Archive for March, 2014

Conflagration of Phoenixes version …what comes after zeta?

So I heard back from readers who beta-ed Conflagration for me. One of them has no problem with how the romance angle unfolds. Two of them have serious how the hell did we get here issues. At least one of them has what the fuck is going on syndrome at the end of the book.

Not good.

Not gonna lie. I was hoping that I would be able to finish the edits by the end of March and send it out to be professionally edited so I could self-publish in May. 

Suffice to say that I don’t think that’s going to happen now. Which is really disappointing since I really, really, really wanted this to be the year when everything came together.

But, you know what? It’s going to be worth pushing it back because I want my first novel to be the absolute best I can make it. You only ever get one chance to catch the attention of a reader. If the first date sucks, there isn’t going to be a second one, much less a happily ever after.

And Ella reminded me that you can have all the plot twists you like in a story — but the reader can’t be wholly in the dark. You have to leave that gun sitting around so the reader knows that there’s going to be a shooting later even if they don’t know how or why or who.

There’s this idea of the ten thousand hour rule, that you cannot be exemplary at something before you sink enough time and effort into it. Most authors agree that their first finished novels are usually completely tragic to look back on.

Conflagration version 1 was 62k words and written in the heat of NaNo 2008. I trashed all of it. This also taught me that NaNo is so seriously not for me it isn’t even funny, btw.

Version 2 was about 70k. Trashed that too.

Version 3 went up to about 82k.

Version 4 was 120k.

Version 5 was when I wrote out an outline, read up on pinch points, turning points, and cut it down to about 63k.

Version 6, which is now, is hovering at about 60k. It just keeps shrinking. I genuinely can’t tell at this point if it’s getting tighter and more focused in a good way or if I’m losing key information points. Hence beta readers.

The next version, which apparently is going to be eta, might balloon back up because I’ll be inserting a lot of scenes that will lay the groundwork for books 2 and 3 and the romantic angles.

And with the way I edit, which usually involves taking the bare bones of a chapter and rewriting from scratch, it’s safe to say that eta is going to be as similar to alpha draft as a human is to a chimp.

The reason I list all this is so I can remember that there is a process and I’m going through it. When Conflagration comes out, it’s going to be the absolute best I can make it for my writing ability of that point, and I’m not going to stress over it. Everybody needs to move on at some point and I feel very close to the point where I know I can be a better writer, but that’s going to gained through writing new stories with different characters and bringing a whole new world to life instead of fine-tuning this book.

At some point, you just have to jump. I’m hoping that my wings will hold. But even if they don’t, I’m not Icarus. I’ll heal and I’ll be back to try flying again.

 

Goddess in Waiting Ch. 9

I paused in front of the coffee shop and looked at the guys. “I’m going to talk to Gaia. You lot can do whatever you like. I’ll meet you back at my place.”

Mikhail cocked his head. “Shouldn’t we go with you?”

“I think that would be ill-advised. Gaia doesn’t like visitors and she especially doesn’t like guests she doesn’t know.” I made a wry face. “In fact, I’m not certain she wouldn’t throw me out as well.”

“You’re going to see if she’s willing to let you bend the rules of the Pact, aren’t you?”

I nodded at Raphael. “Yes. I was one of the original contractors, so she might be willing to discuss it. Or she might decide to swamp me with molten lava. You never know.”

“I will go with you.”

“Thanatos. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why not? My interactions with her in the past have been amiable for the most part. In fact, if she could be said to like any of us lot, it would be me.”

“If I remember correctly, your last meeting with her didn’t go so well.” That was immediately after we’d made the Pact. I could still see the rage in his face when he realized what we did. What I did.

His eyes iced over. “You don’t know when my last meeting with her was, wife.”

That was true. He could have had tea with her on a weekly basis for all I knew.

“Fair enough.”

“I will need to go as well. I’m your observer, remember?”

Mikhail raised an eyebrow. “So now it’s only me that gets left out? Ah, the joys and perils of being the junior member of the team.”

“At this point, if you really want to, we could drag the entire circus there. Not like one more person is going to tip her into magma levels of rage when there’s already three.”

“Ah, no. Thank you.” He gave a theatrical shudder. “I haven’t had the need to talk with our supreme overlord yet and I’d like to keep it that way. Alexandros always used to get stinking drunk when he went to see her and I think I’ll take a cue from that.”

“As you like. We’ll see you later then.”

He gave me a jaunty salute and disappeared.

I exhaled. “All right. Let’s go.”

 

 

“Gaia lives here?” Raphael looked around at the rainforest surrounding us and then at the cave entrance.

“Not exactly. This is just one of the many cave systems that lead to her. I just chose this one because South America is closest to home.” Interacting with Gaia was always an experience and I knew that a short teleportation afterward would be the difference between feeling like a truck or an eighteen wheeler ran me over the next day.

I pushed aside the trailing vines that guarded the entrance and walked in. Two steps in, the walls began to emit a faint blue glow. I trailed a hand over the rock face, leaving behind a brighter neon blue trail behind. The cave narrowed into a tunnel about five feet in. Stone steps were carved into the floor of the tunnel, a necessary feature as the passage sloped sharply down. Before Gaia relented and put in the steps, the only safe method of arrival was to use bring your own lube and use it as a slide as our powers was blocked here. It was messy and undignified. Then there was the inevitable frustration and pain when the lube ran out a mile from destination.

We walked down, single-file and silent. The faint blue glow lit at our approach and receded in our wake.

About an hour later, Raphael cleared his throat. “In the interest of curiosity, how long does this trek usually take?”

