specifically, Problematic Love Stories. It’s Valentines Day and 50 Shades of Grey has been released in theaters everywhere so it’s the perfect time!

Ok, so you’ve decided to buck the critics and write a desperate love story about a cynical hired killer falling in love with the woman he’s been paid to murder.

Wait, no, back up. That side is the easy side. You’ve decided to write a story about a woman falling in love with a stalker who hasn’t decided whether or not they wants to kill her.

or

a story about an innocent girl convincing her kidnapper to abandon the side of evil because she loves him

or

a story about a young person falling in love with the body-stealing alien who stabbed them when they first met

etc. You’ve got a story and you’re feeling kind of worried because stories with other troubled relationships have gotten a lot of bad press recently and you just want to write the kind of story that makes your heart flutter, you don’t want to be scorned everywhere as promoting domestic abuse.

Fear not! You can write about Problematic Relationships in a responsible way and I’m here to help.

(The easiest approach is to Not Have A Happy Ending, but that isn’t what you want to do. I know it isn’t what I want to do, at least. So we’ll just put that option aside. But do be aware it’s out there.)

First: be aware of what you’re writing. Be aware of who you’re writing about. Don’t try to make your heroine an Everygirl; she’s in a problematic relationship and she’s going to thrive there because she’s got exactly what’s required to thrive.  (Almost) Everygirl can appreciate a well-done problematic relationship, but Everygirl will not find said relationship personally healthy.

So know your heroine. And know what your hero is offering her, other than the thrill of danger. Is she always responsible at home and thus welcomes the chance to be bossed around by somebody she trusts? Does she feel isolated and appreciate somebody who sees the world the same way she does? Does she wear a mask and bond to the first person to notice that?

Figure that out, figure out the places where they fit together like puzzle pieces and please have those NOT just be their physical tabs and slots. If you’re going to have a happy ending, make the characters emotionally compatible as well as sexually compatible. This is going to make their decision to put up with something everybody else might consider awful a lot more comprehensible and even sympathetic!

(Bonus: figuring out those emotional cues will make the whole story better, too.)

Second: If at all possible, have your character acknowledge the relationship is problematic. It’s bizarre to be attracted to somebody after they hold a knife to your throat! Probably you need to see a doctor to make sure everything’s okay up there.  Maybe your fear and attraction signals are really confused by that bump on the head? (And maybe that’s the case! Maybe that’s where it starts. Explore, have fun.) But even if it turns out that fear and attraction are just upsettingly mingled, let your character be aware that this is probably not going to be good for them.

Sometimes that’s not reasonable because you’re writing about somebody who honestly doesn’t realize that it’s a bad relationship (for whatever reasons). But that’s what friends are for. Supporting characters are great at kibitzing on other people’s relationships. Maybe they can wake your heroine up to her danger. Maybe they can point out other stories that didn’t have a happy ending. That can be a buzzkill, definitely, so I prefer to go with the self-aware characters myself. But it’s an option!

Third: Have your characters respect each other. This is really important! Maybe they don’t like each other.  Maybe they do like each other but they have extremely different goals. Maybe they’re on opposite sides of a war. It doesn’t matter. They can still respect each other.

Respect, by the way, is a deed, not just a word. Respecting somebody means giving them room to take care of their own business. It means listening when they say no.  It means listening, period.

Maybe they hide it. Maybe their entire deal is being disrespectful. That’s definitely problematic! But a love interest who respects his counterpart will a.) show that respect when it’s important and b.) fundamentally respect the role and person of the counterpart even while disrespecting smaller elements of his or her lifestyle. (This calls for an example: As a fashion expert, he may disparage her personal style but he’s well aware that she’s the best editor in all of the western seaboard. If he ever steps on her toes as an editor, he apologizes.)

Yes! Apologies! Apologies are often cheap, especially in Problematic Relationships. But as part of a consistent diet of respect, self-awareness and repressed passion, apologies can offset character quirks as long as that character quirk never, ever hurts the partner again.

Fourth: As a writer, own that you’re writing about a relationship that nobody should go out looking for. Maybe it works out for your characters, maybe everybody enjoys cheering for the happy ending– but your characters are one in a million, not Everygirl. Make sure that when it comes up in interviews when you’re rich and famous, you make it clear that the girls who walk away? They find love with somebody else. Because it’s okay to blow up that investment of time and love and walk away to take care of yourself. You’ll find somebody else. I promise.

