Why Little Red Hen, or How I Found Unexpected Success as a Self-Published Author

Lucy:

My brilliant partner in crimes against crap, Alexandra Christian, shares her thoughts on Little Red Hen Romance.

Originally posted on The Southern Belle from Hell:

hen-logo-goodIt always seems that I’m posting in my blog when the world just becomes too much.  Today isn’t really an exception but I think that I will rekindle some hope by the end of it, so here goes.

I’ve been a published author since October of 2010.  Yep, I’m coming up on my five year anniversary as a “real” writer.  If you’ll notice, I’m writing this post from the computer at my day job.  I’d like to say that I was reciting it to my assistant while I sat by a pool in some tropical locale, but alas I’m still a peon.  I have lots of irons in the fire and I’m still pretty excited about my career as a whole, but some days I just wonder why I bother.  Case in point….

I spend an awful lot of time on social media.  Most of us do, but to an author…

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If she could read his mind, love – A romance writer’s take on POV

GeminiThe biggest news in romance writing the past month or so has been the publication of Grey, author E.L. James’ follow-up to her wildly successful Fifty Shades trilogy, written from the point of view of her problematic hero, Christian Grey. When I heard this book was coming out, my first thought was, “Jeebus Krispies, you mean those first three books were all written from the POV of that dippy Ana girl?” My second thought was a suspicion that a lot of the reviews have borne out – that seen from inside his own head without Ana’s romantic projections to diffuse the light, our boy Christian is at worst a dangerous sociopath and at best just kind of an ass. Sales queen Stephanie Meyer ran into a similar problem when she thought to rewrite her Twilight series from the POV of her vampire hero, Edward – that project was so unsuccessful that it never made it to publication. A copy leaked on the internet, and the response was so hateful, she pulled the plug.

Generally speaking, romances are written to engage the tastes and instincts of the female psyche in a relationship – they know what girls like, and they give it. A lot of smart people will tell you this is why these books from the man’s side of the bed just don’t work–they can’t work because men don’t think like women want them to think about love connections; therefore, any attempt to portray the inner life of a dude in love is going to either be unrealistic or unromantic. To which I say, bullshit. It’s perfectly possible and highly desirable to show the male point of view in a female-male romance. You just have to let your guy be a guy–and a guy worth wanting. I totally understand writers who don’t want to risk it–they don’t want to write a woman with a penis or expose the hero they love to the scrutiny of readers who might not understand him the way they do. And it’s perfectly possible to write a great book entirely from one point of view; some books need that. But at some point, the romance reader needs to know how the hero feels, which means the writer has to either show him feeling it or have him say it or both. And if he’s been the strong silent type through the whole book then suddenly pops out with a love sonnet that would make Lord Byron blush, it’s going to play fake; as a reader, I’m not going to believe him. (This is where that whole ridiculous romance cliche of, “Okay, yeah, he slayed the dragon, saved my ranch, and made me orgasm four times in three minutes, but he’s never said he looooooves me!!!!!’ came from, heaven save us.) It’s much better, I think, if she’s not keeping us in the thoughts of her heroine for some other good reason, for a writer to give us at least a peek inside the poor boy’s head or heart as we go along–we need to see him falling in love at the same pace as the heroine, just not necessarily the same way. Basically, let the poor guy be a person. You know guys, right? Write one you could love not as you think every woman would want him to be but as you know he is and trust your reader to fall in love with him. Odds are good she will.

kingspossessionThree of the books we’ve got coming out this month from Little Red Hen Romance give a nicely broad spectrum on this topic. In The King’s Possession (Chapter 2 of her For the Love of the King series), Delilah Dove stays entirely in the point of view of her heroine, Catriona, a former mistress of Louis XIV who is attempting to teach his twin brother, Phillipe, to impersonate the king and hopefully replace him. And of course, in the process of doing so, she falls ever more deeply in love. Cat and Phillipe are an interesting reversal of the usual historical couple–he’s the wise, loving innocent and she’s the damaged rake. By keeping the story in her point of view and letting her discover that Phillipe really is as wonderful as he seems gives the reader a journey that a mixed point of view couldn’t.

AnnabelNew hen Malinda Mockingbird starts a new steampunk series, The Clockwork MacGuffin, July 17 with Miss Annabel Lee and the Clockwork Wolf. Annabel is a scientist turned schoolmarm who finds a gravely injured airship captain, Nick, and brings him back to almost too much health–he’s half werewolf and not entirely in his right mind when she wakes him. While most of the action in this first installment takes place from Annabel’s point of view, Nick’s perspective is presented, and seeing him come back from animal to intelligent charmer is what makes us–and Annabel–fall so hard for him.

