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Worrying about wordcount

An editor friend once told me to let a story be as long as it needs to be. Which is good advice in theory, but not always realistic when worrying about submission guidelines.

Short story calls tend to be in the range of 2,500-5,000 words, with 7500 words as an upper limit. Totally Bound, which is the publisher behind Capturing the Moment says that novellas start at 25,000 words and novels at 50,000. Other publishers say a novel is 75,000 or 80,000 words. Other wisdom holds that a novel is around 100,000 words.

In general I find that it is easier to trim a story than to lengthen it. Taking a story and trimming off all the tangents, the many times I use “just” as a filler word, and other bits here and there streamline the story. If you look at a writer like Malin James, every single word serves a purpose–there isn’t so much as a spare syllable.

However, when I sat down to write Capturing the Moment, it was with the explicit goal of writing a novella. That felt like stretching my writing muscles, as the longest thing I’d had professionally published at that point was a 5,000 word story. Writing 25,000 words wasn’t easy, and I had to keep asking myself what I could have them do within the guidelines of a 24 hour story (at the time I was writing to a specific call, but ended up going with a different publisher for personal reasons).

It took me eight months (with a big health related break) to get from the first word to submitting to a publisher.

Plunder began life as a short story in October or November of 2015. The characters wouldn’t leave me alone, so I started a novel. Unlike when I wrote Capturing the Moment, I didn’t have a specific publisher or call I was responding to. There was no exterior framing device to use. This was all on me, with the goal of at least 50k words, even as I knew 50k is often considered a long novella or a super short novel, but that was still twice the length of Capturing the Moment.

In the roughly two and a half years since, I wrote a first draft that almost killed me to get to 50k words. I felt desperate by the end of it, watching my word count slowly trickle upwards to that goal. I had a beta read and respond to it, and I began to mess around with it again at the end of last year, taking it from 50-75k words because I was then responding to questions I hadn’t answered, making things more obvious, and stregthening the weak spots that had been called out to me. I then sent it to several more people and a good friend who is also a sometimes editor of mine (Jessica Augustsson, owner of Jayhenge Publishing).

Jess asked several key questions that, along with my conversation with Beverly Jenkins, made me realize I hadn’t done anywhere near as much research as I should have for a historical.

Now I am back at the drawing board, and my writing is both ticking upward as I fill in gaps, fix historical errors, and shifting down as I trim the fat. As you could see in the top picture, my word count as of this minute is 77,003. At the end of today it could be 78,000 or 76,000, although my final goal for the book is in the 80-85k range.

Then I’ll send it back to Jess (I asked her to let me go through and fix the historical issues to the best of my ability) and we’ll see what happens then. At that point, though, the focus won’t really be on wordcount.

So what advice do I have?

My solution was to keep messing with their happiness. I think that’s probably lame advice, but it’s one of the pieces of advice I’ve always gone back to when struggling with my work. Oh, are they happy? How can I create a situation–interior or exterior–that will fuck with that.

What do I mean?

So in Plunder, one of my two MC’s is Bree, who is a young woman who grew up on her father’s ship, but was sent away to what was in effect an early finishing school. She’s leaving school and thinks she’s going to return to living on a ship when she learns that her father has arranged a marriage for her. When her ship is attacked by pirates, she negotiates with the captain for the safety of her crew. A night turns into a week, and she falls for him. Everything seems to be going well, and that could have been the end of the story. But I have him send her back to her father’s ship–an act with repercussions for the rest of the book.

In Capturing the Moment, I kept bringing in Meg and RJ’s past, because the relationship they’d had in college and just after had repercussions on how they interacted six years after their broken engagement. Eventually, they also needed to have a massive fight to deal with their past. Each time the past came up, it affected the present. By figuring out their past, it not only helped me understand where the story had to go, it affected word count.

Ultimately I don’t think there’s a magic bullet to deal with word count goals. If there was, I’d be producing stories at a much faster pace than I do. I think it’s a muscle that gets stronger as you practice your craft. I could write a novella because I’d grown strong muscles writing short stories. I can write a novel because I wrote a novella.

 

 

Open Calls

My dear friend/editor has open calls for three anthologies (one erotica, two non-erotica). She’s such a great editor to work with. Jessica can help you take your work to the next level because she’s willing to work with you to build a stronger story rather than overwrite your voice.

