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Author: C.D. Watson

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Looking Back, Looking Forward

For most folks, December is a month for reflection on the old year and planning for the new, and I am no exception. 2017 started out a little slowly for me, writing wise, and ended on something of a bang. I’d like to keep that momentum going in 2018; more, I’d like to build on it and really produce some spectacular reads for y’all in 2018.

To that end, a few days ago I began planning (as much as I plan) a systems-based approach to writing in the new year, a process I’ve been trying to get back to since realizing my switch to a schedule-based approach in 2015 wasn’t working.

And since I’m still adjusting to the switch back, I’m cutting myself some slack by setting most of my 2018 writing goals for just the first three months. I’ll re-evaluate at that point, see what is and isn’t working, and readjust if necessary.

2017’s Publications

First though, let’s recap what happened in 2017. Writing wise, I published two titles during the first half of the year and five titles during the last half, specifically (and in order):

  • Greenwood Cove, Sunshine Walkingstick, Book 1 (Celia Roman)
  • The Deep Wood, Sunshine Walkingstick, Book 2
  • Death Omen, a Sunshine Walkingstick short story
  • Cemetery Hill, Sunshine Walkingstick, Book 3
  • A Mutual Feeling (C.D. Watson)
  • Intersections (C.D. Watson)
  • Dreaming of a Dark Christmas (Lucy Varna, V.R. Cumming, Celia Roman, C.D. Watson)

Additionally, in the latter half of the year I completed two short stories for my upcoming Romancing the Weird collection, “Brian” and “Time after Time.” Some of you got these as a bonus for pre-ordering A Mutual Feeling or Intersections, something I may try again with future short stories.

Not bad for a year that started off so slowly.

2018’s Overarching Goals

Now, just because I’m going back to the old systems-based approach to writing doesn’t mean I’m completely without explicit goals I’d like to hit. The first is one early readers of my Lucy Varna books grew accustomed to right off the bat: a title published every other month on average, whether it’s a full-length novel, a novella, or a short story collection.

To stay on the realistic end of that goal, I’m officially setting it for a very reasonable four to six titles published during 2018. The first one, the next novel in the Daughters of the People Series (Lucy Varna), is already available for pre-order.

That’s overarching goal number one. Overarching goal number two is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time: write (or finish) one complete short story every week.

Sounds like a lot, yes? I promise you, this is more accomplishable (totally a word) than not, if I can stick to my writing habit (not schedule).

To be completely fair, I’m giving myself a two-week break at some point during 2018, probably either the last two weeks of the year or a week around Thanksgiving and another around Christmas. Let’s face it: those weeks are hard for everybody. Between family events and basketball, they’re doubly busy for me, so two weeks off, which leaves fifty weeks (fifty stories!) for me to play with.

Now, to fulfill that goal, I first need to define “short story,” which I choose to mean anything up to forty to fifty thousand words in length (technically, a work of fiction that long is a short novel). Since I’m limiting the time I work on short stories each week and since I sometimes miscalculate story lengths (as I did with A Mutual Feeling), I’m going to be reasonable and shoot for forty short stories. To be even more reasonable, I’m trying this out for three months (January, February, and March) and will re-evaluate then.

So my first two 2018 goals are this:

  1. Publish 4-6 titles.
  2. Write 40 or more short(er) stories (depending on how the first three months of 2018 shake out).

Two goals, lots of stories. That’s my kind of New Year!

Writing Habits

Back in the day when I was writing like a pro (ironically enough, before I considered myself a professional writer), I had unwittingly instituted a strong writing habit that went something like this: Wake up, slap myself into the day, have supper and spend a little time with my family, get back home by 8-8:30 p.m., start writing by 9 p.m., write at least two scenes a night, finish sometime around 4 a.m. (sometimes later), and go to bed. That was, no kidding, a typical writing day. I did that five or more days every week for nearly two years, and it worked.

I’m in the process of re-instituting a similar writing habit now, although on a somewhat different time schedule. The process- or systems-driven goals remain the same as when I started writing: two or more scenes per night, at least five days per week.

To put a number to those goals, I’ve defined a scene as being about two thousand words in length. That’s not always accurate, but for the sake of giving myself a target to aim for, it’s close enough.

Again, to be reasonable, I’m aiming for two to four thousand words per writing night toward whatever novel I’m currently working on completing.

But I have that other goal, the short story goal, so I’m setting aside one thousand words per day, five days per week, toward that goal in addition to the words set aside for novels.

Bear in mind that these are minimum word count targets, but to be reasonable my daily word count goals for 2018 are:

  1. Write two or more scenes per day on a novel, five days per week, or at least 2000 words per writing day.
  2. Write one thousand words, five days per week, on a short story.