Optionally: Attraction doesn’t mean a relationship has to follow. It might be a challenge pacing-wise but even if the attraction starts when a relationship would be incredibly unhealthy, have your smart, self-aware heroine hold off on letting it progress until the dangerous character in question has gotten his shit together.

(But don’t make her decide she has to stay with him until he has his shit together. She shouldn’t change him. But he can change himself after seeing himself reflected in her eyes….)

Or maybe he doesn’t change. Maybe he’s a dangerous killer, barely more than a savage animal, soothed only by your heroine’s gentle touch and YOU LIKE IT THAT WAY. Okay. Keep First, Second, Third and Fourth in mind.

Finally: (maybe? there’s probably more. This is what I’ve got today though) No matter what you do, some people are going to hate the Problematic Relationship. If you’re doing your best to make sure nobody goes out looking for that same wild one in a million happy ending, don’t worry about it. Write your romance. Enjoy yourself. Keep reading!

The secrets of the Goodreads Ad system

Both the INFINITY KEY and the MATCHBOX GIRLS campaign expired today so I thought I’d post an update on how the ads did. Although technically the original IK campaign would have expired a couple of weeks ago if I hadn’t doubled its budget– but more about that below.

The original post is here . I’m duplicating the Infinity Key ad text below, with an updated click-through rate, which is averaged across the duration of the ad’s life. When I posted before, some of the ads had just started and so data hadn’t really stabilized. The MATCHBOX GIRLS campaign went through its entire budget almost entirely without changing the CTR percentages presented earlier so I’m not going to crowd up this post with those ads.

I have access to a fair amount of daily data but it doesn’t help me much in my current set up for determining results. After I’m done sharing CTR, I’ll share book adds and book sales during the ad period.

The Ads

Infinity Key Friendship
CTR: 0.04% -> No change
Infinity Key
Branwyn is ‘only human’ in a world with fallen angels, but refuses to let that stop her from saving her friend from a supernatural curse.
Infinity Key Publishers Weekly
CTR: 0.04% -> 0.05%
Infinity Key
In a world of faeries and fallen angels, one mortal woman can turn everything upside down. Publishers Weekly calls it “deeply refreshing”!
Not weak
CTR: 0.0% -> 0.07%
Infinity Key
They say we’re only human. That we’re weak. That we should let them protect us. But they didn’t protect you. Now they have to deal with me.
Shhh.
CTR: 0.14% -> 0.21%
Paused
You won’t read this.
You won’t even see it. You don’t want to know. It’s safer that way. Don’t worry. We’re taking care of everything. That’s our job. Look away.
 Hush, hush
CTR: 0.0% -> 0.05%
The world is sleeping. Soon it wakes.
Soon it learns to listen. It moves, thinks, breathes. It only takes a key. But who makes the key? Soon everything changes.
 Lies And Self Promotion
CTR: 0.0% -> 0.07%
INFINITY KEY is an undiscovered winner
A stunning new entry in the field of urban fantasy, with faeries, angels and a wonderful heroine who doesn’t let her humanity slow her down.
Unlock the door.
CTR: 0.0% -> 0.01%
INFINITY KEY: empowering urban fantasy
“Unlock the door. Wake up the world.” Come with Branwyn into Faerie to save a friend and change the world.
Blurb
CTR: 0.06% -> 0.05%
Funny, brilliant and empowering fantasy
INFINITY KEY is a reckless dash through a world on the brink of a magical singularity. Hop on board now before you fall behind.
 Mean girl
CTR: 0.0% -> 0.04%
INFINITY KEY, an urban fantasy
Mortal Branwyn is mean and cranky– and so loyal that you root for her as she steps on supernatural foes in the name of friendship.

