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New Website, New Pen Name

Well…the title of this post pretty much says it all. In my last post, I mentioned that I had some new things in the works. One of those things was deciding which genre was better for me to pursue as a writer at this point in time, and whether or not I wanted to start over entirely with a new site and name. First, I want to tell you that this site IS staying up. I love my fantasy writing, and I have two brand new drafts to revise, so I’m not going anywhere. But I have other work which is nearly ready to submit. I don’t know if you’d call it sci-fi romance or quirky romance or what.

Anyway, I have created a new site for promoting my new direction as a writer, and I’m putting all my efforts behind that identity for now. You can find me here now.

Wish me luck!

New Manuscripts, Old Friends, and Tough Decisions

Let me begin with what inspired it all: a blog post by YA author Jessica Khoury which discusses knowing when it’s time to let go of a manuscript and move on as a writer. It’s a really great list of signs to look for to help you decide whether you’re just a little burnt out or if you are really and truly ready to shelve your beloved problem novel.
I found this post during NaNo a couple months ago. In October, I decided I needed a break from Hex, and so for NaNo, I set out to write a novel called The Glass Rose. Finding Khoury’s post was both a blessing and a tragedy, because it made me realize something I’d been denying for months: Hex was holding me back as a writer. And as much as it grieves me, I’ve had to let it go. I adore these characters, and maybe someday I’ll reinvent them, but for now…for now, I have to say goodbye. I wish I could express how sad I am about this, but I know that many of my fellow writers understand.

So here’s what it means for this website. I’m going to leave my Hex pages up for now because I have nothing to replace them with yet. I won’t be revising The Glass Rose, a loose retelling of Cinderella set in 1919 America, until at least next month, and I don’t want to post a first draft excerpt. I’m not sure when I’ll have anything I’m willing to show for the novel I’m currently drafting. But as soon as I’m able, I’ll be posting summaries on the My Writing page.

I have additional things in the works as well, but it’s too soon to tell how those will pan out.

In the next month or two, I’m planning two things you may want to come back and check out:

  1. My favorite currently-presentable scene from Hex. I want to give it one last send-off, and maybe I’m the only person who really cares one way or another, but it’s something I have to do for myself.
  2. An update on this website, online activities, and my progress with my new manuscripts.

That’s all for now. See you soon!

Author Review: Julianne Donaldson

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a book review, either here or at the former Debuts and Reviews. As much as I’ve missed it, though, thoughtful reviews are a lot of work, so it takes a very special author to drag me back for one. Of course, you know by now that I’ve found such an author—you read the title of this post, you clever thing, you!

Julianne Donaldson is the author of two “proper” Regency romances: Edenbrooke, published in 2012, and Blackmoore, released just last month. Rather than review each individually, I’d like to look at Donaldson’s writing traits as seen over both novels, which is why I’m calling this an author review, not a book review. Donaldson is a master of breathtaking emotion and sizzling romantic tension—all while keeping it clean (thank you, finally, someone outside the inspirational genre who can write romance without resorting to bedroom scenes!). It’s been a long time since I’ve found an author I enjoy this much. Here’s what each book is about:

Edenbrooke: “When Marianne receives an invitation to spend the summer with her twin sister in Edenbrooke, she has no idea of the romance and adventure that awaits her once she meets the dashing Sir Philip.”

Blackmoore: “Having decided she will never marry, Kate Worthington plans to escape her meddlesome family by traveling to India. Her mother agrees on the condition that she gets—and rejects—three marriage proposals. To fulfill her end of the bargain, Kate travels to the manor of Blackmoore in northern England, where her plans go awry.”

In any novel, but especially a romance, developing a depth of emotion in your characters is key to a good book. Why should the reader care if the protagonist reaches her goal if the protagonist doesn’t care? But there’s a difference between showing the reader your character’s emotions and making the reader feel those emotions with every ounce of themselves. In Blackmoore especially, Donaldson accomplishes this by infusing her character Kate with longing so boundless that it feels as if a bottomless pit has been turned inside-out in your chest. From Blackmoore’s’ first line, you sense it, even though it’s not until a little later that you get a feel for what Kate longs for.

Connected to Donaldson’s mastery of putting emotion on the page is her ability to strike sparks between hero and heroine. Because we so intimately see the heroine’s emotions and past, it is all the more squirm-inducing when she matches wits with someone who threatens to conquer her resolve not to fall for him. And speaking of matching wits! The banter in these books! No one writers banter like Julianne Donaldson. The scene in Edenbrooke where Marianne pretends to be a milkmaid, and then the one where she first encounters Philip again at the river—I can’t describe them. Just read them. Donaldson can set a whole room on fire without hero and heroine having a single physical touch.

