22 November 2014

Pushing Boundaries

Quite a while ago I wrote a post about how I wished the "trashy" erotica out there would go away, because it gave erotica in general a bad name. I hated the idea of people who might very well enjoy reading erotica being turned off or scared away from giving it a try because all they knew of were "those" stories. And by "those" stories, at the time I referenced mainly things like pseudo-incest stories, because that was what had set me off on my rant of sorts at the time. It wasn't exclusively the subject matter, but also the fact that they're (the ones I wish would go away, at least) poorly written, unimaginative, and repetitive. I didn't express that very elegantly then, and was rightly taken to task for my views by some. That's fine. I'm someone who has always said that when my experiences and knowledge shift, I'm more than happy changing my opinions on a topic if warranted. And so I wanted to revisit this topic a bit. My thoughts have changed somewhat, and I want to explain those, as well as try to better explain the aspects that haven't changed.

First, there's the question of what constitutes erotica versus porn. I know plenty of writers who happily say "I write porn!" Or smut. I occasionally use that term. Is it the same as porn? I have no idea. Is this a hopeless game of labels and self-identifying labels versus industry labels? Perhaps. But for lack of better terminology or ideas on my part, I tend to see a difference between erotica and porn. If you think of movies, it seems much clearer that there's a line between a film that's erotic and one that's porn. Most of us (I think) watch porn for the sex. That's what we want, and porn fulfills that want. We watch other movies to be entertained in other ways, even if there is sex and arousal as part of the film. There's writing that falls along these same lines.

There are sexually explicit stories meant to arouse and titillate that also have emotionally satisfying plot arcs and interesting characters that keep us turning pages at least as much as our desire to read the next hot sex scene. That, to me, is erotica. There are also sexually explicit stories meant to arouse and titillate that are pretty much the written equivalent of a porn compilation: sex scene after sex scene geared around a particular sexual predilection (whether it's just plain vanilla sex or extreme fetishes) with very little holding them together. If some attempt at a plot exists, it's probably extraneous or silly or both, and it probably has little to no impact on one's enjoyment of the sexual situations. It might be there in the barest sense, and only to state the existence of the particular fetish or kink (like to set up the fact that it's teacher and a student, for example) and after that it really doesn't even matter if the characters have names. To me, that's porn.

Let me be as absolutely clear as I can be right now: I'm not trashing porn. I have nothing against porn at all. Porn is great. Got it? Good.

Going back to porn in movie format, we all know where to get porn, right? It's not in the same place where you go to watch romantic comedies or the like. But when you go online to find erotica, and what you want is that entertaining, emotionally satisfying story that is about or contains some hot, explicit sex, you'll also be flooded with all of those stories I mentioned that I would file under the category of porn. And it's frustrating! It really is. Both as a reader, having to sift through everything going nope, that's not what I want, nope, nope, nope, sometimes reading enough samples that I might as well have read half a book already, and also as an author writing erotica and trying to reach readers who (hopefully) want what I've written and are trying to wade through everything else to get to it.

And you know what? I don't have an answer or a solution. I don't necessarily want written porn to be relegated behind a shameful black curtain to keep all of the literature (say that in your best posh accent) pure and untainted. And categories only work so well, especially when we innovative and quick to react self-published authors will try out even only marginally related categories if we think they'll get us more visibility. (*cough* I'm looking at you, non-New Adult stories filling up Amazon's NA lists. *cough*) But that's a different post altogether. Maybe I'm just being overdramatic and throwing an adult hissy fit. You're certainly allowed to think so. But it doesn't change the fact that it frustrates me that it can be so much dang work just to find good erotica when I want it.

I fear my point about the quality of writing is becoming an afterthought yet again, and I don't mean for it to be. I just get so long-winded about other stuff and then I figure the one person left reading this wants me to get on with it already... but I'll touch on it again. I have no patience for poorly written erotica or porn. Unimaginative language, repetitive scenes, far-fetched plot points that don't allow me to suspend disbelief even for a moment, recycled tropes, blah, blah, blah-freaking-blah. There's plenty of poorly-written erotica. But I dare say that... well, 95% of the written porn I stumble across and toss aside as I'm searching for erotica is quite poorly written. And that's really the worst part. I don't want to police anyone's fantasies or sexual turn-ons, and I've definitely broadened my thinking on this since the last time I wrote about it, so I'm not going to tell anyone to stop writing on these topics. But please, for the love of smut, do it better! I can only read mind-numbingly boring sentences like "He shoved his cock into her pussy" so many times before I want to beat you with a dictionary. (But who knows, maybe you'd like that.) I mean, really? Thank you for describing the gist of all heterosexual sex everywhere in one sentence... again, and again... and yet again... because I didn't understand the mechanics of it the first time. Not any sexier the fifth time than it was the first time.

Of course, what do plenty of writers do when they're frustrated with the quality of writing available? Lots of them throw up their hands, say "I can write better than this!" and then go do it. I realized that bringing the sexy forbidden down to a level that's more palatable for more people (while still maintaining some of that naughty edge) is something I've always been fascinated by. Even in a non-sexy, or non-forbidden context, I've often loved taking an idea someone might not agree with and reshaping it and asking "Well what about now? What about now? How about this way?" until I can get them to agree with me, even a little bit. It's like Hah! I have bent you to my will! Mwa-ha-ha... Okay, maybe it's not exactly like that. But it feels like it sometimes.

