Do Mind the Mess Dripping from the Ceiling

Alex was a pretty normal kid. He did normal things, by kid standards.

Well, so long as those kid standards took into account the fact that he was thirteen and had a very independent creative streak.

He’d gotten a chemistry kit for Christmas and a magnifying glass and a butterfly net for his birthday.

And that was really where the problem started. They probably should have seen it coming, in fact.

He’d been outside for about an hour when his mother – preparing to host a party that evening with a group from church – looked out the window to see him laying flat on his stomach on the back deck, peering at a glass jar.

She continued cutting brownies and counting glasses for another minute or two, but there was something about the way he was lying on the wood of the porch and something about her mother’s instinct that told her that this was a good time to intervene.

Her instinct was about a minute and a half off, but she wasn’t going to figure that out for another ten minutes.

She went out to the porch, hands on her hips, and asked him what he was doing.
She loved Alex like the moon and the sun combined, but he was thirteen and she had a group of ladies from church coming over in less than thirty minutes. You have to walk a fine line between being a champion of creativity and independence and making sure that he isn’t planning on launching mudpies at the ladies as they come up the front walk.

Again.

He had been testing remote trigger mechanisms, and honestly, if any of them had little boys of their own, they would have known to watch their feet more carefully. I mean, anyone who has ever lived in a house with Legos knows that for the rest of their lives. But these were younger ladies, and the only children any of them had were precious little girls in pink and gold dresses. Alex’s mother didn’t even try to explain it. They’d get there. Someday.

“I’m looking at my pets,” Alex said. His mother frowned.

“Isn’t that my cookie jar?”

He nodded, his chin never leaving his fists.

She shook her head. She had meat in the crock pot that she needed to get out, and a cheese ball to form for chips. She needed to shut this down now and worry about what was actually going on later.

“Come inside now,” she said.

“But what about my pets?” he asked.

“Bring them,” his mother said, looking for the option that got him inside and up to his room as quickly as possible so that she could get back to preparing for her party. She waited, making sure he’d actually picked up the cookie jar and was bringing it inside before she went back to the kitchen.

At this point, she had four minutes left.

But she didn’t know that.

She pulled a sheet of cookies out of the oven, smelling them with a happy smile. Her grandmother’s recipe. She went digging for a trivet out of a drawer and put it on the table, putting a bowl on it and sliding the cookies into it, then she went to check the crock pot. The meat smelled of barbecue sauce and beef, and she went to get the rolls out of the pantry, pulling them apart and putting them into a wicker basket.

Three minutes.

She finished cutting brownies and put them onto a serving tray alongside a row of mixed nuts and cubed cheese, setting that next to the cookies, then she got the cheese ball out of the fridge and went digging through a cabinet looking for the serving tray for chips.
She had one. She’d bought it at an after-Thanksgiving sale the previous year, and she loved it. It had festive colors on it that every time she looked at it she had to remind herself that they weren’t necessarily fall colors, they were just pretty, but the design was one she loved so much, she couldn’t resist.

“How many times are you going to use a chips-and-dip tray?” her husband had asked, but she’d gotten it anyway, and she was going to darned well used it every single time she had people over, just to prove to him that it had been worth it.

Two minutes.

She got out ice, putting it into the ice bucket and went digging through the random utensils drawer for tongs, then went to get the stool out of the bathroom so that she could reach the party napkins above the refrigerator. She lay those out in a fan pattern, thinking for a moment about folding one into an origami shape of some kind – she’d taken a class at the home goods store a few years ago, and she still remembered a few of them – but she thought that it would be a little pretentious, and she didn’t want to waste the good napkins like that.

One minute.

Drinks. Drinks. She’d gotten them at the store, but for a moment she forgot where they were.

The refrigerator in the garage. They’d run out of room in the refrigerator in the kitchen with all of the leftovers from going out the other night, and she’d had to put them all outside. She needed to get those out to the table so that she’d be in the house when Barbara rang the doorbell; her best friend usually came over early to help with the parties, but they usually ended up mostly just talking, because as much as they loved having parties and getting together, they never did, and as soon as more than one of them was in the room, they were talking about this or that, and so Alex’s mother needed to get everything important done before Barbara got there.

She was bringing in the glass bottles of root beer and setting them in a tub of ice by the table, one ear out for the doorbell, when there was an odd noise.

Odd noises turned Alex’s mother’s stomach, because if she didn’t immediately know what caused them, there was every chance that she didn’t want to know what caused them.

“Hey mom?”

She drew a bracing breath and started for the front hallway.

“Alex?” she answered.

The explosion hit her in the face.

Wet, greenish, and full of bits and pieces of something.

“Alex?” she asked again, her tone quite different this time.

“I just wanted to see what would happen,” he whined.

“Alex, what was that?”

She was doing her level best not to let it drip into her mouth.

“Well, I found these really big bugs out back and I caught them with my net, and I was seeing what they liked to eat, and then I started trying things from my chemistry set…”

Her brother had promised her that there wasn’t anything interesting in that set. He swore it.

She looked at the ceiling, feeling something run down her hair and onto her back. She hoped it wasn’t alive.

And then the doorbell rang.

 

http://sterlingandstone.net/pity-par-tay-flash-fiction-contest/

The Stew or the Headdress

“You’re lost,” the bird said.

“I know,” Adam answered.

“You’re lost,” the bird said again.

“I know,” Adam said again.

Why did parakeets have to talk?

And why had Adam agreed buy one?

Leslie. That was the answer.

