Three Fates has become two houses (and that’s OK).

I haven’t posted to this blog since the first of July. It’s now almost the end of August. Let us pick up where we left off, shall we?

My July was extremely productive, which is why I didn’t blog. ;)  I made excellent progress on expanding Bitter Cold, my steampunk adaptation of “The Snow Queen” from an 18,000 word novella to a short novel. In addition to that, I did a good bit of activity behind the scenes, expanding my network of writer friends, and learning as much as I could about book marketing. I have a lot of experience in marketing for other industries, but publishing is a different animal. I put myself out there in a way I had never really previously done, requesting reviews for Mirrors & Magic, my first novel.

Comparatively speaking, finishing a novel is like childbirth. Submitting it to reviewers is like sending that kid off to school for the first time.

Comparatively speaking, finishing a novel is like childbirth. Submitting it to reviewers is like sending that kid off to school for the first time. Over and over again, in completely different neighborhoods. It’s nerve-wracking, once you start asking for reviews from book bloggers and other authors, as opposed to family and friends.

However, it’s also freeing. The people who agreed to review my book in exchange for a free copy did so because they were genuinely intrigued by the concept. I think among family and friends, even people who would ordinarily like your story can’t really get past the “it can’t be that good because I know the writer” prejudice. Or they keep putting it off because they don’t understand the urgency and importance of reviews when you’re just starting out. Mirrors & Magic now has about a dozen excellent, honest and credible reviews. Some of which made me tear up a bit reading, because it was so wonderful having a complete stranger get what I was trying to achieve with that story.

Then Someone Moved My Cheese!

I was trucking along with a pretty good head of steam under me (pun absolutely intended) when several big disruptions all hit at once, which in the words of Jayne Cobb “damaged my calm.” One disruption was the partners behind 3 Fates Press, the publisher I’d been having a delightful experience with thus far, split up.

They came out of the gate incredibly strong and fast. I think in that intense period of rapid growth, they developed two different operating philosophies. Of course, none of them could have possibly known that before the rubber hit the road.

From my perspective, I saw the benefits of both approaches. I elected to remain as an author with Line by Lion Publications (which will be run by the amazing K.A. DaVur, with Amy Eyes taking the editorial helm, Stacy Garrett covering design, and With Bells On handling publicity).

And I’ll be joining the newly-launched Per Bastet Publications as Publicity/Media Manager, along with the fabulous Marian Allen and T. Lee Harris. We plan to be open for submissions in January.

I adore all three of the former fates. They may not have been fated to stay together, but I firmly believe they’re all destined for greatness. :)

With all that said, the last few weeks have not resulted in a lot of prose being written. So next up on my To-Do list is getting back to a regular writing routine. The various situations which were draining every ounce of my emotional and mental energy appear to be, if not resolved, at least to have turned the corner.

After almost a month of unexpected visits, funerals, anniversaries, sleepovers, back to school shenanigans, and a white whale of a project at work… yeah. I think things might be about to get back in the general neighborhood of normal.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take a nap!

Quote

“The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Not That You Asked: My Writing Process #amwriting

So, there’s a meme going around among writers where they tag each other and then write a blog post about their writing process. You can see the lovely Maid Marian’s post here.  If you’ve done one, drop a comment and I’ll add your link as well. Consider yourself tagged if you read this. No, really, I’m tagging you. No backsies.

I haven’t gotten tagged yet, but it always works out that when I finally do get tagged for stuff like this, I’m too busy or I can’t brain properly to write the post. So I’m going to skip the getting tagged part and just go ahead and write it anyway. Even though nobody asked. :/

My writing process, I think, will make some other writers a little angry. Because I know that a lot of other writers struggle with blurbs, and I tend to write the blurb first.

 I figure, if I can write a summary teaser that sells me on the story, the idea is strong enough to hold my interest through a draft.

When I have the nugget of a story idea, I basically pitch myself the story as if I were an editor. I figure, if I can write a summary teaser that sells me on the story, the idea is strong enough to hold my interest through a draft. Conversely, if I can’t make it sound like a story I’d love to read at the beginning, when it’s all fresh and unspoiled by the ugly process of actually wrangling words onto paper, then the concept probably isn’t strong enough to pursue.

So yeah, most of my stories had a blurb before they actually existed. I may tweak it if the final story veers far from my initial pitch. But it also serves as a litmus test while drafting. If I get stuck, sometimes I’ll go back to the blurb and ask myself if I’m still really writing that story I was all excited about.

