*lifts storm shelter door, peers out*

So, the last time I spoke with y’all, it was August 18th and I thought I was on the downhill slope for Shadow of the Swan. The book was supposed to be 80,000 words or so, and I had just crossed the 60K line so I figured (quite logically at the time) that if I spent the next five days doing 4-5,000 words a day I could be done and dusted by 8/23/20. That would give me a few days to get it cleaned up before I sent it off to my editor and betas. Since I didn’t have to have the final version uploaded to Amazon until 9/4/20, I had plenty of time.

Ha. Ha ha ha. Hahahahahahahahahahaha*SOB*

Yeah, no. For one thing, I felt like absolute crap on the 19th and 20th, so no wordage was achieved. By the time Friday the 21st rolled around, I knew I had lost valuable time and had to make it up with minimum 5K days. But Friday through Monday would do it, right?

Well, it would have if the book had stayed 80,000 words long. But as I got stuck in, I quickly realized two things:

One, my word count included chapter synopses that I stuck in months ago to tell myself what was supposed to happen in each chapter. As I deleted these and replaced them with actual story, I wound up losing anywhere from 500 to 1,500 words. So even though I physically wrote 5,000 words a day, I only wound up with 3,500 – 4,500 words in the end, which meant that I had to write even more to hit my 5K word quota.

Two, this book was not going to be 80K long. When I hit the 80K mark on Monday, August 24th, I still had the climax of Act II to write and all of Act III. Many, many bad words were said at that point.

So I kept on keeping on. Wrote 5K+ day after day, and watched in helpless terror as my characters got themselves into deeper and more complex trouble, and wondered how the actual fuck I was going to resolve all this. By Friday, August 28th, I still had three chapters to go and less than a week now before I had to upload the final version.

I don’t remember much of Saturday, August 29th. I do know that it was a personal best when it came to output because I wrote 8,672 words that day. (And in case anyone is wondering, yes, I got up to take regular walking breaks on the treadmill, stayed hydrated, and did everything I could to keep moving and avoid deep vein thrombosis. I was frantic, not foolish.) I wrote until 5 AM, when I finally added Louisa’s last words in the last chapter, then I checked my total word count.

106,620 words. I wrote 40,839 words over eight days. The old fashioned way, with my fingers on a keyboard. I was honestly shocked that my brain wasn’t leaking out my ears by that point.

I slept until noon, got up and frantically edited, then sent it out that evening to my editor and betas with abject apologies that they were getting, in effect, version 1.5. I immediately turned around and went back to work on a full edit. Is this recommended? No. Is this something I could handle? Yes.

In the end (and I attribute this to experience gained over twenty-five years of professional writing along with a healthy dollop of naked, abject fear) I had somehow managed to write a fairly clean, coherent draft that only needed tweaks here and there to fill the occasional plot hole. I still don’t know how I managed that. My editor, bless her angelic heart, sent me changes live as she went through the book, which helped immensely. My betas both turned it around in record time and got me their lists of grammar, spelling, and punctuation goofs. A very kind reviewer friend who got an ARC sent me a handful of missed goofs and a couple of plot points that needed a bit more work, so I was able to get those incorporated, as well.

By 9/2/20, I had a reader-ready edition. I spent Thursday formatting it, giving it one last review and polish, then uploaded it and the cover to Amazon for release on 9/8/20. So here it is, the day before release (and Labor Day as well), and my stomach is in knots because this is my first new release since November 2018 and I just want people to like it.

So, that’s where Shadow of the Swan currently stands. I now need to finish re-editing and formatting Deep Water and get that out, then go back to work on King of Blades. Because the best thing you can do when you finish a book is start writing the next one.

Although I may indulge in a rum and coke. I think I earned it.

At the top of the hill, heading down

So this is deadline week where I want to get the book finished by Saturday, which will require 5K days from today through Friday. Mind you, I can DO that. It’s not pleasant, but it’s doable.

