Monday, July 28, 2014

Because It Just Feels Right

Listen, there are no solid rules when it comes to perspective, not for me at least. Normally I write third person, limited omniscience. Translated into English, I write from the perspective of one character at a time, but I write the story from outside of that person's personal narrative.

If the chapter centers around Andover Lashk, then the sensations and experiences are reflected through the lens of his eyes. If the next scene is told from Merros Dulver's point of view, then the same rules apply.

I tend to throw that rule straight out the window for short stories. Sometimes they demand a certain level of intimacy that I think you can only really get from the first person perspective. It's more comfortable, really, and it allows a certain level of empathy that third person makes more challenging.

Why the difference? Because writing an entire novel in first person can be a bear and because it's harder not to cheat.

Let me explain that with an example. THE HELP by Katherine Stockett is a perfect example. The entire book is told from different first person perspectives, three of them if I recall correctly, and it's a damned solid novel. I enjoyed it immensely.

Okay. What? I should only read genre? Don't judge me and don't limit yourself. Read EVERYTHING! There is so very much out there to savor in the wonderful world of books. I do not limit myself.

Ahem. Now, back to my point. There's ONE chapter in the book where Stockett could not manage to tell the story without cheating. In this case she shifted to a different character's perspective AND shifted to third person, because there set of the novel is told in the form of the letters that the Help and their advocate are writing. The story is brilliant and so I forgave Ms. Stockett her sin. Same as, I'm sure, her editor did. It had to be done to make the story work, but she BROKE THE RULES.

Know what? You can always break the rules if there's a good reason.

I did one novel completely in first person. Drove me crazy and it's my shortest novel to date. But it was a fun challenge, I did NOT cheat and DEEPER continues to sell rather well.

In my novel SMILE NO MORE I broke the rules a dozen ways to Sunday. Let's see.  Each chapter is told on multiple scenes and broken into the far past (50 years ago), the near past (last few months) and the present. However, as I wanted to reflect the mindset of the main character (I can't in good conscience call him the hero as he is a homicidal dead clown) I wrote both the far past and the near past in the first person, past tense and then the rest of the story, the now, in third person, limited omniscience, past tense.

There was a method to my madness. I needed the readers to be very familiar and comfortable with Rufo the Clown before he did horrible, horrible things to many, many people. Some readers really loved the end result and a few have said it was my best work. Others, people who've long been fans, did not agree. It's always risky bending the rules and it's riskier by far to actually break them and then stomp on the shards.

In the long run I feel the best way to handle the perspective is exactly what I sad as my topic this week: Do it because it feels right. Worst case scenario, you go back and do it again.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Savoring the Outside Point of View

Last night my most excellent friend, critique partner and Word-Whore alum, Carolyn Crane, won the Romance Writers of America (RWA) RITA award for her romantic suspense, Off the Edge. Even more exciting, she's the first author to win a RITA with a self-published book.

We knew she was one of the finalists, but it wasn't until the awards ceremony that we found out.

Carolyn has been my roommate at the conference all week, which is a treat for us. We live on different sides of the country and mostly communicate via email and instant messenger, sprinkled in with the occasional phone call. We often bemoan that we can't meet for a drink or lunch, so our five-day grown-up slumber party is an opportunity to saturate ourselves in writer talk and to savor each other's company.

The RITA finalists get to bring a guest or two to share their VIP table at the RITA awards, so I was Carolyn's date last night. I don't think it really hit either of us, the reality of the building tension, until a few hours before. We'd been running around all week, going to and from panels, speeches, meetings, lunches and parties. But we made sure to meet for dinner, eating early at 5:30, so we'd have time to get into our fancy dresses.

She was keyed up and so was I. Even though I kept reassuring her with the very true observation, that finaling for the RITA is really the big bump - in buzz and sales - I started to feel nervous. Now, a date's job at this kind of thing is to help maintain the calm, to buffer the anxiety, so I kept up a good face. Still, I really wanted this for her and the imminent possibility of great celebration or the bruise of disappointment loomed. I had my consolation words planned, knowing well how it can sting, even when you KNOW it's still amazing to get that close.

When her category came up, I rubbed a hand over her back, as much to soothe myself as her.

