Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Whitewashing Our Work

One of the benefits of being the Blog Mama is I can jump in when I've got something to say. I know I just posted last week, but I'm grabbing the spotlight again...because I

The Secret of Obedience - Coming November '15

So the other day I went to the annual Gay Romance Northwest meet-up, a fabulous conference where I had fun with friends and learned a lot. The last session of the day - except for the bookfair and Banned! Books in Drag up at Neighbors Nightclub - was a panel discussion called  The Evolving LGBT Romance Genre: Where do you want it to go?

One of the questions the moderator asked the panelists was, "What kind of character would you be frightened to write?" The first to respond, an articulate, successful author of f/f romance, said that even though she'd been married for fifteen years to an African American woman, she wouldn't write a black character, because she might not get it right.

And I thought, "well damn...

If SHE'S not going to write a black character, when she's got an in-house (in-bed?) expert to check her facts, where do I get off doing it?"

Another panelist said that as a trans-man with some economic stability, he wasn't qualified to write about the experiences of trans kids who were living on the street. The other panelists made similar statements, and their rationale went along the lines of, "if we don't get it right, it'll be hurtful."

To which  I thought, "but if you don't even try, they'll be invisible."

True confession: I just signed a contract with Evernight Publishing for a short piece entitled The Secret of Obedience. One of the heroes is a white, twenty-two year old gay man from Ellensburg, his best friend is a black football player, and his love interest is a twenty-one year old Vietnamese man who works for a clothing designer and spends a fair amount of time in dance clubs.

Am I any of those things?


Do I know people who are similar to these characters?


Do I think I do a good job of telling their stories?

Maybe I'm arrogant, but yes, and here's why. The story's about a young person who's had to make compromises to feel accepted by his friends. He moves to the big city and struggles to feel connected with the people he meets. He falls for a young man who's brilliantly talented, but who has been rejected by his family for who he is.

I know what it feels like to make compromises to feel accepted by the group. I know what it feels like to walk into a big, new place and feel overwhelmed by it. I know what it feels like when my true self doesn't align with my family's values.

And I know what it feels like when fear is the primary motivator of my decisions.

That's all in my story.

I don't mean to make this all about me, but at the same time I don't want to potentially bring criticism to others by using their work as examples.

Here's one final question. Do I feel like I got the details right?

To the best of my ability, yes. Do I think I perpetuated any negative stereotypes? No, but one of the risks is that by putting this story out there, I'll reveal my own prejudices and blind spots. I may get feedback, though reviews or on-line comments or email, where people point out what I got wrong. If that happens, I'll take those comments and learn from them and let them guide my approach for next time.

Because there's going to be a next time. I try and write the world as I see it, and that includes people of all different races and genders and sexual orientations. I'll probably get things wrong, and I'll probably make mistakes.

But I truly believe visibility, even if it's imperfect, beats the alternative.

What do you think? I'm open to any comments, as long as they're constructive.

Monday, September 28, 2015

What's Your Sign? Character Development

Creating characters is hard. Sometimes it can be difficult to create a realistic personality. Characters can be based off of real life people, or ones from TV or movies, but how can you dig deeper? How can you give them more life?

My literary agent recommended I look into astrology. That requires extra work, but in the end I found it to be worth it. I had to ask myself some questions I didn't consider. What month was the character born? What day? Which sign do they fall under? Astrological signs have been used for centuries to determine personality traits.

With the above chart, found here, you can determine different behaviors for your character. Like with my sign, Libra. It says Libra's can be charming, idealistic and peaceable, all traits that I have in my personality. It also says I can be gullible, indecisive and flirty, which are also true. Knowing these things gives your character an addtional layer. It makes them more relatable.

Next time you plot out characters, dig a little deeper. Figure out their date of birth, find out their sign and see what traits make these characters who they are. You never know what you might find.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

On Getting Out of the Way

How do YOU get out of the way and let inspiration happen?


I made a desk,
Or rather
A desk made me.

While toying
Wrestling ideas
Wrangling plots
Swirling the story
Letting it
New patterns
And possibilities
The mundane
Emptied me out
Step by step
I trickled aside
And the story
Fell in to place.