She was pretty and funny and had a temper like a rabid dog, and when she’d said she’d wanted one, he’d answered: yes, dear.

They’d looked at pet shops where their birds were clipped, but Leslie had said that that was immoral and unconscionable and so they’d gone to a private breeder who had sold them a parakeet who could fly, not just glide.

Which brought him to where he was now.

Lost.

With the most evil parakeet the world had ever seen.

“This is all your fault,” the bird said.

“I know,” Adam answered.

It was the same story for most of his bad life decisions.

Leslie had wanted to raise chickens, so they’d built a mobile chicken coop. They keep the grass short, she promised, and they eat the bugs. You hardly have to feed them at all.

The problem was that she wasn’t willing to eat them, and at the beginning she’d said that it was only natural that they keep a rooster, too, so soon their little mobile coop that they moved around the back lawn during the day – at least two or three times a day, so that the chickens didn’t get bored – was too small and Adam had to build a bigger one.

And he’d done it. He’d sold the rooster, but he’d built a bigger coop for the original six chickens and the eighteen blasted offspring that had made it through the first few weeks.

Every time one of the chicks had died, she’d brought it into the house crying and lay it out on the table, germs and parasites and all, and she’d said words over it. Three, four, five times a day. Baby chicks were fragile, it turned out, and mother hens weren’t very good at caring for them.

Leslie said it was because they didn’t have enough space. The other hens attacked each other’s chicks and killed them.

So he’d built a bigger coop. Now it took both of them to move it, but the bloody little things could run around in there like it was recess, and she’d been happy. And they’d sat out on the lawn watching the chicks play and they’d laughed and drunk beer.

Then she’d wanted a goat.

They were clever and funny and they would keep the edges of the back yard clean of long grass and rodents, and she’d always wanted a goat.

And the first goat had died. Coyote, she said. Neighbor dog, Adam thought.

So they’d gotten two more, because there was safety in numbers, and they’d built a shed for them to live in at night. And every morning before he got up for work, he went out and fed them and washed them – because they stepped in their own excrement overnight, and Leslie wouldn’t stand for them having it on their feet all day long. So he became a goat pedicurist.

And then she’d wanted a cow. A good milking cow, she said. Just imagine the breakfasts you could have, with a flock of chickens and a cow!

And the neighborhood finally put its foot down, so they’d moved. They rented a little cabin outside of town where the barn was three times bigger than the house, and they’d moved the goats and the chickens, and he’d been ready to tear down the goat shed and move it, but she said no, they needed a bigger one. Because they deserved more space, if everyone else was getting more space.

And a more solid chicken coop, she thought, because the coyotes out there in the woods might be bigger and meaner than the ones in the suburbs.

Adam thought that suburban coyotes might be pretty rugged beasts, seeing as how they competed with so many dogs for prey, but he didn’t say it because she wouldn’t have thought it was funny. He just built a bigger chicken coop.

And then came the pets. They’d gotten three Great Pyrenees to watch over the livestock. Never mind that the one killed four chickens before Leslie declared him an indoor-only dog, that was what they were for. They got a cat, and then another, and then another, because barn cats shouldn’t be lonely either, and then all three of them became indoor-only cats when Leslie thought she saw a coyote out in the front yard. They got a ferret, because she read that they were supposed to be really great pets – smart, interesting, creative, and inquisitive – but the blasted thing got stuck behind the refrigerator and when Adam tried to get it out, he’d squished it.

She hadn’t spoken to him for three days.

And then came the parakeet. You were supposed to talk to it every day, and groom it with your finger the way it groomed itself, and never let it sit on your shoulder or your head, because that was the stupid thing asserting dominance, and then you’d never be able to train it.

It only ever sat on Adam’s shoulder. Leslie taught it all kinds of things, and it remembered everything she ever said to Adam, repeating it in an eerily modified version of Leslie’s voice.

“You’re lost,” it told him again.

He’d opened the window because it was spring and it was nice outside, and he wanted to get some of the animal smell out of the house. He was tired of not having any space in the bed, and if he couldn’t fix that, at least he could get some of the nice woodsy smell in and the dog-and-cat smell out.

And the damned thing had flown out the window.

He’d chased it for hours, from tree to tree as it called down criticisms at him, until it finally got bored and flew down and landed on his shoulder.

“You shouldn’t let him do that,” it said.

“I know,” Adam had answered, taking out the leather tie he’d grabbed from the back of the sink that you used to keep it from flying when you weren’t actively holding its feet. They’d gotten the leather thing after the parakeet had mauled one of Leslie’s friends in one of their rare human visits.

“It wasn’t his fault,” Leslie had said. “He thought he was in danger.”

Adam thought that generally birds that thought they were in danger flew off, but what the hell did he know?

He tied the bird to his shoulder, because it would attack him with its beak if he tried to tie it to his wrist, and he’d started back to the house.

That was four hours ago.

He had no idea where he was.

The sun was going down, and the weather was fine, but he was well and truly lost, and the bird telling him so didn’t help anything.

He sat down next to a tree and folded his hands across his stomach, resigning himself to sleeping out here.

At the end of the next day, he’d begun feeling weak and he hadn’t found a road, any sign of civilization, or a drop to drink. As he settled down against a tree, brushing the parakeet off of his ear as the bird bit him again, he looked up at it and he smiled.

He didn’t know if he was going to get rescued and he didn’t know if he was going to find his way home. But as far as he could tell, what he had now was one final decision.