It helps that as of last night I cracked 60K, which means I have about 20K left to go. This is all the exciting stuff in the story, which will make the 5K/day slog a little easier. I’ve had Louisa meet the Swan King (and he’s as creepy as advertised), she and Henry have had an argument, Henry’s off to play supernatural squash with his partner in order to blow off some steam, and Louisa, the housekeeper, her female lover (and one of the most powerful sorceresses in London) and Henry’s Maker Fyodora are about to settle in for a Victorian version of a Girl’s Night In. Yes, I know women from different classes wouldn’t usually mingle like this, but 1) this is a very special situation, 2) Louisa really needs some expert female advice right now, and 3) it’s a fantasy so my world, my rules.

Now if Jeremy would just stop whining and wandering around the house looking for a sister to harass, that would make things absolutely perfect.

Speeding along nicely, thank you

Sorry for the extended radio silence but I have been flying, people. I’m currently at 53,380 words on Shadow of the Swan and intend to top that off at 54,000 by the time I’m finished today, leaving 26,000 to go. Easy peasy.

The goal right now is as follows:

  • Have the first draft done and dusted by 8/21.
  • A quick edit done over the weekend to fix things I know need to be fixed but don’t want to spend time on right now.
  • Off to the betas and editor on 8/24 while I dive in for a deeper edit. I rely on the betas to find any grammar/punctuation/spelling errors, plus anything that doesn’t make sense to them, and the editor does a high-level pass to make sure the story flows well from beginning to end.
  • Ideally I’ll get all of their edits back in 8/28. While I’m waiting on that I’ll do a weasel word pass, a grammar/spelling/punctuation pass, and a fine polish.
  • When all the edits arrive, I’ll get everything incorporated, polished to a shine, and formatted into ebook form by 9/2.
  • 9/3 I read it through as a reader would, catch any last infelicities and fix them.
  • 9/4, I upload to Amazon for the 9/8 release.

I genuinely can’t wait for all of you to read this — I’ve been describing it as the Brendan Frasier-era The Mummy meets Bram Stoker’s Dracula with a touch of Carnival Row, and it’s an absolutely wonderful romp. I so very much enjoy writing in this world, and if people like it and buy enough books I may even get to write another book set in it. Let’s hope!

In other news, I got the rights back for Deep Water so that will be edited over the weekend, formatted, and released as soon as the Evernight ebooks are down from all online retailers. I’ll probably work on the print book after I send Swan off to the betas and editor on the 24th.

Even better, this means that I can finally start releasing the new books in the Olympic Cove series so you can expect to see Cross Current (Book 4) out in December, and the remaining two books sometime in 2021. Yay!

Frogging successfully completed

The weather has cooperated with me for the last two days, allowing me to sit out on the patio and work without the J Crew demanding my attention. As a result, the first eight chapters (out of a projected total of 21) of Shadow of the Swan have now been retrofitted with the new plot.

I have to say, it flows SO much better this way, so clearly this was the right thing to do and I feel like I’m finally, finally on the right track. This revision also meant I got to add in Miss Pandora Philips, the granddaughter of a ministry official, in a place where she really needed to go and in a manner that endeared her to Louisa. I swear, this cast is growing on me SO much.

Still not turning it into a series, though, nope, no way, uh-uh … at least not until I get the Olympic Cove series finished, which should be sometime next year.

Speaking of the cove and its delightful denizens, I’m plowing ahead on the revisions for Deep Water (as I realized over last weekend that, no, my schedule was wrong, I can request the rights back next Monday instead of in December. D’oh), and I’ll get the cover done for that sometime this weekend. The graphic is left is pretty much the finished cover — I still need to do a few tweaks, make the text stand out a bit more against the background, but all in all I really like it. And since it’s the first of the OC books with an MMF (technically MFF if you include the original trio) menage, I figured I’d go with a feminine eye on the cover.

Believe it or not, I’ve also been plugging slowly away on Cross Current (OC 4), so if I can get a move on with that once Swan, King of Blades, and Uncertainty Principle are out, I should be able to have it ready by January, and the last other OC books (Landlocked and Undertow, respectively) fairly soon after that.

