Category Archives: Writing

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?

So, it’s 2021

I know it’s expected to come up with a list of resolutions, diet plans, and goals at this time of year, but to be honest I hate resolutions, diets bore me, and I already came up with my goals for 2021 back in November.

Goal #1: Improve my indie publishing sales

The trick here is twofold — write and publish more good books steadily, and get really, really good at promotion. Which includes Amazon ads for me (I don’t have a great deal of luck with FB ads but I’m studying up on them), as well as social media promotion, regular blogging here, biweekly newsletters, and tools such as BookBub, BookFunnel, and BookSprout.

On the book-writing front, I managed to get a novel or novella out each month in the last half of 2020, which almost completely cleared off my WIP backlog. I won’t be able to keep that up in 2021, at least not if I want to maintain my current level of quality, but the goal is to release six books, once every two months, and put out a novella or short story in between the book releases. That, I feel, is manageable, and should result in twelve titles being released in 2021.

On the promotion front, my Amazon ad game is definitely improving — I’ve been making more sales and my Advertising cost of sales is dropping steadily, which is also good. That being said, I’ve decided to blow away all the old ads and start fresh in January by implementing the things I’ve learned about Amazon ads and doing A/B testing. It’ll take some time for the algos to pick up on that and start bumping the books up, but from a long-term perspective I think it’s the best thing I can do. Still need to do some more research on FB, but I may dip my toes back in that pool sometime in February.

Goal #2: Make mo’ money

This is partially tied into Goal #1 since that’s one of my main income streams. What with the emotional and financial rollercoaster of the last four years, I’m tired. Last year I had determined to clear off all of our outstanding bills with my contract job, and before COVID got me furloughed I was able to clear all bills except one. I want to expand on that this year, plus I want savings, I want to be able to invest in the stock market, and I want Ramón to be able to retire in 2024. And the only way to make that happen is to bring in more money.

I have three income streams at the moment — indie publishing, contract tech writing work, and jewelry making. At the moment the contract work pays the most, but it’s also on hold due to COVID. I would very much like to get to the point where I make enough money from indie publishing that I don’t have to rely on contract work unless the job really appeals to me.

And believe it or not, before last year I made pretty much the same amount from jewelry making as I did from indie publishing (mainly due to my work in sterling silver and semi-precious stones). Publishing has now pulled ahead of the jewelry, but I’d like to get back to designing and creating jewelry this year. It’s fun, it’s a nice break from writing, and it’s become part of my writing process (I mull over story ideas and plotting when I’m melting silver and soldering findings together). Also, people have been asking when I’m going to put more baroque earrings on my Etsy page. It’s nice to have fans.

Goal #3: Continue working on my shitty knees

At least I now know exactly what’s wrong with both of them, and I have PT exercises that do help. But that little chat with the PA at Baylor confirmed that I’m never going to actually straighten out either knee unless I get replacements, and the Baylor surgeon did not seem willing to do that.

Which means I will continue to limp for the foreseeable future, until 1) I can find a surgeon willing to replace ShitKnee at the very least, and 2) save up the money for that, as my PT sessions drained all the money I’d saved for surgery from last year. God, I hate the American medical insurance system.

Now, I just have to implement all of these goals. I’d gotten off to a great start on 1/4 after my break, but yesterday was taken up with hauling JJ to the emergency vet because he’d been vomiting up pinkish foam (after an exam and bloodwork to the tune of $611, the determination — he had an upset tummy) and today I’m running around trying to tempt JJ to eat with soft treats and easily digestible things and Jeremy is making an absolute ass of himself trying to get in my way. Need to catch up with word count, monitor the pending Senate race in Georgia (come on, Jon!), and brave the outside world later on for a food shop.

Onward, 2021.

Remember that holiday romance I kept telling you about?

Yeah, well, it’s out. BUT — since it’s a contemporary romance, I’ve released it under the Natasha M. Stark name (it’s a marketing decision — people who liked To My Muse and Grading the Curve don’t necessarily want to read my SF/fantasy/paranormal romance, so I’m giving them their own pseud for my contemporary romance).

One Sweet Christmas is the tale of jaded PA Rose Shaffer who does NOT believe in Hallmark moments or small town romance, thank you very much. After her Chicago socialite employer dies, she gets an offer of a free room for a month in LA while she looks for work in the Land of Personal Assistants. On her way there, however, her car breaks down near the ski town of Crystal Mountain, CO, where she meets Eric Kaufman, Hot Baker and former contestant on Let’s Bake, America! (at least, until he wound up punching the male judge and storming off the show).

