Guardian's Vow launched

This week was the final push to get Guardian’s Vow through final edits and out the door. My two proofreaders were invaluable, especially my husband, who sacrificed two whole evenings to catch my missing commas and name-change gaffes. I’m satisfied that the book is clean and ready for primetime.

This is book 2 of the After Atlantis trilogy:

Tane and the rest of the island crew have gotten Mercury Island back and are parked a mile in the air above the islands of Atlantis. They are frantically preparing to meet the attack of the warship Fellstorm, which is coming to capture Mercury Island.

When they are joined by Gladiolus Lark, a half-blind girl with a magical malady, the team dynamics begin to shift. Friends draw closer, and even rivals are persuaded to work together. New powers are unlocked as the team delve into the mysteries of Atlanticite crystal, and even the island, itself.

Now the arms dealers National Weapons Enterprises approach to capture the island, and the sea monster Tyrannith waits in the ocean below. Tane must make a terrible choice–to save his friends from one enemy, he must appease the other. He can’t talk NWE down … and appeasing Tyrannith may cost him his life.

Book available on most retailers now! And here’s Book 1, in case you want to start at the beginning.


This is superhero fantasy, so called because it’s people with superpowers in a fantastic setting. It’s set in modern day, but postulates that when Atlantis sank, it became an island chain like the Bahamas. Cruise ships visit regularly, and there’s lots of people constantly excavating the ruins and dredging up all kinds of magitech. There’s a type of magic crystal called Atlanticite that amplifies or just outright grants superpowers. And our heroes accidentally uncover the biggest superweapon of Atlantis and wind up with targets painted on their backs. It’s great fun, if a bit unconventional.

So far, publishing a book a month has been going great. I also just discovered that I have enough short stories with rights reverted that I can compile and release a short story collection. I am enthused about that. So, February’s book will be the final book of the trilogy, Guardian’s Wager. March’s book will be a parallel book in the same universe, Vid:ilantes, a book about superheroes who film themselves doing heroics and post the videos on HeroTube for those sweet, sweet affiliate clicks.

I am excited about this lineup!

Nothing to show off–yet

Well, didn’t complete any artwork this past week. I have a landscape in progress, but all art is on the back burner as I work on my 12 Books Publishing Challenge.

My new year’s resolution this year was to do Dean Wesley Smith’s publishing challenge, which is to publish 1 book a month. You don’t have to write the books. This is just a way to kick those books out the door that are written, but just need revisions and a cover. I have three books just sitting here, staring at me. So out they go!

I’ve been working on the second After Atlantis book, and also updating the first book to bring it more in line with the worldbuilding in Vid:ilantes (due to be published in March, if all goes well). This is a light superhero fantasy series–hero teams having conflicts, mustache-twirling villains, robots, and superweapons. I wrote it a few years ago just for fun, and I’m just now emerging from my Destiny fugue and deciding to, you know, actually publish some stuff.

I was looking at my vast collection of Destiny fanfics and realizing that they’re all earning ad revenue for the sites hosting them. Alllllll those fanfics and alllllll those chapters … ads upon ads, day in and day out. And they get hundreds of hits a month.

This kind of burns me.

So I’m looking at just writing and publishing my own stuff steadily, the way I did my fanfics. I know how to do developmental editing, and I have a couple of very good copy editors lined up. I can also make my own covers. There’s literally nothing holding me back from writing and publishing as many books as I want. I’m not super concerned about making a ton of money as much as I am about making my stories accessible. Even my fanfics are only available on two websites. My books can be available on dozens and dozens of bookstores.

My end goal is to entertain people. People have hard lives, and a book can help them forget that hard life for a few hours. I want to write more books for my cozy mysteries, for my superhero series, and heck, maybe some short stories. I also want to mess with science fiction, the kind of space opera stuff that Destiny and Star Wars are, that I love so much.

So hopefully a new book will be coming along in the next week or so. Guardian’s Vow is in the second round of revisions, just polishing and deepening a few scenes. Have to do a cover for it and update the cover on book 1, and off we go.

When roleplay is appropriate … and when it's not

Roleplay, or ‘RPing’, is a form of storytelling that’s been around for a long time. “I go here and do this and now this thing happened …” You pretend to be yourself in some funny situation. Or you pretend to be one of your characters and play with people pretending to be their characters. Kids do this all the time with toys.

But there’s a time and a place for everything. RPing on your social media? Okay, whatever. RPing in a chat with your friends? Perfect. RPing on your blog? Now it’s getting weird. RPing your characters advertising your books in your newsletters? No. Just … no.

