After our successful anthology this spring, we are already plotting round two for next year. Given how tight our deadlines became, we are trying to have our stories ready before we even make a call for general submissions. That means I’ve been writing a lot of romantic flash fiction and trying to add my vibe to it. Which... sometimes works, and other times just freaks out the rest of the team. Oops.
But, it has left me with a set of horror stories with a love story twist. They aren’t technically romances as Happily-Ever-Afters aren’t really in the cards for most of my couples, but they are definitely romantic. So I am releasing them as a mini-collection on my own just in time for Halloween!
Haunted Hearts - horror love stories will hit Amazon on October 21st and it’s perfect to get you in the spooky-season spirit!
It includes three tiny tales of love in unexpected places and between unexpected... people. If these characters were living, law-abiding citizens, these would be sweet tales of romance to page through over tea. Instead, you may want to turn on the lights, check the basement, and double lock the door before settling down to enjoy.
And as a blog follower, you are the first to see the cover, which I will officially reveal tomorrow on my Facebook page.
Haunted Hearts is available for pre-order here at just $0.99
Also, if you are potentially interested in submitting an actual romance flash to next year’s anthology, you can find all the information on our website: SandKittensPress.com There you can also find our first anthology which is available to download free!
Even before deciding to self publish, I had been playing with cover ideas for According to Plan. I need visuals, even if it’s not character images (which I also have) I like to do a vibe-check while I write. So placeholder covers come in to play before the book is even finished. They were basic, almost more mood-board than anything else, but they helped me set the tone and start setting out ideas for the future.
With three designs I was more or less happy with, I braved the Indie Cover Project group over on Facebook for feedback—it wasn’t great. A few comments thought I had a self-help book. Definitely not. Round two I thought I nailed, based on feedback, but again I was met with ‘meh’ comments. Looking back, that one is more movie poster than book cover. Maybe I can fantasize about a call from Netflix.
Round three, or cover version #4007, as I think I called it. And I had something people were responding to and that I really liked! A few people urged me to try something completely different, and I did, also creating something I liked. Then the verdict was rather split between the two covers. I headed to my thriller reader and writer groups and, overwhelmingly, they chose the #4007 version, with a few holdouts on the other one.
The comments had me thinking—especially the ones that perfectly articulated my struggle between the two. One (#4007) had an intense draw, the other felt very commercial.
I went with #4007, it’s the one I would pick up.
So without further ado here is the cover and blurb for According to Plan...
Every woman has encountered that guy...
...the one who won’t take no for an answer.
Laura’s assistant Jared is obsessed with her, and after being fired he uses his newly free time to learn her routines. No matter how she says no, his advances keep getting bolder.
Laura soon realizes that the women she thought were friends are actually team Jared—he’s funny and likable while Laura is reserved. Of course they don’t believe that he is stalking her, and without a tangible threat, the police can’t help either.
Laura makes an elaborate plan to fake her death. When everything goes wrong, she finds herself lost in the forest, and her notes tell people not to look for her. But one person is looking for her. Jared’s formed a plan of his own and he is hunting her—to prove they were meant to be. By any means necessary.
You can get your copy now - CLICK HERE!
I wanted to like this book. It was really promising, with a cross country road trip, estranged family inheritance and mysterious hitchhiker. While it does have all those things, I found it really hard to like any single character. Cora is a rather vapid fashion influencer (ugh) and had it not been 90% from her POV I suspect she would have been even more unlikable. Her husband is borderline controlling as he is constantly gaslighting her about her ability to make the trip and her friend Adele is ungrateful and jealous. Yes, some of that comes up in the twist—more on that in a moment.
After picking up their hitchhiker Gianna things get dicey and I get more involved, until Gianna disappears and they don’t go for any obvious next steps. Cora has Gianna's fathers phone number, why not call him, if she had many things that would have been avoided. Again some of that dopey oversight was needed for the twist, but it made me hate Cora even more.
The trip is really well researched—the author has clearly done a lot of googling or has traveled at least parts of their route, which was fun—to a point. Sometimes it felt a bit like a history lecture when they toured museums.
