Monday, August 18, 2014

Dangerous Calling is out!

It's release day for Dangerous Calling! I'm so thrilled that the next installment of Cass & Shane's story is out in the world, and I'm EXTRA thrilled to be celebrating my release day on Vampire Book Club! I'm there with a giveaway and an exclusive excerpt featuring Cass as she confronts the consequences of her powerful telekinetic gift. Stop by for a sneak peek at the book and a chance to win.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Creating Characters

The second book in my dark, sexy urban fantasy series, The Shadowminds, comes out one week from today. Dangerous Calling follows the adventures of Cass Weatherfield, the powerful telekinetic whose story began with Twisted Miracles. The talented Veronica Scott, who writes science fiction romance, invited me to participate in a meet-your-character blog hop, and I thought this would be a good way to introduce new readers to Cass. The blog hop includes a set of questions about your main character’s identity (see Veronica’s post about her fascinating heroine--a blind princess!), but I went off the rails and wrote a blog post  instead. Sorry.

For the past week, I’ve been at a family reunion for my husband’s side. Some of them knew about my “night job,” and some of them didn’t, but since I was on deadline, by the end of it, everyone knew why I was glued to my computer every spare minute. When I tell people that I write novels—and more importantly, that I write sexy dark modern fantasy romances—they usually fall into one of two groups. The wow-that’s-fascinating-tell-me-all-about-your-process group, or the ha-ha-you-write-sexy-books-how-cute-I’m-actually-really-uncomfortable group. On this trip, I found myself answering a lot of questions for the Fascinated Group. (I had some interesting conversations with the Uncomfortable Group as well, but that’s a topic for another post.)

A lot of these conversations forced me to think hard about how I create characters, because non-writers tend to ask some pretty probing questions. What if your character has a profession you know nothing about? How can you tell how she’ll react to situations you’ve never been in yourself? How do you make a character feel real? How do you even start? As I struggled to answer these questions, it occurred to me that my attempts might make a good response to this whole meet-my-character thing.

I’m not much of a plotter. My story seeds are always characters, and I typically spend ten thousand words or so getting to know them before I even think about a plot. Those ten thousand words are a chance for me to explore my main character’s past, to imagine what her best future might be, and to identify the ways her world, and she herself, will get in her way as she tries to get there.

It’s the ways she’ll get in her own way that fascinate me the most. Not that I don’t love some murderous external conflict, but to me, the most compelling stories follow an arc of transformative personal change.

Cass Weatherfield’s basic stats are this: She’s a powerful telepath and telekinetic who, when she was still learning to control her powers, caused a fatal accident. It’s haunted her for years, and she’s done her best to completely suppress her powers. The first book, Twisted Miracles, follows her sometimes painful but ultimately redemptive journey to accepting her own powers—and the love she left behind when she rejected them. In Dangerous Calling, now that she’s come to terms with her abilities, she has to figure out how to use them. And to do that, she has to encounter the deeper demons of her personality— her tendency to turn inward to solve her problems, her susceptibility to addiction.

Of course, she won’t be alone. She’ll have a band of friends to help her, all with their own flaws and strengths. All have their own complicated pasts--and some have stories of their own to come.

Monday, June 30, 2014

An ultra-nerdy paranormal genre map: Where do your favorite books fall on the axes of sex & death?

Today, I'm over at Paranormal Unbound sharing my ultra-nerdy genre map for paranormal fiction. How much sex and death do you like in your paranormal romance and urban fantasy? (Not-so-spoilery-spoiler alert: I often find myself in the upper right hand corner.) Stop by and tell me where your favorite books live!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Meet Me at the RT Booklovers Convention!

As I write this, I'm sitting in the San Francisco airport with a large coffee and way too much luggage. I'm on my way to my very first Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, and I'd love to see you there.

RT is being held in New Orleans this year, and it just so happens that my first novel, which is set in New Orleans, came out a month ago. How could I resist going? I'm heading down early to spend a few days with my family and some close friends who still live in the area, and I'll head to the Marriott on Canal Street on Wednesday.

If you're in the New Orleans area, I'd love to see you! Here's where you can find me (besides at the bar) if you're going to the convention:

Tuesday (5/13), 8:30am: Radio Interview on Tangi 96.5
(This is my first radio interview! I'm super nervous.)
Thursday (5/15), 4-5pm: Panel on Southern Urban Fantasy
Friday (5/16), 1:30-2pm: Club RT
(A casual place to chat and pick up free stuff)
Saturday (5/17), 11am-2pm: Giant Book Fair

The Giant Book Fair is open to the public, and tickets are $5 at the door. There will be over 700 authors there signing books and giving away boatloads of free swag, so if you like romance and urban fantasy, it's well worth a trip. (Did I mention I'll be giving away my own boatload of swag?)

