A Worm in Dust

I admit – I’m tapped out. Wandering in the desert. Since my last novel went nowhere, I can’t convince myself to write another. I don’t even have the strength to question why it went nowhere.

I love to write. I love to play with words, watch them create an image, a person, an event. Words are like magic, making something out of nothing. How can I give that up?

Will I no longer write?

I’ve given myself six months since my realization that the novel was going nowhere. During that time, I’ve haunted my local library for books of my genre. I’ve read almost a book a day, trying to understand what successful authors have created that is so different from my creations.

There is no epiphany.

This is as close as I’ve been to giving up in…forever. What irony that I wait all my life—settle the issues of love and marriage, sex and children, career and financial security. Wait until I can afford to sit at a desk all day devoting myself to fiction. And then this.

What I see are successful female authors who are half my age. Living with husbands and children, dealing with households and pets, and still managing to write bestsellers. Who are these women?

I’ve never believed that anyone can’t do anything he or she decides to do.  Until now.

I’m starting to believe it. I’m starting to think that none of us can do many different things over the course of a lifetime and do them well. Maybe there’s a magical point in our younger years when memory, intellect, talent, and drive can foster success whereas in later years, enough of those elements have eroded to the point that no matter the dedication and enthusiasm, success simply won’t come.

Can’t come. Like making a chocolate cake with only one egg and half the chocolate.

Or maybe there was always an underlying awareness that I didn’t have fiction writing in me and all those years of other pursuits were excuses so I didn’t have to face that truth. Maybe it’s always been a hidden reality that whatever fantasy I might have had about writing hard-hitting stories, it was always a fantasy.

Maybe it’s that even now, I can’t let myself go into fictional worlds and tell compelling stories because I’m too rooted in daily reality. Yeah, that’s it.

Or despite undergrad and post grad workshops in writing, I just never quite learned enough. Never had the right feedback. Never understood what I was doing wrong.

I can’t not write. But I can write trivial little short stories with characters that never fully develop. There’s no hero’s arc there, no tangled plot where everything comes clear at the end. I don’t even like heroes and their journeys through predictable challenges, setbacks and ultimate triumphs. Maybe that’s why I can’t write them.

There’s also the fact that I never could plan more than two or three moves ahead in chess. I was a horrible chess player. If you can’t plan past two or three moves, pawn, queen or whatever, you can’t plot a fucking novel.

It’s that simple. It doesn’t matter what kind of outline or guide I might follow, what inner voices shouting to find their way to the page. Scenes I hold close to my heart, waiting for expression.

I can’t plot my way out of a paper bag. I see characters. I see suffering and pleasure and circumstances. But tying it together into a layered plot? FAGETABOUTIT.

So, there it is. My reality spread out in words in front of my face. Is it true, or is this a bad mood blog on an isolated day of a very hot and depressing July?

