Monday, August 31, 2009

New Publication and Random Thoughts

It's the 31st so I can finally post the cover art for Circlet Press's Like a Thorn anthology of BDSM fairy tales. This anthology includes my story "The Princess and Peony" and you can find it currently on sale and listed first in Circlet's catalog, or here (though not on sale) at Fictionwise. It should also be appearing at the Amazon Kindle store soon too.

In other updates I have six other stories out for submission, one the editor wants but we have to wait for the publisher's final cut. One of them I just sent out yesterday, not 1794, which I still need to finish, but one I did in the meantime. So at least I'm not a complete slacker, hehe.

In a kind of random thought, I was walking home from the store last week and had to wait for a train to pass. So I'm standing maybe fifteen feet from this train, thinking gee, they really don't move all that fast, it's like in the movies where you could just run alongside and grab a ladder and up you go. There are even little platforms to sit on and everything. And I'm standing there imagining hopping onto this train and just parking my butt on one of those little platforms and just watching the scenery go by. I'm imagining the surprised faces of the people in the cars next to me as they watch me pass in front of them, imagining the beautiful scenery, the trees and the fields, the solitude. I have my cell phone, it's charged, and I have at least four or five unemployed or stay-at-home friends who could come pick me up in the next town over when I got there. I'm even pretty sure I know which town it would be.

But I don't. The train rolls on by, and I walk up the hill to my house.

I have the brief thought of telling myself it's because I have frozen foods in my grocery bag, and they'll go bad. But that's not the real reason, and I know it. The truth is that I've never been the type of person to actually go on that adventure. I'm too scared. (I'd prefer to call it cautious, but I also prefer to call a spade a spade.)

I think that's part of why I write. When I write I can go on all sorts of adventures and not have to worry about scraped knees or torn clothes or having to explain why I need to get picked up from a town an hour south because I guessed wrong on where the train tracks go. I worry too much for adventuring. And maybe also part of why I married who I did, because he is adventurous and spontaneous, but very capable. And he always takes a map.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

First Publication!

Exciting news! My very first piece of published fiction is now available! Torquere Press's anthology Bite Me, which includes my short story "Empusa" is now available for purchase!

I'm glad this one made it out first, as it was my first fiction sale. I actually had been out that morning with my husband visiting the dog we would later decide to adopt, and came home to find an email asking if the story was still available and offering to send a contract. That was a damn good day.

"Empusa" follows the vampiric Greek daimon Empusa, whose lovers usually don't live to tell the tale. She makes an exception for a trio of humans caught in a tangle of love spells, but there is always a price to be paid...

Empusa is one of my favorite characters, and you'll see more of her in the future - most immediately in "The Power That Dreams Have," the follow-up story to "Empusa," which will be in Torquere's December Vamps anthology.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Pseudonyms

So a friend of mine last night was asking about pseudonyms, wondering if she needed one, what all was involved, was it worth the hassle, etc. She is working on a memoir and is concerned about, among other things, having to deal with annoyed family members.

For a great explanation of pseudonyms, I recommend this article over at Toasted Cheese. However, the short short version is that a pseudonym is any name you use which is not somehow a derivative of your legal name.

Pseudonyms are a bit more controversial than the layman might think at first glance. After all, lots of people use pseudonyms, right?

Many people argue against using pseudonyms unless you have a compelling reason, feeling that you should be proud of your work and want to take ownership of it. Some writers feel that they are lying to people if they use a pseudonym (particularly at book signings). That's something everyone has to square with themselves. In the Internet Age of online handles/nicks/whatever-you-want-to-call-them, so many people have an online persona that they may not feel that using a name different than their legal name is in any way distancing them from their audience, or being disingenuous.

There are many perfectly good reasons for using a pseudonym. Just a few examples: you hate your real name, you have a very common real name, someone else is already published in your field under your name, you want to write in more than one genre and you don't want to confuse your readers.

(Or, say, you have a very common name, you want to distinguish your fiction from your non-fiction, and you write erotica. That last of which I might have been less worried about until some poor guy got fired for being married to a porn actress.)

So, what's in a name?

