The Planet of Zutar’s Invasion of the Dragons

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Okay, so as you know, coming up with blog topics isn’t my strongest suit. Tonight, as my 7 year old sat next to me eating a day-old cinnamon roll, I looked at him and said, “What should I blog about tonight?” He quickly came up with a topic, as evidenced by the title of this blog. (Incidentally, Zutar is ruled by zombies.) He also picked the image for tonight.

And, I suppose, he hit the nail on the head.

I’ve been battling my own “invasion of the dragons” for the better part of a week now. Granted, I’m not a zombie, but sometimes I feel like one. There are plenty of times that I feel like my day job is turning me into a corporate zombie, though, and that I inhabit a different planet, living off in my own world somewhere. (Hopefully it is not also inhabited by corporate zombies.)

No, my dragon invasion is really a species of dragons known as “the distraction dragons.” I sit down every day in my office, open my laptop, and immediately get to work…checking Facebook, Twitter, my blog, my email, and more. Then I finally open Scrivener and prepare to write. I re-read what I wrote last, so I can pick up where I left off. And then I go check Facebook and Twitter one last time.

Eventually, I start writing. After I get a paragraph or two, I think it’s time for a reward. More checking social media.

But then eventually I get a good writing rhythm going, and soon enough I’ve written a few hundred words. I stop to look something up and notice there’s a little (1) (or more) in each of my social media tabs. Well I can’t just let the notifications go. I have to check them. Right?

Well.

My dear writing friends tell me I need to disconnect my internet.

“No,” I gasp. “I can’t do that. That’s just too drastic!”

Truth be told, they’re probably right. (They usually are.)

I can’t say that’s what I’m going to do, but it’s definitely on the table as far as things I’m considering go.

Typically, after a good 45 minutes of this, I look at the clock and give up.

“Well,” I say to myself, “I’m not going to get any more writing done now, it’s much too late.” So I go watch the news for 20 or so minutes before I have to pack up and head to my day job.

Marie Cole sent me this quote yesterday:

“Work is work. It’s okay for writing to be hard work sometimes. That doesn’t make it “wrong” or “off.” You want what you want (to be successful, to tell stories, to write books, to make money, whatever you want) and if you really want those things, then you have to put in the work. As long as you’re committed to the process of being a professional writer, you’re going to be willing to put in the work.” -R. L. Syme, Write Better Faster Class

She’s right. I need to conquer my dragons, and put in the work.

Truly, my goal is to have the second in the Young Spades series (this would be Liam and Jack’s story) drafted by the end of March, at the latest. That will give me some time to edit it before moving on to book 3, which will be Trick’s story (I haven’t found a love interest for him yet, but rest assured, it will happen). Trick is short for Patrick, by the way. This series has a fondness for people with nicknames – Ari, Jack, and Trick all have given names they don’t use.

I really want to have the first in the Young Spades series, Pulling Strings (Shane and Ari) ready for publication for September. It’s almost March now. Six months to get Pulling Strings edited professionally and two more books from 0 to 100 isn’t much. I will have to send my attack zombies out to slay the dragons, and hope that my writing-zombies can work faster than I imagine “real” zombies would. I can do this. Right?

I also need to start hoping and praying that if my 7 year old asks what happened to the zombies of Zutar in their battle against the dragons, I’ll be able to come up with something good in a hurry. Let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions for the zombie-dragon battle I’ll need to concoct.

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Attempting to Reach a Goal

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One of my goals for 2018 was to attend GRL as an author, rather than a reader. There are benefits to attending as a supporting author, including having my name featured on promotional materials and participating in the signing event for supporting authors. GRL stands for Gay Romance Literature, and is the only conference I’m aware of that is specifically for, well, exactly what it says – for readers and writers of gay romance stories. I know that MLR Books goes as a sponsor, as well as several other major publishers. It’s an opportunity for exposure to readers, and especially with my goals and plan to publish the Young Spades trilogy this fall, GRL would be an ideal opportunity to get in front of some readers and meet people in the industry. Besides, it’s practically in my backyard this year, being in Portsmouth, Virginia.

