Browsing Category

Writing

Erotic Romance, Ireland, Regency Romance, Romance, The Wild Irish Girl, Writing

THE WILD IRISH GIRL Cover Reveal Giveaway!

I’m so excited to share this beautiful cover of my new book THE WILD IRISH GIRL! This book is set to release on January, 22nd, 2018. I have it set for a low, pre-order price of .99 cents. Check out this gorgeous cover from Kimberly Killion from the Killion Group. I’m. In. Love.

Pre-order your copy here.

No one could tame her…

Audrey Byrnes doesn’t mind playing the wild Irish princess for London’s elite aristocracy—as long as they buy her novels. With her father’s Dublin theater in ruins and her sister’s illness growing worse, she’s the only person who can save her family from the gutter. As much as she enjoys the occasional passing dalliance, being the primary breadwinner of her Irish family means either marrying well or not at all.

Dr. Joseph Moorland knows it’s wrong to dress in disguise to hobnob with London’s high society, but he figures one night would do no harm—until he meets the charming and mysterious novelist, Audrey Byrnes. Too poor to marry, he hides his real identity until an accident reveals the truth, and what started as a mild flirtation turns to a complex game of secrets, passion, and desire.

Thrown together by circumstance, Audrey and Joseph find themselves in a tense alliance as they try to crawl their way up from their humble beginnings and into the highest echelons of the ton. But when one of the most formidable political players in London sets his sights on having Audrey for himself, she has to choose between saving her family from charges of treason or losing the man she loves forever.

Enter the Giveaway

To celebrate, I’m giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

I’m so excited about this new release. THE WILD IRISH GIRL is a historical erotic romance inspired by the wild love affairs of Sydney Owenson, an Irish writer I write more about in this post.

This is my first self-published book, and I’m over the moon about it. THE WILD IRISH GIRL will be the first in a four-book season which will focus on Irish women writers and the men who dare to love them. I chose to self-publish these books because I have an extremely clear vision as to how I want this series to go. It’s a bit different because it will feature first-person, dual point-of-view because I really wanted to delve into the issues informing these characters’ lives and the decisions they make. Also, my experience with writing THE CAPTAIN’S REBEL in first-person is that it helps me make it HOT. Hehehe…

If you want to read a the first chapter, I’ll be sharing it in my newsletter next month. Make sure you don’t miss it!

Sign up for my newsletter.

One last thing, by some miracle, THE CAPTAIN’S REBEL, my erotic historical romance with 4.5 stars on Amazon, is still on sale for .99 cents. This will end very, very soon, so don’t forget to snag your copy before it goes back to full price.

Thank you all for your support on my journey. 2018 is setting up to be an amazing year. Not only is there a great chance Trump will be impeached, you’ll also have so many great books to read to ease the wait between indictments.

Cheers!

Creative Process, Ireland, Literature, Uncategorized, Writing

Writing in the Age of Anxiety

When I first started writing commercial fiction, I did what every disciple of Hermione Granger does–I went to the library. I checked out every book on writing commercial fiction I could find. I spent years in my doctoral work poring over GREAT LITERATURE, but when it came to sitting down to writing a bestseller, I had very little understanding of the nuts and bolts of what makes for a compelling plot or engaging characters (arguably, I still don’t, but like everyone else, I’m a WIP). Eventually I stumbled upon Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel, and there, I found the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever read or read since. The gist is this: ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that could happen right now?” And then you write exactly that.

In the story of America, as unstable and rocky as such a narrative is and has been, it seems our plot has turned. The worst has happened. All of us who are in the business of storytelling can see all the signs of a grand design involving a great fall, the dark night of the soul, the darkness before the dawn. Yet,such tropes speak to a hero’s journey, where eventually the chosen one will rise up, smote the enemy, and make things right again. As the days go on, though, and the news from Washington grows more and more terrifying, it’s difficult to see how that narrative could be possible. For those of who are in the business of writing commercial fiction, especially for those of us writing romance, we might try to grasp onto a Frodo, a Katniss, a Clare Fraser, a Harry Potter, but increasingly these characters’ plots seem, well, like the fantasies they’ve always been.

Glancing over my twitter feed, I see writers, like me, stunted by writer’s block, paralyzed in front of their laptops, hindered with anxiety and depression. The worlds we built in our heads are crumbling, and what’s left feels like the backdrop of Beckett’s Endgame, wherein the actors recite snippets of long lost dreams over and over again, grasping at something lost. Something they can barely remember and it wouldn’t matter if they did. Writing is hard, but writing in an age of uncertainty and anxiety makes it feel almost impossible.

