By Swashbuckler, out of Buddy Cop Show…

 

Bell_Thief_cover-12-16The topic this month is “books outside your genre that have influenced you.”  But since I read a fair bit outside my genre, and practically everything has influence somewhere, I thought I’d talk instead about the two genres I squashed togeth…ah, melded seamlessly, to create my current series, the Knight & Rogue books.

I grew up in the heyday of buddy cop TV shows.  I Spy is the first I remember watching—in black and white, no less, and before you write me off as ancient I was very young when I Spy was on, and they may have been reruns…  OK, I’m ancient.  But it was a really good show, full of action and witty banter, resting on the solid foundation of a deep, warm—straight—male friendship.

(A lot of fans ask me if Fisk & Michael are gay—and if not, why not?  I wouldn’t mind if they were gay, but that’s not the genre tradition they come from.  And despite the everything-has-to-be-a-romance trend that has taken over YA these days, there are many non-romantic human relationships that are very important to the people involved in them.)

Man from Uncle, Simon & Simon, Starsky and Hutch (forget the movie, the TV show was good).  By the time Miami Vice came out, the buddy cop show was fading from TV screens, and the Lethal Weapon movies were probably its last gasp.  But it left an indelible impression on me, of how deeply partners and friends can care about each other.  And what a great combination banter and action make.

The other parent of my Knight & Rogue books was all the swashbucklers I read (and watched) at about the same time the buddy cop shows were on.  Captain Blood is Sabatini’s best known novel, but I liked The Black Swan best.  Then there’s Robin Hood—I think I was in third grade when I read Howard Pyle’s version, which is by far the best—Zorro, The Scarlet Pimpernel…  The swashbuckler perished even before the buddy cop show did, but they were fueled by the same appealing combination of wit and derring do.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the Knight & Rogue novels are the only ones I’ve written where the characters came into my head before the core of the plot—because for all their action and wit, it’s the friendship between the two protagonists that forms the core of a buddy cop show.  Putting that relationship into a swashbuckler setting felt utterly natural—witty banter from both it’s genre parents, thank you.  Then throw in just enough magic to get by with calling it a fantasy, and viola!  The Last Knight was born.  Rogue’s Home and Player’s Ruse followed shortly, and after a bit of a hiatus, Thief’s War has just emerged into the world, with two more siblings planned to follow.  And while they may not be my “best” books (I love all my novel-children, for different reasons and in different ways) I have to confess that these are the ones I like the best, because they are, quite simply, the most fun.

Hilari Bell has already shamelessly plugged her book, but you can buy Thief’s War at Amazon.com (hardcover and paperback, as well as ebook) BarnesandNoble.com and Smashwords.com, and it should be up on Apple’s I-Bookstore very shortly.

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Reinventing Myself—it’s scarier than it sounds

Bell_Thief_cover-12-16There’s a great Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel, Breathing Room, in which the heroine is a self-help guru whose fiancée embezzles all her money, and leaves her a laughing stock with her career in ruins.  She runs off to a romantic villa in Italy, gets involved with a fabulously handsome actor who always plays villains, and it’s a really fun book.

But the line that has always stuck with me is when she meets the actor’s agent, and he says: “If you were my client, I’d tell you to reinvent yourself.”

The heroine does just that, and ends up even more rich and famous than before.  (Not to mention marrying the handsome actor.)  But that line lingered in my mind…even before my own career hit the rocks.

the last chapter of my old career, as a well-published but mid-list author, the recession had hit the bookstores hard.  Borders died, and Barnes & Noble was in critical condition.  But when the recession struck, both of the only two large bookstore chains in the country responded by stocking only books they knew would sell in large numbers—the bestsellers and popular series—which left mid-list authors with very few sales for anything that came out in those years.

My first Knight & Rogue book, released before the recession, sold about as well as my other books—solidly mid-list.  But then the recession hit, and the big chains ordered only a handful of book 2, and an even smaller handful of book 3.  And with a bad sales record for books 2 and 3, there’s not a major publisher in the world who would put out books 4 through 6.

The agent I talked to after my old agent retired (great plot complication, if this was fiction and not my life) advised me to change my name, write something completely different, and start over from scratch.  And I suppose that’s one way to reinvent yourself.

(Fleeing to a romantic villa in Italy was out of the question, for a number of reasons, not least that I’ve never been as rich as the heroine of Breathing Room.)

But three out of four of my fan emails were from people asking for more Knight & Rogue books, I’d planned the series from the start for a six book story arc…and damn it, I wanted to write them.

