Category Archives: Writing
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.
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…
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.
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?
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.
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.
This was taken a few minutes ago — I haven’t gotten much of a chance to write today because I had to mask up and go do a multiple stockup run (meds, kitty food, human food), come home and sanitize/take a shower, do laundry, make dinner, and handle a couple of other tasks. But it’s 9:14 PM at the moment (you’ll be reading this tomorrow morning), and I probably won’t be going to sleep until midnight so I very well may be able to knock out 2647 words before I turn in.
And yeah, that’s an odd and very precise number, but if I crank out that many words every day for the next seventeen days I should have the book done and dusted by July 31st. Because I’ve jumped around the book and added scenes here and there I have a fair chunk of Acts II and III done already, and right now I’m doing the wrap-up for Act I, where Louisa finds out what her uncle has actually been doing for the Ministry of Antiquaries all these years and why she’s been brought back to London for a bizarre shotgun wedding. Oh, and Henry has been shot by goblins while trying to get her out of Whitechapel in one piece (she was trying to get out of London), so she now knows he’s a vampire.
Heh. I love these two — they are bickering and snarking at each other so much, and neither of them want to acknowledge the attraction between them because that’s simply not done. By the time they actually kiss, it’s going to be pyroclastic. Here’s an unedited snippet to whet your interest:
The omnibus rolled to a clattering stop on the corner of Garrick Street and Rose Street. The only thing that could be said for that particular section of Covent Garden was that it was slightly less dangerous than Whitechapel, with its history of street violence among the working-class residents offsetting the fame of the nearby open-air market that hawked everything from carrots to flowers.
Henry escorted Miss Wallingford from the omnibus’s upper deck, ignoring the trio of humans who had been outraged at their transport being pressed into ministry service. “Your fee,” he said to the driver, handing over the requisite coins.
The driver grinned as he stuffed his payment into a coat pocket. “And thank you for choosing the Bayswater Line, sir,” he said cheerfully, flicking the reins. The omnibus set off, ostensibly to return its complaining passengers to their original destination.
Eyeing their surroundings, Henry kept his hand around his companion’s upper arm as he guided her down Rose Street. It was a narrow road, hardly more than an alley, and shadowy from the lack of street lamps. In other parts of London, the lack of illumination would guarantee at least one man loitering in the shadows armed with a short club or brass knuckles, waiting to set upon anyone walking alone. That wasn’t the case for Rose Street, primarily due to the pub situated at its bend.
The Crimson Ribbon had been a staple of the area since the early eighteenth century, having opened as a pub in 1772. One of its early draws had been the bare-knuckle prizefights held in one of its upper rooms. That had earned it the nickname “Bucket of Blood,” which its new owner had capitalized on when it was reopened as the Crimson Ribbon in 1888. There were still shadowy figures on the street these days, but they were far more interested in what flowed through the veins of any passing unfortunates than their wallets.
As they approached the pub door Henry sensed the other vampires’ attention focusing on Miss Wallingford. It triggered an unfortunate protective response, and his canines ached with the need to drop down. He clenched his jaw to keep the sharp teeth properly retracted. “You’re safe with me,” he said through his gritted teeth, willing that to be true. “Just don’t do anything foolish, like try to run.” If she ran, the others would chase her, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to leave them alive.
The pub’s interior was far cleaner and well-kept up than the exterior would have suggested, with polished wooden wainscoting below a rich red wallpaper and brass gaslights giving the space a warm. A human might be fooled into thinking it was a standard public house until he noticed the lack of beer pulls behind the bar, the absence of pint glasses, and the lager-less smell of the air. Of course, very few humans made it that far into the pub, and even fewer survived to carry tales.
A number of patrons sat at tiny pub tables off to the right, nursing stemmed glasses of blood or wine, while a reed-thin vampire Henry didn’t recognize stood behind the bar. He glowered at their approach, nostrils flaring wide at Miss Wallingford’s scent. “No outside refreshments, sir,” he announced.
Henry felt Louisa stiffen at the implication. “I need to speak with Madame Njata now, please.”
He refrained from grabbing the vampire’s grubby neckcloth and yanking him over the bar. “I’m sure she is, nonetheless I need to speak with her. Tell her Harry’s here.” He pulled out his ministry warrant card and flashed it. “Ministry business.”
With a reluctant nod, the barman left his post and headed through a door near the back. Henry made sure to keep his human ward behind him as he scanned the clientele. After a few half-hearted stares, they all returned to their own conversations.
The barman returned. “Follow me.”
They did. A flight of stairs led to a narrow hallway that ran the length of the building. Lined with six doors, it terminated at a larger room at the very back. Henry knew the former site of the bare-knuckle prizefights now served as Madame Njata’s office.
Instead of being led there, however, they were shown to one of the other doors. “She said she’ll be right with you,” the barman said, opening the door and waving them inside.
Henry was tempted to argue, but the rising scent of fear from Miss Wallingford made him choose prudence. The room featured an old but still sumptuous red velvet chaise, a wooden table, and a plain wooden chair. Judging from the lingering scents, the room had been used for sleep, feeding, and intercourse, and not in that order.