But my favorite new story this month also presents the most interesting point of view challenge. The lovers in Gemini, a sci fi romance by Sonja Sparrow, have been bio-engineered as a symbiotic couple, created to fight as dual assassins and to be entirely interdependent emotionally as well as physically–they don’t so much love one another as need one another to survive. When the story begins, Kaia is rescuing her beloved Xander from a frozen prison, so we see the action from her perspective. But once he’s awake, their thoughts become one–they can literally see through one another’s eyes. For us mere earthbound lovers, that sounds a lot scarier than any killer robot, but these two make it work beautifully–it’s a gorgeous romance right in the center of some genuine hard sci fi world building.

The King’s Possession and Gemini are both available right now from Amazon–and they’ll be free all through the holiday weekend, so snag your copy now. Miss Annabel Lee and the Clockwork Wolf will be out July 17 and free the weekend of July 17-19.

Little Hen Romance Is Alive!

And this weekend, all the books are free to read on your handy-dandy Kindle device. Wanna see what we’ve got? (Click the image to go to the Amazon page.)

dragon gold

Celtic witch Rowan is taken from her Saxon captors by the Romans and given as a spoil of war to Titus, a Roman general.He treats her tenderly, but she is determined to be free. But when Titus is surrounded by traitors, she has to decide. Should she take advantage of the confusion and escape or use her magic to save him? Possible trigger warning: Some of the sexual activity described is not what I’d call consensual. While it falls far short of rape, readers with a particular sensitivity in this area might find it upsetting.  Paranormal historical/fantasy.

playing hamlet

A conversation with sex. Nick and Tara were drama school sweethearts before Nick became an international sensation and every geek girl’s dream. Now he’s home in London to play Hamlet opposite Tara’s Ophelia. With the help of the bard and a bottle of wine, they might find out they broke up too soon. Contemporary.

 

voodoo heartDEA Special Agent Hank West is ready to testify against the meth ring he’s just broken and leave the backwoods of Georgia behind. But on a dark and stormy night in a tin roof shack in the middle of nowhere, an ancient goddess in disguise might make him change his mind. Contemporary.

the king's tutor

As the former mistress of Louis XIV, Catriona is uniquely qualified to assist the musketeers who mean to replace him on the throne with his twin, Phillipe. While the old soldiers teach him war and politics, Cat is meant to teach him the royal methods of seduction. But when she meets her pupil, she finds herself falling in love. Episode one in an on-going series, The Sun King, based loosely on The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas. Historical.

For more information about Little Red Hen, visit our website here: http://lucybluecastle.wix.com/littleredhenromance

10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Compare the Modern Man to Mr. Darcy

Lucy:

Calling all Darcy-ites! Author Emmy Z. Madrigal has some wisdom to impart that could save your love life.

Originally posted on Emmy Z. Madrigal:

amanda_darcy1. Mr. Darcy was written by a woman.

Yes, Jane Austen fulfilled our fantasies by writing a delicious character, but he is written from a woman’s point of view. He says the right thing (or wrong thing) at precisely the right time and approaches Lizzy with expressive and romantic language real men don’t use. “Hey, wanna take a trip with me this weekend?” can be just as tantalizing from a real guy as, “I must tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” Read his signs like you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, with care and attention to detail. Asking you to hang out with him, means you are special enough to spend time with. Give him a break on the flowery declarations of love.

2. Even Jane Austen didn’t write the Darcy in your head.

You’ve read her words, but you’ve blown Mr. Darcy into this full-blown fantasy…

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Because life is too short to read crap

the king's tutor coverLike more than 20 million other people, I read e-books on a Kindle, and my favorite genre is romance. A quick search on Amazon for romance titles this morning yielded me 365,065 options to choose from. I know from experience that there are treasures to be found all the way up and down the charts. But the vast majority of these 365,065 e-books calling themselves romances are total, unmitigated, stinky, slimy, sloppy crap. The Wild West world of e-publishing combined with a media that continually broadcasts romance as that world’s most popular and therefore most potentially profitable genre have shaken stuff out of the bushes that would make Grace Livingston Hill say “Fuck this noise” and switch to thrillers. Well-meaning amateurs who couldn’t write their way out of a wet paper sack with a box cutter and a blowtorch have unwittingly conspired with cynical assholes who say flat out they hate romance as they write the dumbass porno to prove it. Together they’ve created a digital Bog of Eternal Stench where readers who actually love the genre can only cling to the few writers they already know they can trust and pray for daylight—and better pricing.

