Posted in Editing, Writing process

Protect Your Through Line. Be Batman.

My fiction writing teacher in college told us there are only two kinds of stories: character stories and situation stories. In a character story, the protagonist evolves over the course of the action from one thing into another—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Rocky, and “The Ugly Duckling” are all character stories. In situation stories, the protagonist(s) is/are dropped into a negative situation, and the action of the story is how she or he or they deals/deal with it—Moby Dick, Twelve Years a Slave, and Night of the Living Dead are all situation stories. Most stories have some crossover back and forth—the hero of a character story evolves by dealing with a series of situations; the poor saps in a situation story might well be changed forever by their harrowing experience. But the spine of the story is one or the other; the reason the story exists is to demonstrate either how this person evolves or how this person or these people get out of the mess they’re in.

My fiction writing teacher in college was wrong about a lot of stuff, but I think in this case, he was right on the money because what he’s actually talking about is a through line, and every good story has one. The greatest hook, the most interesting characters, the most mind-blowing world-building fiction has ever known won’t save a story that wanders all over the place and takes forever to figure out what it’s trying to say or, worse, never seems to figure it out at all. Yes, you need to grab the reader’s attention; yes, you need to show them something they haven’t seen before or haven’t seen in quite that way before. But more important than all of that, you have to give them something to hold on to at the very beginning that they can keep clutched in their fist all the way to the end. They have to know what or whom to root for and why. Otherwise, they are just not going to care.

From my reading, I would say the biggest and most common problem talented and hardworking new and indie writers have is their through line–either not knowing what their through line is or not making it plain to the reader early enough to do them any good or not following it through to the end. This is the single most common reason why they aren’t getting paid for the stuff they’ve worked so hard to write, why they aren’t getting accepted by publishers, why the stuff they publish themselves isn’t selling. (Untalented and lazy new and indie writers don’t sell because they suck.) And it feels really complicated; it feels like a hard fix—I actually had to look up the definition of through line before I started this because it’s such a vague and floofy concept. But you can train yourself to recognize the through line in other stories pretty easily, and once you’ve done that, it becomes easier to find your own.

So how do you find it? Step one: is it a character story or a situation story? Step two for a character story: how does the character evolve? Who are they in the beginning? Who are they in the end? How do the different things that happen in the story change them from that first thing into that second thing? Step two for a situation story: what’s the problem? How do they fix it? At first glance, the situation story looks simplest, and it can be—there’s a reason why murder mysteries and Godzilla movies never go out of style. But a good situation story can be incredibly artful and complex, and a good character story can be packed front to back with action. Every origin story about every superhero ever written is a character story—mayhem does indeed ensue, but only so Superhero can deal with it and thereby become the Superhero she or he is meant to be.

Actually, the best example I can think of to demonstrate what I’m talking about is the trilogy of Batman movies written by Christopher Nolan, Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Because they are action movies about a superhero, they might all three seem like situation stories. But in fact, both Batman Begins and  The Dark Knight Rises are very much character stories that exist primarily to show the evolution of the character of their protagonist. In Batman Begins, every incident that occurs leads Bruce Wayne further down the path to becoming Batman. It’s not a single situation to be managed but a series: Escape the audience of an opera about bats; survive the mugging; try and fail to make a new life as an orphan; try and fail to get revenge on his parents’ killer; go off to Asia to feeeeeeel something; take the blue flower to the top of the mountain; etc., etc., etc.—this is why haters like me think this movie takes foreeeeeeeeeever to get started, but in fact, it’s a very carefully and deliberately crafted character story that begins with Bruce Wayne as a child and ends when Batman saves the day and becomes a superhero in the imagination of Gotham City.  The Dark Knight Rises is almost the same story in reverse. Batman begins the story as a feared and hated public figure and through a series of incidents that thwart his efforts to be a superhero at every turn evolves back into private citizen Bruce Wayne. Only The Dark Knight is a situation story—it’s Godzilla, and the Joker is the monster. It’s complex, beautifully crafted, and has amazing character work throughout, but the point, the spine, the through line is, the Joker appears, and Batman has to deal with him.