When you're looking at setting up your web presence (which is very necessary these days and we'll talk more about that some other Tuesday) you should keep your name in mind. You need your fans to be able to find you.

  • Check to see if is available or if it's already taken. If it is taken and you really want that name, you can try,, etc.
  • Do a Google search for your name, and read through the first few pages. (On average, most people never get past the third page of any browser search.) Does it show anything recent and interesting? For example, when I first Googled "Mercy Loomis" I mostly came up with genealogy pages listing people who died in the 1700s and 1800s. Doing the same search right now netted me four of the first ten search results, and I'll probably have more once I get my website up and running.
  • Check for blogs, Facebook pages, LiveJournal accounts, MySpace accounts, etc. using your preferred name.
  • Check to see if or is available. Same for other free email services.

Honestly, you'll want to be making all those accounts and stuff anyway, regardless of what name you use, so why not make it easy and use a name that no one else is apparently using?

Now, if you are working on or shopping a novel and you haven't decided on a pseudonym yet, don't worry. You can always wait and ask your agent or editor for their thoughts on the matter. But if you are publishing articles or short fiction or poetry and you want to build a following, figure out the name first. Don't worry about having a really outlandish name - in fact, a really outlandish pseudonym may turn off prospective editors. (Depending on what you write.) Pseudonym or not, remember there are plenty of writers out there like Stephen King and Dan Brown who have very common names - they just got out there first and became hugely successful. It's not the name, it's your writing that really counts.

Once you've decided on a name, you have to know what to do with it. My friend wondered how you would submit something using a pseudonym.

Keep in mind that your agent, your editor, and your publisher will always know your real name. (It goes on your check!) It is perfectly fine to send out submissions under your real name and discuss pseudonyms upon acceptance. Another option is to mention it (briefly) in the cover letter, and on the manuscript have "Story Title by Your Name (writing as Pseudonym)." Doesn't need to be a big deal. Your agent/editor will have seen this all before and will not be fazed by the fact you are using a pseudonym.

My friend also asked about the author bio, wondering if she needed to make up a whole new person if she decided to use a pseudonym. Again, that's up to the individual. You can use real information for everything, just with a different name, or you can embellish.

Monday, August 24, 2009

September Publications

Another update!

I have stories in two anthologies slated for September releases, both coming from Ravenous Romance.

The first is my story "When in Rome" which will be published in the "Threesomes" anthology, title change possibly pending.

The second is my story "Cry Wolf" which will be published in the anthology "Bedknobs and Beanstalks." This is an anthology of m/m fairy tales, and you can find the list of contributors here. This anthology may get bumped to early October.

I'm very excited about both! I'll post cover art and dates as soon as I can.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

August Publications

A couple of updates.

Two stories are slated for publication this month. Circlet Press's "Like a Thorn" anthology of BDSM fairy tales is scheduled for release on August 31, and features my story "The Princess and Peony." I got my advance copy of the pdf last night and those are some really good stories! (Some are really really good!) I can't post the cover art until the 31st, but stay tuned.

Torquere Press's "Bite Me" anthology featuring my story "Empusa" is also scheduled for an August release, although I don't know the day yet. However, I do have cover art for that one. Isn't that tasty?

I'm very excited about both stories! Would love to hear your thoughts on them once they are available, so please leave a comment!

You can also now become a fan on Facebook. I'll post links to blog updates there and other news. Pictures coming soon, hopefully, if I can find the back of my camera...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Synopsis

So you have an excellent query letter, including a rockin' summary. You send it out to the market of your choice and voila! You have an agent or editor asking you to send the first three chapters and a synopsis.

A what?

If your summary is your story in a nutshell, the synopsis is a sample pack of nuts. Basically, the synopsis gives an overview of what happens in your story. But where the summary is very brief, catchy, and leaves your audience wanting to know what happens, the synopsis is longer and should leave nothing to the imagination.

This is a lot harder than it sounds.

Like the summary, your synopsis needs to be interesting. You have to make your story sound good but still not leave your agent or editor in suspense. Since suspense - wanting to know how the story turns out - is a huge part of what makes any story interesting, writing a good synopsis is very difficult.