Authors, for some reason, have this idea that since people liked their characters enough to read about them, readers want to interact with these characters. In fact, people want these characters to give them all their news updates! They want the characters to advertise other books to them! So authors fill their newsletters with cutesy RP, pretending to be their characters.

Some people enjoy this. Other people silently unsubscribe and never read any books by that author ever again. Characters belong in books. They’re not Muppets.

So, this is my unpopular opinion: save the RP for a chatroom, or when you’re writing a book and RPing in your head. Keep it out of the newsletters. Notice the “NEWS” in the word? We subscribe to get news about new books and sales. It’s for business. Not to read a random character rambling about the events of their imaginary lives … sometimes for pages and pages.

Rant over. Go RP, people. But not in your professional correspondence.

Good storytelling owns all

No art to show this week! I’m working on some, but it’s not done. Maybe next week.

Meanwhile, I wanted to write about something that I don’t want to write about. I’ve been dragging my feet on writing this blog post. Because I don’t want to admit that maybe, just maybe, all of the education I’ve given myself on how 2 rite gud is more or less worthless.

I won’t say that learning story structure and characterization and grammar and the rest of it is meaningless. That’s the basics of the craft, after all. All those are important for a writer to know.

But there’s a vast chasm between writing and storytelling. And a good storyteller can tell a story despite their lack of craft chops.

This is a hard pill for me to swallow. I’m a literary snob. When people misspell things or use bad grammar, I snicker at them. This author actually said “She was such a beautiful site”. Haha.

And then those books go on to be bestsellers. My literary snobdom means nothing.

When I was in high school, one of my assigned reading books was Smokey the Cowhorse by James Will. At first, I thought it was the worst-written book I’d ever seen. Here is the first page.

As a know-it-all teen, I rolled my eyes at this vernacular. Oh gosh, what pile of trash am I reading THIS time? I moaned. But it was assigned, so I kept reading.

And wouldn’t you know, it turned out to be such a good story, a kind of Western Black Beauty, that I stopped noticing the vernacular. I was hooked, and to this day, this book remains one of those shining reads in my mind.

The other day, I was poking around fanfiction dot net for something decent to read. I ran across a Destiny story that sounded interesting, took a look, and after a few pages, was hooked. I read all ten chapters and I’m waiting breathlessly for more.

And yet, this is the first page.

There’s passive voice. There’s boring description. The paragraphs are long and dense. There’s very little dialogue. And yet, the story being told is absolutely riveting. You wouldn’t even know it’s Destiny, because it’s set about five hundred years before the game, after civilization has collapsed, and humanity is ruled by these warlords. It’s like medieval fantasy post apocalypse science fiction, and it’s great.

The writing, itself, is obtuse and hard to follow. But man, the story. I would drop cash to read this story. It’s called The Lords of Ambros, if you’d like to take a look.

All this is to say, the writing community obsesses about adverbs and character arcs and all the other minutiae of the craft. In the end, only story matters. As a literary snob, this galls me to say. But it’s true.

The Tao, the Force, and good vs. evil

If you’re familiar with Star Wars, you’ll also know about the Force. It’s the energy that holds the universe together. There’s a Light side and a Dark side, and both sides have to be in balance. That’s what the Jedi Knights are all about.

This system of morality is also completely, utterly futile. Here’s what Taoism actually teaches.

While many Western religions emphasize a duality between good and evil, urging devotees to embrace the good and spurn the evil, Taoism saw these moral qualities as two extremes of a single spectrum. Virtue did not lie at one end or the other of this spectrum, but through carefully maintaining a balance between the two. This idea is often expressed through the terms Yin (rhymes with English mean) and Yang (rhymes with English long). The two words together mean the fundamental and opposite forces or principles in nature. Yin originally meant “sunless” or “northern.” It was associated with darkness, femininity, emptiness, coolness, and passivity. The opposite state was Yang, which originally meant “sunny” or “southern.” Yang was associated with light, fullness, masculinity, heat, and action.

These traits appear oppositional on first inspection. However, that opposition is only a surface illusion in Taoist belief. In fact, the two states of nature require each other. Just as an art student knows that negative space around an object is what creates the outline of positive space in a drawing, the enlightened Taoist knows that suffering, pain and misery are necessary for traits like contentment, pleasure, and happiness to exist. Sickness and health are the same phenomenon; they are just at far ends of that same phenomenological spectrum. Masculinity and femininity are also the same thing; they are both the phenomenon of gender expressed in opposite ways. Love and hatred are also the same phenomenon, and so on.

