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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.

 

 

Have you read Under the Mistletoe?

Last year I released my first anthology, Coming Together Under the Mistletoe.

Under the Mistletoe is a December themed anthology of poetry and prose featuring great stories by Ashe Barker, Malin James, Sonni de Soto, Sommer Marsden and more. The anthology opens on December first and a reindeer learning she’s joining Santa’s Team with only a few weeks of warning and ends with a couple reuniting on December 31st.

All proceeds go to Project Linus, a cause very dear to my heart–they give hand made blankets to children in crisis. My elder daughter, Athena, received one when she was in the Intensive Care Unit as an infant, and it was a kindness that was a bright moment in a time of darkness.

Winter themed smut plus a good cause? Who can resist? If you’ve read it, please leave an Amazon review, even if it’s just “great anthology.” Author and anthology visibility is highly dependent upon the number of (positive) reviews, so I can’t stress the importance of reviews enough.

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

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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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Guest Post: Corbin Grace (Under the Mistletoe Author)

Today we welcome Corbin Grace, author of one of my favorite poems in Under the Mistletoe–Frosty.

Let me tell you about how I came to love my lizard. This isn’t a story about reptiles. It’s about craft. It has to do self-perception and creation.

I’m a dabbler. I have a lot of interests: photography; drawing; writing; painting; photo retouching and creating book covers. I have an intense focus but it flits from interest to interest, emptying my wallet but filling my days.

So yeah, back to the lizard.

My wife and I have taken a number of metalsmithing courses: specifically making jewelry from copper, silver and titanium. In one class, we learned the process of etching copper in a salt water solution. I don’t want pretend I’m Mr. Science, and I certainly don’t want to scare you into desperately clicking on the exit button. Basically, the process involves photocopying a black and white design onto a sheet of acetate. Then an iron is used to transfer the image from the acetate onto sheet copper.  Trying not to get electrocuted, you run an electric current through the salt water. The bare copper gets slowly eaten away while the parts covered in black, a resist, remain unchanged. After I’d etched the pattern onto the copper, making certain parts raised while others were recessed, I cut out the shape of the gecko that I had used as my image.

Then, I used another process: enameling. I covered my jewelry piece with green powdered glass which I melted at very hot temperature in a kiln. The melted glass coated the copper. Next, I used a girding stone over the entire jewelry piece. The raised parts returned to bare copper, the recessed parts retained the green color. Then, as a last step, I melted a second layer of clear enamel to seal the piece, preventing tarnishing and protecting the skin of those who might have a copper allergy.

Here’s the finished lizard:

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I’ve struggled for years—and to tell the truth, it’s been decades—with depression and anxiety. When I make jewelry, or engage in any of my hobbies, I focus on entirely on the process. I forget all else for a time. It’s almost magical.

But then, the difficult part: Am I happy with what I’ve created. Do others like it? With my lizard, I wasn’t happy. It looked okay, but I hated the shade of green. But everyone else in the class loved my piece, as did others I showed it to. Many said that it was their favorite of all my jewelry pieces. I got over myself and learned to love it.

So in the end, what lesson did I learn? That I’m too self-critical? Or that I value my work on how well or poorly it’s received? Maybe the lesson is that I should leave the “terrible lizards” to Michael Crichton (RIP), who made a mint off of them.

In any event, as I’d mentioned, I also enjoy writing. I have my first published poem in the new Christmas charity anthology: Coming Together: Under the Mistletoe. It’s available in print and eBook formats. I hope that you’ll support the charity Project Linus by purchasing it.

As for my contribution, I like a poem with a bit of humor, and that’s what I deliver in Under the Mistletoe. Here—to give you an idea of my sense of humor—is a little rhyme of mine:

The Riddle by Corbin A. Grace ©2016

Oh Elfin maiden! lithe and fair,

Let not my riddle cause despair:

 

A giant’s handful, all aflame,

The tip is warm, the shaft the same.

‘Tis used in darkest cavern deep,

In blackest night, whilst others sleep.

 

“A torch,” my lord, “to light the way;”

He doffed his pants: “Sweet lady, nay”

 

So what’s next for me? I’ve just learned that a short story of mine has been accepted for publication. I’m also revising a vampire/detective hybrid called Gunmetal Grey Sky that I’ve designed a cover for:

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(The crime scene tape portion of the image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license by Tex Texin)

I hope that everyone has a great holiday season. Merry Christmas!

