Trixieland

words about words

How to write a terrible sex scene

parody romance coverThere are valid reasons for writing terrible sex scenes. To show that characters aren’t right for one another, or because it’s funny. Or you could take these tips for writing bad sex as a DON’T list for good sex scenes.

Top 5 Ways to Write Bad Sex

1. Lots of thinking. Whether it’s about unpaid bills, cellulite, or what this sex means for the future; if the sex was good, they wouldn’t be thinking anything but “yeah, right there,” or “don’t stop.”
2. Describe the scene at length. Descriptions of the surroundings, architecture, mattress firmness, sheet threadcount are not sexy. Don’t care if it’s Shangri-la: set the scene before the clothes come off. If your hero is in the zone, he’s not going to notice the iridescent wings of a hummingbird on the windowsill.
3. Use juvenile metaphors. Stuff like ‘throbbing manhood’ and “flower” throw cold water on the scene. If “ding-dong” and “hoo-hoo” get you hot, you should probably be locked up. Use the real words, acceptably adult nicknames, or don’t mention organs at all. We all know which parts go where.
4. Add dialog. It’s distracting and usually cheeseball. Whether it’s talking dirty or declarations of love, unless you’re actually having sex, that sort of shit is unwelcome. And if you’re reading a book, you’re probably not having sex at that moment. Your mileage may vary.
5. Put in all the details. Unless you’re writing straight-up erotica, most people don’t want to read a step-by-step list of what’s happening, and almost everyone knows what an orgasm feels like. Weird descriptions of waves building and crashing are the kind of thing that get you on the worst sex writing list.

And there you have it: an easy-to-follow guide for writing bad, unsexy, boring, or laughable sex scenes.

Want to write a good sex scene?

Whether you approve of my heroine Lexy Cooper’s appetites or not (many, many people do not), no one’s ever claimed my sex scenes ain’t sexy. Here’s the trick that works for me: Don’t write a sex scene like you write a murder scene or some conversational exposition. You gotta be in the mood. It’s gotta turn you on if you’re gonna turn your readers on. And really, no one reads sex scenes with clinical disinterest do they? I have a go-to playlist I listen to (because I’m a nerd it’s called “Teh Sexay“), and it helps if you’re a little pent-up. Let’s be clear–I’m not advocating that you write with one hand, but if that helps, go for it.

What makes sex scenes interesting are the particulars. If you’re writing a scene between a man and a woman, you don’t need to tell your readers what goes where. People understand the mechanics of sex, and they’re familiar with the standard progression through the “bases.” If your characters are just gonna do that then why bother writing a scene for them. Just do a movie fade like “She took his hand and led him to the bedroom.” or, “Later, they lay side-by-side, satisfied and tired.” Whatever. (And unless people were promised hot sex scenes, most readers will be okay with that. They might shrug and say, “Oh okay, it’s not that kind of book” or they might breathe a sigh of relief that they don’t have to suffer the sweaty details.

halitosis

But if you’re gonna write it, write what makes the sex between these two particular characters unique. Maybe they like to take risks and get busy in semi-public places. Or she likes to make him wear a football helmet. Maybe he insists there be no kissing. Obstacles can be very hot. How do you work around prying eyes, or cramped spaces, or clothing?

Also, you don’t need a complete blow by blow (heh). You don’t have to show every thing from the first kiss to the removal of clothes to penetration. Yeah, I said it, Grandma.

Mix it up like a build your own breakfast at Denny’s. Choose something from column A (kissing), something else from column B (obstacles) and bring it home with column C (penetration, or whatever). Make up your own columns. I like to throw in sensory stuff too. The salt on his skin, a trickle of sweat between her shoulderblades, a low moan. Tip: Heat is always good. Even if your couple is knocking boots in an igloo, they’re gonna get warm. Heat is hot, right?

Pacing. Start slow and speed up. How? Long sentences transistion to short sentences, so the reader goes faster as your characters get closer to the end.

Try to avoid distractions. Don’t have your characters do a lot of internal monologuing. Let him ponder how he feels about her later. She can overthink where the relationship is going later. Definitely don’t interrupt the action for a flashback scene. Unless you’re going for humor. Then by all means write about how your hero was just about to insert tab A into slot B when a glint of iridescent wings caught his eye. Which reminded him of the time he was in Morocco looking for letters of transit which reminded him of the war, which made his ding-dong go limp. Then of course segue into your heroine’s thoughts as she ponders whether it’s the inferior threadcount or her cellulite that have made him lose interest.