Eric’s been asked to make a wedding cake for an IG influencer on short notice. When his assistant breaks both arms in a skiing accident, Rose gets roped in to help Eric finish the cake. Needless to say, hijinks ensue after that, and a ridiculously cute niece, a crafty dad, and a somewhat plaster-covered assistant baker add to the fun. (As my editor said, “Damn you, I couldn’t put it down!”)

This, by the way, is going to be the highlight of my week since Ramón and I are doing the reasonable thing and staying home for Thanksgiving. I’ll miss making my oven-roasted Brussels sprouts for the editor and her family, but in this time of COVID-19 it’s not worth the risk. We’ve managed to make it through eight months of staying home except for store trips and medical visits, and we’re both still okay so far — I’d like to continue that run until a vaccine is available.

King of Blades, Day 8

I’m starting out today with a word count of *checks Scrivener* 19,201. Should it be higher by now? Oh yeah. Why isn’t it?

Well, let’s take a look at the weekend, shall we? Quite apart from the hellscape that is the current US political situation, I put up King of Blades for pre-order on Amazon. Then I got some excellent advice about the free stories (“A Gentle Fall of Snow” and “Beneath Their Own Blue Sea”) I’ve been making available to newsletter subscribers, and I put them up on Amazon as well for 99¢ a pop. Why? Well, I’m working on the basis that not everyone will want to sign up for my newsletter, but they may want to read the stories anyway so I should make a legal copy available to these folks. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. And judging from the sales I made over the weekend, this was a good move.

Then I wrote 500 words of a short story I wanted to submit to a market (got the rejection today so I’m going to write it anyway and sell it myself like “Snow” and “Sea”). Then I had to update a bunch of pages on the website to reflect the new books, then put out a newsletter and let people know where they could get the free versions of “Snow” and “Sea,” as well as pre-order King of Blades. In between all this I had to adjust my Amazon ads, do laundry, go food shopping, make dinner, and yeah, work on King of Blades yesterday.

So, not quite where I wanted to be at in the book today, but I got a lot done anyway, so that’s all good. Onward!

King of Blades, Day 3

Today’s word count: 3,009
Total word count: 15,364
Approximate words to go: 64,636

So, today was surprisingly productive, despite the fact that every single member of the J Crew insisted on sitting on me at some point during the day. Which is fine, now that I can dictate, but Jasmine likes to squirm around while I stroke her ears, Jeremy insists on resting his big head on the keyboard, Jessie leaves me with one hand, and Jemma wants to be combed (and believe me, she needs it). JJ is the only one who’s content to just sit on my boobs/belly like he’s doing right now, unbothered by my hand movements as I type. If they were all like this, my writing life would be a lot easier. As it is, I’m going to go out on the patio tomorrow so that I can get a couple of solid hours in without a furry little feline trying to grab my attention or demand that I put kibble in his bowl (to be honest, that’s all JJ, but he’s an old guy who needs to keep his weight on so I’ll feed him separately if he wants it).

I also decided to be a complete loon, not learn a damn thing from Shadow of the Swan, and put King of Blades up for pre-order at Amazon. The release date is October 27, so as long as I stick to my writing schedule more or less and maybe have a couple of 5K days in there I should have the first draft finished on October 5, which will give me more than enough time to get everything through edits, polished and in publishable shape by October 23 (aka Upload Day). Once they finish chewing on it and give me a link, I’ll add it to the new King page here and make it available on social media.

And once the first draft of King is finished, I go back to Cross Current and start work on that. I said I was going to publish three more novels by the end of the year, and by God I intend to stick to my word.

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.

The myriad ways of writing

I’m currently taking an indie publishing course in order to improve my publishing game, and something that the instructor said reminded me of the importance of getting words on the page, no matter how it happens.

One thing that most professional writers learn as they get more experienced with the actual process is that there is no one right way to write. Every writer who produces reliably has their own method that works for them, usually discovered after a great deal of swearing and blood shed over a damn story. And what works for Writer A may not work for Writer B — in fact, it may actually hurt their writing process.

Of course, assorted instructors (not the one I referred to in the first paragraph, by the way — this guy knows his shit) like to make money off the idea that they have discovered the One True Way, and if you just pay $500 to take their course and learn the secret, you’re guaranteed to become a bestseller in weeks, click here NOW to learn–

Yeah, no. What matters is that you get words on the page. If you only write a hundred words a day, if you write three thousand, if you write at 4 AM, if you write at midnight, if you write when your kids are down for a nap, if you write during your lunch break, all that? It’s all good, all right.