Thanatos’s laugh was mocking. “It depends on Gaia’s mood. If she wanted us there, three steps would have done. When she doesn’t want to see you, then it could take you a few lifetimes. Assuming you don’t give up.”

“I see.”

“Thanatos. I thought you said she liked you.”

“That wasn’t quite how I phrased it, my flower, and how do you know this isn’t because she doesn’t know Raphael?”

I sighed and trudged on. I liked Gaia, I really did, but she brought a whole new meaning to the concept of power tripping. Add in her propensity to act like a slighted mother and it made for very uncomfortable dealings.

“She’s probably punishing me because I haven’t come to see her the last two thousand years.” In my experience, it was better to admit to being wrong. “Maybe, if she doesn’t want to see me, you can go talk to her on our behalf, Thanatos. We’re only about an hour in. Raphael and I could go wait for you outside.”

My husband’s voice sounded amused. “And you don’t think it’d make her angrier if you showed such a lack of sincerity as to quit half-way through?”

“Considering we have less than twelve solar days to try and save her planet from a hard reset, I think she’ll eventually forgive me if I delay seeing her by two weeks or so because I’m trying to help.”

“That’s rather opt—”

He didn’t finish the sentence because the ground opened up under us. The next moment, we were plummeting through a tunnel that led straight down. I bit back a yelp. Letting her know she got to me was simply a bad idea.

The bio luminescence followed us. It lit up as the air we displaced activated it. The speed at which we were falling meant we barely had three feet of lit space under us and an endless glowing above.

Darling. Well played. Thanato’s mental voice sounded like he was on the verge of laughter.

Thank you. I just hope she doesn’t take it out on us with a hard landing.

A blast of warm air surged up the tunnel. My free fall slowed. The air flow grew progressively stronger and I knew we must be close.

We were falling at a slow enough rate I could see further down the tunnel. The shimmer of a bio luminescent pool gave me just enough warning before the air cushioning us cut off. I took a deep breath and turned head-first. An icy chill assaulted my senses as I broke through the water surface. My chest seized up as all my muscles protested the abuse. I forced my limbs to move, to swim toward upwards and toward shore, but my movements were sluggish. My temples throbbed from the cold. Water filled my nose and mouth as I sank. My vision dimmed.

Pressure at my waist. A hand grasped hold of mine and pulled.

My head broke the surface. I gasped for air. Raphael wrapped an arm around my torso. Thanatos had his hand fisted on my skirt waist. Breathing hurt. Swimming wasn’t going so well either. My limbs sagged in the water despite my best efforts to move.

“You’re killing her.” Thanatos’ roar echoed in the chamber.

“Less rage, more swimming.” Raphael’s voice was calm and unruffled. He tucked me closer to his body and started the side stroke toward shore.

I closed my eyes and did my best to stay out of his way.

Minutes later, his grip loosened and I was swung up into another pair of arms. Thanatos carried me out of the water. A muscle ticked at his jaw. My eyes fluttered closed and I curled closer to his warmth. The cold sank into flesh and bone. I would have yawned if I had the strength to do so. So cold. So sleepy.

“She’s going to die of hypothermia if you don’t do something, you witch.”

Gaia snipped at him. “Do something yourself, Thanatos. I’m not one of your serving wenches.”

He growled under his breath. “You know very well I can’t.”

“Allow me, Thanatos.”

A warm hand settled over my forehead and another over my heart. Heat spread through my body. The cold was still there, hidden in my marrow, but I could feel my toes again. My clothing started to steam gently.

I opened my eyes and croaked at him. “Taking advantage of an old lady? Tsk.”

He smiled and sent an additional burst of warmth through me before lifting his hands. “Such gratitude, Amarantha.”

I reached up to pat his cheek. “Thank you.”

Thanatos set me down, careful not to release me until he was sure I could stand on my own.

Gaia stood in front of us. A toga of linen gauze was her sole concession to modesty. I was surprised to see it, as she usually didn’t bother, just as she often chose not to take human form. Her arms were folded across her chest and her expression was set in obstinate lines.

I sighed. It was going to be one of those days.

“Well met, Gaia.”

She sniffed. “It’d be better met if your husband had the courtesy not to shout at me.”

Thanatos growled. “You nearly killed her with your games, witch.”

“It’s not my fault she’s turned into a puny thing, Thanatos.”

My husband snarled.

The throbbing turned to pounding. I interrupted before he could get going again. “Gaia. Thanatos. Please.”

“I’ll let it go if he behaves.”

“Don’t forget I’m older than you, witch. Don’t you play the elder card on me.”

I raised my voice. “Could we possibly discuss the matter at hand?”

“What is there to discuss? It’s quite literally out of my hands.”

“I would appreciate it if you could release us from the Law.”

She tapped a finger on her chin. “No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t feel like it.”

“Could you please note that I’m only asking so I can help avert a hard reset to your planet? The last I checked, you didn’t particularly enjoy those.”

“I don’t particularly enjoy these humans either. Since it’s a tossup between one and the other, I might as well thwart you a bit as well.”

“What have I done lately?”

“Not much, other than never coming to see me. But thwarting you means thwarting that husband of yours, and that’s not something I get to do often.”

I turned to stare at Thanatos. “I thought you said that most of your interactions with her were amiable. You even implied that she liked you.”

He crossed his arms. “I have not the slightest as to what has her in a snit.”

“So what you’re saying is that you’d rather let a bunch of gods who think they’re superior to you and know better than you decide what to do to your planet just to spite me and Thanatos.”

She sighed. The mask of frivolity dropped and she pinned me with a fathomless gaze. “I will allow it provided you agree to what Grace asked of you.”