I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore.

~~~

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The Romance

gandyThat little spot in your heart that still believes in fairy tales, in the prince in shining armor who will swoop in and make everything right—that spot lives on in women no matter how life’s disappointments have crushed us down. That man who cheated on you, hurt you, left you with debt and children and heart-stopping pain? That man who never lived up to his promises, your expectations? Those men are out there. We know them.

But surely there’s one man, one perfect man, waiting just for you.

This is the lure of romance. This is the duty romance writers must fulfill. It’s a daunting task.

On one hand, the fictional hero must be suitably flawed—irascible, a little too proud, bullheaded. He’s impossibly unattainable, not our type, completely out of our league. Despite his supremely arrogant demeanor, deep inside he’s suffering. He needs our love even if he doesn’t yet know it.

We can’t turn our back on him even when we try.

On the other hand, our hero must be exquisitely capable of seeing through our defenses and, against his intent, is drawn to the task of making us happy. He’s ruggedly handsome, his body sculpted like a Greek god. He’s intelligent and sensitive, thoughtful and kind. Above all, his sexual prowess leaves us without recourse.

He is specially made just for us. The soul mate. The man who fits us inside and out.

Not all woman are alike. Thankfully neither are authors of romance. For every author who tends to write the strong silent type, there are others who create male leads with a talent for witty banter and intellectual pas de deux. There are heroes in hard hats and those who carry Viking swords. Rich men with tortured pasts, lost men clinging to the shambles of their lives.

For every story that follows a woman burdened by life’s tragedies and unable to continue, another story reveals a woman too hardened to give a man a chance. Stubborn women. Faltering women. Terrified women. We’re all in there.

The plot takes us through the journey, scenes of seduction that thrill us, scenes of rejection and conflict that remind us of what we’ve suffered. In these stories, we look for something to believe in, some revelation, some escape. The knight on the white horse may not be on our doorstep but maybe the heart and soul of such a man lingers inside the furnace repair man or the man staring at us across the McDonald’s parking lot.

It’s the possibility that tempts us, makes us believe enough to pick up yet another book and indulge in the fantasy. It’s a sacred task, this spinning of tales that revitalize us, inspire and comfort us. I for one am an author who cherishes the opportunity to participate in this world of magic.

Long live the dream!

♥ ♥ Chance to Win! ♥ ♥

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Like all cheesy promotional contests, this one requires you to do something in return for your chance to win a stunning prize. For your effort, you could win a $20 gift certificate at Amazon.com. Please, no applause. I feel bad enough as it is. I should be giving away much more, like maybe $50. Or $100.

I would if I could.

I’m giving away $20 to some lucky winner because I’d love to have more followers for my blog. Alternatively, I’d love to have more fans reading my free monthly newsletter. Both would be perfect, so rush right down and sign up today.

Why do I have a blog and a newsletter? I’m a writer. I write every day. Some of my words are in my blog and some are in the newsletter, but most of those thousands of fascinating combinations of letters are in my books and short stories which you wouldn’t know about unless you read my blog or newsletter. See?

I want you to know about my stories because I know they’re good. I know that once you read some of it, you’ll come back for more. You’ll tell your friends and relatives–well, at least those who like racy romance–about me and my stories and next thing you know, I’ll be rich and famous. And I’ll be encouraged to write more stories for you.

Now that I’ve clearly established my ulterior motives for giving away $20, I’ll sweeten the pot by making my most popular novel available for ONE DAY at half price. That’s right, all 380 steamy ebook pages of 5-star Jarrod Bancroft: The Novel only $2.50 all day Valentine’s Day. (You’ll note that I’ve added a convenient link so you can jump right in there to order your copy. It’s available at this price only through this one outlet, NOT Amazon.com) That’s a lot of smut for the price of a cheap cup of coffee.

By the way, you’ll probably really like my newsletter this month. I’ve given FIVE ideas/links for FREE Valentine’s Day gifts for your sweetheart, from food to foot massage.  The teaser short story posted here on my blog (Feb 4) is an offshoot of Jarrod’s story, and the opening paragraphs of that story are also in the newsletter. Also my regular feature “Did you know” talks about the different ways authors approach their work–carefully plotting the action before starting to write or flying by the seat of the pants. I know you’ve been dying for that.

As a Valentine bonus, I’ve written a short story about Jarrod that will post to my blog on February 4. See how nice I treat you?

