Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wednesday Work-in-Progress

As I continue to await news of Hexborn's fate in the Kindle Scout competition, I thought I'd share with you an excerpt from the sequel.  I've tried to choose something without too many Hexborn spoilers.  :-)  Enjoy.




Shiloh stood at the back of the line filing into the Script Shop.  A number of the faces round her were familiar, belonging to courtiers who had, evidently, fallen out of favor, but none would meet her eyes.  They were a mix of men and women, though most of the men were elderly.  She wondered if the young ones were assigned to more physical labor.
As the others took their seats at their desks, Shiloh stood hesitantly in front of the monk overseeing the scribes.  The room was rather lovely, to her surprise.  A large hearth kept it warm.  I guess it would not do to have the ink freeze.  Floor to ceiling windows bathed it in natural light, which she supposed made sense, given the task at hand.  It was the first sunlight she’d seen since her arrival the day before.
“Pardon me, Honored Brother, but his is my first day.  My name is Shiloh Teethborn.  Where would you like me to sit?” she asked.
His dark eyes flicked upward, lingering on first her hair, then her hook.  He pushed a scrap of parchment toward her, along with a pen.
“Write something,” he ordered.  “Let me see if I need to throw you back.”
Shiloh bent to comply, writing her favorite verse from the Tarwah, from the Scroll of the Mother.  For she who has known wilderness most appreciates the warmth of the hearth.
“Good enough,” he allowed.  “I’m Rikkoh.  You will call me Master or Honored Brother, or, preferably, nothing at all because you are too busy attending to your work to disturb me.  Tell me, girl, do you know why we copy the edicts of the Patriarch by hand rather than by magic?”
She swallowed heavily.  “Because the words of his holiness are sacred?”  Saying the words nearly made her lose her breakfast.
“Indeed.  To copy them by hand is an offering to the Lords of Heaven,” he replied with grudging approval.  “Who taught you to write?”
“Edmun Courtborn,” she confessed warily.
“The old traitor’s still alive?” Rikkoh asked with surprise.
She shook her head.  “No, Master.   He died two summers back.”
The man laughed.  “Tell me, how did the arrogant bastard die?”
Shiloh gritted her teeth.  “A cancer took him.”
He continued to laugh. “Reduced to teaching a Hexborn freak in the Teeth.  I love it.”  Finally, his mirth faded, and he pointed to a desk.  “Sit there.  Copy this.”
“How many times, Honored Brother?” Shiloh asked.
“Until it gets too dark to work.”
All morning, they all bent silently over their tasks.  Shiloh got into a rhythm.  It was almost meditative, as long as she focused only on forming the letters.  If she allowed herself the read the words, to comprehend the sentences, then the rage became too great a distraction.  She breathed into each stroke of the pen, trying to make it the prayer it was supposed to be.  Several hours passed in this fashion, until her focus was shattered by a clatter just behind her.
“What is this rubbish?” Rikkoh demanded, hauling an old man bodily out of his seat, sending the stool crashing to the stone floor.  “Four errors on one page!  Are you going blind?”
“I’m sorry, Master,” the man protested.  “I’ll do better.”
With a gasp, Shiloh realized that she recognized him from court.  It was a minor nobleman named Dann, whose sole reason for noteworthiness came from having been the father of the executed queen, Zina.  Esta sent him here for spite, she realized.
“You’d better,” Rikkoh growled, then dropped the man to the floor, giving him a swift kick for good measure before stalking back to his own desk.  “What are you looking at?” he spat at the scribes, whose necks quickly swiveled back toward their desks. 
I should help him up, Shiloh told herself.  I should help him up.  She listened to him struggle behind her, grunting as he pulled himself painfully to his feet and straightened out his stool.  At last, she heard his pen resume its scratching.  Shame made her cheeks bloom pink.
I should have helped him up.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Before and After: Grief and the Act of Writing



I’ve written a lot of characters with dead parents. I think many of us do. We have to get them out of the way, after all, so we can expose their kids to mortal peril. I thought I could imagine my characters’ pain fairly well. I’m an empathetic person. I consume a lot of media that explores grief. As it turns out, I didn’t really have a clue.

My father died of a sudden heart attack in October, 2017, at the end of a family vacation. I had just seen him that morning, then had headed to the airport to come back to California. When I landed, I found out in the baggage claim that he had died while I was in the air, barely an hour after I had taken off. He’d collapsed at the hotel, just before my parents were supposed to leave for the airport themselves.

A few months later, when the shock finally wore off enough for me to start working again, I realized that I should probably rework a few scenes in Hexborn in which Shiloh, my main character, talks about the death of her father. Such grief was no longer theoretical to me.

Take a look at this scene from Hexborn and compare the “before loss” version to the “after loss” version. To me, the second one feels more true. Of course, I’d much rather not be in a position to know that.

