Monday, October 31, 2016

A Halloween Tale--Tea Leaves

A couple of weeks ago, I got an idea for a Halloween-themed short story. I finally finished it yesterday. I don't write short stories very often, particularly flash fiction, so this was a good way to stretch my writing muscles. Here's your treat for Halloween; I hope you enjoy it!

Tea Leaves

Matilda sighed as she turned off the porch light. Now that the trick-or-treaters were gone, the house seemed even quieter than it had three weeks ago, after the funeral when the remnants of their family and a couple of neighbors had left. John would have said good riddance to all of them. Toward the end, his dementia had made him suspicious of everyone and everything, including her. She’d plastered a smile over her hurt every time he’d lashed out at her. She was still struggling to adjust to his absence, but even in her grief she was beginning to realize she now had the freedom to pamper herself. That meant brewing a proper cup of tea, settling her aching bones into the comfortable chair, and reading something that made her feel forty years younger.
She puttered around the kitchen, filling the kettle, polishing her mug, and carefully scooping level teaspoons of tea leaves into the strainer. The scent of jasmine wafted into the air. John had sneered at her “fancy tea leaves,” saying they were too expensive and complicated to use when bagged tea, dipped in water heated in a microwave, worked just as well. Even when their daughter, Susan, gave her loose-leaf tea at Christmas, Matilda hid it in the back of the cupboard so John wouldn’t find it.
When the kettle whistled, she let the water cool. In the meantime, she hunted for the sugar. Where had she left it? John had always accused her of losing things or mixing them up. She knew she’d gotten his last dose of medicine right. Why had everyone questioned her so much about it? All their doubts had made her wonder about it herself. What if it had been the right dose but the wrong medicine, or she’d given it to him at the wrong time? Matilda shook her head. She would never have her rest if she let questions worry her to death.
She poured the tea, brought it to the chair, and read for a while, sipping her tea every few pages. When the words began to blur, she picked up her cup to rinse it out. But a glance inside it made her shriek and drop the cup. Seconds later, she fell too.

* * *

“Mother?” Susan called a few days later as she entered the living room. “Where are you? Why aren’t you answering your phone….Oh no!” She hurried to Matilda, but it was obviously too late to do anything.
At the instructions of the emergency responders, Susan left the room exactly as she found it, even the pottery shards on the floor. But the autopsy never found the true cause of Matilda’s death. No one else would ever see “Your fault” written in the scattered tea leaves.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Guest Post: Writing Real People into Your Fiction by Gail Z. Martin

Gail Z. Martin joins us today as part of her Days of the Dead blog tour. Please see the end of her post for more details and links to her work. Since some of my stories are inspired by real people, and since I plan to use a real city (Madison, WI) in a future series, I asked her to write about using real people and places in fiction. Take it away, Gail!

If you're going to use real people in your fiction, make it easy on yourself and be sure they're dead.

Dead people don't have as many rights as living people (or corporations). Public figures have fewer privacy restrictions than private individuals. If you're going to make a character be something really terrible, pick someone who is long dead, long enough that close relatives won't feel inclined to sue. I'm not a lawyer, but if you think you're going to use a real person in a book in a way that might make someone related to that person annoyed enough to make your life miserable, you might want to create a fictional character instead. Remember that the laws differ from country to country, so err on the side of caution if you don't want to fork over legal fees.

That said, using real public figures who have been dead for a hundred years ago are fair game. They won't have spouses, children or grandchildren around who might fear a tarnished reputation if you make great grand-daddy a serial killer. Hence, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.

What about using people you know? This is dangerous territory. If the person paid to be written in (called a 'Tuckerization'), it's still good to get a signed release form, in case memory lapses years down the road. While we all learn about people by watching the folks who are around us on a daily basis, resist the urge to write in the kid who bullied you in fifth grade or the roommate from college who stole your best sweater. Fiction should be more than cheap revenge, and there's more to building good characters than wholesale copying. It's one thing to assemble a mixture of traits from a variety of real people and another thing to make a real person easily identifiable as the model for your character. Unless you like settling legal disputes, avoid causing harm.

In general, I will use real people and places in my urban fantasy and our steampunk to create a sense of time and place, often as walk-on or secondary characters. I treat long-dead public figures with less care than modern celebrities and politicians, and generally avoid using the latter unless it's a cultural reference (and even then, such things can date your book).