I made a desk
Or rather
A desk made me~ Olivia J. Herrell

My New Sauder Writing Desk 

Olivia J. Herrell is currently working on BLESSED ARE THE PEACE MAKERS, a Fantasy trilogy set in Atlanta, Georgia, in the not-too-far-distant future. Author of the blog "Olivia J Herrell, That Rebel with a Blog", and a member of the Relentless Writers Group, you can find her articles here once-a-month (or so). 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Five Books You Really Oughta Read

I love posts that tell me about books, though they usually cost me money. Well, hopefully this one will cost you money, too, though your bank account is safe for a while. Because instead of listing books I've already read and loved, I'm listing books that haven't released yet. (Well, I have read a couple of them...okay, half of them...but they're really, really good!) So settle in for a look at the new and upcoming releases I'm most excited about...they're listed in order they'll be released...

3. Stygian by Santino Hassell 

(release date 10/26) I started this list yesterday, without realizing today would be Stygian's cover reveal. Good thing an editing project delayed my post, because WOW the cover is cool! Well worth waiting for, and I'm SO happy to feature it here. I've read some intriguing snippets from Stygian, and the premise - emo rockers in a creepy Louisiana mansion - sounds totally cool. Plus, Santino Hassell brings so much intensity to everything he writes that I know this'll be an amazing ride.

Jump HERE for the blurb and an excerpt on the SinfullySexy blog.
Jump HERE to pre-order from the publisher, Dreamspinner Press.

1. Real World by Amy Jo Cousins 

(release date 11/17) This is the fifth book in Amy's fantastic Bend or Break series, and the cover reveal was just the other day. Real World picks up the story of Tom and Reese, whose falling-in-love happened in the first book, Off Campus. I loved them then, and this story is a wonderful follow-up. I had the chance to read Real World, and there's a lot of life's wisdom worked into the funny, sweet, and naughty bits. I recommend this book for fans of the series - or for anyone who likes to see a couple grow together, work stuff out, and stay in love. Of course, if you haven't read Off Campus yet, you totally should. Because Reece! And Tom! And Cash!

Jump HERE to pre-order on Amazon.

2. You Can Leave Your Boots On by Irene Preston

(release date 11/10) Travis and Bo. Oh. My. Word.
*fans self*
In case you can't tell, I've read You Can Leave Your Boots On, too, and boy howdy is it fun. This is an "opposites attract" story with the sexiest blind date ever. Travis is a gay liberal from Austin, and Bo's a "cowboy-boot-wearing, meat-eating, truck-driving ode to masculinity". Bo's not gay - he just likes to have sex with men. Travis is open about his orientation and he won't live with a lover who's in the closet. Can you see their problem? You Can Leave Your Boots On is steeped in Texas atmosphere and full of heart. I recommend this book to people who prefer their love stories like good barbecue - sweet and smokin' hot.

Jump HERE to pre-order on Amazon.

4. Unnatural by Joanna Chambers

(release 11/24) Desire for this book is making me CRAZY! Historical m/m is my absolute weakness, and JChambers Enlightened trilogy is near the very top of my list of favorites. (Jump HERE to for the first book in the series, Provoked. Read the sample and I double-dare you not to download the whole thing after that.) Unnatural takes one of the side characters in the series, Captain Iain Sinclair, and gives him his own story. Joanna Chambers writes grounded, realistic historical romances about intelligent men who are struggling with the realities of their time. She puts some heat in there, too. 

Can. Not. Wait.

Jump HERE to pre-order on Amazon. Which I've already done. How many minutes left till 11/24?

5. A Seditious Affair by KJ Charles 

(release date 12/15) KJ Charles is pretty much an auto-buy for me, and this is the second book in her Society of Gentlemen series. I own the first book - A Fashionable Indulgence - but haven't read it yet because once I read it, I won't have it to look forward too anymore.

Which, lame.

These are Regency romances, historical m/m, so better than crack cocaine where I'm concerned. This one gets more into the politics of the era, and KJ Charles has promised a dark, gritty look at the time. And because it's KJ Charles, I know it'll involve a heart-stopping romance, too. I think the real reason I haven't read A Fashionable Indulgence yet is because I know I'll immediately want to start A Seditious Affair. Of course, by that logic I'd have to wait until A Gentleman's Position releases next April. Oh hell no...not waiting that long...

Jump HERE to pre-order a copy from Amazon.

