Category Archives: Writing

Why I Wrote It: Palace of Scoundrels

This is the second 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.

Palace of Scoundrels — “What do you mean, series?”

I already posted about how I, the writer who loathed the LOTR books and didn’t enjoy fantasy in general, wound up writing a fantasy romance. To say that I was surprised by the success of Empress of Storms is an understatement — I was shocked shitless, if I’m being brutally honest.

I was even more shocked when all of those lovely, lovely people who bought Empress all started asking the same question: “So, where’s the next installment in the series?”

Buh … wha … I … series?

It was laughable, truly, because I didn’t DO fantasy. Except, oops, I did — I’d just proved that with Empress, tra la. Talk about being hoist upon one’s own petard. Worse, Empress was always meant to be a one-off, so I never really bothered to work out things like geography, politics, religion, social strata, how exactly magic works, different countries, languages, etc. — all the things you kinda have to know if you’re writing a series and want it to remain consistent.

But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of continuing the story of Danaë and Matthias, because let’s face it, there was always going to be more there. They had internal disputes to deal with, threats of war, they still had to produce heirs for both countries, there was the whole issue of Luna’s parentage and the fact that she was an astoundingly powerful Aeris mage, etc. So yeah, there really was lots of stuff to work with in the twinned countries of Ypres and Hellas.

Which is how I sat down and wondered, “Okay, then — what would be the biggest problem for a pair of newlyweds whom everyone assumes don’t see each other more than twice a year?” The answer, of course, is pregnancy. According to the terms of the treaty that led to their marriage, Danaë is supposed to provide heirs for both the throne of Hellas and the throne of Ypres. Now, my happy couple have that nifty magic mirror that allows them to spend nights together and they were certainly working on the whole “Let’s beget heirs” thing, hur hur, but that didn’t change the fact that if Danaë got pregnant outside of the time she was supposedly visiting Ypres or Matthias was visiting Hellas, all kinds of political problems would follow because said magic mirror is only known to a select few.

Which is how Prince Marcus of Illium, briefly mentioned in Empress, came back to the scene. Marcus is a fourth son who knows he has no shot at the throne (and frankly doesn’t want it), so he spends his days entertaining himself by being a spymaster. My goal with Marcus was to create a clever, snarky, politically adept nobleman with a curiously rigorous moral code, even if other people didn’t see it that way. After being accused of his eldest brother’s attempted poisoning, he has to go on the run by smuggling himself and his body servant Roylus in with his grandmother’s retinue on a visit to Hellas. Et voila, we have our handsome troublemaker in Danaë’s palace (hence the title), which then opens a big ol’ can of worms — Danaë now has to deal with both Illium (which wants its wayward prince back) and the exceedingly clever Dowager Queen Atilia, who thinks that slipping Marcus into Danaë’s bed in order to produce an heir for the Ypresian throne is just the best idea ever because it gives her a hold on Danaë.

Robert James-Collier May 2014 (cropped)But that only covered matters in Hellas — I also had Ypres to deal with. Making Matthias jealous of the handsome young prince, while apropos for a romance, also seemed too easy, somehow, so I wanted to throw an additional problem in his lap. Since he’s still consolidating his power after the attempted coup by his late sister-in-law Margot, I decided to give him a big political headache in the form of internal strife between Ypresian noble families.

Now, I’m going to be bluntly honest here and admit that I mentally cast all of my characters because I’m a frustrated screenwriter, and I’d been watching Downton Abbey during this time and liked the chemistry between Robert James-Collier’s Barrow and Jessica Brown Findlay’s Sibyl Crawley during the WWI episodes. For some reason they made me think of Hades and Persephone, which led to my creation of the brooding Lord Tomas Villiers and the sunny Lady Sibeal Le Clerq (okay, maybe I just liked the idea of James-Collier being all cranky and stalking around in black leather and furs). Unlike my Greek gods, however, Tomas and Sibeal are very much in love despite the machinations of Sibeal’s mother to marry her off to a rich nobleman’s heir in order to clear a massive debt. So now I had the big problem facing Matthias — how to let the lovebirds stay together without triggering a potential civil war between three powerful families.

This is also the point where Sibeal’s older sister Amelie, a powerful Terra mage and the original bride-to-be until she told the boor where to shove it, made her appearance and begged for royal help in saving her sister from being married to an asshole. I had no idea how to resolve this until it hit me — legally, all titles in Ypres belong to the crown and are held by noble families with the crown’s permission, and a title cannot be passed to someone outside of the direct line of succession without crown approval (my world, my rules). But if Maman decided to pull an extremely subtle fast one and marry Sibeal off to a rich boor by promising that his family would inherit the Le Clerqs’ province upon Maman’s death, that would 1) run counter to Ypresian law, 2) give Matthias the wedge he needed to stop the wedding, and 3) prompt Matthias and Tomas to come up with a way to help her pay off her debt. At which point my clever lawyer Alain LaPorte made his entrance and advised the king on how exactly to pull all of this off, Amelie shows up to request a royal assist, and everyone races off to Lierdhe to stop Sibeal from having to marry the schmo.