 

 

The next spring, a pair of hikers stumbled across a rotted corpse laying against a tree. They’d heard about the missing man the year before, so they weren’t entirely surprised to find him, but neither one of them could figure out the odd arrangement of feathers he was wearing around the crown of his head.

 

http://sterlingandstone.net/pity-par-tay-flash-fiction-contest/

Space Dare

There’s a reason astronaut food all comes in tubes and has the consistency of toothpaste.

It had started as a dare, more than a year earlier, one that Gorges got by e-mail. He hadn’t thought much of it at the time – just another one of the engineers with a crazy idea wanting to send it to someone who might find it funny – but as he spent more time thinking about it, he realized just how hard it would be.

A kid named Becky had found that one of the heating units on the station could alter its heat to a fixed level. It had a contained space it was heating and it had a fan pushing air through it to heat the rest of the station. Some of the electronics and other stuff wanted more heat than others, so they were using the thermal gradient to keep everything at its preferred temperature before the air got to the living space.

She’d referred to it as an ‘oven’.

And Gorges couldn’t see why that was a bad description.

Like most of the critical regions of the station, astronauts could get to it by removing the right panels, for servicing and that kind of thing, and he couldn’t see why they couldn’t change the heat of the thing to three-hundred and fifty degrees and turn off the fans for, say, thirty minutes or so.

Right?

He mentioned it to Robbie in passing, this dare from the kid at Houston, and Robbie had thought it was funny, but little else. That was how Gorges had presented it, anyway, and he hadn’t expected anything else to happen until Robbie came back to him.

“Why not?” the commander asked. “We’re always doing things just to see what happens, right? Why not add this to the list?”

And so the cake project was born.

Gorges had expected that the hard part would be convincing mission leadership, but they thought it was a great promotion. They’d film the entire thing and beam it live to the internet. Budget was always tricky, so anything they could do to make the time astronauts spent at the station more interesting to the public was great, especially if it didn’t require sending up anything more than a box of mix and an egg.

The hard part turned out to be the powder.

Fluids, like the oil and the egg and the water, those were easier. They had surface tension and they tended to kind of stay where you put them. Powder, on the other hand, in freefall, was going to be impossible to manage. It was going to wander everywhere and get in the equipment and the ventilation, and there would be no containing it once it got out.

There was talk of pre-mixing it on earth and sending up fluid batter, but the unspoken consensus was that it was cheating. Okay, the mix was coming out of a box anyway, but that was what almost everyone did, these days, anyway.

So how do you get cake mix out of a box and mixed in effective zero-gravity without making everything cake-flavored for the rest of time?

Gorges wasn’t sure what would happen, but the e-mail traffic on it was hysterical, which was worth it, even if the experiment got scrapped.

There was a second conversation going on about how to get to the heating unit and put the cake in there to bake. It wasn’t going to make quite the mess that the powder had the potential to, but it was arguably more important, to the health and durability of the station as well as quality of life for the astronauts.

You had to make the cake completely stationary in the middle of the oven while it baked, or else it would hit one of the sides and stick there, and when they turned the heating unit back up to its normal temperature and turned the fans back on, anything that was still there was going to carbonize and fill the shuttle with the smell of… burnt cake. There were cleaning procedures in place for the heating unit, but those procedures mostly assumed that they were cleaning off residual dust and minor debris, not deep-cleaning an oven.

And the conversation about mixing, among an entirely different team of engineers, was perhaps the funniest. Even assuming they could contain the powder, somehow, the assumptions around how to mix a batter were all gravity-centric. Growing plants and observing animals, the engineers were working on a zero-gravity assumption, but suddenly trying to bake a cake, they couldn’t think outside of their own kitchens. And they kept reminding each other of that. In pictures.

Gorges looked forward to opening his e-mail every morning the entire time they were working on the project.

Eventually, they’d gotten everything sorted out, put together a mission plan, and filed it away. The e-mails quit. And Gorges hadn’t though about it again.

Until today, looking at the bag of mix (the box was unnecessary weight), the egg, and the packet of oil.

He cut the corner off the bag of mix and injected the oil directly into it, looking over to narrate for the camera as he was working that they needed the oil to mix with the powder before he could do anything else, or else they’d get cake mix everywhere. Robbie did a pan of the station where they were, and Gorges started to work the oil through the mix.

“Chocolate,” he said. “We baked about a hundred cakes, trying to find the best mix, but I’m not allowed to tell you which one we picked. It’s chocolate.”

“And there’s frosting,” Robbie said from behind the camera. Gorges grinned and went for the water.

The water came out of a tap from the wall in the kitchen/sleeping area where they were filming, and he was going to have to guess. He blew a few water bubbles, gaging how fast the water came out and how much he was supposed to put into the mix, then he stuck the nozzle into the bag and pulled the trigger, counting out the seconds in his mind. The engineers had guessed four and a half seconds. He’d estimated five.

He started to mix the bag again, but a pocket of air that had been inside of it squeezed out through his fingers, erupting brown cake mix into the air. He bit his lips to not laugh.

“And that was exactly what I wasn’t supposed to do,” he said. “The filters will catch most of it, but there’s going to be a fine dust of cake mix on things in here for the rest of the station’s life.”

“Yum,” Robbie said, and Gorges laughed, opening the protective plastic the egg came in. There had been conversation about sending it up without a shell – because it was lighter and because it was easier – but everyone had wanted to watch Gorges crack an egg in space.

And so he did.

He tapped it on the edge of the sink and pulled the two halves apart for the camera.