My shoulders slumped. I should have known.

“You know it’s necessary once the gods get their act together again, which they will need to do if they are to mobilize to avert this situation. If I allow them their Voices, then what is to prevent them from running amok again? The humans get to enough hijinks on their own with their cults and political parties and so forth. To add Voices to the mix would simply be a recipe for disaster.”

“But why me?”

She smiled. It wasn’t a nice smile. “Because you care. For some reason or the other that I cannot fathom, you still care. Who else would I entrust the world to? Thanatos would just let it burn were it not for you.”

He shrugged. “And well you know it.”

If this was amicable, I didn’t want to see animosity.

“So. Will you or won’t you?”

“What exactly did you have in mind?”

“A guild, a consortium, a council, a judiciary branch, enforcers, rules, rewards, punishments — you know, the usual.”

“And in return, I get my Voice back?”

“Oh, I’m willing to be generous. You can return the Voice to anyone you deem worthy. Of course, if they then fail to meet expectations, you will have to hunt them down and retrieve it.”

“I’m quite overcome with gratitude, Gaia.”

“Sarcasm ill becomes you, young lady. Now, if you give me your word, you can be on your way.”

I closed my eyes. The last time I gave her my word to do something, I lost my child, my husband, and most of my godhood.

“What will it be, Amarantha?” Her voice was soft, as if she recalled the same memory I did.

“Did I really have a choice?”

Her tone was hard and cold when she replied. “If you have to ask that, then you haven’t learned a thing. You always had a choice. You have one now. You’re the one you need to answer to as regards whether or not the price you pay for something is too great. If you consider the price too great, then perhaps you should either consider not paying it or letting go of your hubris long enough to save yourself and others more pain and see what’s been in front of you all along.”

My gut cramped as a sense of betrayal washed over me.

“Don’t look at me that way, Amarantha. You know I consider you a daughter. How do you think I felt when I knew you lost your child, a being I would have considered my grandchild, because of my request and your foolhardiness? I know you blame me for it and I can accept that blame. However, never forget that there was a choice somewhere along the way where you didn’t need to carry as much weight as you did and instead you chose your damnable independence and pride over asking for help.” My breath choked in my chest and pain lanced through my heart.

She flicked a glance at Raphael and Thanatos. “Mikhail would call forth his army if you asked him to. Raphael appears to have at least a vested interest in not letting you die. You don’t need me to detail what Thanatos would do for you. Lucifer would offer up his demons to you in a heartbeat if you only hinted that you might welcome aid. Grace and her godlings are yours to command if you would only take up the reins. You have an embarrassment of riches and yet you disregard them like so much trash.”

The truth of her words swept over me. Heat flushed my cheeks. Just as quickly, ice prickled my skin as what what she said sank in. Realization dawned. If she was right, then I had single-handedly sentenced my child to death — for nothing at all.

“No.” I backed away. “No. No no no.” I tripped over a loose rock and nearly went to my knees. Thanatos caught me by the arm. His touch was the stick of dynamite that blew up all of my denial and grief.

Pain raged through my body. My heart felt afire and my breath sawed at my lungs. I killed my child. Our child. And there was likely to never be another. Not that any could replace the one we’d lost, but knowing that I would never have the chance to cradle life in my arms and it was my fault slayed me.

“Amarantha.” His voice was soft and pained.

I closed my eyes and clapped my hands over my ears and shifted. It shouldn’t have worked. I didn’t question how I was able to. I just needed to be away. Away from the god who looked at me with such horror in his eyes. Away from the disappointment in my mother’s eyes. Away from the husband I’d so cruelly betrayed.

Goddess in Waiting ch. 8

We stood in downtown Taipei, across the street from the Taipei 101 building. I looked up at the skyscraper and smiled. Why was I not surprised Chang’e chose to live at the top of a skyscraper?

Thanatos tipped his head back. “So this is the Taipei one-oh-one.”

Mikhail followed suit, raising his hand to shield his eyes. “How do we get in? I’ve heard rumors of the VIP club at the top, but it’s never been substantiated.”

A melodious voice came from behind us. “You don’t.”

I turned. “Chang’e. Or shall I call you Grace?”

A girl walked toward us, her hip length ponytail swaying in counterpoint to her hips. She wore the uniform of a prestigious private high school, a white silk blouse paired with a red tartan plaid knee-length skirt. A band of cloth was pinned to her sleeve, proclaiming her to be the class president. The former moon goddess took off her mirrored glasses, revealing large black eyes, and regarded me steadily.

“Grace.” Her lips quirked in a humorless smile. “Only my estranged husband calls me Chang’e anymore.”

“I’m Amarantha and these are the boys. They’re just there to look pretty.”

She gave them a leisurely once-over. “And they do very well at that. Why are you here, Amarantha?”

“Don’t pretend you didn’t know via your grapevine. I need to find someone who can speak to the leaders of the supernatural community.”

Her eyes hooded and her faint smile disappeared. “You know the Law.”

“Yes, and so do you. Your blog and forum, however, is not governed by the same rules we are, is it?”

Her eyes flickered at that. “What do you need, and why?”

“You know of the rules of Ascension.”

“Yes. We should be on target.” Her lips twisted. “Even if certain people insist on sowing strife where ever they go.”

“Happens we’re not. The ruling has come down that this planet is to be wiped in twelve solar days.”

“What?”

I continued, ignoring her outburst. “To be honest, I’m not sure if we’re counting from when I got the verdict, or if we’re halfway through our first day already, but I’m not certain I care. Either way, we needed to fix this yesterday.”

“We’re counting from when you got the verdict.” A smooth voice interjected from behind me.