– Corbin

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Popping my podcast cherry!

I love podcasts. I listen to West Wing Weekly, Stuff you missed in History Class, This American Life, 2 Dope Queens, and a variety of nerdy podcasts including my favorite–Agents of HELM.

Much as I love listening to podcasts, I’ve never done one. So I was so excited when the Agents offered to pop my cherry in a lust themed episode.

handcuffsHow great is this picture?

In latest installment of Johanna’s “Seven Deadly Sins” series, the Agents and special guest erotica author Delilah Night talk all things lust. We break down our favorite sex scenes and euphemisms (Slytherin in the…what?), and Delilah talks about all things erotica, including some exciting projects on the way. Be sure to check out the erotica anthology “Coming Together: Under the Mistletoe”, available now on Amazon, as well as “Capturing the Moment,” Delilah’s solo work. You can also find her at www.delilahnight.com

You can listen to the podcast at the linked page, or you can download it on itunes.

Guest Post: Sonni deSoto (Under the Mistletoe–Tugging Reins)

Have Yourself a Kinky, Little Christmas!

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I love holiday stories. From The Grinch Who Stole Christmas to the corny Hallmark made-for-TV movies, nothing feels more like the season than when every story you see comes complete with jingle bells and snow. Every story seems filled to the brim with love and endless miracles. Those stories, sappy or corny or mushy as they are, seem to showcase the best of the world. In a culture obsessed with the grittiness of stories that tell you how it is, they are shining beacons of what could be.

And, I think particularly for kinky people, Christmas just lends itself to really fun encounters. From being obsessed with getting our hands on the latest, greatest toys to, as my story “Tugging Reins” explores, all the fun pervertable toys that can be made out of the many, omnipresent yuletide decorations, there’s just unlimited merriment to be had for a kinkster with a creative mind. From tinsel whips to jingling restraints, Christmas really knows how to dress-up a scene! I defy you read my story and look at an oversized candy cane decoration the same again. Can’t be done.

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This time of year makes everything feel wondrous and possible and can’t help but inspire the undeniably seasonal wish to get what you really want. So often, we’re afraid to ask for or go for the things we desire. We worry about what people will think or how it’ll change our lives or even fear that we don’t deserve our own desires. I wanted my characters, Chris and Danielle, to embrace their own personal Christmas miracle of turning what seems like impossible fantasy into a sexy-as-hell reality.

Especially, with BDSM, it often seems daunting to make our kinky dreams come true—we can’t all expect suave, broody billionaires under our trees. But there are definitely safe, sane, and consensual ways to explore hidden desires that feel possible and fun. When you’re just starting out, it can feel awkward trying to navigate a way into this world. There are so many rules and norms that people in the community just seem to know. Made worse by the fact that, outside the pages of books and in reality, the kink community tends to attract…well, the nerds of the world. The overthinkers and the often socially odd; how is it that so many of our fictional stories are executed flawlessly? We’re normal people; we make missteps and mistakes. We say the wrong thing and doubt ourselves. Yet our stories rarely get to explore the often awkward yet exciting learning curve; I wanted to give those highs and lows a voice.

And, even in this post-Fifty Shades world, I think there’s still the misconception that kink and heart-warming, Hallmark-esque romance can’t go together. I wanted to show that they definitely can. That, sure, BDSM can be broody and lush, but it can also be sweet and fun and quirky, even on a low-budget; after all, we call it play for a reason. I wanted to write a story that would take all that tinsel and bells and holiday cheer and invite my characters—and my readers—to, well, play.

Sonni deSoto

If you enjoy “Tugging Reins,” please check out my story “Make Me Believe,” which also features Chris and Danielle, in The First Annual Geeky Kink Anthology. To find more about my novels, anthologies, and general thoughts on all things romance, sex, and kink, please visit my website sonnidesoto.blogspot.com.

Thanks for reading and happy holidays!

 

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Release Day–Under the Mistletoe!

Happy Release Day!

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Today marks the publication of Coming Together Under the Mistletoe! I’m over at Delilah Devlin’s page talking about the inspiration for the anthology, Project Linus, and sharing one of my favorite poems from the anthology–Frosty by Corbin Grace.