I do a good bit of pre-writing usually before I draft. Some of it may be research notes, so I have them all in one place and don’t get distracted by Wikipedia. Some of it may be character vignettes or journal entries. It almost always includes a fairly detailed outline. As much as I’d love to be a discovery writer, I really like actually finishing stories. And for anything longer than flash fiction, that requires an outline. This week’s Writing Excuses podcast has a good discussion about pre-writing. You should check it out. (I also do the thing Mary talks about–going for a walk to ideate.)

Then I start drafting. I often make a copy of the outline in a new document, and start drafting above the outline. As I finish each section in prose, I’ll delete that section in the outline. That way, each time I return to the draft, I know what scene I’m supposed to start working on. My drafts can be very fast, depending on how much time I can find to work on it.

I typically do at least one clean-up pass right after I finish the draft. At that point, the whole story is still fresh in my head, and I find that glaring continuity errors are easier to spot. I also fix any obvious grammar gaffes that worked their way in. In a perfect world, for anything longer than a short story I let it rest a week or a month before going back and tackling the structural and line edit passes.

So,  that’s basically my process. For your amusement, here’s a “pitching myself” blurb I just wrote for a mystery featuring my psychic and ghost BFFs, Melody and Grace. I’ve never written a straight-up murder mystery, so this one would be a whole new genre. If you were me, would you think this story is grabby enough to write? Why or why not?

If you’d like a writing prompt, come up with a story idea and drop your self-pitch into the comments.

Faire Warning

Melody and Gracie road trip to a local renaissance faire so Em can pick up a little extra money filling in for the “gypsy fortune teller.” When they get there, she gets an ominous vision during a reading with one of the “knights” from the joust. He disregards her warning, and then turns up dead two days later. Can a part-time hairdresser/part-time psychic and her ghostly BFF solve the mystery? Or will Em be joining Gracie on the other side sooner than either of them would like?

Mirrors & Magic is out on audiobook

mirrors_magic_bannerMirrors & Magic, my first novel and Book 3 of The Clockwork Republics series, is now available in audiobook through Audible, Amazon and iTunes.  Hollie Jackson did the narration, and she did a fabulous job. I loved hearing Neve’s story come to life.

The book is now available in paperback, eBook and audiobook.

If anybody in the film industry is just dying to create a movie or TV show version, drop me a line. We can probably work something out.  ;)

If you like:

  • The Night Circus
  • “Fractured Fairytales”
  • “Nice girls finish first” stories

…then you might enjoy Mirrors & Magic.

The main character, Neve, is a little different from my usual heroines. She’s by far the most nurturing, others-centered protagonist I’ve ever written. Compared to Neve, all of my other female leads are, frankly, sort of self-absorbed.

Greta, Lu, Matti and Pru all need occasional reminders to consider the effects of their actions on other people. Shaen, from the Belle Starr chronicles, is technically insane and fairly focused on self-preservation. Neve, on the other hand, needs a little prodding to go after her own heart’s desire. She’s still spunky, smart and strong. But at one point, someone tells Neve “You couldn’t go one day without finding someone to take care of,” and it’s not very far from the truth.

A friend noted that Neve is a bit like Elsa from FROZEN. The story is largely about her “letting go” of her fears and embracing her own power. Once she does, she ends up in a position to help others more than she could when she was hiding her abilities.

Speaking of FROZEN… if you would like to read the novella-length version of my Snow Queen story, “Bitter Cold” I suggest you act quickly and pick up Once Upon a Clockwork Tale. It’s about to go out of print very soon.

However, this is actually good news. I am in the process of expanding Bitter Cold into a full-length stand-alone novel! For anyone who wanted more of Kit and Greta, you’re about to get your wish.

Between Snow White and the Snow Queen, it’s going to be one frosty, steampunky summer…

You Take Care Now, Y’Hear?

I got a massage last week. The reason I’m writing about it here is because writers and creatives have a long and storied tradition of self-destruction. We burn out like comets, way too often.

But I’m not just a writer and creative. I’m also a wife, mom, sister and friend. There are people who need me to not fall apart, wear out or kill myself (figuratively or literally) chasing the muse. So I make taking care of myself a priority the same way I make writing a priority. It’s not really anyone else’s responsibility.

I switched to a standing desk about a month ago, which was a smart thing to do because it saved my bacon when I was standing all day for a couple of days at the Steampunk World’s Fair. But it’s also physically tiring, and the two things (standing desk and working the event) as well as the day to day physical strains of lugging my laptop bag and other stuff were taking a toll. Not to mention I had a terrible cold for about a week. I finally ended up with my back going out on me last Monday. So I scheduled a massage.