Getting back to the smexy stuff, there's a hint of that very thing in Steven and Charlotte's relationship in Sorry's Not Enough. It didn't really click for me until someone called it "acceptably taboo." So I started thinking about some of the slightly taboo things that make me roll my eyes at best, and make me want to retch at worst, when they're poorly executed and poorly written, but that have the potential for much more. Once I removed the aspect of how much I hated how other people had written similar themes and focused on what the appealing aspects of those themes were, the ideas flooded in. I am (notoriously) a slow writer, so I'm still working on the first one, but I have plans for a series. If you'd told me even a year ago I'd be excited to write a series about slightly forbidden relationships, I would've rolled my eyes at you. But like I said, I'm not afraid to change my way of thinking when life and learning have shown me that I'm wrong. My writing life is certainly no exception.

So look for The Taboo Series to start sometime next year....

06 November 2014

Live Free or Die

Live free or die is the state motto of New Hampshire. My husband and I (and our dog, of course) moved here at the end of July, and I'm still discovering new and quirky things about the area that differentiate it from other places I've lived. We're enjoying it here so far and are cautiously waiting for our first New England winter. There are lots of things that I find awesome, weird, funny, or otherwise interesting about my new home, and I thought I'd share some of those with you.

Welcome to New Hampshire...


... where grocery stores close at 9pm during the week and 7pm on Sunday. What? I'm used to at least one 24-hour grocer nearby!

... where autumn is freaking gorgeous. There are trees everywhere, and they burst into the most glorious colors.

... where Dunkin' Donuts is king. This is true of New England in general, apparently. I grew up with Dunkin' on a much less intense level, so it's not that they were completely new to me. But it's practically a religion here. Cream and sugar in your coffee is "regular" here, whereas if you ask for it that way somewhere else, like in New York, as my husband recently discovered, they might look at you like you're nuts.

... where drivers don't know how to merge or yield. Yes, this is a sweeping generalization, but it has held up in my experiences so far. Many merge points around here are also much shorter than I'm used to. But they're twice as wide, meaning you can practically drive right next to the car you need to merge behind for a good 200 feet before you really need to merge. So it evens out, right? Granted, I've only been driving for three and a half years, and all of that in Pennsylvania, so perhaps my experience is different than most. I've also been told this experience is unique to my particular area, but I've seen it in some of my cross-state drives as well. 

... where the accent makes me giggle. I lived in Pittsburgh (PA, I've learned to stipulate, as there is also a Pittsburgh, NH!) for three years and that accent made me smile. I got used to it, though. Pittsburghese is sort of a midwestern and southern mash-up of accents, and the vernacular can be interesting, too. Growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I'm accustomed to a bit of twang, so maybe that's why Pittsburgh's dialect didn't feel quite as foreign. But the New England accent is something that I'm not sure will ever not make me laugh inside. Not because I'm making fun of it, but just because it's such a peculiarity to my ear. I suppose to a lot of people here, I'm the one with the accent.

"Hampton Beach, New Hampshire 2004"
... where the beaches sparkle, the water is freezing, and seaweed is unavoidable. We arrived in late July and within two weeks we made sure to hit the beach. Technically we went to Maine and Massachusetts and didn't get a chance to visit the NH coastline before it got too cold. But I'm fairly certain this observation will hold up when we get to test it next summer. The sand sparkles like I've never seen before. I'm guessing it's because of the quartz and other mineral content, but I have no idea. I just know it's freaking awesome. The water is colder than I'm used to, but still refreshing. It's clear to a greater depth than I ever encountered in my mid-Atlantic beach-going experience, and it doesn't taste quite as salty. No, I'm not drinking it, but it's difficult not to taste it while swimming in the ocean. New England beaches have climbed to the top of my favorites list, despite the need to fish out bits of seaweed from unmentionable places afterward...

... where you can buy beer at Wal-Mart! This may not seem so strange to some, unless you've lived in Pennsylvania or another place with bizarre liquor laws. After needing to practically jump through hoops in PA to be able to buy a six-pack of beer, it was a shock to the system to see it all over the place in stores here.

... where the speed limit is just a suggestion. I'll admit to having a bit of a lead foot, so I love to see the 65 mph speed limit on stretches of highway near me. Usually that means I'm doing 70. And yet people still speed past me quite often. And when it drops down to 55 mph after that exit? Nah, the flow of traffic is still going 70. When we first moved, we had movers to bring boxes off the truck and into our apartment. They were super nice guys and talked to us about the area and asked about my husband's job (which is the reason we moved) and gave us a word of caution about police being sticklers for the speed limit in his experience. Sadly, I think his experience may have been more a symptom of driving while brown, as I've seen many police cars monitoring traffic who don't seem to bat an eye at everyone traveling at least 5 mph above the posted limit. They do pull people over, but I wonder just how fast you have to be going or how erratically you have to be driving for them to actually stop you. I don't think I'll try to find out, though.

... where everyone is SO. FREAKING. NICE. There are nice people everywhere, of course, but I've never
encountered so much genuine friendliness in other places. Perhaps it has to do with it being a smaller city? I don't know. I live in the largest city in the state, but when you look at population density, it's the smallest place I've ever lived with the exception of perhaps my hometown. When we explored downtown, we stopped in the tiny little visitor's center to grab some brochures and the woman there talked to us at length about the area and welcomed us several times before we went on our way. Even in the grocery store, if I mentioned I was new to the area, people went out of their way to welcome me and ask about where I was from and how I liked the area. Today I had a physical with a new primary care physician and went for blood work immediately after and even there they were all smiling, friendly, welcoming, and enthusiastic. Having worked in retail for many years, I think I've learned the difference between genuine personality and a customer service facade (which isn't necessarily a bad thing to have perfected, of course). Everyone has been wonderfully genuine and authentic, and I've never felt like anyone was putting on a good show for the sake of their job.