Here are her open calls…

Wavelengths

Sometimes communication is not as straightforward as we might expect. From body language to Morse code, conveying messages comes in a wide variety of forms. How do we get our message across? Whether you’re talking with other species on this planet or another, we’re looking for your loquacious conversations!  (not erotica–DN)

Sensory Perceptions

Loose your imagination’s libido in this very spec-fic collection of erotica tales. We want plot-focused stories with enrapturing storytelling where the erotica and romance enhance the story rather than being the main goal. Your level of explicitness may vary—the important part is the tale itself. We can’t wait to read your stories!

unrealpolitik

Some of the best speculative fiction stories today have derived from the tumultuous political times of the past from authors seeking to highlight injustice or simply work through their own frustration. We are indeed living in interesting times, locally and globally (and intergalactically?). Whether the subject is government or espionage or even something only tangentially related, we would love to read your stories!

 

 

 

 

My take on Snow White

Once upon a time,a long time ago in a kingdom far away from California, a young woman wrote a story about Snow White for literotica.

I started with two premises in mind—what if beauty was a curse, and what if the Evil Queen wasn’t evil? The result was a short story called “For Love of Snow White.” I wrote it in 2002 and barely thought of it for over a decade. But I saw a call for submissions that would fit the story, so I pulled it out of my archive, polished it up and sent it in. My editor asked me to expand it–which I did by about 10k words. The resulting story is still called “For Love of Snow White,” and while it is not erotica, it is a dark feminist take on the Snow White story.

Here’s a snippet

The carriage ride to the convent was long, and my book held little interest for me. Idly, I took my mirror from the pocket of my gown.

“Mirror, Mirror in my hand, who’s the fairest in the land?”

I received the answer I’d dreaded for five years. I was told “You, my queen, are lovely as a pearl, but your beauty cannot compare to the girl’s.”

The new god’s curse had struck in full.

“Mama!” Snow greeted me with a warm embrace.

“Snow! Let me look at how you’ve grown!”

No longer garbed like a novitiate, Snow White was breathtaking. She had hair as black as midnight cascading to her waist. Her skin was pale as the snow she was named for. Snow White’s eyes glowed bluer than any sapphire. Her lips formed a perfect red bow. She was dressed in a blue gown that accented her womanly curves and she moved with a grace that even I envied. Her voice was soft, yet carried a note of seduction that she seemed unaware of. She had reached her majority and her powers, although untrained, were at their full strength.

The king and priests had spoken—she was to leave, no matter what the head of the nun’s order thought of it. I took her home, too distracted by the mirror’s revelation and worried by Snow’s beauty to take advantage of the two hours alone in the carriage. She was silent, looking out a window rather than wanting to talk. Perhaps she was thinking of Charmaine. I should’ve taken her to the stone dance right away, bespelled the driver, anything. But how could I know what was to come?

You can read my almost novella in Myths, Monsters, Mutations edited by Jessica Augustsson, forthcoming from Jayhenge in 2017

2016–The Year in Review

2016
From the loss of Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman, and Carrie Fisher (among so many others) to the political disasters of Brexit and Trump, I think we can all admit that 2016 kind of sucked on a macro level. I had two procedures (one major) on my spine and continue to have chronic pain, but at least I’m (mostly) out of a wheelchair now.

However, it’s wasn’t all bad.

Recommended Reads

I wanted to read more than I did in 2016, but I still have some year end recommended reads that I’ve reviewed this year. I’ve joined the Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge. Follow my progress and add me as a friend here.

  • I loved Lez Talk: A Collection of Black Lesbian Short Fiction, edited by S. Andrea Allen and Lauren Cherelle. It includes two stories by one of my favorite authors, K.A. Smith. Read my rave review here.
  • Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins was so amazing, I ran out and read a ton more of her books. There aren’t a ton of authors of color in mainstream romance, and she’s possibly the best of the best. Not only are her stories well plotted, she does her homework on the history as well. My review here.
  • Basically anything by Kait Gamble (I reviewed five of her books here, but I read even more) but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Sins in the Sand. By the way, she just published a new book, Faking It, which I’ve bought and am looking forward to reading.
  • Basically anything by Alisha Rai (I three of reviewed of her books here, although I’ve read even more) but my favorite is Glutton for Pleasure.
  • Finally, one of my favorite reads of 2016 was Tamsin Flower’s serial novel, Alchemy XII. It opens on New Year’s Eve and continues month by month through December. (I was a beta reader for this series, and I loved every minute I spent with Harry and Olivia.)