The egg wobbled in the air for a moment, then snapped slowly into the larger half.

Gorges looked at Robbie, who shrugged and laughed.

“Your move.”

He eventually went in after it with a finger, managing not to make too big a massacre of the egg before he shoved it into the bag with his finger, finishing the mixing process and then squeezing the batter out of the bag like toothpaste. He mashed it into a ball with his hands – no one had been able to come up with a better idea – and put metal sticks into it at ninety-degree intervals – the solution to not bumping into the walls inside the oven – and went to the panel where Sarah was waiting to open it for him.

“Here goes nothing,” he said as she opened the oven. He felt the burst of heat against his face, just like opening an oven at home, and he pushed the cake at it. He had a shoulder-length oven mitt for getting it back out. They’d talked about using a space suit to do it, but it got nixed for safety concerns about for the suit. Going in, it was an awful lot of fun to watch a ball of cake go floating into the oven on its own. He looked back at Robbie.

“And now we wait.”
Thirty-three minutes. It was their best guess on baking a cake suspended in air without a pan. They pulled it out on time and took out the metal rods, then let it cool and frosted it, a camera floating on its own to watch them as they broke off pieces and passed them around, crumbs floating in the air around them.

It was overcooked, and Gorges thought it had probably needed a little more oil or water – maybe he hadn’t gotten all of the oil out of the packet – but there was wide agreement:

It was the best chocolate cake in space ever.

 

 

http://sterlingandstone.net/pity-par-tay-flash-fiction-contest/

Gypsies After Dark!

Gypsies_After_Dark flat

It has been a long time coming.

Late last year, in the August or September timeframe, I signed on to a box set that was planning on releasing in June.  It had a theme I hadn’t written a thing in before, but I could see how and where it would fit into the Anadidd’na universe, and so I went for it.

I’ve been leaving breadcrumbs to this series in my work ever since, and it makes me so excited for it to finally be ready for preorder.

Gypsies After Dark went live late last month, and we’ve been doing great.  We’re going to try to hit the USA Today bestseller list (okay, truth is that every one of us wants to go for NYTimes, but that’s a lot of luck and a lot of things working out – USA Today is something to work toward – NYTimes is something you close your eyes and hope for, when the work’s done), and there are a lot of things going on to get the word out.

First, a little about the box.

It’s Gypsy themed.  That much is kind obvious, I get it, but it was one I hadn’t thought about before.  I don’t know a lot about Romani gypsies – Esmerelda and Quasimodo are about it, really, and I scarce believe that they represent anything about gypsy culture outside of the flashy, media-distilled headlines – so I looked at ‘gypsy’ as more of a generic term for nomadic wanderers of a kindred type of culture.  In Gypsy Becca, Makkai gypsies are descended from an angel and gifted with crystal magic.  They don’t read palms and they rarely tell fortunes, and their opinion on Tarot cards is one I’m actually going to touch on at some point in a later book.  What they do is they hunt supernatural threats, living in a tight-knit group called a tribe and using their marvelous crystal magic.

They tell stories.  They play instruments.  They dance.

Of all of the work I’ve done in the Sam & Sam Anadidd’na universe, the Gypsy Queen series has the most life and color to it.  Sam and Samantha deal with some pretty dark stuff, and that leads to a grim outlook, even if it is spirited and determined.  The gypsies are more family oriented, more optimistic, and overwhelmingly more colorful in the literal sense, and it makes for a very different tone of book, even as the feel of the monster hunts remains true to the universe they live in.  I’ve *loved* these books, and I will have the sequel to Gypsy Becca – Gypsy Dawn – available on preorder right around the day the set goes live in June.

The rest of the books range across time and continents, and the authors have been so much fun to work alongside.  The covers are gorgeous and the plot concepts seem really intriguing.  I’m really excited to see what we can pull off.

Ordering is easy.  I’ve got a landing page for you to pick which version you’re interested in (and if it’s all the same to you, Apple, B&N, and Kobo increase our chances of listing much more than an Amazon order does, for drab technical reasons that I can explain in the comments if you’re interested).  There’s a free gift to preorders that you can claim here, and while you’re there, check out the giveaways.  This set has serious giveaways.  No kidding.  Think your friends might like to know about it?  Share in exchange for entries to the big giveaway.  That easy.

Want something to read before the set goes live in June?  Make sure you’re signed up to my newsletter for exclusive samples to all of the books in the set, plus prequels, deleted scenes, and tie-in short work in the same worlds.  Mine is a deleted scene from the middle of Gypsy Becca.

In all, the set has 23 brand new, exclusive novels, and it costs $0.99 for the preorder and the week of launch.  After that, the price is going to go up.

Grab it now, and wish us luck!

Genre survey – the results!