I'm also very excited to be participating in a pilot program through Harlequin and Autography that allows me to digitally sign ebooks. I just participated in the training for this technology, and it's a lot of fun. I can snap a picture and electronically sign an ebook right there at the event, and send the book to the reader right away. The picture and signature stay with the book in whatever e-reading device you have. It's a lot of fun, and I'm really looking forward to testing it out.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

On Here be Magic: Writing, Biology and the Value of Failure

I'm on Here Be Magic today, talking about how a career in biology helped prepare me for publishing by teaching me the value of failure. Lots and lots of failure. Stop by and tell me what you think the value of failure is.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

One Chance to Win an Advance Copy of Twisted Miracles!

I'm giving away an advance e-copy of Twisted Miracles to one lucky reader over at Here Be Magic. Want a chance to win? Stop by and fill out the Rafflecopter form! Only two days left to enter.

Monday, March 17, 2014

What Revising is Made Of

This is what I'm doing when I'm revising. I didn't include "wasting time on twitter," because that would've been too embarrassing.

(I might've underestimated the panicking.)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Win a Little Piece of Louisiana's (and My Family's) History
 My first novel, Twisted Miracles, comes out on April 7, 2014 from Carina Press. It’s a special book to me. Okay, every book is special, but this one has a place deep in my heart. At its core, it’s a story about finding home—in yourself and in the world—and the South will always be home to me. When I was writing Twisted Miracles, I thought of it as my love song to the South, and now that it’s finally going out into the world, I want to celebrate by giving away a little piece of Louisiana.

If you’re not from the area, you might not know that the Gulf Coast's cypress swamps were all but decimated by logging in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Cypress makes a beautiful, resilient building material, and when New Orleans and the surrounding areas grew more populous, the demand for lumber fed a logging frenzy that wiped out nearly all of the old growth cypress in the marshlands around the city.

The ecosystem never recovered. In fact, when I was in high school, I spent two weeks living in an historic hunting camp out on the marsh, shadowing a research team studying the long-term effects logging has had on the land. When loggers dragged felled cypress trees out of the marsh, they gouged troughs in the delicate, swampy soil, and those holes never filled in. You can still see the marks today in aerial photographs, a wheel-spoke pattern of destruction. Where there used to be towering cypress trees, now there are fast-growing plants like bulltongue that choke out hopeful saplings and keep the forests from recovering.

You can’t pick up old-growth cypress at your neighborhood hardware store. Boards have to be salvaged from two hundred year old buildings constructed when the logging was at its height. And new, young cypress isn't the same. Older trees are richer in cypressene, the oil that gives cypress its beautiful red-gold color and protects it from rot. All this means that old growth cypress is a coveted commodity. 

My dad, in his workshop, dressing one of the
reclaimed cypress planks on his belt sander
My dad is, among many other things, a woodworker. So was my mother’s father, and when my grandfather died, he left behind a workshop full of half-finished projects and scraps of lumber he’d found in salvage yards. Among those pieces, we recently found a few planks of old growth cypress. (You can tell from the pattern of the grain and the color.) It's impossible to know for sure how old this wood is, or what sort of building it came from, but I love the fact that whether they were part of a grand house or a humble shed, these planks are a little piece of Louisiana, and a little piece of my family history.

The scraps are too small to do much with, but my dad is creative and inexhaustible, and he decided to trim some of them into bookmark sized pieces and sand them down. The wood itself is so beautiful, we didn't want to cover it up, so I painted a small fleur de lis, a symbol of New Orleans, at the top of each one. Now I want to give them to you.

Here's one of the bookmarks
hanging out in Susanna Clarke's
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.
Each bookmark is unique.

We’ve only got a handful of these bookmarks, and it’s not like I can order more on eBay. When the wood is gone, it’s gone. There are two ways to get one:

#1 Sign up for my newsletter!

Everyone who’s signed up by the end of May gets one entry to win one of three bookmarks. You can follow this link or, if you’re going to the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in New Orleans, stop by and see me at the Giant Book Signing on Saturday, May 17th (10:30am - 2:00pm) or at Club RT on Friday (1:30 pm - 2:00pm). I’ll have a sign-up sheet (and the bookmarks, so you can see them in person). 

#2 Hang out with me on my blog tour.

I’ll be giving away some of the bookmarks at selected blog tour stops following the release of Twisted Miracles. (And, if you want to know more about how they were made, I’ll be posting a special “how-to” feature on I Smell Sheep’s Arts & Crafts with Authors segment on April 14th.) My blog tour schedule is below, and the spots where you can win a bookmark have an asterisk (*) by them. (I'll update this post with live links when they become available, so if you reeeeeeeeealy want a bookmark, you can bookmark (ha!) this page for easy access.)

