Thursday, January 31, 2013

the best way to help your favorite author

Dear friend and fellow author Harley May takes a bite out of Crim on launch day last year.


I have been unknowingly doing my fellow authors a disservice:

I've been waiting to buy their books.

That is, when I hear their book is out, I wish them a Happy Book Birthday on Twitter, add their book on Goodreads, share their FB status, "like" their book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and do all of the easy social media methods of supporting them from my pajamas.

But then I typically wait until I see them at a con to buy their book and have them sign it.

And that, dear friends, is a bit of a sloppy unkindness.

The best way you can help an author is to buy their book THE WEEK IT COMES OUT.

That's when numbers count the most for bestseller lists, Amazon rankings, and publisher scrutiny. That's when authors are desperate, watching numbers online, praying for their big break. That's when your $8 can do the most good for someone who counts on book sales to continue doing what they love.

So if you're going to buy the book anyway, I urge you to consider buying an author's book the week it comes out, especially on the day it launches. You'll save a few dollars, at most, by waiting, but it makes a big difference to the author's life, livelihood, and career. Then, if you ever get to meet them, you can just bring it along and have it signed. And if you really love them, buy an extra copy at their book signing or launch party and give it to a friend.

Because the second best way you can support an author is to convince someone else to buy their books.

Other things you can do to make sure your favorite writer gets to keep writing:

* Pre-order the book to let the publisher know how anxious you are.
* Leave a review at Goodreads, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble
* Tweet a link to their book and a few warm words of praise on Twitter
* Use your Facebook or Google+ status to leave a link and some praise
* If you participate in online forums, mention their book
* Go to the book signing or launch party or visit them at a con, even if you don't buy anything
* Post their book cover on your Pinterest board
* Write a book review on your blog or post a video on YouTube
* Ask for their book at your local bookstore. If they don't carry it, urge them to pick it up and tell them how much you like it.
* Find out which local indie bookstore the author uses and request a signed or personalized copy
* Buy/wear author swag. They probably have t-shirts, bracelets, bumper stickers, buttons, or something that you can wear as a conversation starter.
* If you're in the bookstore and see someone standing in front of your author's genre, ask that person if they've read it and encourage them to buy it. Put it in their hands for bonus points, as people are more likely to buy things they've touched.
* Take a picture of their book in a bookstore, especially of you holding it, and post it online. A picture's worth a thousand words on social media.
* (adding a great idea I saw on the Reddit thread) When you're at the bookstore, turn the book(s) cover out instead of spine out, as people are more likely to notice covers than spines. Or put one on an endcap or table. The bookstore might put it back, but you never know who will pick it up!
* In as few or as many words as you wish, tell the author how you feel. Email, Twitter, FB-- it doesn't matter. Some days, writing can kick you in the nads, and a few kind words can keep someone going even after the Swamp of Sadness has swallowed their Artax.

They say the #1 way to sell books is word of mouth, so if you love a book/author, be that mouth.

***

This public service announcement is brought to you by someone whose next book comes out April 30.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

on writing: embrace your madness


See this woman? She's insane.

Well, she was. It was 2009. But she got better.

Let me explain.

***

I was reading author bios for a con I'll be attending later this year, and I saw one thing pop up again and again: lifelong dedication.

She has been writing since she could hold a pencil. 
He always knew he wanted to be a writer. 
She has an MFA and taught writing at the college level.

Now, I'm a traditionally published author, but I find that intimidating. Know why?

I started drawing as soon as I could hold a crayon. 
I always knew I wanted to be an artist. 
I have a BA in Studio Art, which is a pretty useless piece of paper.
I have never taken a single writing course and feel like a n00b CONSTANTLY.

But you know what?

That doesn't make me any less of a writer.

See, the day before my daughter was born in 2006 was my last day in an office job at a gallery. After years of careful planning, I was going to be a stay-at-home mom. And that was enough for me, right up until 2009, when my second child was about nine months old. He was nursing constantly, sleeping poorly, and projectile vomiting for seemingly random reasons, usually on me. I was running on less than three hours of sleep a night.