All that said, registration went up on Saturday the 17th, and closed almost immediately after (for authors). It sells out incredibly quickly. There are 80 Featured Author slots (they are invited to do panels, among other things) and 40 Supporting Author slots. There is a waitlist for those who didn’t get in right away, of course, and the reader slots don’t sell out until later (the organizers work hard to allow every reader who wants to be there a chance to get a spot).

So registration went up, and by some miracle, I got in! I’m going to be a Supporting Author at GRL this year!

I couldn’t be more excited! I am hoping to have some of my material back from MLR by then, but if I don’t, Pulling Strings will be out, and I hope to have print copies of that. I may also have some bookmarks drawn up by then as well.

For those of you who have attended this or any author event, please let me know any tips or tricks I need to be aware of. Is anyone I know going? I’d love to see a friendly face!

Making Changes

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So another part of the VRW workshop that I truly enjoyed was having lunch with Marie Cole, another romance writer and a friend of mine. I’ve mentioned her on here before, as a matter of fact. We had a cozy little lunch at a Mexican place in the city and I enjoyed every moment of it. I learned a lot, and as a result, I have a lot to think about.

Marie has been publishing for about as long as I have, and has close to the same number of books out (she has a few more than I do), but has a grip on the publishing world significantly better than I do. As a result, she’s teaching me a lot, and she’s convincing me that there are better ways to do this thing. What that means is, my 2018 plan is changing.

My new goal is to publish a trilogy for you this fall, the Young Spades series. It will follow a group of college-aged men who are in a band together (was there any doubt?), and their romantic experiences. We will start with Shane and Ari. Their story was written during NaNo last year. Shane is the lead singer and bass guitarist of the band, Young Spades, an indie rock band in Boulder. Following Shane’s story will be Liam, the lead guitarist of Young Spades, and closing out the trilogy will be Trick, the keyboardist. (There is a drummer, but she’s a woman, so her love stories are not particularly my genre.)

I am still working on my enemies-to-lovers story, but that will be put on the back burner for now. It may get worked on after the Young Spades series is finished. And of course, my sequel to Falling Apart is still in progress, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on that one, so it, too, will be taking a backseat. (As I type this, I realize that every novel I’ve mentioned involves at least one musician… I guess I have a type!) I may also do some work with my existing titles in terms of re-releasing them, and I’ll keep you as updated as possible as that unfolds.

I still hope to attend GRL this year if it’s in the cards, and continue my own professional development, but I will be seriously focusing on getting this trilogy ready to be published in the fall, and continuing a tight publication schedule thereafter. (I’ve discussed on this blog before my struggles with not publishing as prolifically as I’d like.)

So that’s my update for you today. Things are seriously changing in my grand plan, and I hope to take my readers along for the ride with me!

Grab the Machete

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I had the pleasure of sitting through a workshop called “Grab the Machete” this weekend, presented by Madeline Iva. It was a look at the five-act structure in the morning half, and a talk about the various types of arcs in a story for the afternoon half. The basic concept behind the workshop title is that writing a novel is like hacking one’s way through the jungle. (Rather, I’d argue that the editing phase is more like the hacking, and that the drafting phase is more like planting seeds, but no matter.)

I wasn’t particularly familiar with the five-act structure so it was a lot of new information for me. Of course I’m familiar with Aristotle (I mean, vaguely familiar), and I’m definitely familiar with the three-act plot structure, but five acts? Seemed like a lot of work, to be honest.

But the more Madeline explained the five-act structure, the less overwhelming it felt. The first act is getting the action started. The second act is unpacking some backstory, and ending on a “turning point.” Both of these can be bundled into the first act of a three-act structure. Then there is the “picking up speed” act where everything is climbing quickly towards a crash. Act four is the metaphorical car accident, where everything goes to hell. And then act five ought to be a satisfying resolution – staggering away from the wreckage, she put it.