Remember that your synopsis is a tool for selling your story. It's how you market your story to the agent/editor. The end consumer will never see your synopsis.

It's traditional to write synopses (also called outlines) in third person, present tense, regardless of the tense and POV you are using in the story. It's up to you whether you follow this or not, but now may not be the time to distract the agent or editor. Distract them with your glowing prose, not the synopsis format. I submit my synopses in single-spaced block format as well. It takes up less room and is visually different from my sample pages, which are usually double-spaced with indents, unless the specific agent or editor has asked for different formatting.

If the agent/editor has asked for specific formatting, give them the formatting they asked for. Period. Double and triple check it. While most agents/editors will not reject you purely because of formatting issues, there is absolutely no reason to start off with a bad impression. Be professional and show them you can follow simple directions, because if they are waffling on your story you never know what little thing could tip you into the reject pile. Check out author and editor EM Lynley's comments on not following query instructions.

So, you've decided what format to put your synopsis in - but what to write?

Length is the hardest thing about synopses, in my opinion. There is no consensus. If you are lucky enough to have the agent/editor ask for a page range, awesome. Work with it. But most won't, leaving you to decide for yourself just how long your synopsis should be.

I've seen recommendations between two pages and thirty pages, single or double-spaced depending on who is making the recommendation.

I have a one-page synopsis for my novel right now. It highlights the main characters and the plot, but doesn't go into a lot of detail about specific action points. It does focus quite a bit on the theme, mostly through the description of the resolution. Personally I prefer to have short synopses. I'm not entirely sure why. I don't think I'd have one longer than five pages unless it was specifically asked for.

Start with a hook. It doesn't have to be exactly the same hook as in the story, but get the agent/editor's interest. Let the agent/editor know right off the bat what the central confrontation is. If you're not sure what to do, start with the first part of your summary. For example: "(Main character) is a (brief description) in/with a (status quo situation)." Then immediately move into the central conflict.

In the middle of your synopsis, touch on all the main characters and the main points of the plot. (If a character is not central to the main points of the plot, it's not a main character.) Try to get some of the feel of your novel into the synopsis. You can even use a (very) small amount of dialogue, one or two lines, if that is an effective way to convey both the style AND the plot. Avoid "Things were like this, but then this happened, so then this happened. And then this happened." That's boring. Spin your plot the exact same way you did in the summary. You can keep the tension up, as long as you remember you have to include the resolution.

Good endings are hard in stories, and they are hard in synopses too. You must include the resolution of the plot! No surprises! To show off your plotting skills you have to let them know how it ends. This is deceptively difficult, because as writers we've worked so hard to make the ending uncertain for the readers, and now you have to just spell it out. Try to convey the sense of closure that the ending of the story has.

Spend time on your synopsis. Rewrite it. Polish it. Edit it. Read it out loud to make sure the flow and the rhythm and the pacing feel right. Have people proof-read it. This is where you convince an agent/editor that it's worth their time to read your work. Make the it best you possibly can.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Workin' Workin'

So the 1794 story is now up to just about 10k words, and I still have to get to the big confrontation at the end, plus I'm about to jump into nookie scene number 2. (I figured a story this long should have more than one, if I could have it make sense.) So this may end up being a 15k+ story, which would be great, although I do still have to trim back the dialogue at the beginning. So the gods alone know what length it will end up. I'm hoping for 15k+ as that gives me more markets.

I'm trying to figure out how to balance long and short projects. Certainly 1794 has turned out to be a much longer time commitment than I intended, but such is life. I have a few other anthology calls I'd like to submit to, so there's more short stories to write. But I still haven't started on a new longer project, and while the shorts are lots of fun and are good publicity and will pay me faster, I do need to get started on a new longer piece.

I know I keep rehashing this, but figuring out how to balance my time is proving frustratingly difficult. I'm really having a hard time trying to work on more than one project at once. My natural instinct is to buckle down on one thing and finish it, then move on to the next thing. I can multi-task - my last job required it in droves. I just hate doing it.