When they called her name, I burst into tears. I rarely have experienced the happy cry, but I did last night.

When she came back to the table, carrying her heavy golden statue, she sat and said, "Did I remember to thank you in my speech?" and I said, "I don't know - I was crying!"

One of those stories we'll tell forever.

This week's theme is: Choosing point-of-view (POV): How Do You Know Which One Is Right For Your Story?

In many ways, this is Carolyn's story. But it's also mine. I've walked this road with her from the very first glimmer of the concept for this series. Last night felt as much my joy as hers. Conventional wisdom says we should choose POV according to which character has the greatest emotional stake in a scene. Which means, if I were writing the book, I'd want to tell you this story from Carolyn's POV.

In real life, however, it's necessarily my POV. I can give a perspective that she can't. One infused with the pure elation of celebrating someone else's victory.

A sweet place to be.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ending a Series?

I have this photo, framed, on my writing desk!
OK, right off the bat we all know I have yet to write a standard series, let alone had to deal with the cancellation of anything! So I decided to answer this from the standpoint of a Reader, since I'm also one of those.

I LOVE discovering a new-to-me series. I had great pleasure when I started to read Nalini Singh, for example, with her various series, but especially the Psy Changelings which already had quite a few volumes when I found them. The fact that she then started the Guild Hunter series was icing on the already rich cake. Lora Leigh's Breeds were another series I arrived at when there were many books, which I hunted down so I could read every one.

It never even occurred to me that if I fell in love with a series, there might not be a resolution or a permanent HEA at the last volume.

The Dragonriders of Pern was another series that came to a wonderful conclusion and frankly as a reader, I was ready not to have any more, especially not more that were written by relatives. Biting my tongue about that.

These days I'm very cautious about starting a new series not so much that I've been "burned" myself by investing in something great and then never reading any more. But now I know how lucky I was with my early series-love. I've talked to enough authors who started a series, only to have the publisher pull the plug in the middle, around volume three, because the sales were lagging, never mind that core group of rabid fans. I've seen contracts where an author may not be entitled to the use of his or her own name, much less the characters and world they built, even if they desperately want to write more books in the series and self publish or go to another publisher. I've read enough reviews on Amazon how wonderful Book XYZ was but it ended in a cliffhanger (not even a Happy For Now but a genuine cliffhanger) and as yet there's no sequel on the horizon. Um no thanks. I'll wait over here.

When I was a little kid, the local TV station ran the old 1930's Flash Gordon movie serial episodes five days a week and I was too young to realize how broadly acted (nearly said hokey but definitely from another time in Hollywood LOL) they were, or that they were decades older than me...I just knew it was forever from Friday afternoon till Monday afternoon to find out how Flash and Dale and Dr. Zarkov were going to escape certain death at the hands of Ming. I don't wait well. Not full of patience. But at least I knew there would be that happy ending. I wasn't waiting in vain.

Until the station pulled the stupid kids' show that the Flash Gordon serial was shown as a feature with and I never got to see how they all survived on Planet Mongo. I.....was.....traumatized. For years. I've seen it now and I'm ok, thanks! Flash lives and he kisses Dale.

So where was I going with this?Oh yes, I don't invest my emotions in a new series unless I'm really sure there will be more books coming, or if each volume is standalone HEA. I don't mind the bigger plot arc being left open as long as the characters I care about get their HEA or pretty darn good HFN.

When I do tackle writing a series, hopefully in 2015, each book will have at least an HFN and the entire series will come to a satisfying ending. Not a spoiler, just the truth! you can quote me.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Immutable Law of Canceled Series

Ah, yes. The canceled series. Have one of those. The SFR Enemy series was canceled after book two in a five book arc. And I'm currently writing a series that is open ended enough to on forever or end where ever. Canceled series can and do happen to anyone. The publishing world is littered with the corpses of perfectly good books that just didn't sell well enough. Fortunately, for readers and for authors there are now options for wresting victory from the claws of CANCELED defeat.

1. Shop the rest of the series to another publisher (hard, but it can and has been done).
2. Self publish - this includes all sorts of permutations like serializing the remaining novels on your website (think a chapter a week posted), Ebooks, web comics - whatever makes sense for your story and your interests.