When the Taoist realizes the falsity of these divisions, the Taoist realizes that extremes of either sort are temporary and unnatural. It is the cycle of nature for the pendulum to swing back and forth from one to the other. By resisting or refusing to experience these swings, the human throws himself out of balance with nature, and intensifies the lack of balance and alignment.

The great aim of all Taoists was to conform to the way of nature. They believed that all attempts to behave in accordance with strict codes of discipline, either personal or governmental, were artificial and temporary; they tended “to deform human nature and waste life” as Schafer puts it. Rather than trying to embrace one of the two opposite and reject the other, the enlightened individual sought balance between the two. S

Source

Well well, look at that. It’s all the rules of the Force right there. Good and evil are just a spectrum, and it’s better to just let them do their thing than to interfere, because interfering just makes it worse. No wonder Jedi tend to be annoying pacifists. I’m looking at you, Old Republic. It also explains why Luke became a hermit in The Last Jedi, rather than the founder of the Jedi Academy, as he was in the old continuity.

The Tao doesn’t offer any reason for the existence of good and evil. They’re just part of the duality of all things, like hot and cold. The Tao isn’t real into good and evil, anyway. It’s better to just go with the flow, dude.

When one realizes the need for balance between yin and yang, and stops struggling against that which is natural, one can gain contentment through wu wei, enlightened non-action. This involves discarding elaborate or needlessly complex plans to improve oneself and the world. Instead, one must accept the world (and oneself) as it is. It involves giving up materialistic desires and living life unplanned, from one fluid moment to another. This route leads one to Te, a word that in various forms can mean “moral virtue,” “bounty,” and “power or force,” or “gratefulness.” One learned to live life spontaneously rather than become trapped in the process of preparing for the unpreparable, avoiding the inevitable, or seeking the unobtainable. Such a route always leads to a lack of balance.

Source

In other words, the way to be happy is to be utterly passive. Don’t react to the good or the bad. Just … sit there.

I know quite a lot of governments that would dig a passive populace. A passive populace would never try to conduct business, enforce reforms, fight for their rights, or any of those messy things.

Meanwhile, the Bible is over here in the other corner, talking about how Good was First and evil is an aberration to be fought against.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Romans 1:18-24 (NIV)

Doesn’t look like sitting passively by would help much in this paradigm, would it?

A lot of books and movies take a Taoist view of good and evil. You can’t really ever defeat evil. You just kind of tolerate it until the balance changes and things go the other way. There’s no point in struggling to make things better. Nope, that just makes the other end of the balance stronger. Better just to sit and do nothing.

In the end, there’s no point in the whole good vs evil struggle. Fighting for Good makes Evil stronger. You might as well go full Sith and make Evil as strong as you can, so Good will win out.

Can you imagine what that would look like in reality? Whole countries just go out and destroy other countries and people groups, “just to bring about Good … for somebody”. Definitely not the people being destroyed. Where’s the good for them? There’s no justice, no righteousness, not even kindness. There’s only this imaginary balance we think we’re maintaining.

But what if the other paradigm is true, instead? And God, the ultimate Good, in whom there is no Evil, is going to judge Evil and destroy it forever, until only Good remains?

Yikes, those Tao balance people now have egg on their faces. Looks like the Jedi should have grown some backbone and fought for Good in the first place. Sucks to be you, Luke. You should have gone out and started the Jedi Academy after all.

Mystery boxes in stories (and why readers love them)

I’ve written 19 fanfics since last May, and it gave me a lot of leeway to experiment. Mostly, I’ve been able to step back and look at which stories consistently get the most hits.

I like to write in a lot of different subgenres. For Destiny, I wrote sci fi > drama, sci fi > romance, sci fi > mystery/thriller, and sci fi > humor.

While all of them found a decent number of readers, the ones that always do the best are the mystery/thriller types. Or, as I like to call them, the mystery box stories.

Now, you’d think that romance would be the most popular. And stories with a dash of romance have performed well for me. But the mystery box stories have them beat, hands down.

What is a mystery box? This is a concept JJ Abrams talks about in his TED talk here. A mystery box is simply a box with something in it. But you don’t know what it is. So you open the box and solve the mystery.

But what if there’s another mystery box inside that box? Ah, the puzzle isn’t solved, then. You have another box to open. And so on and so forth, mystery after mystery. The human brain is wired to be curious. We can’t stand mysteries. We have to find out the answers or it bugs us.