Grace arched a brow. “I thought you said he was merely decorative.”

I shrugged. “Are you going to help, or are you going to hop on your phone and call for immediate evacuation?”

I thought about it. “Not sure what worlds we could evacuate to though. Raphael, any good ones?”

“The closest one with an Earth-like composition and atmosphere was still fiddling with the pulley the last I checked.”

Grace narrowed her eyes. “You needn’t mock me.”

“I’m not mocking you. I’m actually genuinely contemplating what would happen if we didn’t manage to save this world. Twelve solar days. That’s not a whole lot of time.”

She whirled on her heel and strode down the sidewalk. “Then we better get moving, don’t we?”

 

Grace led the way to a coffee shop. She didn’t even glance at the sign that said ‘closed’ before she pushed open the door.

A long bar hugged the wall on the right. Ceramic tea caddies and tea sets both Eastern and Western lined the shelves behind the bar. Wooden tables were set along the wall with the stairway up to the second floor.

She fluttered her fingers at the boy who came out from behind a cloth curtain at the back of the shop, his hair sleep-rumpled and his eyes drowsy. “Nono, make us something nice, all right?”

His eyes sharpened. “Grace. What…”

She hopped up onto one of the bar stools. He reached under the bar, pulled out a tablet, and handed it to her. He set a glass kettle over a stand and lit the alcohol burner beneath it.

I took the seat beside her and the guys remained standing behind us.

Grace’s fingers flew over the touchscreen keyboard. “I’ve sent private messages to all the reincarnated deities that I know. They’ll be in touch. I’ve also posted a note at the top of the forum. Everyone who’s anyone will see it and then they’ll be in contact. Have you considered how you are going to do this? You can’t speak to them directly of this or you’ll be in breach.”

I smirked over my shoulder at the guys before turning back to her. “I thought I’d ask Lucifer if we could cut in the demon summoning line.”

She didn’t even blink. “That’s not a bad idea. I have some girls who would find that amusing. They’re cute too, so they probably won’t be instantly sent back. My question would be, how are you going to phrase this so they actually give a fuck?”

A low groan came from behind us at her easy capitulation. Someone muttered something about crazy women and their antics.

“I’m thinking that telling them the earth is going to go medieval on their ass should be sufficient incentive, don’t you? It’s kind of hard to continue being the big bad when you’re all dead. Besides, it’s not like the white magic types don’t know how to summon demons.”

Nono placed cups of tea in front of us along with a plate of buttery cookies.

I flicked a glance at him. Pure human. Warlock. Grace was a clever girl. Then again, she always had been.

“What else do you need?”

“What can you give me?”

She smiled. “Depends on what you can do for me in return.”

She leaned forward. I noticed Nono had started polishing glasses just within ear range.

“I want your help in reviving the gods.”

“And how do you propose that I accomplish this miracle? The worship simply isn’t there anymore. If you haven’t noticed, I’m spirit housed in flesh as well. I don’t have the ability to clothe myself in flesh.”

“Yes, but you have the ability to help us retain our memories.”

“What good would that do? Your memories return eventually anyway.”

She cocked her head and studied me for a moment before shaking her head. “No. They don’t. Not all of them. And the more we Fall, the more memories we lose. That’s part of why we Fade to human.”

I blinked. “Interesting. But that’s not all of it. I’m Fading as well, and I remember everything.”

Her smile turned wry. “In your case, I actually think it’s because you’re overloading your human flesh with what it wasn’t built to handle. You’re burning out to white ash.”

“The Fading process is irreversible, however. So how will having more of their memories help?”

“Yes and no. The Fading process can be reversed. I’ll discuss that later because it might be applicable to some, but it won’t be for the vast majority. Having access to more of their memories will allow us to have a foot up in this world. We might not be able to be revered as gods anymore, but the sort of adulation celebrities receive is still more than enough to sustain us and possibly gradually reverse the damage.”

“And how would I justify doing this? We drink the brew before we Fall for a reason: to level the playing field. We must earn back our powers and prove that we are worthy and capable of wielding them. You remember what happened before this rule went into effect.” The Black Plague, the Inquisition, Qin Shi Huang, Shang Zhou Xin and the Crusades were all direct results of gods Falling without having their memory wiped.

“The werewolves, vampires, and everything else under the sun has a governing body of some sort. Maybe it’s time we took a hint and did the same before we all go extinct. The virtuous get rewarded and the rule-breakers get punished.”

I folded my arms. “And you expect me to be the poor bastard to set all this up? Why me? You have a platform and you are able to call in and mobilize more gods than I can — why not do it yourself?”

She grinned at me. “Because you’ve always been a sucker for a good cause?”

A muffled laugh. I jabbed back with my elbow and was rewarded with a pained grunt.

“Hey, I wasn’t the one who laughed.”

“Tough titties. Feel free to pass the jab along to whoever did laugh.”

Another grunt. A muttered curse.

Grace flicked a glance at them. “However, if you’re going to be disruptive, take it outside.”

“Yes’m.”

“He’s such an obliging boy, isn’t he?”

Considering the ‘boy’ in question was Mikhail, I grinned back at her.

“In all seriousness, however, you are the perfect candidate as you are already the representative for the planet. Why not keep all the hats in once place?”

“That’s the shittiest attempt at persuasion I’ve ever heard.”

She spread her hands. “Well then, what do you want me to say? You know that it would all fall apart to in-fighting if we tried to have someone else head the council.”

“And what makes me so special? Specially unlucky, to be specific.”

“You have something we all want — the ability to grant us our memories. There’s your carrot and your stick. In addition, you know I’m right about the many hats thing.”

