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Sunday, June 25, 2017

What It Boils Down To

Why don't I call myself a romance author?

It's a question I'm asked often. Sometimes with curiosity, sometimes with open hostility. Sometimes it's a serious point of contention that invokes nearly a year's worth of angry gossip and bad-mouthing on social media (Hi, Stalker-Girl! Might I suggest a healthier means of passing all your free time).

The answer is simple, and it isn't heinous. The answer is this: for me, the romantic elements of a story are never the most important.

I'm not bad-mouthing the romance genre. I'm not making a statement about it. I enjoy a good romance as much as the next reader. But when it comes to writing, the romantic plot of a story is never the most important aspect for me personally, and I think that shows in the final products. Writing romance is not really my strong suit - my strength lies in other areas of the narrative.

Some readers DO find my books romantic, and that's fantastic. Hopefully that means I capture romantic expression and feeling better than I think I do.

Some readers find my books to be lacking in romance, and that's fine too; to each her own. That's why I label most of my work "literary fiction," so that readers know going in to expect a story that focuses more on family relationships and personal struggles than on romantic chemistry.

During the conceptualization phase of writing, when I'm fleshing out my characters in rough, handwritten notes, I'm not thinking about their love lives. Take a character like Fox, for instance; it's taken a very long time to "find" his mate in my mind because, from the beginning, I was never thinking about his character arc in terms of romance. Even now, I can't promise that he'll marry an old lady, settle down and have children, because I have a hard time seeing that happen for him.

Genre labels boil down to marketing. Authors try to classify their books as honestly as possible so that the readers most likely to enjoy them will have an easier time finding them. When I first started on my publishing journey (2008), when I was querying, I called myself a romance writer. Through various interactions with agents, publishers, and editors, I eventually learned that my books didn't focus on the romantic relationships tightly enough to be considered genre romance. I fell into that limbo category of "fiction," where books with identity crises find themselves in bookstores. I had a choice: shift the focus of my books, or change  my label. I changed my label. And I continue to write books that are difficult to market - this is my burden to shoulder, and is in no way commentary on any particular genre. (Anyone who claims to have serious issues with the way I choose to label my books is just looking for things to be unhappy about. Haters, still, sadly, gonna hate).

The reason I blog about this from time to time is because I want readers to be happy. I want them to know where I'm coming from creatively so they know what to expect from my work.

Like White Wolf, for example. This series is such a passion project for me. It's an amalgamation of so many inspiring interests. It contains some touching and intense love stories...but as with my other work, I won't mislead anyone by claiming that romance drives the story. Think more historical and contemporary fiction with romantic subplots.

I think it'll always bother me that in a field that is essentially art, built on a foundation of individual artistic expression, a person can be bullied and belittled for pursuing her art in the way that's best-suited to her, but hey, it's a nasty world out there. Some people build sandcastles, and some kick them over for the fun of it. What I learned last year, while I was having a creative rejuvenation working on Walking Wounded, was that I'm at my best when I focus on the things that interest me the most, and that's something I'm definitely pursuing with my new Sons of Rome series. It's big, and daunting, I can't wait to share it with everyone.

Thank you, readers, as always, for your kindness and understanding.

Monday, June 12, 2017

White Wolf

Alternatively titled "What To Expect When You're Expecting A Book."

I'm 11k words into White Wolf as of today, and it's difficult, as it always is at this stage, to keep quiet about my latest project. It's too early for a blurb, or cover, or in-depth I thought I'd share what I can today.

Here's what to expect from the first book in my new series:

Character is king. For me, even the coolest of concepts can't save a story with flat, uninteresting, unsympathetic characters. As with all my other books, White Wolf begins and ends with characters, with their personal growth and emotional journeys driving the story forward. And though some characters have extravagant backgrounds, the majority of this cast is splendidly ordinary. That's my shtick: ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and like with my other books, the true stars of this series are regular, everyday folks who are forced to make big decisions, and face seemingly insurmountable challenges.

It's dark. If Dartmoor asks readers to love characters who do unsavory things...this series doubles down on that. The violence and dark themes aren't anything you guys can't handle, but given the genre, it's darker than my other work. Just throwing that out there.

Family saga. Yep, Sons of Rome is a family saga. It's my other shtick. Family by birth, family by choice - check. Parent/child relationships, sibling relationships, coming to grips with the legacy of your family - check, check, and check.

Alternate History. I love history, I really do. And I love having the chance to explore it with real-time, in-the-moment scenes in which the past transcends dates on a page and becomes someone's reality. This series has an ongoing present day storyline, and for the most part the books will be contemporary. But I love having the chance to go back to important moments in history and put my own paranormal spin on them. It's what makes this series truly epic.

Paranormal. I'm calling this a paranormal series, but it has elements of so many other genres. The characters are driving the bus, and they can steer it in romantic, suspenseful, or horrifying directions.

White Wolf is poised to become my favorite project ever. With both a past and present storyline, a cast of lovable misfits, and high-stakes drama, it should definitely appeal to Dartmoor fans who don't mind going for a walk on the supernatural side. I CAN NOT wait to share it with everyone later this year.

Friday, June 9, 2017

#FicPromptFriday - Mags Meets the Ex

Technically no spoilers for American Hellhound since everyone already knows that Maggie and Ghost got married in the past.