Bonus! Hidden Scars by Amanda K. Byrne 

(released 9/22) Look! A girl! (heh) Hidden Scars is a hot little love story, one I first read back when Amanda was calling it What Didn't Happen. This book actually released this week, so you don't have to wait, you can just jump HERE to grab a copy from Amazon. Sara's haunted by her past, and Taylor's hunted by his. This isn't a case of auto-love; these two have to work for every moment of sweetness. When they get there, though, it's fireworks!

So there you have it. A reason to keep going as the days get shorter and the nights get colder. Any one of these books will heat your blood and warm your heart, and I hope you check them out.

If you've got a minute, leave your favorite upcoming release in the comments. I always like to add to my TBR pile...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Curb Your Insecurity: Tips on Good Submission Etiquette

There are plenty of querying and publishing “how-to’s” that provide authors with great information about how to find, query and submit to an agent. What is not always so clear is what you should do after your manuscript has been submitted to prospective literary agents. Waiting is often the hardest part of the submission process. That is the time when insecurity can rear its ugly head, and authors may suddenly feel that they must do something, but what they do is actually worse than not doing anything.

First, I’d like to clear up a misperception about literary agents. It is often said literary agents are in the business not for the money but because they love what they are doing. That is certainly true. While some agents are lucky enough to work at an agency that provides a salary, quite a number of us only see a paycheck after we’ve sold a book. And while we love what we are doing, this should not be construed as we are working or willing to work for free.

Consider the concept, time = money. The time we spend on book projects – whether it is combing through slush piles, reading submissions, providing edits to a client, or any number of activities we must undertake to sell a book – is considered our “capital” investment in our business.  And let’s face it, publishing, which includes agenting, is a business. Many authors, especially debut authors, write their novels while maintaining a job that pays the bills. Their writing activity may be viewed as a “hobby,” since they are not compensated for it, which in turn, makes it easy to mistake an agent’s job for his or her “hobby” as well. After all, it looks like we’re doing it for free. But since time is our investment, it is a very precious, limited commodity for agents. We have to be selective on what to invest our time on. So as an author looking for representation, you should be mindful of an agent’s time. If not, you risk putting your foot in your mouth, or worse, shooting yourself in the foot.

To help you avoid doing either, I’ve put together the following ten tips for good submission etiquette:
  1. Don’t “shotgun” your submission. In other words, don’t simply send out your submission to a large number of random agents, hoping to ensure some positive responses. This wastes both your and the agents’ time.  You’ll have more success and make a more favorable impression by doing your research to make sure the agents you are approaching are appropriate for your project.  

  2. Really follow submission guidelines and how the agent wants to be contacted. And if an agent isn’t accepting unsolicited submissions, don’t discount or ignore this by querying anyway. It shows disrespect and, at the very least, that you can’t follow directions, which is a red flag. It hints at a potential difficulty you might have in taking editing directions.

  3. Don’t “nudge” or follow up on your submission too soon. I once received a follow up from an author after only 2 weeks. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get an answer. You might even get a response shortly after, passing on your book. Why? It could be that the agent happened to get to your submission, and it was just a coincidence. Or it could be that the agent decided it was better to let it go, since you seemed to need an answer so quickly. Or it could mean that alarm bells went off, and the agent wondered if you are impatient now, what happens once he takes on your project? 

  4. Wait at least 3-4 months before your follow-up on your query or submission. Please believe me when I say it takes a lot of time to go through submissions. At Kimberley Cameron & Associates, we look at every submission. It may be as little as 10 pages or as many as 50, but our agency policy is to give each of them thoughtful consideration. And our agents are required to answer every one of them, whether in a form letter or a personal note, which adds even more time.

  5. Don’t make demands either in your query or follow-up, whether it’s for a specific time frame to respond or confirmation that your submission was received. It raises a big red flag and shows a  lack of respect for the agent’s time. Consider how many submissions an agent receives in a day or a week. For some, it may be a dozen, while others, it’s several hundred. If you think they’re slow to respond now, imagine how much longer it would be if agents had to also confirm receipt of submissions to authors.