After the election, I talked to my father. He’s also an artist–a composer–and he offered up this advice (please imagine his Mississippi accent. It works better that way).

“Colleen,” he said. “Look at this man. Look at him. Sooner or later, he’s gonna fuck up. He’s gonna fuck up! And these four years will be a blip in the history of America. Go write your stories. Go write your stories because he’s gonna fuck up.”

Something in these words signaled a turning point for me in my post-election grief, and I’ve been trying to sort it out. Perhaps it has something to do with the juxtaposition between our POETUS’s ineptitude and my own unwavering belief in myself, my ability to do great things, to prevail. Trump will fuck up, but I don’t have to. I don’t have to make these four years about him. I don’t know if a great hero or heroine will emerge from these ashes, but one thing I do know about purveyors of bigotry, violence, nepotism, fascism, and greed is that they tend not to have happy endings. Perhaps not in one generation or the next, but eventually. Villains fuck up. You might not find that chapter in Maass’s book. But villains fuck up. Bigly.

Today, I saw a writer who expressed feeling so deeply pained and anxious about the current political state of things, but she felt it would be “cowardice” to leave America. It’s in these moments I think of writers who chose exile over direct political engagement like James Baldwin or James Joyce. James Joyce chose to flee Ireland for the Continent in the heat of the Irish Revolution so he could pursue his writing career. Can you imagine? And yet, he  went on to write some of the greatest modern literature of the 20th century.

Reading through this writer’s tweets, I recalled a poem called Station Island by Seamus Heaney. Over the course of the poem, several ghosts visit Heaney who, himself, is haunted by his decision whether or not to leave Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Heaney had been very active in literary political activist groups, most notably the Field Day collective. Riddled with guilt and anxiety, at the end of the poem, Heaney visits the last station and the ghost of James Joyce confronts him. Joyce tells him:

‘Your obligation
is not discharged by any common rite.
What you do you must do on your own.

The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night

dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,

so ready for the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly, forget.
You’ve listened long enough. Now strike  your note.’

What Joyce (vis-a-vis Heaney) is saying here is there is no “common rite” to being an artist, meaning that there are no rules to this gig. The only obligation is to writing and to cultivating that “work-lust” for it. Heaney has listened to the many ghosts and speakers at Station Island, but now he has to take all that and go forward and “strike [his] note.” Joyce goes on to say:

‘The English language
belongs to us. You are raking at dead fires,

rehearsing the old whinges at your age.
That subject people stuff is a cod’s game,
infantile, like this peasant pilgrimage.

You lose more of yourself than you redeem
doing the decent thing. Keep at a tangent.
When they make the circle wide, it’s time to swim

out on your own and fill the element
with signatures on your own frequency,
echo-soundings, searches, probes, allurements,

elver-gleams in the dark of the whole sea.’

Basically what Joyce is telling Heaney is that following the rules and doing what is expected of him is keeping him from fulfilling his deeper artistic purpose: “You lose more of yourself than you redeem/doing the decent thing.” Writers need to swim out on their own, find their voices, keep seeking and searching. Like Heaney, part of that paralysis we might feel stems from having new boundaries hoisted upon us, new rules for the “politically-engaged writer,” obligations to speak up, but in ways that already seem prescribed for us. If we need to step away and find our more authentic voice, then that is what we need to do. Baldwin, Joyce, Heaney, and so many other writers learned that in their own time, and our generation under this autocrat will have to learn it anew.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t be both–politically engaged and creative–but that we need to forgive ourselves when we find ourselves needing to step away lest our writing becomes more slogans than seeking. More divisive than exploratory. After all, for many Americans in this generation we are in brand new territory without a map or even a light to guide us. If we need to go out on our own to create these new pathways, then perhaps, years from now, our children will inherit more than our fears and our anxieties. Maybe they’ll actually inherit a world worth saving.

Creative Process, Editing, Literature, Marketing, Pitch Wars, Publishing, Querying, Social Media, Uncategorized, Writing

You Have to Defend It: Writing and Self-Doubt

A friend of mine once said that a doctoral defense is a form of academic hazing, a trial presented to you to prove you belong in the cadre of scholars in your field, that you can hold your own no matter what anyone throws at you. I bought a suit especially for the occasion. I sweated right through the silk camisole beneath it, but I kept my hands folded on top of the desk and tried not to squirm in my seat every time one of my professors pitched a curve ball at me.

Doctoral defenses are rituals. They signal a journey from student to scholar. To dilettante to professional. My advisor is from the Netherlands, and there they have this whole medieval pageantry set up around the defense. She had to wear a ball gown. A man came out with a scepter to pound on the floor to announce the beginning, the end, and the deliberation. The whole public comes out to see you sweat. Like The Hunger Games, I imagine, but with footnotes and, you know, in Dutch.