THE ADDS (to reading lists) & SALES

Sales’ estimated exclusively from Novelrank monitoring Amazon sales rank jumps, which is a minimum. I suspect a few more sales but won’t know until royalty statements– but Amazon is a pretty good baseline.
MATCHBOX GIRLS: 
Added between 2/27 and 3/19: 18 (2 rating, 16 to-read)
Sold in March:  3 ebook / 0 paperback
Added between 1/27 and 2/26:  7 (1 rating, 5 to-read, 1 other)
Sold in Feb:  1 ebook / 1 paperback
INFINITY KEY:
Added between 2/27 and 3/19: 18 (1 rating, 17 to-read)
Sold in March: 1 ebook / 0 paperback
Added between 1/27 and 2/26:  3 (1 rating, 1 to-read, 1 other)
Sold in Feb: 2 ebooks / 1 paperback

CONCLUSIONS

First: Clickbait ads really, really work in earning clicks. I had to shut down ‘Shh’ because it was devouring my budget without showing any real benefit other than ‘winning’ at ad writing. If I’d been earning money for those clicks, though…
Second: I invested $30 in this experiment. My actual monetary return on investment is abysmal; as a conservative estimate I earned $4 in the same timeframe and there’s no real sense that was due to the ads.
Third: I DID get a serious uptick in reader interest, as measured by to-read lists.  It wasn’t exactly cheap; I paid at a rough estimate about 75 cents for each expression of ‘maybe someday’.
Fourth: Use the title space on your ads for more than just the book title. Don’t be modest, either. Both ‘Blurb’ and ‘Lies and Self-Promotion’ got into the double digits of CTR on days they got started early. ‘Unlock the door’ and ‘Mean girl’ didn’t get any traction until very late, so I’m not sure they’ve been adequately tested. (Really, I expected this entire campaign to go longer than it did– not even a month of data! Alas, I can’t afford to test any more at the existing ROI, not until later in the year anyhow.)
Fifth: As a game, it almost seems worthwhile. I really enjoyed tracking the performance of individual ads and I’ve certainly spent more on games that haven’t really given me anything back at all. But I think I’m probably a freak in this instance.

Next

I’d really like to experiment with targeting next time. I suppose the right way to do that would be to pick a few of my best performing ads, duplicate them, and then target them at different Goodreads demographics. Thanks to this experiment I feel like I at least have the data to make the decision on best performing ads!

Outlining Insight

I often chat about the writing process with a particular fellow writer who is also fascinated by the topic. I am an outliner; she is not. But unlike most of the non-outliners I see, who defiantly declare that outlining would suck all the joy and discovery from the writing process, she wishes she could outline. She’s tried and it produced one of her most negative writing experiences. That gave us a starting point for a very interesting conversation.

I’m always very bewildered by the anti-outliners, because as documented elsewhere on this site, there’s still a lot of discovery in my writing process, no matter how detailed my outline is. A metaphor I like is that I start with a small square of paper, upon which is my basic premise. I then unfold that, and have a few squares, and that’s my big plot events and major characters. I unfold again, and I get more events and minor characters. Again, and I start detailing chapters. And again, and I have this big sheet of paper with dozens of squares on it– but I still have to fill in each square to create the story. There’s a lot of discovery that goes on in those squares. And if things don’t go quite the way I expect, I usually go with it. It rarely derails the whole story, though it might have ramifications that change the story’s theme or mood significantly.

For example, today I was writing a Big Scene. I expected the protagonist to have a discussion with a semi-antagonistic supporting character, which ended with the supporting character volunteering to accompany her on a journey. As I wrote the scene, I realized that I couldn’t make that conversation happen. Instead, they had a fight in a dark warehouse, and when the protagonist won (or they had a draw, depending on your perspective) she then invited him to come along. Same end result: the two go on a journey together. But the dynamic has shifted, for the better. And the scene has a tension I was worried it would lack. I don’t have any qualms about departing from the outline, because I can tell what I’m doing is better. It’s very much like writing a second draft; it’s an iterative, improving process that relies heavily on an intuitive understanding of both the characters and the plot.

My wise friend then suggested that the big difference between me and people who consider outlines book- or joykillers is that I’m willing and able to trust my intuition when it leads me off-outline. She, on the other hand, can’t help but view an outline as The Rules. The Book, to be adhered to. Which, yes, WOULD destroy joy, especially if you found yourself writing something that sucked and feeling like you had to do it because it was right there written down already.

So, anti-outliners: I now understand, I think, and am properly sympathetic. Carry on with whatever works best for you.

 

 

 

Layers

Layers! Our word of the day! They’re  a great way to tackle tough projects!