"Old Man of the Mountain 4-26-03"
So thanks, New Hampshire, for being so dang cool. As an introvert, the abundance of friendliness can make me feel a little awkward and uncomfortable at times (I'm like OMG somebody is TALKING to me!) but at the same time it can be a blessing in disguise because it takes the pressure off me to be the one to initiate conversation in new social environments, like the choir I joined as soon as I got here. I don't know how long we'll be here, but I will certainly enjoy every moment of it! Now, bring on the snow! I mean... er... be gentle with me, Old Man Winter!

Tell me something quirky about where you live!

09 August 2014

I Emailed Hachette on Amazon's Behalf... Sort of

**Edited to add: It didn't take long (literally, just moments) after I sent the email for me to regret wasting the time of those I copied on the message for the sole purpose of saying "See, annoying, innit?" Please forgive my dumbassery on that point.**
I'm sure by now many of you have heard about the tasteless email Amazon sent out to KDP authors late Friday/early Saturday. I answered their call and emailed Hachette about the ongoing dispute, and I made sure to copy "Readers United" and a small handful of other people, too. Here's what I said:

Dear Mr. Pietsch:

I'm writing to you (and some others) today as a direct result of receiving Amazon's email propaganda in the early hours of the morning. I am appalled and annoyed at being dragged into an argument against my will, especially when the party doing the dragging is quite aware, and even acknowledges, that I'd rather be left out of it. But Amazon asked me to email you with my thoughts--actually, they wanted me to email you with their thoughts, and I decided I liked mine better--and so here we are. Let me make a few things clear before getting to my main points:

1. I am not published by Hachette or by any publisher.
2. I am self-published and my work is available on Amazon, among other places. Amazon is not my publisher. They are one of my retail partners, though "partner" probably isn't really the best word for it.
3. Hachette is a business. Amazon is a business. I am my own business. The first priority of any business is making money, or else they will no longer be in business.

That Amazon would ask me to plead their case to a publisher with which I have no relationship is laughable. As Heidi Cullinan puts it, there are Not Enough Memes in the World For My NO. That they would do it with such poorly written propaganda--and propaganda is truly the only word for it, as Matt Wallace explains--is laughable. Further, that they would do it under the guise of  doing what's best for "reading culture" is downright ludicrous. Because I have no stakes in the specific dispute between Hachette and Amazon, I have not read every last word reported on the issue. I have read a handful of posts about it from people I respect on both sides of the debate and mostly ignored it outside of that. One thing I am absolutely sure of, however, is that this is about money. Period. And that's okay, because as as I said, this is business. But for Amazon to go on about helping "book culture" as though readers are incapable of changing the market by making their decisions about how much to spend (or not spend) is disingenuous at best.

Mr. Pietsch, I may not agree 100% with your side of this dispute (I truly don't know to what extent I agree with any side) but I feel a bit of solidarity with you based on one glaring similarity we share: Amazon thinks you and I (and every KDP author to whom they sent their email) are idiots with our heads up our own asses, apparently. They must think so, if they believe an email full of buzzwords, emotionally-charged imagery, and one-sided spin is enough to get me to fight their fight. To do that, I'd need to ignore a whole lot of common sense.

This is where I'm supposed to implore you to "Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle" while ignoring the fact that by doing so Amazon obviously thinks it's okay to use me as leverage and put me in the middle of this so long as they come out on top.

Or perhaps I should remind you that "With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock," etc. while ignoring the fact that, although they're obviously referring to large print returns, they make it quite easy to return e-books, potentially to the detriment of the author when that feature is abused. If I'm going to remind you of this, then I should also ignore the fact that as a self-published author with Amazon I am already pigeon-holed into their pricing requirements with no means of negotiation and subject to their whim should they decide to pull my books for any reason they see fit.

Am I convincing you of Amazon's position yet? No? Here, let me keep trying.

It's important to note that Amazon thinks "books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive." I'll ignore the fact that people regularly pay more money for a mobile game than some e-books cost, and then they pay money again and again to buy more features within the game. Let's also ignore how actors are paid more per movie than I can hope to make in many, many years, and that movie tickets are expensive but people still choose to buy them. While we're at it, we should ignore all of the books being made into movies, because they obviously they were only made into movies because the books were too expensive and nobody bought them. And nobody in the history of the world has ever seen a movie adaptation first and then bought the book after, am I right? Movies and TV shows are never adapted into video games, free news sites obviously never post books reviews, and no author in the history of the Internet has promoted their books on Facebook because all of these things are supposed to be in competition with each other! The logical solution is to make all books as cheap as Amazon wants! Um, right?

I should wrap this up soon because I am obviously terrible at doing what Amazon tells me to do in their ridiculous emails. One last thing, though. The thing Amazon is ignoring, and hopes I'm ignoring, too, is choice.

I have friends published by Hachette and its imprints that have been caught in the middle of this nasty fight. I have friends published by other big publishers who have been treated poorly, and others who've been treated like rock stars. I have self-published friends who have been hurt by Amazon's policies and past actions, and others who have made six or seven figures since self-publishing, largely with Amazon. There are so many choices about how and when and where and why to publish these days, and there is no one golden path. Authors have a choice, and as Amazon is so quick to point out, we are not all united. Why they took that to mean we would all fight their fight still escapes me, but that's neither here nor there at this point.