It's the same courtesy I use for real places. Historic, public and government buildings, sites and organizations are safe to use as locations. On the other hand, I don't like to use a real, existing business in my fiction because they might not be in business by the time the book is printed, and they might not be happy about being used as a crime scene or alleged to be run by a supernatural monster that eats children.  I figure my life is chaotic enough without dodging legal problems that can be easily avoided. In writing, as in medicine, it's good to follow the concept, "first, do no harm."

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for my stories and for books by author friends of mine. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat!  Get all the details about my Days of the Dead blog tour here:

Let me give a shout-out for #HoldOnToTheLight--100+ Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors blogging about their personal struggles with depression, PTSD, anxiety, suicide and self-harm, candid posts by some of your favorite authors on how mental health issues have impacted their lives and books. Read the stories, share the stories, change a life. Find out more at
Book swag is the new Trick-or-Treat! All of my guest blog posts have links to free excerpts—grab them all!

Use your free Audible trial to get my Deadly Curiosities!
TrickOrTreat excerpt from my novel The Summoner

Enjoy this free excerpt from Bounty Hunter, one of my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure short stories

Try an excerpt from Wicked Dreams, a Deadly Curiosities short story
Trick Or Treat with an excerpt from the Realms Of Imagination anthology
Free sample of John Hartness’ Black Knight Chronicles excerpt from Hard Day’s Knight Chp1
About the Author

Gail Z. Martin is the author of Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Solaris Books); Shadow and Flame the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books); The Shadowed Path (Solaris Books) and Iron and Blood a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin. A brand new epic fantasy series debuts from Solaris Books in 2017.

She is also author of Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen); The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) and the urban fantasy novel Deadly Curiosities.  Gail writes three ebook series: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures and The Blaine McFadden Adventures. The Storm and Fury Adventures, steampunk stories set in the Iron & Blood world, are co-authored with Larry N. Martin.

Find her at, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on, at blog and, on Goodreads and  free excerpts on Wattpad

Monday, October 24, 2016

How Long Does It Take to Write/Publish a Book?

It occurred to me recently that it might be helpful--at least for readers who aren't authors or involved with publishing--to outline my process for going from a story idea to a finished book. This process is most certainly different for authors working with publishers, since they're not involved with the actual publishing.

1. Preplanning--Once I get the initial idea for a story, I typically let it incubate for a while to develop it. I may need to come up with several different ideas to develop the plot or characters. I may even write notes on how I expect the plot to proceed or my initial character concepts. There may be research involved at this stage too. Time for this stage varies.

2. Writing--When I feel ready, I start the rough draft. Although I try to write a thousand words a day, I often don't reach that goal due to other demands (both writing-related and non-writing related) on my time. Sometimes I have to split my time between two writing projects, or sometimes I need to catch up on my blog or do other things. The rough draft for a novel can take several months; for example, I'm on the climax of Summon the Seasons. I started that back in April, so it will take about 6-7 months for the rough draft (currently about 80,000 words and expected to go for another 10,000-20,000).

3. Resting--In order to revise the rough draft with fresh eyes, I set it aside for a month or so while I work on other projects.

4. 1st Read-Through--I upload the file to my Kindle and read it through, taking notes. This usually takes a couple of days.

5. Outline--Sometimes at this stage I create a rough outline of the scenes to see how the story develops overall. This helps me determine if I need to add or move scenes. Again, this only take a few days.

6. Revise--There's no fixed length of time for revising the story; it depends on how extensive the changes are.

7. Review--Once I finish the second draft, I might feel ready to get feedback on it. Depending how how busy my beta readers are, it could take four to six weeks.

8. Formatting--If necessary, I prepare the document for CreateSpace while I'm waiting for comments. This may only take a few days, depending on if I used a template or not.

9. Cover Design--At this stage, I also contact my cover artist. Time for cover creation can vary, but it's usually only a couple of weeks.

10. Upload--By this point, even if I don't have final edits done yet, I can prepare the book for preorder on Amazon and Draft2Digital. All I need is the rough draft, the e-book cover, the blurb, and the rest of the metadata. I can accomplish this step in a single night. I make sure to pick a publication date that at least two months away so I have time to make the final edits.

11. Paper Proof--Once I'm sure of the final page length and get the full cover, I can upload the paper version to Createspace. (Some preliminary information can be filled out before this step.) Even though I've created several books by this point and am familiar with the process, it usually takes me several tries to get the document tweaked enough to make it approvable by CreateSpace. This may take a few evenings before I'm able to order the proof, which typically takes another ten days or so to arrive.