It’s tempting to keep slapping Band-Aids onto injuries and lope back into the fray. My back had sort-of, kind-of recovered after heat and a day of rotating pain and anti-inflammatory meds. But the backache was a warning. Pay attention, and take care, Katina. 

I’ve been getting a lot of warnings to pay attention and take care, concerning several different aspects of my life lately. Between wrangling two busy careers, a marriage and kids, it’s easy to get absorbed in doing and miss what’s going on beyond the doing. I intend to spend some time looking a little more closely at what’s happening under the swirling surface of my life.

If you’d like a writing prompt, write about a character who is sidelined by an injury or illness just before reaching his or her goal.

5 Author Lessons from Steampunk Worlds Fair

Photo of me shillin' my little heart out, courtesy Chris Garrison.

Photo of me shillin’ my little heart out, courtesy Chris Garrison.

This weekend, I worked at the Steampunk World’s Fair as part of the 3 Fates Press / Line by Lion Publications booth. It was an intense learning experience. I wanted to capture some of my thoughts and impressions, which might be useful for other writers, while they’re still relatively fresh in my addled brains.

Lesson 1: Know why you’re there. 

You may have noticed I said “worked” as opposed to “attended” in the previous paragraph. That word choice is intentional. I spent almost the entire time working in the booth. This was by choice. K.A. DaVur, who runs 3F/LBL, kept encouraging me to rest or go check out the fair. But when people are willingly coming up and talking to you about your books, or asking you to sign the ones they’ve purchased, the appeal of a panel discussion or a Story Slam is diminished.  At least, for me it is. YMMV.

Lesson 2: Work out details as much as you can, but don’t expect everything to go as planned.

Lots of things didn’t go as well as I would have hoped. A book I have out from another publisher, which would have been a great fit for this event, didn’t make it in time. I probably didn’t need to purchase an attendee ticket, since there were enough Vendor badges from the booth for all the authors who made it out. The drive took substantially longer than anticipated, in both directions. It’s good to look forward to an event, get psyched and excited, but temper your expectations against reality or you’ll be dealing with a lot of disappointment.

Lesson 3: The 6 Hour Rule

I was on the fence about posting this one, because the event really did well from a sales perspective. Like, it did “got a hand cramp from autographing books” well. I suspect some of that was due to the fact that it was a huge steampunk convention, and all my books are steampunk fiction. You couldn’t possibly have asked for a bigger, more targeted audience for my work, and steampunk is still too niche to have big dedicated Cons in every city. But moving forward, I’m going to follow the 6 Hour Rule from my days traveling for business with ad agencies. For any trip longer than 6 hours by car, get a plane ticket or don’t go. Just. Don’t. Go. 

For one thing, the longer the road trip, the more likely it is you’ll encounter construction, traffic, car failure or other issues that can turn the estimated 10-12 hours you think you can handle into a 16-20 hour Bataan Death Drive. (Or a horrible, endless game of Desert Bus. HT to Chris Garrison).

Even if a 10-12 hour drive goes as planned, you simply don’t have the energy you’re going to need to (A) enjoy and be your best self at the event, (B) drive safely home the same distance after long days of standing and working a Con, and (C) recuperate for work the next day. OOHology has been wonderfully supportive about my fiction writing. I need to respect that by making sure my Con attendance doesn’t turn into a problem for them. Lesson learned.

Lesson 4: Prepare physically

This smile made possible by two weeks of working up to standing for 8 hours a day.

This smile made possible by 2 weeks of working up to standing for 8 hours/day.

Writers are often sedentary desk jockeys. I actually learned this lesson at last year’s SDCC, when I got to work the Marvel booth. Working a Con booth is serious physical labor. You are on your feet, often outdoors on unforgiving asphalt or a concrete convention hall floor, for eight to twelve hour days. In this case, in a steel-boned corset and boots with heels.

I started preparing by switching to a standing desk at work, and getting some extra walking in for the past two weeks. Consequently, even after a grueling Saturday, I didn’t feel like I was going to die the next day. Which is how I felt after Day 1 of Comic Con.

Lesson 5: It Ain’t Show Friends, It’s Show Business

Don’t get me wrong. Strong friendships are forged at events and on road trips among writers, readers and publishing folks. But one realization I had this weekend is that this is a business. A lot of writers, even some who’ve been published and sold some books, maintain a hobbyist mindset. Working a Con means having to think about things like keeping your receipts for tax purposes, keeping straight which books you brought versus which books your publisher brought, etc.

It’s like the difference between a garage band who never leaves their garage, and one where the members have to deal with booking venues, keeping track of money, loading and unloading the van, and weighing the cost of a hotel room versus putting on a good performance that’ll sell CDs and tees. They’re both artists, but it’s a hobby for one. It’s a business to the other, even if it never turns a profit.