With all the plot points in place, it was “write it like you stole it” time. Which I did, with Matthias getting his noble lovebirds married off and Danaë managing to smuggle Marcus out of her kingdom without incurring the wrath of the Illian military. She even wound up pregnant in the end and it coincided with Matthias’s visit to Hellaspont so there would be no question about paternity, all of which wrapped up the book nicely. Even better, Alain and Amelie unexpectedly set off sparks in my head (probably because I mentally cast James Spader and Michelle Dockery — as I described it to my editor, it was “Lady Mary Crawley goes head to head with Alan Shore and hijinks ensue). I had to put them to one side while I finished Palace of Scoundrels, but when it came time to write Book Three in the series they came roaring back and demanded that I tell their story.

To find out how that happened, stay tuned for my next “Why I Wrote It” post.

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).

NaNoWriMo, Day One

Yes, I’m doing it again this year, and I’m working on King of Blades (Two Thrones Book Four), which should make the Matthiaë fans out there happy. I’m looking to finish it by November 30, with a release date around the third week of December, whee!

The plot: Matthias’s yearly visit to Hellas and the games that are celebrating Danaë’s pregnancy are complicated by family strife, old friends, and a string of accidents that may not be all that accidental. With Danaë distracted by her double pregnancy, Matthias has to sort out this new threat to his ever-growing family.

Day 1 word count: 1667

Daily snippet: The traveling party moved slowly through the shadows of the majestic Arpinnes mountains, toiling upwards towards a narrow gap in the range. In winter the gap would be all but impassable due to blizzards and the sheer amount of snow and ice deposited there, but this early in autumn the route was still clear enough for King Matthias IV of Ypres and his coterie of guards, servants, and courtiers to cross over to the other side. Once they descended and reached the small strip of land that formed the eastern border of Ypres, there would only be a short sea journey remaining before they reached the glittering island kingdom of Hellas, ruled by Matthias’s wife and co-ruler Queen Danaë.

Which couldn’t come soon enough for his riding companion. “Why is it so bloody cold up here?” Prince Ezeudo Debare of Ghobos asked, burrowing deeper inside his fur-lined cloak. “This is horrendous.”

Matthias swallowed a sigh. “I’m not really sure. All I know is that it’s always colder in the mountains that it is down on the plain. Consider yourself lucky we’re crossing now. Last time I did this trip there was snow on the ground.”

“Snow.” A disgusted sound followed the word. “I’ll take the desert, thank you very much. At least the air there doesn’t turn my lungs to ice.”

He considered his companion, one of his oldest and most trusted friends. “Ezeudo, do you ever stop complaining?”

“No. It keeps my mouth warm.” The prince grinned unexpectedly, teeth white against his dark skin. “Besides, if I stopped complaining you’d wonder what I’d done with the real Ezeudo.”

“This is true. Remind me again why your wife tolerates you?”

“Because she is the moon to my sun, the love of my life, and I venerate her as I venerate all the deities. Also, she enjoys my large penis.”

Matthias snorted. “I’ll take your word on that, my friend.”

Another flashing grin from the Ghobian. “You’re going to tell her I said that, aren’t you?”

“Probably.”

“Bastard.”

Have I mentioned that I love antibiotics?

Because I do, especially after I’ve spent the last six weeks slowly sinking into sinus infection fatigue, to the point where I would get up in the morning and five minutes later wanted to go straight back to bed for the rest of the day.

So, yeah, doc’s visit, the nice nurse practitioner said, “Ooh, yeah, your eardrums are bulging, here’s a scrip for a Z-pack, you want a steroid shot, too? Oh, yeah, this is not your first time at the rodeo.” She also confirmed that I get one of these damn things every year around this time — two years ago I came in almost to the day with the same complaint. I don’t know if it’s the weather change or something around here puts out some serious shit in late September/early October, but it’s like freaking clockwork.

So, day two on the Z-pack/steroid shot, and it’s like night and day. I woke up at 4 AM this morning, cranked out 1500 words on King of Blades (holy God, I came up with a BRILLIANT subplot for Darius and Lars, so they’re about to have quite the rollercoaster event in their relationship), went back to sleep for a bit, woke up feeling like a million bucks, went to see Colette (gorgeous movie and man, it’s inspiring if you’re a female writer), and craved real food afterwards (I may have also watched Salt Fat Acid Heat last night and it kinda lit a fire under me). So dinner tonight is rosemary and garlic pork roast, oven-roasted green beans and carrots with olive oil, seasoned sweet potato fries, and cucumber salad. You want to be eating here tonight.