Life is too short to read crap. That’s the idea that inspired Little Red Hen Romance, a smallest-of-the-small-time e-book publisher that I hope will give me and readers like me a better option. The plan is to publish at least four new romance short story titles every month starting on May 1. The stories will be absolutely free for their first week of release (and only available through Amazon) then 99 cents forever thereafter (and available from B&N and iTunes, too). If things go well, we’ll do longer anthologies and maybe even full-length books, but for now, we’re trying it out with the shorties, 3000-8000 words each. But short as they are, every story will be an actual romance by a criteria that might be entirely subjective to me but that I really think a lot of readers have been missing. When I started thinking about what I wanted and wasn’t getting from new romance, I came up with a list of three things:

1 – Sparkling dialogue: Nothing kills a love connection for me faster than dull, flat, lifeless talk, and what passes for romance these days even on the bestest of bestseller lists is full of it. Before I can care about people falling in love, I have to like them; I have to want to listen to them; I have to see the sparks fly between them. Not every story has to be a laugh-a-minute romantic rollick (though there will definitely be some of that, too), but I promise, the characters in the stories from Little Red Hen will be able to carry on a conversation before they start stripping off their clothes—and after.

 2 – Tender sensuality: I love me some smut. Explicit sexuality has been a hallmark (and some would say the major selling point) for romance since the 1970s, and as a reader, I want and expect it. And I’m not squeamish about the mechanics—twosomes, threesomes, up, down and sideways, with handcuffs or without; I’ve read books that rocked my world from all of these, books that I would definitely call romance. What set them apart was the attitude of the characters getting it on toward one another, their reasons for hopping in the sack (or the haystack or the space bunk or that big ol’ hot tub full of banana puddin’) in the first place. Not every character who has sex in a Little Red Hen book will be madly in love when they start, but they’ll at least be considering it by the time they finish. The person or persons they’re sexing will have value to them as people, and their physical actions toward them will reflect that. Nobody is going to get genuinely humiliated in a LRH book (and no monster will ever “turn anybody gay” because that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard of in my life, and I work at a law firm). We in the Hen House want to turn our readers on and make their toes curl but let them still feel clean and able to look their preacher in the eye afterwards.

 3 – Heart-melting romance: This one is the most important. It’s what’s most often missing from the books I hate, and I think it’s what embarrasses the haters most about romance, far more than any kind of sexual content ever could. If a story is going to be a romance by the genre definition (not the literary, which is a whole different thing involving a much wider range of happy endings), it has to be a love story; it has to be the series of events which leads the characters into (or deeper into) love. It doesn’t have to end in marriage or a marriage proposal or a declaration of eternal devotion. But it’s got to mean more than an orgasm, a contract, or the acquisition of a business partner to pay the household expenses. It’s about people touching soul to soul, something I believe in very strongly. Otherwise, for me, it’s not a romance. Every Little Red Hen story, whether it’s historical, contemporary, paranormal, steampunk, straight, LGBT, funny, dramatic, or just plain weird will be a love story by this definition.

For more information about the press or the individual titles coming up at our launch on May 1, please drop by the website at http://lucybluecastle.wix.com/littleredhenromance or come like us on Facebook. And by all means, come hang out at our Facebook launch party on Wednesday, April 29, at 8 pm EDT—yes, we’ll mention the books, and yes, there will be preview giveaway swag, but mostly it’ll be a bunch of romance lovers chatting and snarking and having fun, and we’d love to see you there: https://www.facebook.com/events/807514879343283/

And ladies of the club . . .

librarianMy mama was always my first reader and main support system as a writer. And whenever I would get discouraged and start complaining that this whole becoming a New York Times bestselling author thing was taking too damned long, she would remind me that Helen Hooven Santmyer was 89 years old when her third novel, And Ladies of the Club, finally hit it big. “And she wrote that book for fifty years!” she would finish with an air of triumph suggesting she had solved my problem entirely. God rest her soul and seat her next to Patrick Swayze, she couldn’t understand why she hadn’t helped.

I was reminded of this earlier today when I heard that a talented writer and publisher of my acquaintance was desperately discouraged. She’s been at this thing for a long time, too, and major success still eludes her. She writes great books, but she doesn’t have great sales, and her stack of rejections keeps on piling higher. She’s starting to worry that maybe she won’t ever hit it big, that maybe she’s been wasting her time. A mutual friend (my baby sister, who has more in common with Mama than she’d ever want to admit) told her it could be worse; she could be me, and if I can keep soldiering on, she certainly can.

Ahem.