“Aren’t you whippersnappers supposed to respect and care for your elders?”

“I’m helping you make Earth a better place. How’s that for respect and caring?”

I looked up at the ceiling. “Why me? I’m supposed to be retired.”

“Well, there is that lovely little planet a few galaxies over. I have a very nice cave I could show you.”

I turned around just in time to see Thanatos smack the back of Raphael’s head. “That whole etching thing went out of fashion a long time ago.”

Grace shrugged. “Think on it. There’s no rush.”

“Unless the world resets in twelve days.”

“Well, then, the rush would be for something else entirely.”

“Fair point.”

I slid off the bar stool. “I’ll be in touch.”

“Yes. I do believe you will be.”

I pushed open the door to her knowing laughter, barely resisting the urge to curse out loud.

Is love on the internet just another self-delusion?

I’m actually not talking about internet dating. I’m talking about author persona, friends on the internet, patreon, crowdfunding, author visibility, and all those kettles of seafood medley.

I’ve been trawling through Robert Jackson Bennett’s blog and there were a couple of posts that struck a nerve. Struck a nerve and then proceeded to strum them hard in a fashion reminiscent of a rock metal-esque riff.

Part of me agrees with the notion that you can’t really know someone and form lasting bonds on the internet. It’s the usual 90% versus 10% rule.

I’ve made incredible friends over the internet, solely through the internet, but I would argue that is the exception and not the rule. I have a RL friend who drove more than 500 miles in the summer heat in a black Beetle with a broken A/C to pick me up from college in Ohio and help me move out to Boston. Do I think that it’s possible to find a friend willing to do that on the internet? Yes. Do I think it’s terribly likely? No.

Twitter. Facebook. Blog posts. All of these handily packaged bytes of people. How easy is it to actually know someone and love them deeply enough to truly sacrifice for them through those channels?

Especially since we’ve entered an era where it feels like posting anything on the internet to get attention falls into three camps: happy happy fun fun promo or angst-ridden please help me not kill myself or HULK-rage.

And depending on what your online persona needs and wants from the world, you have to pretty much pick one and lock up the others in a box. Maybe you can bring out one of the other two to play with, occasionally, once you’ve established who you are and your audience is aware that it’s just a fluke when you have any other emotions than what you’ve habitually given them.

Otherwise you run the risk of alienating your audience.

Which is fine if you don’t need them to support you. Which is definitely not-fine if you’re an artist or any sort of creative who wants to make money off of essentially being liked by a whole lot of people.

It’s true that oftentimes knowing too much of a creator can mar the work for the consumer. There’s at least two authors I won’t read because I find them distasteful on a personal level. I’m not sure it’s fair to the work but it is what it is. It’s why I understand why it’s suggested that no one talk about anything potentially divisive on their professional fronts. You want your work to stand for itself because as Bennett points out, it really is and should be the reader interacting with the work. And distracting the reader with other things is possibly a terrible idea when there’s already too little signal to noise ratio.

So there’s the line of revealing just enough to be attractive and human and yet keep behind enough so that you don’t send people running for the hills.

Women have it both easier and harder.

It’s no secret that women have always found it easier to build community, online and off. It’s almost genetically hard-wired into us.

However, I think for women there’s a larger backlash when we step out of the roles that other people cast us into. Women aren’t really allowed to be angry. We’re not really allowed to be anything other than calm, pacifying, nurturing, happy, cheerful supporters.

What that means for knowing someone, for expressing yourself as a woman on the internet troubles me greatly.

What that means for being a female creative on the internet hoping to be loved troubles me some more.

 

Some notes on freelancing

Or, why learning to say no is invaluable.

One key suggestion I have is:

Unless you’re starving, do not take on a gig that makes you want to spork out your eyes. For that matter, do not take on a gig if it even makes you sigh into your morning cup of ambition.

I found that unless I actively needed the money to live, if I didn’t like the project, I would procrastinate on starting it. This is bad for many reasons, all of which should be more than clear.

The project would take longer simply because I didn’t like it. Completely aside from whatever procrastination devices I came up with, my brain would work slower and my hands would become clumsier.

Knowing that there is something I need to do and haven’t done is emotionally draining. I can’t enjoy anything that I do like because I have this thing hanging over my head like a bloody axe.

After having done it, I tend to splurge on things I can’t afford. Spend two hours I don’t have reading a book that makes me feel better. Use quite a bit of the freelance money on ordering in delicious food because gods dammit, I deserved it.

It’s just a bad thing all around. Best case scenario, I end up somewhat richer albeit with a fresh load of self-hate. Worst case scenario, I lose some rep points because I took too long with the project, I have that self-hate times two, and I end up blowing the money on retail therapy.

And this is why I’m jacking my rates for doing translations to $150/hr. It’s simply not worth it for me otherwise. I hate translations with a blinding, all consuming passion. It’s like editing, except worse. Ten times as bad. And considering that I think editing is like carving pretty things out of my own femur, that’s saying something.

Goddess in Waiting ch. 7

I lifted the bronze ring and let it fall with a crash against the door to Dawn’s cave.

“C’mon Dawn. You better be home, or else.”

I tapped my foot against the stone ground and resisted the urge to look over my shoulder. If he had wanted to follow me, he would have caught up with me by the time I’d arrived at Dawn’s dwelling. His continued absence probably meant he was willing to honor my wishes.

The heavy stone door swung open and Dawn peered out.

“Amarantha. Come in.”

I breathed out a sigh of relief when the door slid shut behind us. Even Death couldn’t come into another god’s home without an explicit invitation. I kicked off my shoes and tucked them into the wooden cabinet behind the door.