So I decided to reinvent myself in a different way, by going mostly-indie.  I say mostly, because instead of bringing the book out entirely on my own I contacted a local micro-publisher, Courtney Literary.  Deb Courtney will handle all the technical aspects, and offered amazingly good terms…and the fourth Knight & Rogue book, Thief’s War, is coming out at the end of February.

Deb is giving me a high enough percentage that I can sell far fewer books than I did through HarperCollins and survive.  If I sell half as many books, I’ll thrive.  And if I sold almost as many books as I did going through a major publisher, I’d be doing great.  (I should mention that my idea of great is fairly modest.)  But I have no clue how many books I’ll sell.  None, zip, zero, nada.  There’s no way even to guess—so I’m going to find out the hard way, by doing it.

We’re all the hero of our own story, so I’ll shamelessly declare myself the heroine.  Here I am, past the dark moment, heading straight for the climax.  And I have no idea whether my story will have a happy ending, or turn into one of those dreary, pointless tragedies where the heroine has to go out and get a day job again.  (No handsome actors in sight.  Rats.)   This being real life, where climaxes don’t usually happen within a few chapters, I won’t even get a hint about how Thief’s War is selling until the beginning of August.

Reinventing yourself sounds so uplifting.  Downright inspiring.  But watching my savings drain away, I’ve learned that reinventing yourself is hard and scary—and I’ve now got a lot more respect for heroes, who launch themselves into the climax never knowing whether they’re going to win or lose.  (And maybe basing major financial decisions on novels isn’t the smartest thing to do, either.)  But I’m doing it…and in August, I’ll let you know how it looks like coming out.

Stuff your Stocking…

December…a freebie month. Ugh, believe it or not, I actually like it better when I have a topic to work with. Sounds weird from an author, I know. I should love the fact I can let myself write about whatever my mind wanders to…but my mind often wanders to places I shouldn’t write about so topics are a good thing.  (That sounds bad…don’t judge me! Ha!)

Since it’s the month of giving, I thought I’d share five books you should ask Santa to leave in your stocking this year. I’m focusing on self or indie published books that don’t often get the attention they deserve.

So, here we go. The five books that should be in your Christmas stocking—in no particular order—are:

13030422“The Sary Series” by Meradeth Houston.  “Colors Like Memories” and “The Chemistry of Fate.” Okay, okay, that’s two books, but it’s one series so it counts as one. Meradeth is a fan-freakin’-tasic author. She has a way of weaving words

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together that just makes them sing. I love to read her writing. Oh, and my favorite thing about Meradeth’s writing, and the thing I get most excited about when I sit down to read something she’s written, is her first sentence of her novels. She has a flair for writing the best ever first sentences. I mean, who doesn’t want to keep reading when a book starts out with a sentence like this:

“I greeted his tombstone the way I always did— with a swift

kick.”  (Colors Like Memories)

That makes me want to know what the heck is going on! Meradeth is one author you need to watch…she’s going places. Plus, she’s just an all-around great person

“At Any Price” by Brenna Aubrey.  This book really surprised me. Honestly when IPageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00071] received the ARC I wasn’t looking forward to reading it. But, WOW, I’m so glad I did. Itwas such a great story. Brenna blew me away with the story and her writing. The story was original. The plot was well thought out.  One thing I loved the most is that the male lead was a good guy. He wasn’t the “typical” bad boy who has a miraculous turnaround at the end of the story (not that I don’t like those stories too). Adam was just a great guy and I loved that.

Brenna wrote strong, likable characters that I fell in love with. It’s an incredible story about giving up control to grab on to love. It’s definitely worth the time to read, but be warned: once you pick it up you won’t want to put it down until you reach the last page. So clear your schedule! I’ve also been lucky enough to “meet” Brenna through email and she is a sweet and kind person. Definitely give this book, the first in a planned trilogy, a try.

15787222“Quest of the Hart” Mary Waibel’s debut young adult reverse fairy tale retelling. I love fairy tale retellings, but I especially loved this one since it was done in reverse which was just outstanding!  The story Mary weaved was not only entertaining, interesting and engaging, but also empowering for girls. Instead of the prince saving the helpless princess, the princess was the one who saved the prince. This type of message is so important for today’s generation of young women, and Mary delivered it flawlessly. It was truly empowerment on paper!