The only caveat is: You DID read your contract before you signed it. Right? I ask because some publishers don't just buy the rights to the novels you present to them. They tie up your characters and situations. If you signed such a contract, then your only option is to stick a fork in that canceled series, cause it's done. Any attempt to self pub or go to another house with those characters you adore could get you sued. So, please. READ your contracts. If you don't understand them, find a contract lawyer, paralegal, or agent who can explain what you're signing. Ask questions. Make sure you aren't selling rights you want to retain.

Bonus: The Little Known But Immutable Law of the Canceled Series - any series canceled before the story has run its course will be canceled on a cliffhanger ensuring that readers and critiques alike curse the poor author's name for years to come.

I don't know what to do except shrug and say this is an immutable law. If you decide to write a series, keep it in mind as you decide how to end each novel. If you decide to read a series, I beg you to keep this law in mind as well because I assure you the author is banging his or her head against a wall about it, too.

What do *I* intend to do about my canceled SFR series that did indeed end on a cliffhanger at the end of book two? Write the rest of the series and get it out into the world by hook or by crook. In fact, finishing up book three is next on my slate. Right after the proposal for book three of the urban fantasy series (Nightmare Ink and Bound By Ink). With luck, book three will be available in some form or another by the end of the year.

I won't lie. It is a major kick to the ribs to have a series rug yanked out from under you. Scream. Cry. Consume mass quantities of chocolate. But then get to planning and writing. Because you have options and your readers may threaten to hunt you down and beat the story out of you if you don't avail yourself of them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Whatever DID Happen to That Series??

So, this is what happened to me over the weekend and why KAK stepped in to take over my post on Sunday. It's pretty rare to find places without internet or cell service these days, but this place we stayed on the Mogollon Ridge near the Gila Wilderness is one. Thanks for the emergency help, KAK!

As KAK introduced Sunday, this week's topic is about how to handle the cancellation of a series.

This has happened to several friends of mine. One is a sister Word Whore, so I'll let her tell her own story, if she chooses to. But here are three case studies of how this happened to friends of mine.

- One gal received a two-book deal from a major NYC publisher, via her very high-profile agent, with an option for the third book. The books were planned as a trilogy. Before the first book even hit the shelves, the acquiring editor left and the series was orphaned. The editor who grudgingly took up the slack barely looked at book 2. Though the first two books did very well and gained a substantial following - AND though book 2 ended on a cliffhanger, as planned all along - the series had no champion at the publisher and the option book, book 3, was declined. The author took book 3 to a primarily digital publisher, who did a lovely job of matching the covers. But there was a delay in producing the third book and readers, especially those who had to wait more than a year for the print version, were not pleased.

- Another gal sold two, two-book deals to a mid-sized but reputable press. Both were planned as longer series, at least for three. After the contract, the press was acquired by a major NYC publisher and the option books for both series were declined. Though readers have asked for more in those series, the author hasn't wanted to face the gauntlet of dealing with character/world reversion of rights and has pursued other projects instead.

- Another friend sold a three-book deal to a major NYC publisher, so she was able to complete the trilogy with them as she envisioned it. However, the original acquiring editor passed the first book on to a junior editor, who then left the publishing house. As with the first story here, another editor grudgingly took on book 2 and then a third took book 3. The option book was declined, thus ending more books in that series, unless the author revisits her rights and so forth.

I've been fortunate that this hasn't happened to me. Part of this is because, as I seem to do with most things, I kind of took the crooked path. My website makes it look like I have eight series at this point. That's kind of misleading because the OTHER WORKS and FAIRYTALE EROTICA "series" are really just genre categories that my website designer made up, just to have a place to put things.

See how I am? Defying easy shelving even on my own website!

That leaves six "series," none of which ran the risk of that ugly cancellation problem. Here's why:

Blood Currency

Book one in this series is Feeding the Vampire. Very short. It started as kind of a wayward idea and, when an Ellora's Cave editor asked me for something, I polished it up and sent her that. She wanted another, preferably linked, so I wrote Hunting the Siren, which takes place in the same world, but with different characters. My editor wanted to give it a series title, so she asked me to propose a third book, because those are the EC rules - no series title until you have three books. I did and we picked "Blood Currency." I've never written that third book, mainly because I had other contracted deadlines and then my editor left, so now I don't have much incentive. If anything, readers seem to want more of the characters in Feeding the Vampire, so maybe I'll do that some day.