Left with chest of books. Returned with chest of hats. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Left with chest of books. Returned with chest of hats. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

So those are my major lessons learned from this experience. I’m glad I went. I had a good time, met some wonderful people, sold a lot of books, and bought three excellently impractical tiny hats.

I also plan to work the 3 Fates Press booth at the Kentucky Renaissance Fair this summer, June 21-22 for the Steampunk themed weekend and the following weekend while K.A. DaVur is at the Frederick Book Festival.  I’ll also be doing panels and workshops at The Imaginarium this Fall.

Cons are a great opportunity to meet passionate fans of your genre and avid readers who might be interested in your books. If you approach them in a smart way, they can be a great way to start building your fan base as an author.

I’m Off to the Steampunk Worlds Fair!

SPWF-fabric3x3_Rev2This evening, I’ll be heading out with the rest of the crew from 3 Fates Press, as well as author Eric Garrison (Reality Check) to the Steampunk Worlds Fair in Piscataway, New Jersey.

We’ll have a table where we’ll be selling books, signing books and discussing the ins and outs of steampunk fiction. There is a fairly high probability I will purchase some ridiculous hats. I was going to try to find some ridiculous hats here before I left. After all, Derby. But a Derby fascinator is not the same thing as a true and proper steampunk hat. 

I thought about trying to make a proper steampunk hat, but then I realized, I’m not a steampunk artisan. I am a steampunk writer. Big difference.

(Aside: I had a similar stark realization of my personal limits at a school play recently, when an elderly woman fell. I thought about joining the crowd of people attempting to help her, but then I realized I have exactly zero medical skills. Possibly negative medical skills. As a writer, I’m only useful in the unfortunate event someone needs an obituary or eulogy. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. But I digress.) 

At any rate, this is my opportunity to purchase the wares of real steampunk craftspeople, and discuss the art of steampunk fiction. If you’re going to be in the area this weekend, come by and say hello! 

If I’m not at the 3 Fates Press table, I will most likely be found stalking a haberdasher.

A New Release! Circuits & Steam

CircuitsSteambyJordanBell350After last year’s insane run of write-publish-repeat, this year’s pace has seemed positively sedate. After all, I’ve mostly been re-releasing books, after a thorough professional edit. Although in some cases, I’ve expanded the books by 1000-10,000 words. So I’m still doing a ton of writing, in case you thought I’ve been slacking over here in the Grey Cottage. I’m not. Really.

However, this week, 3 Fates Press will be debuting Circuits & Steam, an anthology of steampunk and cyberpunk stories. It includes my first brand-new story of 2014, a retelling of “Rumpelstiltskin” called “Spinning Secrets.” I’m really excited about this new book. Aside from mine, it has six other amazing stories either set in the alternate past or a dystopian possible future.

I’ve read all the stories and they are so, so good. They include two stories from the mother-daughter writing team of Marian Allen (the SAGE trilogy) and Sara Marian (The Life and Death, but Mostly the Death, of Erica Flynn). Marian takes the steampunk story, and Sara goes cyberpunk. I could keep gushing, but instead, I’m just going to hit you with the cover, the blurb, and a little excerpt of my story.

Circuits & Steam is an anthology featuring bold tales of man meets machine. Encounter eight exciting stories from authors K.A. DaVur, Sara Marian, Brick Marlin, Thomas Lamkin, Jr., Marian Allen, Katina French, James W. Peercy and Dani J. Caile, told in a cyberpunk or steampunk style.

What makes you human? In the dystopian near-future, a desperate young woman makes a stunning decision, a cybernetically-enhanced waitress discovers her true nature, a white collar worker learns the real cost of her latest technological enhancement and a streetwise urchin makes desperate a bid for freedom.

What defines your destiny? We journey to a 19th century that never was for a humorous tale of airship adventure, a town under attack by mechanical monsters, a case of alchemy and mistaken identity, and a gritty adventurer faced with a telling choice.

Cyberpunk and steampunk explore our often toxic relationship with technology. Do our gadgets make us more than human, or just more human? Step inside our time machine and find out…

excerpt: Spinning Secrets

Morning light poured through Pru’s bedroom window like a mountain stream through a gold-panner’s sieve. Her head throbbed.

“Ugh,” she moaned. “That’s the last time I drink champagne at one of these high society shindigs.”

She’d accepted the fluted glass to be polite, and also thinking it might help settle her nerves. Or possibly calm her embarrassment at Daddy’s shenanigans. Instead, it had mostly unsettled her stomach. Now she felt worse than the time she’d snuck some of Old Man Beasley’s whiskey back in Redemption Falls.