The door onto a short tunnel that led into the gigantic cavern Dawn called home. Globes of golden magelight were embedded into the sandstone and alabaster walls. The top of the mountain had been sheared away by her brother at some point and sunlight flooded in through the glass ceiling. A waterfall flowed over the wall directly opposite the tunnel, functioning both as a decorative focal point and as a shower. Plants grew in profusion in gigantic planters inside the cave and the air was heavy with the scent of flowers and fruit. The ground was warm underfoot and I relaxed as the heat soaked into my bones.

Dawn took my hand and tugged me over to the polished tree root table. She pushed me down into one of the root tangle chairs before seating herself opposite me.

She poured me a cup of jasmine tea.  ”So. How did it go?”

“Why didn’t you tell me about Thanatos?”

My voice came out soft and strained and old. Startled, I took a deep breath and focused my thoughts. I couldn’t let this get to me or I’d sink into the past.

She sighed. “He just showed up at the last meeting. It wasn’t as if we could bar him from it. I didn’t mention it because I didn’t think you would encounter him. He’s been almost impossible to find the last thousand years — I thought he’d continue the trend.”

I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the sympathy in her eyes. “It was such a shock to see him. And to have him see me like this.” A laugh escaped my throat, bitter and grating.

It was times like this when I wanted to curse, to shatter, to set something afire just so I could stop feeling impotent.

“Amarantha. Why don’t you just talk to him?”

“And speak of what? Our dead child? How I’m a shell of my former self? The impossibility of being married to someone who has to die every hundred years or so? What is there left to say?”

“Love?” Her quiet word fell into the silence between us.

I flinched back, incapable of hiding my reaction.

“He hasn’t had another in over a thousand years and neither have you. Eternity is too long to spend hiding from yourself, Amarantha.”

I swallowed hard and cut her off. “He won’t forgive me. I asked. First thing I did when I saw him.”

“Did he actually say so or did you assume?”

“He didn’t answer and the ambient temperature dropped at least twenty degrees. How’s that not answer enough?”

“Remember the chicken feather? Mikhail said that he’s claiming his place as your husband. Isn’t that promising despite all that he said and didn’t say?”

“And when did Mikhail say this?”

She waved her hand airily. “You know how useful email and Twitter is.”

I let my head fall back, the effort of holding it up suddenly too much to bear. “You know love isn’t always enough, Dawn.”

“No, I don’t.”

Her words snapped like a lash between us. I sat straight, surprised at her sudden show of temper.

She pinned me with amber eyes gone the color of flame. “I do not know that love isn’t always enough, Amarantha. He’s sulking and you’re hiding. You’re both allowing everything to speak instead of love. If you’re going to relegate love to last place in your priorities, you have no business claiming that it is failing you.”

Something broke in my mind. My heart shattered further. Against my will, my voice swelled into a shout: “I can’t force it, Dawn! I killed his child and I lost his wife. I’m not the goddess he fell in love and married anymore. I Fell and broke that promise to him on top of everything else. What am I supposed to do? Walk up to him and tell him that despite everything I did, I want us to be together? That I’m really sorry but he’s just going to have to cope with having a wife like this?”

“So you’re letting pride get in the way.”

I threw out my hands. “What pride? I apologized. I begged him to forgive me. I admitted that I should have waited for reinforcements. I said I was wrong ten million times over. What more can I do?”

“Have you asked him what else you could do? Or have you just been compounding your error by asking him for something he could not give and flouncing when he refused?”

I pressed a hand to my heart, fighting the urge to curl in on myself from the pain.

“Is that how you see it? Is that how he sees it?”

She reached for me and wrapped her hands around mine, chafing it between her own.

“Speaking of your marriage and your marriage only? Yes. You made a mistake and then you ran. You’re still running instead of fixing it.”

I tried to pull my hand away, but she held fast.

“Don’t turn away, Amarantha.”

“You never said anything. Have you all been thinking that this entire time? That I’ve been running away from my mistake instead of trying to fix it?”

“No. Not at all, dear heart. I would have said something earlier if I had.”

“When, then?”

“Something caught my attention at the meeting.” She bit her lip. “‘If you’re looking for a savior of the world, then why look further than Amarantha? She may have failed our marriage, but no one can fault her devotion to this world.’ He said this when Anansi questioned his support for you.”

Ice lodged in my heart and clogged my throat. My eyes burned, but I had no tears left to weep. I’d done all the crying I could when I realized that my child was gone and my husband with her.

Dawn grasped my wrist and shook me. “Amarantha. Stop thinking about that part and think about the important bit. Listen. He didn’t say that you failed him. He said you failed your marriage. To me, that says it’s fixable. It’s now a matter of whether or not you want to.”

Hope bloomed for the merest second. Then I saw my hand, cradled in Dawn’s, and reality slapped me in the face. It was a fine enough hand for a woman of sixty years, unlined and soft. However, the thickened knuckles and prominent veins gave the game away.

“And for what prize?” I motioned to myself. “To saddle him with this?”

Her brows snapped together. “Do you really think that he’d care what flesh housed your spirit? If you’re going to be insulting, perhaps you’re right and you don’t deserve him and your happiness.”

I yanked at my hand and this time she let me free, her eyes dark with condemnation.

“No, Dawn, it’s not about the fact that I look like his grandmother. It’s about how I cannot give him children. It’s about how I don’t want to burden him with having a wife who has at most sixty years in which to be a wife every hundred or so years and who spends the rest a blubbering idiot because of first youth and then senility. It’s about how this flesh is too weak to support consummation with Death.”