Hachette has choices. Amazon has choices. Is there an amenable compromise to be had here? I be there is, but I also bet one or both parties are unwilling to compromise on a lot of things. Which means there's also the choice to sever the business relationship, as unpleasant as that may be.

As a self-publisher, I have the choice to sell my book where and for the price I want. I choose, currently, to include Amazon in my sales plan. Despite the fact that they give preferential treatment to pretty much everyone else--in the name of "book culture," I'm sure. Despite the fact that in addition to taking a slice of my profits they want me to grant them exclusivity before I can take advantage of their Kindle Unlimited program. That is, unless they handpick me from the unwashed masses or I'm published by a big publisher whose books are priced higher than mine. So much for that "cheaper is better" thing, right? Despite their many shortcomings, I sell my books there. It's a business choice.

Readers have a choice of where to purchase e-books. They have the choice to either pay what is asked, or not. If they choose not, that's a clear signal to a publisher or a retailer that they need to do something differently or risk going out of business. Consumers have a long history of speaking with their wallets without Amazon or anyone else forcing the issue.

Amazon had a choice, and it chose to treat me and others like idiots by sending an email full of out-of-context quotes and cherry-picked statistics in the hopes that we will defend their position in this negotiation, despite the fact that we don't even have the ability to negotiate with Amazon on our own behalf as author-publishers. That was a poor choice on their part. I have to agree with Chuck Wending when he says, in quite possibly the tamest language I've ever seen him use, "I think it's tacky." To say the least. And it has me looking long and hard at my choice to sell on Amazon, which is probably not the reaction they had hoped for.

Mr. Pietsch, I hope Hachette and Amazon can come to a decision that is beneficial for both businesses and for the authors involved. What that decision is, though, is up to you and Amazon. I have no part of it. I hope that I haven't wasted too much of your time today. That goes for everyone who was copied on this message, too. You may not have cared, you may have wished to be left out of it, and you may not have wanted to spend your time reading just another writer's opinions of something in which they have no stakes. But Amazon didn't let that stop them from dragging me along for the ride, and if there's anything I gleaned from their email, it's that they obviously know what is best. Have a wonderful day.


J. Lea Lopez

Needless to say, the whole thing is making feel a little something like this....

17 June 2014

Maybe When I'm 30

I started another blog a while back to talk about being childfree, but I haven't updated it in quite a while and decided there's no reason I can't share all my thoughts right here. So over the next few weeks I'll be re-posting some of the things I originally posted there. This post was originally from last year, just as I turned 30.

Maybe when I’m 30

That’s what I used to say when people asked me about having kids. I always thought that I’d have kids at some point because I figured I’d want to at some point. No one ever tells you it’s perfectly fine to neither want nor have kids. They spend most of their time, in fact, telling you the exact opposite.

You’ll change your mind… One day you’ll have kids… You’re too young to know yet…

Whenever anyone asked what my plans for kids were, I certainly did know that they were not in my near future. I just didn’t have that urge. But I swallowed what they were feeding me and was convinced that one day I’d wake up and realize Oh my god, I’m ready. I want to be a mom! So in high school, and college, and after college when I got married, whenever anyone asked about kids, I told them maybe we’d start trying when I was 30. That seemed like a good age. I figured we’d be financially established by then, but it wasn’t so late in life that I’d be risking health issues for either myself or a potential baby.

Well, yesterday I turned 30. (Edit: Actually, now I'm 31!)

A few years ago I started getting a little anxious about that number. Not because it means I’m getting older, like many people seem to assume. Hell, I’m excited to be 30 years old! I feel like this will be a great year for me. No, the reason I started looking at 30 a bit sideways when I was still in my 20s was because there were still so many goals I hadn’t reached and that seemed like they would be ten times more difficult if I suddenly had children to care for. I’d been saying maybe when I’m 30 for so long, but I was starting to think I should start saying maybe when I’m 35. That wasn’t too late, right?

My concerns over the age at which to have my first child were superficial at best. It was a distraction from the real reason I was wary about reaching the maybe when I’m 30 deadline. The truth was that I just didn’t want kids. I still hadn’t had any urge or desire to have a child. Whenever I thought of my future – where I’d be or what I’d be doing – kids never factored into my daydreams and desires.

But… I couldn’t say that… could I? It seemed so strange. So foreign. As I mentioned before, we’re all indoctrinated with the message that we will all be parents one day, and it will be glorious, and hard, and rewarding, and frustrating, and miraculous, and fulfilling, all at the same time!

No one tells you that you can choose not to have kids.

When I first realized that I didn’t want kids, period, I couldn’t even assert myself fully. It was all I don’t think I want kids… Maybe I’ll want them in the far-off future, who knows? But I doubt it… Who knows, who knows… Because I was afraid of the reactions I would get. I mean, doesn’t everyone want kids? How weird was I for not wanting what everyone else wanted?

It’s taken a few years, but it finally doesn’t feel weird to say it. I’m not having kids.

Okay, I lied, it’s still weird. I still struggle with worrying what people will say or how they’ll look at me when I say firmly, “I am not having children.” But even though I worry about that, I’ll still tell them.

No kids for me. Not even when I’m 30.