My first mystery box story was about a girl who gets revived by a ghost who can’t talk. (Ghosts are these little robots.)

Why can’t he talk? First mystery box. Turns out he’s broken. But why is he broken? Second mystery box. This is hard to find out because he won’t let anybody touch him. Why not? Third mystery box. Turns out, he’s been rebuilt with alien tech. But how, and why? Fourth box. And on it goes, each mystery getting the heroine into hotter and hotter water. The final mystery isn’t solved until the very last chapter, when the heroine is on trial and only the ghost coming clean will save her neck.

That story went crazy for a while. It got a ton of hits and interaction. People had to see the mystery solved. It still gets hits, even though it’s a bit older, now. It doesn’t have any romance–only the somewhat stressed friendship between the girl and her ghost.

Right now, I’m posting another one that also deals with mystery boxes. In this case, it’s a very Bourne Identity setup–a guy with amnesia just might be a covert operative with the key to a super weapon in his memory. And it’s getting a ton of hits and interactions. People want to see what’s inside that mystery box.

I’m considering doing a romance/thriller to see how it does. All the romance stuff AND mystery boxes? Of course, I’ve been partial to romantic thrillers since I first read Mary Stewart’s books. She does the mystery boxes hardcore. I still think about this one twist in the Moon Spinners that took me completely by surprise.

Anyway, I think all genres can benefit from a few mystery boxes. Not only do they keep the reader curious, but they keep the suspense engine running. I think all authors do this more or less by instinct. But it’s fun to actually build your boxes and scatter them throughout your story. Because, in a story, mystery boxes are also Pandora’s box–opening them should unlock a whole bunch of new problems for your protagonist.

Story noodlings

I’ve been writing along on my superhero story and just got royally stuck.

Actually, I was royally stuck on it months ago, when I jumped ship and went back to fanfiction. So I’ve come back to it, full of determination … and I’m still stuck.

So I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why I’m stuck. And I think it has to do with how I’ve written these characters over and over and …. O V E R. These are the Spacetime characters, which I’ve been trying to get right for years.

I’m afraid I’m stuck on that treadmill of perfecting that first book by rewriting it over and over. I should just throw it out and write something else, but every so often I go back to these characters and try something new. First they were … something like urban fantasy. Then they were actually urban fantasy. Now they’re more superhero. I think superhero fits their personalities the best, but the story is giving me fits.

At one point, one of the characters becomes a werewolf. I’ve done this in different ways in each incarnation of the story. The first version was a really cool science fiction werewolf that had the guy actually having two bodies, and one of them was always swapped into hyperspace. I still think that was my favorite version. But the story also had this whole Fortnite plot of OMG teh giant storm! And it was … uh … lame.

See, this is cool. And stoppable. I never could come up with a good way to stop the storm in my old stories.

So then I had him be a more traditional werewolf, and that worked all right for urban fantasy. But for the superhero world, it doesn’t work as well. I actually don’t want him to be a werewolf this time, because his other powers are so cool. And really, once he turns, he steals the spotlight from the other hero. Maybe I should just give him his own book for that.

Anyway, as soon as I started messing with that plot angle, my story came grinding to a halt. I think my brain was trying to tell me that it wasn’t right for this particular story. This story, aside from being about superheroes, is also about Youtube politics. And I was getting away from the Youtube politics thing.

So I think I’m going to have to delete about 2k words of this story, go back to before this particular plot point, and let the story go a different direction.

My writer friends, at this point, are screaming at me to re-outline the story. I’m writing this story without an outline, just following the logic of the characters and their choices. I used to write with outlines. The stories they produced were shallow and too quick. I’ve gone back to writing by the seat of my pants, making it up as I go. But as long as the hero and villain have strong enough motivations, their clashes drive the story quite nicely. And if I have no clue what will happen next, neither will my readers. 😀

The January slump

Here it is, the middle of January. And I’ve hit the slump. And a lot of my friends have hit the slump.

January gets cold and dark from the snow and storms. I think the lack of daylight contributes to the slump, as well as the cold. You just want to stay bundled up and not move. Screw exercising and eating right. All you want are high-calorie foods to help keep your body warm.

Holidays seem to start in October, with the Halloween madness. Then we charge through Thanksgiving and onto Christmas, with all the shopping and parties. Then we hit New Years, with the resolutions and year-end analysis. And then … nothing. For weeks. Cue the slump.