I stopped to catch my breath. She reached for my hand again and I stood up, curling my hand to my chest.

“And as people forget, I’m only going to become weaker. Sooner or later, I will become just another human and what then? Don’t forget how we’ve never had a happy ending between a mortal and a deity.”

“Amarantha…”

I shook my head. “Perhaps he will find another to love, in time.The sooner I release him from his vows, the faster that can happen. I need to go. I have to meet the boys.”

“Amarantha!”

Her voice followed me even after I shifted, angry and anxious, reminding me once again why I chose to retreat these last few centuries. The less others saw of me, the less likely I would be to disappoint them.

 

Painted Faces by L. H. Cosway

I have to admit: I didn’t finish this. I read to about the 38% mark and skipped to see what the ending was. I badly wanted to love it, but it just wasn’t happening. I tried again hours later and got hit in the face again with the bat of “pathological self-deprecation” and quit.

What worked:

Viv worked. I love a hero who can talk dirty and Viv has a way with panty-dropping lines. I loved that he was a straight drag queen. I could have done without his dick moves to Dorotea, which dropped him a lot of points, but otherwise he was a character that just really did it for me.

I will repeat: straight drag queen. Viv’s got an alpha streak despite his effeminate ways and it shows through brilliantly. I think part of why it works for me is because he reminds me of Moriah Jovan’s amazing Lord Macaroni.

What made me end up not finishing:

The “pathological self-deprecation”. I don’t care how many people tell me that it’s real and it’s a show that she’s a person and that it’s … I don’t care. I eventually got ground down by the incessant negativity and self-doubt and just wanted to shoot myself or something out of sympathy. For some that may be a hallmark of great writing. For me, I just wanted to die.

There’s a lot of over explanation and telling of what she’s thinking and un-self-aware self-analysis of her thoughts because it’s in first person and so it really quickly got to be far too much. She just wouldn’t let up. It was a never-ending stream of negative consciousness. Again, I’m so tired of the “I’m perfectly fine and acceptable as I am, except I really,really, really don’t like myself” trope. Can we be done, please?

Overall, there was a lot of telling not showing. A metric ton of it.

He squeezes my wrist once before letting go; the skin there gets all warm for some reason. Despite my ambitions to be the “friend” of a cool customer like Nicholas, I’m not sure if my insecure female heart can take it. I’m doomed to feel butterflies at his touch, like a desperate old maid eager for any human contact she can find, who gets tingles when people brush past her on a crowded street.

Nicholas pays for the food once we’re finished, even though I offer to pay for half. He says he owes me since I made him dinner last night. We chat as we walk back to the apartment building, stopping to have a look around the markets at the front of the arcade. When we get home, we part ways and agree to have a drink together after his gig tonight.

Up until I quit, it was all like that.

It’s, as obvious here, written in first person present. To Cosway’s credit, I didn’t pick up on that until more than a bit in.  I was also mostly able to ignore it. I’m not certain if it’s because the witty dialog and snappy banter carried most of it or if I was too distracted by the endless self-hate going on.

What I really want to know is what happened between Viv and his father’s colleague. If anyone knows, could you tell me? My curiosity is happily, or not so happily, not stronger than the depression, so I’m unlikely to find out unless someone straight out tells me.

 

Welp. I’d give this a solid D for the witty banter, fun premise, sexy dirty talk, and a hero I’d love to know in real life. I considered giving it a C, but it was a DNF.

 

 

Once Bitten Twice Shy – C.C Wood (spoilers spoilers spoilers)

I picked up this book on Penny Reid’s rec. Which, btw, if you have not picked up Love Hacked or Neanderthal Seeking Human, you should go do that, stat.

First thing: the title is an issue.

Once Bitten turned up 2881 results on Amazon. Once Bitten Twice Shy turned up 2745. Twice Shy turned up 571.

We have what we call in Taiwan “supermarket names”. The ones where you shout it in a store and more than ten people of various ages look toward you.

You do not want one of those for a title. You have one chance to grab your audience — make it count. It will also help if when your avid fans mention your title to a friend in passing IRL, the friend can then have a good shot at grabbing the right book.

I liked the voice of the narrator. Her personality was vivid and she was amusing. However, she did have a tendency toward over-explaining. It’s in first person POV and she goes into a lot of detail over what she’s thinking and why she’s thinking it. For me, it slowed down the pace and pulled me out of the story because a lot of what she was thinking had no bearing to what was going on at the moment.

For example, she has this complex about her weight. Which, by the way, I’m tired of seeing. I’m done with heroines who are beautiful but somehow magically don’t know it or don’t believe it. I’m also done with heroines who both support their right to be curvy and think it’s healthy but have deep, abiding complexes about it. It’s been done ten million times. Let’s move on.

I stared at her blankly for a few seconds. “He said I’m losing too much weight?” I asked incredulously.

I was short, but not a small woman. In fact, my mother, who had been the same size since high school, gave me a huge guilt trip about my weight almost every time we spoke. I even had a bit of a complex about it. I had curves and I likely always would. No way in hell would I starve myself to fit what society considered the ‘norm’. Did I want to be healthier? Yes, but I didn’t necessarily think those stick-thin women were healthy either.  A person who enjoyed good nutrition shouldn’t be able to count every rib.

All right.

So couple of things:

1. Way too much info. A lot of it could have been woven in with a more delicate hand instead of being a huge chunk of text that interfered with the flow of the action/plot.

2. -ly words. Watch ‘em like a hawk.

3. Saying her mother had been the same size since high school doesn’t mean much because for all we know, her mother could be a blimp and that’s why she is so hard on Ivie because she wants her to be healthier/prettier.