***

Before:

Shiloh knelt next to Esta in front of the shrine to the Mother in the Temple. She was utterly alone, no ladies-in-waiting to accompany her in her sorrow. Her nose and cheeks glowed bright red from crying, but her eyes were now dry.

“I thought I might find you here,” Shiloh said softly. “I am so sorry for your grief.”

Esta looked at her in surprise. “No one else is,” she declared, her bitterness escaping like steam from a kettle.

“I know. Her death makes things easier for everyone else, and no one will show any regret over her passing for fear of being thought a traitor. But I know what it is to lose a parent, and I am sorry you have to carry this alone, my lady.”

“They poisoned her. I feel it in my bones. The queen’s people, or Hatch’s minions. Only the Gods know who. No one will ever admit it, nor will anyone ever face justice for the act, at least not in this life. I will never be able to speak of it to anyone who matters, not so long as that woman is queen. But I will not forget. I will never forget,” Esta swore.

“When my father was murdered, I lashed out at those who had taken him from me. But it didn’t make me feel any better. It made me feel worse. The only thing that helped at all was time. And prayer.” Shiloh glanced around. “I need to get back before I am missed. I’ll pray for you, my lady.” She rose to leave.

“My priests tell me you are in here twice a day,” Esta told her, halting her departure. “That you are a faithful woman.”

“Yes, my lady, I try to be,” Shiloh confirmed. “I was raised that way.”

Esta nodded. “So was I. But it is no longer in fashion.” She turned her attention back to her prayer beads, and Shiloh took that as a dismissal.



After:

Shiloh knelt next to Esta in front of the shrine to the Mother in the Temple. The king’s daughter was utterly alone, no ladies-in-waiting to accompany her in her sorrow. Her nose and cheeks glowed bright red from crying, but her eyes were now dry.

“I thought I might find you here,” Shiloh said softly. “I am so sorry for your grief.”

Esta looked at her in surprise. “No one else is,” she declared, her bitterness escaping like steam from a kettle.

“I know. Her death makes things easier for everyone else, and no one will show any regret over her passing for fear of being thought a traitor. But I know what it is to lose a parent, and I am sorry you have to carry this alone, my lady.”

“They poisoned her. I feel it in my bones. The queen’s people, or Hatch’s minions. Only the Gods know who. No one will ever admit it, nor will anyone ever face justice for the act, at least not in this life. I will never be able to speak of it to anyone who matters, not so long as that woman is queen. But I will not forget. I will never forget,” Esta swore.

“When my father was murdered, I lashed out at those who had taken him from me. But it didn’t make me feel any better. It made me feel worse,” Shiloh sighed. “I’m not going to lie and tell you that the pain of missing them goes away. You just get used to it, and it dulls to an ache. It’s as though the Gods didn’t make us to suffer entirely without respite. It does help to talk about them.”

Esta snorted. “With whom? I trust no one, not even my confessor.”

“Even if only to the Gods, then,” Shiloh suggested gently. “Everyone says that time helps. And it does, in a way. But I resent it passing. It’s like a river that carries me further and further away from my Da. And to me, it’s like it just happened, but the water just keeps on flowing,” Shiloh concluded, then glanced over her shoulder toward the door. “I need to get back before I am missed. I’ll pray for you, my lady.” She rose to leave.

“My priests tell me you are in here twice a day,” Esta told her, halting her departure. “They say that you are a faithful woman, Unclean or not.”

“Yes, my lady, I try to be,” Shiloh confirmed. “I was raised that way.”

Esta nodded. “So was I. But it is no longer in fashion.” She turned her attention back to her prayer beads, and Shiloh took that as a dismissal.

***

They say that art is therapeutic, and I think that is true. What pain have you poured into your own art? What art has touched you in your damaged places?

You can read more about Shiloh and her trials and tribulations over on my Kindle Scout nomination page. Many thanks, and happy reading.



Tuesday, February 13, 2018

New Release: Chasing Ordinary by Pandora Spocks



Just in time for February 14th, romance queen Pandora Spocks is releasing her latest novel, Chasing Ordinary.  I had the pleasure of beta reading this sweet treat, and I could not have enjoyed it more.  In this season of my life, a little escapism was just what the doctor ordered.  As usual, Spocks brings the heat, but a more vanilla flavor this time around.  If you haven't tried her yet because you're not into the BDSM romance genre, this is a good one to try.  At $0.99 today, you don't want to pass this up.  After all, it isn't Valentine's Day without some sugar.

Here is the blurb:

Red-haired Petey Cavanaugh is a sculptor who welds steel and glass creations. A young widow, she lives on her in-laws’ sheep ranch in Montana where she helps out during the day, working on her art at night.

Looking to raise money to expand the ranch’s business, she gratefully accepts her art school roommate’s offer of a gallery show in Manhattan. It’s been years since she was in the city, and she’s happy to visit her old friend.

Nik is in New York on business. He’s been traveling for nearly a month, enduring endless meetings, attending obligatory dinners, and battling jet-lag. On his way to yet another business dinner, his world collides with Petey's one rainy Manhattan night.