To be quite honest, I was hallucinating. I would lay beside him at night, nursing him back to sleep and imagining that talking rats were skulking in the walls.

And because my brain was completely muddled, starving, and mixed up, suddenly that voice that always told me I couldn't do the impossible... went silent. After all, if talking rats can live in the walls, I could write a book, right?

Right.

First a truly terrible book about a harried young mother who went on a cruise and accidentally slept with a god, and then a kids' book about... talking rats that lived in the walls.

By the time I finished my second book, I was getting enough sleep to be sane. And my internal naysayer came right back to life.

You can't get an agent. You can't sell a book. You're not trained. You have no credentials. You don't know what you're doing. You aren't in NYC. You don't know anybody in the business. You're a stay-at-home mom who sits on the couch all day, attached to a parasitic baby. You're an artist, and that's what you're supposed to be, even if you haven't wanted to paint in a year.

And I told her to shove it, because if I could produce two tiny people and keep them alive and then write two books, I could do goddamn anything I wanted to do.

Shortly after that, I started querying and racking up rejections from agents. And then, a few months later, I found an agent. And then, a few months later, that book didn't sell. But I was already writing a new book. And almost one year after finding an agent, she sold the book that would become Wicked as They Come. And a year after that, she sold my first YA.

Why do I tell you this?

Because I want you to understand that I wrote my first book in 2009, at age 32, with a baby in my lap and so crazy from lack of sleep and the stress of young motherhood that I would get scared at night and cry alone because I thought I was totally losing it.

That book was my escape. And my salvation.

I found out who I was and what I was supposed to do at what might have been my weakest point as a human being. I stumbled upon it *because* I was at my weakest point. Because I was such a wreck that I didn't think to doubt myself.

And then I just surfed that wave the rest of the way in.

Wherever you are in your life, if you want to write, WRITE. It's hard work, and it doesn't pay as well as you think it will, and there will be days when you want to move to Hawaii and be the person that puts whipped cream on waffles, because that would be pretty easy by comparison, plus WAFFLES. But your lowest point can be transformative.

When I was desperate, insane, unwashed, unslept, hopeless, covered in baby vomit, and completely lost, I found myself.

You can, too.

* * *


Monday, January 28, 2013

on writing: Love is not a plot

I read... a lot. And not just because Stephen King told me I had to, if I wanted to be a good writer. An amazing book takes me one day to finish, and my children go feral while I forget to eat. An okay book might sit in my car for a couple of weeks and get picked up while waiting in carpool lines. A book that I don't enjoy usually gets tossed into the DNF pile and glared at sullenly.

Occasionally, I'm obligated to finish a book I would otherwise have set on fire after the first page, and that's when things get weird.

After battling just such a book for a week, I struggled to put into words why I hated the damn thing so much. My conclusion? 

LOVE IS NOT A PLOT.

Here's how to tell if your book suffers from the horrible disease of NOPLOTTITUDE.

1. There is no action. Nothing happens.

2. The biggest threat is that someone will lose their lover. There are no outside stakes.

3. The only action verb in your summary is "learns" or "struggles". 

4. You rely heavily on backstory to add interest because nothing is actually happening in the present.

5. The book is over 80% dialog.

6. The climax of the book is someone having an emotional epiphany. And nothing else.

And, yes, I know that there's a cerebral edge to romance, that emotional struggle and internal dialog are vital to the story. And I know that my tastes aren't universal, and that my books are termed "adventures" and have the romantic couples constantly journeying as if I'm terrified of having them hold still for five minutes and get eaten by mutant lobsters. And my way is not the only way.

But.

There still has to be some driving force other than "two people find a way to love each other despite psychological obstacles." You should be able to sum up your book according to this log line formula:  When______happens to_____, he/she must_____or face_____. If your answer is When Amy falls in love, she must learn to love or face losing the person she loves, there's a problem. 