 

 

Book Release Day: Fantasy vs Reality

chinese_theatre-vintage-premiereWhen I was a very young writer I had visions of my future book release days that were elaborate and glamorous. Parties with New York literati. Long lines at bookstores. Jetting off on a book tour to exotic locations. I even used to practice what I’d say when David Letterman interviewed me about my wildly successful novel. So basically I was dreaming of being a movie star at a Hollywood premiere except that I’d be adulated for the words I wrote instead of pretending to be someone else’s character.

Many, many years went by before I actually published my first book, The Sleepless Nanny. It was perhaps the softest launch of all time. I uploaded a book I’d written twenty years earlier to Kindle Direct Publishing. I didn’t even have a cover. I think I just wanted to see if it would really work.

Seven books later, I’m a bit more meticulous about book launches: setting a date far in advance and squaring that schedule with my editor and proofreader; commissioning a professional cover; using social media to generate awareness of the title in advance, etc. Just in the past few months has Amazon allowed indie authors to do pre-orders (Thank you, Amazon!).

Yesterday, my new book released. And while I didn’t appear on Letterman, I did have a busy and rewarding day. Just not the kind I’d envisioned as a teenager. Here’s a look at Summer Wind‘s release day.

I woke up around 4 a.m. and remembered my book came out at midnight. Grinned a shit-eating grin. Went back to sleep.

When I set 11/11 as my publication date I didn’t take into consideration that it was also Veterans Day and my youngest child would be home from school. This turned out not to be the greatest plan because she was excited for a day at home with Mommy while I was excited about doing the stuff you do on a book release day. Necessary and fun-ish stuff, but not intriguing for a five-year-old. Here’s how the next few hours went:

Release Day - Update FB pageI updated the Lexy Cooper Facebook page with a release message. I like to share directly from the Amazon page because if it’s promoting an Amazon sale sometimes it pops up in people’s newsfeed more often. I also “Boosted” the post for twenty dollars. I earn $3.45 royalty (70% of the sales price) on each copy of the eBook sold in the US, so I only need to sell six copies to break even on the ad.

A lot of my friends and family shared that FB post in support of the launch, so I made sure to acknowledge each of them by liking the post and/or commenting. Your street team, be they fans or family, are your most important asset. Don’t ever take them for granted!

Release Day - Update lexycooper blog

Next, I made a post about the launch on Lexycooper.com. I don’t promote the site very often, nor do I post frequently, but it is the archive for all things in the Lexyverse, and as Summer Wind is a spinoff, it deserves a place here.

After that, I updated this blog with Summer Wind in the upper-right hand widget.

Release Day - Update trixieblog

 

At this point my daughter was hanging on to my desk chair and being a pest, so I made her a “nest” on the sofa and set her up on Netflix to buy myself some time.

Next up on the to-do list was sending the Team Lexy newsletter. I’d actually composed and tested it last week, so all it needed was a quick scan and then I hit the “Send” button. Bon voyage, newsletter!

Release Day - send newsletter

 

Newsletter sent, it was time to update Goodreads. Now, since Summer Wind had been available for pre-order, the link to buy it on Amazon was already in place. The updating of the Goodreads entry with the ASIN number is something I needed to do for the previous launches, but this time it was already done. What I did need to update was my author page from a “coming soon” message to something else. Here’s the before and after:

 

Release Day - Goodreads before Release Day - Goodreads after

 

Twitter was my next stop. Instead of a straight up “Hey, my book’s out” I went for a semi-inspirational one (that got a handful of retweets), and an attempt at humor, which didn’t really get noticed, but how great would that have been if Stephen King had replied or retweeted me? Worth a shot, right?Release Day - Twitter

 

My nagging little girl redeemed herself entirely when, at Thai Ginger with my friend Meghan, she burst out with “Mommy’s new book is out today!” Okay, that was pretty great. After lunch I bought the small one a Christmas dress at Gymboree gold christmas dressand then it was home again. How does the freshly-published author spend her afternoon? Folding laundry, mostly. But I also bought myself a couple new graphic novels:

Release Day - buy comics

Later I made dinner and we watched MasterChef Junior and I read a bit of Station Eleven before falling asleep. There was no congratulatory phone call from the president or requests for interviews. TMZ’s paparazzi are either fantastic at hiding or they’re not really interested in my activities. But all in all, I got some stuff done, fed my family, did a little shopping, and, oh yeah, released book number 8! Which you can buy here. (Or read  for free if you’re an Amazon Prime member or signed up for Kindle Unlimited)

 

 

Our series so far… To recap or not?