Their mutual attraction is immediate, but Nik’s skeptical. Could it possibly be that this gorgeous, enchanting artist has no idea that he’s Europe’s most eligible prince?

Spending time with Petey is Nik’s first-ever taste of ordinary. What will happen when she finds out the truth?

Click here to meet Prince Charming.  Happy reading!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Hexborn: the Trailer



I enjoy the process of making book trailers.  They're kind of glorified slideshows, at least for those of us without a gazillion dollars to set aside for marketing.  But they give me the chance to use images and words to provide a little taste of the plot, character, and themes of my work.  It's fun trying to distill things down to run in about a minute.

I usually do mine in first person, even though my books are all written in third person.  I like giving the main character a chance to speak for herself, and it ensures that the trailer isn't just a repeat of the book blurb. 

Take a look at the trailer, and let me know what you think.  And, of course, don't forget to drop by Kindle Scout to nominate Hexborn for publication.  Remember, if you nominate a book that gets chosen. you will automatically receive a free copy of the e-book ahead of the release.

Friday, February 9, 2018

A new adventure: Kindle Scout

I'm excited to tell you that my novel Hexborn is up for nominations on Kindle Scout!  What is Kindle Scout?  Basically, it is a process that Amazon's in-house publishing imprint uses to choose what books to publish.  (Don't confuse this with Kindle Direct Publishing, which is what we use to self-publish e-books.)  Their decision-making process is a little mysterious, but their editors assess writing quality and marketability along with the amount of support an author is able to drum up in nominations.  You can click here for more details about the program straight from Kindle Scout.



How do you nominate?   It's easy.  You can click my link and see my blurb, a sample of the book, and some additional information about me and my writing process.  Then you click "Nominate."  The site will prompt you to enter your normal Amazon login and password.

You can only nominate three books at a time.  When one campaign you've chosen to support ends, it frees up one of your slots. 

Once my 30-day campaign is complete and Amazon makes its decision, you'll get an email informing you whether Hexborn was chosen or not.  If it is chosen, Amazon will provide me with some editorial and marketing support much like other publishers, and everyone who nominates it will receive a free copy two weeks before the official publication date.  How cool is that?  If it isn't chosen, I'll launch it myself and let you know how you can get a copy.

Why am I taking a shot at Kindle Scout?  It is very hard for an indie author to gain traction in the current market.  I think Hexborn is a terrific book, and I don't want it to fall into a black hole when it is released.  I feel that Scout is an exciting opportunity for me to break through and gain some visibility.  I hope you'll support me in this new adventure by nominating Hexborn and sharing my campaign with your friends who enjoy reading.  Thank you so much, and happy scouting!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Kindle Scout for Beginners

Kindle Scout is a fun way to get to know some unknown authors and to influence the direction of publishing.  You get to taste some new books, find some you like, and nominate them for publication.  If a book you nominate gets chosen, you receive a free copy of the e-book in advance of publication.  Pretty cool, right?  Here are some tips if you've never nominated a book before.










I hope you'll take a moment to give my campaign for Hexborn some support.  Thanks so much, and happy Scouting!


Judging a book by its cover: Hexborn

It's finally time to show off my new book: Hexborn, a "sword and sorcery" fantasy novel set in the imaginary country of Bryn.  Just as with the November Snow series, the main character is a strong young woman in a dangerous world.  And just as November was the heart of my vampire series, Shiloh is the heart of this new story.

I knew that Hexborn was going to be special before I even finished writing it.  I knew I needed to put some thought and money into the cover in order to give it the best chance of succeeding.  So, I turned to the indie guru Eeva Lancaster at The Book Khaleesi to do the cover design.  She is amazing-- the perfect combination of creativity, professionalism, and, occasionally, brutal honesty. I am thrilled with what she and her team put together.  I think it will give me a good shot in my Kindle Scout campaign.  (Don't forget to vote and spread the word!)

I knew that I wanted my protagonist, fifteen-year-old Shiloh, to dominate the cover.  This is her story, after all.  I wanted to include the detail that she covers her head for religious reasons.  I thought that the hood would also help convey the epic fantasy genre a bit.

One detail that was particularly crucial to me was her hair and eye color.  In the book, you learn that hair and eyes of unnatural colors are signs that a child was exposed to too much dark magic in the womb.  Such children are called “hexborn” and suffer a kind of chronic illness.  The condition is highly stigmatized in their society, and nearly impossible to hide.  Living as an outcast obviously has a major impact on Shiloh’s development as a person, so I wanted her hexborn status depicted on the cover, along with her strength and determination.  My designer did a fabulous job retouching the photo to match Shiloh’s description from the story.

The perfect choice of frame and the title font help complete the magical/fantasy feeling:




What do you think of the cover?  What are some of your fave fantasy covers?  Please don't forget to pop over to Kindle Scout to give Hexborn a nomination!  Many thanks, and happy reading.