23 May 2014

Anniversary Time! A New Ebook Cover and New Price

One year ago today, my first novel went live on Amazon. It has been a year of learning, growth, and (I won't lie) some WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING???? moments. I think taking the plunge and self-publishing has magnified certain aspects of my personality that I can never be sure whether they're good or bad. Like my stubbornness about what I like and don't like, my perfectionist tendencies, my occasional (okay, so maybe it's chronic) indecisiveness, and my "If you want it done right, do it yourself" attitude. In my life in general, those things have definitely shaped my decisions and produced some wonderful (if occasionally stressful and slow-burning) results. But they're results I've been happy with. The same is true so far for my publishing journey.

I think there are likely things I could do differently that might result in more sales or faster results. But I'm unwilling (so far) to compromise on how and why I do things. I figure if I'm going to self-publish, where I have complete control, then I'm going to do it exactly how I want to do it, no exceptions. I'm happy with where it's taken me so far. To celebrate one year of publishing, I've given Sorry's Not Enough a face lift with a new ebook cover, which I created myself (see above re: perfectionism and DIY attitude) and I've also dropped the price from $3.99 all the way down to $0.99! The sale lasts through June 1, 2014 only, so get it while you can! It may never see this price point again. Links are below. (My free short story collection, Consenting Adults, also has a new cover courtesy of my friend and fellow author Cali MacKay.)

Thank you to everyone who has helped me along on my journey so far. I hope you'll follow along as I continue forward.... :-)

Amazon US    Amazon UK    Nook 
Kobo    iTunes    Smashwords

22 May 2014

For the Love of David Tennant and Real-Life Heroes

On Monday I shared this photo across a few of my social media outlets. If you know anything about me, you know how much I love David Tennant. Not just because he's hot, but because he played one of my favorite heroes of all time, Doctor Who. When I saw this picture, I didn't look too closely at it. I just swooned, pretty much. Then a friend on Twitter burst my bubble when she said she was pretty sure it was photoshopped. I was super bummed! But when I looked more closely I realized she was right. My first instinct was that it was David Tennant's head shopped onto Tom Cruise's body from Top Gun. But I couldn't find a photo of Tom Cruise in the same stance and clothing. So I kept looking.

I'm not sure what it was that made me keep digging through the depths of the Internet, but I spent just about half a day scouring images. I was determined to find the original. Finally, with the help of TinEye, I found the original image. I was not at all prepared for what I found out, either.

Let me introduce you to Major Michael Donnelly, United States Air Force veteran. Donnelly was a Connecticut native who served 15 years as a fighter pilot, including service during Operation Desert Storm. He retired in 1996 after being diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. He then spent many years doing work as an advocate for his fellow Gulf War veterans and wrote a book, Falcon's Cry: A Desert Storm Memoir, published in 1998. Donnelly lost his battle with ALS in 2005. His home town of South Windsor, CT created a land reserve and award in his honor.

Considering I found very few places online where the original image of Donnelly shows up, I'm not sure how someone came to find it in order to shop David Tennant's head onto it. But they did. I wasn't sure how to feel about the fact that someone had taken the image of this man who selflessly served his country and made him unrecognizable to serve their own David Tennant obsession. But they did. And my love of David Tennant brought the photo to my attention this week, which in turn led to my discovery of the life of Major Michael Donnelly. And now you know a little bit of his story, too.

Life is funny sometimes.

31 March 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

I was tagged by two wonderful writing friends, SK Keogh and Precy Larkins, to participate in a blog tour where authors answer a few questions about their writing process and what they're working on. SK Keogh writes historical fiction. You should check out her Jack Mallory Chronicles, of which two books are published and a third is on the way. Read more about her writing process here. Precy Larkins is a Young Adult author and you can read all about her writing process here. Now, on to the questions!

1. What am I working on?

Well that's a heck of a question. As a self published author, I'm never just working on the next book. Writing-wise, I'm currently working on a women's fiction manuscript tentatively titled Confessions of a Non-Believer. In this story, Bree is a young woman dealing with the emotional fallout after the sudden death of her fiance. She faces the daunting task of keeping her life and sanity together while facing a crisis of faith--or non-faith, as it were--and acknowledging the growing attraction to her would-be brother-in-law.

Additionally, I have the start of a contemporary romance on paper and fighting for brain space. This one is untitled, but it's in an introverted love story that I was inspired to write because I think the quiet soul is super sexy and underrepresented.

In terms of marketing, I'm working on some new cover concepts for Sorry's Not Enough. The book will be one year old at the end of May and I'll be revealing a fresh new cover and it will be hugely discounted for a short time as well! My short story collection, Consenting Adults will get a new cover to celebrate also. I've already decided on that and will reveal it soon. (Check out my Facebook page to stay updated on when that happens or to give me feedback on the things you love/hate to see on book covers)

2. How does my work from others in its genre?

That's a difficult one to answer. Based on feedback I've gotten from readers and what I see in my own writing, I would have to say the degree of realism. But in a good way. We want to get lost in stories and characters, so sometimes being too true to life can be boring or dull. I think my realism is the opposite. My characters are flawed, sometimes awkward, emotional, sometimes uncertain, sometimes very certain about something only to discover they were wrong. I think they can really touch on elements of the human experience that speak to us all. I've also been told I write great, natural dialogue.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because I love it. That's the simple answer. The more complicated answer is that emotion and drama make me feel connected and alive, even when they're sad ones if a character is going through something bad. Maybe it's because I am, in my own reality, a fairly even-keeled person who goes with the flow and doesn't express extreme emotions very often. So I like to live it out in fiction. People fascinate me, which is why my stories are character-driven. The vulnerability (and, of course, sexiness) of what happens between two characters in the bedroom, is beautiful and presents a great opportunity to explore more of the emotional things I like in fiction, which is why I never shy away from sex in my stories when it makes sense.