That’s 3000 words per day, five days per week, or 15,000 words per week. I could multiply that out and give you the exact goal numbers by month and by year (and thus fill in the gaps between overarching goals and word count goals), but I’d much rather focus on one day at a time, by the week.

Word to the wise: Don’t try to stuff the entire elephant into your mouth all at once; eat it in small, manageable bites. That’s what all of these teeniny goals are for, to break my overarching goals down into reasonably small, perfectly accomplishable chunks.

As I said earlier, I’m “trying on” my old writing habits (and the subsequent goals) for the first three months of the year, and because I need some accountability, I’m also planning on updating my progress here during my regular Book and Author News posts.

What Does That Mean for Readers?

Which stories will I be working on? No telling, but I can say that I’ve got both Sweet Surrender (The Pruxnae, Book 5) and Redemption (Daughters of the People, Book 6.5) mostly developed, and the first scenes written for both. It’s very likely I’ll be working on at least one of those manuscripts in the first quarter of 2018.

I’ve also started developing a Christmas novella set in NetVerse (The Pruxnae’s story world), so it’s possible I’ll be working on that as well. Other possibilities include The Master Vampire (The Vampyr, Book 4, V.R. Cumming), which is fairly well developed and has an already substantial bit of the first draft done, plus the final two Daughters of the People novels, an accompanying Daughters of the People short story collection, and some new, never-before-discussed projects waiting on the back burner.

But here’s the thing: I’m making no promises.

Promises of that sort are for schedule-driven writers, but I’m not a schedule-driven writer; I’m a systems-driven writer (Habits R Us). It’s possible that I could wake up one day with a brilliant plot twist for the final Vampyr Series novel and end up shifting my focus to it from, for example, Sweet Surrender while the idea is fresh in my head. This is what worked for me during my first two years as a writer. Trust the process, people, and have some faith. You’re going to get some great stories in 2018. That’s one promise I am very willing to make.

As far as the short stories go, some of those will probably be aimed at paying markets (read: short form fiction magazines) and some will be tagged for a self-published short story collection, like Dreaming of a Dark Christmas. I’m planning on listing the titles of finished short stories in my regular Book and Author News posts, so keep an eye out there if you’re interested.

Other Business Related Goals

I have two other goals I’m aiming to achieve this year, business wise. The first is to go back to blogging on a semi-regular basis, something I did quite a bit of during my first couple of years as a writer. I even had a set time for writing blog posts, between waking up and eating supper (or, more likely, while making supper). I haven’t set a firm habit-driven goal for this yet, but I hope to soon.

The other business related goal has to do with the Speculative Fiction magazine my son and I are working on, Alternate Realms Magazine. I’d like to move toward getting at least one new item out each week other than our monthly new releases list. So far, those overarching goals include publishing a new article, one to two reviews, and one to two interviews each month. Again, I haven’t set aside the exact time for that within my writing habit (that systems-driven approach), but I will. It could be that some of my blogging time is eaten up by ARM, and I’m totally fine with that.

I have one other secret goal I’m working on that may or not reach fruition in 2018, as it requires skills I haven’t fully developed yet. I’ll let y’all know what’s up with that when I get a little closer to figuring out how or if I can accomplish this one.

Personal Goals

And, of course, the personal stuff, mostly related to health. As a writer, I spend a lot of time sitting and typing. (Go figure.) My 2018 goal is to build on my steady, upward spiral of focusing on things that have a positive impact on my health.

For example, sometime in 2015 I decided to try the Paleo diet, something I’d been studying for a couple of years prior to that. It really worked for me, so I gradually converted to the Primal lifestyle. Not a strict one, no, but close enough to eventually feel and look better than I had in years.

Last February, I backslid thanks to an incredibly hectic schedule, caused in part by an extended playoff season for my sister’s basketball team. (She’s a coach. I have to support her, right?) I’ve since gained *mumble, mumble* pounds, which led directly to a whole size increase in my jeans, this after working so hard to go down four full dress sizes.

Nope, I was not happy about that, so it’s back at it for the New Year. Ok, I’ve already started getting back on the Primal wagon through diet and exercise. After the New Year, I hope to incorporate weight training at some point, and will hopefully be able to get out and walk or hike, weather permitting.

Yeah, our weather here is supposed to suck (Thank you, La Nina!), but it is what it is. If I can’t get out and hike, then I can substitute the ever fun chore known as toting firewood. Hey, whatever works.

I’m not aiming for pounds lost or pants sizes decreased. Rather, I’m aiming for a healthier lifestyle. That’s always worked better for me than short-term, rigid diet and exercise programs.

Part of that includes decreasing the amount of time I spend online, especially on social media sites. Frankly, Facebook stresses me out. I love catching up with family and friends, but doing so also means seeing the inevitable political rants. No, thanks. I’ve already nearly completely cut Twitter out of my life; Facebook is probably going to go the same way, or will at least be relegated to the bare minimum. I know readers are always looking for ways to connect, but believe me, following my blog and/or subscribing to one of my newsletters is a far better way to interact with me.