I don't care if it's as simple as a non-threatening motorcycle accident or a blackmail letter or a crazy ex showing up at the door with a gun, there has to be some external plot that draws the story along. In fact, lack of plot is my main (but not only!) objection to the 50 Shades books. "I'm scared to love you" is simply not a plot; it's an experience. And a good writer should be able to craft a story *around* that experience that keeps the reader engaged, the story moving along, and the characters growing through activities other than dialog and sex.

In short, if you're plotting your story around a great idea or character, check your log line. Fill in the blanks, and make sure that there are actual stakes. They say love is all you need, but.. it's really not. You should probably throw in a crazy ex with a blackmail letter on a motorcycle.

* * * 


Friday, January 25, 2013

CARNIEPUNK, now half off!

We're not sure how long it'll last, but the CARNIEPUNK anthology (out this fall with Pocket) is currently on sale for 50% off. Trust me when I say this is a lot of carnival goodness for $7.99. They had so much quality stuff that they bumped it up from Mass Market to Trade Paperback. And it looks fantastic.

Here's the buy link.

Here's the sexy cover by Tony Mauro, who also does my covers.



Here's the description: A star-studded urban fantasy anthology starring bestselling authors Rachel Caine, Jennifer Estep, Kevin Hearne, Seanan McGuire, and Rob Thurman, and including Delilah S. Dawson, Kelly Gay, Mark Henry, Hillary Jacques, Jackie Kessler, Kelly Meding, Allison Pang, Nicole D. Peeler, and Jaye Wells, whose stories explore the creepy, mysterious, and, yes, sometimes magical world of traveling carnivals.

My story is called THE THREE LIVES OF LYDIA, and it's a Sangish take on Lydia the Tattooed Lady. Want to see Criminy Stain in action, learn who used to live in Tish's trailer, and find out why Charlie Dregs is so very wistful? YOU TOTALLY WILL.


* * *

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

this one's for me.

Last night, I live-tweeted being tattooed. I also offered to answer any questions anyone might have about the experience, and I managed to hold myself back from saying something like, "All the bikers are being nice to me and I'm barely getting hepatitis and my salary just went down and it only hurts as much as childbirth," because none of those silly things that the Baby Boomers told us are true.

See, I enjoy getting tattoos. I find the pain interesting and the endorphins pleasant. And I like the look of inked skin. I always have.

When I was a little kid, tattoos were not prevalent in the realm of middle class America. I didn't know a single person who had one. When I was a teen, they were growing more common. At 18, I got my first tattoo, a Cheshire cat on my hip that I still love. My next three tattoos were all in places that were always hidden under clothes, and I don't think my father knew I actually had any tattoos until after I gave birth in my late twenties, which is probably why I lived into my late twenties.

I'm 35 now. The eye wrinkles can't be ignored. My body is no longer so resilient. I cover the gray in my hair. Aging is a fact, one that I can no longer run from. Someone called me a cougar the other day, and my fury quickly turned to acceptance.

Age is unavoidable, but I'll hold on to being dangerous and pretty as long as possible.

But in some ways, getting older is a good thing. A great thing. I care less about how other people see me, about how they judge me, about those nasty little compliputdowns that women sometimes throw, almost without thinking. I've always hated my body a little bit, because it has never been slender or lithe or fit well in the clothes I wanted to wear. But now, at least, I'm starting to find peace with it.

This new tattoo of mine-- it's a charged issue. My husband doesn't like tattoos, especially not big ones. My son told me it wasn't pretty and offered to bring me an eraser. My daughter deemed it "weird". Heaven knows what my father will say, if he ever catches sight of it. Because this one isn't a fist-sized mark that politely stays hidden. It's big. And I wanted that. I wanted something that felt like a commitment, a statement, a work of art. Even if it's under my clothes, on my back, where no one will see it but the man who doesn't actually like it, I still want it. It feels necessary. It feels beautiful. It feels like part of my evolution as a person and one less thing to fear.