“The Prophecy” by Erin Albert. Okay, I have to admit—I haven’t actually read this book theprophecy333x500yet. It’s one I want in my stocking and since someone in my family usually buys me a Kindle gift card of some sort for Christmas, I plan to get it. But I know Erin. She’s my Beta and CP so I know how she writes and because of that I have absolutely no doubt that this book is going to be awesome. It’s a young adult high fantasy and the first installment in the “The Fulfillment Series.”

18369048“Addicted Series” by Becca and Krista Ritchie. Okay, this is another series so technically it’s more than one book, but since it’s my blog post I say it counts as one. 🙂  I won’t list all the books, because not only are therebooks in the series, but there are companion books, too. So I’ll stick to the three I’ve read: “Addicted To You,” “Ricochet,and “Addicted For Now.” These books are hard to explain in just a couple paragraphs because they are 1) so, so good and 2) deal with so many emotions and complex situations. Here’s what I wrote on ricochetmy blog for the first book: Raw. Gritty. The nasty side of the upper echelon of society. “Addicted To You.” It’s surely going to be one of those books that people either love or hate. In my case, I loved it. Bottom line: Definitely worth the time. Characters are well written. Plot is well thought out. But continue with caution, this is not a book that glosses over the world of addiction. You’re gonna get it like it is. And that’s what makes the book so great!

17969317The quick synopsis of the books is: She’s addicted to sex and he’s addicted to booze and it’s the story about how they hide their addictions from everyone around them, then how they work to overcome their addictions. Finally, just when they are adjusting to their new life and learning to live and manage their addictions, it’s a story about how one person pulls the rug out from under them and everything comes crashing down–and how they deal with the situation. In short, it’s one of the best series I’ve read. It’s definitely for 18 and above because of the subject matter, but everything in the book is written tastefully and there are no gratuitous sexual situations—everything fits the storyline. It’s definitely a series that should be in your stocking.

Honorable Mention:

13554235 Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000046_00068] Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000046_00066]

The writing thesauruses by Marsha Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. These books never leave my desk—ever. They include: “The Emotion Thesaurus,” “The Negative Trait Thesaurus,” and “The Positive Trait Thesaurus.” If you haven’t checked these out, give them a try. They are great resources. I love them.

Those are the five (plus the honorable mentions) indie press or self-published books I think Santa should leave in everyone’s stockings this year. I hope you check them out, if you haven’t already. And in a shameless plug, you can always stick a copy of “PODs in your stocking too.

So, what books are you hoping to find in your stocking this year? Whatever you find, I hope it includes love, joy and wonderful moments with your family and friends.

Merry Christmas everyone,

Michelle 🙂

When Good Emotions Go Bad—Thankfulness vs. Gratitude

The topic his month was sent to us as:  “Thankfulness/gratitude – anything along those lines, anything you want to do with it.”  It may only be me, but I see a subtle difference between thankfulness and gratitude.  For me, thankfulness is the feeling of peace and joy I get when I recognize all the good things in my life.  It’s a big, loose, open wash of contentment.  Gratitude is a similar emotion, but it’s aimed at the specific person who provided whatever it is I’m thankful for.  And don’t get me wrong—there are many wonderful people who’ve earned my gratitude, and I give it to them in full measure.  But that’s another word that attaches to gratitude—measure.  I feel gratitude in varying amounts, depending on the size of the thing I’m grateful for.  And (being a writer) this makes me think of all the different ways I can use gratitude to create, not peace and joy, but conflict for my characters.

What may seem like a big deal to the giver may be deemed smaller by the receiver, resulting in hurt feelings when the giver doesn’t get the gratitude they think they’ve earned.  And what does the giver do about that?  If they nag the receiver to acknowledge all they’ve done, how quickly does gratitude turn to resentment?  If your giver likes to manipulate people, do they use gratitude as a lever?  Maybe even to the point where people reject their “gifts,” because there are so many emotional strings attached?  Sounds to me like the oft rejected giver (with the proper psychotic twist) might even be driven to murder the ungrateful.  After the first murder, they might even start punishing all the “ungrateful” one after the other.  (Who says proper middle-aged aunt Hazel can’t be a serial killer?)

Good emotions gone bad can make for wonderful character conflicts.  Off-hand I can’t think of any way thankfulness could be turned to the dark side—probably because it’s more or less contained in the person who feels it.  But gratitude is aimed at another person…and almost anything that involves more than one person can get mucked up.  So what other “good” emotions have we seen writers turn to the bad?  Love?  Patriotism?  Compassion?  Have your characters ever started out on that well-paved road, and ended in a bad place?