  6. Don’t burn bridges by responding to an agent who passed on your project with a defensive retort or ask for editorial suggestions. If suggestions are provided, consider yourself among the fortunate. It means that the agent was willing to spend some her capital to help you out, so take those suggestions to heart. If you respond defensively, it not only makes you look unprofessional, it pretty much ends any potential for future contact, which you may regret after you’ve done a major revision or written another book.

  7. If general comments, or reasons why your project was passed on, are offered, don’t respond requesting detailed editorial recommendations, or worse, request a copy of your manuscript back with the agent’s notes.

  8. Notify agents only when you have been offered representation. There is no need to let us now that you’ve submitted to other agents (this is pretty much assumed) or when other agents request full manuscripts.  

  9. Be honest about your intentions. When you are offered representation, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for time to notify other agents, just be honest about it and your intentions for doing so. One author I offered representation to told me that she had every intention of signing with me, only to find out she’d been using my offer to leverage offers from other agents. She kept me hanging on until she secured her “dream” agent.

  10. Be professional on social media and don’t solicit or pitch agents by commenting on posts or tweeting at them unless it’s part of an organized contest, pitch party or other social media event. Along those same lines, don’t post a comment or tweet to an agent to nudge, request confirmation your submission was received, or ask when to expect a response on your submission. 

While practicing good submission etiquette will not guarantee you'll get an offer, it might help your submission hang in there a little longer. For agents, it is often easier to avoid a potential problem simply by passing. At the same time, by demonstrating professionalism and respect for an agent's time and efforts, you'll make it that much easier for an agent to take your submission to the next step.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Celebrate Avelynn with Me

Today marks the 6th day that my book baby, Avelynn, has been out in the world. Here’s a little blurb and shameless self-promotion.
Happy Birthday Avelynn!
One extraordinary Saxon noblewoman and one fearless Viking warrior find passion and danger in this dazzling and sensuous debut.
869. For eighteen years, Avelynn, the beautiful and secretly pagan daughter of the Ealdorman of Somerset, has lived in an environment of love, acceptance, and equality. Somerset has flourished under twenty years of peace. But with whispers of war threatening their security, Avelynn's father makes an uncompromising decision that changes her life forever.
Forced into a betrothal with Demas, a man who only covets her wealth and status, Avelynn's perception of independence is shattered. With marriage looming, she turns to her faith, searching for answers in an ancient ritual along the coast, only to find Alrik The Blood-Axe and sixty Viking berserkers have landed.
In a year of uncertainty that sees Avelynn discover hidden powers, stumble into a passionate love affair with Alrik, and lead men into battle, Avelynn must walk a fine line as her deceptions mount and Demas' tactics to possess her become more desperate and increasingly brutal.
Avelynn and Alrik are caught in the throes of fate as they struggle to find the way back to themselves and onwards to each other.
Me and my book baby!
Released by St. Martin’s Press on September 8th, 2015, it’s been a time of great joy, apprehension, and wild frenzied excitement. We all know writing a book is a tremendous accomplishment. Period. And we know we need to celebrate the baby steps along the way: finishing a great scene, finalizing edits, getting a full manuscript submission request, meeting amazing writer friends. Whether you choose to indie publish or traditionally publish, once you see your book baby up on the big internet screen, it feels pretty damn good. You did it! You followed through and finished something many people want to do, but never manage to complete. You deserve a party! So today on the blog, I want you to lift your drinks high (whether it be tea, water, coffee, pop, juice, beer, whiskey, or wine) and celebrate with me.
It’s an awesome time to be a writer!
In gratitude,
Marissa xo

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Want to Understand the Publishing Industry? A Few Comparisons

Warning: I’m feeling subversive today, so this post might raise some eyebrows. But I’m willing to risk it. Why? Because I’m a writer and it’s my job to explore controversial topics. At least this is what I tell myself.

We talk a lot about how writing is a craft, while publishing is a business. And this is true. So true. Neither side is right or wrong. They are just different, with different goals around the same core product. Writers NEED to write. Publishers NEED to sell.

Alright, what about the juicy and subversive parts?

Okay, here we go.

SUBVERSIVE COMPARISON #1. Writing is a drug, and publishing is the cartel.

That’s right. I’m comparing books to street drugs.

Let me explain. For the writer, words on the page are a buzz, a personal high (“YES, I made that word count today! Yay me!”). For the publisher, words on the page mean the bills get paid.