As I told her, I still have those thoughts all the time. And even though Mama is gone, I have a wonderful support system that encourages me and talks me off the ledge, and I appreciate them all more than I can say. But sometimes what really gives me the kick I need is a much-less-loving little voice inside my own head.

“If you want to quit, honey, quit,” she says. “Who’s stopping you? Who’s gonna care besides you? Writing is hard work, and publishing is a pain in the ass, and if you’re not making any money at it, what are you suffering for? You can cross-stitch, crochet, play piano, and make biscuits, all perfectly nice hobbies that don’t take nearly as much energy or require nearly as thick a skin–when was the last time somebody handed you back a biscuit and said it was nice enough, they supposed, but not what they were looking for right now? No law says you have to be a writer.

“And it’s  not like you’ve ever actually published a book . . . well, all right, yes, you’ve published ten. But nobody’s ever read them except for those few tens of thousands of people who bought them, and what do they know? What have  they done for you lately? And all this time you spend working on your so-called craft, has it made you any better?”

You’re damned right it has. Every story I’ve ever written, published or not, finished or not, has taught me how to write cleaner, clearer, smarter, sharper than I did before I wrote it. More to the point, the very act of putting words on paper keeps me sane. It’s what makes me the person I am in all those other things I do. Writing is my talent, my best thing, my thing I do better than I do anything else. It siphons off the voices in my head into something useful and meaningful that connects me to other people. I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to.

And I don’t. So when that voice pipes up, I know exactly what to tell her. I have applied my many years’ experience writing dialogue to honing the perfect response.

Fuck you.

There are writers who do it for money, but most of us do it for love. Bless our pitiful hearts. And ladies–and gentlemen–of the club, if we have to wait until we’re two years out from dying of old age for the rest of the world to notice, I promise you, it will still be worth it.

4 Ways to Fix Sleepy Hollow Before It’s Too Late

sleepy hollowSleepy Hollow, Season 2, is driving me insane. If the damned show had been horrible from the beginning, I would have watched once and walked away. But Season 1 was flawed but fabulous; even the stuff that was stupid about it was so much fun, I couldn’t skip a single episode. So watching the people who own it systematically dismantle and discard every single good thing about it this year to add in a bunch of crap that just doesn’t work is just about more than I can stand. Since the mid-season premiere, it’s been breaking my heart so much, I find myself spending valuable time and brain energy I ought to be using on my own writing trying to figure out how to fix it. I don’t pretend for one minute that anybody cares what I think or that a post on my little backwater blog will help the actual show in the slightest. But in the grand tradition of magnolias everywhere, I’m hoping having my say will be enough.

1. How do you solve a problem like Katrina?

Love her or hate her, the character of Ichabod’s wife is the single biggest issue unraveling the fabric of the show right now. It’s time for the writers and producers to make two important decisions about Katrina: Is she good or evil? and Will she live or will she die? And they need to share those decisions with the audience sooner rather than later.

Any of these options could work. No, seriously–here, watch:

A good Katrina lives: This seems to be what they want, and they can have it; they just need to do it better. Katrina needs to stop swanning around like an undead supermodel–Morticia Addams is a great character, but she’s been done, and she doesn’t fit in Sleepy Hollow. So we soften her up, get back to more of the sweetly sexy Quaker chick she started out to be in Season One with a generous smattering of the witty girl who was digging reality TV when she first came out of Purgatory. She needs to reconnect with her coven (remember, they’re still around) and start doing more fun witchy stuff and less life or death dark magic that invariably falls short because that shit is just annoying. (For fans of Practical Magic, more Sandra Bullock, less Nicole Kidman.) Most importantly, she needs to get the fuck into the background of the story. The leads are Ichabod and Abbie; the quest (or quests-of-the-week under the new game plan) are ultimately theirs. If Ichabod is happily married, that could be totally awesome. Katrina could provide valuable information and the occasional assist, and their domestic life could add a lot to the whole “man out of time” side of Ichabod’s character–they could be cute as hell discovering the 21st century together if they weren’t constantly wading through sticky bogs of angst. If this is what we’re aiming at, we need to resolve the whole redemption of Abraham and Henry and Hitler and anybody else Katrina wants to save RIGHT THE FUCK NOW, let the Cranes be in love with one another, and move on.

