Wednesday, November 30, 2011

To Pay Or Not To Pay

"Money flows towards the author." This was a mantra I learned fairly early on in my writing career. If a publisher charges you money to publish your book, it's a scam, I was told by several reliable sources.

Sound advice, but there is an additional factor these days that complicates matters: when is it OK to pay for marketing?

I was always led to believe that an author should not have to shell out for marketing their own book. A reputable publishing company will have a marketing department, and if they are investing in you as a writer, they should be promoting your book. Sadly, the world is changing. Only the big publishing companies these days seem to be prepared to spend money on marketing. Many of the small independents do not employ a marketing person or PR department. And even if you are with a publishing company who do, gone are the days when the author could hide in her garrett and expect all the work to be done on her behalf. She has to be Out There, pimping herself and her books at every opportunity.

E-books become even more problematic, as with a print book you have something to physically hold and try to sell. If you have a print book, you can contact book stores and set up signing sessions. With an e-book, all you can do is pimp your link around the Internet. And although there are a lot of online resources that will let you do this free of charge - Goodreads, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, a personal website, a blog, etc - is this really enough?

My sales to date suggest it's not. I have signed up for all the above. I blog at least twice a week. I Tweet daily. I post links about my e-books on Goodreads, Facebook, and a host of other Internet sites. I am forever scouring the Internet for online review sites, anyone looking for guest bloggers - anything that I can use to promote my books. And yet my sales can be described as modest, at best. My total income to date from royalties for both published novels, since SUFFER THE CHILDREN was published over 18 months ago, is half of what I earn in a week at the day job.

The question is, then, what else can I do? There are plenty of other promotional opportunities out there, if you are willing to pay for them. Ads in magazines, or on websites. Internet sites that will give you reviews and set you up on blog tours, as long as you are willing to pay for the service. But this goes against that all-important mantra, and hence the dilemma: should I be paying to promote my e-books?

I did, after all, fork out for marketing when I paid for the postcards, business cards and promotional material that I used to promote each of my two books when they first came out. I still have a pile of postcards left - I take them along to all the conventions I go to, leaving piles of them on the 'free stuff' tables and handing out the cards at every opportunity. But to date, I haven't paid for any other advertising.

Now I'm starting to wonder if I should be. It's a gamble, of course. There's no guarantee that paying for advertising will help sales in any way. And there's no way of telling if the advertising opportunities on the Internet come from people who really know what they are doing, or whether they are just scams run by people playing on the desire of authors to get their books Out There.

I'm still pondering over this dilemma. If you are a published author who has paid for advertising, I would be interested in hearing your views - whether the advertising was worth the money, or not. Because I'm not much of a gambler. I'd rather make an informed decision after researching the facts.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Tale of Two Vampires

It's official! I finished The Ripper's Daughter, my vampire Victorian paranormal mystery for National Novel Writing Month on November 20 and verified it November 25.

I wanted to write about vampires, but I also wanted my story to be different. So I decided to make the relationship between Nathan and Stephen a symbiotic one. Stephen needed Nathan to drink his blood and Nathan had someone he could feed from without endangering other people's lives. Their relationship goes much farther, however, a sexual one they need to keep hidden from society. Not only that, but also continuing the charade of Stephen, Nathan's master, playing the part of his manservant.

Inspector Lewis
What really inspired me to write this story, though, was Inspector Lewis. The show aired on Masterpiece Mystery while I was plotting my NaNo WIP. Not that the two have anything in common except I knew, after watching Inspector Lewis, I wanted Nathan to be a former Detective Inspector.

Who would I pit Nathan against? Then it came to me. Who is the most infamous murderer in Victorian history? Jack the Ripper. (Okay, there are others, but I'm going with the most well-known.) And what if Jack the Ripper weren't human? What if he were a werewolf, and only Nathan knew this? So the DI risked his life and all he had to become a vampire and stop the Ripper? But what if he failed?

