Monthly Archives: October 2014

Own It

Way back in 2002, I went on my first-ever writers’ retreat. It was a posh thing on Bald Head Island, women only, thirty or older. Private chef. Full body massage. Golf carts! The experience changed my life, and brought me lifelong friends I cherish beyond words. I was the “star” of the week, bolstered and praised and made to feel like my day in the literary sun was right around the corner! It also happened to be the worst thing that happened to me as a fantasy writer.

Fantasy is a much-maligned genre. It rarely gets the respect it deserves. I cannot tell you how many people have said to me, “I just don’t get fantasy.” Truly, you can insert just about any genre fiction (especially those majorly populated by female writers) in there and the same could be said. I’m not going to go into that rant. For the purposes of this post, let’s just leave it at that.

After my Bald Head trip, I thought I was supposed to be writing women’s fiction. I struggled to accomodate, but my heart just wasn’t in it back then. Two more retreats on Bald Head turned into my yearly-week-of-writerly-bliss in Virginia Beach, with women met through that earlier experience. While down there, years later, one of the women said to me, “Why do you keep trying to write women’s fiction when it’s not in your heart. Give yourself permission to write fantasy.”

Wow, so simple! I did, and the next thing I knew, I was applying to a weeklong scifi/fan writers’s workshop. I got in. Again, my life was changed. Not only writers, but writers in MY genre! I’d found a tribe. And I’ve kept that tribe. Through the people I met there, I ended up with Hadley Rille Books.

Three novels with Hadley Rille Books later, I found myself in need of a change. There was a story itching under my skin, and my brain needed a step out of the world I was in. I remembered about giving myself permission, and I did. I gave myself permission to write romance.

Yes, romance. I used to cringe away from the moniker, but you know what? I’m not going to. As maligned as fantasy is, so too is romance. There is good romance, and there is bad romance. There is good and bad mystery/scifi/mainstream/anything! When my darling-man of an endocrinologist expressed an interest in my writing, I proudly told him I write both fantasy and romance. His wife is a romance-novel fiend.

“You know what she calls romance novels?” he asked. I waited. “Cliterature.”

Personally, I found that hilarious. I’ve heard from others that it’s a slur they do not appreciate, another way to marginalize a female-centric genre. You know what I say? Own it.

Eleanor Roosevelt, that paragon of amazing womanhood, once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Brilliant woman. Spot-freaking-on, then and now and forever more. Maybe cliterature was coined to marginalize. Maybe it was a clever rif. I’m not just owning it, I’m embracing it. I write romance, just like I write fantasy. No cringing. And if I can have a little fun with it, thumb my nose at those who look down on romance as the lowest rung on the literary ladder, even better. That’s why I had these buttons made…


I will be handing these out at the RWA convention in NYC next summer, to those brave and cheeky enough to wear them.


Filed under Women's Issues

A New Cover for Finder

When Finder was published in 2010, Eric Reynolds of Hadley Rille Books indulged me with my cover art. I said I didn’t want people, I wanted a landscape. After much going back and forth with Jesse Smolover, an extremely talented young man who happened to be longtime friends with my son-in-law, we decided on a gorgeous cityscape as well as a figure–Ethen–looking down on it. This is the result, and I adored it.


original cover, by Jesse Smolover



I gave no thought to marketing, to my audience, only to my own aesthetic. What did I know? It was my first book! Eric did try to tell me, but was willing to indulge my vision. Finder sold well–very well for a small press book. It still does pretty well. I’ve gotten many compliments on my cover, even all these years later. But I noticed something–whenever my book as displayed with others from our press, it got passed over. I couldn’t understand why; and then it hit me…


The key demographic for our fantasy line is women, from teen to croonehood. Most of our other covers have women on them. Aha! Could that be it? But I loved my cover! A Time Never Lived also has a man on the cover, but the dragon sells it, I think. Then came Beyond the Gate.

Beyond the Gate cover, by Jesse Smolover

There is my beautiful Linhare. A woman. On the cover. And you know what I discovered? The local bookstore that carries my books sells about four Beyond the Gate to every Finder or A Time Never Lived. Egads, indeed.

Eric and I decided to try an experiment. We contracted with our house artist, Tom Vandenberg, to do a new cover for Finder. During the process, Eric had a stroke. My cover kind of got lost in that chaotic shuffle. Running the press for Eric has been fulfilling, frustrating and extremely educational, but now that he’s recovering and able to take back some tasks, my cover came out of the closet. And here it is…

Finder cover art by Thomas Vandenberg

I am over the moon. I love this cover. I love Zihariel’s ferocity, even in chains. I love the “wormhole” view. Best of all, I love that I can keep both covers out in the world. The ebook and trade paperbacks will have the new cover, but my hardcover will keep the original art. Just seems fitting, to me.

At this writing, the new cover is only available on the ebook. There has been a glitch in the works concerning the print copy, but our fabulous cover designer, Heather McDougal, is traipsing about Italy at the moment, so it’s going to be another month or so before it’s available in print.

So–what do you think? I am interested to see if the new cover sparks sales, but mostly, I can’t wait to put both covers on a table at some convention somewhere, and see what happens.


Filed under Fantasy

Are You Trustworthy?