Another personal goal? Read more. This year, I read more than sixty individual titles ranging from short stories, magazines, and novels to non-fiction for research or to build my writerly skills.

In 2018, I’d like to read at least that many titles again. I’ve set aside specific parts of my day for reading, namely while exercising and before bed (this is an established habit), but I also sneak in reading time during long car rides (when someone else is driving, natch) and breaks during basketball games. My son and I will also occasionally either listen to an audiobook while we’re on the road, or one of us will read a physical book while the other drives. The family that reads together and all that.

Finally, I have some work to do around the house I’m living in, the one my great-grandfather built, three things in particular. First, the porch is in desperate need of painting. We hired someone to do it last year, but due to scheduling conflicts related to those hurricanes that blew through, our hiree wasn’t able to complete the job. This project’s earmarked for spring, as soon as the temperatures warm up enough at night for the paint to stick.

Second, I need to finish cleaning out the three extra bedrooms and the upstairs walk-in closet. Most of what needs going through is clothes, but some of it is personal, like pictures and correspondence. We’ve discovered some gems so far, including Aunt Dixie’s wedding dress and a picture of my grandfather when he was a wee lad, the earliest picture we have of him. I have high hopes of uncovering even more treasures as we go through the remaining items.

Third, once the bedrooms are cleaned out, I’ll be rearranging furniture. The downstairs bedroom is earmarked for a living area slash TV and game room. I’ll be moving furniture from the current parlor to the new living room so that I can use the parlor as my office, while the current living room (where the fireplace is located) will become the parlor slash reading room. Having a dedicated writing spot will go a long way toward helping me re-establish my writing habit, so that’s something of a priority. Again, weather permitting. It’s hard to cart bags of old clothes off to the thrift store when your car is buried under a foot of snow.

Wow! That’s a Lot of Goals!

Nearly 3000 words worth to this point in the post, not that I’m counting. (Ha!)

The whole point of this is to a) reinforce my habit-driven process within my own mind, and b) to provide some accountability by posting my goals publicly. Encouraging words are very much appreciated, but please be kind. Remember that I’m the one in charge of the fate of some of your favorite characters.



Anyway, life always gets in the way, and I anticipate nothing less during 2018. Basketball and other family related events are going to happen and, most likely, will eat up more time than I anticipated. And that’s fine. Family comes first, but work runs a close second and I really need to focus on it, for my own sake if not for my readers’.

The other most likely interference will be work related. Once I finish a manuscript, regardless of length, I set it aside for a day to a couple of weeks and let it simmer while I work on something else. When I’m ready, I pull it back out again, read and revise it (if necessary, and it almost always is), then incorporate any changes into the master file. This can take anywhere from a couple of hours for a shorter story to a week or more for a novel, and during that time, I like to work solely on that story. It’s really difficult, after all, to finalize one story when you’ve got others floating around in your head.

So, I may be taking time here and there away from writing during which time I’ll still be working on getting stories out to you. Trust the process. I may not meet all my writerly goals exactly when I should, but I promise, I will be writing my way toward a really great 2018.

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2018 bring you much peace, success, and happiness.

Book and Author News

Book and Author News

Lots of news this month.

First up, for those of you who weren't aware, I just released two shorter stories under my own name, C.D. Watson: A Mutual Feeling, a SciFi Romance, and Intersections, a Fantasy Romance. Both of these were intended for my collection of Weird Romances (Romancing the Weird), but were so long, I decided to publish them on their own. 

Any subscriber of either of my Lucy Varna newsletters had a chance to pick up a free short story for pre-ordering A Mutual Feeling or Intersections. "Time after Time," offered to subscribers of my SciFi Romance newsletter, is a Steampunk flavored, historical time travel Romance. "Brian," offered to my Fantasy/Paranormal Romance newsletter subscribers, is about a young woman who encounters a series of bizarre coincidences in the men she meets. If you pre-ordered A Mutual Feeling and/or Intersections and haven't yet claimed your free short story, shoot me an email at with your pre-order receipt attached and I'll email your story to you. 

For those of you who didn't pre-order either of my newest stories and thus missed a chance at picking up the short stories, never fear. "Time after Time" will be published in Romancing the Weird. "Brian" has been sent off to a small press for inclusion in an anthology. If it's not picked up there, it will also be included in Romancing the Weird.

The audiobook edition of Cemetery Hill (Sunshine Walkingstick, Book 3), written under Celia Roman, is now available at Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. Rebecca Winder, the narrator, did a great job with it, as usual. Some of the parts are just downright creepy, thanks to her narration, which is exactly what I intended.