Wouldn’t you love to have my clever, useful newsletter pop into your email each month? Wouldn’t you love to see my occasional scintillating blog posts arrive to amuse you in random moments? I thought so.

So click the “Follow” button over there in the left margin and you’ll get my blog posts. Or click on my newsletter Liz’s Hot News link to sign up. I promise you won’t regret it. And really, why not? If I ever annoy you, you only have to click “unsubscribe” and it’s all over for us.

Once you’ve signed up (OK, if you’re really short on patience here, you only have to do one of those two things.) then your name will be entered in the drawing I’ll hold on February 14.

[If you choose to follow my blog to qualify for your chance to win rather than signing up for my newsletter, you’ll need to provide me a way to know how to contact you. You can send me a private message on Facebook or you can leave a comment here. If you sign up for the newsletter, I’ll have your email.]

Go ahead and visit my Facebook page and find the pinned post with most of the same information you’ve already read here. I know, I know, it sounds redundant. But if really want to make my day, please “Like” my page, “Share” the post about this drawing with all your friends, and “Comment” to say you’ve done your part.

There. I hope you feel better. I know I do. Thank you. Really. Thank you very much.

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Selling Indie

Cartoon Technology 0115The biggest upside to Indie publishing is getting your work out there without trying to squeeze through the bottleneck of agents and publishers. The downside is that no one may ever read your work. Hordes of writers have become Indies, a gaggle of writhing hopefuls who fell away from the bottleneck, all wildly optimistic that this one story will be the one that lights a readership fire. They’re tired of waiting, infuriated by the industry profit margin, and disillusioned by the insider game. Most would prefer not to become rich and famous posthumously.

The primary benefit that derives from gaining a publisher—aside from the obvious ego boost—is the possibility of a few ‘mainstream’ reviews. That’s the stamp of ‘legitimacy’ that many readers want. It’s the advantage that Indies can’t get.

Unless they pay for it. One industry staple, Romance Times, dispenses reviews at a cost of $450. Per review. Kirkus Reviews, a longtime respected reviewer, charges $425—if you can wait 7-9 weeks. An expedited review costs more.

Not only are there significant ethical issues in paying for reviews, most authors don’t have that kind of money. To be competitive, ebooks are priced between 2.99 and 3.99. The profit margin is at most $2 per book. The book would have to sell 225 copies just to earn back one review fee.

By necessity, then, authors ‘buy’ reviews in other ways:

  • Book giveaways wherein months (even years) of work are handed out like candy at a Christmas parade in the hope that recipients will post a favorable review. Which many don’t.
  • Contests, a more costly and time-consuming method of giving away books in hope of gaining attention and reviews.
  • Blog tours, a service authors usually pay a promoter to handle and which, in theory, presents the book, excerpts, an author bio, and often the blogger’s review to all the fans and followers of the blogs participating in the tour. Unfortunately, blogs aren’t faithfully attended by their fans and followers so there’s no guarantee that the days a particular book is featured are days that more than a handful of potential readers see it. Worse, popular blogs quickly develop a backlog of review and tour requests. Worse yet is feedback from authors who say they’ve found no measurable increase in sales from blog tours.
  • Review tours, similar to blog tours. Either pay a promotions person to handle this or spend countless hours submitting review requests and getting back two responses (if you’re lucky). There is at least the hope of gaining legitimate reviews.
  • Goodreads is an important place to set up an author page. But don’t get your hopes up. The site is primarily for readers to discuss and review books. Various discussion groups cater to specific genres/subgenres, but most have a specific thread where authors are allowed to pitch new works, and most readers seem to ignore this thread like the plague. Seeking reviews is mostly a cry in the wilderness.
  • Authors must have a marketing platform whether they’re Indie or not. Books and articles abound with advice about how to set up such a platform. The primary objective with a platform is to develop an audience who will purchase and, secondarily, review books. Venues considered critical include Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Goodreads page, Amazon author page, website… In truth, if a writer tended to all these venues as conscientiously as advisers recommend, he/she would have no time left to write.
  • Posts to an author’s Facebook page could, in theory, generate an appreciative following willing to read and review a new release. Authors are advised to build a fan base by posting personal bits and fun stuff along with book excerpts and clever visuals alternately called ‘memes’ or ‘teasers’. Authors are advised to post often so that the Facebook algorithms keep you in a high volume category.
