Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017

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2016 was both an amazing and difficult year for me. I know I’m not alone in this. Some days it seems like this year just keeps taking from us. I have also been through some very difficult things personally, which hasn’t helped any.

But it hasn’t been all bad. I think my own biggest achievement this year was that while going through those tough personal times, I published 2 books and 2 novellas in a 4 month period!

I’m very grateful for those that have supported me along the way in realising my dream. It’s been very special to me.

Next year will bring many changes for me – mostly for the good, but some bittersweet. And I have big plans!

I’m hoping to finish the Soldiering On series by the end of next year. That will mean releasing 3 books – Zack’s, Sam’s and then Duncan and Mandy’s. Destiny’s book will likely happen in 2018. I’m well on the way to getting through Zack’s book. Despite some setbacks, I’m still hoping for a February release date, but it may end up being pushed to March. We’ll have to see.

In time for that release, I also hope to release Soldiering On, Station Alpha, and Guarding Sierra as a boxed set!

I will also try my hand at some contemporary romance next year! I have a lot of stories ready to write in that genre, so am really excited about the new challenges this will mean. I hope to have some exciting news in this regard in the next few months.

Audio is also on my list of things to do. Alas, ACX (the Kindle/Createspace equivalent for Audiobooks through Amazon) is not available for Australians, but I’m going to try to find another way. I want to make my books as accessible as possible, and available in as many formats as I can. It’s smart business, as well as being fair to people who are hard of hearing and may wish to experience my book. And since people ask, God no I will not be recording it myself. Are you nuts?

Since no one has shown any interest in the print copies of my books, I’ll have to delay the audio editions for some time, but it is definitely on my list of things to do! If not late in 2017, then hopefully 2018.

I’d also like to blog more. I’m thinking of starting up a book club/reading challenge, which will result in me doing a book review on my blog each month. I hope that people will join me in this! I’ll have more information about my plans in the next few days, so keep an eye out!

I will also be leaving Doha early next year. It has been my home for two years now, and so it will be a bittersweet exit. I’ll miss my job and the friends I’ve made here, but I am so unbelievably happy to be going home. (At least until I get itchy feet again!)

What are your plans for next year? I won’t call them Resolutions, because they are too easy to break. But it’s still nice to set goals and work towards them, even if plans have to change. I’d love to hear about what you want to do in the next year.

Over 75 FREE and 99 cent Romance Books!

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I hope you all had a happy holiday season!

If any of you got a Kindle for Christmas, or just want to fill your e-reader for the new year, this is a great opportunity. A group of Australian and New Zealand authors (including me!) have got together to offer free and 99 cent romance books, all in one place! That’s over 75 books at bargain prices!

There’s sweet and sexy contemporaries, chick lit, romantic suspense (including a couple from yours truly!), erotica, historical, urban fantasy/sci fi, paranormal, and women’s fiction.

Check out the terrific deals from amazing and best-selling authors, and enjoy your reading!

My Favourite Goodreads Feature

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I want to talk about my favourite Goodreads feature. Most people probably know about this, but I just love it, so I want to talk about it. Besides, I’ve finally got all my shelves updated! (That was a big project, let me tell you!)

My favourite little button in the whole of Goodreads is this one:

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It doesn’t look like much, does it? However, for someone as trope obsessed as I am, it’s a godsend.

So, anyone who reads this blog knows how much I adore tropes. What might not be so obvious is that I can be fairly fussy about how those tropes match up with each other. For example: I LOVE marriage of convenience stories, but only in historicals. I often find them silly and unconvincing in contemporaries. I like ‘neighbours falling in love’ stories, but usually only in contemporaries. The trope doesn’t do much for me in historicals. The list goes on!

I also get in extremely specific moods. Sometimes I will want a book that is a ‘contemporary romance where an ex-con hero gets snowed in with the heroine’. Or a ‘medieval romance where a beta hero and feisty heroine enter into a marriage of convenience’. Or a ‘nerd heroine in the 19th century falls in love’. When I get like that, any other book I read tends to be a disappointment.

Now, though, I don’t have to go hunting far and wide through my TBR pile to find these specific trope combinations. They are all right there thanks to that little ‘select multiple’ button.

For those that don’t know what it does, it allows you to select multiple Goodreads shelves at once, thereby finding books that are only on ALL the shelves you select.

The first shelf I always select is this one:

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(Aside – Yes, my book buying habit is COMPLETELY out of control. Please don’t judge!)

So, those are all the books I already own that are waiting for me to read them.