Rebecca also narrated the audiobook edition of Intersections, which will be out soon, and will begin narrating Dreaming of a Dark Christmas as soon as her schedule clears. I feel so fortunate to be working with such a talented voice actor, and an all around nice person to boot.

Don't forget to pre-order Dreaming of a Dark Christmas, which will be out on December 15th. In case you missed it, here's the post discussing the creation of my first short story collection, as well as the individual stories. I had a great time pulling the stories together and hope y'all enjoy these darker glimpses into three of my series, plus a brand new, non-series-affiliated story.

Speaking of short stories...

Around the first of October, I set a mini-challenge for myself to complete fifteen short stories between October 1st and November 30th. Unfortunately, I ran into a couple of crises, including my editor falling ill and needing some extra support and help. No worries! He's mostly better now, or at least he's riding his bicycle again, so that's good.

I did manage to finish five stories, three for the Christmas collection and two for Romancing the Weird. I worked on several more and may finish another couple by the end of this month, so I count the challenge a win even if it wasn't completely successful.

In an effort to prioritize my time and run a more efficient business, I've temporarily (probably) moved the ebook editions of all my Lucy Varna titles exclusively to Amazon. This should reduce the amount of time I need to spend on things like digital file and online retailer maintenance.

I've also decided to hold off on doing any more GoodReads giveaways for a while. Don't get me wrong. I love giving books away, but my time is really limited during the holiday season. Hopefully those can resume sometime after the new year.

The next release after Dreaming of a Dark Christmas will be The Gathering Storm (Daughters of the People, Book 6), written under Lucy Varna. I still haven't set an exact release date yet, but it will probably be published on the last Friday of the month. Yes, The Gathering Storm will definitely be released in January, even if I have to walk to Seattle and hand the finalized manuscript in at Amazon myself.

Redemption (Daughters of the People, Book 6.5) was supposed to be the next (novel) release after that. I'm working on it, yes. The first scene is done and the story itself is about halfway developed. 

Remember my post, "Rediscovering the Joy," in which I recounted some of my struggles to write over the past couple of years and how hard I've been working to get my writing back on track? 

Yeah, I'm still working on that.

One of the major problems that caused such a hard break in my writing process, and subsequently lead to a less productive schedule with fewer books being released, was my switch to a firm publication schedule, away from a system where I published a new novel roughly every other month without long-term planning as to which books would be published when.

For some idiotic reason, I'm having a hard time sloughing that mindset off and re-embracing my old outlook: Write what moves me, publish frequently, publish what's ready. The latter worked very well for me. This new way? Not so much. 

Unfortunately, I've also fallen into a habit of saying that I'm going to work on XYZ story next. Every time I write one of these posts, I sincerely mean to not do that, and every time, I completely forget and tell y'all this story or that one is underway.

The truth is that what I'm working on, what moves me, constantly changes. And that works for me. I love being able to switch between story worlds, and when I do, my creative juices run high and I'm able to consistently write well and often. Which, of course, translates into more stories for readers.

So, once The Gathering Storm is off my plate, I'm going to work hard on remembering what worked for me and forgetting what doesn't. No, scratch that. I'm already doing it. Tonight, I've worked on a story about Fate Hunter (a minor character in Alien Mine) and will likely write a scene in "Red," a dark and twisted short story. Yes, I'll also work on The Gathering Storm and probably Redemption, too, but I've found that if I don't work on stories that excite me, I can't write.

I know this is frustrating for readers who really want me to pinpoint when a story is going to be released. Please trust my process. Remember, the easier it is for me to write, the quicker you'll get the stories you really want, plus a few surprises along the way. All will work out, I promise. At least two series will be finished in 2018, three if I have my way, and I may throw one or two of those surprises at you in between. Stay tuned. The fun is just beginning.

Dreaming of a Dark Christmas

Dreaming of a Dark Christmas

I’ve finally finished all four stories in my “secret” project, a collection of dark Christmas stories which will be published under each of my writing names, Lucy Varna, V.R. Cumming, Celia Roman, and C.D. Watson, one story per name.

I conceived of this idea after stumbling across information on chapbooks, and had thought to produce four super short stories and have them published either individually or collectively as a chapbook. Now traditionally, chapbooks are rather small in size and length, so I planned to tell four complete dark holiday stories in under 1500 words each.

Ha, yes. It’s ok to laugh. Those of you who know me know very well that I write until the story is done, and sometimes that’s a lot longer word-count wise than I expected. Case in point: While developing A Mutual Feeling, I thought it would be no more than 7500 words long. The finished story weighs in at a respectable 19,117 words, a far cry from my original estimate.

So here I had this lovely idea, a short story collection featuring a tale told by each of my separate writing personas, and it was rapidly growing too cumbersome for its original medium. I do love my pivots, y’all. The easiest (and savviest) thing to do was continue with the project and simply publish it as I normally would. The result is my first holiday collection, Dreaming of a Dark Christmas.