I'm going to try and get back to The Plan(TM)of putting in 500 words on a long project and then getting to work on whatever I want. I think though that I will rephrase that to 500 words on a long project before working on other things. Otherwise this will never get done.

Enough rambling, back to work.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Distractions and Writer's Block

So we have a loose cable on the outside of the house. We thought it was the power line, but they came out and checked it and said no, it wasn't theirs. They thought it was the cable TV line, but the cable guy is here now and he says nope, not theirs either. He thinks it's the phone line. (Although he did find that our cable line is improperly situated so he's fixing that while he's here.) So next we get to call the phone company and have them out. I feel like I should throw a party for all my utilities homies.

Man, good thing I'm unemployed or I'd be pretty cranky about all the time off of work.


Still working on the same stupid short story that I was working on before my cousin died. I'm just having a devil of a time focusing lately.

Yesterday I spent most of the day working on an edit for a short story that hopefully will be published in late September. I've sent in the contract but I made changes to it so I'm waiting to get a copy back before I post that one. More when I have it.

Wednesday is LAN party night for the husband, so it's just me and the dog. Which means we get to go for a nice long walk as soon as her energy level gets too high, which should be around 5pm. Which is of course right in the middle of my peak writing time. Ah well.

Back to 1794. Really. Honestly.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Summaries

Creating a good summary is a skill that many writers struggle with. After weeks or even years working on a project, how do you boil it down into one or two sentences? It's so much more than that.

A good exercise to get you in the right frame of mind is to go through a bunch of paperbacks or DVDs. After the reviewer quotes (and, on the DVDs, the bit at the beginning about the fabulous cast/director/producer) you will find a very brief description of what the story is about. The language is usually concise and catchy, especially on the DVDs as they often have very little room for text.

Most of these summaries will follow a simple formula:
(set up the status quo and introduce the character/s) + (identify the conflict)

So let's look at the back of the DVD for the movie Underworld:
"In the Underworld, Vampires are a secret clan of modern aristocratic sophisticates whose mortal enemies are the Lycans (werewolves), a shrewd gang of street thugs who prowl the city's underbelly. No one knows the origin of their bitter blood feud, but the balance of power between them turns even bloodier when a beautiful young Vampire warrior and a newly-turned Lycan with a mysterious past fall in love."

Two sentences. First it sets up the status quo - vampires and werewolves in a blood feud - and then introduces the conflict - a vampire and a werewolf fall in love and carnage ensues.

Note that even at two sentences, this is a long summary at 67 words. An even shorter summary of this could be: "The origins of the bitter blood feud between the Vampires and the Lycans (werewolves) are lost in history, but the war takes an even bloodier turn when a beautiful young Vampire warrior and a newly-turned Lycan with a mysterious past fall in love." (43 words)

If you wanted to focus more on the characters, you could write: "The Vampire warrior Selene has dedicated her existence to hunting down her people's arch enemy, the Lycans (werewolves). But when she and a newly-turned Lycan with a mysterious past fall in love, the bitter blood feud takes an even bloodier turn." (41 words)

There is no hard-fast rule about summary word counts (there are very few hard-fast rules in this business), but I prefer to keep mine under 50 words, same as the author bio.

So, how do you do this to your own work?

I like to first come up with three sentences that encompass the story. The first sentence is the set-up, the second sentence is the conflict, and the third sentence is the resolution. This can sound like absolute crap, no one is going to see it. But I find that this helps me boil down all that prose and side plots and secondary characters until I have just the bare bones of the plot.

Then take those first two sentences and make them interesting. You can keep them as two sentences, or combine them into one sentence as I did in the last Underworld example. You can also make the conflict introduction into a question.

So, if my sentences are "Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back" my summary could be "When Boy meets Girl, he knows they are meant to be together forever. But when she leaves him for another boy, can Boy find a way to win her heart all over again?"

The point of the summary is to grab the attention and interest of whoever is reading it, and make them want to find out what happens. That's why you don't include the resolution in the summary. Once you have a catchy summary, you can use it in query letters, on your website, in advertisements, anywhere. Save the resolution for the synopsis, a whole different beast requiring a similar but frustratingly different skill set that we'll talk about in a future Tuesday Tip.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Ideas and Writing for Specific Markets

Welcome to this week's Tuesday Tip.