4. How does your writing process work?

I'm a slow drafter. I do all of my first drafts by hand, in notebooks. It involves a lot of staring at the page or off into space as I decide the next word, the next sentence. There's also lots of daydreaming and working through potential scenarios while in the shower and before falling asleep at night. It can take me quite a while to get that first draft written. I'll type up large sections of it when I get stuck or feel uninspired, to put myself back into the story. And as I type, I do some minor edits. So the typed draft is a little more polished than the written one. So far, I've been very lucky that my first drafts are often pretty clean and I don't usually have to spend months ripping it apart and putting it back together again. With the exception of my first novel, but we won't talk about that! Then it's off to some trusted readers for feedback.

I'm supposed to tag others to participate, but if you've read any of my other meme or blog hop type posts, you know I often decline to do so. Mostly to spare myself the awkwardness of asking others and fearing they'll feel obligated because they're my friends even though they don't want to. What can I say? I like to avoid even the potential for conflict or awkwardness. Guess that's why I write it instead. If you feel inclined to share your process, then consider yourself tagged! Tell folks I inspired you to blog about it, and tag some others to participate the week after you do yours. Or don't. Whatever. You're a grown adult. You can decide. :-)

05 February 2014

On Happiness and Mental Health

A friend asked me recently if I consider myself a happy person. I do. Most people would say I am. One of the most frequent comments I get is about how much and how often I smile. Even in spite of the I love humanity/I hate humanity dichotomy that lives in my brain, my default is positivity. Sure, I'm happy. Easy to answer. The next question was a little tougher.

What makes you a happy person?

Well, hell. That's a hard one to verbalize. It's sort of like asking why my hair is brown. Short of the scientific explanation offered by genetics, the short answer is "It just is." I can chemically alter my hair to make it a different color, and I can do that for a multitude of reasons, but it doesn't change the fact that my natural state of being is to have brown hair.

Same goes for my happiness. It's how I am and how I've always been, at my core. My default position is to smile, to trust, to love, to go with the flow, to see the good and to actively look for it if it's not immediately evident, to laugh, to be content. How do you break down something that's as much a part of you as the nose on your face so that someone else can understand it and adapt it for their own life?

Depression, Anxiety, Sadness, etc.

The fact that I'm generally a happy person doesn't mean I haven't had my own emotional struggles. I know sadness and fear and anxiety. In my teens and early 20s there was an undercurrent of tension and sadness in my head that most people wouldn't have known was there. Being a shy introvert probably didn't help matters, since talking it out with someone didn't even register on my list of coping mechanisms. I preferred working through it in my own head, or on paper. My "standard" of happiness didn't go away during that time, though. It coexisted either simultaneously with the sadness or as a reminder of who I really was during those times when I could not figure out why I was feeling so bad.

I didn't learn to drive until I was in my mid-20s and even then it took me a couple years before I actually got my license at the age of 28. My anxiety about it was that overwhelming that I truly had no desire to get behind the wheel of a car. I'm coming up on three years with my license and I still get slightly anxious when driving to new places, or driving more than a few miles in the dark, or in the rain/fog/snow. I won't go anywhere for the first time without my GPS. When I joined a choir last fall I used the GPS on my phone to get there and back the first time... but also for every weekly rehearsal for three months after that until the anxiety about driving in unfamiliar areas subsided.

The struggles I've been through are the equivalent of coloring and cutting my hair. My hair has looked all kinds of crazy ways temporarily, but there's nothing that will change the fact that my natural state is brunette. And while I've had moments where my mental health looked a bit different, I honestly don't think there's anything that can change my happiness default. For some reason, that was a big surprise when I realized that.

Is Happiness Rational?

My fear of driving was not rational or logical. The sadness and frustration that sometimes crashed over me when I was younger was not rational. But that didn't make them any less real to me at the time or any easier to conquer. They just were. I couldn't really explain those things to other people without feeling a little silly. But the same things goes for my happiness. I don't know how or why I'm happy, and trying to dissect it makes me feel weird. There's no logical reason for it.

Part of me believes strongly in the power of positive thought. I don't mean thinking about being a millionaire so you'll magically attract all the right things to make you one. I mean having the ability to recognize and change thought patterns to reclaim my happiness when I feel it slipping. A teacher in high school would often say "Today is going to be a good day" out loud in class and I find that helpful still. It's not about ignoring or denying the negative. When I find myself drifting into one of those irrational funks, I look at it and ask myself Is there a reason I'm feeling this way? Has something happened to make me feel this way? and if the answer is no I'll ask myself Is this mood serving any purpose besides making me moody? and if the answer is still no then I decide right then and there that I will strive for something more positive. There are times when what I'm feeling is the direct result of something happening in my life and/or what I'm feeling is driving me to make positive changes or get things done that I need/want to get done. And when that happens, I acknowledge what I'm feeling and even embrace it for a short time before sending it on its way in favor of my usual happy disposition. It sounds easy, but it's not. I don't mean to imply that it's easy. It's just a place to start. (Let me be clear that I'm not trying to say that anyone can and should just "positive think" themselves out of depression or mental illness. Please don't be afraid to seek professional help.)

