Monday, November 30, 2015

Finishing touches

This is a simple subject for me. What do I do before I send off a manuscript? Here's the list:
Step one, write manuscript. That's thee one that takes the longest.

Step Two: Write something else. Take at least two weeks.

Step Three: Now that I have cleansed my mental palette and can actually READ a manuscript I have been working on with fresh eyes. I read the entire thing one last time. Often times, this involves changing the font for the MS or even printing it out. Mostly I just change the font. Why? Because time and perspective make a difference in how I look at the final product.

Step Four: Edit as I read.


Send it.

Here's the manuscript I'm writing right now. I'm editing as I go, because, deadlines.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Done Drafting Your Book? Hooray!! But NOW what??

We're in sunny Tucson, Arizona for American Thanksgiving. So many blessings to send gratitude for!

This week's topic, most apropos for the conclusion of #NaNoWriMo (good work, KAK!) is Finishing Touches: what I do before sending the manuscript in. I bet there will be lots of great advice from the Word Whores this week, though not necessarily in order.

Me, I'm leaping to the final step: the polishing stage. The very last thing I do before sending any stage of a draft to my agent or editor. There's lots of other revision passes before that, which I'm hoping the other amazing writers her will address - it's a huge topic, really - but I'm going to my last pass because I have a concrete list to share.

I keep a running document of my writing tics. These are the little habits that emerge in my writing that need to be removed for the final version. They change a bit over time, which I try to keep up with. I don't bother worrying about them in anything but the draft going out into the greater world, because I'll inevitably introduce them again at the intervening stages. I can't help myself. That's why I call them tics. Every writer has these, no matter how many books they've written. You won't perceive this as a reader, because any writer worth the title will polish these flaws away before the typical reader ever picks up the story.

Here's my list of final polishing steps, as of this fall. It takes me about a full day to do all of this:

1.                   Search for []
2.                   Search for “now”
3.                   Search for “just”
4.                   Search for “much”
5.                   Search for double space
6.                   Search for “like”
7.                   Well
8.                   Search for “back”
9.                   Wordle
10.               Search for “know”
11.               Replace towards with toward
12.               Search for endearment of the day
13.               Search for actions as dialogue tags.
14.               Search for overused dialogue tags.
15.               Search for [overused terms of that story]
Here's the breakdown of what all of that means:

Search for []

As I'm drafting, if I can't think of a word, or I need to name someone or something, I put in [], or [pet name], or [her sister]. Then, later, I search for [, to make sure I got them all. 

Search for “now,” “just,” "know," "like," "well," and "back"

These are my particular crutch words. I'm actually much better than I used to be, with not nearly so many appearances of them as in my earlier books. But, when they do appear, they tend to crop up in batches, with sometimes five in one paragraph. I know. What is my deal?? Nobody knows. But totally fixable. 

Search for double space

One space after a period. All double spaces must die. These mostly creep in during edits, when I accept changes, etc. Mainly a housekeeping move.

Wordle is a terrific tool for analyzing word overuse in a manuscript. The biggest words are the most used. I use this as a final check for any words besides my usual suspects that I might need to read for and eliminate.

Replace towards with toward

I like "towards" so much better, but it's the UK usage and my American publishers insist on "toward." Alas.

Search for endearment of the day

My characters often use pet names or nicknames. I tend to salt the dialogue with them too freely. Nice that, in writing at least, it's easy to "de-spice" the broth and make it a bit more delicately flavored.

Search for actions as dialogue tags and overused dialogue tags.

I get so bored of "said" and "asked," so I play around a lot with other kinds of dialogue tags. Sometimes, though, they get a bit over-the-top. Characters can only grunt and snarl words so many times before you wonder if they had their jaws wired shut. I also have characters laugh and smile words. Like, "You wish I'd had my jaw wired shut," she laughed. Sometimes that works. Mostly, though, it should be, "You wish I'd had my jaw wired shut," she snarled, then laughed in his face.