My defense was in a small conference room, and the first question one of the professors threw at me was the one question I prayed no one would ask. It was the one thing, the one glaring oversight in my whole dissertation I simply had no time to remedy before filing it. Graduate students are trained in deference, in admitting defeat, in owning up to the holes in our arguments. It’s what makes us open to feedback, makes us better at critical thinking and revision. When I received this question, I reverted back to this kind of behavior, this defeat. My imposter syndrome kicked in, and I nodded my head. “Yes, I should have delved into that more. Yes, I should have supplied the primary resources on which my entire argument hinged. Yes, a footnote would have been helpful there.”

“Wait. Stop.” My fifth reader waved her hand. “Stop.”

A fifth reader in a defense is a person outside of your discipline or outside of the university, someone who has never worked with you. She’s there to provide fresh eyes to a dissertation, to supply an unbiased point of view. My fifth reader was Irish, which doesn’t matter, really. But because my dissertation was in Irish literature, in my case, it mattered a great deal.

“I’m going to have to stop you,” she said.

My stomach dropped to the floor, and my hands shook. This is how it ends, I thought. All those years, all that money down the drain. The Irishwoman from the German department found me out for the fraud I was, and now it was all over.

“Sorry?” My voice wavered.

“I’m hearing you apologize for what you didn’t do in your dissertation, but I don’t care about that,” she said. “This is a defense. I want you to defend it.”

Her eyes pierced right through me as if in a challenge, and I sat up a little straighter, throwing my shoulders back. I’m a scrapper. You had to be in the places I grew up. I didn’t know if my answers would ring true, but I had to play defense. I had to defend it.

I’m reading through my manuscript for Book 2 one more time before we send it for formatting for galley proofs. We’re in the homestretch, as they say, and this book has definitely been a journey for me. I wrote this book in the middle of two polar vortexes, and it poured out of me fully formed, as if the story had been waiting in the wings for its cue before barging out to the center stage of my mind. I’ve revised it, re-revised it, sat through several editorial meetings to negotiate scenes and various endings, and now it’s reading like a book. A real, actual book.

But I have to tell you, like so many writers, I suffer from self-doubt. Loads of it. But is it any wonder? We spend months, sometimes years of our lives in deference to our critique partners, our beta readers, our agents, our editors. We have to open ourselves up to criticism, make ourselves and our creations vulnerable to change, to complete annihilation sometimes in the name of some higher goal. We revise and revise and revise and we reach a point where we stare at the words and wonder…is this any good? Have I fooled myself into believing I could be a novelist? It sounds dramatic, sure, but it’s a part of the cycle—the destruction of everything in order to build yourself back up again. Because at the end of the day, when the marketing machine starts to whir, when the blurb goes up on goodreads, when the ARCS get sent out to book bloggers, we have to defend it.

You have to defend it.

And by that, I don’t mean screaming back at your reviewers or going batshit on social media about how no one understands your “vision.” I mean, you have to box up all that self-doubt, all that deference, all those inner fears, the bullshit imposter syndrome, put on your armor and defend it. Stand by it. Say to the world, “Yes, I did a thing. Here it is. Poke holes in it, kill it with fire, but I’ll stand on this mountain of ash. I’m not leaving.” We have to be the guardians to our own artistic output, to the incredible circumstances and hard work that led us to this place.

James Baldwin once said about publishing,

“You never get the book you wanted, you settle for the book you get. I’ve always felt that when a book ended there was something I didn’t see, and usually when I remark the discovery it’s too late to do anything about it…But, if a book has brought you from one place to another, so that you see something you didn’t see before, you’ve arrived at another point. This then is one’s consolation, and you know that you must now proceed elsewhere.” (from Conversations with James Baldwin).

I’m so proud of the book I’ll be sending out into the world this fall, and I do feel confident about it artistically, as a piece of storytelling that I think really works on several levels. What I am most proud of, though, is the journey this story took me on, not just in the telling, but in the retelling, the revisions, the feedback, through the late nights talking with critique partners and reworking scenes. It brought me to a new place as a writer, and that is a place I can stake out and defend. No matter what.