Dreaming of a Dark Christmas

The entire project is mine from start to finish, with two lovely exceptions. I did the cover, wrote the introduction and the stories, formatted the digital and print editions, and am slowly creating pages for the book on each of my pertinent websites. The first exception is, of course, Richard, my editor, who so far loves each of the stories. He’s about to read through the fourth and final one, and hopefully will love it just as much as the other three.

The second exception is Rebecca Winder, narrator of the Sunshine Walkingstick Series and, when I get it proofed, Intersections. I just handed the three finished stories over to her to narrate in between her other projects. She has a great voice and is awesome to work with, so I’m very much looking forward to her finished product.

As to the stories themselves, I developed each one around a particular day of the holiday season. That’s how the stories got their names, and it’s why they’re ordered the way they are, by the date of the holiday rather than the year in which the story takes place. There’s quite a range here, too, from the American Civil War (“Christmas Eve Gift”) all the way up to the modern day (“On the 7th Day of Christmas”).

Here’s a quick peek at each of the stories, given here in the order in which they’ll appear within the collection.

“Christmas Eve Gift” by C.D. Watson

The story I published under my own name was originally going to be an historic Krampus tale co-written with my son. Alas, his free time is so rare, we simply couldn’t coordinate enough collaboration time to finish that story.

Instead, I took a tradition from my own family, moved it back in time a century and a half, fictionalized a local character by the name of Old Bill (a woman, by the way), and twisted the story a little to suit the collection’s mood.

The result is the only story in the collection to meet my original word count criteria of being less than 1500 words in length. Fitting then that it should go first.

In “Christmas Eve Gift,” Old Bill is on her way to her niece Sally’s house to play a traditional Christmas Eve prank on Sally and her family when she encounters an unexpected darkness. I had a lot of fun writing Old Bill, and hope to share her with you again in future stories.

“A Dark Christmas” by V.R. Cumming

One of the hardest things about writing a series is not being able to share all the really interesting back stories of secondary characters. Readers of The Vampyr Series should be familiar with Alice, Eric’s creche mate and a full-fledged vampire, and Gregory, Jason’s teammate and friend.

The New Vampire contains some fairly heavy hints that Alice is uneasy about Eric throwing her together with Gregory because of something that happened in Gregory’s past. I’ve wanted to tell that story for so long, it’s been difficult not to blurt out what really happened.

Guess what? Now I don’t have to. “A Dark Christmas” is the beginning of Alice and Gregory’s story, but it’s not what you think. In fact, this one may surprise the heck out of you. For those unfamiliar with the story world, don’t worry. “A Dark Christmas” is easily understood without having read a single word in The Vampyr Series.

“On the 7th Day of Christmas” by Celia Roman

If you’ve been following along in the Sunshine Walkingstick Series, then you’ve probably been waiting for Sunny and David to have their party. It finally happens on a very special night, New Year’s Eve.

That’s the seventh day of Christmas, if you were wondering. Yes, I had to look it up, too, but research is the fun part of being a writer. That and the chocolate. Oh, the lovely, dreamy, melt in your mouth chocolate. Yum.


Anyway, on the seventh day of Christmas Sunny encounters a monster that she doesn’t have to kill, but the whys of that are clues to the next story in the series. As with Alice’s story, “On the 7th Day of Christmas” was designed for every reader whether familiar with Sunny’s world or not.

“Twelfth Night” by Lucy Varna

Finally, a short story from the Daughters of the People Series. “Twelfth Night” jumps back in time to the night Lukas Alexiou turns thirteen. This is also the beginning of his relationship with the Woman with No Face, which is no coincidence at all.

As with “A Dark Christmas,” I’ve been wanting to recount this particular encounter for a long time. When I first conceived of the idea for a dark holiday collection, it seemed like a no-brainer to include the night when Lukas must decide where his destiny lies, under his father’s heel, or in the future promised to him by a mysterious, ageless assassin.

Again, this one can be understood without having read the Daughters of the People Series. If you’re a fan of the series, definitely don’t skip “Twelfth Night” as it is a nice companion to some of the events in the final three books of the series.

Dreaming of a Dark Christmas

I had a lot of fun with the four stories in Dreaming of a Dark Christmas, from brainstorming to writing to preparing them for publication, and on 15 December 2017, you can have some fun with them, too, as that’s when the collection will be released. You can preorder it now at Amazon, or wait until I announce it through one of my newsletters. Either way, you won’t want to miss these dark tales of Christmases past and present.

Book and Author News

Book and Author News

Not too much to report this month, but some interesting stuff nonetheless.

The Contests, Giveaways, and Sales page has a new format. I'm going to try to keep this updated a little better, but here's where you'll find information on upcoming and ongoing events, other than new releases, which have been added to the right-hand side of the page. 

