Category Archives: historical

So, about BEHIND THE IRON CROSS…

As part of “Let’s Make 2021 More Profitable,” I’ve been taking a good look at the books that don’t fit my usual subgenres of SF, fantasy, and paranormal romance. I’ve already split off the contemporary romance and romcoms to the Natasha M. Stark name, but that still leaves my *takes in a deep breath* poor redheaded stepchild of a historical BDSM menage romance Behind the Iron Cross out there twisting in the wind.

Unfortunately, Amazon listed it as erotica and I haven’t been able to convince them that yes, it really IS a romance with an HEA and everything. And despite being released during the centenary celebrations of the end of WWI it’s gone absolutely nowhere. A copy hasn’t been purchased on Smashwords or their assorted partners in over a year, and I’ve sold a grand total of 13 copies on Amazon in 2020.

The irony is, that book took me six years to write. I had to go to the British Library and study pre-WWII maps of Berlin. I bought books on the Weimar Republic and the economic and cultural effects it had on Germany. It’s still my longest book to date at 105,409 words (SHADOW OF THE SWAN is literally six words shorter at 105,403). And next to no one has read it, which gives me a sad because it’s a really, really cool story.

So I’ve decided to be proactive about it. I’ve pulled it from wide distribution and added it to Kindle Unlimited, in the hopes that fans of menage, BDSM, and historical romances will see the word count and say GIMME.

Publishing work, cats, and newsletters

Being an indie author isn’t all snacking on bon-bons and writing your heart out on your preferred choice of writing tech. You also have to do things like track your income, monitor your Amazon ads (I was doing absolutely splendidly up until yesterday, and then today––bubkes. I don’t know if it was because of the impeachment proceedings or not), write up and send out newsletters, study courses on how to promote your work more effectively, and a bunch of other paperwork things. Many years ago, Terry Pratchett once told me that only half of his day was actually taken up with writing––the other half was paperwork. Now I understand what he meant.

But at least the long-delayed newsletter with the links for Cross Current went out, plus I added info about King of Blades being up for a Swoon Award––

*sigh* I didn’t mention that here, did I? Yeah, KoB made it to the semi-finals in the Fantasy Romance category in the Swoonies, and if you’d like to vote for it you can do that here: bit.ly/3n6cYeh

I need a PA. Or the ability to go somewhere where five cats aren’t bugging me for attention.

Anyhoo, I also added a link to a survey in the newsletter so that people could tell me if they’re interested in my MM titles, my MF titles, or are willing to read it all. I’m trying to be more professional this year and target my newsletters more accurately so that people only get the info on titles that they want to read.

As for TCatB I haven’t hit word count yet for the day, but I’m hoping to get that done after dinner. I must say, it’s always nice when your Muse graces you with an infodump about your hero’s back story as she did this morning at 4:00 AM. So now it appears that I’m writing a book about a cheerfully pan Victorian vampiress who finds out she’s the mate of a big, hunky, virginal dragon shifter with amnesia.

I mean, yeah, there’s OTHER stuff in there, as well––the whole bit about finding a group of missing selkie girls who are being married against their will to wealthy merchants, for one. But Fee just can’t get over her craving for big, grumpy Callum Brown, professor of literature and dragon shifter who can’t remember anything from before the year 900 (when he was hit by lightning during a North Sea storm and a pod of selkies nursed him back to health. He’s been their protector ever since). Callum has waited almost a thousand years to find his mate, and now she’s finally walked into his life––except that Fyodora doesn’t DO lifelong commitments and refuses to be tied down.

I do like to complicate things. Now I just have to figure out how this is all going to work for them.

Writing During Tumultuous Times (or: Why I Didn’t Make Word Count Last Week)

As of today, I should have had 27,000 words done on The Crimson and the Black, well past the 1/4 mark and close to the 1/3 mark of the book. Instead, I currently have *checks Scrivener* 10,209 words.

But I have Reasons.

January 4th: made my word count early in the day, then turned off Scrivener and started cleaning up after my cat JJ who had been leaving little piles of foamy pink mucus all over the living room floor. As he is 19, this was understandably concerning. He refused to eat for the rest of the day, leaving one last pile near the kitchen before curling up in a spot next to the fireplace and behind a table where it’s quiet and peaceful. It’s where he goes when he’s sick, which wasn’t a good sign. I decided to take him to the emergency vet in the morning.

January 5th: Loaded a complaining JJ into the crate and hauled him into the emergency vet. They’d seen him way back in 2006 when he’d had a bladder blockage so they had records on him, and I waited in the parking lot for about two hours while they ran bloods and checked him over.

Their diagnosis: “He has an upset stomach. Everything looks normal except for his BUN, which is slightly elevated due to the vomiting. We’ve given him anti-nausea meds and B-12 to stimulate his appetite––bring him back in if he gets worse.” What really surprised me was the news that his kidneys were fine––his own vet had diagnosed him as a kidney deficient kitty about four years ago. Since he’s outlived the life expectancy for those cats by a year, clearly his kidneys did not agree with this. They also told me that he was a very, very good cat––the vet tech who brought him back out to the car adored him, which is his just due.

After taking him home, I headed back out to the store to get various delicacies with the hopes of tempting him to eat something, anything. Nothing worked––he wouldn’t even lick at anything, but he was drinking water and peeing so at least he was getting some fluids. By this point it was evening, I still had to come up with something for dinner, I was tired and worried about JJ, and I figured I would just write off the day and make up the word count the next day. Ho ho ho.