If you never ask, you’ll never know.
That’s where this started.
Sales of Rangers and the rest of the Sam & Sam collection have not been what I hoped they would be. I’ve been putting them in the right places, recently, though some of the higher-tier advertisers won’t accept my ads yet, and I have been selling, but it didn’t feel like I was meeting my benchmarks. I have a number of author groups I hang out in, and we spend a lot of time talking about the big three for packaging:

1) Cover
2) Blurb
3) Sample

Your cover brings in readers, your blurb entices them to try the story, and your sample proves that you can tell a story they want to read. The first, biggest, and potentially most important gate is that cover.
I’ve posted the Rangers cover a few places before and had people ask for the name of the designer. I love the cover, and how well it captures the feel of the series and the peculiar person that Samantha is. She’s not flashy and pretty with thick flowy hair and a warrior stance. She’s a chick in jeans with a chainsaw.
Booyah.
(No, she’s never handled a chainsaw in the books, *actually*, but I’m looking for my first, earliest opportunity to fix that.)
The problem is that, even if the cover fits the book, it needs to fit the genre, too.
If the cover doesn’t communicate genre, it’s not going to attract readers who are interested in it – it’s going to attract readers who are looking for something else entirely. The same problem goes with where a book is shelved – if I don’t tell my readers what it is, accurately, the right readers and I are going to miss each other.
And I was pretty sure Sam & Sam were Urban Fantasy.
So I asked.
I posted the covers for the first four books and a brief description in one of my favorite writers’ groups, and an interesting conversation ensued about whether or not a book with that cover belongs in urban fantasy. Whether or not I even was urban fantasy. What those books said they were.
And, sitting and watching these well-informed, intellectual conversations, I realized that they weren’t going to help me at all.
Authors know that Urban Fantasy is a book set in the real, modern world, usually an urban (city) setting, with a paranormal twist, usually involving magic.
But what do readers think it is? That’s what actually matters.
So I asked.
And I got answers.
Answers that have clarified a lot of things, and made me very confused about some other things. I promised to talk about the results for my newsletter, and I did, but I want to use graphs. And talk a lot more. So I also promised that they could check here for the real download on my survey results. And my immense gratitude that they took the time to answer my questions.
I’ll go through them by question, from here, and talk about what I think I learned. Feel free to straighten me out in the comments if you think I’ve missed something important.

Question 1: You’re reading a book with a scene where a demon’s still-beating heart is tacked to the door with a knife, a pair of eyes are duct-taped to the window, a swordfight is going on as the two people involved use copious amounts of magic and all of this takes place in an abandoned warehouse in a large city. Is this:
A) Urban Fantasy
B) Horror
C) Dark Fantasy
D) Fantasy
E) Ew.
F) Other

I allowed them the freedom to choose all that applied. This is the compiled response:

capture
First, for the person who said “ew”. I totally get that. I do. Please don’t read Sam & Sam. It kinda gets worse from there. Portal Jumpers is potentially still a really great fit for you.
So. I thought the answer here would be urban fantasy, shoo-in, with a perfectly reasonable case for dark fantasy, maybe fantasy, and perhaps ‘other’. I thought I would get a certain number of ‘horror’ responses, because it’s kind of graphic, but I’ve thought from the beginning with this series that it isn’t horror because it lacks dread anticipation – the style of suspense is just *wrong*. So, hooray, I actually agree with these results. Completely. The number of Urban Fantasy + Dark Fantasy responses was really encouraging. Others included Paranormal (totally agree) and this, which won the whole survey for me (I know I promised no wrong answers, but that doesn’t mean some can’t be more right than others): “That depends on what city. If it’s a city in this world, it’s Urban Fantasy. If it’s an imaginary world it’s fantasy.”
So, so far, so good. I agree that I’ve got my book on the right shelf calling it dark fantasy or urban fantasy. Yay!
Question 2: What genre is this cover?rangers-ebook-cover-kindle

A) Horror
B) Urban Fantasy
C) Dystopian
D) YA
E) Zombie Apocalypse
F) Is this a trick question?
G) Other

Again, pick as many as you like.

 

Capture3.PNG
The results here were… troubling. Horror. YA. Zombies. Dystopian.
I’m really not anywhere near any of these.
The rate of people picking UF was low enough that I have concluded that I’m going to have to put re-covering the series on my list of things to do, because I’m not selling to the right people. I’m just not.
Loud and clear, I think, and I’ll try to learn from it.
I think that the woman on the cover is probably too young, the color scheme is wrong, and… I might have to give up the chainsaw.
Le sigh.
I can work with that.
Once more, thank you.

Question 3: Which of the following TV shows would you consider ‘Urban Fantasy’?

A) Charmed
B) Grimm
C) Supernatural
D) Buffy the Vampire Slayer
E) True Blood
F) Arrow
G) Medium
Here, I knew there would be some gaps, because not everyone has watched every show, or even heard of them, but I used TV instead of books because it gives me a better shot at finding stuff people know well enough to have an opinion.
First, let me walk through why I picked these.
The ringer is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It has literally every core element of popular Urban Fantasy, including featured but not central romance plotlines, a kick-butt heroine, the elder mentor, the grimoires, magic, vampires, angst, and a dark cityscape setting. And almost everyone has heard of it. I can’t come up with any reason to argue against Buffy being UF.
The next one on the list is Supernatural. There’s a case to be made that Supernatural is horror. I don’t agree with it, but I could see why you would ‘shelve’ it there, rather than UF. It’s also often quite rural. Other than that, this is my second-strongest case for UF. Magic, paranormal, adventuring, hero’s quests… On and on. Also very popular and well-recognized.
Grimm. I don’t watch Grimm. I started and it never hooked me. I consider it a little-brother to Supernatural, with a lot of the same mythological elements, the hero’s quest discovering the mythology of the world… Again, rural, and this time the world is a bit further away from ‘real’. Just a little, but it’s there. If you wanted to call it ‘mythological fiction’ rather than ‘urban’, I could see my way to agreeing that you have a valid perspective.
Charmed. The big sister of grimoire witches. Just about every mythology ever showed up at some point, the same kick-butt feminine leads. I figured that the only big miss on this one was that it’s been off the air for… kind of a long time, now. And the cityscape wasn’t quite so ‘urban’ as consistently as Buffy.
True Blood. This is the first one on the list that I might not have picked, because I think the romantic plotlines dominate the story more than a classic UF. I will admit, though, that I’ve never watched an episode – I’m going off of press and raves. I don’t know who the hero is – human or vampire. I just know that if you asked me, cold, what type of story it is, I’d call it paranormal romance.
Arrow. Another very-close-to-the-line pick. I was hoping to find that my core group of shows popped up everywhere, and that True Blood, Arrow, and Medium would show up in smaller subsets. I would say, ‘aha!’ and explain that they do have UF elements, but they’re missing core pieces. True Blood would be the central plotline outside of a romance, and Arrow is magic. I only made it about a season, but Arrow is, at its roots, a superhero plot. Can Superhero be UF? Fascinating question. Absolutely fascinating. My results didn’t help answer that question at all, I’m afraid.
Medium. This was my biggest stretch. Partially because Medium doesn’t look like an Urban Fantasy. The cinematography is well-lit, open and airy, even if it is urban. (Going solely on ads, here. Mea culpa.) It’s also a procedural, rather than an adventure. That matters. It’s also the weakest match to my core audience. I figured, of all of the shows I referenced, this would be the one that was least-often recognized, and you can’t categorize a show you don’t know. Here, at least, I think I was right. For what reason? Dunno.