Cemetery Hill, the third Sunshine Walkingstick novel, was released on 13 October. I'm happy to have this one out at long last. I love Sunny and her world, but it's difficult to write in. No idea if or when any other full-length novels will be released in this series, but keep reading for news on a possible anthology containing a short story.

I haven't set a specific release date for The Gathering Storm yet. It's still being released in January 2018, probably after the middle of the month, which is generally when I release titles. I'll have a more specific date as soon as I finish the first draft. That should be soon. I'm in the middle of some of the more climactic scenes near the end of the book, and expect to have no more than 10-15 scenes left, most of which have been planned out.

I wrote a brief blog post containing cover reveals for the final two books in the series, plus the final book in the Pruxnae Series, about a month ago on the Lucy Varna blog. Here are the covers, because wow, are they good. I'm so excited to finally be able to share them!

That blog post also contained possible release dates for Redemption (Daughters of the People, Book 6.5) and War's Last Refuge (Daughters of the People, Book 7). I'm fairly certain, but not entirely positive, that Redemption will be released in March rather than February, and War's Last Refuge in April or May, depending on how long it takes me to write it. I expect the final book of the series to be longer than the rest, so it could take much longer to write. There's just a lot going on in that story, as it wraps up not just the series, but also the story of the People.

After I finish writing the Daughters of the People Series, my current plan is to work on The Master Vampire, the final novel in the Vampyr Series (V.R. Cumming), and then tackle Sweet Surrender. I know readers are chomping at the bit for Eric's story. I had planned on releasing it and Sweet Surrender this year, but couldn't due to some personal issues. 

A reader asked if there will be more Sons of the People novels. My tentative answer is yes. The series was supposed to span four novels interspersed among other novels of the People (explained in the linked blog post). I would very much like to tackle Ruby and Jordan's story as the next Sons of the People novel, and have begun developing it. (Yes, we will see more of Lali, and probably Petey, too.) 

That said, I've been considering a shift in what I write for a couple of years now, from romantic fiction to "straight" (non-romantic) fiction, particularly in the Speculative Fiction genres (Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Weird Fiction). When I set my schedule for the next couple of years, always a tentative process that's continually being revised, I completely forgot to include stories for that new direction. Hey, I was super excited to finally jot down all the stories I've been dying to write beyond the ones already promised!

I'll be revising my schedule again soon, and will include the new stories there. I had planned to publish those stories, along with short stories, under the name Isobel Fletcher, but after much consideration, I said screw it and am publishing them under my own name instead. Publishing under pen names is tiring, and feels less than honest to me, even though it's not. In fact, it's a time honored tradition. 

Still, I'm oddly happy for the change. I took a couple of days to rearrange the websites to reflect the change, and hope to have the Romancing the Weird anthology published in the first quarter of 2018.

Speaking of anthologies, I've been working on a secret project for a few months now, a Christmas anthology containing a short story written under each of my names, Lucy Varna, Celia Roman, V.R. Cumming, and (of course) C.D. Watson. Two of the stories are finished. "Twelfth Night" by Lucy Varna is written from the perspective of a young Lukas Alexiou, and details his first encounter with the Woman with No Face. "On the 7th Day of Christmas" by Celia Roman takes place on New Year's Eve at the party David and Sunny cooked up. Yes, they're finally having it! 

I'm in the middle of writing a V.R. Cumming (non-sexual) short story told from the perspective of Eric's creche-mate, Alice, tentatively titled "Dreaming of a Dark Christmas." The final story will be written under my own name and will possibly involve Krampus, but don't get too excited. That one's only tentative at this point.

If I can get all the stories written, then the anthology will go out in December. I'll have more news on it soon, including a cover reveal. Hopefully fans of the series will enjoy the stories.

That's it for now. Happy fall, y'all!

Looking for America

Looking for America

I'm on my way home from a spontaneous road trip, embarked upon last week due to an itchy restlessness I couldn't shake. I haven't been on one of these in a while. The last one took me to the very same place I ended up in this time, along a very similar route, almost exactly one year ago.

I tell people I'm a free spirit, but maybe traveling this journey twice in two years is the beginning of a routine, or maybe it's a sign; maybe there's a reason I'm drawn to this particular area. Both could be equally true.

Sometimes I like to drive and be surprised by the journey. This time, I set out for a particular destination. I've been to parts of the Outer Banks in northeastern North Carolina before (the beginning of Say Yes was set near Kitty Hawk), but I'd never been to Wilmington or the beaches in southeastern NC. 

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.

The view of the Atlantic Ocean from Wrightsville Beach.

I loaded the car Tuesday night and pointed it toward Wilmington the next day, fully intending to stay at least until the weekend. The drive was beautiful. Blue skies, bucolic fields, but man, was it hot. I think the temperature reached at least 95 on Wednesday as I was driving, and again the next day after a restless night spent in a hotel outside Wilmington.