And that’s amazing. These books aren’t about characters with a physical attraction alone. Donaldson doesn’t just write romance—she writes love. She writes real love, not society’s imitation. Love that is deep and selfless, between people who not just claim they’d do anything for each other, but put their money where their mouth is and make sacrifices for the one they love. And maybe it’s this more than anything that makes Donaldson a master of striking sparks. Books about characters with chemistry—even well-written ones—aren’t difficult to come by. But books which really delve into what true romantic love means are hard to find.

I have read Blackmoore twice, and devoured Edenbrooke in one night, and each reading has left me feeling three things. First, a complete infatuation with these stories and characters—which I want to revisit over and over again. Second, a rekindled fire to get back to my own work-in-progress and write and revise and write again until it is just as passionate and wonderful. And third, a bit of despair, because matching Donaldson’s work seems such an insurmountable task.

(But no—I will not be intimidated by despair!)

I try to be balanced in my reviews and point out both the good and the bad, but I’m wracking my brain here, and the only thing that bothered me about either of these books is so small that in any other review, I’d consider it not worth mentioning. And in this case, explaining the very small issue I had would involve spoilers, so I won’t do that.

No matter your usual fiction genre, if you enjoy well-written emotion and evocative romance in your reading, I highly recommend Julianne Donaldson, who is destined for a spot on my list of favorite authors. (Which, by the way, is a really odd list. Seriously, how does Jane Austen end up on the same favorites list as Brandon Sanderson?)

Writers Are Batman

The first thing I learned from RWA Nationals last week was that the Atlanta night skyline looks like Gotham City. That was my husband’s observation. And I’m going to draw a cheesy parallel from that. Think about Batman and Gotham City: They’ve changed over the years, but they have the same identity. Batman still fights evil, and Gotham City still provides evil to fight and good to protect.

It’s a lot like publishing.

Publishing has changed over the years. It’s still changing, and in fact, the only thing that won’t change is the fact that things will continue to change. But for all this change, writing and publishing are at heart the same. Writing is about telling great stories, and publishing is about putting them out there for people to read.

In Gotham City, the crimes become more technological to fit the age. Batman still has to stop them. Publishing is becoming more technological, and writers need to rely on these changes if they want to be where the readers are. I’m not saying I know how to do that; I’m just here to make the comparison. But in all seriousness, I think we tend to look at all the changes in publishing—the venues—and forget its core identity—getting books into readers’ hands.

Not long ago, debate was fiery about whether or not “real” authors should self-publish or publish digitally, and people still have strong opinions on both sides. But publishing will continue to evolve, and it’s not the venues we should hold sacred, but the purpose.

It’s a corny analogy, I know. Hey, I’m a novelist, not an essayist. But of all the wonderful things I learned at conference, I think this was my biggest takeaway Writers love writing no more or less today than they did twenty years ago. Publishing still has challenges, just different ones. But they’re still about the same thing, just like Batman and Gotham City. So yeah. Writers are Batman. :)

New, New, New

I have updated just about every page on this site! Whew! I know I don’t have a lot of pages, but still. The About page is new, the My Writing page is new, I posted the first chapter of Hex, and I updated all my sidebars. I had planned to do this much earlier this year, but…well, I didn’t. :)

I’ve taken down the Twitter widget because I never use Twitter, but I’m very active on Pinterest if anyone wants to look me up, and while I’ve not had a great history of keeping current on Goodreads, I’ve still been better at it than at updating this site. But I’m planning to be here on the site more often in the future, so come back soon!

Happy 2013!

Time to dust off the site! If you’ve found your way here, I’m happy to have you! I let my domain renewal lapse a couple months ago, but now I’m back in business and ready to get things up to date and up to speed. New Year’s Resolutions and all that.

So I hope to be seeing you soon. Have a great 2013!

Musings: Historicals

Every spring, daffodils bloom in a corner of my yard near where a house used to be. Once in a while a chunk of the old foundation or a piece of netting from a screen door turns up beside those flowers, but the house was torn down thirty years ago, and it was unlived-in for another twenty-plus years before that. And every spring, I look at those flowers and wonder about the housewife who probably planted them.

For me, writing and reading novels with historical settings has a lot to do with those daffodils, and with all those tiny relics of the past. When I see those flowers, I feel a connection to this unknown woman who planted them. They are a legacy she left behind, one which bridges the gap between times to remind me of a common human thread. That’s what history and archaeology are all about, linking us with our brethren from long ago, reminding us of our deep human connections. And it goes further than that, I believe. When we open ourselves to this true purpose of studying history, we gain a deeper appreciation not just for our connection to peoples of the past, but to other people in our modern world, and gain a deeper sense of our own potential and possibilities.