Big Publication News

(Check out my Published Works page for a complete list of purchase links if Amazon Kindle isn’t available in your country)

 

Capturing the Moment

under-the-mistletoe

My first solo title, Capturing the Moment , and my first anthology, Coming Together: Under the Mistletoe were published and both have received great reviews!

 

Other Publication News

  • Intrepid Horizons, edited by Jessica Augustsson, included my story, Dumped. Blurb–A Unicorn’s (former) Virgin is left out as bait for a dragon, but things don’t go exactly as planned.
  • Rogues, edited by Delilah Devlin, included my story, Plunder.  Blurb–Sparks fly when the Caribbean’s most fearsome pirate falls under the spell of a sexy spitfire who’d rather send him to Davy Jones’s locker. I am working on a full-length novel version of this story, which will hopefully be published in 2018.
  • Coming Together Under the Mistletoe, edited by me, included two of my stories Kid Comet and an updated version of Baby it’s Hot Outside.
  • My essay An Expat Fourth of July was published by Long and Short Reviews.

 

Other Stuff I Wrote

  • Flash Fiction (for Wicked Wednesday) Dream or Nightmare
  • Flash Fiction (A Wicked Wednesday Top 3 story) Off Limits
  • Flash Fiction (for Wicked Wednesday) Keep the Shoes On
  • What I did for Lust, will be included in the upcoming anthology, Prompted.
  • Kid Comet, the third in my North Pole Chronicles series, was in Under the Mistletoe.
  • I further updated Baby it’s Hot Outside, was in Under the Mistletoe
  • For Love of Snow White was submitted
  • I expanded my first published story, Renewal, and submitted it
  • Lab Rats, was rejected (nbd, how publishing rolls)
  • Forbidden Territory was rejected (nbd, how publishing rolls)
  • I expanded Love is a Virus, and it was rejected (nbd, how publishing rolls)
  •  I wrote the first draft of the full length novel version of Plunder. (It sucks–all first drafts suck)

2017

My writing goals for 2017 are to finish Plunder and to write 5-10 short stories, including at least one more installment of the North Pole Chronicles.

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Intrepid Horizons is now on sale!

Intrepid Horizons

I’m so excited to share that Intrepid Horizons is now on sale for paperback and kindle! I absolutely love Dumped, my story from this anthology. It’s the story of a Unicorn’s Virgin who is dumped for the crime of turning thirty. When she’s left out as food for a dragon, things don’t go as planned.

I’ve shared a sneak peek before. Here’s another…

Gingerly, Neri lifted her pounding head. It was still dark—although whether the same day or another, she had no idea. Bewildered, she looked around. She was alone, in a field. Her travel clothes were gone. She was now wearing a white gown. A metal band was fastened around her ankle.

I’m chained to a stake in a field wearing ceremonial Virgin’s robes.

“Wonderful. I’m going to be Dragon food.”

The post she was chained to was well-rooted in the ground. The chain was sturdy, and the padlock at her ankle secure. Neri spent the better part of an hour searching for a stone to hammer against the lock, but there were none. Whoever had set the proverbial table had taken every precaution to ensure that dinner couldn’t escape.

A rhythmic flapping grew steadily louder, as a shape took form in the sky, spiraling, practically dancing through the clouds. Neri calculated that the Dragon was easily three times Storm’s size. In the moonlight, its scales flashed a soft blue. As it neared, each flap of its enormous wings caused the grass to flatten and the trees in the distance to bend. When it back-winged to land, Neri was knocked to the ground by the wind whipping across the field.

Neri closed her eyes, and hoped it would at least be a quick end. But nothing happened. She opened one eye, then the other.

The Dragon’s face was only a foot away from her own. Its head was cocked to one side.

“Where are my sheep?” it—she—asked Neri.

Call for Submissions: Intrepid Horizons

Intrepid Horizons
My very dear friend and editor, Jessica, has extended her call for submissions for her next anthology, Intrepid Horizons, through March 25.

Intrepid Horizons — Third in the anthology series following up on Other Days and Encounters, Intrepid Horizons seeks out bravery on the horizons of this universe or the next. Do you have tales of courage to share?