Harry-Potter-Books-1024x768How much should you sum up the story and characters in each successive book in a series? This is something that I’ve struggled with and am not sure I’ve decided exactly where I stand. The first question is “Do people read a series out of order?” The answer that I’ve found is “Not usually, but sometimes. Especially if book #2 or #14 was free.” So, on one hand, I would like any reader to be able to pick up any book in the Lexy Cooper series and make sense of it. But over there on the other hand, I don’t want people who read them in order to have to slog through a bunch of repetition. I also want to reward loyal readers with inside jokes, clues, and foreshadowing.

What I’ve tried to do is find a balance. I’ll write a quick refresher on recurring characters for example, and maybe reference where they fit into previous books. In a mystery/crime genre it’s SchooledCovereven dicier because I want to be able to refer to old cases but not spoil the whodunit aspect. I failed in this with my second book, which a reviewer pointed out. “Why are you reading the second book first?!” I yelled at my computer screen. Oh, right, I told myself, you did a five-day free promotion. That’s why he read the second book first. Going forward, if I refer to a prior case, the most I will disclose is the victim and maybe the mode of death, but never the culprit.

PwnedCoverSmallThe part that irks me about the character recaps is that I’ve already described them to my satisfaction. I can’t just cut and paste, but nor do I want to spend a ton of time thinking of some new way to get across the physical attributes and personality of each person. Certainly by the fourth book, this becomes an eye-roller. My solution has been to basically copy the character description, but alter it just a bit so it’s not completely repetitive for readers (or for me.) Here’s an example of how I describe Detective Mike Malick.

At forty-three, his good looks and thick, dark hair still made women of all ages stand up a little straighter and unconsciously pitch their voices a little higher. If she had a nickel for every time one of her girlfriends told her that her uncle looked like “that cop on TV” she’d, well, get that fancy Japanese hair straightening treatment and be done with the mess on her head.
Schooled

And then in the next book:

Detective Mike Malick was now 43 years old with a full head of dark, thick hair, deep brown eyes, and the kind of up-to-no-good smile that quickened the pulse of females from 12 to 100. Running and weight lifting kept his body in close to the shape he’d been in as a 22-year-old soldier. Never married, and not disposed to long-term entanglements, he gravitated toward women who wouldn’t expect much. The kind who knew he wasn’t ever going to call.
Pwned

See, very similar, but different enough that it’s not a direct cut and paste, and gets across what I need readers to understand about Mike. He’s good-looking, in shape, and chicks dig him. By the third book, I stopped describing Malick or his griefedcoverSMALLeffect on women and let the action speak to that. The novel opens with him getting a work call in the middle of a blowjob. Instead, I chose to sum up his relationship to Lexy (spoiler if you haven’t read Schooled)

Malick winked at Lexy. “See ya, kid.” He’d known Lexy since her second grade class had written letters to Desert Storm soldiers and her letter had wound up in his hands. They’d stayed pen-pals and when the Army transferred him to Ft. Lewis in Tacoma, Washington, the Coopers had more or less adopted him into the family. He’d watched Lexy and her brother Kent grow up and they’d called him “Uncle Mike” even into adulthood. It was just recently that Lexy had finally dropped the “Uncle,” and to be honest he was a bit relieved. He still called her “kid” now and then, but what had insulted her at nineteen years old had regained some charm at twenty-nine.
Griefed

The bare minimum I feel like I have to do with each book in the series is explain what Lexy’s job is (community manager/website editor/video host) and where she works and the product they make (Xenon Corporation; the Xenon 24/7 console and Xenonline gaming service). Recurring characters need at least a brief explanation of how they relate to the main characters (Lexy’s brother, Malick’s on-and-off booty call, the Chief of Police, Lexy’s boss…you get the picture). This is the benefit of having a lean cast of characters. As I add cast members, I drop (or kill off) others. I don’t ever want to get to the point where I have to include an exhaustive genealogy in the endpapers.

recap or no

However. According to my recent non-scientific survey of 112 readers, the majority don’t require a recap of who’s who and what happened in previous books. Nor do they care about spoilers. As a friend of mine put it: “I think it’s incumbent upon writer and publisher to make clear in the marketing that it’s Book 2 in the series. Beyond that, it’s on the reader. If they read out of sequence, tough shit.”