Then there's the twist. Now I love a twist, but I want it to be something that feels reasonable for the story—and this whole set-up is supposed to be: mysterious hitchhiker and bad-guy boyfriend. Out of nowhere we get a set of chapters from another character's POV where all is revealed and Cora’s life goes to hell. Sure, it makes some of the earlier issues I had make sense, but it all felt like quite a reach. Had I not been over 75% through the book I may have just quit there.
I was also really thrown, after the seemingly well researched trip, to have the ‘million dollar house’ she inherits be what appeared to be a 2 bedroom ranch.
I did like that Cora ended up sticking to her guns in the end and was able to get something from her inheritance other than money, which was a nice move for her, though I wish that depth of personality was shown to us earlier so I would have cared along the way.
Overall, I don't think I wasted my time with this one, but I don't think this author will be a repeat read for me.
It’s easy to look at your book and think that once you type THE END, the writing is over. Even after several rounds of readers and editors, the process may not be finished. It may have been the best book you could write at the time, but you are always improving—even if you don't think so—and quite often, if you look away long enough when you do come back, it may be with shock.
That’s what happened to me. I wrote AtP about a year and a half ago, with critique partners, did the edits with awesome betas and revised the crap out of it. I queried it, sent out fulls, the works. I thought it was ready and when I decided to self-publish, all I needed to do was format it.
So I started.
And it is apparent now, that in that year and a half since finishing AtP (where I wrote/edited/published my romance series) I have learned a lot. I was just browsing AtP to check the formatting as I went and so much jumped out at me that I now know how to improve. So, it’s back to the editing floor as I glean this baby with a new level of polish.
On the one hand, I’m thrilled to see how clearly I have improved, on the other—I really thought getting this one to publication day was going to be fairly easy since ‘all the hard work’ was supposedly behind me. Ugh. But also, yay?
I haven’t officially set a release date, so I have no formal deadline, but I did imagine one in my head. Let’s see if I can push myself to keep it. Wish me luck!
You can get your copy now -- CLICK HERE!
I have been working closely with one of my writing buddies on a developmental edit of her fantasy epic. It’s totally unlike the stories I write, both in genre and style. I tend toward a cozy cast of a few characters and fairly structured POV changes. She has a large, diverse cast and moves through POVs as needed for the story.
In my reading, I have truly realized, and am now pointing out to her, how important POV character choice is in any scene. (Without giving anything away) Her story follows a magical traveler on a journey, when she has just picked up a companion. For much of the beginning, that companion is our POV character, and this is perfect! He doesn’t know much about her or her world, so it is easy for him to be the reader’s door into it. We learn as he does, and it’s wonderful.
Later in the story, we get more scenes from other characters’ POVs, especially as the action gets more focused on the larger group—this is necessary. Our original character doesn’t have a lot to lose in some of these scenes and therefore the tension is not his to share with the reader. As we near the climax of the story, I’m finding more scenes stuck back in his POV. I love him as a character, but those scenes consequently feel distant as he mostly observes what is going on. Now I am flagging her MS up like a Christmas tree asking for POV changes so the reader can feel the tension of those most affected by the events in the scene.
This is the big takeaway here: you are the author, and your world is yours, but the goal of writing is to share it with others, and to do that we need the best portal for that—the best character to relate what is happening, what they are feeling and doing to lead the reader into the action, the emotion, and the world overall.
While this is a benefit of fantasy, the acceptance of more varied POV than some other genres, it is something we can all do in all our writing. Understand which characters have the most to gain (or lose) in a scene and frame it around them. If you can’t use their POV, choose your POV character that is closest to them, the one who knows what they are thinking and feeling, even when they are trying to hide it.
It’s also an excellent exercise to write scenes in other characters’ POVs, even if you don’t keep it (or even ever mean for it to be) in the finished book. You can even use these scenes later as bonus material for readers.
I stumbled on this book down some reddit rabbit-hole (as one does) and was completely fascinated. Not enough to pay for it, but when I ended up with KU it was one of the first things on my list. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint. Well, I mean it did—it’s terrible by any normal writing or story standards…but hot damn, it is B-book (is that a thing? Like B-movies?) gold.
At first I thought, maybe this is satire, maybe this author is so over the paranormal romance genre that they are just going for it. But a quick look at their back catalog suggests otherwise. They are serious, and that, somehow—makes it all the better.