Don't you want to spend a night at the B&B?
Twisted Blog Tour
*4/4/14: New Series Spotlight at The Bookpushers (GIVEAWAY CLOSED)
*4/7/14: Interview at All Things Urban Fantasy (GIVEAWAY CLOSED)
4/9/14: Guest Post: Writing Southern Fiction at Preternatura (includes a chance to win a book!) (GIVEAWAY CLOSED)


The rules and terms for every sweepstakes depend on the blog host, so check by that day for more details. I’m also throwing in a special mug from the fictional B&B where Twisted is set, plus a hand-tied lavender sachet. Because this is my first book and I kinda got a little over-excited about the swag. :)

I'm giving away copies of my own book on my blog tour, but if you've already bought it -- Thank You! -- I'll give you a copy of one of the books by an author who blurbed Twisted Miracles instead (Kristin MillerJenn Bennett). Your choice, print or digital, any one title by one of these extremely talented women.

I hope to meet some great new book people (my favorite people!), either virtually or in person, over the next couple of months! 

The Fine Print: Rules for the Sweepstakes
Unfortunately, I have to limit this giveaway to those with US shipping addresses. You must provide a valid email address where I can reach you to ask for your shipping address, and if you win, you must respond to my notification email within a week. I'm not responsible for prizes lost in the mail or damaged during shipping. Blog tour dates subject to change or cancellation without notice. For the newsletter sweepstakes, you must be signed up at the time of the drawing (May 31, 2014) to be eligible to win. Void where prohibited, no purchase necessary and all that jazz.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Cover Reveal for Twisted Miracles!

I'm so thrilled to share the cover for my upcoming full-length debut! Twisted Miracles, the first novel in my new urban fantasy series, comes out on April 7th from Carina Press, and now it has a lovely face to show to the world:

There's so much I love about this cover. First, do you see all the leather?


I have nothing against leather-wearing urban fantasy heroines. Lord knows we need them to kick some serious demon/vampire/alien/shapeshifter ass from time to time, and I love watching them do it. But the closest Cass has been to a pair of leather pants is giving side-eye to a mannequin while walking by an overpriced designer boutique.

I also love her pose. I'd wager there's a less than ten percent chance Jim Hines would dislocate a shoulder getting into it.

The background is a shot of the New Orleans French Quarter, where a large portion of the book is set. See the wrought iron balcony? I've walked past similar buildings hundreds of times, and so has Cass. The Quarter really can look a little otherworldly at night, and I think the dark, gritty feel of this scene conveys the mood of the book very well.

Finally, there are a couple of subtle details in this cover that hint at some of Cass's extraordinary powers. You might have to read the book to spot them, but... any guesses?

Here's the official blurb:

Cass Weatherfield’s powers come with a deadly price. 
Cass knows it was her telekinetic gift that killed a college classmate five years back, even if no one else believes her. She’s lived in hiding from her fellow shadowminds ever since, plagued by guilt and suppressing her abilities with sedatives. Until the night her past walks back into her life in the form of sexy Shane Tanner, the ex-boyfriend who trained her…and the one she left without saying goodbye.
When Shane tells her that his twin sister, Mina—Cass’s childhood friend—is missing, Cass vows to help, which means returning to New Orleans to use her dangerous skills in the search. But finding Mina only leads to darker questions. As Cass and Shane race to learn who is targeting shadowminds, they find themselves drawn to each other, body and soul. Just as their powerful intimacy reignites, events take a terrifying turn, and Cass realizes that to save the people she loves, she must embrace the powers that ruined her life. 

If you're so inclined, you can read the first two chapters here, add the book to your Goodreads shelf here, or pre-order it here (Amazon | B&N).

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How I got my agent, got a book deal, and finally got around to writing one of these posts

When I was first learning about the publishing business (something I’m still doing), some of my favorite posts were the “How I Got My Agent” and “How I Got My Book Deal” articles. When all I had was a half-finished manuscript, it was thrilling to hear success stories. At the time, I had my share of daydreams about writing my own such posts, but when those milestones happened for me, I never quite got around to sharing my experiences. So here goes. Sort of.

Like a lot of writers, I’ve always written. Ever since I learned how to make letters, I’ve been putting stories on paper. I started out with hand-scrawled, two-page epics about unicorns and moved on to sprawling Southern family sagas I never finished. It never occurred to me that writing was something I could pursue professionally. As a kid, I also happened to like math and science, and those were the skills everyone seemed to regard as useful. I majored in biochemistry, went on to grad school in the same subject, and figured I could always write in my spare time.