He waited until the door was closed, then sat on the chaise. He knew it would seem rude to leave the wooden chair for Miss Wallingford, but doubted she would want to rest on the chaise if she knew what had taken place on it within the last day. “Will you sit?”
Reluctantly, she took the chair. “What are we doing here?”
“I need to feed.”
She went pale. “Not from you,” he added quickly. “This is one of the places in London where a vampire can feed in privacy and safety. Think of it as a very exclusive supper club.”
The tension in her limbs didn’t fade, but she nodded in understanding. “So you feed on … people?”
“If they’re willing, yes. Live blood taken directly from a human is more nourishing than blood that’s been drawn and stored. And in my case, it’ll help speed my healing.”
The color rushed back to her face. Guilt? Good. Hopefully that will keep her from doing something so damned foolish again. Then he realized the smallness of the room was concentrating her scent, and his teeth ached again as his hunger rose. To his dismay, something else ached as well. Carrying her across the roofs of Whitechapel had been an unfortunate reminder of how long it had been since he’d touched a woman with more than feeding in mind. And she most definitely had a lush little body under that masculine disguise.
Don’t be an idiot. Louisa Wallingford is young, headstrong, and far too impetuous for her own good. Not to mention she was good as married, by command of the Queen herself. And she’s human. Lush as she may be, she’s not for you.
One of the many, many ways COVID-19 has impacted my writing schedule is my inability to go out and write at a coffee shop. Yes, I know, I have an office, but the furry little darlings consider it their bedroom when our bedroom door is closed, and the ruckus they raise when I try to close the door is ridiculous so I usually give up and let them in. When I write downstairs (as I’m doing now), they work on what I can only assume is a rota whereby one of them jumps up on my lap desk and insists on being petted/cuddled/combed. And as you can see below, it’s a little difficult to get any work done when you have a huge Orange Beast on you demanding chin scritches. Once that cat is done, I get to go back to writing for a bit … until the next cat jumps up.
We have five cats. You do the math.
If I was on deadline and simply didn’t have time to cater to the J Crew, I used to go to a little coffee shop that is, ironically, right next to my vet. It has a great conference table with big comfy chairs and lots of electrical outlets, and they make some amazing Thai bubble tea. I’d go there, buy some bubble tea, water, and snacks, and sit there for a productive afternoon tapping away.
Unfortunately, that’s not an option at the moment so I’m trying to find a happy medium with the cats where they can sit on me for a defined period of time (five minutes), after which they have to go down and let me work. A spray bottle full of water has come in handy for this. Granted, I have gotten a number of glowers and pathetic looks, and they’ve started sprawling in various pathways around the house so that I have to pay attention to them (even if it’s only stepping over them very carefully).
Have you ever had cats (or any pets) that did that? If so, leave a comment and tell me how you managed it … or didn’t, as the case may be.
The contract job is currently at a halt due to lack of work (hardly surprising) for at least May and possibly longer (seeing as a significant amount of Texans completely lost their shit and started crowding into public spaces on Friday during the state’s “partial” reopening, I’m bracing myself for a large spike in new COVID cases here in two weeks). But Ramón is still working, and I’ve spent the last eight months paying off almost all of our debt, so we should be able to weather it financially. And frankly, I need a break after the non-stop pace of the last four months.
What this also means, however, is that I can — ta da — go back to being a full-time writer for the foreseeable future! I sat down and worked out the following schedule (which may have to be adjusted if the contract job restarts at any point):
- May: Finish Shadow of the Swan and Shifter Woods: Growl (Esposito County Shifters 4).
- June: Let SotS cool, finish King of Blades (Two Thrones 4), edit and publish SW:G.
- July: Let KoB cool, edit and publish SofS, finish Uncertainty Principle (Pacifica Rising 2).
- August: Let UP cool, edit and publish KoB.
- September: Edit and publish UP.
That would give me three 80+K novels and one novella for 2020, which is not bad. And yes, I know my timeline seems insanely short, but all those books are partially finished (21K on SofS, 4K on KoB, and 5K on UP), so it won’t take as long as it would do to finish a brand new book. Hell, SotS is supposed to be 80K and I can finish the remaining 57K in three weeks if I push.
But wait, I have stretch goals!
- September: Edit Deep Water (Olympic Cove 3) for re-release at the end of December, finish One Sweet Christmas (novella) for holiday sales.
- October: Finish Cross Current (Olympic Cove 4), edit and publish OSC.
- November: Let CC cool, finish Windrider and the Deuce (Two Thrones Novella 2), release all four Shifter Woods novellas as a box set.
- December: Go on a fucking cruise and let my brain relax, edit CC and WatD, release DW once I get the rights back, release CC and WatD a week later.
Which would give me four new novels (SotS, KoB, UP, CC), one re-released novel (DW), three novellas (SW:G, OSC, WatD), and a box set (Shifter Woods) for 2020. Kinda challenging, but I also have to make up for the dumpster fire that was 2019 so I may as well go for it.
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.
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.
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).