Covenant of Thorns

First I wrote Rogue's Pawn and eventually sold it to Carina Press. When I originally conceived of the series, I was a newbie and foolish with it, thinking it could be as many as seven books. It took so long to sell that book that I wrote a couple of others in the mean time - novels in totally new series - one of which became The Mark of the Tala (see under The Twelve Kingdoms below). Then two surprising things happened: Rogue's Pawn finally sold and readers seemed to feel it ended on a cliffhanger. NOT what I had intended. But I wanted to continue the story, so that part was easy. Knowing better by then, and certain my Carina Press editor would not like the idea of six more books to finish - plus knowing of my case studies above - I sketched out two more books in that series, to make a complete trilogy, and sold them to Carina on proposal. The second, Rogue's Possession, came out last year and the third, Rogue's Paradise, comes out September 8. I'd like to write more in this world, but have no particular plans right now.

Master of the Opera

This is a serial novel I did with Kensington and not really a series at all. I wrote it all at once and it was entirely in the can before the first installment was published. No concerns about cancellation there.

Falling Under

This is a new series of novel-length erotic romances and the first, Going Under, just came out last week! I sold these to Carina on proposal and contracted for three thematically connected books. No concerns about overall plot arc, no worries about cancellation there.

Facets of Passion

These are four erotic romance novellas I did with Carina, also thematically connected with no overall plot arc. I had planned to keep going with them, but they morphed into the novel-length erotic romances of the Falling Under series (above) instead.

The Twelve Kingdomsa

When I sold book one, The Mark of the Tala, to Kensington, I had the next two books sketched out. With those and the completed book one, my agent got a three-book deal for me. I've just turned in the third book. We'll have to talk about what the option book will be, but readers are already asking for a fourth book (Dafne's story, for those wondering). Maybe? We shall see!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ending A Series: How To Handle Cancellation

Since our darling Jeffe is tearing up the West in her convertible and traveling to remote exotic places where Web connectivity is sporadic at best, I'm taking a turn opening the bordello this week. This week's topic:

Ending A Series: How To Handle Cancellation

Once upon a time, having a publisher decline to pick up more books in a series you'd written was enough to cause keening and tearing of attire over the death of your series.  Now, however, when the popular guy takes you to homecoming but dumps you before prom, you can take yourself to the damn dance. Sure, the quart of Haagen Dazs still gets devoured and there are still sniffles, but the pajamas escape any serious mauling and you don't have to worry about complementing his cummerbund.

Okay, okay, I'm done with quirky analogies and bad metaphors.

In all seriousness, it's never fun being told your work isn't wanted anymore. Twice more when that means you're not getting paid for future work. Thrice more because you have to re-enter the submissions arena.


If your heart is still deeply in that world and you have more stories you want to tell in that world, then keep writing the books and self-publish them. Remember, readers who found your earlier works will look to retailers for more of your books...not publishers (much to publishers' consternation).  Keep your website current, keep your readers informed of release dates.

Readers care more about the author than the publisher.

As long as there are no legal limitations to you pushing forward, no one can stop you from publishing your work.  Double check your publisher contracts.  If you have an agent, this is the time to give them a call. You may have retained rights to the world, but the publisher may have placed restriction on the use of your author-name. Commonly, publishers will specify an amount of time that must pass before the name you used with them can release a book with another publisher/independently. The timing might work out well or it might mean you have a bit of a delay before pushing the next release live. However, if there are no contractual limitations, go forth and write more books.

The publisher gave you an advance (maybe) and helped readers find you.
Maintaining and growing your audience is always your responsibility, not the publisher's.

While you're faceplanted in the Midnight Cookies & Cream bemoaning your changing fate, take a few snarfs to consider your newly found freedom from contracts. Maybe it's time to write that vampire amoeba superhero book about which you've been daydreaming.  Or kick-out a few novellas told from a tertiary characters POV from the cancelled series...just to keep the readers interested while you sort yourself and the future of the series.