Historical novels are a part of that. They may be fictional, but they are, when well-written, built on the firm foundations of the past. Studying history is sometimes mired in dates and analysis. Historical novels are the daffodils. They are a way to look back and see the simple wants and needs of men and women like you and me, to appreciate the things that don’t make it into the history books. They may not be vital to understanding history, but they are a means of connecting to humanity.

Musings: Accepting Your Unique Writing Process

Some writers work fast. Some writers work slow. Very slow. There’s a lot of pressure in the writing/publishing world to write on at least a book a year pace. There’s pressure from readers, too, as we can see from the way some readers bemoan the length of time they have to wait for George R.R. Martin’s books, for example.

And we unpublished authors don’t escape the pressure, either, as we watch writers we’ve known for years sign book deals and rack up adoring fans. We scramble to squeeze more writing hours into our days, but find ourselves spending less time with the people we love. We skip steps in our writing process, thinking they’re slowing us down, but end up with an inferior product. We cut back on novel reading to give ourselves more time to write, but find ourselves out of touch with the market and uninspired to create our own magic.

Recently, I’ve come to accept the way I work. No two writers work alike, and you have to be true to your own process. When discussing voice and style, we always emphasize the importance of finding your own, a voice and style that is all yours and not an imitation of someone else’s. Why can’t we do that with the writing process? Trying to be more efficient, trying to make your process better, is one thing. Trying to throw out everything that helps you write well just because it’s not “fast enough” is something else.

Chances are that the way you write reflects your personal learning style. I first discovered learning styles while doing research on how to tailor lessons for my kids (who I homeschool), and it completely altered the way I look at myself and how I work. Using myself as an example: I tend to write slow because the story doesn’t reveal itself to me all at once. Writing is very much a layering process for me; I get my ideas on paper, then see connections between them, get those on paper, and see even more connections. It can be very frustrating to realize something that should have been obvious from the beginning. Especially because it triples the amount of time and work I have to do.

But when I learned about the visual-spatial learning style, it suddenly made sense. Unlike auditory-sequential learners, visual-spatial learners don’t think, well, sequentially. Auditory-sequential learners can take an idea or fact and progress easily onto the next logical step. Visual-spatial learners tend to need a bunch of ideas or facts that they can “spread out” in their minds before they can make connections between them.

I have a theory that many slow writers are visual-spatial learners. I’m sure quite a few faster writers have visual-spatial tendencies, too, but that’s not the point. The point is, our writing process is what it is because it’s hard-wired into our brains. Your writing process stems from a vital aspect of what makes you you. For example, if you were an auditory-sequential rather than a visual-spatial (or vice-versa), you wouldn’t be writing this exact story. Your learning process itself would change the way your work unfolds.

So if you write every day and are dedicated to your craft, but still seem to move at a snail’s pace, don’t beat yourself up–this is what I’ve learned. Embrace your process, don’t fight it. For me, my work has gotten better for recognizing it.

Musings: Writing Through Tragedy

Writing through tragedy…I’ve tried to write this post a dozen times. It’s a hard process to write about because it’s a hard thing to do. It’s been said before that writing through personal tragedy can be theraputic, even if you can’t use these pieces for publication. And agents caution against sending them your tragically-inspired but unmarketable manuscripts. I can’t really add anything new to that. What I can offer is my own testimony–one writer’s account of writing through tragedy.

The topic has been on my mind lately because today, my daughter (who was stillborn) would have been one year old. We knew about her severe genetic condition prior to her birth, which in some ways made it easier when the time came, but it also made it a long, drawn-out ordeal. I can’t offer any sage wisdom, only offer up the things I learned along the way. And yes, I found writing theraputic. As writers, it is through the written word that we explore concepts, situations, angles on the world. I think that’s why writing through tragedy has such value for us. I wrote in my journal, I worked on my wip…And any tragedy is going to stir up raw, passionate emotions–the stuff of good fiction. It opens your eyes to deep things you don’t always think about, makes you think of how fragile the world really is. Even if what you’re writing is a different situation than what you’re going through, those dramatic thoughts and feelings can be useful in adding dimension to a book.