The Art of the Cover – Summer Wind

I published my very first novel–that I wrote in the early 1990s–with a default Amazon eBook cover. I was still pretty excited to have The Sleepless Nanny out in the world, but when my dear friend Paul Steed loved the book so much he volunteered to create a “real” cover for it, well that was just amazing. For the first Lexy Cooper book, serendipity or fate or something put me together with Brett Parson, who has done five Lexy covers and has agreed to do Lexy #4 this coming spring.

four lexy covers

Brett’s interpretation is a big part of who Lexy is. I can’t imagine having anyone else do a Lexy cover (though I almost had to once–a harrowing tale you can read here).

But then I decided to give Lexy’s co-protagonist Detective Mike Malick a spin-off series. One in which he would do his homicide detective thing unencumbered by video game stuff. As much as I love Brett’s work, Malick needed his own signature look. Something completely different in style. So, I approached a great friend of mine, Sarah Nicholson. Several years ago we founded a group for women gamers–Xbox GamerchiX–that at one point had over 10,000 members. So she and I go back quite a ways. She also happens to be an amazing artist/graphic designer.

This is how our first conversation went:

Convo with Sara about Malick covers

Now, if you’ve read any of the Lexy books you know that Malick is a bit of a throwback. He likes his drinks straight up and his women without strings attached. He still reads the newspaper, and listens to the Rat Pack. His first novel, Summer Wind, shares its title with a Frank Sinatra song (and so will the next two books in the series. Shhhh….).

Here’s a passage from the upcoming book:

After the meeting breaks up, I put in ninety minutes at the gym. Sinatra at the Sands with Count Basie makes the time slip by quickly. As I unclip the mp3 player, I get a look at the album cover and deeply regret the era in which I live—a time when a man can’t wear a hat without looking like a tool or a hipster. Because I’d look damn good in a classic fedora.

See? This book is written in the first-person. There aren’t alternating chapters in Lexy’s P.O.V. or any of the other characters. It’s all Malick all the time. Another reason this series needed its own distinctive cover style.

As Sara and I worked out ideas for Summer Wind, we kept in mind that this was the start of a new series, so the style should be able to carry over to new plots while maintaining that Abstract Noir feel. I showed her a series of covers I’ve always admired: the Ruth Rendell paperbacks from the eighties. Dark background, lurid color, and the focus on a single object. And the drip–always the drip.

Rendell Covers

So, armed with “abstract noir” and the knowledge that the book is about the death of a grunge rock star, Sara came up with two concepts:

Summer Wind cover concept 1 Summer Wind cover concept 2

Bloody guitars? Hell yeah!! We went with the first version–it had more movement and said “rock and roll” more than the guitar pick one. Sara refined the art and the font and the final cover looks like this:

Summer Wind Cover

And, since a paperback will follow the eBook in a few months, here is the front and back. I absolutely love how she used the Seattle skyline to give the book a sense of place.

summer-wind-back

Summer Wind comes out a week from today, on 11/11. You can preorder it now or snap it up next Tuesday! I sure hope that Sara will do the cover for the next Mike Malick book: You Go To My Head, but in the meantime if you’re looking for a truly gifted UI/UX designer who is a hilarious joy to work with…

 Check out Sara’s work!

Crowdfunding for Novelists

In between the second and third Lexy Cooper books I did a crowdfunding campaign to fund a research trip. The trip wasn’t critical to my book; I had already budgeted money for the cover, editing, and proofreading. I didn’t have to travel to Roswell, but believed the book would be more authentic if I had first-hand experience at the location. The writing and publishing of Griefed was happening whether the crowdfunding was successful or not. That gave me the freedom to test the waters of crowdfunding without it being a make-or-break situation. The campaign ended up being very successful, and here’s what I learned.

ufo museum

1. You Don’t Need a Video

Indiegogo (and Kickstarter) will encourage you to make a video and cite statistics telling you a campaign with a video is X percent more likely to be successful. I’m sure that’s true for films and video games, but I don’t believe it for books. And yes, perhaps I just didn’t want to make a video because hosting a show on Xbox Live was enough video for me for the rest of my life. Video is essential for showing motion, but how will you show a book you’ve yet to write? Or maybe it’s written and you’re asking people to fund a book cover or printed copies or promotional costs. What can you show them? Your face, I guess. If you are fantastically good-looking and charismatic go for it. It will probably work to your advantage. Otherwise, enjoy the fact that it doesn’t (yet) matter what writers look like.