Good Katrina dies: This is a quicker fix that would silence the cries of a lot of haters (and raise the wails of the small but vocal Katrina Fan Club). Let Katrina and Ichabod’s relationship stay ambivalent and angsty, have her working on some big project to prove herself to him or, better yet, save him–maybe she knows something about the spell that resurrected him that she hasn’t told us yet. In the eleventh hour, she enlists Abbie’s help, and Abbie does everything she can to help her. And the project succeeds, but Katrina dies. Maybe she always knew she would; maybe her magic can only resurrect one 18th century hottie at a time. The Abraham Conundrum could be solved as part of this same storyline–he can be redeemed and waiting for her on the other side. This would leave Ichabod and Abbie with a lot of survivor guilt to deal with and doesn’t really seem to fit in with the lighter mood the show’s producers say they want. But it could work.

But let’s say Katrina is a baddie . . . .

Bad Katrina dies: The same scenario as above, except her big project is destructive rather than redemptive. I would introduce this with a flashback from Henry’s point of view to the night Moloch was killed. At some point in the action, while everyone is focused on Irving or Moloch or whatever, Henry sees his mother do something horrible, casting some spell that takes Moloch’s force into herself or something–Henry sees Katrina become the Big Bad. And either he really has had an epiphany where he wants to save his dad and be good as it seems (and has disappeared all this time to whip up a way to beat Mama) or he’s still bad but literally mad as hell to see Mama stealing his thunder. In any case, it all builds to a huge confrontation that shatters Ichabod and kills Katrina. Less survivor guilt, but way more melodrama.

Bad Katrina lives: This is the one that is almost but not quite impossible. Katrina is a bad witch, but not so bad that she has to be destroyed. She shows her hand, and Ichabod denounces her, but either he can’t bring himself to kill her or Abbie convinces him that he’d never forgive himself if he did. And either Katrina would go away and never come back, taking Abraham with her, or she could be a secondary villain next season, Ichabod’s evil ex living in the woods, selling magical beauty products and occasionally causing trouble. I would call this the least satisfying possibility just because it plays into the Katrina-hatred and makes it worse going into a new season – assuming there’d be a new season at all.

My point if I have one is, they can do whatever they want with Katrina and make it work; they’ve just gotta go ahead and do something.

2. So what about Hawley?

Hawley’s gotta die. There’s no hope for it; this Matthew McConaughey as the lost Winchester brother by way of Uncharted has got to go. The actor playing him is just cute as the dickens–and that’s the problem. If they wanted him to be a viable member of the team (and a viable rival for Ichabod in the affections of Abbie and the audience), they needed an Alexander Skarsgard, not a Ryan Kwanten. Edgy as a grilled cheese sandwich, mysterious as corn flakes, the best function he can serve right now is as a blood sacrifice to the plot. The Mills sisters shouldn’t be fighting over this slab of plain cream cheese.

3. Henry? Irving? Jenny? Sheriff Reyes?

All of these background characters have been nicely established, and there should be plenty for all of them to do in a story that still keeps Ichabod and Abbie at its center. Whatever the deal is with Irving, it needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible or conflated sufficiently to make him (or whatever oppresses him) a viable Big Bad for a brand new storyline. Ditto with Henry. I love Jenny; I think she could easily take on the functions of both Katrina (witchy-poo stuff and arcane magical knowledge) and Hawley (kick-ass magical weapons and a little black book full of convenient dark side contacts) while still having an emotional stake in what happens with her sister that can’t be shaken. And Sheriff Reyes has evolved from being another needless cipher to the obligatory exasperated authority figure this kind of story needs.

4. Okay, smartypants, you’re fooling no one,  you ‘shipper, you. What about Ichabbie?

I admit it; I would love to see Ichabod and Abbie become a couple eventually. They have great chemistry; they have great banter; and they look absolutely beautiful together. But with all the Katrina stuff they’ve had so far, even if they pluck Ichabod’s wife out of the equation for good before the end of this season, I think it would take at least another season to work back to that being a viable, non-skeevy plot option.  And if the show lasts and at some point there is an Ichabod and Abbie love connection, I would really, REALLY hope they would get together, stay together, and MOVE THE FUCK ON. These two could be a great couple – but that should never be what this show is about. Whether they’re lovers or friends or just fellow travelers, they’re on this journey together; they’ve got stuff to do, a world to protect, evil to vanquish. Would I like to see them having a little pillow talk between battles? Of course; I’m a freakin romance novelist. Do I think the show needs that to succeed? Absolutely not. And if that ever became the primary focus of the plot, it would kill it faster than Katrina in a little black dress. And the way to make it a non-issue is NOT to create more angst with an on-again/off-again; will they/won’t they conflict but to let them be happy in their relationship and get back to fighting monsters.

I still don’t think any of this is what’s actually going to happen on the show, but I feel better. No one can say I didn’t try. Anybody else got any ideas they need to get off their chest? My comments section is your comments section.