12. Proof Review--This is where I'm currently at for Fifth Season. It will take me about a week or so to go through it and mark everything I want to change. I catch a lot of typos and layout issues, but in addition, I may also do some last-minute sentence revisions. By this stage, most of the changes will be minor. However, I'm still glad I can make as many changes as I do without upsetting another publisher!

13. Final upload and approval--Amazon requires a final version of the book ten days before the official publication date. Sometimes after I order the initial paper proof, I get a second one to check layout and formatting. If not, then I scrutinize the electronic proof before approving it. Once that's done, Createspace starts distributing it.

14. Promotion--I have to decide if I'll run ads, offer giveaways, go on a blog tour, or perform other promotion. If possible, I set this up before publication or for shortly after the eBook goes live.

So, that's what I do--beside work, chores, and raise my son, of course. The whole process can take at least a year, so books I draft this year won't be ready until next year. I think I can manage that with Summon the Seasons, but the next series is still in the preplanning stage and may take longer. We'll see how it goes and adapt accordingly.

If you're a writer, how long does it take you to get your manuscript ready? If you're not, does this process surprise you? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Behind on Books?

So far, I've read 148 books this year, or at least books as Goodreads counts them. (Items on Goodreads can be anything from a short story to a box set.) That may sound like a lot, but my goal is 200 books in 2016. According to Goodreads, I'm actually 11 books behind schedule.

There are a couple of reasons for this deficit. I started the year strong, but when my plantar fasciitis returned in the spring, I gave up the treadmill (and reading while exercising on the treadmill) for a while. When Pokemon Go came out in July, I started playing it, even though walking to Pokestops and hatching eggs doesn't help my feet. While it's nice to get out in the fresh air and enjoy nature, the game is taking away from my reading time. When the weather really turns bad, I'll probably spend more time inside.

I have also read a couple of trilogies that were combined into a single volume. I would be a little closer to my goal if I tracked each book individually, but since the combined volumes are listed on Goodreads, I decided it would be more accurate to count them the way they were published. A few books I read this summer were long or a chore to get through, so that set me behind as well.

This is hardly a major problem. I still have a little more than two months to reach my goal, and this may be possible if I pick shorter books and increase my reading time. Even if I fall short this year, I've still read a lot more books than the average person. I would like to get to 200 just because it's a nice round number. I guess I should keep this post short if I want to read tonight. I got my proof copy of Fifth Season today, so as I read it and mark it up, I'll count it towards my reading goal as well.

Do you set reading goals for yourself? If so, do you focus more on the type of book or the number read?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Indie Author Survey

I belong to a self-publishing mailing list. Although the self-publishing group has a lot of romance writers, they still post tips and information useful to writers in other genres as well. One of the moderators of this group recently developed a survey for indie authors, and she requests that members encourage other indie authors to participate, even if they're not part of the group. Over 1,300 authors have already taken the survey (I filled it out last night.) If you're willing to take it, follow this link. It look me less than ten minutes. You have until November 8th, but it's better to take care of it now so you don't forget later. I'll have to post a link to the report when it becomes available.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Time Travel, Book Style

I'm currently listening to one book about time travel to the Middle Ages and reading another book set in 1930s Wisconsin. Both books remind me how different the past is from our present. Although daily life would be more comfortable in the 1930s than in the Middle Ages, I prefer to remain in my own time, not just for the creature comforts, but for my own freedom. If I had to travel back in time, I would probably want to go to the 1960s and see the Beatles perform. I might stand out among the crowds of teenage girls, but I'd be as excited as any of them!

If you had the opportunity to travel in time, where would you go and why?

Monday, October 10, 2016

What's on Your Author Table?

On Saturday, I was fortunate enough to be part of an Indie Author fair at a local library. Although it was sparsely attended, it was a good opportunity to network with other authors, give advice to less experienced writers, and add a few subscribers to my newsletter. The event made me think about author tables. A picture of my table is off to the side. Below is a list of items that I think are helpful to have at your table:

Book Racks/Supports for Books: IMO, books are more attention-getting when they're displayed upright as opposed to stacks of them on the table.

Giveaways: Business cards, bookmarks, postcards and other swag with your name, contact info, and books help people remember you after the event.

Signup Sheet for Your Newsletter: Author events are a great way to add more people to your newsletter. I offer a free eBook with signup, so I made sure to send it to each new subscriber later that day.

Pens--For signing books or making sure people can sign up for the newsletter.

Receipt Book--For sales.

Not pictured are my Square reader for taking credit cards, extra cash for making change, and my tea mug, not to mention the netbook I use for writing on the go. I also don't have a picture of my boxes of books or the handcart and bungee cords I used to haul my goods around.