A shrill scream from downstairs lanced her eardrums, and then ricocheted around inside her aching skull.

Good Lord! Is someone skinning the housekeeper alive?

She tumbled out of the oversized four poster bed, snatching up her dressing gown and shoving her feet into her slippers. She stomped down the stairs, determined to get to the bottom of the awful caterwauling. She may not have inherited her father’s rough-hewn looks, but she got a double dose of his impatience and temper.

The scene that waited for her in the foyer caused her to nearly stumble back up the stairs in surprise.

The front door was closed. Her father was unconscious. He slumped in a heap at the foot of a rococo clock she suspected he’d only bought because he liked saying the word “rococo.” A small, fletched dart stuck out just above his shirt collar.

Gearsworth, their automaton butler, leaned against the corner. His kill switch had been thrown.

The housekeeper, Mrs. Honeycutt, was squealing at the top of her lungs in the arched doorway to the dining room. The woman’s lung capacity was astounding. Pru wondered if she’d left a promising career in the opera.

Two strange men stood in the middle of the foyer. The shorter, darker one approached Honeycutt. The woman looked terrified, frozen to the spot. A second, taller man with sandy blond hair held what looked like a tiny, ornate crossbow. Both wore black suits, with a crimson rose pinned to the lapel.

The blond man appeared to be reloading the crossbow with a dart that looked suspiciously similar to the one sticking out of Papa’s neck.

“I told you, we should have gone with the aerosol formulae. We could have piped it in the chimney and had the whole bunch of them sleeping like the dead before we ever came in the door!” The blond man grumbled.

“And then what? Be seen breaking in through the front door? Attempting to climb in a window or bust through the root cellar? Just get that thing loaded and we’ll be fine.” The shorter man had a slight Spanish accent, like many of the people she’d known in the California republic.

By this time, the shorter man had clapped one black-gloved hand over Honeycutt’s mouth. Pru couldn’t help but be a bit grateful, since it stopped the screaming. He’d wrapped his other arm around the woman’s broad waist as if to restrain her, although she still appeared to be in too much shock to struggle. In fact, she slumped against him, passing out in a dead faint.

He grunted, then slid her carefully to the ground.

“Well. That saves a dart, at least.”

At that moment, it dawned on Prudence that she’d prefer to be anywhere, other than on the landing in clear view of two men who’d just incapacitated her father, a mechanical butler, and the sole other human occupant of the house.

Space Out! Updated Versions of the Belle Starr chronicles

WOTR Cover_smallThis is going to be an epic week here at That Darn Kat. First, I’m pleased to announce updated versions of my space opera / space western series the Belle Starr chronicles are now available on Amazon. While not the full rewrite or expansion I did with Mirrors & Magic, the new versions are freshly edited, with reader feedback taken into account. They also have new covers, which I’m really proud of.

If you’ve not checked out this series yet, here’s what my fellow sci-fi author R.J. Sullivan had to say about it.

“If you love zip-bang sci-fi adventure with no pretense toward being anything other than what it is, you need to check this out.”

TSG Cover_smallI’m currently working on the third book in the series, A Pair of Aces, which should be out sometime this summer.

This series was my attempt to write an homage to FireflyStar Wars and Star Trek– all the fun, action-packed space adventures I’ve loved over the years. If I had one rule about this series, it was “let’s have fun breaking all the rules.”

No awkward romances, no evil empires, no mysterious galactic conspiracies, no stuffy Federation with Prime Directives, no epic quest. Just a kick-butt crazy lady with a rattletrap smuggling ship and the random troubled strangers who are desperate enough to turn to her for transport.

It’s Star Wars if Han Solo were the hero and nobody ever heard of the Force. It’s Star Trek without the OCD. It’s Firefly without the Reavers, because frankly they scared the holy crap out of me.

If that sounds appealing to you, check it out. More news to come this week.

Writers’ Group Recap: Managing Time

WP_000584This week was Quills & Quibbles Writers Group at Harrison County Public Library. Each month, we read and critique our works-in-progress, and we typically have a “Style Segment” which focuses on some specific aspect of the writer’s craft.  This month, we were talking time management.

As with last month’s notes, this is more a distillation of the group discussion than anything else, with everyone contributing their thoughts on the subject.

And just like last month, I may have lost some details (not to mention brain cells) to the excellent craft beer at Point Blank Brewery during the post-meeting pub time.  I enjoyed a Harpoon Leviathan, because steampunk.  Mmm… beer.

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