I explore this throughout the story. The guilt Nathan feels at failing to catch the Ripper and the determination to stop him when he finds the Ripper has come to Louisville, Nathan's new home. Nathan now owns a saloon called The Cloak and Dagger. I wanted a place where he could get information but not resort to making him work as a police officer or as a reporter. Besides, both those jobs would require working in daylight, something Nathan can no longer do. He can go out in overcast weather but direct sunlight will cause considerable damage, even death. And if Nathan dies, so does Stephen and vice versa.

Although this is a first draft, I thought I'd share a short excerpt.Remember, this is from a draft and is not intended to be considered final.

Please enjoy!


I caught Stephen biting his lower lip, a worried expression on his face. Concern? He needn’t worry. After all, he turned me, knowing a vampire’s strengths and weaknesses. He knew I wouldn’t take foolish risks.

No, it was something else. Stephen hadn’t eaten or drunk much the last couple of days and seemed a bit sluggish and redder in the face, as if stricken with high blood pressure.

Something primal stirred in me. A faint coppery smell triggered an ache in my fangs which dropped slightly.

Our eyes met, Stephen’s blue ones darkening. He rose, pulling the brocade curtains shut against the moonlight and any passersby. We couldn’t risk complacency. To do so could put our lives in danger.

He crossed the room and sat on the sofa next to me. The light from the lamp glinted on his hair, throwing shadows across his face, the bridge of his aquiline nose. But my attention was drawn to his carotid artery. I licked  my lips, desire pooling in my body, heightened by his nearness and the smell of blood. As my fangs continued to drop, my need grew and I shifted impatiently, eager to drink.

Stephen leaned his head back. I unbuttoned his shirt collar, pushing it aside to reveal pale flesh at the juncture of neck and shoulder. Leaning in, I breathed in the scent of soap and water, a clean smell.

He made no sound as I licked the skin, readying it. I looked down to see Stephen clench his fists and I wrapped my fingers around his wrist. The gesture served two purposes, to comfort him and to anchor myself against the ecstasy of drinking his blood.

Stephen closed his eyes. My breathing quickened, my heartbeat increased as adrenaline pumped through my bloodstream. In contrast, Stephen’s breathing and heart rate slowed as his heart struggled to pump the excess blood circulating through him.

Again, I marked the spot with a gentle swipe of my tongue, tasting salt. The ache in my fangs intensified and I became heady with passion, both for his blood and his body, which needed to be satisfied in that order.

I bit, incisors pricking his skin. A thin line of blood trickled free and I lapped at it. Within seconds I fed, my mind focused on Stephen and the pleasure this act gave both of us.

For him, it was relief. For me, it became an almost orgiastic experience.

His hand tightened on my leg, fingers pressing into my kneecap as I continued to drink. At first I worried I hurt him. But he assured me the sensation was one of pleasure-pain and far more preferable to the discomfort he felt when his body became gorged with too much blood.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thank you for the Dragons

I've lost many people these past few years who mean a lot to me. Although Anne McCaffrey's passing on November 21 was not unexpected (she was deep in her 80s, after all) it still caused me great sadness.

I still clearly remember the day I encountered my first Anne McCaffrey novel. I'd started high school in the second quarter--due to a serious illness at the start of Standard 6 during the early 1990s--and was in the library with my class. There, on the display, was a copy of Anne McCaffrey's The White Dragon. Our teacher--a real old bag--was droning on about the reference resources and I just had eyes for The White Dragon.

Up until then, my only experience with fantasy had been a few of those "choose your own adventure" books (in which I always cheated) and, of course, the Great Tome belonging to Tolkien. I didn't know it at the time, but McCaffrey was about to bridge the gap between fantasy and SF, and turn me from being a merely avid reader into a voracious devourer of words.

She would also be one of my earliest inspirations in the art of storytelling. After being swept away to Pern, I too wanted to create worlds where I could immerse my readers--and myself.

In total, I think I've read all the Pern books two or three times each over the past two decades. And, while I'll be honest and say my reading tastes have matured, I still appreciate those Pern books because McCaffrey tells a great story.