For the writer, connecting with readers about their stories is like smoking out together with friends at the same party (“Dude, I freaking LOVE your protagonist. I could totally live in that world forever and ever and ever. I'm serious, man. If you stop writing this series, I'll literally die. I can’t put it down.”)

But for the publisher, writers who connect frequently with readers on social media will sell more books. This is a crucial difference that I think many writers fail to understand. Which leads me to…

SUBVERSIVE COMPARISON #2. Writers who want to become successful in today’s market must understand both user and dealer, without succumbing to the trappings of either role. So yes...forgive me, but I’m just going to say it…today’s top published authors are like veteran drug lords.

It’s a rough comparison that doesn’t make either side look good, which is exactly my point. Throughout history we’ve glamorized the publishing industry, as if selling books is somehow less prone to the politics found in other types of industries. Here’s the truth: If you want to become a semi-successful published author, you will encounter an industry that’s more Breaking Bad than Jane Austen.

Now wait. In my last post, “How to Sell Your Book Without Selling Your Soul,” I made a big point about using “idea-based marketing” techniques to get your book in front of readers, so that you’re not always having to pimp yourself out to everyone you see. Now I’m saying that you need to be like the hardened leader of an illegal drug cartel. Which is it?

I guess I can understand your confusion. Illegal drug cartels might be a stretch. What about legal ones?

SUBVERSIVE COMPARISON #3. Writing is the cure for cancer, and publishing is the pharmaceutical company that wants to fund the research and secure the patent.

Better now? It’s certainly a more noble comparison. But the pharmaceutical industry has a lot of problems, too. I mean, not everyone out there is trying to cure cancer, right?

Here’s my point: There’s stuff behind the scenes in every industry that most people don’t see. When you take a tablet of Advil, for example, you have no idea what happened to bring that Advil to your home. When a kid parties one night, she probably doesn’t think about how many people were beheaded in Mexico to make it happen.

Business is business.

People who become successful in any industry—be it publishing, the illegal drug trade, or pharmaceutical cancer research—learn the rules of that industry and work to master them.

Violent beheadings aside, I think it’s still fair to say that writing is like a drug. The written word is powerful and dangerous. Always has been, always will be.

And you know what?

I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Certainly not anything involving a Mexican drug cartel. (Though one of my characters might…)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Magical Realism, Fantasy or Not?

One of the biggest steps in the submission process is determining which genre your book falls under. It's important in both worlds of self publishing or the traditional route. You need to know your genre in order to target the audience most likely to be interested, whether it be readers or agents or editors. Although I've seen a lot of incorrectly classified submissions, I've noticed the genre authors tend to get the most mixed up is magical realism.
As an agent that represents both fantasy and magical realism, I find a lot of fantasy authors will submit under the genre magical realism, believing, falsely, it gives their fantasy novel more literary cred or makes it more unique. Or, they simply do not understand what magical realism actually is. I don't blame them. Search the term, and a plethora of definitions pop up that don't exactly make it clear. As Webster's Dictionary puts it, "A literary genre that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction." So does that mean Twilight is magical realism? No. Urban and paranormal still fall under the fantasy umbrella because even though they are set in modern time the reader is brought into a world that is indeed different than our own.
What you do need to know is magical realism has a rich and varied history and is a separate genre from fantasy. If you're not sure which genre your project falls under, than it is most likely fantasy. A boy from our world who finds out he's a wizard and goes off to wizarding school to have all kinds of magical adventures, that's fantasy. A boy from our world who believes he's a wizard but whose story takes place in reality, that is potentially magical realism. Notice I said "potentially." Magical realism is an elusive genre, not for the inexperienced or crowd-pleaser. The best way to get familiar with the genre is to read some of the classics, Like Water For Chocolate, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Midnight's Children, and House of Spirits. You'll find that even though there is a touch of magic, a bit of the fantastic, a sprinkling of the otherworld, these books are completely grounded in reality and the culture they stem from. Magical realism treats magic as if it were rational, just another aspect of our world, not as something otherworldly. Once you understand it, it will become obvious.
Why is this important? Because the average fantasy reader is different than the average magical realism reader. The audience is different, thus the people you submit to will be different, the shelf in the bookstore will be different, the Amazon Bestseller category will be different. I hope this post has helped a little to understand that difference.