But what’s all this fannish movie commentary got to do with the writing we’re doing now? Picking the spine out of a story that’s already grossed a couple of billion dollars is easy because that story already exists; how do we apply this mind trick to our own stuff? By doing it in the second draft. Every how-to book on fiction writing in the universe will tell you every story starts with a “what if?” Your first draft is for exploring that, following it down all the dark alleys and squiggly forest paths, spending half a chapter inside the head of the villain “remembering” childhood abuse, getting to know the characters, finding out shocking secrets you never dreamed they had when you started, letting them lead you along, letting the incidents lead you along, cause and effect. Your first draft is an organic, growing, evolving, mutating monster, and it’s your precious baby, and you love it, and you should, every little morsel of it. But in the second draft, after you’ve put that baby away long enough to forget just how hard it was to make, that’s when you find that spine, that through line. That’s when you look for evolution in your main character and look at the situations they survive and decide which one is more important for your story—what does your story spend more time and energy pursuing? Where do you start? Where do you end? What exactly are you trying to say? Are you all about your character, or is it all about the situation? Define that through line. (And by the way, if this story is part of a series, you have to do this for every single installment. Telling yourself it will all make sense by Volume 3 is the primrose path to disaster.)

Then comes the REALLY hard part. You have to jettison every single freakin’ thing that does not serve that through line. ALL OF IT. If you start out with an aaaaaaa-maaaaaaa-zing action hook about two kickass characters who create the MacGuffin then disappear for the rest of the story, guess what? They’re outta here! And if you finally figured out in Chapter 9 that the protagonist is really a werewolf trying to find a cure, guess what? Chapter 9 just became Chapter 1 – or at least some elements of it have got to be moved to the front. Again, if I had to pick one problem that I see over and over again, that would be it—stories that start in the wrong place or wander off across cool but pointless pastures of narrative in the middle. And it’s all because the writer skipped that second draft. Before you start worrying about typos or commas or markets, you have got to deal with that. Find your through line. Polish it up, make it so shiny your reader can’t help but grab it and hold on to the end. Be Batman.

Posted in Books, Editing, Publishing, Writing process

Lucy Blue Edits!

librarianLooking through my bills for last month, it suddenly occurred to me that I really, really missed freelance fiction editing. For anyone who’s interested, here’s what I charge and how I do it and why I think I’m qualified:

Proofreading: $0.005/word ($250 for a 50,000-word novel; $50 for a 10,000-word short story)

I’ll read for typographical errors, spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and minor formatting problems. I won’t correct grammar, word choice, passive voice, continuity errors, or make any suggestions as to content. If I think your manuscript needs more than a proofread, I’ll let you know after the initial read (see below), and you can decide if you want me to go forward and how.

Copy Editing: $0.01/word ($500 for a 50,000-word novel; $100 for a 10,000-word short story)

In addition to proofreading (see above), I will also read for problems with grammar, word choice, and continuity and mark corrections. I won’t make any suggestions as to content such as plot, characterization, pacing, etc. If I think your manuscript needs more than a copy edit, I’ll let you know after the initial read (see below) and tell you why, and you can decide if you want me to go forward and how.

Substantive Editing: $0.02/word ($1000 for a 50,000-word novel; $200 for a 10,000-word short story)

In addition to copy editing your manuscript (see above), I will point out any problems I see with plot, characterization, pacing, etc., and make specific suggestions for rewrites. As part of the substantive edit, I might also engage you in a developmental dialogue to help you refocus or sharpen aspects of your story that don’t grab the reader. I will also read at least one rewrite if you choose to do one at my suggestion at no additional charge. All substantive edits will also come with a full evaluation of the manuscript—what I loved, what I didn’t love, and any thoughts I have about potential markets and your work going forward.

Initial Read: First 10 pages only; no charge

Regardless of what level of editing you want, I will do an initial read of the first ten pages (2500 words) of your manuscript and let you know: 1)if I think I can help you; and 2)what level of editing I think your manuscript needs.  I reserve the right to refuse any job that I think is beyond me, for whatever reason. Manuscript evaluation is subjective; if I don’t think I can help you make your book or story better, I won’t take your money. But if I tell you I think you need a substantive edit and you tell me, um, no thanks, I’m just looking for a proofread, I will absolutely do a proofread.

So what do I know anyway? Credentials:

I’ve been a paid, professional fiction writer since 1998. I’ve published novels with two major publishers (Berkley/Penguin and Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster) and novels and anthologized short stories with three independent publishers (Purple Sword Publications, Mocha Memoirs Press, and Falstaff Books) in addition to running a micro-press, Little Red Hen Romance, with my sister, author Alexandra Christian. In doing so, I have gone through the editorial process as a writer with many different editors with many different styles, and I know just how painful a bad edit can be—and how much a good one can help bring a story to life.