Lessa may be a bit of a Mary Sue, but who doesn't cheer when she Impresses Ramoth? And Jaxom, who somehow manages to straddle the worlds of dragonrider and lord holder? Of course who can forget Piemur's propensity for getting in--and out--of trouble? These are just a handful of the memorable characters I encountered in McCaffrey's books, which became like old friends to me.

Her later Pern novels didn't grab me as much. Whether this was to the sin of "too much awesome" or just personal preference I'd still like to thank McCaffrey for the great legacy she gifted us.

I appreciate too, that unlike other authors, she allowed other writers to "play nicely" in Pern, for those of us who were wont to dabble in fanfiction. Before I published my first novel, I wrote three (two complete, one unfinished) serial fics set in Pern. Although chances are slim that I'll revisit the genre, I gained much valuable feedback from the folks over at, which definitely shaped the writer I am today.

Thank you, Anne, for your words. You lived a full life and you taught me how to catch and ride my own dragons.

Disclaimer: My flash pieces were written a *very* long time ago and, scanning them at present, I encounter a fair number of cringe-worthy incidents that can be considered crimes against the English language. Once in a blue moon I’ll get a bug up my arse and write fanfiction. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. And you know what? If it serves the purpose of whiling away the hours, then there’s nothing wrong with it. The whole point with writing is about telling stories. Just remember to acknowledge the origin of the idea. And beware of Anne Rice. She takes a dim view on fanfiction. [grins]

This one’s totally non-canon, based around the concept of another sport being hatched, this one a “black” queen called Suteth who refuses to Impress, and the chaos that ensues. The main character is a formerly holdless girl named Shaya, who’s been taken in at Benden Weyr and how she ends up in a sort of Impression with the rogue queen. Considering that Shaya’s father was an erstwhile bandit lord who’d had his reign of terror, there’s plenty of politics for the young woman to navigate.

Weyrwoman Blues:
Nolena is a young queenrider at Benden, who has Weyrwoman duties thrust upon her at a very early stage in her career when her predecessor is ailing. She must prove herself and her young golden queen in turbulent political times, when often her abilities are overlooked due to her age. Added to her concerns are her queen’s incipient first rising. Who will be her future Weyrleader, and will it be someone she can trust? The story overlaps with events that take place in Evolution.

Flaming Greens:
One scenario I always wanted to see was post-AIVAS Pern many Turns in the future. I must admit having watched a bit too much Pirates of the Caribbean for my own good when I started writing this fic. I never finished it, sadly, as my original fiction started taking off with my first sales 'round about the time that I was writing Flaming Greens. Now I fear the story has lain fallow far too long and I simply don’t have the time or the wherewithal to finish it. There’s enough here to be entertaining. See if you can see my Captain Sparrow wannabe.

Illustration for the cover art image by David Roe

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Million Books

The Kobo has hit the UK. My husband caught me perusing these the other day. "We've already got two e-readers," he said sternly. "We don't need another one". I guess he's got a point. The Kobo looks like a cross between the iPad and the Kindle, and it takes ePub format e-books - the same as my Sony e-reader.

One of the selling points of the Kobo is that there are a million free e-books available for it. I got to thinking about that. A million books. That's a lot of books. Just how long would it take to read all those books? I read, on average, a book a week. At that rate it would take over 19,000 years to read a million books. Even if one were to read a book a day - possible if one didn't have to go to work or leave the house at all - it would still take over 2,700 years to read a million books.

Of course, it's doubtful that all of those free e-books are worth reading. But even if you only want to read a fraction of them, it's entirely possible to buy a Kobo and have enough reading material on it to last the rest of your life without having to buy another book.

That's not the way it would work, of course. Every time you perused the online e-book store, you'd find plenty of books you wanted to buy and read. And you will buy them, because once you realise how easy it is to buy e-books, and how convenient e-books are to carry around, you'll be converted.

That, my friends, is how e-books suck you in.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Farewell and a NaNoWriMo Update

I don't consider myself an empath, but something happened recently that's made me wonder.