    • Building a social network smacks of ‘buying’ fans and reviews. When was the last time George R. R. Martin posted to your Facebook page? Or any serious author? It’s potentially counterproductive to ooh and ahh over someone’s cute baby post or rave over her recipes and then hit her up to buy your book.
    • Accounts versus pages, a little Facebook 101. A person’s Facebook account allows that person to invite friends and establish a variety of Facebook connections. The account person can join groups and connect to authorish places like Goodreads, which will happily post your most recent book reviews and other Goodreads activities to your account page. If an account person wishes to separate his/her account (with all its friends, relatives, and personal information) from his/her author information and promotions, he/she can set up a separate author page. The author page cannot invite friends, but you as the account person can invite your friends to ‘like’ your author page. Absurdly, the author page cannot connect with Goodreads or join groups. So unless the author sets up a false identity account with Facebook, he/she will be limited to what can be accomplished through an author page. Or suffer through the mingling of personal and author friends, groups, and posts on the main personal account.
    • Contrary to logic, Facebook does not share your posts with all your friends, or if you have an author ‘page,’ with all those who ‘liked’ your page. If you fall into a low volume category, as few as five people might see any given post. Even posting multiple times per day to keep your volume high will not assure that everyone on your friend or like list will see your post. Facebook does not fully distribute your posts.
    • No one watches Facebook all day. A person’s newsfeed on Facebook scrolls along either in real time (“Most Recent”) or as ‘Top Stories.” Facebook’s default sequencing for the news feed is “Top Stories,” meaning that a post that gains the most comments/traffic gains top placement on the feed. Whether a viewer sets his/her newsfeed to Most Recent or Top Stories, the more Facebook friends and likes that viewer has, the greater the number of items showing up on the newsfeed and the less chance he/she will ever see a particular post.
    • Of particular concern to romance authors, Facebook restricts its ‘boost’ options by disallowing ‘adult’ content. A ‘boost’ changes your post into an advertisement. You pay a certain amount and specify how long the ad will run. If you are advertising a spicy romance novel or using any exposed skin in your image, you run the risk of receiving a refusal to your ‘boost,’ as in: “Your ad content violates Facebook Ad Guidelines. Ads are not allowed to promote the sale or use of adult products or services, including toys, videos, publications, live shows or sexual enhancement products.” [You might, however, post a Facebook link to a blog post like this one and thereby put your name out there without violating these Puritanical policies.]
    • Facebook groups theoretically offer authors multiple marketing opportunities. Many such groups, such as All About Books, Great Reads, or Book Heaven, enjoy well over 10,000 members. Authors quickly find, however, that posting to such groups yields pretty much nothing. It seems that all 10,000 members are other authors. Some groups might have more potential in connecting potential readers with the author’s works, but these are specialty groups focusing on one particular sub-genre (e.g., Domination Romance, Band of Dystopian Authors & Fans). Often such groups do not allow book promotion posts unless the author is a regular participant in group discussions, if at all. Which again brings up the thorny issue of exactly how many hours there are in a day. Still other groups which potentially attract readers are the discount groups (99¢ Kindle Reads, Free Books or Us) where the author opens a vein in order to gain one purchase.
    • For authors of non-romance, forgetaboutit. There are no Facebook groups for promoting biographies, memoirs, history, and other categories. Such works can be advertised on some of the general Facebook groups such as All About Books, but again, posts zoom by fast, about one every three minutes. And it’s preaching to the choir.

While Amazon offers promotional opportunities to authors, like Facebook it refuses ads to authors who write sexual content. [No such restrictions exist for authors of gore, horror, and other bloody narratives. It’s sex that sets their hair on fire.]

Gaining readers and reviewers has always been the challenge for writers, whether aided by a publisher or not. With all the free or 99 cent books out there, it’s a miracle that anything sells for more. At least as frustrated as the authors, however, are the readers who want a good book and can’t find it amid the rabble. Various review scams, paid or not, mean lousy books may gain high reviews and good books never hit the radar.

At the least, authors need to advertise their credentials—so many years studying literature and English, so many years writing, so many publications under their belt, and average review ratings for those publications. For a reader seeking quality, this information along with the book content preview offered on Amazon sale pages may be the most consistent metric by which to judge Indie books.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy vs Historical Fiction — What’s the Shared Ground?