We’re looking for stories of many lengths, from flash to novella. If you have something you think fits the bill, please send it along! Payment will be $3 per 1000 words. Deadline TBD.

This is not an erotica collection.

Jess is a really great editor, and so supportive of her writers. Whether you write classic sci-fi/fantasy or something new–this is the anthology with my story about a Unicorn’s Virgin getting dumped, after all–Jessica wants to hear from you. JayHenge is still a new press, so while the pay is lower than other places, you retain the rights and can do with as you wish.

Check out her submission guidelines here and happy writing.

Dumped (sneak peek)

On Tuesday I published my 2015 year in review. I mentioned that I have a story called Dumped in Intrepid Horizons (coming in early 2016). I realized I’d never mentioned this story or shared a sneak peek, so I thought I’d do so.

 unicorn 1I think I owned this poster when I was 8

As a child I adored unicorns. Although a bit obscure, one of my favorite series growing up was The Secret of the Unicorn Queen a six novel series about this modern girl who gets swept away to a magical land. There’s a group of warrior women riding on unicorns, a hunky love interest, and (although I didn’t know this was such a cliché at the time) scaring away the powerful sorcerer with the “magic” of a walkman. (I’m not the only fan–there is fanfic out there, people.) It seemed as if the series was coming back into print, but after the first two novels were published the final four were not, much to my disappointment.

From there I read all manner of unicorn related fantasy, and then graduated into the talking white horses of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series (which are, let’s be real, unicorns sans horns) as a teenager.

The thing about unicorns is that they’re always presented as such magical beings of good and kindness and would NEVER do anything harmful.

Although I read a short story in one of Bruce Coville’s unicorn anthologies when I was maybe nine or ten, it has always stuck with me because the character was the first I’d seen who broke that stereotype. (It featured a jerk unicorn and a cat, if anyone remembers the story and can tell me the title.)

When my friend Jessica asked me if I was interested in writing a story for her upcoming anthology Intrepid Horizons, I wasn’t sure what she would think of my story–A Unicorn’s Virgin is fired for the crime of turning thirty, and is then kidnapped and left as bait for a rampaging dragon. Luckily Jess enjoyed it, and Dumped will be included in that publication. Below is an excerpt.

unicorn 2

“You’re turning thirty.” Storm remarked.

Neri had been weaving flowers into his mane. “Yes, tomorrow,” she said cautiously. A ball of dread formed in the pit of her stomach. Something about his tone made her nimble fingers suddenly thick and uncoordinated. Storm had been acting secretive for the past few months—she’d known something was amiss, and it seemed that Storm was ready to lower the boom.

Thir-ty,” the Unicorn repeated, drawing out the blasphemous word. He shuddered. “I have to let you go, Neri. I’ve grown so used to you, but thirty? It’s time for a change.”

“But—” Tears pricked Neri’s eyes. “What am I supposed to do now? All I’ve ever done is take care of you. I turned down offers of marriage for you!”

“Please. You wouldn’t have been happy as a trophy wife. If you want to get married, some widower will probably take you on to mother his passel of brats. Your standards are slipping anyway—there’s a dull spot, there.” Storm critically inspected the polish on his hoof.

“Who will look after you, Storm?” Neri asked. Storm might be prissy, but he was familiar. “You can’t curry yourself, and you don’t like strangers touching you.”

The Unicorn’s eyes turned dreamy. “Lyria turns eighteen today. Eighteen,” he repeated with a shiver of delight.

Lyria. You could have more interesting conversation with the grinding stone in her father’s mill. Apparently honey blonde hair and dazzling green eyes made up for a dull personality in Storm’s world. They would be a striking pair, especially once she started wearing the gorgeous gowns donated to the Virgin.

Neri glanced down at herself. She wore a comfortable pair of fawn trousers with a draped top. The top had once been the same color as Storm’s eyes, but years of wearing it for the morning curry session had faded it to a dull green. Neri’s waist-length brown hair was back in a serviceable braid. She wore boots, rather than delicate slippers.

Maybe if I’d put in more of an effort to look prettier, he’d still want to be with me?

“Eighteen, eighteen, eighteen,” the Unicorn was practically singing the word.

Maybe not.

I’ll let you know when Strange Horizons is available for pre-order/purchase. If you want to see what I can do with a non-erotica story and enjoy fantasy, you’ll like this one!