4. The way she mentally speaks isn’t actually how most people think. It feels like she’s talking to the reader, so breaking the fourth wall. It’s distracting and it disrupts the flow of the writing.

5. The author tends to repeat. It’s been mentioned before, prior to this, that the MC’s mother was a nag about her weight. To repeatedly come back to it is distracting, disruptive, and shows lack of faith in the reader’s ability to read and retain.

 Note: She said she was 5 foot 4 somewhere prior. For the record, that’s the average height of women in the U.S right now. I’m not sure why she keeps insisting she’s short. 

Another thing: careful of over-description and over-writing.

That night, after Donna and I spend the day hanging out and going to the movies, we were sitting in the hot tub, drinking wine. It had been a wonderful, relaxing day, one of the best I’d had since the attack. wearing my utilitarian black swimsuit, I let my head loll back against the side of the hot tub and took a deep drink of the red wine Donna had opened. It was superb.

Since the last chapter ended with Donna suggesting a movie, repeating it is redundant.

And show, don’t just tell.

I let my head loll back against the side of the hot tub and took a deep swallow of the red wine Donna had opened. It was superb.  My muscles loosened and softened in the heat. My mind felt pleasantly fuzzy from the alcohol. I hadn’t felt this relaxed in ages, not since the attack.

Some other quibbles:

The vampire mind-reading trope doesn’t do it for me usually. Either the heroine has no privacy to speak of or she learns, really fast, how to block. 21% in and Ivie is still broadcasting really loudly.  It’s also inconsistent whether or not the other vampires can hear her thoughts, which is a little bit frustrating for me.

The “vampires can hear all the things” thing also seems to be inconsistent. Donna and Ivie have conversations that according to everything else said before, should be less than private, yet the two of them seem fine with it.

If you’re going to write in first person POV and it’s in past tense —  you cannot have the narrator describe something that they don’t remember. Can I repeat that for emphasis? If they don’t remember, and it’s in past tense, then it cannot be in the book as a “this is happening” thing. It needs to be a retrieved memory or a flashback later. Also? The “I said something but I didn’t realize it/ forgot” thing is ridiculous. If you have “no idea” you said something — you have no idea you said something. The person you said it to needs to let you know.

I don’t get the women insisting on tagging along to dangerous things thing when they’re going to be more of a liability than help. I really don’t. It makes them look stupid and makes them look like petulant brats. If they are going to be helpful, that’s fine. But most of the time that isn’t the case. The fact that usually authors have them somehow magically save the day doesn’t make it better. It actually makes it worse. Either they are competent or they aren’t.

I really also wasn’t fond of the BDSM aspect. For a while it felt like she was being non-con dominated and then sometimes it felt like the D was spilling over into daily life when they weren’t in a 24/7 D/s relationship. Didn’t work for me. Someone who really does the BDSM thing that works for me is Sophie Oak.

…and the ending gave me a cranky.  There’s this other vamp, Finn, who apparently was into Ivie and was in a way the catalyst of them finally getting together. Which is fine, although I hate the “throw another guy at the MC and watch sparks fly” trope, but at the end it turns out that he’s been dream-communicating with his real soulmate. So now I feel like he’s a skanky cheater.

 

…welp. All in all?  I’d give it a D-.

I’d suggest that C.C Wood get a content editor. There’s a good story there and it could really shine, but I feel like it’s a bit obscured. Her writing style and the plot reminds me of Kristin Ashley, so take that as you will. Personally, I’m not sure it’s a plus, but then I’m getting a bit tired of bratty, childish subs and their Doms who think they’re adorbs.

 

 

Power differences in romance

I read a book by an author I usually enjoy a couple of days ago.

As you might have guessed from the title and the “usually”, I didn’t enjoy it.

There was a significant power difference between the heroine and the hero. The sort of power difference where it was like watching a ten year old beat on a three year old. It wasn’t just age, or knowledge, resources, physical capability, mental capacity, and sexual prowess — it was that he trumped her soundly in all of those areas. It was painful to read, because he’d do something terrible and then he’d put his hands on her and she’d just melt. Then she’d hate herself for it afterward. Rinse and repeat. As one other reviewer put it, it was like a BDSM book without the safe, consensual, or willing sex. Forced orgasms don’t make things okay, just for the record.

There were other issues I had with the writing and the plot, but that stood out overall.

I like my conflicted heroes. The alpha males who are intelligent, ruthless, and just a bit too much on the bad side. The ones who don’t flinch at killing when death is needed and those who you want on your side in the dead of night and on a battlefield. Anne Stuart writes really good ones. So does Anne Bishop.

But this didn’t remind me of those men. This male reminded me of a bully. The sort who bloodies his wife’s face and then cries over it and apologizes and does it again. It would have been all right if he groveled at the end, but he didn’t need to. She just rolled over and forgave him everything because somehow everything was magically her fault.

I have a friend who can’t read Nalini Singh’s Archangel series because of the power discrepancy. I love that series. For me, I can accept it because Elena is a hunter, with her own abilities, and her mind is almost always her own. Raphael is also vulnerable to her and for her, which helped balance things out for me. When they tangled, I was never certain who was going to come up on top and Raphael’s code of honor made me feel that Elena was safe, no matter what was going on.

I need to know that even if it’s not an evenly balanced fight, that at least it’s a clean fight, and the other person has a fighting chance.

It’s a line to keep in mind when writing in the paranormal or fantasy realm, where the men are larger than life and have ten times the testosterone.

Any fellow Anne Stuart lovers who have bad boys to recommend?

Cover mock-ups

So. I have cover mock-ups for the serial. Comments?

cover choice