6/2/17 – Mags Meets the Ex

“Uh oh,” Aidan said, and Maggie immediately went from pleasantly drowsy to fully-alert in an instant. Uh oh could mean any number of things in this crazy life of theirs. It could be a spilled milkshake, or a drive-by shooting.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

And Now For Something Completely Different

For anyone who hasn't already heard, my next project is going to be the first book in a new series. White Wolf, book one of the Sons of Rome Series, kicks off a dark and epic paranormal adventure. As with all my books, it's character-driven and doesn't slot neatly into one category. Paranormal? Definitely. But featuring lots of action, some military history, and of course romance. Like Dartmoor, each book will have its own central plot, but the series will work best if read in order. Part war story. Part ghost story. Part love letter to the books that have inspired me.

Right now I'm in the research and strategizing part of the process, and that's always my favorite stage of every project. It's that magical time when your head is full to bursting with ideas; when you can shut your eyes and see your scenes unfold with aching clarity, accompanied by the perfect soundtrack. You splice together the best bits to form the perfect pretend movie trailer in your mind. Everything seems possible at this stage - before you start writing and muck the whole thing up with crappy writing. I've found that I love a story most before I start...and that by the end, I love it little, hoping that I've managed to give that love away to readers through the course of the telling.

In the months to come I'll be sharing what I can when I can, and hopefully convincing some of my regular readers to come on this new journey with me. I've hinted at the supernatural in some of my other work, tales of hellhounds and such, but now we're going all in. I can't wait.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

#AmericanHellhound - Debriefing

Just a few of the reviews that have completely stunned me in the best way possible.

American Hellhound went live last Friday, and let me tell you, I wasn't prepared. The reader response has absolutely blown me away. I keep saying "thank you" and it continues to feel like an inadequate response to what has been the most encouraging, kind, and enthusiastic response. Long reviews, short reviews, Tweets, private messages, emails - I'm hording them like a greedy dragon with a pile of gold. Please know how touching and wonderful it's been. Please know how much I appreciate it. After an unprecedented six months between releases, and this being the sixth book in the series, I was convinced there would be a fading of interest in Dartmoor. So I can't thank you all enough for the stunning reception of Ghost and Maggie's story.

This debrief will be as spoiler-free as possible, since I know not everyone's had a chance to finish the book yet. Some post-publishing thoughts on what turned out to be the second-longest installment in the series thus far.

Ghost and Mags. Back in the beginning with Fearless, it became apparent that Ghost was a big ol' hypocrite. I like to see it as one of his more frustratingly realistic and charming qualities. His reasons for rejecting Mercy and Ava's relationship are directly related to the life he knows he stole from his own too-young old lady. Like all parents, he wants better for his children than he had for himself...all the while knowing that what he had was amazing. He's been at times infuriating as he juggles his roles as father, husband, and outlaw president, and I've loved discussing his flaws and merits with everyone along the way. In many ways, he's my favorite, because he seems to condemn the very things he does, hard to pin down and define as one thing or another. With this book, more than anything, I hoped to peel back the fa├žade and show what makes him tick. Highlight the ways in which he's been forced to be a hypocrite from the very first, back when he hated everything about Duane...even when he had to carry on some of the darker, more illegal aspects of the club in his place.

Before I started the book, I was hesitant to write it at all, because I knew we'd be rehashing the age gap scenario that some readers have found so repulsive. I didn't really want to go there again with this series...but that's what it demanded. And so with Maggie, I hoped to show that - just like with Mercy and Ava - hers was a case in which age was just a number, that it had no bearing on her strength, maturity, and her ability to make up her own mind. And in an attempt to parallel Ghost's upbringing, the skills that had been forced upon her - that she didn't at first appreciate - became the very things that enabled her to survive and find a place within the club. Theirs was a taboo romance on the surface, but I wanted to show that what seemed unhealthy to the rest of the city was actually a loving and supportive union between the two of them.

The Series. In very early drafts, this book was just supposed to be a 200ish page novella about a particular plot twist that's revealed in chapter one. It was going to be light and fluffy, more a companion piece than a real installment. But then a whole bunch of plot happened, and by the end, there were more side stories than I could possibly unpack all in just one book. So now we have a whole host of spinoffs coming down the pipeline. Kristin, and Reese, and Roman, and even Ian. Expanding the world of the series while maintaining an intimate feel is an ongoing goal, so I'm thrilled to hear that everyone's looking forward to those spinoff stories.

The Fan Factor. My whole life I've been obsession-prone when it comes to fiction. Be it books, movies, TV shows, I'm the kind of fan who ties herself in knots waiting for the next installment, stomach tight with worry when a beloved series takes a turn that feels less like organic development, and more like a ploy for shock, outrage, and ratings. I think we've all been there: that moment when a favorite show does something unforgivable because it's Sweeps Week. Or when an author caves to the pressure of critical voices and the series shifts in an irretrievable direction. When a movie studio scraps the original fan-preferred plot of a film in favor of bringing in a bigger budget actor. When you're a hardcore fan, you're  at the mercy of the decisions of others. That show you love might finally win an Emmy...but meanwhile, you no longer feel compelled to watch it.

I don't ever want to do that to my readers. You won't ever write something that everyone loves -  so I want to write for the people who DO love it.

When I say that I'm writing these books for the fans, I really mean it. You guys have helped my childhood writing dreams come true. I'm beyond privileged to be able to share my stories with you, and it's my sincerest hope that the adventures of these crazy Lean Dogs can provide you with a few hours of reading enjoyment. It's been an honor to share Ghost and Maggie with you all.