Here's the thing: just as I wanted to have a horse while I was young enough to gallop like an idiot through the fields, I also I wanted to get this tattoo while I'm still young enough to enjoy it. I don't want to get it when I'm 60 and have nothing to lose and feel all wistful for the smooth, curvy back I once had. I'm at a place in life where I don't see the point in waiting to do the things I want to do, especially the things I've *always* wanted to do.

So here it is, unfinished and still raw from the needle. I've got hours ahead of me, hunched over in Melissa's studio, waiting for color. You can still see the old tattoo from 1999, the one that definitely is *not* a tramp stamp, because there was no such thing as a tramp stamp in 1999.

The tattoo is imperfect, a work in progress. But so am I.

And if you don't like it? That's fine. But I don't want to hear about it.

I feel beautiful, and that's all that matters.



***

Thursday, January 17, 2013

More about Bucky...

So today, this happened:


And I thought y'all might like to see how these things happen. I hereby present my son.



America, this is your future.

May God have mercy on your soul.

* * *

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

in the in between


1. If you'd like to hang out, have vampiric animals drawn in your book, or listen to me prattle, you can always check the EVENTS link at the top of my blog to see where I'll be. February is rather exciting, and I was just accepted as a guest at the Phoenix Comic Con in May. I expect someone to bring me a live armadillo and, if possible, a bottle of hand sanitizer, as those things can carry leprosy.

2. This week, I delivered the first draft of my last e-novella, THE DAMSEL AND THE DAGGERMAN, and also completed a round of edits on the excerpt of book 3 that will nestle cozily in the back of book 2. I am behind on mailing books and signed things, not to mention reviewing things that need to be reviewed. I'll get on that tomorrow.

3. If you liked the WICKED AS THEY COME perfumes and soaps, I've been working again with the fabulous Brooke at VILLAINESS SOAPS to bring the characters of each story to life. Just this week, I previewed prototypes of MORPHO and CARAVAN, and let me tell you, I smell freaking awesome. Look for some contests as we near release dates for THE PECULIAR PETS OF MISS PLEASANCE and WICKED AS SHE WANTS.


*** Intermission ***
Did you notice that if you move one letter,

WICKED AS SHE WANTS

instantly becomes

WICKED ASS HE WANTS?

I did.


5. In case you're the pre-ordering sort or really love me, both of my April releases can now be preordered. Check the BOOKS tab at the top of my blog for links to all the major online sources for print and e-books. Every time you pre-order, you're telling the publisher that they should definitely buy more books from that author, which is pretty much the nicest thing you can do for me, other than convince someone else to buy my books, too.

6. What are the release dates, I hope you're asking?
April 1: THE PECULIAR PETS OF MISS PLEASANCE, a 35k e-novella, $1.99
April 30: WICKED AS SHE WANTS, Blud book #2, $7.99
You're going to want them. Trust me.

7. I'm currently in the MAD DREAMING stage of event planning for the WICKED AS SHE WANTS launch party. The simple thing to do would be a recreation of last year's amazing party, which was one of the best nights of my life. But! I want it to be even bigger and better, as I'm a greedy girl. Perhaps I could rent out a local skating rink, and we could all go roller skating and eat cake? Or we could take over the patio of that adorable Irish pub down the street? If anyone in Atlanta has great ideas, I'm open.

8. Did you know I have Pinterest boards for all my books? It's true.

9. I don't blog as much as I used to, in part because so much of what I wish to say comes out on Twitter. If you ever want to know what I'm doing or see my daily pics, check my Twitter account, here.

***

And now, I have a date with more than three hours of sleep.