I have an M.A. in English from Winthrop University, and I’ve taught English composition at Winthrop and at York Technical College. I was the fiction editor of Winthrop’s literary magazine my senior year as an undergraduate, and I have been doing freelance editing off and on for the past three years for small presses and self-published authors.

Nuts and Bolts:

Once we decide I can help and what kind of help you want from me, I’ll send you an invoice for the full amount of my fee based on your word count. I’ll need at least half of the fee paid to me through PayPal at before I start work.

All manuscripts will need to be submitted in Microsoft Word. I hate Microsoft, too, and I’m sure all those other software suites are charming beyond all measure, but I want to spend my time as your editor editing your art, not wrestling with your software. Any manuscripts submitted in anything but Word will be returned unread.

To get started, email me your manuscript as a Word attachment to In your cover email, give me your name and your snail mail address and tell me a little bit about your manuscript—genre, etc. This isn’t a query for a publisher; I just want to know what to expect when I read your first 10 pages. I only plan to do a handful of manuscripts every month, so if I’m swamped, I’ll let you know.

Final thought:

I can’t promise that if you hire me, you’ll get published, no matter how much I might love your book. But I do promise to do everything I can to make it the best book it can possibly be.

Posted in Books, Other People's Awesome, Publishing, Sneak peeks at the new stuff, Works-in-Progress, Writing process

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing Comma

chasing the dragon coverAs a lot of people know, my sister, Alexandra Christian, and I are pretty much the entire standing staff of Little Red Hen Romance. We both write stories and novels for the press, and we edit one another. There are many advantages to having your beloved sister as your editor. But there are times, particularly for Lexie, when it’s a real pain in the ass.

Lex has just finished a truly amazing Sherlock Holmes novella that should be coming out in the next few weeks, and I’ve been working on the copy edit. Lex is one of the most amazing, original, intelligent writers I know, and her grammar and punctuation are almost perfect. But that girl will party hearty with a comma; she gets it drunk and lets it sprawl naked in the most ungodly places or forgets it entirely and leaves it dead in a ditch. As a former composition instructor, I tend to lose my mind about this on a regular basis. And since this is apparently becoming a hot topic issue (see here: Daniel McMahon for Business Insider 5-2-16), we thought it might instructive or at least entertaining to see our latest exchange on the subject:


Okay, you’re gonna learn how to do this if it kills us both.

Example Number One:

As written by the brilliant Lexie Christian:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise and this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

This sentence is two independent clauses joined by the conjunction “and.” As are all of these examples. And it’s the EASIEST FREAKIN THING IN THE WORLD TO IDENTIFY!!!!

So, what are our two clauses? How do I know we have two? We start with the verbs. What are the verbs?

1) offered

2) managed

Okay, so who or what offered? The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat – so there we have the spine of clause number one, “coat and hat offered.” Everything that tells us information about the coat and hat (whose it was [the doorman] and what he was like [unfortunate]) and what they offered and how [an easy disguise]) are part and parcel of that clause. So Clause Number One is:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise.

So our next verb is managed. Who or what managed? He, Sherlock, our intrepid hero. Everything about him and what he managed is Clause Number Two:

This time [when he managed] he managed [there’s that spine] to pass through the doors [what he managed to do] without incident [how he did it].

Because neither of these clauses begins with an adverb like when or as or because or anything else that would turn it into a dependent clause/super-adverb supporting the other that can’t stand alone, these are two independent clauses joined with nothing more than the most common and beloved of all conjunctions, and. So you put a FUCKING COMMA IN FRONT OF THE AND!!! And thus after edits it becomes:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise, and this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

SIDE NOTE ON DEPENDENT CLAUSES WHICH YOU ALMOST NEVER USE AND USUALLY GET RIGHT WHEN YOU DO: To make these the joining of a dependent clause to an independent clause, one of these clauses has to become a super-adverb. If it comes at the beginning, you need a comma:

Because the unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise, this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

But if it comes at the end, you don’t:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise when this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

Your way, the two independent clauses is MUCH BETTER; it’s stronger and gives the reader chunks of easily visualized information. It was Mark Twain’s favorite sentence construction. AND HE ALWAYS PUT THE DAMNED COMMA IN IT!!!

So on to Example Number Two. As written, thus:

A small stage had been set up along the back wall and the cozy chaises by the fire had been moved aside to accommodate more tables.