I love the ballet. I love dance, in general, but ballet? Sigh…when I was much younger, my mother used to buy me season tickets for the ABT at Lincoln Center every year for my birthday. Golden days! Life changed. I couldn’t get all the way into the City so often, and the ballet season started passing me by.
Years later, she surprised me with tickets to one of my favorite ballet’s–La Bayadère, not just for me, but for my two daughters. Being in Lincoln Center again was so thrilling, and now to share it with my girls? Magical. But I was older by then, my life far different from the youngster who used to simply watch in abject awe. My writer-brain was fully fleged by then, and I made some interesting connections.
During the second act of La Bayadère, the male and female principals went into a lift that boggled my brain. The ballerina was very slight. His legs were like treetrunks. The ease with which he lifted her was astounding enough; the way she held her pose, body arched, arms reaching, unmoving while he turned round once, twice, three times. It was fluid, graceful, effortless, or so it seemed. Of course, it wasn’t. Trust, the giving and the taking of it, made it seem so.The female principal is all about trusting, while the male principal is all about being trustworthy. The absolute confidence she has in his ability to hold her aloft, and later, leaping at him and knowing he is going to catch her is a beautiful thing. Without that trust and trustworthiness, the beauty of the dance loses the abandon. It becomes steps painstakingly taken. It loses the magic. Sitting there in the dark theater, in thrall of the dancers, the thought returned every time she leapt, he caught; he lifted, she posed. On the ride home was when it truly hit me.

Readers trust. Writers must be trustworthy. Readers want to move into our created worlds whether a galaxy far, far away, a dragon-infested castle, New York City circa 1935, or present day LA, and live there for a while. When they pick up our books, read the blurbs, buy them, they’re saying, “I trust you to deliver.”  We writers are often given only one chance to do so. If we don’t prove trustworthy, those readers aren’t going to trust us again.

It’s a big responsibility being that trustworthy. And it’s hard to consciously keep our readers in mind when we write. They are our stories, after all. But if you’re writing with the hopes of anyone other than yourself reading your work, whether published or not, you’re entering into that contract of trust.Is this scene important to the book? Or do I just really like it? Does the reader need this information? Or is it simply cool stuff I’ve researched/invented that I want to use? Is using the word epicrisis* really necessary, or do I simply want to utilize my vast vocabulary? 

We have to write what we love. We have to stay true to our voices, our styles, our tics. They make us the writers we are. We also have to do it in a way that’s going to appeal to someone outside of ourselves. Don’t slip in that random character cut from another story because you really like him and want to use him somewhere. Don’t drop adverbs into the story because they are easier. Don’t infodump those cool worldbuilding or historical facts you have filled countless notebooks with. And don’t use words your reader is going to have to stop and look up.
If a dancer drops his partner, she may leap again, but it’s not going to be with the same abandon. Likewise, if a reader picks up a book that is more about the author’s pleasures than the story itself, the trust is broken. It might take a while to lose a loyal fanbase, but once you lose a reader’s trust, it’s GONE.
*epicrisis~praising or disparaging by paraphrasing or citing somebody else. In case you were interested. And yes, I had to look it up.


Filed under Writing is Life

Guide to Writing Good*

Every writer, no matter what skill level they’re in, has writing advice to give. I see some very good advice, and I see some very bad advice. We take it or we leave it. Here is mine–the absolute authority on writing good*:

1.  The best way to open up a novel is with a stormy night. A dark one. You want to create drama and tension. How much more dramatic and tense can one get than a dark and stormy night? It’s just logic.

2. Write what you know. If you’re going to write about sky-diving, you’d best be prepared to jump out of a plane. No amount of research is going to give you the same experience. Hey, we’re supposed to be willing to die for our art. You’re no exception.

3. Show, don’t tell–bah, humbug! You have to tell your story, right? Sheesh! Just get it on the page; your reader isn’t going to notice anyway.

4. No matter how many times you’ve submitted your 1000 page novel to the same agent, remember the old adage: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! She probably doesn’t remember you from one submission to the next. One of these days she’s actually going to read your submission and know what a find she has on her hands.

5. There can never be enough description. Why would you simply write: Her hem caught on a nail as she hurried through the door? What color was that dress? Was there beading? Empire waist? Low cut? Was there a bustle? Embroidery? Was it silk brocade or plaid woolens? Buttons? How many? Get every detail of the dress!! And while you’re at it, describe the door, and the floor, and the sort of nail her hem caught on. And don’t forget to pepper a few adverbs into it, as well as a word or two your reader is going to have to look up later on. All these things show your reader just how much you know about fashion and cloth, doorways and nails. AND, it proves just how well you can put words together! Believe me, your readers will be impressed!

6. Address the reader once in a while, just so he doesn’t forget that you, the author, is actually telling the story she’s reading–otherwise she might forget about you altogether, and that’s not very fair.

7. Before you ever start writing your novel, make up a list of the many alternatives to “said.” Said gets boring! You need to shout, exclaim, cry, hiss, boom, retort, echo, rejoin, question and vociferate! You get extra agent/publisher points if you never use the same word twice.

8. Grammar is for the hoity-toity, not real writers. You gotta write the way you speak or no one’s gonna take you for serious.

9. Feedback. Many writers give over their finished drafts to beta readers (a practice I do not advise you engage in.) These beta readers, even friends, will feel they have to find something wrong; and they inevitably will. They’ll mark up your manuscript with their opinion and foolish notions of plot holes (which your novel simply does not have) and pacing and characterization, grammar mistakes (but I’ve already established who grammar is for, so…) Sure they’ll throw in a few nice things or a smiley face. But remember! No one knows your story the way you do. Stick to your guns, defend your baby fiercely, even if they all gang up on you by agreeing on things–gasp–wrong with your baby. Know that they’re just jealous of your work and will do anything to thwart your efforts of obtaining an agent or publisher before they do. Don’t let it happen to you!

10. Most importantly, don’t attempt to write when there are elephants in your living room. No matter how they promise not to make noise, they will. And, if left to their own devices, they’ll poop on your floor. Elephants are just like that.


*Just in case you haven’t gotten it yet, this is all tongue-in-cheek. Spoofish. Foolish. Fun.


Filed under Writing is Life