Friday, January 11, 2013

conversations with a ninja seahorse



4yo: WE HAVEN'T HAD OUR MORNING HUG.
me: That's because you're naked.
4yo: THAT'S OKAY. WE CAN STILL SNUGGLE.
me: Yeah, no. Clothes first, creeper. (Gets him dressed.) Now we can hug.
4yo: YOUR BELLY IS VERY STRONG. I USED TO BE IN THERE. AND THEN I BUSTED OUT.
me: You didn't bust out. You came out the normal way. Sister is the one who busted out.
4yo: YEAH, I SAW PICTURES. THERE WAS A LOT OF BLOOD. IT WAS PRETTY GROSS.
me: Correct.
4yo: I WAS IN THERE, BUT I WAS LIKE IRON MAN. I COULD HAVE BUSTED OUT, BUT I DECIDED NOT TO.
me: Thanks for that.
4yo: WHERE DO BABY SEAHORSES COME FROM AGAIN?
me: The daddy seahorse does a dance, and the mommy seahorse uses her ovipositor to put eggs in a special pouch above his tail. Then they hug for eight hours, and the daddy seahorse's body helps the babies grow.
4yo: WHERE IS YOUR SPECIAL POUCH?
me: Seahorse reproduction is vastly different from human reproduction.
4yo: I WISH I WAS A SEAHORSE. BUT WHY DO CATS LICK PEOPLE?
me: If there's food on you, they lick you because it tastes good. If they like you, they lick you as grooming behavior. Mommy cats lick the baby cats they love, so cats lick the people they love.
4yo: ...I LOVE YOU.
me: Put your tongue back in your mouth.
4yo: DO YOU WANT TO LICK ME?
me: I do not.
4yo: YOU ARE NOT A CAT.
me: How perceptive
4yo: YOU ARE BEING SARCASTIC.
me: Also correct.
4yo: WILL YOU PLEASE MAKE A PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH FOR ME?
me: No. You've already had two breakfasts.
4yo: I LIKE THE NUMBER THREE.
me: No.
4yo: THIS CAN GO TWO WAYS. YOU CAN MAKE THE PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH, OR I CAN MAKE THE PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH.
me: Since you like the number three, it can also go a third way, which is that you find something to do besides nag me over a nonexistent sandwich.
4yo: WHY ARE YOU WRITING?
me: I'm transcribing this conversation because it's hilarious.
4yo: I DON'T KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT THAT.
me: That's okay. You're too young to sue me.
4yo: BUT I CAN ARM BAR YOU.
me: I'd like to see you try.
4yo: *evil glint in eyes* I'LL WAIT UNTIL YOU'RE NOT EXPECTING IT.
me: Good luck with that.
4yo: (whispers) I am a ninja.

***

Thursday, January 10, 2013

slowly but surely



Here's the thing: I like a challenge.

If you've read WICKED AS THEY COME, you might've noticed the interwoven theme: easy things are worth nothing. You've got to work for what you want, put away the fear and barrel through. And although I don't necessarily set out to make my own life harder, I have a habit of taking the briar-ridden road-less-traveled instead of the paved, sunny highway.

When I set out to buy a horse, I knew what I wanted. My dream horse would be a gaited paint, less than ten years old, easy keeper. And that's exactly what I got. But I also knowingly bought a horse that was, as her previous owner described her "hard to catch". For the un-horsey, this means that when you walk out into the pasture, instead of running toward you, the horse runs away. See how that might be a problem?

Luckily, I've dealt with this problem before. My last horse was a stubborn little critter, and the first time I went out to catch her, it took three hours. Within a month, she was running toward me, whinnying. But horses are fickle. They're herd animals, which means their actions are based on fear and mistrust and avoidance of discomfort. Therefore, if someone, say, put a horse in their back yard in a too-tight halter that put a crimp in her nose and only caught her when he was going to mess with her, she might run away from her loving new owner.

In one month of having my horse, we've made a lot of progress. She used to run away from me. Now she walks toward me. She used to turn away when I held out a hand full of grain; now she stretches out her neck. But she's still skittish. Just this week, I finally convinced her to touch me of her own volition. Now she curls her head over my shoulder, snuffles my hand. Just today, for the very first time, she let me touch her neck while she was eating, all the way down to her shoulder. And it's a really big deal. Because no matter what the movies might tell you about spurs and whips and crops, when it comes down to a girl and a horse running free in a pasture, only patience and gentleness will win over those big, liquid eyes. Horses remember people who go all cowboy on them. That's why they start running away.