Next, I will select which genre I am in the mood for, usually a romance subgenre. For example:

And then I can pick whichever tropes I want to go along with that! These can include which era of history (medieval, elizabethan, 18th century, 19th century, early 20th century…), tropes such as fake relationships, or wounded heroes, or virgin heroes. (If you see my shelves, I have a lot more specific ones for hero tropes. This is mostly just because I am much fussier with my heroes!)

Unfortunately, you can only select 3 shelves at a time, so I can’t get TOO specific. But, still, it’s now so much easier to find exactly what I’m looking for in a book. Hopefully it will stop me wasting my precious reading time hunting through my to-read shelf, trying to find something that I feel like reading.

And now that I have my shelves sorted, it is also easier for me to see tropes I like that are a little more obscure:

Gaps in the market! If anyone has any recs for those tropes, let me know!

I can also warn myself about tropes or genres that I’m not so keen on in books I might otherwise enjoy:

So, there you have it! The best Goodreads feature for trope-obsessed people that buy way too many books!

And, for anyone interested, here are all my shelves:

If you want to friend or follow me, I’m here!

How NOT to Begin a Book

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Last week I wrote about the various things a first chapter(s) needs to achieve for a book’s narrative. This week, I am going to give some examples of what NOT to do, inspired by some recent reading experiences of mine.

You know the writing advice you hear constantly: “cut the backstory”? Well, this first book is a perfect example of why.

In the first 4 chapters, at least 50% of the page space was taken up with flashbacks or musings on past events. So little happened in the present day part of the story – it was just pages after pages of what had happened 14 years ago. And my God it was boring. Any time something began to happen in the present day, the character would stop to ruminate on the past events that got them there.

I got the purpose – there was a major night in the character’s past that was effecting present day. But there would have been a much more interesting way of introducing that to the audience.

Rather than have the hero and heroine finally meet 25% into the story (again, boring for a romance) they should have met on page one. By necessity, it would have been a fraught reunion. They both loved and hated each other, for completely valid reasons. And it would have been interesting. Then, over time, the reader could learn why there was so much tension between them.

But, alas, this was not what we got. And I lost interest pretty quick.

So, start with something interesting, and intrigue the reader with what events lead to the characters being in that situation. Or, if the backstory truly is the most interesting part of your story, then start the book there. Nora Roberts has started doing this a lot—having the first third or so of the book be an extended prologue—and I find it perfectly interesting.

The other sin that I read recently was a book that introduced what felt like 3,000 characters in the first two chapters.

In this particular book, by the time I was halfway through chapter 2, I had met at least eight—count ‘em eight—important secondary characters. This doesn’t even include the Hero and Heroine. Talk about overwhelming!

The fact that I was supposed to remember all of these people, their names, and their relationships with each other was mind boggling.

It is important to give the reader time to breathe between each character introduction, or piece of important information. This is particularly essential in a romance. The writer must give priority to developing the two main characters and their interaction. If you want to use the book to set up future romances, fine, but it should never be at the expense of the main relationship.

I will say that how your main character interacts with other people can be very revealing for their personality, so I’m certainly not saying you can’t feature any other characters in your opening chapter.

But just think about how many of those people need to be there. I could have culled about five of those eight with no trouble, and the book would have made a hell of a lot more sense.

Personally, I try to only introduce one or two secondary characters at a time. Each of them leaves the page while I let the main characters recharge, and then I might introduce another character down the track. This keeps the focus on the hero and heroine, and doesn’t confuse the reader.

So, my takeaways. a) keep backstory to the bare minimum until you’ve got the reader hooked, (even then, use it sparingly) and b) don’t overwhelm the reader upfront with too many characters. Keep it simple and streamlined where possible, or you’ll end up with a bloated, boring mess.

What are your pet hates in the beginning of a book? Do you have any writing issues that would immediately make you put the book down?

How To Begin A Book

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I’ve been thinking a lot about opening chapters recently – my own and others. Inspired by the fact that I have been (re)writing an opening chapter myself, and two books I’ve tried to read lately had boring or confusing openings.

A first chapter has to do a hell of a lot of heavy lifting in your book. A reader won’t read chapter 2 if chapter 1 isn’t good. They might forgive a dodgy chapter 10 (though I wouldn’t recommend trying it!), but not a bad beginning.

Which means that, first and foremost, chapter 1 has to be interesting and exciting, quite apart from all the narrative requirements it must fulfil.

So, what does chapter 1 have to achieve? It has to set up the following:

  1. The world
  2. The characters
  3. (In a romance) Their relationship
  4. The conflict (Interpersonal, and external)

Now there are a number of ways to do this. Occasionally, you might have to cheat, and set up 3 of the 4 in chapter one, and the fourth in chapter 2. I did this for Guarding Sierra. The first chapter set up the world, the danger to Sierra, who she was and how she reacted to the situation, and how she intended to deal with it. What it didn’t do was introduce Blake, and his relationship with Sierra – and one of the first comments I got on the chapter after release was “where’s the hero?”