You might think, going in, that the half T-rex, half man is going to be the strangest thing in this book. You would be wrong, so wrong. Marc is totally a genetic f*ck-up—both in the story’s reality, and in ours trying to read it. The way the writer attempted to combine lizard and human biology is just...I can’t even. At one point she actually supposes that his torso (T-rex) is cold blooded while his legs (human) are warm blooded. Hmm...
Constantly, Marc’s big tick is biting his lip. On a human, sure cool, OK. T-rex though? Does he have lips? Not according to the cover. Again, hmm...
Marc’s biggest goal is to be a firefighter, but of course, he cannot be because of his tiny T-rex arms, he can’t grip the fire hose. So he is doomed to be a bouncer at the illegal dino-fight club.
But, lest you think Marc’s biological anomalies are the star of this story, think again! Our female love interest, Emily, is also genetically modified (as is everyone on this planet, there is some world building where it’s mentioned that this is required, possibly?) So, our normal looking lady has a most special talent, and it is what brings her to work undercover (maybe—it’s totally unclear how or why she is connected to the body investigating the dino fighting ring) and meet Marc.
She can sweat any substance she wishes. Yes, you read that right. Her hostess-type job has her sweating tequila for the patrons and we get lavish descriptions of them collecting her tequila-sweat in their glasses. Yum. As if that wasn’t bad enough, her ‘real job’ working her very own food truck features a special sauce and, you guessed it, she runs on the treadmill each morning to whip up a fresh batch! Double yum!
Their hook-up is surprisingly not all that steamy (it’s there, but I doubt anyone is blushing over it) and the whole thing ends rather anti-climatically with so many questions still on the table and with Marc’s biggest issue being easily fixed by a side character.
After all that insanity, though, there was one moment where I literally put the book down and had to go tell someone WTF just happened.
There are a few side characters, one gorilla/human type guy called Bobo - he’s probably the most normal being in this whole mess. But my (gender neutral) dude Taylor, a friend and sometimes sort-of hookup for Emily, can literally turn themself into a washing machine. Full stop, spin cycle, washing machine. My brain stopped working when I read that one.
Upon finishing, I immediately sent it to some friends. This takes a special audience to appreciate. Have you seen Troll 2? The Room? Loved every moment of their bat-shit craziness backed up by a creator who (at least seems to be) convinced they are works of art? Then this is the book for you.
If you think this review is the ramblings of a crazy person, you might be right. But read the book. You won’t be disappointed, or you will, but in the best way. The journey is worth it. You will never look at another T-rex or ‘I sweat awesome sauce’ work out tee-shirt the same way.
In an odd twist of events my two writing worlds collided when my romance writer friends came to me with the idea to create an anthology to share the uber-useful process we had developed among ourselves to revise and edit our stories. Standing firmly in my romance pen name persona I was totally on board, then Cassia asked me to submit something from my thriller style too. Hmmm.... But I did! It's a story that came a bit out of nowhere and hit on futuristic, sci-fi elements that I don't venture towards often, but I liked it, she liked it and Daiva liked it—it was accepted.
Getting my own stories accepted and edited was the easy part—I knew what to expect. I’ve worked a ton with both Daiva and Cassia and we work well together. The next step—helping other writers revise their stories was another story. I’ve done tons of beta trades and critique swaps, but this time was a bit different. I was on the editing team and had this new thing called *responsibility*. The other authors were looking to us like we know what we are doing!? I mean; sure we do, but this felt a bit like a test. Especially because fantasy is not really my area. But… here’s the thing. Story is story, and plot is plot. When you break it down to its pieces, it doesn’t matter if it’s fantasy, or sci-fi or contemporary. And OK, there might have been some stores that were not exactly my… thing. But I begged my brain for professionalism and diplomacy and I think (hope) that even when I didn’t have anything to say on certain points, that what I did offer was useful.
Now that we are closing in on the end, it’s amazing to see the finished stories and get feedback from the writers that this entire process was not awful, and they enjoyed it (mostly), and really, I did too. Who knew?
I digress, the anthology is coming out soon and it feels like the perfect time to celebrate this awesome collaboration we've managed. Some really great authors jumped up to participate with us so if you are a (maybe closeted) romance fan like me, you should totally check them out, and of course stick around for the anthology when it comes out on May 31st! (I will add links as soon as I have them)
Cassia Hall is the author of the Seasons Cycle, an LGBTQ-friendly series, a spin-off from her main Lake Traveler Saga. Her poetry collections include Poems of Myth & Magick and Songs of Love & Longing.