Then I’m done with my first series, and hopefully that will convince people who prefer to wait until a series is completely finished to buy it will do just that. Man, that sentence looks weird, but you know what I mean. After that, if Swan has enough buyers and interest, I’ll see about doing a sequel.

Day Drinking Is Starting To Look More Attractive

So, I reached the mid-point in Shadow of the Swan. Huzzah, I’m happy, it’s all down hill from here, right?

And then I sat down to write the sales copy for the book, with a goal of releasing it on September 8. In doing so, I realized I had screwed up oh so majorly by adding a character who wasn’t necessary at all. In fact, this character actively annoyed me, which explained why my output had slowed down over June and July. Really, I should have been zipping along in the story, but knowing that I had to deal with this character was like a sea anchor that just draaaaaaaaaaaagged everything down.

(The character? The nice but slightly dim nobleman that Louisa is supposed to marry by order of Queen Victoria. I really didn’t like him, poor soul.)

And that’s when it dawned on me — Louisa is in mortal danger of being grabbed and taken off to Faerie by a deadly Fae king. Her uncle knows damn well that his niece isn’t interesting in marrying and popping out ANYONE’S kids, much less a deadly Fae king’s, but the only way to save her from this fate, ironically, is to marry her off to someone else first. The logical solution to this problem would be for her to marry someone 1) who also works for the Ministry and understands the situation, 2) is a powerful entity himself, 3) doesn’t want children, and 4) will disappear from public view fairly soon, leaving Louisa a respectable “widow” who can marry again should she choose to do so.

1+2+3+4 = Henry Carstairs, gentleman vampire. Which means I am now going through the chapters in Act I and retrofitting them to this new storyline. It also allows me to introduce another, very necessary, character earlier, which is good for the plot. All of this rewriting will result in a much better story, but this is also the third time I’ve frogged Act I of this book and restarted it. Here’s hoping the damn thing runs on rails now.

Wait, where did July go?

Man, this month flew by. I don’t know if it’s the quarantine messing with my time sense or what, but in some ways this year is going faster than usual, and in others it’s dragging.

I didn’t work on Swan for the last three days because, well, Tuesday was my birthday, I spent most of Wednesday having a health televisit and working on a massive triple lemon layer cake as a belated birthday cake for Ramón and myself (and oh, it was lush — homemade lemon curd filling, lemon Genoise sponge, and lemon buttercream icing. My sponges rose! Since this is the first time I ever made a Genoise sponge, I lay all thanks at the feet of GBBO for teaching me the secrets of how to make one properly), and yesterday … hell, I don’t know what happened yesterday. I had to go out and hit multiple stores, and by the time I got back and disinfected everything I was tired and still had to make dinner.

But today, I have visited the vampires for my mid-year oil change, and as soon as Ramón finishes his lunch and heads back upstairs (he’s watching anime right now, which means I have my headphones on with Florence + the Machine) I’m opening the WIP and getting down to work. Knowing that I’m halfway through the book is a great feeling because everything’s pretty much downhill from here. Once that’s done, I return to King of Blades and get THAT puppy done, tra la.

Well, that could have gone better

So yesterday was my birthday, and while I wasn’t expecting fireworks and a marching band due to COVID, I did think we’d have a nice day with a nice cake and a nice dinner.

The day started out with Ramón presenting me with my present, a set of bread lames for cutting slits in bread loaves before baking so that they don’t rip. I was delighted and kissed him thoroughly, then got up and ran out to get the makings for a really great lemon cake with homemade lemon curd between the layers. Upon my return home I disinfected everything and showered as usual, at which point I saw a text message that a bouquet of flowers had been delivered and should be retrieved from the doorstep. I didn’t see any flowers on the way in, but I went out and double-checked the porch anyway. No flowers. Huh.

I then checked the text message a little closer and saw that the flowers had been delivered about five miles away to an address very similar to mine (same street number, slightly different street name). Since we get mail for these people at least three times a year, I wasn’t surprised but was somewhat miffed as I knew my sister was the one who sent the flowers. I replied with a text saying, “Yeah, you delivered them to the wrong address” in the hopes that the mistake would be rectified.