With my daughter’s permission, I’m also sharing a picture of her. She knows about the anthology, that all proceeds go to Project Linus, and that it’s for grownups. This was my very sick as a baby but today healthy daughter, Turtle. (obviously not her real name)

Turtle
If you’d like a chance to win a free pdf of Under the Mistletoe, go check out my post on Delilah Devlin’s blog.

Guest Post: Sheryl Collins (Under the Mistletoe–All I want for Christmas is Sex)

Sheryl Collins

Sheryl Collins

A present Texans at this moment.  A single mother of  a college student who has retired from her present place in the workforce pursing her long life dream. One of those dreams was to be a songwriter and author.  Sheryl had a long journey to finally Under the Mistole which includes from high school creative writing class to being honorable mention in  college creative magazine at the city state college. Sheryl has many short stories submission that did not make the cut for publishers on Wattpad.com. She also completed a YA book with some help and influence from her daughter which is now found on Wattapad.

“ Life influences me. Many people ask life? Every person I  meet can become a story and every experience can be a song. I have wrote lyrics to poetry since I was a little girl as a journal. It was therapy for my soul, a person ticket out of Texas to anywhere I wanted to go. My family influences me a tons. Great list of writers which maybe an endless list. I always felt that I could never be good enough for this stuff . I wrote and no one would understand me. I was a bunch of nonsense written on a page. If getting one book recognized by a great number or one song that can be heard on the radio, I know that it was not trash at all.” reply Sheryl.

Sheryl writes everywhere. That includes her car, at work in past, on vacation, fishing, in church etc. “You never know where a great story or song will hit you. I find myself sometime driving singing. I dreamed of singing in my sleep and waking up trying to remember.” laughs Sheryl.

Sheryl next project is finishing up one or a few children songs for a EP. She might also do a pop or blues EP. Sheryl next book at the moment is for her children EP called “ Clueless Sucks.“ A song she is working on for a merch. “My previous work with some help from my daughter being a teen, did not get the passion I wished to see from YA crowd. Did I expect a publisher yes but I will not say millions. I wanted to draw young people and artists to writing in story and music.” she add.

“ I am a jumper. I never know will I sit one a side and start doing another project. Who I might pick up? While I was working on Love Story EP and fabric design, I was trying to create a beat than a song came out.  I found myself back at a project for middle readers for children story that encourage music. Erotic writing at this moment I don’t know since I put down my patterns and sewing thing for gowns. The big break for an short story or stories did not happen. I have a goal to at least have a thousands of fans around the world who enjoy my creativity.”

Guest Post: Maria Duendí (Under the Mistletoe–Hush)

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I hate New York City. I have lived here for nearly eight years and I have never gotten into the cutesy “love/hate” stage most people do after a while. I hate it. I hate the smell (in the words of Han Solo, “What an incredible smell you’ve discovered!” Every day. Many times a day). I hate the lines of people that could rival Soviet Russia’s (sometimes I stand in a line just so I don’t possibly miss something.). I went to a Wegman’s in Pennsylvania, near Penn State, and I forgot to get something before I got in line. “Take your time, honey,” the cashier said. Take. Your. Time.

What I especially hate about New York, however, is the noise. Right now, there is construction being done on a new luxury building on our block (thanks, gentrification!), and we are being assailed with beeps, grinding, knocking, yelling. At night, the cement mixer sounds like it’s fucking. More power to you, man

 

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One evening, my husband and I came home close to midnight. I stepped out of the car, and I felt the ambient noise vibrate through my body. There was a whooshing sound—-the sound of cars getting off and on the FDR drive. There was a general growl from the electricity running in so many homes. Panic hit me at the back of my throat. “It’s never going to stop, is it?” I asked my husband. Day and night, the machine ground on.

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My husband is a city boy, so of course he told me I was exaggerating. “Everywhere is like this,” he said. But I remembered sleeping out in the desert when I was 20 years old, nothing but clear, dark, sapphire sky, the sound of the wind brushing the trees like a thin film over it. Even in a more populated area like State College, most people’s concerns are not about how kinky the construction equipment gets. There are escapes out there—-soothing oases to clear your head, to change your mind.

“Hush” stemmed from my fear of noise going on in perpetuity—-the grinding, growling, crackling noise of the city amplified by a mysterious force. The residents of the city in the story have no escape—-they’ve been hemmed into the city and they have a curfew. The only conduit to escape is a boy who really, really likes a girl, and we can’t (and wouldn’t!) blame the girl for accepting his invitation.