Search for [overused terms of that story]

This shows up in Wordle, if I don't know what it is already. Like if a character has unusually green eyes, I can point that out a leetle too often, causing my editor to comment, I dunno, something like, "ENOUGH WITH THE APPLE GREEN GLARING, ALREADY."


What about you all - what are the crutch words and tics you have to check for?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Tempting Tasty Tidbits Anyone?

Even though I enjoy watching programs like "Top Chef", I'm not in any way a gourmand. I'm very basic about what I cook and what I eat, and more chocolate is better than less. When in doubt, add bacon. So this week's topic isn't too near and dear to my heart. I honestly don't recall ever being reduced to hunger pangs by a description of any foodstuff in a book.

I remember that the Nero Wolfe detective series featured a lot of fine dining, the allegedly perfect scrambled eggs and a lot of orchids (to admire, not to eat). There was even a Nero Wolfe cookbook issued, I now find out.

I used to really enjoy the Diane Mott Davidson Goldy Schultz mystery series, about a caterer who split her time between the kitchen and crime scenes. No criticism of the series intended - I just drifted away from reading mysteries at some point.

(Interesting that the only books which came immediately to mind as having food are murder mysteries. Hmmm.)

Can I be really candid? If someone includes recipes in their novels, I skip that part. I appreciate their efforts but I'm not going to be making any dishes after I finish the book. I admire people who do, everyone has their own hobbies and fun things, and cooking isn't for me.

I tried to find a passage in one of my own novels where I'd discussed food in more than a sentence or two in passing....this excerpt toward the end of Escape From Zulaire (on sale for $.99!) was about the best I could do. Andi, the heroine is speaking:

“What time is it?”
“Still the middle of the night, I fear. Come, I have some food if you’re hungry.” Rahuna walked over to the couch.
Starved. You must be my guardian angel.” When was the last time I ate? “Any coffee?”
Rahuna tugged her to her feet with elaborate caution while she clutched at her side. Matching his steps to her halting pace, he supported her as she hobbled out of the office. She picked the closest chair at the first table in the restaurant. Like a waiter at a fancy restaurant, Rahuna pulled the seat out for her with a flourish. “There’s coffee. The soldiers said since this was our last stop before the capi­tal, we might as well finish the supply. I saved two cups for you.”
Before she could thank him, Rahuna hurried out, returning with a large tray from which he spread a bountiful meal for her, including an omelet, fruit, breads, preserves as well as the promised coffee.
“Where did all this come from?” she asked around a mouthful of fruit.
“South Amri was abandoned by its owners in a great hurry. The power was still on when we arrived. There’s a big generator out back, behind the buildings. Corporal Rogers wouldn’t let us use many lights when we got here, but we were able to cook. Well, I was able to cook.”
Andi took a bite of the omelet, which was tasty and, although not hot any longer, still warm enough to eat. “Where is everyone?” Taking some of the toast, she made a sandwich with the omelet in the middle and munched happily.
“Lysanda and the boy are asleep in a small, private dining room over there.” Rahuna pointed vaguely to the other side of the restaurant. “She wasn’t comfortable to be left alone in this big, open space. Abukawal is on guard on the roof, watching the off-ramp. The soldiers are outside behind the restaurant, working on the truck and the other vehicle you brought in.”
“It was Gul Tonkiln’s car.” I still can’t believe he might be dead. Assaulted by memories and the pang of sorrow, Andi closed her eyes for a moment. Yet another person who didn’t deserve to die in this insane Clan war.
“Andi?” Rahuna laid his hand over hers. “Come back from wherever your mind is roaming.” He handed her another triangle of toast. “It would seem Lord Tonkiln has lost his firstborn, as well as the others who perished at the summer compound.” Voice low and hushed, he said, “Tonkiln’s paid a high price for refusing to take the early warnings seriously.”
“You don’t think there’s a chance the rebels might be holding Gul for ransom?” Appetite gone, Andi set the toast down, untouched.
Rahuna shook his head, lips pursed, eyebrows drawn together. “This doesn’t seem to be the rebels’ pattern. I fear poor Gul has passed to the next world, murdered no doubt. I continue to give thanks to Sanenre your captain intervened on my behalf, to spare me a similar fate.”
“Mmm, my captain.” Andi felt like purring. “Has Tom said what he’s planning to do now? How do we get to the capital from here?”
Picking up a ripe fruit and contemplating its bruised skin, Rahuna shook his head. “Not to me. He and his men have been modifying the two vehicles. The captain wouldn’t even take time to eat, nor let the sergeant have a break. I brought them food out back, in the garage. The men gulped bites here and there as they worked. So, I believe we’re going to take the vehicles.” Rahuna bit into the fruit and munched on it, giving a small sigh. “The comlink here at the station was inoperable, by the way. A severe disappointment to the captain. Rogers said several vital parts were missing.”
“Tom hoped to call for an air evac.” Andi sipped her coffee then devoured the last two bites of her omelet, which now tasted like cardboard. 