And then I got a second text message — from the people at this other address. Apparently my phone number was on the message tag and they pinged me to say, “Yeah, we have your flowers, wanna come pick them up?” Oooookay. So I got dressed in my second set of clothing and mask for the day and headed out … only to realize as I pulled up in front of their house that 1) I have no idea what the viral load in their house is, and 2) I cannot disinfect a bouquet. Shit. I pulled my phone back out and told them to keep the bouquet with my compliments, then went home, whereupon I put the SECOND set of clothes and mask into the wash and cleaned up again.

By this point my knee had started complaining about the humidity, the amount of movement I have been engaging in, and to be quite frank my PMS kicked in with a vengeance. As I strongly suspected I would throw cake pans through the kitchen window at this point, I said “Fuck it” to making the cake, with plans to make it the next day.

At which point my sister called to find out what I thought about the bouquet. I explained the contretemps and thanked her for her thoughtfulness (it had balloons and everything, wah!), and she agreed that I should have left the bouquet with the other people since there was no way to bring it in safely. We had a nice chat and made tentative plans to get together in March or April next year.

By now my PMS had gotten worse, plus I was feeling hot and really tired. I slogged through making chicken Alfredo, wondering at the monster chicken breasts I wound up getting from Kroger. With dinner finished, I realized I wasn’t hungry at all and went upstairs to take a nap. Woke up at 9:30 PM feeling moderately better, as well as moderately hungry.

The Alfredo was not a culinary triumph. The chicken breasts turned out to be stringy and unpleasant-tasting, and I stopped eating after half a bowl, throwing out the rest of it. I’ve clearly been spoiled, getting chicken and other meat from a local butcher, but this meal confirms that getting our meat from there was a good choice. Consoling myself with a PB&J, I watched a couple of episodes of GBBO until bedtime, tossed and turned until 3 AM, got up to watch some Jack Whitehouse comedy specials, then went back to bed.

So, yeah, not the greatest of birthdays. But to be honest it’s hardly the worst, either. A couple of minor annoyances, unpleasant chicken, and a hormone storm, no biggie. And I did get a nifty set of bread lames, a pretty birthday bouquet (at a distance), and a slew of best wishes from people on social media, so that made the day great.

Another Snippet from SHADOW OF THE SWAN

Phoo. Hit 3,000 words today and celebrated with a lovely swim. In celebration of both events, I thought I’d post this bit from Shadow of the Swan.


The evening air was warm on Louisa’s skin as she stepped barefoot through the garden, masses of jasmine and roses giving their perfume to a gentle breeze. Underneath her feet, the paving stones retained enough of the heat of the day to feel pleasant against her soles, the slight roughness of the ancient stones giving her a sense of security. She walked between two vine-entwined stelae and into a large courtyard with a similarly-sized pool at its center. The water was dark, reflecting the first stars that had already come out, and enticed her with its promise of cool relief.
She walked to the edge of the pool and stepped in. It was only ankle-deep at that part, but quickly grew deeper as the bottom descended away from her in a steep decline. Soon she was floating, her nightgown slowly rising around her like a cotton halo.

Its weight was distracting, so she slipped the garment over her head and threw it to one side. Unencumbered, she moved into the center of the pool, letting the water buoy her as she swam slowly. Oh, how she’d dreamed of doing just this, going out to the pool in the night when everything was peaceful and swimming back and forth, letting the water wash away the cares of the day. And now she could do it, because…

…because…

Of course. She was promised to someone, the hero she had always yearned for, who would fulfill all of her dreams, even the ones she couldn’t admit to herself. And now she was waiting for him to come and claim her as he’d promised.

No.

Yes, it was so simple. He would come to the pool’s edge and hold out his arms, and she would rise from the water’s embrace to one even more wonderful. She could see him standing between the stelae now, a dark shape against the darker greenery of the garden. My king, my promised one. Take me.