2. Make Frequent Updates

alien shipLet your donors or backers or angels know what’s going on during the course of the campaign and as you deliver the goods. Don’t spam or annoy them with updates just to say you’re planning on an update. Think about news beats. A good time to update is when you’re halfway to your goal, when you’ve met your goal, and as you use the funds you’ve been given. For example: I updated my Indiegogo page six times:

  1. The halfway point. I also posted a photo of the paperback that some backers would receive.
  2. Goal met. Because there was still time in the campaign, I told backers where the funds beyond what I’d asked would be used for (cover art and editing).
  3. Details on the research trip. I provided dates of the trip and a photo of the trip mascot.
  4. More stretch goals. The campaign was still going, and money kept coming in.
  5. Leaving for the research trip. More thanks and links to follow along.
  6. Results of the research trip. Photos, what I learned, how the experience would benefit the book.

3. Exceed Expectations

lexypostcardIt was important to me that my backers felt like they got their money’s worth—long before the book came out. I made sure to get deliverables out to them as soon as possible. I never wanted anyone to have to wonder where their stuff was or if they’d been forgotten—or worse, ripped off. I also did some things that were not included in the Indiegogo perks:

  • I sent them postcards from Roswell, signed by “Lexy.”
  • I gave them all a free copy of the short story I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa.
  • I revealed the cover and title to them before anyone else

4. Here’s why I think my Indiegogo campaign was successful:

My goal of one thousand dollars for the research trip was met in five days. By the end of the campaign I’d exceeded my monetary goal by over sixteen hundred dollars, and I had a wonderful and productive trip to Roswell. Sure, I may just have gotten lucky or been in the right place at the right time, but I think these factors contributed to the successful outcome:

  1. I asked for a very specific thing — a trip to Roswell, for a very specific reason—research.
  2. Lexy Cooper books were a known quantity. People could see that I had successfully written and published two books in the series and probably felt like the risk of my flaking out and not finishing the book was low.
  3. People love to see their name in a book. Or anywhere, really. The perk in which I name a character after the backer was so popular I had to double the amount.

Here’s my advice to writers regarding crowdfunding: Wait until you’ve got a book or two under your belt before you do it. I have seen many campaigns from would-be authors that fail for these reasons:

  • They are unproven as writers. If you can’t show potential backers that you can see a big project to completion and have some degree of skill, you should ask your family to back you because they love you.
  • The book isn’t written and they are asking folks to pay them for their time to write it. That’s just insulting.
  • Their goals are vague or overpriced. If you’re asking for 10,000 bucks for editing, cover art, and the super-vague “marketing,” you come across as naïve and greedy.

Homewrecker, Whore, Slut: My bad reviews

LexyBadGirlMy first Lexy Cooper novel, Schooled, has been out in the world for almost two years. People read it, some like it and some don’t. That’s to be expected. What I’ve been flummoxed by, however, is that when people don’t like my book enough to take the time to write a negative review, they ALWAYS cite Lexy’s sexuality as the reason they didn’t like it. And the fact that these readers seem to be blindsided by the sexual content even though the book description reads “Videogames, Sex, and Murder.” Downloading a book advertising sex as a main component and then complaining about the sex seems to me like reading A Song of Ice and Fire series and being pissed off because you don’t like dragons.

Anyway, check out these quotes from reviews (most are from Schooled, others are from Pwned and Griefed.)

  • “To say the main characters were loose is an understatement. Skip over the sex and stumble over the language it is an excellent read.”
  • “Lexy annoyed me with the way she used her body to get what she wanted. I just cringed a little bit every time she did it.”
  • “Don’t mind casual sex in stories but I dislike adultery the way it is used in this novel. I found it so offensive I stopped reading and skipped to the review.”
  • “A lot more cursing and very casual sex than I enjoy.”
  • “I could of did without the hot double d breasted geek chick. it kind took away from the story.”
  • “the lack of principles was troubling. It didn’t seem to matter who was hurt or how many.”
  • “it’s really hard to root for someone like her because in real life she’d be considered a home wrecking, user and slut.”
  • “The Mystery is really nothing more than a platform for Lexy to hop from bed to bed and sexual situations with mostly attached or married men or use her assets like a whore to get what she wants from weak co-workers. She uses and abuses people without a thought and yet were supposed to like her.”