The story:
Andi Markriss hasn’t exactly enjoyed being the houseguest of the planetary high-lord, but her company sent her to represent them at a political wedding. When hotshot Sectors Special Forces Captain Tom Deverane barges in on the night of the biggest social event of the summer, Andi isn’t about to offend her high-ranking host on Deverane’s say-so—no matter how sexy he is, or how much he believes they need to leave now.
Deverane was thinking about how to spend his retirement bonus when HQ assigned him one last mission: rescue a civilian woman stranded on a planet on the verge of civil war. Someone has pulled some serious strings to get her plucked out of the hot zone. Deverane’s never met anyone so hard-headed—or so appealing. Suddenly his mission to protect this one woman has become more than just mere orders.
That mission proves more dangerous than he expected when rebel fighters attack the village and raze it to the ground. Deverane escapes with Andi, and on their hazardous journey through the wilderness, 

Then Andi is captured by the rebel fighters, but Deverane has discovered that Zulaire’s so-called civil war is part of a terrifying alien race’s attempt to subjugate the entire Sector. If he pushes on to the capitol Andi will die. Deverane must decide whether to save the woman he loves, or sacrifice her to save Zulaire.

Friday, November 27, 2015

When We're Tempted to Eat Our Words

While those of us in the US are so full of food we can't see straight (leftovers anyone??) by all means let's talk about MOAR FOOD. I have a great love of all things food. As a result, 0f all the things I miss about living aboard a boat a real kitchen is top of the list. Sure I have a galley - a two burner propane cooktop, a tiny propane oven, even a broiler that does a decent job toasting bread. But I miss the real thing - a four (or more) burner stove that puts out some serious BTUs. Propane burns cool. Well. Cooler than other methods common in the US. That makes it hard to get caramelization or a good sear on anything. I know. First world problems, right? It's possible I also really, really miss a dishwasher, too. Usually right about the third time in a day my sink is stacked full of dishes. Despite my whine about dishes, I do like to cook. It may be a thing passed down from the southern family.

Occasionally, food makes it into stories. It's either the bridge that allows people to find common ground, or it's the rocky crevasse no one can cross (remember the chilled monkey brains in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Serious crevasse.)

So what book filled with food makes me hungry when I read it?

Sunshine. Robin McKinley.

Sunshine works at the family diner. The bakery is her domain. She regularly serves up Cinnamon Rolls As Big As Your Head. All sorts of bars, pies, deaths by chocolate (a few she considers trying are vampire inspired - deathly dark exterior, pierce it with a fork and raspberry sauce gushes forth - though she hasn't yet because she figures she'd have a few of the more sensitive customers fainting). She's also one of my people because she's a tea drinker. And she knows how to get the tea stains out of her favorite cups without bleach.

Sunshine's great need to feed people and to care about people via the food she offers is a great contrast to the fact that she spends most of the book being hunted by a vampire who bears a strong resemblance (in my imagination, anyway) to Jabba the Hut. She allies with another vampire to defend herself - that alliance is first cemented by her offer of food. No, no. Not her blood - a raw steak. She feeds the fanged dude a bloody, raw steak. Then, you know, magic. Lots and lots of uncanny magic. Not that the bloody steak thing is what makes me grab a bag of cookies when I sit down to read that's Sunshine's bakery goods. Gotta have tea and cookies (preferably really spicy gingersnaps) to read. Moral imperative.