No, Louisa.

She shook her head against the whisper, different from the waiting form but just as attractive, as luring. “I have to. He’s waiting for me.”

As am I. Another form appeared, shadowed against the deep violet of the sky as it stood at the end of the pool where she had entered. A pale shirt flashed like a ghost as it was stripped off and tossed to the side, just as she had discarded her nightgown. The form bent, and she knew he was removing his boots and trousers, depositing them next to the shirt.

She couldn’t see details, much to her disappointment, but knew he was now nude as he stepped into the pool, swimming towards her once he was deep enough with a steady stroke. When he was close enough to touch, a hand cupped her cheek, shockingly cool against the soft heat of the water and the air.

“Louisa.” It was half whisper, half prayer. The hair at the nape of her neck rose up, and her breasts began to ache in the strangest way, even as muscles lower down tightened of their own accord. She sank slightly in the water, her breath trickling out in a shuddered sigh.

When those cool arms slid around her, she raised her face for his kiss. His lips were a balm against the warm air, softening under the bristle of a short mustache as they settled on her own. She had kissed a few young men before, Jayan among them, but none of those brief, messy encounters were like this. It was a new language, a sweet, hungry poetry that spoke to her heart as their lips met, clung, and danced with each other.

He pulled away before she was ready, allowing her to take in a necessary breath, then returned to claim what was already his. This time the very tip of his tongue teased along the seam of her mouth, tickling a bit but also causing those lower muscles to contract again.

It seemed only right to open her mouth. With exquisite delicacy he licked the inside flesh of her upper lip. It was as if a firework had gone off inside her, the feeling was so shockingly good. She pressed against him, searching for more of it. He indulged her, his tongue playing against hers in a kind of dance that made her yearn for more of something she couldn’t name.

His arms were reassuringly strong, and pressed her closely against him now. She could feel the lazy kicking of his legs as he kept both of their heads above water, and the flat, muscular pads of his chest boasted a now-damp fur that tickled her skin deliciously. One of his hands dropped lower, coming to rest on her bottom. He squeezed.

She gasped and giggled at the same time, forcing their lips to part. “What are you doing?”

“Fondling you.” Another squeeze, not hard but as if he appreciated the roundness of her bottom. “What luscious curves you have, my dear.” He let go, his hand reversing course and easing up between their bodies until the curve of his thumb and forefinger came to rest against the underside of her breast. “A beautiful woman in every way.”

The words sent a small, secret thrill through her. She had grown so used to thinking of herself as a spinster academic, valued more for her brain and her neat hand than her looks, that being called beautiful was intoxicating.

“Kiss me again.”

“With pleasure.”

Why I Wrote It: Lady of Thorns

This is the third blog post where I 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.

Lady of Thorns — moving away from my royal couple

Once I accepted the fact that my Two Thrones series was 1) established and 2) popular, I had to come up with a third book in the series. I could have thrown yet more drama at Danaë and Matthias, of course, but I couldn’t stop thinking of Lady Amelie de Clerq, the brave, stubborn Terra mage who stopped her sister Sibeal from being married to a boorish nobleman in Palace of Scoundrels. I figured I’d give her a book and see what she did with it.

This is where I get to illustrate that what you initially plot out doesn’t necessarily turn out to be what you write. I had originally decided to have Lady Amelie’s romantic partner be Prince Marcus of Illium, since they’d flirted in Palace. He was going to show up at her estate and ask for sanctuary, which would have caused all kinds of problems with both the king, the rulers of Illium, and her mother.

And then I remembered that interesting lawyer character Alain LaPorte, who was already familiar with the situation in Lierdhe. In my head, I’d already mentally cast Michelle Dockery in full Lady Mary mode as Amelie, so I was going to need an equally strong character to be her match.