For those of you who read my last blog post here, I indicated I'd given up writing. That also included my NaNoWriMo WIP. What I neglected to mention was the overwhelming sense of grief and loss I felt Monday and Tuesday, a pain so acute I seriously considered slashing my wrists and ending it all.

Wednesday I was fine. Whatever miasma of despair had lingered over me had lifted. Gone. Like it never existed.

But then came the rumors on Facebook someone I knew had committed suicide that past Monday. Yes, the same Monday. November 14. Sadly, the rumor was confirmed by a newspaper obituary.

While I knew this person, I didn't know him well enough to call him a friend, but he was a friend to many of my other friends. This is not a slight at him. I live in a different area of town than they do, so they hung out together more. But when I did meet him, I found him to be funny, kind, and a nice guy. Cliched but true.

Last night I attended a memorial to celebrate his life. The turnout was remarkable, easily a hundred people had come to pay their respects. The service ended up being moved from the chapel to the sanctuary.

I wonder now if my depression those two days had not been a psychic response to his death, something I was unaware of at the time and thus unable to control. I felt a similar grief when my grandmother died, but had no idea until I came home and my husband told me.

Again, I'm not claiming to be an empath. Only questioning a possibility.

Anyway, I'm back to writing. Finished my vampire Victorian paranormal mystery NaNo project this past Sunday. I've been thinking of returning to a neglected short novel and writing a couple of Christmas stories to post free online.

Because, when I think about it, I know he would want me to be the best damn writer I could be.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Writing Lesson #14: The Importance of Cons

In thinking about the subject of this post, I was trying to remember what the first writing-related convention I attended was. I think it was probably FantasyCon, but I’m having trouble remembering because I realise that my regular attendance at conventions has evolved as a very organic process.

Some time back in the early 1990s, possibly when I was involved in my first writing group, I found out about a monthly pub social involving other writers and started to attend. Most of the attendees at these gatherings were members of the British Fantasy Society. It seemed to be a good idea to join this organisation, which existed to promote horror, sci fi and fantasy fiction.

Anyway, from there I learned of the existence of FantasyCon. I think the first one I attended might have been a day conference, held at Champagne Charlie’s on Villiers Street underneath Charing Cross station. As it was a conference that just required day attendance, it didn’t seem too intimidating. When I started attending FantasyCon as a weekend event, again it wasn’t too intimidating – my husband reads fantasy, sci fi and horror so he was happy to come along, and a lot of fellow writing group members are also long-standing FantasyCon attendees.

I joined Mystery Women in the mid-1990s, as at that point I was really getting into crime, and through that organisation I learned about the crime conventions. I had no one to go with me at that point. But although I lacked confidence in other areas of life, strangely the concept of going alone to a convention I did not find daunting. I figured it was the best way to network, and how else was I going to meet writers, agents and publishers in the industry unless I made a point of going to these conventions?

I can’t remember which year I first attended the St Hilda’s Crime & Mystery Conference in Oxford, but it has to be nearly 10 years ago. The first year I went, I didn’t actually know anyone – I’d attended a few Mystery Women events but hadn’t spend a great deal of time talking to anyone. But, undaunted, I booked in the conference, and arrived on the Friday night in time for the drinks reception.

I got myself a drink and for a few minutes stood alone in the room, trying to work out a plan of action. Everyone seemed to be engaged in conversation. Would it be rude to just march up to a group and introduce myself? While I was mulling this over, a group of women approached and said, “we noticed you were on your own, so we thought we’d come and talk to you”. And so I met Carol, Jane and Christine, and I was no longer alone for the rest of the weekend.

After many years of attending Cons, I am finding I am no longer left with no one to talk to. I run into the same people – people to whom I can say, “nice to see you again”. And there are always new people to meet – someone who had something interesting to say on a panel, or someone whose last book I really enjoyed.