So hey. When you come visit, what shall I make? Chocolate Lava Cake? Mandarin Orange Delight? Chocolate Pecan Carrot Cake? Cherry Ring? Ah. Why is it an either/or question. Gotcha. No problem. What would you make if I were lucky enough to visit you?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Brief Thoughts on Appetite-Whetting Fiction

Today I'm in the kitchen doing all sorts of things-- if you've read my books it probably does not surprise you that I'm into food and I'm the primary cook in the house.  I remember when I read The Omnivore's Dilemma, one "rule" he puts in there to maximize your "healthy" eating is, "you can eat anything that you make from scratch", and I though, "this does not limit me much".    In fact, I'll cop that I'm something of a food snob.  
I've made a point of including food in all my work, because food is culture, food is worldbuilding.  I've made a point of highlighting how Druthal has many different regional cuisines.  
But what books have gotten my appetite going?
I'll have to confess, it doesn't happen very often.  See above: something of a food snob.  At least, it doesn't happen with fiction.  Foodie memoirs, like Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential or Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones and Butter?  Yeah, those got me inspired to go down to the kitchen and getting to work.
I can think of one example though.  While I'm a food snob, my snobbery leans toward rustic simplicity.  There's a passage in David Eddings's Polgara the Sorceress, the second sort-of-prequel to the Belgariad, where Polgara decides that Faldor's Farm (where the Belgariad begins) is the place she's going to settle down for a bit to raise Garion, and thus she's going to take over the kitchen.  The former head of the kitchen was an incompetent drunk, and Polgara has to "audition" to take over with minimal time and mostly force of personality (which Polgara has in spades).  So she whips together a vegetable stew and biscuits, which the farmhands-- having not had a decent-tasting meal in months-- eagerly consume every last drop of.  
I felt like going down to the kitchen and making a stew after that.
All right, I've got a full day of kitchen ahead of me now, so I'm off.  Hope your days are filled with joy and delicious things.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Appetizing Anecdotes

CREDIT for this really cool photo: HERE
I must read the wrong sort of books to write this post. I've no recollection of reading something that made me truly hungry, which is the bordello's topic of the week.

It's not like I haven't touted the culinary prowess of certain characters in the Persephone Alcmedi series. Johnny, the werewolf King and frontman of the rock band Lycanthropia makes one hell of a macadamia nut cookie. And Nana loves to cook things that showcase her Greek heritage through cooking things such as: lahanodolmathes. (Ground beef and rice with eggs, dill, and onion rolled up in cabbage leaves; topped with avgolemono sauce—egg yolks, water, lemon juice, and corn starch—poured on right before they’re served.)           

That said, I'm going to share the Epilogue of SHATTERED CIRCLE below. It's Thanksgiving Dinner, and all the characters are there. Though the 'big-picture' situation is far from ideal and their struggles are far from over, they are trying to put all that aside, briefly, and enjoy a moment of family and togetherness.

Before that, though, let me say I hope you and yours are together for Thanksgiving.

** possible spoilers if you haven't read the whole series

Right after brunch late Thursday morning, Johnny showed up with a baby pterodactyl—he claimed it was just an enormous turkey, but I had my doubts.

Since my predawn soak in the tub yesterday had ended with me so sleepy that I couldn’t keep my eyes open, he had tucked me in and snuggled beside me—but he was gone when I awoke. He’d left me a note saying that he was having his son brought to Cleveland and he had to be there when the boy and his grandmother arrived.

I understood that, and my heart was a bit relieved that the grandmother and not the mother was coming with the boy. But it meant that we spent a day and a night apart, and we hadn’t gotten to talk.

We had so much to talk about.