Positive thinking is more a coping mechanism for when I feel unlike myself. I wouldn't say it's why I'm a happy person because it's something I've had to learn to do. And like I've been saying, being happy and upbeat is just who and how I am without reason. In talking with my friend it hit me:

It's likely that all the people who've ever asked me about my positive outlook on life and my happy disposition were just as baffled by my explanation as I was about the notion that I could do or be anything other than how I've always been.

I don't like to think that I've been so oblivious that I haven't realized that not everyone is happy. I know they aren't. But it was a bit of an epiphany to think that not only are some people unhappy, but some are unhappy (or at least "less" happy relatively) because they just are and always have been. We have different baselines and my happiness doesn't make any more logical sense than their unhappiness.

My friend and I have always had certain different ways of approaching things and that's part of why we're such great  friends. I like to think we've challenged and checked each other over the years in ways that made us both better people. But I admit to qualifying my feelings and private thoughts now and then with sentiments like "if only you were happier." How things would just be so much better "if only you were happier" because I was convinced that that was the answer to my friend's troubles. I never understood that our differences in how we see the world extended so far beyond political and social ideology all the way into that non-rational space of happiness. I never thought that other people weren't equally as happy as me, down in their core. I figured their unhappiness was either a temporary state of being brought on by whatever biochemistry is responsible for our mental health, as mine often was, or the result of any number of external factors and experiences and that they would return to their natural state of happiness with time or counseling or medication. Those things can affect happiness, no doubt, but that's not the point.

I can't change my friend's baseline any more than they could change mine. It's not a huge revelation, although it feels like one to me. But it does change the way I'll think about, talk to, and empathize with my friend. I love this person like mad and it breaks my heart to see them struggling with something that comes so naturally to me. All I can do is continue to say I love, I'm here for you. Most importantly, I hope my friend and I can take a bit of the pressure off - me off myself for feeling like I should somehow be able to explain my own happiness in a way that they can make it their own, and my friend for feeling like my or anyone else's happiness is the gold standard.

Happiness doesn't make any more rational sense than anything else. My happy isn't your happy. Mentally healthy is what we should strive for, not the amorphous sliver of happiness in anyone else that they likely have no more control over than anything else.

And to my friend, who may be tired of hearing it by now: I love you. And I'm sorry if I've ever made you feel like you should just look at things through my happy lenses in order to make all your troubles go away.

01 February 2014

The Journey of Self-Acceptance

Believe it or not, this is a GIVEAWAY post! I've teamed up with four other lovely ladies for a giveaway just in time for Valentine's Day.

As most of us know, there's a certain amount of self-acceptance that you need to have to be happy and fulfilled, both in and out of romantic relationships. The five of us chipping in for this giveaway all have books that feature strong female characters who struggle with their own self-acceptance on some level throughout the book, and it's only when they've learned to love themselves as they are that they can achieve their goals and transform into the women they want to be.

In Sorry's Not Enough, Charlotte is pretty good at convincing others that she's strong, confident, and independent. But it's pretty clear to the reader and to those who are closest to her that she's lying to herself. She pushes away painful memories from her past instead of dealing with them and as a result they haunt her for years, affecting friendships and romantic relationships alike. Steven wants to love her wholly, wounded heart and all, but she can't accept his love until she also accepts just how broken she is. The question is how long will it take her to confront her past to make way for a healthy future, and will Steven still be around once she's able to love him back?

Since Evelyn Adams doesn't blog, I'm hosting her here on Jello World so you can learn all about her book, Love Uncovered.

Evelyn Adams
Love Uncovered

Thanks, J Lea for sharing a corner of your blog with me and for all the wonderful writers participating in this giveaway!

Love Uncovered came out of conversation I had with my husband one night. We were laying in the dark, talking and I asked him what men wanted their wives to do? His answer surprised me because it was exactly what I wanted from him.

Pay attention to me and what I do for our family. Really see me. I think that is true for many couples, especially those who’ve been together for a while. It’s certainly true for Max and Julie. Max worries about being a provider and taking care of his family while at the same time wanting to be more than just a paycheck. Julie is so used to putting her needs on the back burner, she has a hard time even remembering what they are any more.

It would be easy for them to keep plodding along angry and unhappy, burdened by their responsibilities and expectations. Instead they make time to really pay attention to each other and rediscover what drew them together in the first place. By learning to accept themselves and each other they find their way to an even deeper love. And there’s plenty of spicy sex along the way.

Other participating authors:

A.T. O'Connor
Whispering Minds

Jean Oram
Whiskey and Gumdrops

Julie Farrell
Driving Me to You

Grand Prize gets all FIVE books! Dead tree books from me, A.T. and Jean and e-books from Evelyn and Julie. Only U.S. and Canada entrants will be eligible for the grand prize.

There are 10 additional prizes listed below. Individual e-book prizes will be open internationally.

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15 January 2014

Giveaway and Cover Reveal: Angie Sandro's DARK PARADISE

July 1, 2014



Mala LaCroix has spent her whole life trying to escape her destiny. As the last in a long line of “witch women,” she rejects the notion of spirits and hoodoo and instead does her best to blend in. But when she finds a dead body floating in the bayou behind her house, Mala taps into powers she never knew she had. She’s haunted by visions of the dead girl, demanding justice and vengeance.