What are the verbs:

1)had been set up

2)had been moved (accommodate is also a verb, but by adding the “to” to it, you’re using it as part of an adverb modifying had been moved; it tells why the moving was done. Lesser minds would be confused by this; I know you can see it.)

What had been set up? Stage

What had been moved? Chaises

So our two clauses are:

1) A small stage had been set up along the back wall.

2) The cozy chaises by the fire had been moved aside to accommodate more tables.

What is joining them? There’s our lil buddy and again.

So our edited sentence becomes:

A small stage had been set up along the back wall, and the cozy chaises by the fire had been moved aside to accommodate more tables.

And finally, coming to you live from the exact same descriptive paragraph, I bring you Example Number Three:

The entire room was swathed in red and gold and the heavy musk of opium hung in the air.


1) was swathed

2) hung

What was swathed? Room

What hung? Musk

Two clauses then?

1) The entire room was swathed in red and gold.

2) The heavy musk of opium hung in the air.

Add our friend and and the comma it should have rode in on:

The entire room was swathed in red and gold, and the heavy musk of opium hung in the air.

If you could ever just absorb that this is WHY this comma needs to be there, I promise, you’ll just put it there naturally without having to go through this half-assed diagraming of the sentence. But just saying, “Fuck it, I can’t do commas; sue me,” looks like a consistent, habitual amateur mistake, the kind of thing that can make less imaginative editors who don’t love you and your writing like I do dismiss you as a lightweight. And that just is not acceptable. Every one of these sentences is brilliant; you’ve compacted massive amounts of vibrant information into just a few words and created a whole scene. So just get the commas right!

Posted in Backlist, Books, Lucy Blue Short Story, Publishing, Short Story, Writing process

The Shocking Truth About What Writing Fiction Pays (a personal comparison)

librarianEarlier this week, I got my royalty statement for Little Red Hen Romance for September 2015 from Amazon and went into a full-blown fidget. In spite of the fact that we had outsold our previous best-selling month, June 2015, by more than two to one, moving more than twice as many books to paying customers (excluding promotional freebies from both months’ sales figure, of course), we made less than one-quarter as much money. How the fuck does THAT happen? I shrieked, racing figuratively around the internet squawking for most of the afternoon.

The villain who had stolen from me, I soon determined, was that damned Jeff Bezos with his double-damned Kindle Unlimited – specifically, the new rules for Kindle Unlimited that went into effect July 1, 2015 (you know, the day after our big month). Under the new system, publishers and self-pubbed writers get paid by the page read instead of by the copy downloaded. In June, the Hens were paid $1.25 per KU download, quite a trick since our books average about 25 standard pages and only cost 99 cents each. We were, to be perfectly bald-faced frank about the thing, one of the short works publishers who were unintentionally scamming the KU payment system, collecting as much payment on our short stories as novelists at comparable sales rank were getting for full-length books. Even in mid-squawk, I had to admit that wasn’t fair and that some sort of correction had been required. But I still felt screwed by the steepness of the sudden drop.

After a little arithmetic, I figured out that for KU downloads, we were now being paid about 12 cents a book or $0.005 per page. Since the royalty on those books when sold outright is about 35 cents, Kindle Unlimited still seemed like a really bad idea for us, money-wise, and I met with my fellow Hen, Alexandra Christian, to discuss how much we wanted to continue to help Amazon sell free shipping and baby diapers with our books.  We’re still working on that, and to that end, I sat down this morning with my calculator and contracts (including the stone tablets on which my traditional publishing contracts were carved back in the 2000s) to do a little comparing. I also took into account good points made by friends on both sides of the issue about what something like KU takes away from authors and publishers versus what it offers in exposure and promotion. My findings surprised me, and since I know a lot of other people are trying to make the same kinds of decisions at the moment, I thought it might be helpful if I shared them here.

I have published just about every way there is except Xeroxing my fan fiction and selling it out of the back of a van in the parking lot at Comic Con. For my purposes here, I’ll compare traditional publishing (contracts under Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster for full-length romances under the old template, about 400 pages/100,000 words), independent small press publishing (contracts under Purple Sword Publications, a fairly typical, better-than-average small press for full-length romances under the new template, about 250 pages/60,000 words), Little Red Hen Romance (a sort of self-pubbing co-op my sister and I started for short story romances, about 25 pages/7500 words), and Kindle Unlimited downloads of those same shorts. (None of the other stuff is available from Kindle Unlimited; the people making those decisions have already voted no.) All of these figures are for e-books; the Pocket contracts were primarily negotiated for print sales, but they do establish an e-book royalty that I’m still collecting on e-book editions of those books today.