save your money unless you want some shallow soft core porn

  • “the book also has a ton of graphic sex scenes that are just trashy and none artistic”
  • “All the “hooking up” may be realistic for this age group, but I didn’t think it added a lot to the story.”
  • “loads of gratuitous sex, profanity and just plain drama between Lexy and all the people she was cheating on”
  • “A vast landscape of obscenities, vulgarities, adultery, backstabbing, explicit sex scenes and quid pro quo whoring at work…and that was the “heroine””
  • “a sordid tale of murder, intrigue, and infidelity. A lot of infidelity.”
  • “some of the sex stuff felt like it was a little over the top”
  • “the heroine is pretty busy throughout the book having sex with engaged and married men.”
  • “I was still rooting for him to somehow gut Lexy in one of the rare times her legs were closed.”
  • “the main characters morals are rather lacking”
  • “no matter how well she’s fleshed out or however many details are sprinkled onto her, she’s still an aunty acting like she’s 1.5 times younger than she is. Yikes.”

Let me be very clear here, I appreciate every single person that reads my book and takes the time to review it. Even if they hate it. I’m not angry at these reviewers and don’t harbor ill will.

What I’m interested in here is the slut-shaming dynamic going on. From this evidence, the ONLY reason that people don’t like my books is that Lexy has a lot of sex and she has some of it with a married man. As if that has never happened either in human history or in literature. The guy who said it would have been an excellent read (thanks!) if not for the adultery. Did he also hate Anna Karenina? Had to throw The Great Gatsby across the room? Write a scathing review of Madame Bovary? Burn Ulysses?

SchooledCoverI’ve made it a rule to not explain things to readers. I’ve found over the course of six books that if my editor needs clarification on something, I need to rewrite, not explain. Because I won’t get the chance with readers. But I’m going to break my own rule briefly because this business about Lexy using her body and quid pro quo whoring at work is an issue that keeps cropping up. The scene in question is one with Lexy and her co-worker Josh. She’s under orders to go to the marketing department to scrounge up swag to give away at a midnight game launch. Now, there is quid pro quo, but it happens in Skype. Lexy asks Josh to donate game swag and promises him front page coverage on the web site in exchange. He agrees and she goes to his office to retrieve it. On her way there, I made sure to point out Lexy’s state of mind regarding her friend’s recent murder:

“The sunshine, the beer, and the fact that she was alive while others were not so fortunate had her feeling a bit reckless.”

She goes into Josh’s office (a man that she has some sexual experience with in the past, and is attracted to, and at this point in the book is unaware that he’s recently gotten engaged. In her mind, he is single) Lexy sits on his lap and encourages him to feel her up. They’re playing a game. The “negotiation” for the number of Lock & Load headsets is role playing. Maybe you personally have never engaged in that kind of thing, but many people enjoy it. So, she gets headsets for the fans, but not by doing anything she didn’t want to do with someone she’s not attracted to. If you want to lay down blame in this encounter, put some on Josh, who is engaged to another woman.

Also, people are so offended by Lexy and Nate’s (or Lexy and Josh’s) sexual relationship that they feel they have to stop reading and warn others. Okay, to each his own, I guess. But…you’re not offended by the dead blonde in the creek? The abuse of power? Blackmail? Drugs? Alcoholism? Using an employee’s sexuality to sell product and then punishing her for it? Paying men more than women for the same work? That’s all fine and dandy, but god forbid a woman have sex for pleasure on her own terms?

Anyway, it bothers me, but now I’ve gotten it off my chest. Back to writing Lexy 4. Spoiler: she has ALL THE SEX in this one. If cursing and sex offend you, don’t read my books.

 

Refilling the creativity tank

Since I started earnestly working on Lexy #4 in July, I’ve been keeping track of my cumulative word count. Like this:

Progress on Lexy #4 since July 31

Progress on Lexy #4 since July 31

When I hit each 5,000 word milestone, I post one of these on Facebook. The images and text snippet are carefully chosen to intrigue and hint, but not give too much away.

Lexy 4 15k milestone Lexy 4 25k milestone

 

If you look closely at my post-it notes, you will see that I have not made progress on Lexy 4 since September 22–two weeks ago. What have I been doing? Well, actually I’ve been pretty busy getting two other books ready for publication. Doing final proof and layout for Lexy Cooper Triple Threat and getting it published simultaneously in eBook and paperback, PLUS working with my editor Marti McKenna on the first Mike Malick novel Summer Wind. But it wasn’t like I didn’t have time to do any writing on Lexy 4–I chose to put it aside for awhile, focus on production (and marketing) for the other two books, and, refill my creativity tank.