I could tell by the glint in his eyes that he wanted to talk to me now, but Nana got her granny panties in a twist over that giant bird we had to roast. She began arguing with him about who was going to cook. I nearly left the room twice, but finally they settled their mock dispute—and then started debating whether or not it was possible to cook a partially frozen turkey.

The Internet confirmed it was safe and doable, but would add 50 percent more time to the already interminable five hours the twenty-three pounder would take. Once they had gauged the seven and a half hours and decided they needed to get that thing in the oven pronto, I asked if they were going to stuff it.

Bad move on my part.

Their lighthearted fight turned into some kind of Iron Chef stuffing challenge. When they began disagreeing on whether it was “dressing” or “stuffing,” I left.

As I climbed the steps to the second floor, I was confident that no matter what, our Thanksgiving dinner was going to be a scrumptious feast. I showered, then returned to my unmade bed and lay down wrapped in my towel. My whole body remained sore and I was at my limit of ibuprofen tabs. Admittedly, when Mountain had come to patch the hole in the floor yesterday, I shouldn’t have insisted on helping. I thought it would help work my muscles out of being tight and achy.

That hadn’t been the case.

My body was taxed to its limit by my meditation incident, and by the added strain of all that Menessos had done. When my eyes shut, my thoughts swirled around Beverley. My heart fretted over that “L” word, a boy, and where his mother might be. And my soul worried that Hades wasn’t done with me yet.


When everything in the kitchen was under control, Johnny inspected the damage to the house. 

Mountain had gotten everything patched or repaired except the old rotary phone. Its place on the wall was empty, the cords duct-taped into the hole in the wall.

Demeter dug out a tablecloth and hand washed it in the sink, then threw it in the dryer. While she was waiting on it, Johnny heard her talking to Eris on the phone.

It was clear that Eris was inviting herself and her son— Red’s half brother, Lance—to Thanksgiving dinner.

Demeter couldn’t exactly say no, even when she heard Lance’s protests in the background.

When the call ended, Demeter came to Johnny. “I take it your wolf ears heard that?”

“Yup. I’ll see what I can do about fixing the dinette table.”

“Me, you, and Persephone are three, Eris and Lance make five. Mountain and Zhan make seven. The big dining room set will seat twelve if we pull out all the leaves.”

“My son and his grandmother are coming.”

“That’s nine.”

“Gregor is driving them.”


“I invited Celia and Erik.”

“That’s twelve. Four wærewolves. No wonder you brought an ostrich to roast.”

“It’s just a big turkey. I swear.” Johnny sucked in a breath. “I also invited Menessos.”

She nodded approval, then abruptly waved him off.

“He won’t eat.”

“He will bring Beverley.”

Demeter’s face lit up with a grin.


By seven thirty, my world was locked in a blissful moment. I sat at the end of my big dining table and could see into the living room and the kitchen with a turn of my head.

Everyone I cared for most was here, in my home, with full bellies.

Johnny and Erik were laughing it up in the living room with Celia and Gregor close by. Nana and Toni— with Evan sitting close beside her, petting my dog, Ares—were on the couch chatting like old friends. In the kitchen, Menessos had a serious look on his face; he must have been briefing Mountain and Zhan. My mother and half brother were whispering at the far end of the table.

Beverley was on my lap and I had my arms wrapped around her.

Her dark hair had been cut into a bob and there was a new necklace around her throat. I had thought, at first, that it was a weave of ribbons, but I now recognized that it was strands of her deep brown hair woven with the paler walnut-brown strands from Menessos and also some blond, which I would guess was Risqué’s. Hair of a demon, or a half-demon, had to pack some power. . . . I was sure it was a means to help her control the power brimming inside her, but I couldn’t help remembering the shabbubitu’s words about Beverley being bound to the vampire. And Menessos was wearing a necklace of the same around his throat. 

Eris announced she was going out for a smoke, and Lance accompanied her into the garage.

“I missed you so much,” I whispered into Beverley’s ear and squeezed her tighter, pulling her head under my chin. “And I was so worried about you.”

She hugged me back. When she eased back into place, I saw her eyes were glassy with unshed tears. 