Landry Prince has always had a crush on Mala, but when Mala discovers his sister, murdered and marked in some sort of Satanic ritual, he starts to wonder if all the rumors about the LaCroix family are true. Yet after Mala uses her connection to the spirit world to identify his sister’s killer, he starts to form his own bond to her . . . a very physical one. As they move closer to each other and closer to the truth, Mala and Landry must risk everything—their families, their love, and even their


Angie is giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card.

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Angie Sandro was born at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Within six weeks, she began the first of eleven relocations throughout the United States, Spain, and Guam before the age of eighteen.

Friends were left behind. The only constants in her life were her family and the books she shipped wherever she went. Traveling the world inspired her imagination and allowed her to create her own imaginary friends. Visits to her father's family in Louisiana inspired this story.

Angie now lives in Northern California with her husband, two children, and an overweight Labrador

Author Links:

09 January 2014

On Waffling

 via Wikimedia Commons

Mmmm.... waffles. Buttery, sweet, yummy... oh wait, sorry. Not those waffles. I meant waffle the verb. From Dictionary.com:
verb (used without object), waf·fled, waf·fling.
1.to speak or write equivocally: to waffle on an important issue.
I'll come back to waffling in just a sec.

Several months ago I updated the look and feel of the blog here, and I had some ideas about new directions I wanted to go. I encouraged anyone interested in the nitty gritty, technical writing stuff that I would post here now and then to follow me over at From the Write Angle because I wanted to branch out in this space. I wanted to turn it more into something that will let me connect with a lot of people besides my fellow writers. I envisioned posting a lot more stuff centered on some of my personal thoughts and beliefs about all sorts of stuff. I didn't want to shy away from hard, complex, personal, or controversial discussions. "They" say an author shouldn't get too political on social media or else they run the risk of alienating potential readers who don't share the same views. But I say screw it. We're all grown ups capable of intelligent debate and the occasional disagreement.

The truth is I like some good intellectual intercourse now and then.

But as you may have noticed, there has been a distinct lack of posting recently. I've held back from putting my more serious thoughts on paper. Or the screen, as it were. And not because of a fear of hurting my sales as an author. So why, then? Why, indeed.

Over on FTWA this week, Charlee Vale wrote about getting a "case of the whys" when she sat down to write. I could certainly relate on a broad level. Sometimes I feel like I have a perpetual case of the whys when it comes to social media. I'll think maybe I should blog about this, or post this on Facebook, or tweet this and almost immediately that little voice in the back of my head says why? And it's very often followed quickly by a who cares? Part of that is just self doubt that I need to get over. But there's something else, too.

After reading Charlee's post, I decided I needed to address this nasty case of the whys that has been keeping me from posting what I want on the blog. I answered the question of why. The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind waffling.

I'm an introvert. I spend a lot of time tucked away in the corner of my own mind, thinking about possibilities and consequences and maybes and what-ifs. That's part of why I write. That's also why I tend to look and observe and stay quiet a looooong time before speaking. I like to think things through before committing a thought to words out loud. Partially because I like doing things right the first time, but also because I've noticed that people don't like when you change your mind.

Sometimes I think I'm a little quirky in that I can be pretty comfortable with cognitive dissonance at times. I can entertain two conflicting ideas at the same time. (I love people and have an almost naive faith in humanity, and yet I can't stand people. That sort of thing, but sometimes it's on a much more complex scale.) This can be unnerving for people. I get that. And although I may be stubborn and feel like I'm right about something if I've taken the time to think about it and actually make a statement about it, I am more than happy to change my mind. I like adapting and evolving and changing every day. Usually all that stuff stays on the inside, though.

Listen to any political interview show or watch any attack ad during an election year and I'm sure you'll hear the word waffling. Look at the current political situation and pick a politician - any politician. They hold fast to things they've said even when it's painfully obvious to everyone they're wrong. They repeat themselves and don't dare to change an opinion on anything. Or if they DO amend their opinion based on factual evidence, suddenly that's a bad thing and their opponents accuse them of waffling. I don't know about you, but I would love my state and federal leaders to be a little more flexible and to be able to admit when they have adjusted their views and ideas based on new things they've learned and experienced. That's the logical thing to do, really. But it seems we've tossed logic out the window in favor of clinging to what we believe without questioning why we believe it and ridiculing those who would dare to change themselves for the better.

Show me a person who has never altered one tiny thing about the way they think or believe and I'll show you a person clinging to an illusion. And they're probably miserable to boot.

When I went to college, I had some great experiences in terms of thoughtful discussion and debate. There were a lot of people I could talk to and listen to and learn from. We didn't always agree, but we were always able to be respectful and learn from each other. Sometimes opinions were changed, sometimes not. Sometimes the most wonderful thing was the moment when someone said "I don't agree with that, but I see where you're coming from." One professor, Dr. Cashdollar, said some of the most important words I've ever heard during a unit that took a historical look at religion. He said that we didn't have to believe the religions we looked at, but we should strive to find a way that we could believe they were believable. I think the same thing holds true for any serious debate.

My hope is that I can kick this case of the whys and stop worrying about being accused of waffling. I'd love to share my thoughts about social issues with you and to hear yours in return. Discussion is good. Learning is good. I won't hesitate to admit when I'm wrong or when something I previously believed no longer makes sense in light of new experiences. That's not waffling. That's growth. I can't promise you'll change my mind, and yours probably won't change just based on what I say. But in order to foster sincere discussion, maintain respect, find common ground, and lay the foundation for growth, all I ask is that you try to look at anything I say and see how it might be believable. I'll do the same. And maybe we'll both change for the better.

Believe that it's believable.