Hot tip: romance readers like their hero and heroine to meet almost immediately.

It’s a fair point, and definitely something to consider.

Anyway, let me expand on those 4 points above.

THE WORLD: My books are romantic suspense. That means that in my opening chapter, I have to let the reader know what they are in for, just in case the blurb and/or cover didn’t clue them in. You have to set up their expectations of what’s to come, and then proceed to meet those expectations.

So, for me, that means that I have to set up a suspense element in the opening chapter. Sometimes I do this immediately, by throwing the heroine into peril in the first few lines. Once the immediate danger has passed, I’ll slow down and build the relationships between the characters.

Other times, like with Christmas Tango, I’ll use the majority of the chapter to focus on the relationship between the two main characters, and wait until the end of the chapter to drop in the suspense element. If this is the case, I will try to come up with an opening line that gives the impression of danger—even if it is a misdirect. The opening line of Christmas Tango is: ‘Duncan tugged at the unfamiliar noose around his throat—also known as a bow tie.’ You can see how I tried to clue the reader in to the type of book it was, even though Duncan wasn’t in any immediate danger.

Additionally, each book is designed to stand alone, which means that I have to reintroduce Soldiering On and what they do very early on in each book.

So, basically an opening chapter is about setting up the genre expectations, setting, etc.

THE CHARACTERS: This means setting up the characters individually. Their goals, motivations, personalities, etc.

Now, in a romance, you usually have 2 dual protagonists. You most likely won’t get both of their POVs in the first chapter. It is essential that you get at least one of their POVs. And, if they meet, you can give hints as to what the other person is like, too.

The best ways to reveal character are

  1. Have the character talk to someone else
  2. Have them react to a situation
  3. Have them make a decision.

All of these things are excellent at showing who a character is, and can even be used in conjunction with each other! This doesn’t just apply to opening chapters, but throughout your book. If you want to reveal a new layer of a character, then these are some of the best ways to do it.

THE RELATIONSHIP: So, if the characters meet in the opening chapter (which, if you can manage, I would recommend) then you need to set up their future interactions, and their conflict.

Whatever it is that keeps them from their HEA until page 300, will have to be introduced the moment they meet. Or, at least, the seeds of it.

In the first chapter of Soldiering On, Duncan and Mandy meet briefly. She says something innocuous, and he interprets it the wrong way due to his own issues. He gets annoyed—at both her and himself—and is rude to her. This proceeds to happen a lot over the next few books. That opening moment set up their relationship, and the tone of their interactions ever after. Every time they’ve interacted after that moment has been informed by those first seconds. They have grown and evolved—and will continue to do so—but that first moment can never be undone.

THE CONFLICT: I’ve already kind of covered this, but it’s very important that there is conflict in your opening chapter. This can be internal—a character’s inner conflict, or a relationship conflict between the two leads—or external. External conflict is, of course, external forces at work on the characters.

You can have more than one kind of conflict. In fact, it might be best if you do. That’s what keeps the readers invested!

 

So, that’s all the elements you need to think about when writing (or editing) your opening chapter. I hope it helps! Next time, I think I’ll do a ‘what not to do’ post.

Just for fun, drop a comment below as to your favourite opening chapters you’ve read. What did they do right? I could use a good recommendation!

Station Alpha and Guarding Sierra now in print!

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Look at that! Aren’t they lovely?

Forgive me for getting momentarily sappy, but when I was a little girl, dreaming of being an author, the image in that dream was having my name on a print book. The author version of my name in lights. And now it’s here!

Having the books as ebooks was a great experience, but there is something super special seeing your name in print. It feels so much more real.

Anyway!

Station Alpha and Guarding Sierra are (obviously!) now available in print!

If you are interested in purchasing them, I just want to let you know that not all royalties are created equal. Due to the way the self-publishing/print on demand thing works, I get a very different royalty rate at different vendors.

While I’m obviously just happy that you are interested in the print book at all, if it is something that may affect your purchasing, I just want to let you know which retailer gives the best cut to authors.

In order of royalty rate (and hence my order of retailer preference):

  1. Createspace
  2. Amazon
  3. Everywhere else

That’s not to say I don’t want you ordering from your regular place if you have one! But you know. I had to put it out there. 🙂

So, yay! Another milestone achieved.

Station Alpha Createspace

Station Alpha Amazon

Guarding Sierra Createspace

Guaring Sierra Amazon

P.S. On Amazon, if you buy the print book, you can get the ebook really cheap through the matchbook program!