When it hit me,  I started laughing so hard I knew I had to make this happen. And so Amelie wound up being wooed and won by this universe’s equivalent of Alan Shore (I mean, come on — picture Michelle Dockery and James Spader circling each other in full predator mode, sarcastic banter turned up to 11. It was brilliant). Once I had my main characters down, the story started flowing. This was also the book where I decided to begin an arc for the series where a threat is growing offscreen and four mages will need to come together and fight it. Danaë and Amelie will be two of those mages, and I’m toying with stories for the other two.

I also decided to take a closer look at Amelie’s life and motivations. At this point she’s tired of being used as a pawn in her mother’s machinations, and she’s very tired of men wanting to marry her only for her money and position. That being said, she also realizes that she does have to get married and provide heirs for the province. In her heart of hearts she wants someone who loves her for herself, and she also needs to learn how to love herself. Because Lierdhe is open-minded when it comes to sex, she decides to find someone to teach her how to be a dynamo in bed, and get in a few orgasms along the way. Alain strikes her as a good choice for the role of bedroom tutor, but neither of them expect their emotions to get in the way, muwahahahaha. In the midst of all this, Amelie also has to keep her province functioning after a drought (which brings in a whole new conflict from Maman’ past), fend off Maman’s renewed attempts to get her married off, and save her estate and the land around it from a wildfire. I am nothing if not a pain in the ass when it comes to throwing the kitchen sink at my characters.

On a personal level, writing Lady of Thorns was not only a lot of fun, it was also cathartic in a number of ways. Much like Amelie, I was the gawky older sister who didn’t feel like she was attractive or fit in anywhere, so there may have been a little bit of wish fulfillment in not only giving her a hell of a good romance, but an opportunity to really show off her Terra mage chops. As for the big wildfire scene, when I was writing Lady California was going through that really bad batch of wildfires, so I took a lot of inspiration from the amazing men and women who fought those blazes.

So that’s how Lady of Thorns came to be. Next time, I’ll talk about my venture into dystopian SF romance Degree of Resistance and the numerous enablers who came together to make that book a reality.

Friday in the Life of a Writer

Just in case you think my life is all eating bon-bons while I lounge around on my chaise, tapping out deliciously hot romances while Ramón massages my feet…

Yeah, no.

I didn’t get to bed until 2 AM last night so I woke up at 10 AM. After taking a bio-break, I scrubbed the upstairs toilet, scooped the litter box in there and swept up stray litter, took my supplements, and did other grooming things to make myself presentable.

Came downstairs to make sure that Cheetolini didn’t try to sell Florida or hawk drinkable bleach while I was asleep, then got started on Week Three of a Indie Publishing 101 course I’m taking to improve my publishing game. This required watching about 20 minutes of video, then completing an assignment (taking pictures of a title page, chapter header, and body page) that I liked, inserting them into a Word document, and sending it off to the instructor.

That done, I got up and swept the kitchen, dining room, and library (Ramón empties the litter boxes down here but litter gets everywhere), then scrubbed the downstairs toilet and swept the bathroom. At that point I remembered that I needed to send a chapter of Shadow of the Swan in to my writers group for critique as promised, so I spent about a half hour cleaning that up, popping it into a Word document and sending it off.

Immediately after that, the 18-year-old cat demanded a cuddle so I provided one, stroking his head and telling him he was a good boy (he’s now at the point where I will drop what I’m doing and cuddle him when he asks for it, since I don’t know for how much longer I’ll have him). After he got tired of being cuddled and wandered off to his spot, Ramón came down with his passport and asked me to take a picture of it so that he would have a record of it before he sends it back to England for renewal.

You may notice in all of this that the consumption of food has not been mentioned once. I realized after taking the picture that, hmm, food might be a good idea, so I put together a plate of leftover green beans and sweet potato fries, slices of smoked kielbasa and cheddar cheese, and a dollop of mayo for flavor. Scarfed that, drank a glass of Metamucil (because being regular is important), then loaded and started the dishwasher.

Which brings me to 3:10 PM, when I’m actually about to get started on writing. I’ve gotten to the first love scene of the book, FINALLY, and I can only hope that the cats leave me alone long enough to finish this with at least a dollop of sensuality and erotic tension.