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 “Where are we going?” I asked, when it was quiet enough for him to hear my words. I added, “Do you know?”

He turned to me, shocked and amused, as if he had been alone and he had only been driving with his beer and my thighs holding it. “Yeah,” he said. “I know a place.” It was the first time I had heard his voice—deep and gravelly.

“Why aren’t you already there, then?”

A foolish grin came across his face. “Uh, travel ban?”

I laughed. “You broke that without thinking. How did you—”

“You wanted to go, right? Away from the Noise?”

I breathed in. The Noise lingered, but I could feel relief from it through the cold window. The man opened the window and there was an admirable silence. I breathed it in and out and my tongue was no longer unhinged. I let out a big whoop—a blade of sound piercing a soap bubble. The man chuckled to himself—at the twinkling of quiet stars, at me.

We stopped just a few blocks down from a stoplight—quiet blocks with shabbily genteel shrubs in front, a porch swing here or there. We approached the most run down of them. The wood of the porch had not been repainted in a long time—patches of brown and wincing tan peeked through the gray. There was a porch that was low to the ground and a balustrade wrapped around it.

The man reached over me to open my door to the car. I inhaled his clean scent, his body hovering me warm compared to the cold outside.

“Why me?” I asked, in his shadow.

He opened the door and removed the bottle from between my thighs, his eyes suddenly looking into mine. “Because you said yes.”

 

About Maria Duendi:

Maria Duendi resides in the New York City. She enjoys an almost obscene obsession with perfume and an addiction to Star Trek: Deep Space 9. This is her first publication.

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My first experience as the editor of an anthology

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Part of why I went radio silent for so long was that I was genuinely overwhelmed this fall. I hadn’t originally planned on being so busy, but between campaigning for Hillary Clinton by phone banking fellow Democrats in Asia, helping my daughter study for exams that counted for 50% of her grade for the year (the second grader, for the record—thanks, Singapore public schools), and editing I was buried in work for about ten weeks straight.

As a first-time editor with a firm deadline in mind, I felt like I was trying to harness lightning in a bottle. Back in September, I posted that I was reading the entries and that I’d stumbled upon an embarrassment of riches. After sorting through all the entries, I came up with the final list of acceptances that alternated poems and stories. This meant I also came up with a list of “no’s.” I can honestly say that doing the rejecting sucks, although not quite as hard as being rejected.

I set nine deadlines with a week of buffer space in case something came up–and my daughters’ joint birthday party took up all of my time for several days, so I ended up pushing things back a few days–within that margin of error. They were

  • Contracts Out
  • Contracts In
  • Edits Out
  • Editing Period
  • Edits In
  • Compile Book Into 1 Document
  • Book to Authors for Typo Review
  • Book back from Authors
  • Book to Publisher

I had three giant charts on my wall. One was the bullets above with the deadlines. The second was for my poets and the third was for my prose authors. Each title had a horizontal line with boxes for contract in, editing, final edit, typo review. This allowed me to see who was in what phase of the process.

Over the course of those nine deadlines several unplanned things happened. People didn’t return their contracts, a “sweet romance” story was pulled by the author–I think because she second guessed having her story featured in an erotica anthology–leaving a gaping hole in my anthology at the last minute, and so on. That put me in an awkward position as it was late enough that I couldn’t pull up a rejected story and start the editing process from scratch–or write something brand new myself at that point–so I ended up recycling one of my older stories, “Baby It’s Hot Outside,” a version of which was in Summer Loving. I’m still a bit uncomfortable with that solution, but without it we wouldn’t have hit the 50k word minimum to get a print run.

Every editor has their own style. Depending on the author and the story, the amount of communication and revision varied from one/two emails to many. I wanted to ensure that the authors retained as much creative control as possible, as that has been my preference as a writer. I’m certain that my authors’ opinion of whether I achieved that goal will vary, much as my experience has varied over the years.

Will I do another anthology? Maybe. Not immediately. The process was exhausting.

I have a few anthologies I want to submit to as an author. I need to focus on writing the next draft of Plunder. And my daughters, who know I write books but that they’re not old enough to read them have asked me to write them books. So my plate is pretty full.

Perhaps after submitting Plunder.

In the meantime, you can pre-order the digital version of Under the Mistletoe and the paperback edition is already on sale at Amazon!

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This charity anthology will benefit Project Linus, which provides hand-made blankets to children in crisis.

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