Why I Wrote It: Empress of Storms
Hey folks! I’m starting a new weekly post here on the blog where I’m going to do a deep dive into the backstory of each of my books. Why, you may ask? Well, because the beautiful and talented Liana Brooks made the following brilliant comment: “Being an author is being in a fandom of one. The whole point of writing the book and publishing is getting more people in your fandom.” I want to get you all excited about my imaginary friends and interested in plating with them, so I’m going to explain how exactly they wound up on the page.
Empress of Storms — The Book That Was Written On a Bet
Set the Wayback Machine for September 2015, Sherman. That was when I decided to write Empress of Storms after a certain michigas in Romancelandia caused a writer to throw out a challenge on social media for authors to write an 80,000 word novel, get it edited, have a professional cover made for it, get it formatted, and put it up for sale in six months. For reasons I still don’t understand, I replied, “I’ll do it in six weeks.”
I promptly realized that I’d hoisted myself on my own petard because writing this book meant that I would have to come up with a plot that wasn’t associated with any of my Evernight Publishing series, as it had to be independently published. Frantically rummaging through my idea folder for inspiration, I found a 3,000 word story fragment I’d written after watching Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers back in 2002. Why it had remained a fragment was threefold: I don’t write high fantasy, I certainly didn’t read it, and I wasn’t aware at the time that there was such a thing as fantasy romance. The only reason why I’d written this snippet in the first place was because I thought Bernard Hill was hot as King Theoden, which had prompted an amusing little fantasy about a widowed king who had to wind up marrying and bedding a much younger queen for, ahem, Reasons (hey, one of the nice things about being a romance writer is that you can monetize your celebrity crushes).
Anyway, the fragment had been languishing in my idea folder since 2002. Now, however, I had a goal and a hard deadline. Better yet, I knew all about fantasy romance and could turn this into a decent plot. Thus began one of the most insane six weeks of my life, where I was running on multiple tracks in order to win the bet. On the writing track, I freely admit that I dug out an old elemental-based magic system from my college D&D days, draped fantasy drag over Belgium and Greeze, and threw caution to the wind as I nailed my ass to a chair every single day until I made my word quota of 2,667 words minimum. I’d calculated that I would have 80K at the end of four weeks plus the original 3K story kernel (this, by the way, was the baptism by fire that taught me how to write fast). Despite coming down with a sinus infection, I managed to finish the book within time limits.
On the editing track, well, you know how veteran writers tell you to put a newly finished novel away and not even look at it for a month so that you can come back to it with a fresh, critical eye for editing? Yeah, didn’t have time for that. So I did a super fast second edit and recruited the amazing Michelle Muenzler for actual editing while the sainted Ceit Kelly, Peter White, Lisa Trainor-diNorcia, and Cecilia Tan acted as betas. Michelle has an eagle eye and is ruthless when it comes to editing, which is exactly what I needed. She not only did an amazing job but got the edited MS back to me within a week, as did my beloved betas. That last week, I frantically added in their edits and recommendations, put the MS through a spelling edit, a weasel word edit, and a final polish. As you can guess, I didn’t sleep much during that time.
On the cover art track, I was extremely lucky that the lovely and talented Jay Aheer had some spare time and could fit me into her schedule. She emailed me after I asked her to do the cover and said, “I know you wanted Danaë and Matthias on the cover, but I found this absolutely amazing picture that I’d like to use instead.” She sent me the picture — after I stopped squeeing, I emailed her and said go for it. After some tweaking, she sent me the final cover file plus promotional materials, and I had never felt more blessed.
On the production track, well, this is where I lost time to that damned sinus infection. A few days before the deadline I literally couldn’t sit up for more than a few minutes at a time and finally had to go begging for antibiotics. Luckily for me, my doctor was totally booked so we wound up going to a fancy new urgent care place where the introduced me to the concept of a steroid shot in addition to the antibiotics. Hoo boy. I don’t know exactly what was in that syringe other than it was a two part formula where the first part would kick in immediately and the second part would be time-release over the next twelve hours, but I felt GREAT. Went home and spent the next twelve hours formatting the final version of MS in Scrivener, then generated the files that would form my very first independently published novel.
On November 5th, I uploaded Empress to Amazon and Smashwords, then got stuck into doing promo for the book. To be honest I didn’t expect much — it was an indie publication, I didn’t have a house behind me helping with promotion, it was fantasy romance, God help me, and I didn’t DO fantasy romance, plus it was also my first MF romance so I couldn’t even count on my MM fans buying the book. I figured I won the bet — if I made enough money back to pay for the cover art, that would be icing on the cake.
And the first two months were indeed a bit blah. At that point we were having a bit of a financial crisis on the home front so I didn’t really pay much attention to my sales until January, when I sold 466 copies of Empress on Amazon. The next month, I sold 884 copies. To say I was boggled is an understatement. And of course that’s when people started asking, “So, where’s the next book in the series coming out?”
Series? Cue Nicola’s unintelligible gargling as she tried to come out with a polite way to say, “This is a one-off, I’m not writing a sequel, it was written on a BET, are you crazy?” But then I sold 1,126 copies the next month and thought, “…ya know, I’m a creative person. I can do more with this world.” Why, yes, the money may have had something to do with it — I have bills to pay, after all, and the beloved was unemployed at the time. But it also dawned on me that if enough people liked this book enough to buy it, they might want to read about the continuing adventures of Danaë and Matthias. Plus I thought it would be fun and kinda interesting to create a fantasy world that wasn’t a direct riff on Tolkien and included LGBT+ and POC characters.
Oh, I was a sweet summer child, wasn’t I? But that story will have to wait for the next installment when I talk about Palace of Scoundrels and how I apparently walked right past Rory McCann in a hotel hallway in San Antonio (I could kick myself now, I really could).