 

 

Creative Process, Editing, Fantasy, Marketing, Pitch Wars, Pitching, Publishing, Querying, Romance, Social Media, Teaching, Through the Veil, Uncategorized, Writing

Crafting the Fantasy Query

When I first pitched my fantasy romance novel a thousand years ago, I made the fatal mistake I think a lot of spec writers make–foregrounding the worldbuilding beyond anything else. While it’s true that worldbuilding is the one quintessential thing that differentiates fantasy from other genres, it may not be exactly what you want to lead with in your pitch. In the whole scheme of things, worldbuilding is only one aspect of a story that will appeal to readers, and I would argue that, at its core, the query needs to center around the engaging and fascinating characters within your world.

It’s hard to connect on a deep, personal level to a magic system, but we’re hardwired, you might say, to connect with individual struggle or strife. Most of us want to connect with humans (or humanoid-esque, sentient beings), not with the magical amulet of Aerosolisia or the ancient book of Conolingua. Such things are meaningless to us at this point in the book’s life, but a character with a goal and a conflict? That will hook most readers right away, and hints at an incredible world will be the icing on that fantasy-character cake.

As I said above, when I queried my debut novel THROUGH THE VEIL, I was so proud of all my worldbuilding, I forgot this very important component. I filled my query with so much world, I’m not sure how anyone could parse out my story at all, let alone connect to my characters. In spite of the churning waves of embarrassment in my stomach, I present to you something very close to my original query, and I do so to point out some of its serious flaws. Just…be kind, guys. I was young, fresh, and very green.

Graduate student Elizabeth Tanner loved to lose herself in the musty vellum pages of the ancient Irish manuscript she studied for her MA thesis–until the pictures started shifting and the spidery script transformed to reveal a terrible secret. 

Elizabeth is no Tinkerbell, but when she discovers her lost mother is Fae, she finds herself at odds with the forces of Trinity, a secret organization composed of the magical races of Ireland. To end a centuries-long Civil War war, Trinity forces Elizabeth to take her Fae mother’s place in a marriage covenant forged a generation ago with the leader of the Dark Fae, Lord Bres.

Her only ally is Finn O’Connell, an eighteenth-century Irish rebel turned immortal warrior. Together, they unlock the mysteries of her past and explore the truth of Elizabeth’s new-found powers. She is an aisling, blessed with the ability to break magical wards, cross space and time, and even walk through dreams.

Bound to Bres by the same black magic she unearthed in her Master’s thesis, Elizabeth must stop him from gaining control of The Tree of Life, the source of all power in the universe. If she fails, Finn and everyone she loves dies and the mortal world falls to darkness.

Oh, my eyes…they bleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed. Where do I even begin with this? As I’m sure you can see, it’s practically unreadable. First of all, we have way too many magical elements dropped into it that require far too much explanation for a 200 word query. There’s an ancient manuscript, a secret organization, Fae, Dark Fae, something called an aisling, a Tree of Life. You guys. As much as I love all this stuff about my book, front loading all that world was a huge, terrible mistake. Furthermore, while I’m able to establish some notion of who my characters are, neither of them have a very specific goal. Elizabeth loves books and Finn wants to help her because…? Um…because…? Yeah.

So fast forward a year or so later when my editor asked me to take a stab at writing the back copy for the book. I just about threw up on my laptop with nerves, but I wanted to prove I could do this.

I spent years teaching freshman comp, which is essentially helping students understand the rhetorical moves that make for effective essays. To do that, we have to analyze the fundamental gestures great writers make to convince others of their argument. I knew if I could apply the same mindset to studying blurbs, I could figure out the code, the code that makes one person want to throw down their hard-earned money for a book.

Now, what follows is not a formula, a wham-bam-thank-you-mam worksheet you can fill out and get a six-figure deal. But I was raised by jazz musicians, and one thing I learned is  you need to learn some basics before you can freestyle like Charlie Parker. Bear in mind, also, that back cover copy is not the same thing as a query. However, I’m using examples of back cover copy here to show how you can shape and consolidate your fantasy novel into something that might appeal to agents.

So, determined to write a good blurb, I set out studying as much back cover copy in my genre as possible. One example of back cover copy I looked at specifically was the book Darkfever, probably the closest comp to my own book. The first thing I noticed was that the copy didn’t start with the world or the conflict, but the character.

MacKayla Lane’s life is good. She has great friends, a decent job, and a car that breaks down only every other week or so. In other words, she’s your perfectly ordinary twenty-first-century woman. Or so she thinks…until something extraordinary happens.

We can argue back and forth about the likeability of MacKayla Lane’s character, but one thing is for sure, we know exactly who she is. More importantly, we know this is going to be a character who will transform, who will be forever changed by the events within this story. That is the key to good characterization.

I won’t copy and paste the whole back cover copy here, but you can see how it goes on to provide a goal:

When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death–a cryptic message on Mac’s cell phone–Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers.