She composes songs for her characters, using music – the universal language of love – to convey their messages. She believes that, just as music goes beyond barriers of language, colour and creed, stories go straight to our hearts, allowing us to understand and accept ourselves and one another.
She lives in Toronto, Canada where the winters are long and the other seasons very precious.
The author of numerous Flash Romance stories from High Fantasy to Cyberpunk, Naito Diamond focuses on prospects for our future in the technological field (esp. Augmented Intelligence series), evolution of civilization, and the existence of alternative civilizations.
With a background in software development and an interest in AI, medical innovations, and neuropsychology, she adds authentic details to her stories. Her fondness for human nature enables her to create flawed but lovable characters.
She lives in a small European country, in a house surrounded by forest, with a German Shepherd, a ginger cat, and a rooster.
By day, Jan juggles consultancy work with her family, but by night she sneaks off into the past. Her penchant for sprinkling history with magic is fueled by coffee and Cadburys. When not writing, Jan takes her dogs and small monsters into the countryside, especially if there is a castle or historic building there with a cosy coffee shop in which to escape the rain of Manchester, England. Jan is the author of the Tudor-set historical fantasy Naturae Series and other historical fiction works, as well as the Mitch and Mooch Try childrens books.
Adam Gaffen is the author of the near-future, LGBTQ-inclusive science fiction series, The Cassidy Chronicles. A prequel, Memories of Aiyana, was recently released by one of his main characters and he’s not sure how he feels about that.
He’s a frequent guest at cons and enjoys sending his stories out into the world to entertain, educate, and enhance reader’s lives.
He lives in Colorado with his wife, five dogs, five cats, and wonders where all the time goes.
“You know me. Jump first, knit a parachute on the way down.” Kendra Cassidy, A Quiet Revolution.
As a writer, Rebecca Fuentes enjoys exploring the dynamics of human interactions and our relationship with the divine. She turns coffee and daydreams into fantasy stories, including her upcoming Oracle Trilogy.
Rebecca has a background in education and child development and enjoys anthropology, history, and psychology. Her childhood interest in mythology and fairy tales fueled her love for the fantasy genre.
Rebecca lives in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, six children, two dogs, and two cats. She collects books and interesting friends. When she isn’t writing and spending time with family, she draws old-school art of her characters.
Heran Phillips likes a touch of realism in her romance. She has been writing speculative science fiction and fantasy for a decade under the name Ye Olde Bard, and enjoys researching subjects to the fullest to better depict her characters and worlds.
Her stories focus on the struggles of life and romance as a person with disabilities. It is her hope that such stories will help shine a light on disabled people like herself.
Natalie J. Holden
Natalie could never find herself in the real world, so she created her own. Two hundred of them. Taking inspiration from everything, from nuclear physics and evolution to anthropology and myth, she created an entire universe of magic and wonder, and then populated it with people and beings she’d like to meet.
So far, she’s published a novel “The Outworlder”, a short story collection “Other Worlds”, and a novelette “Octopus Song”. When not writing, she spends her time reading, cooking, and walking in the parks.
Sarah Rajah infuses themes of love into everything she writes because she believes that love is the glue that holds all universes together, no matter how fantastic or mundane. Her characters realize that love in all its forms overcomes the darkness in all of us.
With a background in human resources, Sarah has unique insight into people and diversity, which she crafts into her stories.
Sarah has two very special boys and a husband she loves beyond words. They inspire her to push boundaries and love more deeply every day.
Isla Ryder grew up around horses but never owned one of her own, instead settling for riding lessons and every horse book she could find. When those books stopped being enough, she began writing her own. Throughout school, she loved creative writing classes and earned a BDIC degree from UMass Amherst. She has published a series of sweet cowboy romance novellas and loves working with other authors as an alpha reader and developmental editor.
Lately, I have been working with a group of authors on an anthology. They are all at different stages in their writing careers. I am on the developmental edit team, and working across the experience spectrum has been eye-opening. It has made me reflect on my writing journey, and how to help others with theirs. There’s so much I know now that I wished I knew back when I was working with my first editors and beta readers.