Traditional Publishing: My cheapest e-books from Pocket retail for $8.99 (yeah, I know, no kidding), and I get paid a 15 percent royalty or $1.34. The books are about 400 pages long, so that works out to be about $0.003 per page. My two most successful books with them retail in e-book for $15.99 for 400 pages, with the same 15 percent royalty. So if anybody is desperate enough for medieval vampire romance in e-book to pay that, I make $2.39 or 0.005 per page (which, incidentally, is the same rate KU downloads pay–probably a coincidence, but I don’t know). The obvious advantage for Pocket in print is scope and reach–those books in print sold in the tens of thousands, not the tens, because Pocket was able to ship and place multiple copies all over the world at once and did; you could buy my books in any mall in the US and most of the world. But them days are over, for chain bookstores and for me, and these e-books are competing on the same digital playing field as stuff that’s much, much cheaper. I suppose there are probably readers who are more likely to buy a book from a traditional publisher (assuming they happen upon it in their keyword search), but at those prices? And by this royalty scale, if the sales figures aren’t hugely better, I’m not making any more money; my share comes out to be about the same in spite of the inflated price tag.

Small Press:  Most of my e-books from Purple Sword cost $6.99, run about 250 pages, and pay me a more-than-fair royalty of 50 percent. This works out to be about $3.49 or $0.01 per page paid to me, which for me is as good as it gets. (Writers who self-publish AND self-distribute are working in a different office.) Problem is, I don’t sell any books through Purple Sword. It’s not their fault; other PS writers are doing much better through them than I am. I’m pretty sure the problem here is me and my books–not enough active promotion on my part of those titles and books that don’t really fit the brand of the press as a whole.

Little Red Hen:  My sister and I started Little Red Hen as a way to try to give the people what they want – good, cheap romances short enough we could afford to sell them for only 99 cents each. (Because it takes us a couple of weeks to write each one versus the six months to a year we’d put into a full-length novel.) Currently, we distribute them only through Amazon, and our royalty for each one sold is 35 cents. This works out to be $0.01 per page, the same as the small press books, except that I’m actually selling quite a few. So while I’m still not pricing summer homes in Tuscany, I am able to call the experiment a success; the co-op is self-sustaining. But obviously I’d prefer to do more.

Little Red Hen – Kindle Unlimited: And here’s where we get to the problem of today. Little Red Hen shorts downloaded through KU pay us $0.005 per page or about 12 cents per full book, less than half what non-KU sales pay. We also tend to have 3 KU downloads for every 1 outright sale. (This is not an exact statistic – some books do better in KU; some books do better in regular sales. But it’s a fair generalization for the press as a whole.) Amazon is obviously committed to promoting KU; consequently books listed through KU are treated more kindly by their sales ranking algorithms. We’ve also been doing a free book promotion for every new release, something that’s only available through Amazon for KU books. Like a writer friend who is listing his on-going serial with KU pointed out, we are almost certainly reaching readers through KU that we would never reach without it, and that can’t be easily dismissed. But are we losing royalties to Amazon on readers who would want the book enough to buy it if they had to but are downloading it through KU instead? The many KU haters would say of course; Amazon would say certainly not. Me, I just don’t know.

I’m still mad at Amazon for the snake oil salesman approach they’ve taken with writers about KU. I get emails from KDP every month congratulating me on my brilliance for signing up and promising the moon when in fact, best case scenario, it’s paying me at exactly the same page rate as the fat cat traditional publishing model Amazon keeps saying it means to vanquish forever. (As I wrote more than a year ago in an open letter to Jeff Bezos, stop pissing on my shoes and telling me it’s raining.) But KU’s sins aren’t nearly as black as I wanted to paint them when compared to the alternative. My guess is Lexie and I will end up compromising, listing some books through KU for the sake of the promotional push and withholding others; in any case, we will have to take a hard look at every step in our current protocol. And I would advise any other author who isn’t James Patterson to do the same.

Posted in Books, Lucy Blue Short Story, Publishing, Writing process

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.

Posted in Books, Current events, Free Reads, Lucy Blue Short Story, Other People's Awesome, Paranormal romance, Publishing, Short Story, Sneak peeks at the new stuff, Writing process

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 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:

Posted in Books, Publishing, Writing process

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.


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.