And then we have the conflict, the person (or Fae, as it were) standing in her way:

As she begins to close in on the truth, the ruthless Vlane–an alpha Fae who makes sex an addiction for human women–closes in on her.

Yikes!

Then finally, we have the stakes:

…because whoever gets to [this magical book] first holds nothing less than complete control of the very fabric of both worlds in their hands….

Essentially, if MacKayla doesn’t figure out who killed her sister and stop him, the whole fabric of the universe might implode. Awesome, right? I love this series. There’s also a really hot dude in it.

Anyway, as helpful as this analysis was, I still couldn’t quite get the organization right. Even though my character, goal, conflict, and stakes were stronger, the copy still felt muddled. So I went to Entangled’s website and started studying all the copy on my publisher’s particular imprint. Because romance tends to focus on two characters, I realized that there was a certain organization that popped up over and over again. It goes a little something like this:

Paragraph One (2-3 sentences): Who is the main character? What does she want? What is her initial conflict? What is tripping her up?

Paragraph Two (2-3 sentences): Who is the main love interest? What is his/her goal? What is his/her initial conflict? What is tripping him/her up?

Paragraph Three (1-2 sentences): What is their combined conflict? What is standing in their way? What will happen if they don’t get what they want?

Once I figured this out, the copy came a lot faster, and after several, several drafts and going back and forth with my editor, we came up with this final version:

Elizabeth Tanner is no Tinkerbell, and her life is no fairy tale. Broke and drowning in student loans, the one thing she wants more than anything is a scholarship from the Trinity Foundation. But after the ancient Irish text she’s studying turns out to be more than just a book, she becomes their prisoner instead. And when Trinity reveals Elizabeth is half-Fae, she finds herself at the center of a plot to save the magical races of Ireland from a brutal civil war.

As Commander of Trinity’s elite warriors, Finn O’Connell isn’t used to having his authority challenged. He doesn’t know whether to punish or protect the infuriating young woman in his custody. When he discovers the Dark Fae want to use Elizabeth’s abilities to control the source of all power in the universe, he’ll risk everything to help her.

At the mercy of Trinity and enslaved to the Dark Fae, Elizabeth finds herself alone on the wrong side of an Irish myth thousands of years in the making. Refusing to be a pawn in their game, Elizabeth has to fight her way back to the man she loves, but to do so, she must wage her own war against the magic that binds her.

Even if Fae Fantasy Romance isn’t your thing, this blurb not even comparable to the original version I queried with years ago. We gave the characters goals, took out a ton of the worldbuilding, and made the focus on the the essential driving forces of Elizabeth and Finn’s combined character arcs. You will notice there are a lot fewer proper nouns and we maintained the barest hint of a much more complex magical system.

“But, Colleen!” you exclaim. “I thought this was a post about fantasy, not romance!”

Right. So let’s look at some back copy of straight-up high fantasy.

I’m reading Six of Crows right now and absolutely loving it. The world is incredibly complex, and 100 pages in, I’m only just beginning to grasp the complex magic system Bardugo weaves within this engaging novel. Here is the back copy, though:

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

We have setting first to establish we are in some place other than planet Earth. But then we move immediately into character…and then more characters…and then even more characters. We have a goal—“the heist”—but it becomes clear the core conflict lies within these characters themselves.

Check out the simplicity in the focus of character in the current back cover copy for The Name of the Wind by Pat Rothfuss:

The riveting first-person narrative of a young man who grows to be the most notorious magician his world has ever seen. From his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime- ridden city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that transports readers into the body and mind of a wizard. It is a high-action novel written with a poet’s hand, a powerful coming-of-age story of a magically gifted young man, told through his eyes: to read this book is to be the hero.

Okay, firstly, I would definitely not describe your book to agents as a “masterpiece” (lolz), but I’m using this example to demonstrate that again, in spite of the incredible world and magic systems Rothfuss creates, the pitch to readers remains focused on the character and his journey.

So as you go forth revising your queries, take some time to read as much back cover copy as possible and start identifying where marketers place this key information:

  • Who is the main character? And I mean on a most fundamental level, who is this person?
  • What does this person want? What is their goal?
  • Who or what stands in their way? (the central conflict)
  • And what will happen if they don’t get it? (the stakes)

Keep the focus on your character’s journey and discover a way to organize this information to keep your narrative clear and uncluttered by extraneous information. It might feel like the story is the world, but think of your characters as the guides who will lead us into the magic you’ve created.

 

Discover THROUGH THE VEIL for yourself…

My debut novel THROUGH THE VEIL is now available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Amazon UK, and Amazon Canada.