My advice on Cons to anyone who’s starting out in their writing career is this: don’t be afraid to attend. Don’t worry you won’t know anyone. You might not know anyone when you arrive, but you’ll have some new friends by the time you leave.

Cons are valuable networking opportunities for writers. They are the best places to meet new people in the field: publishers, agents and writers alike. And to get the best out of them, you have to be a regular Con-goer. You only feel like the ‘newbie’ for the first one. And the most important thing is, Cons are great fun. Even the crawling out of bed with a hangover after four hours’ sleep to attend the first panel of the day because you were drinking in the bar till 4am with a group of writers is a cherished part of the Con experience (because the night before was such a good night it was worth the suffering).

There are a lot of Cons out there - too many for one to be able to attend all of them. But choosing which ones to go to is all part of the fun!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Warning: If you're of a sensitive nature, turn away now. Trust me, your sanity will thank you.

I quit. I’ve tried to convince myself maybe people like my writing and that I’ve something to offer, but I can’t. Not anymore.  

My vampire Victorian paranormal mystery NaNoWriMo project has been deleted. Same with all my angel urban fantasies. Why? People don’t want to read them. Who am I kidding? Myself? Sorry, I’m not that stupid.

Thing is, I actually enjoyed writing these stories. I even liked this year’s NaNo project. I enjoyed writing about the relationship between Stephen and Nathan, exploring Nathan's desire to redeem himself. I liked writing the angel UF, twisting the notions of good and evil, challenging people’s perceptions.

To you writer types, I wish you all the best on your projects.

Maybe my perception will change. I don't know. I'd like to hope it will. I'd like to believe in something.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"What If...?"

I have a reputation of being a worrier. I fret constantly about what might happen, no matter how unlikely. I leave the house in the morning with thoughts in my head along the lines of, "what if I left the hair straighteners plugged in?" (even though I checked twice they were unplugged). "What if a terrorist bomb blows me to smithereens on my way to work?" "What if a gas explosion reduces the house to rubble while I'm gone?".

When we go away, it's worse. What if the house gets burgled in our absence? What if one of the cats gets sick? What if we get scammed whilst abroad by a dodgy taxi driver?

All these thoughts make me very stressed. But it occurs to me that the same overactive brain that gives me all these thoughts also makes me a writer.

All stories start with "What If". Let's look at some examples by my favourite writer, Stephen King. What if a bullied high school girl has the power of telekinesis (Carrie)? What if a supernatural Big Bad can take on the form of whatever scares you the most (It)? What if a creepy burial ground possesses the ability to bring back to life whatever is buried there (Pet Semetary)?

So the real life "What ifs" that crowd my brain also allow me to come up with some fictional "What ifs" that turn into stories. And it makes me think - is it the curse of the writer to have too many thoughts? Is an overactive imagination the price to pay for creativity? Discuss...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

In Memoriam: The Edmund Fitzgerald

I wanted to take a break from talking about writing today to pay my respects to the crew and families of the Edmund Fitzgerald, an ore freighter that sank in Lake Superior during a storm on November 10, 1975. All 29 hands were lost. 

Although from Wisconsin, I never knew anyone on the Fitz, never saw Lake Superior. Nevertheless, this tragic event has left an impression on me. I can't imagine how horrifying it must have been. From my reading of the account, even if they had launched the lifeboats, it probably wouldn't have done any good. The ship was swamped with 25-foot waves and hurricane-like winds. Storms on Lake Superior can be extremely dangerous and unpredictable. November storms can be especially devastating.  

There's a line in Gordon Lightfoot's song, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald":  "The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead..." The bodies were never recovered and I believe the location is now considered a grave site. No diving is allowed.

Rest in peace.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A big challenge

The year is winding down but I find myself busier than ever right now. I've started the second volume of my paranormal serial and I've started a new and very challenging work in progress. This new WIP has already required a lot of world-building and I've realized there is more yet to do. I have to create a magical system: elements, correspondences, tools, basic spells. Pretty much the whole shebang. I've never done this before and I am both intimidated and excited by the prospect. Normally I write about existing systems, like hoodoo in the Mojo series. Coming at magic from a different angle, specifically not nature-based, is going to be, well, challenging.