When I first started writing, I thought that I would get to a point where it was easy, where the first draft amassed all my knowledge and skill and wouldn't require as much work. But first drafts, like horses, are individuals. Each story is different, flawed in a unique way. And like horses, I seem to be called by stories that are damaged and need a little coaxing.

It doesn't escape me that this week, I had a breakthrough on my YA edits and a breakthrough with my horse. I am not a patient person. In fact, I am possibly the most impatient person on the planet. But there are two spheres in which I am patient, gentle, calm, placid: horses and words.

Could I have solved the edit problems two months ago, when they arrived in my inbox? Maybe. I could have found a way to force it. But it might not have been the right answer, the solution that makes my heart light, that makes me smile. I know, deep down, that the story finally has come together, that I'm going to be proud of it when it comes out in 2014. And I'm glad I waited.

So here's to patience and little victories made, slowly but surely. Here's to doing things the right way, even when you suffer outside criticism from people who don't see what's happening behind the scenes. Here's to putting down the whip and picking up the sugar cubes. Here's to the leap in your heart when things finally fall into place.

Here's to horse spit on my palm and demons on my desk. Amen.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

video: Tuesday Morning Sherwood Bitch Club


Is it a great video? No.

Is my form perfect and fluid? Hell no.

Can you hear the awesome music to which I'm bobbing my head? 
Nope.
I'm wearing earbuds, and the song was Take Me Alive by Chris Cornell.


But this is what my mornings at the archery range are like.

And here's the end result:


That's at 20 yards.

When the zombiepocalypse come, what'll be your role?
I'd rather be Andrea than Laurie, I'll tell you that much.

***

Friday, January 4, 2013

on writing: let the old man in

The dream: I was in a dark basement, the sort of thing you see in a Saw movie, where everything is gray and black and filthy and broken and caked in gunk. I was naked, thrown into a shower stall. The water was freezing, sputtering, harsh. Doubled over with cold, coughing, terrified, I wanted nothing more than to escape. The shower door rattled and opened-- it was an old man dressed in rags, and I foot-pushed him away and slammed the door again, wrapping my arms around myself and crying. He'd be back. No matter how many times I shoved him away and slammed the door, he kept coming back.

The reality: I opened my eyes. The water in the bathroom was running, spluttering: my husband in the shower. I was cold: when he'd left the bed, he'd taken one of my blankets with him. The light was gray: halfway between night and morning. I was filled with dread: that old man, in the dream, something waiting just outside the door. And I was angry: I didn't want to be awake at all, but I couldn't get back to sleep.

I pulled up the covers, rearranged the cat on my legs, and stared at the dust on the ceiling fan. I need to clean it off, but I dread it, and I never notice it unless I'm awake in bed at just the right time.

And finally, I knew who that old man was.

He was the giant edit letter waiting for me downstairs. The one I've been foot-pushing out of my mind for weeks. The one that just really wants to open the door and get clean already, even if it hurts.

The one that I've been dreading.

So, as I lay there, my subconscious still ripe and sleep-warm, I just let him the hell in.

Within minutes, it all came together. The questions I've been pondering, the major changes that have needed revising, the mythology. An entire world that had previously been interesting little bits that didn't quite fit together: they merged into one understanding.

I have a nine-page edit letter, three pages of personal notes, and 230+ pages of manuscript.

And, thanks to one annoying dream and subsequent wake-up, I can codify it all into one sentence.

I spent my morning playing God. And it felt good.

That's one of the biggest lessons I've had to learn about writing: sometimes, you can't force it. But you can't just sit around and wait for it, either. You have to be ripe, you have to let it work itself out. You have to put away the anger and just let things in. You have to face your fears, even if that means opening the door for them.

Sometimes, you have to let the old man in.

* * *

Note: I do not, in general, advocate letting creepy old men into your shower, nor am I a big fan of being naked in dank Saw basements that offer neither hot water nor skin-friendly soap products. 

It's a metaphor.