Naturally, I headed to the one place everyone goes when it's that hot: The beach, specifically Wrightsville Beach, a stretch of gray sand outlining this section of the Atlantic Ocean. I think I spent more time looking for a parking spot along the waterfront than actually on the beach, and when I finally found a spot, I couldn't figure out how to work the parking meters.

Hey, I'm a writer, not a machine operator.

Fortunately, a sweet young man employed with parking enforcement came along and helped me feed a quarter into the machine. When I told him I had driven in the night before and only wanted to walk over to the ocean and back, he waved away my money and said, "Stay as long as you want." I could've hugged him, I was so grateful for his kindness.

Seashells, Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Seashells, Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.

On the way back from the beach, I stopped in historic downtown Wilmington (ok, I got lost in historic downtown Wilmington) and visited The Noble Thread, a yarn shop crammed into a nook on Water Street between a store for pet lovers and another full of intricately crafted woodwork. The owner had a lovely foreign accent I couldn't place, and was wearing a long-sleeved cardigan. The air conditioning, she said; it chilled her. "We're knitting sweaters now," she told me. "For the winter, when the cold arrives."

Meanwhile, I was in shorts and a t-shirt, and was trying hard not to suffocate in the middle of her lovely selection of hand knit shawls and multi-hued skeins of yarn. Last January's nine inches of snow is a faint memory. Never mind that I've already had a fire going at home and, in August, cast on a winter hiking cardigan in a sturdy, worsted weight wool.

The high heat turned out to be too much for me. People talk about Southern women being hothouse flowers, but I'm mountain born and bred. I wilt in temperatures over the mid-80s, so in spite of the shop owner's promises of cooler weather to come, that afternoon I headed north toward more temperate climes.

Google Maps routed me along the most remote backroads between Wilmington and Norfolk. Night fell before I found a restaurant for the evening meal that wasn't McDonald's or Subway, and that turned out to be a good thing. 

Doris & Roger's Restaurant is a Mom & Pop located off Hwy. 13 in Gates, a tiny community situated just south of the North Carolina-Virginia state line. The menu consisted of standard fare, burgers and sandwiches and chicken fingers, and a goodly selection of meat and two combinations. The sweet tea was delicious. Y'all folks living outside the South just don't know how bad you've got it, having to drink that unsweetened stuff. 

Every other guest in Doris & Roger's was a local. The youngest son of the family in the booth behind me was doing homework while waiting on their food to arrive. An older couple sitting across the room stopped by the booth in front of me (a mother and two kids) and gossiped for a while on their way out the door. It was like sitting in a restaurant back home. Same good-hearted folks, same friendly smiles, same routine conversations. 

"How's your mom doing, hon? I heard she was in the hospital."

"Oh, she's better now. Doc sent her home, told her to stay off her feet. Say, did you hear about Lou? She's down in her back again."

I chatted with the waitress, a high school girl sporting a blonde ponytail and a bouncy step, and nearly inhaled a plate of country fried steak, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Good, hearty, Southern fare. I turned down the offer of dessert (though lordy, was I tempted) and hit the road again. A couple of hours later, I reached the hotel I'd stayed in last year during my first trip to the Norfolk, Virginia, area.

Two trips to the same locale in two years does not a pattern make. Does it?

A giant rosemary bush, Norfolk Botanical Garden, Norfolk, Virginia.

A giant rosemary bush planted in front of the Visitor Center, Norfolk Botanical Garden, Norfolk, Virginia.

Last year when I visited the Norfolk area, I went to the Virginia Aquarium and took a dolphin cruise skirting Virginia Beach. It was my first time out on the Atlantic Ocean. The dolphins were out in full force. A couple of the pods included calves, which were fun to watch.

This year, I started off at the Norfolk Botanical Garden. I needed to get out in the sun and stretch my legs, and this turned out to be the perfect place to do it.

I couldn't figure out the map (maybe if I'd put on my peepers?), so I walked around the visitor's center through paths lined with all manner of plants. Some I knew, thanks to a flower loving mother and a short stint working at an herb garden, and some I didn't. I tried to hunt down name tags for the ones I couldn't identify from memory. Alas, not every plant was marked. 

The first section I happened upon was the Rose Garden, row upon row of roses of every kind and color separated by dense paths of lush grass. Most of the visitors stuck to the marked paths. A few of us more adventurous ones wandered onto the grass. An Asian man wearing a brimmed hat and a long sleeved shirt over cargo pants snapped closeups of the blooms with a fancy 35 mm camera. An ancient African-American woman meandered from bush to bush, sniffing any rose that caught her fancy. Young couples held hands as they strolled the grounds, and parents led their children carefully away from the thorn tipped stems.