When my friend asked me a few weeks ago whether there were any tricks to getting published, the first one I thought of was writing for a specific market.

In my case I had been working on a novel for the last eleven years. (Yes. That long.) It was a great tool for learning how to write, because I made soooo many mistakes and then had to correct them. But one thing that it showed me was that I quite enjoy writing sex scenes, and I'm pretty good at it, if I do say so myself.

When I decided to really buckle down and try to tackle writing as a profession, I did a lot of research. I toyed with the idea of being a paid blogger, or writing internet articles, but eventually I decided that I wanted to get some short stories out there and hopefully build a following. Non-fiction is great, but fiction is what I really love. I can always start another novel, but working on a novel doesn't get me any fans or get my name out in the industry.

Having decided on short stories, I did more research. While I love writing fantasy, sci-fi, and horror, it turns out that those are some pretty tough markets to break into. Erotica, however, has LOTS of open calls. The pay isn't great with some of them, but I could consider those as practice and as marketing. And I already knew I could write erotica, good erotica with characters and plot and an intelligent vocabulary.

So now we come to the meat of this particular post: getting ideas for specific markets.

One of the first things I did when I decided to make a go of erotica writing was to make a spreadsheet listing all of the anthology markets I had found, their deadlines, webpages, word counts, dos and don'ts, and compensation. I also listed open markets. I decided what markets I particularly wanted to target first, and when I got started the first call that was going to close was Torquere's "Bite Me" anthology. MMF with biting, and the call had a definite paranormal slant. Perfect.

Now I just needed a story.

I had been doing a lot of research (I've mentioned before, I love research) on ancient Greek and Roman magic, and two things stuck out in my mind - curse tablets, and a goddess (or demigoddess, or daimon, depending on the time period) called Empusa. Many ancient curse tablets called upon daimones for aid, and I could imagine a scenario where a suppliant received an answer to his or her spell that they did not expect. Once I had that kernel of an idea, the rest of the story fell into place. Plus there were upcoming anthologies in my list for vampires, love spells, and demons, which meant that if Torquere passed on the story I would have other markets to submit it to right away.

One that was harder was Ravenous Romance's Threesomes anthology. They were mostly looking for MMF or MFM, but said they wanted at least one MMM and FFF. Go for the safer route, or assume that most people will be doing that and there will be less competition for the FFF or MMM? I decided to take the gamble and do FFF. But what about? My mind was blank. I picked a word at random - palace. Mm. I wanted to do contemporary. Caesar's Palace? Three women in Vegas? And there were more lesbian calls on my list, particularly Cleis's Girl Crush anthology. Spark. "When in Rome" was born.

Not all of my stories have been accepted by the first market I sent them to, but that's why I tend to have more than one market in mind when I brainstorm. This is why the spreadsheet is so useful - when a story gets rejected, I just open the spreadsheet, find an appropriate market, and send it out again. Plus it gives me more pieces to build a story from. I find I need at least three pieces to get a story idea. Vampires? That could be anything. Lesbian vampires? Still too vague. Lesbian vampires in the French Revolution? Now we're talking.

Keep your idea pump primed while you read, regardless of subject. Figure out what you want to write. Research the markets. Figure out what they are looking for. Combine a couple of calls together (ideally the calls should have deadlines at least two months apart) to help you get ideas and ensure your piece has a wide appeal. Then write it!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Welcome to August

I'm be-bopping to The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove by Dead Can Dance. Checkbook is balanced, dishes are done, doggie is asleep, and I have a vast mug of coffee sitting next to me.

Just about ready to get started.

I had a surprisingly good writing weekend. Got 1400 words done on Friday, which I felt pretty good about, getting back in the groove of things after a week of distraction. On Saturday we took a day trip to Chicago with some friends and had a wonderful time, and on the way home my poor husband had an odd encounter which I was able to turn into a piece of flash fiction on Sunday morning.

So, back to work on the current short. I missed the deadline for the anthology I was hoping to submit it to, but it's a vampire story and they're always in season, so I'm not too worried about it.