“What is it?” I asked.

“I’m just so scared . . . like my mom was. I’m scared of what I’ve become.”

“Oh, honey.” I smoothed her hair and kissed her forehead. “All this Lustrata stuff scares me, too.” I offered her my most reassuring smile. “But we will find a way. Together.”

Minutes later, she slipped away from me and went to stand with Menessos. She slipped her hand into his and whispered something to him.

Movement on the other side of me caught my attention.

Evan was slowly walking toward Johnny. Ares followed him. I got up and stepped to the doorway of the living room to watch. I’d been introduced to the boy, who was the spitting image of Johnny. He was polite, but there was an all-boy orneriness in his smile. Nana would probably have said he was full of piss and vinegar. But Ares clearly liked him, and that meant something to me.

Johnny wrapped his arm around the boy and gently pulled him closer. “Evan, did I tell you that Erik here is my very best friend?”

Evan shook his head. “No.”

I noticed that Erik had proudly squared his shoulders.

Beverley stepped up beside me and I felt Menessos at my back.

“Well, he is. We’ve been friends a long, long time. Who’s your best friend?”

Nana and Toni quieted, both listening.

Evan shrugged. His voice sounded small and dejected as he said, “I dunno. Gramma said we were moving here. I won’t get to see my friends anymore.”

Johnny’s smile diminished.

The joyful ambience of the room dropped into sadness.

“I’ll be your friend,” Beverley said, stepping into the living room.

Evan looked her up and down, and a slow smile came to his lips. “Really?”

In moments, they had decided to play. “Can I show him my room?” Beverley asked, facing me and Menessos.

“Yes,” we said in unison.

The kids hurried up the stairs.

It was remarkable, and I was reminded that in youth, friendship really is that simple.

Johnny came to the doorway and extended his hand to Menessos as a lopsided smile rounded his cheek. “Thanks for comin’, vamp.”

“Your invitation was an unanticipated show of charity, wolf.”

I grabbed their clasped hands in both of mine. I let them see in my eyes what this moment, what everyone together, but especially them, meant to me.

“It wasn’t charity,” he began, pausing briefly when we heard the garage door open and shut as Eris and Lance returned. “Sometimes blood and breeding aligns you with people you are glad to have in your life, and it’s easy to honor those bonds. Sometimes it’s the opposite.”

“Sometimes Fate aligns you with people you don’t want in your life,” Menessos added, the obvious question conveyed in his tone.

Between my hands, I felt Johnny’s grip tighten on Menessos.

“Sometimes we have to grow up and accept what Fate has in store for us, and put our faith in the alliances we are given.”

Thinking on my recent experiences, I whispered, “All Hell is about to break loose. Are we ready for this?”

“We all now know”—Menessos paused to make a poignant glance at the people in the living room, and give a nod to indicate the kiddos upstairs—“precisely what we are fighting for.” He added his free hand atop mine. Johnny put his free hand atop Menessos’s. With a wink at me, I knew he’d heard me earlier when his response was, “We will find a way. Together.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Chocolate Covered Vampires

Once upon a time, there was a trend in the romance community to write holiday novels/novellas that incorporated recipes submitted by fans.

Dear readers, it was like a literary Pillsbury Bake-Off. 
~rubs belly~ 

On Skills for Cooking scale, I'm somewhere between "burns water" (I've killed many a pan by forgetting I had water boiling on the stove) and Cottage Pie Princess (yes, I totally cheat). The recipes submitted by fans were amazing and ran the gamut from hors d'oeuvres to the perfect roast. Some of the books I purchased solely because I'd heard fans raving about specific recipes.

The one book that sticks in my memory quite fondly is Christine Feehan's DARK CELEBRATION, in which she included recipes from a "Dark Desserts Recipe" contest she'd run. For those of you unfamiliar with Feehan's "Dark" aka Carpathian series, it started off as a vampire-meets-fated-One Love series.

Vampires, desserts, and an excuse to revisit some of Feehan's best-written couples in a reunion book. Noms all around.