I'm debating on whether I should replace the banner with a tablecloth. This is the second time I've used it, and it's so wide it brushes the ground. Other authors brought tablecloths with patterns or pictures of their book covers; a couple of them had a sign on an easel next to their table. It is nice to have something that draws attention to your table and lets people know who you are.

A few authors brought candy to pass out; almost all of them brought Hershey's Kisses. I thought about that, but I was worried I'd eat all the candy myself.

What items would you add or change on this list? If you have multiple books publsihed, do you bring them all, or do you leave some behind? I currently have seven books in print, and that number is just going to keep increasing.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

IWSG--When Do You Know Your Story Is Ready?

If it's the first Wednesday of the month, it's time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group post. This month's co-hosts are  Beverly Stowe McClure, Megan Morgan, Viola Fury, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Angela Wooldridge, and
Susan Gourley

For October, we've been posed the following question: When do you know your story is ready?

I think every writer is going to have a different response to this question. I'm a pantser, so my stories are definitely not ready after the rough draft. When I finish that, I set it aside for a while before uploading it to my Kindle for a read-through. I note wording changes on this draft, but I will also outline what I've written so I can see how well the plot works. This will help me figure out if there's material I need to add or change. Then I go back through and revise my story into a second--or possibly third draft. This is the point where I will send the manuscript out to my beta readers for their feedback so I can incorporate it into the story. Along the way, I'll lay the story out for eBook and paper (for longer works) formats. By the time I review the proof copy, I've been over the story several times and am sick of looking at it, even though I still catch mistakes at this stage. But after this step, I'm usually ready to be done with the story and move on to something else. I may still think of things I'd like to revise after publication, but I try not to make major changes by this point.

In other words, I know my story is ready when I've done the best I can with it at this stage of my career and can't find any more things, either major or minor, that I want to change. No story is ever perfect or will please everyone, but sometimes you have to release it to move on and improve.

How about you? For the writers out there, when do you know your story is ready? Feel free to reply in the comments.

P.S. From now through Sunday, Twinned Universes, Scattered Seasons, and Chaos Season are only $0.99 each! 

Monday, October 03, 2016

Three Things to Celebrate in October

As if colorful leaves, hot ciders, pumpkins and squash, and Halloween aren't enough to get excited about this October, here are three more reasons to celebrate this month. Two are global, and one is personal.

1. Vegetarian Awareness Month--Saturday was actually World Vegetarian Day to kick off Vegetarian Awareness Month. I became a vegetarian about two years ago to reduce my carbon footprint and leave more resources for my son's generation. It's not always easy to eat vegetarian; at home, I have to do more cooking to accommodate everyone's preferences. When we go to a restaurant, I have to check out the menu online to make sure I have something to eat--and sometimes I've ordered things I thought were meat-free but didn't turn out to be. Becoming a vegetarian obviously means I eat more vegetables and forces me to expand my palate. On the whole, I feel it's a healthy diet (as long as I don't overdo the cheese) and helps reduce some of the cruelties involved in modern food production. If you're not ready to give up meat altogether, you could try going meatless once a week. If everyone made small changes to their diets, it could have big effects.

2. Star Wars Reads--I may not wield the power of the Force (though I am working on a Jedi costume for the Rebel Legion), but I do have the power of reading. These two powers combine this month for Star Wars Reads. There will be various activities going on all month. When Alex was younger, Star Wars provided him with material he wanted to read at a reading level he could manage. Although his reading has improved and his tastes have broadened, Star Wars books still make up a large part of his library. I have to check if there are any local events we can troop at this year.

3. My Fifth Indie Anniversary: Lyon's Legacy celebrates its fifth year of publication this week. While I do plan to celebrate with an ad and a brief sale on my novels, these days I'm focusing more on permafree and newsletter campaigns than I am on sales and ads. In the long run, I want to develop fans who will seek out my work, so this seems like the best strategy.

What can I say about five years of being an indie writer? There's been a lot of learning involved. While I'm fairly familiar with the publication process by now, there's always more to learn about craft and marketing. There have been ups and downs, and indie publishing is definitely not a quick path to fame and fortune. (I knew that when I started out, but it has been harder to find readers than I expected it would be.) However, I enjoy the freedom of being able to choose who I work with, what I write, and when it becomes available. The more I learn about the pitfalls in traditional publishing contracts, the happier I am with my choice to go indie. My short-term plan is to publish two books a year (while hopefully completing smaller projects too) until 2020 and then re-evaluate how I'm doing. Here's to more writing and more books in the meantime!

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