Another bennie of feeling better — I’m back in the mood to make jewelry. I’m finishing up some projects that are already on the bench, and then I get to start work on these, now that all the bits have finally arrived from Rio Grande and the stone sellers. The lower stones and blue and yellow topaz and will be set in sterling silver settings that I’ll solder together, and the top stones are citrine and will have tiny handmade sterling calla lilies dangling from them. I think they’re gonna be gorgeous when they’re done.

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.

Behind the Iron Cross update and release date

I’m currently on the home stretch with about 10K ahead of me for Behind the Iron Cross, my MMF historical romance set in between-the-wars Berlin. Which is good, because I have three betas who are threatening to camp out on my doorstep until I turn over the manuscript. It’s nice to be wanted.

That being said, this puppy is going to need a LOT of editing, partially because it’s been in progress since 2012 and partially because I need to doublecheck a lot of the historical bits. Also, I may be watching Babylon Berlin on Netflix for setting and costume inspiration (Babylon Berlin, by the way, is a FANTASTIC show and I highly recommend it if you like historically set police procedurals). With this in mind, I am formally setting the release date for BtIC as October 23, 2018. I know this may disappoint some people who were hoping to get it next week, but I’ve got to give the story the editing time it needs. Besides, you’ll be happier with the end result if I make sure it’s spandy clean and tight as a drum.

And after that, I immediately launch into King of Blades (Two Thrones 4). Because that is definitely my most popular series at the moment, and right now I really, really, REALLY want to get back to writing some fantasy. Soon, Hellas — soon.

Plus two, carry the one…

This required some math on my part because both Sam and Friedrich had to be of an age where they could have served in WWI (the book is set in 1925 Berlin). Friedrich is perhaps a touch young to have made colonel by the time he was decommissioned, but he comes from a military family and I figure he’d have had at least one battlefield promotion during the war. Sam would have joined up at the urging of his boyfriend and Katherine’s brother Bart, back when young American men thought it would have been a rousing adventure to go and fight the Hun. They had no idea the hell they were letting themselves in for.

I write fast. Or do I?

I think it depends on who I’m comparing myself to. Most literary writers can take years to finish a book — compared to them, I’m a jackrabbit. Writers like Rachel Caine can write at the speed of light — compared to them, I’m a tortoise.

Whatever. I write at my own speed, and it works for me.

And thus, it’s August

And while I’m running around like a headless chicken trying to get Shifter Woods: Snarl and Behind the Iron Cross done and out, I’m also participating in a rather cool Instagram event called Romance Writers August hosed by Jen Ellis where we post something about a specific topic each day in August. You already know who I am so I’m not going to bother recreating Day 1’s post, but here are all the other posts and I’ll make a point of posting each new day’s pic here as well for the rest of August. And now, back to work, whee…

Still a casting director in my own mind

So you may have noticed that Shifter Woods: Snarl isn’t out yet. There’s a good reason for that–I’ve been having the very devil of a time finishing it. For some reason (which we will get to in a moment) I haven’t been able to get the characters to talk to me and tell me why they’re doing what they’re doing. This means that I can’t write about them because I don’t know them; I’ve already trashed three chapters because they were going nowhere and doing nothing for the story.

And then it hit me last night–I didn’t cast Jack and Kate in my head. Because I think very cinematically (frustrated screenwriter here), I always mentally cast my characters because then I can set them loose the in the story, “watch” what they’re doing, and write it down. I thought that coming up with a cover for SW:S meant that I could just use the models for my mental casting, but since I’ve never seen them move, talk, or emote it simply was not working for me.

So, last night, I cast Jack and Kate (oddly enough I’d already cast Kate’s father and a lot of the supporting characters–I was being ridiculously stubborn about my leads, though). Et voila, I woke up this morning with a VERY important scene that broke my block and will lead to the rest of the storyline. Which is a freaking relief, let me tell you.

Oh, my casting? Yeah, well, I’m pretty sure Richard Armitage is either a wolf shifter or part elf in real life, judging from those points on his years, and he’s very good at playing conflicted yet dead sexy characters so he’s a great choice for my Alpha wolf without a pack. And while I know there’s been a lot of controversy around her for some of her tone-deaf role choices, Scarlett Johansson is really the best person to play Kate–she’s good at being snarky, she can handle action roles (there’s going to be a chapter where Jack and Kate team up to find a little girl lost in the mountains), and she looks enough like the cover model that I won’t have to change anything to make Kate and the cover coincide.

The new goal is to bring this out on 7/31. Let’s get ‘er done.