There was also a brief mention of Gwen Hayes’ Romancing the Beat, which I have used heavily for my two current works in progress, so I was happy to hear it get a shoutout.

She also talked about how the end of act five should have at least one of the three Rs: revenge, recognition, or a reversal. Sometimes all three are involved.

Another interesting concept she introduced was the “change purse” or “coin bag” for the readers. The readers begin the story with a certain number of coins in their bag, and as they are required to pay attention to the story, they are spending these coins. The author gives coins back to the reader in little revelations and tidbits. The importance of the coins is that if the reader spends all of their coins before the end of the novel, they no longer have any attention to expend and will put the book down and walk away. We definitely do not want that to happen.

In the afternoon, we discussed different types of arcs: character arcs, narrative arcs, and action arcs. I’ll be honest – I’m still not totally clear on the difference between a narrative arc and an action arc, but what I did gather from the arc discussion was the importance of character arcs. I’ve been working hard to start with character and build plot from there, so I felt validated by this part of the workshop.

All told, the workshop was helpful but not the most illuminating thing in the world. It was my first Romance Writers of America chapter meeting, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

How about you, friends? Have you ever been to a writing workshop that was particularly helpful?

The Writing Environment and Other Things

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Every writer has an ideal environment in which to write, right? Lately, I’ve been writing at a cluttered kitchen table because my office looked like offices do post-move – full of boxes. But luckily for me, my husband and I spent last weekend cleaning out the office. (I’d like to say we unpacked the boxes, but mostly we moved them into the closet.) Now I have a real, true office, and I plan to keep it this way.

It’s nice to have my computer set up, windows for light, walls blank and ready to decorate (I have a print from my favorite author/artist waiting to be hung), a bookshelf (maybe I’ll fill it with craft books one day), and – most importantly, perhaps – a couch. That’s right, I have a sleeper sofa in my office, remnant from our old living room, something too new to get rid of but too old to be comfortable for daily use. This means I have a variety of places I can sit to write.

I can write most anywhere, as long as the TV isn’t playing. But I prefer to have a dedicated space (don’t we all?) and I’m lucky enough to have the physical ability to do so and a family who understands that writers need space to work. My perfect location is actually a local Panera – there’s food, beverages, internet, and just enough noise to keep me from going crazy.

I’ve actually avoided my office for the past two days, because I’ve been terribly sick. It’s easy to sit at the kitchen table, with no stairs to contend with, especially being within earshot of my school-aged child and his puppy, in case they need me. My office is on the second story, so it’s harder for him to get me if he needs me quickly. Then again, maybe that’s a good thing. (Today he was singing a water cycle song and kept interrupting me while I was on the phone. “Condensation, evaporation,” he sang. “Is this really  necessary?” I asked. “Wait! Mommy!” he said, as I turned the car into our neighborhood. I thought I had forgotten something. “Yes?” “Precipitation!” Boy was he proud of himself.)

My office is also doubling as a classroom. I’m beginning to teach English to children in China. So now, my desk faces the door, so that there is a wall behind me. The wall holds brightly colored primary education materials, including a whiteboard with my name. Hopefully this won’t be a bust, and if it turns out to be, well, at least I have my ABCs nearby in case I forget, and a whiteboard to sketch out ideas.

How about you, friends? What’s your ideal writing environment?

An Unintentional Erotica Writer

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How did I become an erotica writer? That’s an interesting question. Someone on the Passionate Ink Facebook group recently posted a blog about how she accidentally became an erotica writer, and I related to it so much that I thought I’d do the same.

So how did I become an erotica writer, anyway? Well, it goes like this:

Back in 2012, I started participating “for real” in NaNoWriMo (I say for real because the previous year, I forgot I was participating, so I don’t count that). I created a Facebook group for my local area, and earnestly worked on a YA dystopia that I still swear that I will finish one day. I simultaneously became very good friends with another local mom, who had a kid the same age as mine, and who fangirled over the same things I fangirled over.