braid promo copyI think every reader shares a fascination with alternate worlds. Thus the appeal of not only science fiction and fantasy but also historical fiction. In Caerwin and the Roman Dog, I explore the past as it existed at the height of the Roman Empire and the end of Celtic control over Britannia.

In my work over the last year in putting this novel together, I reached the obvious conclusion that research is the key to authoring a good book. It doesn’t matter if the story centers in the past or the future, or even in the present day. Building a believable setting where the characters will interact means making sure that the ‘world-building’ is effective. What did they eat? What was the weather? What were their daily routines?

In my novel, the setting is the Shropshire area of England, a place near the River Severn that borders Wales. Elusive mists shroud ancient hillforts where Rome’s legions pursue their conquest of the native tribes. Despite greater numbers, native warriors wield weapons and armor far inferior to Roman arms. (Details of Roman armor can be seen on my “Romans” Pinterest page.) The biggest difference, however, rests in Rome’s military organization—the army functions like a well-oiled machine.

It’s fascinating to study the chain of command that Rome perfected and which is used by today’s writers even in the most far-flung fictional world of the future. Obedience to the command hierarchy and to the operational rules of a legion creates a strict dynamic for any character caught up in that reality. In my story, that character is Marcellus. As the book opens with Legio XIV’s assault against the Cornovii tribe, the tribe’s defenses have been breached and action quickly devolves to a mop-up operation. Marcellus rounds the hillfort perimeter and spots a young woman, Caerwin, trying to make her escape. Instantly enchanted, he brings her back to camp and embarks on seduction.

And yes, in the midst of its historical action and setting, this novel is a sexy romance with a big dollop of BDSM.

At any time of man’s history or future, the introduction of an attractive woman into a man’s camp is certain to cause trouble. But Marcellus’ infatuation with a blue-eyed Cornovii princess takes second place when his superior officer succumbs to his battle wounds. His death propels Marcellus to sudden promotion as the legion’s commander. He’s not of the regular army serving a twenty-plus year term, but rather a young professional of privileged rank meant to gain a taste of military life before returning to serve Rome’s senatorial or merchant class. His crisis isn’t just rebellious tribunes or a young woman he can’t get out of his mind, but also the heavy burden of responsibility that comes with leading a force of ten thousand men in a hostile wilderness.

The struggle for Caerwin focuses on her stubborn refusal to accept her change of circumstance. No longer part of her ancestral family and tribe, she’s suddenly enslaved to a Roman commander. Can anyone ever come to terms with such a loss of freedom, family, and home?

The greater context encompasses two worlds. Dying on the Roman sword are the ancient traditions of Britain’s Celtic tribes: allegiance to spirits embodied in springs, rivers, hills, trees, and other natural elements, a social order strongly resembling modern democracy, and advanced skills in metallurgy and weaving, to name a few. Many of the mysteries of that world are lost forever because the Celts did not have a written language. Building a fictional world based on this relative dearth of information forces an author deep into archaeological records.

At the time of our story, the last one hundred years since the triumph of Julius Caesar has seen the erosion of Rome’s early republican political system. In its place is a sprawling empire under the sole control of its emperor. The Senate has been reduced to a rubber-stamp function in state affairs. Appetites of all kinds are indulged in hedonistic lifestyles, and this reality shows up in the backstory of some of our characters.

Rome depends on its army and the conquest of new lands to produce its wealth including precious metals and gems, agricultural bounty, and that ever useful commodity, slaves. Since the initial invasion of Britannia in 43 A.D., Emperor Claudius has made it clear to his governor that the four legions under his command must subdue and occupy this island and seize its treasures for the greater glory of Rome. Marcellus has no options. Even in a foreign winter’s cold, he must lead his troops on search and destroy missions.

Restrained in his bedchamber, Caerwin awaits his return knowing that he spills the blood of her people. She hates him. And yet, because he has favored her with his affections, she fares far better than the rest of her fellow countrymen. How does she negotiate that conflict? What is the emotional toll in knowing that she is the survivor? Can a vulnerable young woman resist her body’s urges at the hands of an experienced lover?

Caerwin can never return to the home and family she once knew, but she can at least plan to escape the hated bonds of Roman captivity in the hope of living again among others of her own kind. Will she attempt such a dangerous venture?

Much as he is drawn to this rebellious young queen, Marcellus can’t walk away from his duty to Rome. The concessions he makes to Caerwin soon result in mutterings among his tribunes. Personal and professional crisis ensues.