It’s easy to be in awe of your own work. However, the beta-reader/commenter/editor is flagging things for a reason. The story lives in our head; we know 100% of it, but we’re lucky if 60% makes it to the page in the first draft.
Those comments are showing us what isn’t making it, highlighting what the reader doesn’t understand (literally or stylistically). The comments don’t mean something is bad or wrong; they mean something is lost in the story's translation from your brain to the page.
When we see comments, we get upset and want to defend our story-baby on each one. We have the justification, and maybe it’s right. But if you find yourself justifying the same idea over and over—pause.
That is where you need to work. If it’s a matter of the reader not understanding what’s going on, you need to do a better job of explaining/describing. If it has to do with missing info/facts, that’s usually a quick fix - just move things around or expand a little, give us that tidbit that will help us make sense of what’s going on.
If the issue seems to be confusion about the world or character, you need to add details, a better description of setting, body language, etc. Use action tags in-between dialogue not only to add interest but to place your characters relative to each other, so the reader is able to set the scene in their mind.
If the reader is not engaged with your characters, you need to work on your character development. POV needs to be tight, well defined, and consistent. You need to get into your MC’s head and know their motivation and internal conflict/inner struggles and how this relates to how they present the story. If the character is going to tell the story in a particular way, you need to make sure the reader understands why the character is like this, or else that added layer of story you’ve worked so hard on will be lost. You must set the tone for the reader.
Revising is a huge part of writing. Writing is easy; words flow, drafts build... but revising is how you make sure that your vision, and story, is clear to a reader. This is hard, and impossible to do on your own
Understanding how to use editor comments is probably the most important skill for a writer to develop. Just as you shouldn’t blindly follow every suggestion, you also have to shut down that part of your brain that wants to shout, ‘No, I love this! Let me tell you why it works!’
Don’t tell them why it works in the comments. Show them in the story!
To make the most of the comments that your editors/betas leave on your manuscript, you need to understand how you are reacting to those comments.
I’d wager that everyone has that defensive gut reaction, whether they are newbies just starting out or established writers with a string of books to their name. I sure did when I first started out. I was working as a ghostwriter and the client connected me with the editor. When I tried to explain things, I was told that wasn’t my job; to stop, read the notes, and make it better. No ifs, ands, or buts.
While that was a direct hit, it was also easier because it wasn’t my story-baby on the line (well, it was, I was too close, but I digress). It was his story and his editor. I had to learn quickly to get at the root meaning of those comments and make the fixes. In the end, I got some really nice compliments from that editor. It helped me push forward in my own stories, and in my acceptance of revision comments.
No editor is highlighting things to tell you the story is bad—they are there because they want to help (however blunt some comments may seem). For me, if I write some crazy comment manifestos to someone, that’s a good sign. The more I rattle on, the more I am invested in the piece.
Dig deep, writers! Put your ego aside and take a moment to breathe.
As writers, we know our stories all too well. We see everything in our mind’s eye, forgetting that the reader is not privy to any of this. Translating this highly-detailed picture in our heads into words is difficult. It is impossible to do on without feedback. This is why editors’ and beta-readers’ comments are so valuable. They are basically your short-cut to a better story.
P.S. Dear writers, even this blog post has gone through my best editor! We cannot, and should not do it alone!
I write thriller/suspense and horror. That has always been my wheel-house—the stories that get you with a creeping feeling of trepidation, or ask some question about an odd ‘what if?’
Then someone suggested I write equestrian romance because I know horses. Their logic; you know the horse bits + you can write = simple... right? Well, no. Not really. That is a whole different genre with different rules, expectations and skill sets—not to mention mind set. But it intrigued me. Could I write a horse-y book where the horse stuff actually works? Hmmm.
No, though. Erica could not. She (excuse the self referred 3rd person, I know it’s annoying, but bear with me) writes stuff that creeps people out. But maybe someone else could. Then Isla was imagined. She could write romance, maybe, and I gave it a shot.
By creating this alter-ego I could pull out a different writing style and sweep into the romance genre with only a few missteps (sorry to those first early readers, who definitely did not get a romance!) A review on her latest book calls it ‘hopelessly romantic.’ That was the nicest thing to read, but to me, Erica, also hilarious. No one would ever use those words for me or the work I usually write. But here we were, with a beautiful review for something that did, in fact, come from my head. Thanks Isla.