January 6th: As everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock knows by now, the U.S. Capitol was attacked and overrun on this day by a bunch of cosplaying MAGA idiots and a smaller group of far more competent seditionists after Pobrecheeto, along with some help from Rep. Mo Brooks and Junior, whipped them into a frenzy down at the Ellipse, then sent them off to the Capitol to stop the vote count. JJ was still not eating, and my attention for the day was torn between the news and my ailing cat. Writing? Surely you jest.

I finally got JJ to lick at a little bit of Gerber chicken baby food (his favorite snack) in the evening, but that was all he would eat. He curled up in his Sick Spot and went to sleep, while I stayed up to watch Congress confirm the electors’ votes in the middle of the night and give Joe Biden the win.

January 7th: Needless to say, I woke up late. Still torn between the news and JJ, I now had to run out to the pet food store to get some adult cat formula and see if I could get JJ to eat some of that. He wasn’t thrilled with it but I got him to lick some off his muzzle when I smeared it there. No other food would pass his lips, however, and I was really starting to get scared. I decided to get up at 8 AM, call his vet, and beg them to let me bring him in.

By now, I was frazzled, scared that I was about to lose my black velvet purrmonster to an upset stomach, of all things, and increasingly infuriated with what was happening in D.C. No, I didn’t write.

January 8th: After an absolutely horrible night of sleep, I got up and called the vet, leaving a message detailing the situation with JJ. I then waited up until they called back at 10 AM and said, “Bring him in––we’ll work him up between appointments.” (It helps that they love him, too.) So back into the crate JJ went and off we drove to the vet’s office. I dropped him off, came home, and crawled back into bed for a four hour nap.

After I woke up, I poked at the WIP for a bit in between checking the news. At 3:30 PM the vet called––they couldn’t find anything wrong with him, either, but they’d given him different anti-nausea meds, as well as an appetite stimulant and some Pepcid to reduce stomach acidity, and offered to send a banana bag (lactated Ringer’s solution that can be injected into a cat via subcutaneous IV) home with him as well. I knew how to give a cat sub-Q fluids so I took them up on it, and fetched JJ home. He walked into the house, went straight to the food bowl and began nomming down. He continued to eat periodically for the rest of the night, in between snoozes on his usual spot on the couch, and I got 1,676 words done on CatB.

January 9 – 10th: I’d really hoped to play catch-up over the weekend, but I also badly needed sleep after the events of the week, plus I still had to do the food shopping, laundry, and other household tasks, and JJ really wanted to spend a lot of time resting on my chest while I petted him. As a result I only got 733 words on Saturday and 773 words on Sunday, but at least I got something down.

January 11th: First day properly back at work, and I managed to tear myself away from the increasingly horrendous news coming out of D.C. long enough to get 3,055 words done, which gave me word count for the day but didn’t do bubkes about my deficit. This wasn’t helped by the fact that all of the other cats had noticed me giving JJ extra cuddles and deserved equal time. I still don’t know if they have a quota worked out among themselves or what, but I had a cat on my lap desk or in my arms for a total of three hours today. I timed it.

January 12th: I should make word count tonight, and I’m hoping to get to bed early and get a decent night’s sleep (not that easy with our utterly crappy mattress) so that I can get up early tomorrow and knock out 6K, which will start whittling down my deficit. The story is starting to pick up steam (I can hear the characters talking in my head when I’m writing dialogue, which is always a good sign), and I’m learning a lot more about Fyodora’s dragon shifter beau Callum Brown (I had no idea he was a professor of literature at the University of Edinburgh, for example), as well as Victorian casinos, the relationship between dragons and selkies, and what happens when a footloose and fancy free vampire finds herself unexpectedly mated to a gruff dragon shifter who prefers to be alone.

So anyway, that’s me. How are you all doing so far?

*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.

So, that’s done

After pretty much a solid week of glueing my butt to my chair (which is apparently the secret to literary success according to Stephen King, and he would know) I finished the first draft of Behind the Iron Cross today. It topped out at slightly over 107K, making it my longest book to date (and seeing as I thought it was going to finish at 90K, there may have been some tormented screams in Casa Cameron). Then again, it’s also a historical MMF moderately kinky romance set in Weimar Republic-era Berlin (think Cabaret period and you’ve got the right idea), so there was a LOT of territory to cover with my decommissioned Germany army colonel, my kinky American heiress, and her gay best friend/fiancé who’s marrying her to stay in his father’s will and help her get ahead in her uncle’s company.

Yeah, it’s complicated.

But the funny thing is, I went back on a whim today and checked creation dates. According to the original Word file I first started Iron Cross in April 2012, which was a good five months before I sold my short story “Tied With a Bow” to Evernight for their Vanilla-Free Christmas: Manlove Edition antho and got my romance writing career underway. Which means that Iron Cross is actually my first romance novel, but will be the tenth one I’ve published.

That’s actually good because I had a lot to learn about plot, pacing, and characterization when it came to writing romance in long form. I’m honest enough to admit that I simply didn’t have the required skills in 2012 to do this story justice. As it is, there’s going to be a metric buttload of editing required to get this puppy into shape, mainly because I’ve spent the last six years picking at it before deciding to nail my butt to a chair and get it done. I’m kinda excited about editing it into readable shape (and lord, my editor has been chomping at the bit to read this for years so she’s one happy gal), but I also need to take a couple of days off and let my brain cool down from a week of 4-6K days straight. Yow.

The other nice thing about finishing Iron Cross is that I can now get started on King of Blades, Book Four in the Two Thrones series. As much fun as it was to be mentally living in 1925 Berlin, I’m also kinda looking forward to getting out of there and back to Ypres and Hellas. After that, I really want to do another romcom–yes, somehow To My Muse has turned itself into my fifth series and I have three books planned for it, all set around Lily and Tom’s friends in LA.

And yes, Theresa gets her own romance. With a Swiss Guard, no less. That’s gonna be fun.