Hilari Bell writes SF and fantasy for kids and teens—plenty of scope for all kinds of emotions to go bad!  Loyalty is the one that gets twisted up in Thief’s War, which will be released on Feb. 27th!

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August Indulgence

A free post? I can write anything? Brief flash of joy, followed by total brain freeze as I consider every topic I ever wanted to write about and reject them all. How do I ever manage to write novels…novels…hmm.

So I ultimately decided that if I can do anything with this post, what I wanted to do most was to share a snippet of one of my favorite scenes from my work in progress, Scholar’s Plot:

The death of one plan should hatch another. I gave up a couple of tricks I should have taken, throwing several pots into Stint’s hands. We all agreed, amiably, that the luck seemed to be turning—except for Pig, who growled. Squirrel begged him not to let it upset him. Kathy assumed a sympathetic expression, but her misty eyes were sharp and bright.

When Stint rose, complaining about how fast tea went though you, I said that ale did the same and followed him out. The privy was in the yard behind the tavern, and while I’ve seen and smelled better, I’ve also seen worse. I waited till he’d come out, buttoning up the front of his britches, before I spoke.

“I think our friends are signaling.”

“What, the bully and that poor little mouse? She’s so fearful, she’d… Hm. But they’re losing.”

I shrugged. “What can I tell you? He pats his stomach, he has all the rounds in the deck, practically. If it’s horns he rubs his nose. When she plays with her necklace, she’s long on leaves.”

Then I went into the privy, leaving him to do what he willed with this. When I came back into the warm, beery fug of the tavern, Stint was speaking to the tapster. And the fresh pot of tea that followed him back to our table could have accounted for it. But it didn’t surprise me that the tapster, and the two maids who passed through the room serving the other tables, were now paying more attention to our game.

Master Stint should be kindly inclined toward someone who’d exposed a cheat. Maybe even kindly enough to answer a few questions…though if he played like this all the time, it was no wonder his landlady said he won more than lost. If he needed money, he could pick it up at the card table. He had no need to—

“Hey!” The tapster darted out from behind the bar. “I’ve seen that signal three times now, Master, and I want you to show your hand. If it’s long on daggers, then you’re cheating. The game will stop, and you and your partner’s stakes will be…divided…”
His steps slowed in time with his words, for as he spoke Pig had risen to his considerable height.

Belatedly, I remembered how the Pig and Squirrel con is supposed to run. As Kathy would say, Oh. Dear.

“Who called me a cheat?” Pig rumbled, in a voice that turned heads all over the room. “Who told you I’m cheating?”

It would have taken a stupider man than the tapster to refuse. He pointed to Stint, who promptly pointed to me. Where was I supposed to point? At Carmichael, who was sixty if he was a day? At Kathy?

I sprang to my feet, leaping to put the table between us. Pig solved that problem by putting one hand under the edge and flipping it like a tin plate. It probably weighed fifty pounds. It fell with a loud crack, followed by the rattle of falling coins, but I was too busy running for my life to watch Squirrel at work.

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Scholar’s Plot (working title) is the fifth book in Hilari Bell’s Knight and Rogue series, and The Last Knight is the first.

How Do You Keep Going Until You Find Your Luck?

“Some writers hate the idea that luck plays a big part in success, but it does. But I’ve found that the harder you work, the luckier you get.”
–Joe Konrath

 

My path to publication began with a New Year’s Resolution. It went something like this: I think I’ll write a book this year (to the tune of: la la la, won’t that be fun?? ;)) At the time I had no idea how much work it was going to be. I just knew I’d always wanted to write a book & I finally had an idea for a story tickling at the back of my brain.

It was a challenging year, but I wrote the book. I finished! In fact, since I was very much learning to write on the fly, I rewrote it several times. It won some awards…but never sold. Flash forward a dozen years and I’ve written ten books (depending on how you count all those rewrites and partial books ;)).

In that time, I’ve published one haiku, one YA short story, and a novella. 🙂 On the surface that could be very discouraging. All those books. All that effort. Was it time wasted?

No. I learned a lot.

  •  Learning is never a waste of time.

So I want to talk a little about how do you keep going until you find your luck?

I can’t tell you how many roadblocks and detours I’ve come across on my writing journey. I can tell you there have been a lot. I’ve reinvented myself several times and changed genres. (Or perhaps not so much reinventing as evolving as my interests changed.) All the while, I’ve tried to keep learning and am always trying to stretch myself. I think that’s what Mr. Konrath was referring to in his quote on luck: You can’t control luck, but you can increase your odds of success by working hard.