In the spring of 2013, we were sharing fanfic with one another when she asked me one day if, being a writer, I’d ever consider writing fanfic. I couldn’t imagine it. But that wasn’t the end of it. I couldn’t stop thinking about that, the possibility that I could write smut. So, after a lot of hemming and hawing, I agreed. I’d write one tiny story for her in our shared fandom and that would be the end of it. Right? Wrong.

She loved it. Of course, we were good enough friends that I figure she probably would have loved it even if it were trash. But regardless, she loved it and asked for more. So I delivered. I turned it into more. Eventually, it became about 13,000 words, just three long scenes that involved a lot of sex and a passable story arc. This was during Camp NaNo and took place over about 3 days. I was on fire.

I shared it with another friend, who also loved it, and demanded I do something with it. So, after another lot of hemming and hawing, I agreed to de-fic-ify it and turn it into an original work. Once that was done, I took the leap and submitted it to a publisher.

They said no.

I was pretty crushed, but in fairness, a rejection on your first submission is not only not surprising, but almost to be expected. And also in fairness, it wasn’t an actual rejection, it was a revise-and-resubmit request, which I know now is actually huge. It took me a long time to not be bitter and angry about the suggestions the editor made–of course I thought she was wrong at every turn initially–but I realized soon that her suggestions would make it a much stronger book. Eventually I came around to the idea of revisions.

So I did. I did revise and resubmit. It took me nearly a year to do it, but I did it. And–to my great surprise–the work was accepted. The boys you know and love as Ryder Sullivan and Billy Cunningham in Falling Apart started out as 13,000 words of fanfic written for a friend. That book was finally published in February of 2015, which means it took almost two full years from the day I started writing to the day it hit shelves.

After that, I was sort of addicted. I kept on writing fanfic, and my second published work, Nurse’s Orders, was another such event. It was something a friend read and said, “Where’s the rest?” to. And when “the rest” was delivered, she said, “This is too good not to share. You have to turn this into something.” So I did, again, and this time it was picked up right away. Two more (original, this time) works came soon after.

Then, as you know, I sort of fell off a cliff. Not literally, of course, but enough that I stopped writing for a while. A long while.

But no matter. I’m back now. My current WIP involves Shane Beckett and Ari Dinneen, Junior, college lovers. I hope you’ll love them as much as I do.

Finding a buddy

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In my last blog post, I talked about how important I think writing buddies are. I promised that I would talk today about finding said buddies. I think I got lucky. It’s been relatively easy for me. But I’m going to give you some things that I hope help.

First, and I’m certain you’re not surprised to see me endorse this, but NaNoWriMo. If you’re a novelist especially, starting with your local NaNoWriMo group can be helpful. NaNo has forums on its website, and forums are divided into regions. Sometimes those regions have Facebook groups as well. That’s where I started – by joining my regional NaNo forum.

Another step is to join Facebook groups, or maybe find groups on Twitter (I’m less adept at Twitter, so I can’t really speak for that experience). There are tons of Facebook groups for writers. I recommend looking for groups local to you, particularly if you think you’ll be interested in meeting with local writers at some point (highly recommended).

You can also check professional writing organizations. For example, the Romance Writers of America has local chapters. A simple Google search shows me that there are many professional writing organizations, and I’m certain that most of them, if they are national, have local chapters. And if they don’t have a chapter near you, they may have a listserv that is national where you can reach out, or a critique partner matchup on their website that could help you.

There are also many writing websites. Critique Circle is my favorite, but there are dozens, if not hundreds, that are similar.

Several authors I follow post critique partner matchups on their blogs, so check out your favorite authors. They just might have one!

So far, I have found writing buddies from my national RWA site, Facebook, and NaNoWriMo. I’m sure there are hundreds of other ways to find writing buddies that I don’t know about or haven’t thought about here. If you know of another tip for writers seeking buddies, post it here!