What’s that? Creativity isn’t a bottomless well from which you can always draw ideas? Maybe for Stephen King. Me? Every once in a while I need to stop creating and start consuming. Feeding my imagination with books, films, music, comics, games…whatever. It isn’t research, it’s pure entertainment. I read five books* in the last two weeks. One of which was Summer Wind, but that was QA, not entertainment. (Though I fervently hope it is entertaining to my readers!). I watched a lot of movies (my husband and I are watching and reviewing 31 scary movies in October), started re-watching The Sopranos, played a bunch of hidden object games** on the PC, and pointedly did not think about Lexy and murder.

1-vintage-gas-pump-lori-knisely

Vintage Gas Pump by Lori Knisely. You can totally buy prints of this gorgeous thing at fineartamerica.com

Yesterday it was time to get back at it. I began by reading through the entire Lexy 4 manuscript-in-progress. And it’s better than I remembered while mired in it every day. And I see stuff that will need fixing in the second draft, but mainly I am bubbling over with ideas and enthusiasm for this project. Today, I resume work on Lexy 4.

I know I’m usually a hardass about writing with discipline, and I do believe that you’ll never get that book written if you only work on it when the spirit moves you. But, sometimes it is necessary to take a break and soak up the creations of other people. Then, get back to your project with full tank and renewed purpose.

*Books: Watching You, Loyalty, Doctor Sleep, Knock Knock
** Games: Sable Maze: Forbidden Garden, Lost Legends: The Weeping Woman, Danse Macabre: Moulin Rouge, Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan

 

 

My new book is out!

This is a proud moment for me seeing the first three Lexy books under one cover. Also new: this one released in eBook and paperback simultaneously. The book is a big ‘un: it runs over 600 pages and weighs more than 2 pounds. Slip one under the tree of your favorite reader. Super duper thanks to Team Lexy: Editor Marti McKenna, Proofreader Stacie Magelssen, and cover artist Brett Parson (aka Blitz Cadet).

Lexy Cooper: Triple ThreatTriplethreatColorFinalsmall copy

Explore a world of sex, lies, murder, and video games in this Lexy Cooper collection which includes three novels and bonus content:
Schooled (Lexy Cooper #1)
Pwned (Lexy Cooper #2)
Griefed (Lexy Cooper #3)
I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa (Lexy Cooper #2.5)
First chapter of Summer Wind (Mike Malick #1, Lexy Cooper #3.5)
Foreword by Jenn Frank, winner of the 2013 Games Journalism Prize

From the Foreword:

“She might wear pigtails and short skirts, and she may casually use words like “noob” and “pwn,” but she’s cut from the same cloth as any flawed noir hero. She shares as much in common with Sam Spade as she does with Nancy Drew.”

5 Great Reasons to Publish Short Content

short-fictionWhen you’re trying to establish a brand, it’s important to build your series as quickly as you can without sacrificing quality or sanity. If you have a good response to the debut book, don’t make readers wait a year or more for their next meal—they will move on, and you need all the momentum you can get. Short stories are a way to stave off starvation and keep your audience engaged while you finish the next full book.

How short can it be?

Too short will piss people off. I’m not sure why, but I’ve seen tons of one- and two-star reviews in which the reader’s only complaint was that it was “too short.” Anyway, I’d say the bare minimum is 5,000 words. That’s enough real estate to tell a complete—albeit brief—story and make it worth your reader’s time. Here are some ideas for a short story featuring your protagonists:
• Prequel – Your heroine in college, your hero during Desert Storm. The first time your main characters met.
• In-between – Action that takes place between two of your full books. Even better if it’s a time or incident referenced in the later book.
• Fantasy – Take a break from your usual genre and send your private eye into space. Or stick your sorceress in a modern corporate cubicle. How would your CIA agent deal with becoming a werewolf at the full moon?
• Seasonal – Christmas stories are popular every holiday season and beyond. Halloween’s a good opportunity to explore horror, disguises, or just spooky fun. Summertime offers all kinds of vacation, travel, beach, and bikini action.

So when are you supposed to find the time to write a short?

Well, those two or three weeks when you finish a novel-length work and you’re not allowed to touch it until you get some distance. Or while you’re waiting for feedback from your editor or proofreader. Once you’ve finished the first draft of a novel, there is some downtime, and for the first few days you may not feel like writing anything, but then again you might miss your daily fix of your characters. I know that when I finish a Lexy book I am just sick to death of her. She’s emotionally exhausting and I’m anxious to take a break. But after a few weeks or a month, I start to miss her. I start to think about what sort of trouble she can get into next. I just can’t quit her. So I might have to knock out a little short to get it out of my system so I can give my undivided attention to the other book I’m supposed to be writing.