Here’s where it gets interesting. I’m working on an anthology—a romance anthology. So of course Isla wrote a couple of stories for it—all well and good. I know her voice now. It (largely) works. Then one of the other anthology creators said she expected something from Erica too. Hmmm. But of course, you can write romance, she said. Just do it in her style/voice.
So I tried.
And got quick, emphatic rejections.
Not romantic. Creepy. Going to give me nightmares. Were among the critiques for Erica’s stories. And in their own way, great comments, but not for this anthology. I still needed something. But what? I was moody and annoyed that it wasn’t working. Then I just started writing. Something.
I didn’t know what to call it. I couldn’t even tell where it came from. It wasn’t Isla, and it sure wasn’t Erica either—it was some strange conglomeration of the two who turned out a... wait for it… A sweet space opera MM romance. It got accepted; excitedly—quickly. Huh. I’m not sure what this new voice is, or if I can replicate it anytime soon, but it is interesting.
Compartmentalizing writer voices allowed me to write distinctly in two genres/styles and now that both are comfortable in my head, they are playing nice. It’s created parts of a personality that I couldn’t have related to before, but now somehow inhabit as needed. I’m not an artist who will talk your ear off about my Muse, I don’t communicate with my subconscious very well, but I may just have found a way to pull some of that subconscious out and get her to play.
So I’ve been reading a lot of romance lately, in many forms (indie, best seller, ARC, sweet, steamy... the gamut) to get a feel for the genre as I continue my journey writing in it. Let me tell you, I’ve always seen myself as extremely open-minded and ruthlessly liberal—however, some of this stuff has really set me on edge. I get the whole don’t kink-shame people and I will not. But there are things I don’t see as kinks—dub-con and non-con most specifically. I will argue against that in romance (I’ll come back to this in a moment**) until I’m in the ground. HOWEVER, I understand some people’s fascination/attraction to it. I mean, who doesn’t love a horror movie that is all about murder and mayhem, right? I sure do. Do I want to live it? Not in the slightest.
I think this is where the attraction is. Reader see the forbidden, and on the page is a safe way to interact with it. They can get their heart rate up and become involved with these characters in sometimes terrible relationships and feel safe at the same time because it’s on the page.
Two of my favorite moves are Jaws and Jurassic Park. I re-watch them ALL THE TIME. I’m invested, I’m engaged. Do I want to visit Isla Nublar? No way. Am I going to swim in the open ocean? Also, no. But I come back to those movies again and again. And stepping back, I realize that these ‘romances’ I cringe at are those movies to other people.
** Back to my romance comment. I’m not sure they belong in the ‘typical’ romance genre, though. We don't really have anything set aside to better categorize them and I think we need that. Because much of romance genre is all about glorifying the relationship shown, and we absolutely do not need those darker/menacing relationships to be something that reader may aspire to. A stalker who doesn’t take no for an answer and eventfully ‘wins’ the object of their obsession is not a great role model for a relationship. Is that something that adults ought to be allowed to explore on the page? Sure, you do you. But branding it in with the rest of the romance genre feels iffy to me.
I know Dark Romance exists, but I think very little actually gets relegated to it. I have stumbled upon SO MANY instances of horrible characters (both male and female) in mainstream romance, with adoring fans who likely wouldn’t pick up a ‘dark romance’ book. Years ago people were too shy to read anything darker/steamier than a hallmark movie on the bus, then (for better or worse) 50 Shades changed that. I think we need to further de-stigmatize Dark Romance so that books that belong there can be categorized as such, without detriment to the author, so that when we pick up something ‘mainstream’ we know that it will at least end with a vision of a healthy romance.
I don’t mind if characters START OUT questionable, it’s a great beginning to a moving character arc, but in mainstream romance we need to glorify that CHANGE for the better, not the abusive (verbally/mentally/emotionally/physically/etc) ways that the love interest decides to ignore because the abuser is great in bed and/or super hot and/or super rich.
Write what you want, and read what you want, but categorize it correctly. And maybe, just maybe, that story you wrote is a thriller and not a romance. Hey, that’s fine too!