A publisher dropping your contract or declining to pick up more books in the series doesn't have to be the end of the series. This isn't TV. Cancellation doesn't mean the End.

A book series ends when you, the author, decide to end it.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

So do I Write Series or Not?

(I have this deja vu feeling I've discussed the topic in this space but it's this week's subject so here goes!)

First let me share my pretty new science fiction romance cover with you, just revealed! (Cover by Fiona Jayde.)The book is going to be out August 18th. It's the third in my loosely connected "Sectors" series, which is a series by virtue of occurring in the same Universe. Along with Wreck of the Nebula Dream and Escape From Zulaire, this new book is set in the galactic space known as the Sectors and features a hero who is a member of the Special Forces. The three heroes don't know each other (or if they do, it's never mentioned, even to me, the Author LOL). Two of the heroines happen to work for the same company, Loxton Galactic Trading, so they may know each other but I've never addressed that question.

I definitely plan to write more stories set in this Universe and have several sketched out. I might write a sequel to one or more of the existing books. We'll have to see. As with everything else, I'm a seat of the pants planner.

My ancient Egyptian paranormal novels are even more connected, being set in the same time frame, 1550BCE, with the Pharaoh Nat-re-Ahkte as the central point. A number of the characters know each other, having served with this fictional ruler as he fought to take the throne and then to defeat the Hyksos invaders. (The Hyksos were real, by the way.) I've written one sequel (Magic of the Nile is a direct sequel to Priestess of the Nile) and have another in mind. I also have some ideas for an actual series, following one set of characters through three books' worth of adventure and plots.

So, you may be saying by now, if I write a series, it's kind of going to be happenstance? Well, yes and no. I tend to think in terms of one book at a time and I realize to have a successful series I really need to sit down and figure out an arc, and the events for each book and the character growth. On the other hand, if I do too much advance thinking, I never write the book because my Muse grows bored with it.

Sort of funny, the first book I ever wrote, at age 7, was a fairy tale starring a princess and herds of flying horses and handsome princes (the hero owned a riverboat for some reason) and many MANY sisters. So I was clearly creating hooks for the inevitable sequels...which I never wrote. I think doing the illustrations wore me out!

In junior high, when I got more serious about writing, I did a science fiction series with about eleven volumes but I vaguely remember not planning ahead. I did use the same characters and they evolved (well, as much as my teen age Muse could envision) but each new adventure came to me separately. No big arc.

In senior high school I wrote another SF series and I did plan the three volume arc...

(Insert years of college, career, children, widowhood, single motherhood, grandchild HERE)

But when I jumped back into writing seriously in late 2010, it was one book at a time. I think I had to get rev myself up to speed, as it were, because my goal for 2015 is definitely to develop and write at least one series. I love series myself, with Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey being one of my favorites, anything by Nalini Singh as my current Must Buy and our own Jeffe coming close behind with her fabulous Twelve Kingdoms fantasy series. I devour such books and crave more!

So we'll see what 2015 brings for me and my Muse!

And here's the blurb for Mission to Mahjundar:
An attempted assassination left Princess Shalira blind as a child and, now that she's of marriageable age, her prospects are not good because of her disability. She's resigned herself to an arranged marriage rather than face life under the thumb of her cold stepmother. But then she meets Mike Varone, a Sectors Special Forces officer sent to Mahjundar by the intergalactic government to retrieve a ship lost in her planet's mountains. After Mike saves Shalira from another assassination attempt, she arranges for him to escort her across the planet to her future husband. She's already falling hard for the deadly offworlder and knows she should deny herself the temptation he represents, but taking Mike along to protect her is the only way she'll live long enough to escape her ruthless stepmother.
Mike, for his part, resists his growing attraction to the princess; he has a mission on this planet and rescuing the vulnerable but brave princess isn't it. No matter how much he wishes it could be.
But what should have been an easy trek through Mahjundar's peaceful lands swiftly turns into an ambush with danger around every turn. Shalira's marriage begins to seem less like an arranged union and more like yet another planned assassination. The more they work together to survive, the harder it becomes to stop themselves from falling in love. Caught in a race against time, can they escape the hostile forces hunting them and make it off the planet?
Can there be a future for a simple soldier and an intergalactic princess?