Frex, I’m one of the “vomit words onto the page and clean it up in the edit” types. Which apparently horrifies people who compose in their head and put down really clean first drafts. Mind you, I’m at the stage in my career when I can do that, too, but when you consider that I’m currently stuck in my house with five cats who all meow very loudly to get my attention and a husband who (understandably) wants to talk to his wife when he comes down for lunch or a break (he’s currently in the kitchen making lunch and listening to a muted phone meeting. I ask you), I can’t always achieve the amount of concentration necessary to put down pristine first drafts. I’ve learned that it’s okay to just slap something vaguely approximating what I want to say on the page, and I can clean it up when I go back in to edit. That works for me.

But it may not work for you. And that, my friend, is totally cool. Do whatever it takes to get the words on the page. Once you get them there, you can edit them, clean everything up, and submit or publish them. But you can’t do bubkes with with a blank page.

Apropos of nothing, could someone please come over here and entertain my cats for a couple of hours?

Today? Not so prolific

It happens. Sometimes you wake up and everything is firing on all cylinders. You crank out 5-6K without breaking a sweat, you bop through the cleaning and the working out, everyone in your house is getting along, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, Ryan Reynolds is bringing you a frosty martini made with Aviation Gin (Ryan, call me!), and all is right with the world.

And then there are days like this, where you wake up feeling like nothing is meshing correctly. You know you have stuff to mail, but convincing yourself to sit down, put things in packages, and haul your ass to the post office to mail them all off feels like climbing Everest. You’ve got a word quota to hit, but your characters have decided not to talk to you and putting something, anything on the page is like pulling teeth. And not only have the cats decided to be little assholes all day, but one of them has started leaving the foulest deuces in the breakfast nook litter box, which hotboxes the entire living room as a result.

It’s days like these that make day drinking so damn attractive. In fact, I think I may make myself an absinthe, take a shower, and go to bed early. Fuck it, I’m an adult, I can go to bed at 10 PM if I want.

That’s sad, isn’t it?

On the plus side, we finally got Ramón’s new passport pictures taken, so at least that’s a tick in the W column, but even that took all afternoon. The British passport office wanted digital pics taken against a light-colored wall. We do not have a single light-colored wall in this house, so we tried putting up foamboard, sheets, et al. The results were not good. Frustrated, he finally wound up going to Walgreens for a pro photo. The British passport portal rejected it because “his eyes weren’t level.” Oy. I finally hit on moving a mirror off a very narrow beigeish wall next to the front door, standing him in front of it, and taking a picture.

Well, I kissed him first, because the picture he took at Walgreens made him look like he was about to break his foot off in someone’s ass. The portal accepted the second of my pictures, and his new passport will feature him with a serious expression but a twinkle in his eye, which is a huge improvement.

And I now have a brand-new gouge in my palm because Jasmine, She of the Skittiness, was resting her chin on my arm in her patented, “Pet me, please,” pose. When I did, she immediately started grumbling, got up and stepped on the laptop keyboard, then on my hand as I tried to get her off before she hosed this post. And she does not know when to keep her claws retracted, bless her idiotic little cat heart. Yeah, it’s time for alcohol and bed.

Hello, 5 AM, My Old Friend

So I woke up this morning after a dream that was apparently inspired by elements of “Goodbye Earl” by the Chicks (no justified killing of an abusive husband, but I observed two couple’s arguments, spent some time in a really nice kitchen that overlooked a great apartment complex after one boyfriend decided to switch apartments with his old girlfriend and go move in with his new girlfriend, and wound up in the middle of what looked like Wisconsin, judging from the rolling hills and all of the silos, as part of a mass job interview for a tech writing position. Yeah, I don’t understand that last part, either).

And then it was 5 AM, and my brain said, “Okay, you went to sleep at midnight, that’s enough, we’re going to play “Goodbye Earl” on earworm loop until you get up.” Thanks, brain. So I’m here, having fed and watered the J Crew, and I figure I’ll get in maybe four hours of writing before that stupid mass in my skull gives up and I can go back to bed at 10 AM for three more hours of sleep.

And then I made the mistake of checking Twitter and found out that not only does DHS intend to take its cobbled-together SS shitshow in Portland nationwide, but John Lewis died this morning. The best way to pay tribute is to get into some good trouble.