Results:

Capture4.PNG

The part of the results that were most mind-boggling to me weren’t the final distribution. It actually looks about right. The core 4 are best represented with Buffy winning, and the other three tail off in exactly the distribution I’d have expected. What was unexpected was how they came in.
I had three people pick six of seven. A bunch at five. I had a few pick three or four. Almost everyone else picked two or one, and the twos didn’t come in patterns. They were random. (Except Medium.)
Grimm, Supernatural, and True Blood.
Grimm and Buffy.
Supernatural, Buffy, and Arrow.
Just Arrow.
Just Charmed.
Just Grimm.
Just Supernatural
Supernatural, Buffy, and Medium.
And it goes on.
Going through it all once more, I think that I do find the trend I expected – that the young lead discovering and adventuring through a mysterious magical world full of supernatural conflict is the core of what readers see is UF – but there were a lot of combinations I didn’t understand.
Was it because I watch more TV than is good for me? That could be. It’s hard to know, given that I didn’t ask which ones they’d *seen* before I asked which ones they’d categorize, but I thought that that was overly-complex. Still think I was right, there.
So.
That’s what I got.
Really sitting with the data in front of me and pulling it apart to write this, I think I’m reassured more than I’m troubled.
Rangers needs a new cover. Darn.
But the genre is what I thought it was. The tropes of adventuring and discovery of the paranormal resonate. And readers care enough to show up and tell me about it, when I ask.
Thank you.
So much.

Don’t tell me how to write

So, I skipped a blog post. I know you didn’t notice, and odds are very good that you don’t read many of them, but I still need to talk about the last few months and why blog posts have been fewer or book reveal substitutions.

First, it’s because I’ve been releasing books from The Book of Carter every month since November, and that’s been exhausting. They weren’t all written, when I started which has also been a new experience for me – I have always had a book tucked away for a long time before I published it, before now, because it gives me a lot more space to think about it and be ready for editing and revisions. They say that you (the author) know what’s supposed to be there, so you don’t read what’s actually there. And to an extent, that’s universally true. If you mis-use idioms in your everyday speech, you will mis-use them in your writing and never, ever catch it. If you use homonyms and don’t know one from the other, you need to read with a list of those puppies in the very front of your mind and actually go look them up – every single time – when they show up in your writing. (Pallet/palette, I’m looking at you!) But there’s a rule among people who write software for a living that holds true, too, that I don’t ever hear authors referencing:

If you wrote that piece of code more than six months ago, someone else may as well have written it, for all the good your own memory is going to do you.

And that’s so true for me. I read sentences and go… I have no freaking clue what those words were supposed to mean. Just none. Something about an old woman and a boat and a goat and a bale of hay, and yeah, I know what the reference is (it’s a riddle I like), but how in the world did I think it fit into the story here?

So I pull it. And figure out what else was supposed to go there.

It works for me.

(It’s also why I have so many novels sitting on my hard drive – and my inbox and my jump drives and a buncha other places – that haven’t gone out yet. That and because covers. Covers are hard.)

So I’ve been releasing Book of Carter novellas, and that’s taken a huge amount of focus.
More than that, though, I’ve been going through the three most productive writing months of my writing calendar. They start with November (the beginning of my writing calendar, which I wrote about here) and NaNoWriMo, and they culminate with JanuWriMo (completely unaffiliated) with December sandwiched there in the middle with all this momentum and goodwill and days inside, and I just go for it. This year has been no exception.

I got so much done.

One of those things was not routine blog posts.

This is not an apology.

It isn’t even a very good explanation.

This is a very long-winded open to my topic today.

November and January are community writing months. This is massively motivating to me, and I do several more of them over the course of the year because of how much more productive I am and because of how much happier I am while writing. Having people around, for writers, is novel. I pounce on that.

The other thing that happens when you get that many writers together in one place talking about writing, talking about productivity, talking about words and stories and ideas, is that you get writers asking each other for advice and posting pieces of fiction for consumption and critique.