This new WIP is going to have me using that word a lot, challenging. Sometimes I think I might be taking on something too big for me to handle. The story and the characters mean a lot to me though, and I want to write this book. Sometimes we don't find out if we can do a thing until after we've done it.

So I've got some reference materials ready, a spiral notebook waiting to be filled, and a few vague ideas about alternatives to the old standbys of earth, air, fire, and water. This should be fun!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

WIP Update

I thought it was time for an update on the current Works in Progress.

The second book in the Shara series is finished to Draft 3 stage. It is now out with beta readers and I am awaiting feedback. I don't want to start Draft 4 until I have this - there's not point in merrily carrying on with it in its current format, only to be told unanimously that the book is complete rubbish and needs a total overhaul. Which I am fully expecting to happen.

So for now, it is put to one side while my beta readers digest it. Hopefully putting some distance between me and it will allow me to become a little more impartial, and less likely to get defensive when people tell me what's wrong with it.

In the meantime, though, I thought it was time to start a new project. I've been hankering going back to the horror - largely due to a fairly major crisis of confidence in the crime writing. I started to become convinced that maybe I was a better horror writer than crime writer.

It was Hubby who suggested I write another horror novel, perhaps carrying on the theme of SUFFER THE CHILDREN and writing about another mythological monster. The germ of an idea began to form by the time I went out to Egypt. The trip proved sufficiently inspirational that I was able to make a start on it. I am now 10,000 words into Draft 1 of this new horror novel. I don't want to say too much about it now, as it's very early days.

Those of you who have been following this blog a while may recall that at one point there was an urban fantasy WIP. This has now been officially abandoned. I don't think it's my genre.

So for now, there are officially two WIPS. Until further notice, they shall formally be referred to as Shara 2 and The New Horror Novel. I shall endeavour to keep you updated where appropriate.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Another Vampire Story For NaNoWriMo

When I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge, I wrote a vampire story set partially during the French Revolution. Around that time, the Anita Blake novels and Anne Rice's vampire stories were quite popular, although I'd never read them.

Instead, I was influenced by anime and manga, particularly Vampire Princess Miyu and Hellsing Ultimate. I'd read Bram Stoker's Dracula, had seen numerous films based on it. But vampire lore has existed in other countries and cultures long before Stoker penned his horror masterpiece. I knew that if I wrote another vampire story, I'd want it to be different.

One of my favorite anime is the Mermaid Saga series by Rumiko Takahashi of Ranma 1/2 and Inuyasha fame. Yuta is a young-looking sailor who ate mermaid flesh 500 years ago. According to the legend, those who eat mermaid flesh either become immortal, die instantly, or mutate into horrible immortal monsters known as "lost souls."

When I decided to write this current vampire story, I wanted to get away from the blood sucker who stalks his victims. Nathaniel James didn't become a vampire because he wanted to subsist on blood. He wanted to become powerful enough to stop Jack the Ripper, a man who could shapeshift into a werewolf at will. But to become a vampire, Nathan had to find someone willing to turn him. And that was Stephen, descendent of a long line of vampire masters. People like Stephen have a dilemma. They produce too much blood and need someone to drink from them. But the people they turn die instantly from blood poisoning more often than not. If a vampire master can't find an assistant, the only way to get rid of the excess blood is through blood letting, such as cutting. But this practice is frowned upon as being barbaric. 

Stephen is Nathan's vampire master and also his manservant and lover.Not only do the men have to keep their vampirism secret but also their relationship. And that's not easy when a young prostitute, Charlotte, has her eyes on Nathan, a former Detective Inspector and someone she thinks is perfect to help her catch the Ripper. But Nathan has his own reasons for seeing the Ripper killed. 

Here are a few videos that influenced the story.

Mermaid Forest - Lost Souls
(Unfortunately, I can't embed this video, but here's the link:)