*

My first baby was quiet and mostly self-entertaining. All he wanted was to be near me. And I’m lazy. So when I wasn’t doing something out of the house with him, I sat around goofing off a lot. I eventually came up with a basic chore list, because baby = you need clean dishes and laundry sometimes, and I worked through it. It worked for a few years.

My second baby doesn’t let me sit around and goof off. So now that school and jobs have started and I’m his only daytime companion, he provides the final bit of motivation I need to not sit around all day. Still, I have trouble tackling big projects. I’m great at the first 80% of almost any organization or tidying project, which of course only takes about 20% of the time. It’s harder for me to do that last 20%.

So these days I work in layers. I use the UFYH of 20 minutes on/10 minutes off (although sometimes I skip the 10 minutes) and I’ve divided my morning up into rooms to work on. Each room gets 20 minutes a day, up to 3x a week for the heavily used rooms. And since the basic tidying I mastered with Robin generally takes no more than 10 minutes, each time I do 20 minutes of work in a room, I dig a bit further below the surface.

I’m not sure where the journey is going to take me or how long I’ll keep it up. But right now, it’s making a difference. Non-crucial quick little tasks that I’ve procrastinated on for months or years are getting done. Things are getting put away. The exhaust hood over my stove is grime-free for the first time in too long to share. It’s cool.

*

I’m on the downward slope in writing Wolf Interval. (I have no idea if that title will stick. I like it but justifying it may be too hard.) I’m going to reach the final scene in two weeks, or three, or four. Probably not more than four, although I’ve given myself six. Which is good, because I have to go back through the book and add in a lot of details. I work in layers there, too. It feels like painting a picture, starting with broad swathes of color over the pencil-strokes of outline, then passing through again to add in depth, background, expression and detail. Honestly it’s one of my favorite parts of writing, because it’s one of the few times when I’m absolutely certain I’m improving the work.

*

Layers! They’re how social change happens, too, you know. It’s why it seems like we keep fighting the same old battles over and over again. Things improve each sweep, but there’s an awful lot of grime to scrub away and sometimes you need time away in order to look at the mess with fresh eyes.

*

Oh, and a kid story for you:

My love for Killian was sorely tested yesterday when he saw me eating a Lindor truffle and demanded one himself. My preciouses were  at war.  (It wasn’t ‘ooh what are you eating I want some’. He went and found the bag and pointed at it and exclaimed “HELP!” imperatively.) (Six months ago, he found the bag of writing truffles I’d stashed in my room and ate/destroyed them all. I stopped buying them after that for a long time. He didn’t forget.)
Anyhow, so I gave him one. Then I hid the bag. And I opened my second truffle behind my back. From across the room, he heard the rattle of wrapper and came running. Because I am living in a commercial. What was I supposed to do? I gave him half. And he carefully licked out the filling then offered me the melting shell. Aw. Lindor teaches sharing.
It never occurred to me when imagining having kids that they would like the same kinds of treats I do. I’m used to being exceptional in my relationship with chewing gum, for example. I certainly didn’t expect to have to beat my kids off with a stick (or actually just let them have the damn gum). You’d think I would have expected my children to, y’know, inherit some of my traits. Or maybe, if you know me, you wouldn’t have…

Confessions of a Plotter

“Pantser or plotter?” It’s a question that inevitably surfaces on any writing forum, because discussing writing process is a fine way of procrastination.

A ‘pantser’, you see, discovers the story as they’re writing it. They write ‘by the seat of their pants’, you see. These are nice ways of saying ‘they make it up as they go along’. Pantsers (in my experience) write complete drafts very quickly, and often go through quite a few revisions in the process of turning those drafts into a completed work. Pantsers often talk about the story writing itself, they talk about characters taking over or going their own way. They are just the vessel for their stories, and often they really, really love the process of writing.

I know a lot of pantsers. A lot.  Professionals and amateurs alike. It clearly gets the job done.

A ‘plotter’ plans the novel out in advance. Some people may call themselves a ‘plotter’ if they know a few major events in advance (but a lot of pantsers think they know that too) but they still have to discover what happens on the way to those events. Some plotters have a detailed mental checklist of what needs to occur in the novel and meticulously work their way through it. And some write an outline a quarter as long as the final novel.