*✩* 99¢ PRE-ORDER now through November 9, 2015 *✩*

Amazon → http://www.amazon.com/dp/B016LA6ZVA

Originally posted at http://jimbossffreviews.blogspot.com/2015/10/guest-post-lizzie-ashworth.html

Caerwin and the Roman Dog

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I’m so excited to finish my first draft of a new novel! Set in 47 AD, the story follows a young Briton woman caught up in her tribe’s struggle to fend off Roman invaders.

Here’s a scene from the early pages of the book:

Horses appeared at the edge of the clearing. A white horse came first, a massive beast draped with red saddlecloth and gold ornamented breastplate and bearing a man of Roman rank. His red cloak swirled and the red plume cresting his fearsome helmet bristled as he pulled his horse short. Two dark horses came up on either side, also mounted by cavalrymen cloaked in the hated Roman red and bearing weapons of war. They held their shields close on their bared thighs and carried short swords dripping with the blood of her kinsmen.

For a long frozen moment, Caerwin stood without moving as her eyes locked with the dark stare of the man on the white horse. As if the ground could swallow her. As if she could summon the powers of the ancient ones and rise to the sky to fly away.

As if he spoke to her in some forgotten language.

Motioning toward her, he shouted words she did not understand. Immediately one of the men at his side kicked his horse forward. He came directly toward her, galloping across the clearing.

Virico’s ghost whispered in her ear. Run, Sister. We are dead.

Caerwin dropped the bucket and ran. She leapt over rocks and thickets of dog violet, struggling for balance along the precipitous slope. Her feet flew over the ground as the sound of hoof beats came ever nearer. Plunging into thickets of young rowan and yellow-blooming broom too dense for a man on horseback, she ignored the gorse thorns tearing at her flesh and deftly wove her steps southward across the familiar landscape.

Blood pounded in her ears. She would escape to the river and float downstream to the caves. She could hide there, wait until danger had passed then return to help the survivors. She ran headlong, ignoring the lash of limbs and stones that bruised her feet. The ground dropped sharply. She gasped for air, dodging side to side to keep from tumbling headfirst off the incline.

She strained to hear hoof beats over her ragged breath and pounding heart. She risked a glance toward the hilltop as she broke free from the thicket of gorse. Smoke rose in thick black plumes.

Strong arms grasped her midsection and hauled her upward. In one unceremonious thrust that knocked the breath from her lungs, the Roman hauled her belly down against his battle-stained thighs. He stank of gore and sweat.

“No!” she shouted, fighting against his grip as he swung the horse around. She cursed him, pounding his legs with her fists.

He pressed her down against the horse’s withers and made no response to her insults. As they galloped back, she twisted and fought against his grip. His strange words issued in a torrent then a hard blow struck her head. Light flashed across her eyes. Then her eyes stared and saw nothing.

Stay tuned for the final version, coming soon!

The Magic Word

Books-to-Get-You-in-the-MoodI lead a double life. This is one of those moments when I’m in the twilight zone between those lives. Stuck.

As my alter ego, a writer of erotic romance, I fall in love with amazing men. I watch characters emerge from the page with their own agendas. I wander down long dusty roads into the past to tease out details of a love affair between a maid of early Briton and her Roman conqueror.

As my real person, I dig into local history and personalities. I blog about travels and memories, Most recently I’ve blogged about issues in the news that stir my venom against patriarchy and ignorance. My blood is up.

Days have passed as I-as-my-real-self flogged the keyboard, brainstorming how to phrase in even more impactful ways all the harms caused by religious extremism. For now, I’ve mostly satisfied myself that I’ve read the reports, the research, that informs and elaborates on my ideas. I’ve put it out there. I’m done, at least for now.

All this time, I’ve longed to return to the misty hills of northern Wales where my maid awaits her next confrontation with the Roman commander. Her future is unknown, as is the future of the Roman legion camped a short distance away. The story will unfold only as I type the words.

I want to read this story!

But my blood is up. I’m restless. Arguments still echo in my real-person head. I’m finding it impossible to slip back into the green rocky hills where Caerwin waits, against her will, for Marcellus.

The solution for today’s dilemma? It was so simple, I don’t know why I didn’t remember it from the last time I ran up this stump.

Read. The magic word. I will read. No writing required.

I’ll set aside the real world and its daunting problems. I’ll indulge myself by investing in the latest novel by one of my favorite edgy authors, Tiffany Reisz. I’ll spend the rest of this day in her stunning world of sex and angst.

I’m relaxing now. Planning lunch. Birds chirp outside my window. From wherever I arrive by the end of her book, I’m confident I’ll soon find my feet walking ancient byways in long ago Britannia.