I didn't know how rare spare time was going to be. Graduate school was by turns exciting, frustrating and dull, but it was always all-consuming. There was no room in my brain for anything else, and all those half-finished writing projects I'd optimistically kept on my computer gathered digital dust for four and a half years.

That November, The Enabler and I celebrated Thanksgiving at a friend’s house. Most of our friends didn’t have the vacation time or the money to fly home for such a short break—hell, half of my friends were spending their “day off” in the lab, just like every other holiday. So The Enabler and I found ourselves at a Thanksgiving Day potluck with a large group of friends and strangers, making conversation and trying not to talk about work.

After dinner, the hostess started a party game. Everyone was supposed to ask a question, and we all wrote down our answers anonymously and shared our lists with the group. The goal was to guess who belonged to which list. A lot of the questions were things like Who’s your favorite Seinfield character? (Elaine) and What’s your favorite book? (Pride and Prejudice, of course). But someone—I don’t remember who—asked the following: What are you afraid you won’t accomplish before you die?

The answer came to me out of the clear blue sky, as so many true things do. I’m afraid I’ll never write a book.

It shocked me. I had no idea writing a book was that important to me. I had no idea it was important to me at all.

I went home and stared at all the unfinished novels on my laptop. I had stories about estranged sisters and stories about the dysfunctional Southern aristocracy. I had three pages of a silly space opera with lots of techno-babble and no plot. I had fragments of poems from college and a collection of rambling personal essays. None of it grabbed me.

This happened to be 2008, the year the financial crisis hit. There was a lot of panic floating around my department about how we were going to find funding in the new economy, and that panic was piled on top of my own terror about graduating and finding a real job. I also happened to be reading Twilight at the time—the first vampire romance I’d ever read—on the recommendation of a close childhood friend. All of these things were crammed into my head, and something in there just went click. I thought: This whole vampire thing—it’s not just about sex or lust or power—it’s about fear, and a writer could do some really interesting things to symbolically explore fear in a fantasy landscape.

It’s possible I’m too dorky for my own good.

Anyway, I started reading more genre fiction. I started devouring genre fiction. I’d always loved science fiction and fantasy, but now I started seeing these fascinating themes in all flavors of speculative fiction, the way writers played with mythical creatures and made them represent all the scary intangible fears and desires I was grappling with myself. I discovered paranormal romance and urban fantasy: Diana Rowland, Nicole Peeler, Jeaniene Frost, Ilona Andrews, Carolyn Crane, Kelley Armstrong, Jenn Bennett, Patricia Briggs, Jaye Wells, Charlaine Harris. I wrote a paranormal romance of my own. It came pouring out of my head like I’d knocked the tap off a hose. I realized, finally, that this was what I wanted to write.

The book was terrible. Half of it was set in a city in France I’ve never visited. It featured two first person viewpoints, neither of which was the hero. There were no sex scenes. I didn’t just make all the classic first novel mistakes, I invented new ones.

But I finished it. I finished it, and I revised the hell out of it, and I queried it.

Thank goodness no one wanted it. I got a few nibbles here and there, but after a few dozen rejections and half as many revisions, I faced the fact that the manuscript was never going to be fit for public consumption, and I shelved it.

Somewhat to my surprise, I started another one right away.

That’s when I knew I wasn't going to quit. The ideas kept coming. I was working on one book and jotting down ideas for the next. A whole world fell into place in my head, a universe of interlocking stories, people and places and relationships, dozens of them. I couldn’t write fast enough.

Unfortunately, I also had to write my dissertation. For weeks, I did nothing but write. By day, I wrote down my science, detailed technical descriptions of biochemical methodology, a precise accounting of ten fruitless experiments for every one that worked. A litany of failure. Every night, the stories were like therapy. I finished my dissertation and my second manuscript in the same week. I was exhausted. I graduated, and I sent out queries while I looked for a job. This time, I knew I had something worth reading. I got job interviews, I got manuscript requests, and about two weeks before my new job started, I got an email from Sarah LaPolla. I opened that email with my heart in my throat, waiting for a rejection. It wasn’t a rejection. She’d made me an offer of representation.

We eventually sold that book, now titled Twisted Miracles, to Carina Press in a three book deal. This past Thanksgiving was the five year anniversary of the one that sent me to my laptop in a frenzy, and my debut novel comes out in two months.

I’m pretty excited about it. And I figured this was my last chance to write one of these posts.

That’s my story so far. Whatever you’re wishing and hoping for this year, I hope it happens for you in the best possible way.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Chemistry of Paranormal World-building

I'm at Paranormal Unbound today, talking about how paranormal world-building is just like organic chemistry. (Yes, I really am that big of a dork.) Stop by and tell me about your favorite fictional paranormal worlds!