I don’t actually know many plotters personally. I’ve heard a few speak, I’ve seen it mentioned as a casual aside, but in general plotters seem to either be  lot quieter about their process, or they’re a noticeable minority. Which seems a bit odd to me, because every pantser who talks about their process on blog always seems to preface with, “I know plotting is in, but I can’t help it, I’m a pantser. Planning drains the life from my work!’

Possibly a lot of plotters never finish the manuscript? I can see how the constant work of planning and developing backstory and worldbuilding could really be a drag!

And yet– the only novels I’ve ever completed to my marginal satisfaction have been heavily pre-planned. I’m the one up there who wrote a 50k outline for NIGHTLIGHTS. I am a plotter. I plot. I plan. I structure. I develop character arcs in advance. I have a list of scenes and I know what happens in each of them. I don’t know if you CAN be more of a plotter than I am.

And– I know this will surprise the pantsers out there– I don’t actually always know everything before I start the book. I think I do, but there are still details to fill in as the scenes are written and those details may illustrate themes I hadn’t consciously considered, and may even provide new plot elements or twists. The stories always go where I want them to go, but the map I’m following doesn’t show me all the details along the way. I have to actually travel the road to understand the journey. This is partially why I have to write the story in order, despite planning the story out in advance so extensively.

I don’t, admittedly, do a lot of revisions. My usual process*is outline, write a draft, go through the draft and add a few scenes and details, polish a bit, send it to a publisher.

Okay, so you’re wondering: if you still don’t know everything in advance, if it doesn’t save you from having to throw everything away and start over, if you can’t even write out of order, what do you get from the process? Why does it let you finish the book?

And I have an answer! Knowing where the book is going helps me end or even abort boring scenes quickly and move onto more interesting ones. I have a much better grasp of pacing when I can look at the whole story from above and see that unless I set something up in Chapter 3, I’m going to have the entire story pause for six months in Chapter 9. And then I can set that up in the outline. Also, I have a tendency when I’m not sticking to an outline to let things go right for my characters. It’s easier! But it also kills the story. When I outline I can make sure nothing really goes right and also that when things go disastrously wrong, I have a plan to keep the story moving forward anyhow. And I don’t write soul-crushingly dull scenes where the characters fumble around trying to decide what to do next purely because I don’t know what to do next either. (I used to do that, when I was writing as a teenager. Ugh.)

Incidentally, a good outline lets me write faster than a bad one, but not as fast as when I’m making it up as I go along. But when I make it up as I go along, the story runs out of go juice! It’s very sad. So I have to stick to making good outlines if I want to produce books people enjoy.

Are there any other plotters out there? What’s your process like?

 

*Can I be said to have a usual process while working on what I expect to be my 5th publication-worthy book?  I’m dubious because 2 of my 5 novels have involved throwing away upwards of 40k words and creating a new outline and starting over from scratch. Of course, I was way off outline by the time that happened, both times…

 

 

Born criminals are not actually a thing.

Today, I am thinking about the vast numbers of people who cling to the belief that only bad people do bad things. Bad, irredeemable people who would do those things even if measures were put in place to stop them. Rapists are aggressive, violent monsters who stalk their prey carefully, and whom you can identify with a trained eye. Murderers are hardened professional criminals (or insane!) who can only be stopped by superior weaponry. It’s like the label precedes the event: rapists and murderers are that way at birth, apparently.

There’s a grain of truth in that theory of People, and it’s this: no, you can’t stop people determined to do wrong, not by any regulation or law and only occasionally by education (but then usually by the close personal encounter variety). You can’t stop somebody who truly believes information should be free from stealing your novel or your song. Somebody who really wants to murder somebody will find a way. Somebody intent on dominating and torturing somebody sexually will find a target.

But most crimes aren’t a matter of cold-blooded planning. They’re a response to a moment of strong emotion. I need that song it’s not fair I have to buy the whole CD. She led me on. Oh god, he saw my face. I thought he had a gun too. That fucking cheater. God, why do I have to pay Comcast AND HBO to watch GoT when they post it on their website? I could make a killing if I stopped compartmentalizing my financial knowledge for a moment.

And intelligent regulation and general education DOES help with crimes like that. Not all of them, of course. But many, many. Because labels don’t precede the actions that earned them. People make choices. If we help, they can make informed choices.

Remember: most people want to do what’s right as they understand it. But there’s a reason the Christian devil is associated with temptation.

#blog