5 Great Reasons to Publish Short Content

1. Keep your readers engaged and hungry (but not starving) for more content
2. Maintain a regular release cadence
3. Explore settings and situations that you wouldn’t want to build a whole novel around
4. Test the waters on new characters or genres
5. Generates a promotional opportunity: pimp the new short and your whole catalog

How Not To Write

There are a million and one things you could do instead of writing a book. Things that are easier, more fun, and will earn you more money. You’ve been doing some of them for years. Let’s take a look at the excuses we use and the lies we tell ourselves when we aren’t writing.

Fiction writers are terrific at making stuff up. Probably the best things we invent are excuses for not writing.

violin-old-new-670*Cue violin music*
“I’m afraid to write because it might not be good.”
“If only I had the time…”
“I have a couple ideas, but I’m just waiting for inspiration.”
Translation: Writing is hard and scary and I’m too chicken-shit to turn off the television and get at it.

Gather round children, and I will tell you a story…

When I was eight years old my third-grade teacher, after hearing me read a story I’d written about a pink cow, told me, “That was good. You should be a writer when you grow up.” And that was it. I wanted to write books from that day forward. But I didn’t do much writing. I was always looking for an easy way out. And I bought a fat hardbound copy of Writer’s Market and kept a journal and read all kinds of books about writing, plotting, and getting published. Some of the lazy ass ideas I had included taking the letters I’d written to my friends while I was working as a nanny in New York and turning them into an epistolary novel. You know, so I wouldn’t actually have to write. I even had the idea to write a memoir of my parent’s divorce because I thought it would get a lot of attention and I could go on the Johnny Carson show. That was when I was ten years old, folks.

this-side-of-paradise

So finally, on my twenty-fourth birthday, I realized that I was a full year older than F. Scott Fitzgerald had been when his first novel, This Side of Paradise, was published. I was way behind schedule. That night I sat down and started writing The Sleepless Nanny. I wrote it for an hour every night for ten months. With a toddler on my lap. Then I sent it off to Bantam Doubleday Dell. The acquisitions editor had some nice things to say about my writing, but she didn’t want to publish my book.

me and scooter

Me, age 24 with my writing assistant, Scotty. Guess who he’s named after?

I didn’t send it to any other publishers. I saved it on a floppy disk and put it away. And didn’t write fiction again for almost twenty years. In the meantime I made my living as a professional writer. The kind of writing that as a teenager I’d thought was beneath me: marketing copywriting, magazine writing, even the dreaded technical writing. I had ideas for novels, one of which was set in the middle ages and required me to purchase dozens of history books for “research.” (I didn’t even read the books, much less write the novel.) I kept reading books about writing and feeling momentarily inspired, but never enough to do more than make notes or think up character names.

For two decades I used all those excuses, which really boiled down to fear. Fear of hard work and fear of failure. The same shit that’s holding you back right now. The reason you’re reading this right now instead of writing your book is that you’re procrastinating. You’re looking to me for some loophole that will make the arduous and sometimes soul-crushing task of writing your book easier. And I’m totally taking advantage of that because I’ve been you. Three years ago I was you.

Here’s what changed.

Self-publishing happened. Specifically, the ability to nearly instantaneously publish a book simply by uploading a Word document to Kindle Direct Publishing. Within two days of reading an article about KDP I had 1) purchased a floppy disk to USB device 2) cobbled together a clean copy of The Sleepless Nanny from an ancient version of Word to the latest incarnation, and 3) uploaded my novel where anyone could purchase it and anyone with a Kindle or Kindle app could read it.

I was a goddamned published author. And you know what? It didn’t matter that I had a bullshit default cover or that I’d written it a lifetime ago or that I didn’t have the accreditation of Big Publishing. It felt great. And when people read it and liked it and gave it five-star reviews? Holy shit that was like Christmas and New Year’s and the first really good kiss all rolled into one.

Sleepless Nanny CoverWhen my husband handed me a copy of The Sleepless Nanny in paperback—a project he’d taken on in secret, for my birthday—with a real cover and an ISBN? I confess I broke down and cried. It was the dream I’d had since the age of eight and I held it right there in my hands.

There is nothing to prevent you from holding your own book in your hands, whether it’s digital or in paper form. There is not a damn thing to stop you. You just have to decide to make it happen and do a little bit every day until you get to the end.

It’s not easy. Sometimes it’s the worst thing ever. But the payoff will be the greatest feeling you’ll ever have.

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