It might also just be burnout from all the madness and bustle on top of our already busy lives. It’s just nice to kick back and do nothing. But after a while, the resting becomes slumping.

So how do you kick the slump?

People usually suggest exercise at this point. Get off your butt! Move your muscles! Get that circulation up! And those are good things. The brain is connected to the body and exercise fires it up.

For me, I embrace the slump and use it to absorb books and movies that I’ve missed. Kind of like storing up fat for the winter, only it’s stories. As a creative, you’ve got to fill your tank with the things that delight you. And when it’s cold and you don’t want to move, what better way to embrace it than with books or movies?

This is the time of year when my family used to binge-watch the BBC Jane Eyre, or the BBC series of Pride and Prejudice. (Or the BBC Hercule Poirot … yeah, we did the BBC in our house.) In later years, it became the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings.

This is the time of year when I read really huge, thick books. I’ve been thinking fondly of going back to Bleak House again. The book is massive, and also like watching an entire TV series in a book. But I also have a ton of books on my Kindle to catch up on. Marc Secchia has some satisfying thick dragon fantasy books that I’ve bought and not read.

So that’s how I cope with the slump. I embrace it! How about you?

Money – the ultimate success metric?

I was looking over my blog post Writing Books of the Heart. It springboarded off a blog post by Kris Rusch, who talked about writers burning out, writing in a genre they don’t really like, but can’t stop writing, because it pays the bills.

I had another thought percolating related to this one. I was lurking in a writers’ discussion where people were talking about why they write.

People have a lot of different reasons for writing. A lot of them want to change the world, or help/encourage people in some aspect of their lives. Some people talk big about “if I help ONE PERSON then this book will have been worth it!”

Then they turn around and talk about how they made four bucks in book sales last month. Everybody shrugs and laughs, embarrassed.

And I’m over here thinking, but what if those four bucks came from that ONE PERSON who really needed to read your book?

But no, the only metrics that matter, when you get down to brass tacks, is the money. The numbers of books moved doesn’t matter. It’s pretty well known by now that free book giveaways don’t do anything, because readers never read something they picked up for free. You can move a million units and nothing happens.

But when people buy a book, they’re more invested in reading it. Aha! Writers latch onto those sales as a measurement of worth. Somebody wanted my book bad enough to pay ACTUAL MONEY for it.

And let’s not even get into the rabbit hole that is reviews.

So, I’m curious, now. Which is it? Are we writing to help people, seeking validation that way? Or are we only validated by making gobs and gobs of money? Or are we only helping people when they’re paying us gobs of money?

What I learned in 2018

I went back and looked at my first post for 2018, back when the year still had that new, fresh smell. Ah, I was so optimistic.

My word for this year was Steadfast. And that was a good word, because it wound up describing everything I did, including getting unexpectedly pregnant and hanging on to life by the skin of my teeth.

I had mentioned wanting to publish a new Spacetime book, as well as the second dragon cozy. Welp. I published the cozy. But the Spacetime book got 30k in, and I had too much of the old books in my head. So I set it aside to get some distance.

I had planned to write a fairytale book. And I did wind up writing a short story with the idea I had, and it appears in this anthology. (A guy and a girl share a psychic link, which gets more interesting when she is cursed and turns into a dragon. The idea of the story was that psychic links would let you share too much information with the other person, so the story is called Too Much Information.)

I also revised and launched the first book in a series that is superhero fantasy. People with powers fighting each other and such. I have two other books in the hopper that only need revisions and editing, but I didn’t have the brain.

What did I wind up writing? Fanfiction for the game Destiny. The space opera setting just appealed, for some reason, so I wrote 17 fanfics in it. I really wanted to read official novels in the setting, but there aren’t any, so I had to write my own. It was kind of a self-therapy, working through being pregnant for the sixth time. I was so very sick with this baby, and when I stopped being sick, I was in massive pain. And I was so scared of labor. So all that got rolled up and dumped into the fanfics.

I now have a whole bunch of readers who like the slush I was cranking out, and I don’t know if I can write it anymore, since I had the baby. Sorry, readers!

I did come up with some really great characters who I’d love to transplant into other stories someday. And I found that I really dig writing space opera. Writing the physics of space ships and battles and space marines on other planets was totally fun.

But yeah, this year went nothing like I expected. I’ll write a goal list tomorrow, so I can laugh at them next December. 😀

Destiny fanart. Nell is sitting in a tree, chatting to her ghost Hadrian.