And mostly this works out pretty well. Authors who are nervous get confirmation, other authors get a chance to read from an outside perspective and think about how they’d do what they’re seeing, to pull apart the process of writing just this bit and see what’s going on inside of it. This is healthy and a great way for both sides to learn. (Let me open with that, quite emphatically. I’d be breaking my own thesis if I said that this is bad.)

That said, I hate posting ‘snippets’ because, first, I don’t think they capture the flow of a story and all of the structure that leads up to that piece of fiction. (Obviously first lines don’t have that: they have their own drawbacks.) Second, though, I don’t like people telling me how to write. And I don’t like watching people tell each other how to write.

(A few of these are specific examples I’ve seen, but I’m going to try to bury them in generic examples to try to keep my personal grievances out of it.)

First person/third person.
Past tense/present tense.
Adverbs.
Outlines vs. freeform (pantsing!)
Dialogue tags.
Split infinitives.
Commas! (Some commas are mandatory. Not many. I believe in the Oxford comma, but… okay, I won’t drag that out any more.)
Expletives.
Volume of description.
Exposition.
Show vs. tell.
Fast vs. slow.
How characters should behave.

I think that there are times an places when any option may be the right one. I really do.

When you look at the classics, at the most popular books today (completely different set of books), at the things you really enjoy the most (another set of books), you’ll find stuff that’s all over the map in terms of how the words fit together, and I can just about guarantee that you’d find all manner of processes on the parts of the writers.

There is no right answer.

As far as I’ve been able to come up with, there are two rules to writing.

1. It must be clear.
2. Characters must have agency.

I’d love to add other things to that list, like ‘it must be entertaining’ or ‘things should happen’ or ‘the plot should make sense’, but I can’t stand behind those statements. It’s entirely possible to write a good story without them. It’s actually possible to write a good story that is unclear, and it’s possible to write a good story with characters who don’t have agency (agency: an agenda of their own that they are following), but those are truly elevated writing techniques that can ignore my two rules. You want your mousy, four-foot-flat wallflower to decide at the end of the book that she wants to be an MMA fighter? Do it. But earn it. You want to use bunches of adverbs? Do it. But be clear.

And then.

And then.

Realize that some people may not enjoy it.

Realize, also, that exactly the rule that someone is trying to tell you you’ve broken may be the one that makes you who you are, as a writer. Own your own voice.

I don’t like it when other people tell me how to write.

They can tell me how they reacted to my writing. Cool. (Awesome.) But it’s my job to take what they have to say about what I’ve written and either change or not, based on it.

I don’t like when writers try to tell each other how to write.

Our world is made up entirely of guidelines.

2017: a sneak peak!

I got so much done in 2016.  Despite a lot of other things going on that I had to work around, the backlog of work that I have ready to publish is huge, and I’m so excited to get some of it out in 2017.

I do a calendar every so often, just to try to keep a grip on what I’ve got going on, and I put in a special effort this December to work through what I’ve got coming up in 2017, and I wanted to give you a peek at everything I am going to try to do in 2017.  So here goes.

If you are on my mailing list, you’ve been getting notices that I’ve got work available on Instafreebie that is only available to newsletter subscribers (new or existing).  There is my Isobel sample, a unique short story in Isobel’s world that will continue to be available, and there was the Christmas short story that is still available but that is going to come down around the middle of next week, but the rest of the stories that have been cycling through Instafreebie have been novellas from The Book of Carter.

I’m really, really excited about these, because there’s so much of Samantha’s story with Carter that I only got to tell by reference, in the Sam & Sam main series, and these were really important stories for Samantha.  And, well, Carter is a character I was terrified to write, because he’s got his own agenda all day, every day, but they’ve been a whirlwind of fun, sort of getting dragged along behind as Carter does his thing.  I’m actually planning at least one more Book of Carter novella, in early 2017, that right now I expect will stay up on Instafreebie as an exclusive bonus for mailing list subscribers, but the rest of them are going to come down one by one and get published to Amazon.  I’m still working through the final (non-Instafreebie) covers, which is what’s delaying this today, but I’ll get them sorted out, and they’ll start showing up on Amazon through January, February, and March, culminating in a Book of Carter release sometime before the end of April.  Stay tuned for cover reveals as they get finalized.

Working my way through to the end of the year, I’m planning a Portal Jumpers release, a Sam & Sam release, a His Dark Mistress release, and a Sam & Sam companion release.  Like Isobel, there are a lot of other characters in the Sam & Sam universe that I think deserve to have their own stories told, and this one is one I didn’t really see coming.  Becca is special to me because she has created a set of images for the year that are really just showing up everywhere for me.  It’s like when someone you know gets a new car, and then all of a sudden you start noticing just how many of that car there are out there.  Becca’s world has started showing up in unexpected places for me, and I’ve bought art, toys, and clothes because they remind me of her.  I’ll release more information about her as we get closer to her actual release in the middle of next year, and I’ll have a cover reveal for that probably in April, if my guiding winds stay true.

133208365_939a3f5bd9_z

This is a clue.  He’s also gorgeous.  That is all.

On the writing side, I’ve got eyes bigger than my stomach, I suspect, but I’ve got a lot of things that I want to do, so I’ve basically just planned… all of them.  A standalone novel, a Portal Jumpers Adventure (a Portal Jumpers novel with the same main characters, but not connected to the main arcs going on in the Portal Jumpers series – so long as you’ve read the first two, I think you should be able to read a Portal Jumpers Adventure any time, and it should make sense), a Sam & Sam novel, a Sam & Sam companion novel…  More if I can do it.  This was a very productive year, as I mentioned, and I’m setting my sights on even more in 2017, trying to simply improve my work output for every month, compared to the previous year.  It’s a strategy that I have to use carefully, to make sure that I don’t let my goals become such rock-face mountains that I just don’t even try to climb them, but the path I see for 2017 feels very do-able right now.