In whatever form it takes, I think the ultimate professional benefit of writing through tragedy is to connect with people, even help them, somehow. Plugging raw emotion and contemplative prose into your wip builds a sense of camraderie between reader and writer, even if indirectly. But as I said, writing was theraputic for me as well. In a tragedy, it seems like there’s this almost universal desire to do something, to help somehow, to contribute in some way–especially when the tragedy revolves around your own child. And one way writing was theraputic for me: I wrote my daughter a story. In that terrible time, there wasn’t a lot I had control over, and even though her genetic condition was no fault of my own, a parent always feels like it’s her fault when something is wrong with her children. Writing this story for her was the one thing I knew I could do right. And that feeling of being in control of something helped enormously.

So no, I haven’t reinvented the wheel with this post, but sometimes examples of experiences carry more weight than rote instruction and advice. And as novelists and fiction readers, we’re always on the lookout for a story to connect to in some way. This is mine.

Musings

Author Websites

It’s done.

Or is it? I’ve had a lot to think about in redesigning my site, spent several months researching what I wanted and how I wanted to do it, and I’ve come to realize that Dan Gillmor is right when he says in Mediactive, “You’ll never be finished…Your home base will always be a work in progress because you are a work in progress.” It’s a concept that certainly applies to authors who are designing web homes, but it overflows into our work* as well, and it also applies to readers, in a sense**. This concept of being works-in-progress has broad significance.

But my question for today is, what is it to build a home base–an author website–that reflects oure evolving personas? And since an author’s primary motive in having a website is to build a following of people who will buy her books (in the future, in my case!), we must next ask how we can be true to these personas while attracting readers to our books from our sites. The key, I think, is honesty–in our goals, in our tone, in our committments. And the ability to decide for oursieves what we should or shouldn’t include on our sites. If we decide to blog twice a week because it’s standard advice, we’re not being honest, are we? Our false enthusiasm, our scouring for something–anything–to write about, trying to fit into the author mold…this is something I and many others have done before. It is honesty in a sense; it is an exploration of the images we want to project. But as we grow, we should strive for greater honesty.

Some author websites will be extensive. Others will merely act as portals to our presences on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and the like. What’s important is not only to decide which suits us best, but to recognize that what suits us now may not suit us a year from now. A successful website should be flexible enough to accomodate our ever-changing personas.

What makes a website flexible? First, we must keep in mind that our website is our base of operations. People can come here to learn about you, from you. That said, there are a plethera or ways people can learn about you, even if all you’re doing in some cases is directing visitors to your Facebook or Twitter feeds. The point is, directing people to go there from your website tells teh something abotu you in and of itself–it tells them which media you update most frequently, for one. There are lots of things you can do inside this box. You can use your site’s blog for brief news and updates whenever these crop up, a place for monthly musings, a place for giveaways, as a daily sounding board, or whatever fits the way you live online. You can include links to your other online activities in a sidebar, or if it’s extensive, you can put these on a separate page on your site. you can use a features page to discuss your favorite writing resources or your favorite authors or as a link list containing your other essays and articles. you can write a long bio for your about page or a short one with a link to your group blog as “a way to learn more” about you.

We know that an author website contains four or five basic parts–a home page, an about page, a writing page, contact info, and sometmes a page or section to share miscellaneous info relevant to you and your work. As you can see from above, this basic format offers a lot of flexibility. Your site’s actual content can be long or short, but it must be thorough, and it must be accurate. This, I believe, is the key to a good website rather than a rigid formula that dictates exactly what to include and when. Once more teh focus is on quality, not quantity, of content. Not all author sites fit this requirement–how many times have you visited an author blog or site and left disappointed in its lack of good information? A good website should be thorough by answering the readers’ basic questions: who are you, what have you written, why did you write it, when did you write it or when can they get it, where can they get it or where is it set. You can be as succinct or expansive as you want, but when you use the 5 Ws, that’s a good start to quality content.

And to that end, I do hope you’ll find this site’s latest evolution to be thorough, accurate, informative, and sometimes entertaining. Please let me know ifyou have any suggestions fo improving the site. I’m also interested in any links or other resources (or your own advice) about successful author websites. A work-in-progress (like me and this site!), after all, can only change for the better by being open to new ideas, to learning all there is to know.

* Since writing is a reflection of ourselves the changes we undergo as people will reflect in our work. Thus, while each individual novel will at some point cease to be a work-in-progress an author’s body of work will shift in mood, tone, and theme as the author matures.

** People are not static, so as they grow, their reading tastes may change. They may continue to read in one particular genre, but there’s a lot of variety within each genre–especially now, as subgenres blossom and fade and genres meet and mingle in fascinating new ways. Book reviewers, then, provide a valuable service by helping readers identify the traits they enjoy in a book at this stage of their lives. I once wrote a brief post relating to this idea.

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