  • You certainly can’t succeed if you give up.

Here are a few other things that have helped me keep going, even through times of discouragement:

  • Take yourself seriously.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.

What do I mean by that? I don’t think of writing as a hobby. This is my job. I work hard at it. I finish my projects. I take myself seriously.

But I also try not to take myself too seriously. Every disappointment can feel like the end of the world, and I have to remind myself that it’s not. The most important things in life are the people in our lives: our family and friends. The kind of people we are. A rejection from an agent or editor (or a bad review!) is just a blip.

  • So that person didn’t connect with my story-I don’t like everything I read either.
  • I have readers out there somewhere, and, with time, I’ll connect with them. 

So I brush myself off and keep going. 🙂

  • Be willing to reinvent yourself.

My goal all along was to publish novels with a traditional publisher. And not just any traditional publisher. I was kind of snobby(?) and wanted to publish with a Big Publisher. Part of not taking myself too seriously was being willing to try a small press. That’s how I got my first novella published. And, you know what? It was a great experience. I learned a lot. I’ve tried the traditional route for my novels and have had many “close calls,” but in the end those deal didn’t come together. I could have continued on with querying and waiting. I could have given up. 

(I did consider it–there were some tough moments–but, honestly, how could I give up something I love so much??)

Aire

April 2013

Instead, I decided to consider my options. I wanted my books published, I wanted to connect with readers, and I wasn’t getting any younger. LOL So when the rights to my novella came back to me, I took a chance and self-published it . And I LOVED IT! So, yet again, I’ve reinvented myself. Next month, as an indie author, I’m releasing my first novel, AIRE. (See my new cover?! Squee!! Thank you, Lisa A!)

I couldn’t be happier about  taking this new path. Will luck find me? Oh, who knows! 😉 I do know I’ve worked hard and will continue to work hard. I’ll take myself seriously (but not too seriously), and I’ll enjoy the journey. 

Do you have a mantra or quote that helps you get through the tough times? Please share in the comments!

 

Updating to add: Enter to win a free paperback copy at Goodreads!

Giving Perseverance a Break

I wrote a book.

I queried a book.

After about a year and 100 queries, I got an agent.

My agent shopped my book to lots of houses.

After some close calls and a rewrite/resubmit from Little Brown Publishing, my book didn’t sell.

My agent and I divorced.

And, as far as one of those soul crushing experiences, this was definitely up there.I felt like I’d trained for a marathon. And then, at the end of the race, within 15 feet of the goal, I fell flat on my face.

To make matters worse, a ton of my writing friends were selling their books. It was like a flash back to my days in elementary school when I was picked last for the kickball team. Everyone was making it, except for me. And as stubborn as I am, I was just plain tired.

So I took a break.

I stopped writing. I was sick of pushing. I was through with perseverance. I was ready to put my book in the trunk and give up writing. Sometimes perseverance doesn’t work. You can be the most stubborn (which I am) person, and it still sometimes it doesn’t conquer the world.

Perseverance is exhausting.

For me, at least, perseverance needed a break. I directed my creative juices in other ways. 

I guess what I’m saying is this: Don’t be afraid to step away from perseverance.  Sometimes it just needs a break. In a race, sometime you need to stop and get a drink. You need to go to the bathroom. Sometimes you just need to sleep. This doesn’t make you a failure. It also doesn’ t mean you won’t finish.

Pushing and pushing makes you tired. In the world of writing, your emotional resolve takes a beating. Find something else to refresh you creatively  Writing is HARD. Writers are constantly being rejected. We NEED other things to refresh our spirit.

For me, it was face painting  I love being creative that way. And each time I paint a child’s face, I get instant approval and positive reinforcement. I get the pat on the back that I soo very much needed in the midst of so much rejection. The expression on the children’s face fills my emotional tank. Having my face painting business helps my writing life, it helped heal my emotional scars. It gives my creative side a pat on the back when I’m being pummeled by negativity.

As as stubborn as I am, my perseverance needed to heal.

But because I let it heal, I was able to keep going. After that break, and after some of the pain of rejection subsided–a little–I dragged out my book and edited it again. And after several more submissions and more close calls, my book sold.

It is coming out this December. 🙂

*****

The Emissary (3)

The Emissary  Dec 2013 from Month9Books)

A seventeen-year-old must defeat an ageless king and his powerful army in order to save their land from a cloud of darkness that threatens to destroy him, and those like him, who possess one of six deadly powers.

On Goodreads