The trick, for me, to accomplishing huge things is flexibility.  Set big goals, revisit them often, and adjust as my priorities, interests, and availability change, and then try (try, oh, try) to see the shortcomings as successes, because the goals were so high in the first place.  In a positive mindset, it works.  There are definitely days that it doesn’t.  That said, the magic of flexibility is being able to take new information into account, as I get it.

Information like reader feedback.

There are a few kinds of reader feedback.  The most obvious is dollars, and with all the love in my heart for my most avid readers, if they aren’t loving the stuff that is selling well, I’m going to prioritize the things that sell well, and try to find spare moments to advance the work that they are clamoring for.  This does happen.  That said, having readers who are really excited about new work and upcoming releases is more motivating than anything else I know of, so if you don’t see your favorite characters represented on either my release or my writing schedule, speak up!  I’d love to hear it.  I’ve packed out both the release and production schedules for 2017, but I didn’t mention everything I’m planning in the list above, because they’re things I’m a lot more flexible on.  It’s easy to swap out one book for another, at this stage, if I find that the one I’ve chosen isn’t the one my readers are most excited about.

You can use the contact me button up above any time you like, for anything that you want to tell me about.  Sincerely, I love hearing from readers (and other people in the industry – hello, other writers!), and I answer most of the e-mails I get.

Hope your year-end planning has been as encouraging as mine, and I’ll see you in 2017!

Justin!

My blog is a little behind my newsletter today.  One of them has to go out first, and the newsletter won.  I announced that Justin was available at InstaFreebie (it is!).

justin-r2

Yay!

As with all of the prequels right now, they aren’t available to buy yet (they will be soon… I’ll talk more about this in a minute) so the only people who get to read them are the ones on my mailing list.  InstaFreebie requires that you sign up in order to get your copy.

Bonus, y’all.

But what surprised me was an e-mail I got from one of the readers I know best, who said she was really excited about this one.  And all of a sudden, I remembered how important this story is.  All of the prequels are *really* important.  That’s why I had to write them.  Carter and Samantha have all of this history, and all of these really important things that happened to them, and those were stories that I needed to get written down.

But Justin.

Justin is a big deal.  And I’d kinda forgotten that amidst all of the other stuff that I’m doing right now.

Now, this isn’t for sale yet.  It has an InstaFreebie exclusive cover, and it will probably not go on sale until the middle of January at least.  It’s possible it doesn’t make it to Amazon until February.  But it’s also only on InstaFreebie for a limited time.  So grab your copy.

Eventually, there are going to be four books in The Book of Carter: Rage, Justin, Diana, and Departure.  Once they’re all available, I’ll bundle them together and do a smidgen of editing to remove the constant explanations of who and what things are (translating angeltongue over and over again, among other things) and put them out in The Book of Carter.  Miss one of the first four?  Want to review the full set?  Let me know.  I’ll start putting together a review list for the book and get you a copy before it goes up for sale.

I’ll eventually do a full blog on it, but the long and short of reviewing for me is this: reviews are necessary for me to be successful.  Good or bad, I need them.  I will not require that you write a review in exchange for *anything*, a review copy or anything else.  I will not tell you that you should like, or review as though you like, anything I write, but I would kindly ask, if you *hate* everything I write… why are you here?  No.  My writing doesn’t fit everyone, and I have no issue with that.  Not all of my writing fits everyone, even if all of the rest of it did.  That’s okay.  The point of a review is for you to flag down other people who are thinking about reading something I’ve written and going: hey, this is what you need to know to make a good decision about whether or not to read this.

It’s not about me or my writing.  It’s about helping me and the people who would genuinely enjoy my work find each other.

So.  Contact me or comment here if you want a review copy, and I’ll get you on the list.

Yay, Justin!

Isobel – the book!

So this post is way late.  I was going to put this up Nov1, but Isobel wasn’t quite ready and then NaNo got the best of me and I ended up waiting for my Dec1 post.  And now it’s the third and I’ve been so involved in writing that I’m just getting to it.

So my apologies to her.

isobel-ebook-cover

Isobel went live in the middle of November.  This is a book in the Sam & Sam universe, but Isobel is not in on that, quite yet.  She’ll show up in Sam & Sam #7, but her history was one I wanted to get figured out before she turned up.

Because Isobel is complicated. Continue reading “Isobel – the book!”

Mailing lists – why?

I’d been planning on doing this blog for about a month, now, because next month I’m a part of a number of different promotions aimed at increasing my mailing list.

Does that feel like icky marketing stuff to you?

Because it did to me for quite a while – give me all your information so I can pester you with buy links! – and I’m coming around on this being a lot more than that, and nothing like as scammy and sell-y as I thought it was.

Stick with me on that.

The reason the timing is… interesting… is the ‘pocalypse going on among a bunch of the Amazon-exclusive authors right now. I’m not going to talk a lot about it, because it’s business-y and it’s highly data-driven, and… well, a lot of the authors involved are kind of struggling not to sound whiny, despite some very sound data running around to support them. I try very hard to keep my positive voice on, when I’m in public, because the internet is forever, but you can’t blame them, when they’re seeing a business model potentially impode on them.

And that’s the part that’s relevant, here. Continue reading “Mailing lists – why?”