One young girl piped out a reasonable question. "Where are the signs that say no walking on the grass?"

I don't know what answer her parents gave to satisfy her curiosity. I was too busy smelling the roses.

Lasting Peace rose bush, Norfolk Botanical Gardens, Virginia.

Lasting Peace rose bush, the Rose Garden, Norfolk Botanical Garden.

I lost track of time during the trip. I don't wear a watch and my calendar is used mostly to help me keep track of work, not days of the week. Sometime after my trip to the Botanical Garden, a deranged individual opened fire on a crowd of music lovers. The internet erupted in a storm of vitriol and sorrow in nearly equal measures, it seemed, and the wedge shoved into the gaps between the various members of America's multi-everything society dug in a little deeper. 

I'm still not at a point where I can comment on this terrible tragedy, except to express my own sorrow for the victims.

I'd love to point out that those calling for more laws don't understand what laws actually do. They don't protect. They don't prevent. They only allow society to punish actions deemed criminal, long after the crime has been committed. Sadly, the people needing to hear this the most are deaf to reason.

While the tragedy and subsequent brouhaha unfolded, I did what I always do. I wrote. I observed. And I tried to keep my focus where it needed to be, on the things I have some control over, even if control is in appearance only. 

One night, I wrote a short story nearly two thousand words in length. It flowed out of me so swiftly, I have to wonder if perhaps worry pushed it out. My time in Norfolk was coming to an end, long before I was ready for it to. The work I'd set aside to accomplish there had hit another snag, and I was becoming frustrated with it and the reactions to the Las Vegas shooting.

The day before I left, I jumped in the car and headed toward the beach, hoping to clear my mind. On the way, I stopped at The Yarn Club, a nifty shop in Virginia Beach. 

Yarns bought on my trip home.

Yarns bought on my trip home. From left to right: Malabrigo Sock, color 850 Archangel (The Noble Thread, Wilmington, NC); Dragonfly Fibers Djinni, color Beauty School Dropout, and Yarn Love, color Juliet Mermaid (The Yarn Club, Virginia Beach, VA); Sugar Bush Cabot, color 9023 Serenity Lane (Gate City Yarns, Greensboro, NC).

When I'm upset, yarn therapy always helps, particularly when the staff is friendly and the store carries lots of yarn. The Yarn Club fits that description to a tee. Given the way the ladies in attendance discussed projects, I'm fairly certain I was the only stranger, and most definitely the only newcomer. When knitters discuss each other's progress on patterns with ease, you know they spend a lot of time together.

What tickled me the most was the conversation between Andrea, the store's owner, and a young woman winding a skein of yarn on a hand-cranked winder. "I told my mom I was going to hang around until I was indispensable," the young woman said. Without missing a beat, Andrea replied, "You know, it so happens that I'm looking for someone to help out. [So-and-so] just can't work a reliable schedule between classes, and she doesn't want to work Saturdays. Why don't you come in next week..."

I lost the tail-end of that conversation to one taking place closer to me revolving around another woman's yarn purchases. "I'm still working on that blanket," she said, "but [so-and-so] told me about this yarn, and I just had to come in and see it for myself." The woman to whom she was talking nodded sagely, as if she understood exactly which blanket, which so-and-so, and which yarn the first woman was discussing.

It's hard to stay upset around a group like that.

Half an hour, three skeins of yarn, and a new pattern later, I continued on toward Virginia Beach. Unsurprisingly, it took as long to find a parking spot as it did to drive there. It's not that the lots were full; they weren't. There's just not a lot of public parking. 

I finally found a spot near a public playground situated on the ultra-fine, orange tinted sand. Half a dozen folks dangled fishing lines over a metal rail into a man-made inlet outlined by a boulder pier. Three Navy vessels sailed into it as I walked along the concrete boardwalk.

Can a boardwalk really be a boardwalk if it's not made of wood?

The beach itself slopes gently down into the churning Atlantic, a brown-green mass of foam topped waves. There were no seashells here. Whether the beach had been picked clean or the ocean had drawn them back into her depths, I couldn't say. Seagulls and small birds, possibly sandpipers, ran along the edges of the beached waves. Each time a wave hit the shore, the birds scuttled out of the water's reach, then scurried into the ebbing wave's wake and pecked at the sand. There was a rhythm there, between the crash of the waves and the birds' flocking hunt, an endless, ageless interdependency affected more by the strolling couples sharing the birds' hunting grounds than by the ships dotting the horizon.

I stood at the water's edge under the fading sun letting a thought go with every curl of water onto sand. A nearby sandcastle, a relic of an earlier visitor to the beach, eroded away under the unceasing tide. Simon and Garfunkle came to mind. I am a rock, they sang. I am an island.

A rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.

I'm human and, in spite of my self-imposed, introverted isolation, I'm not an island. I'm an American mourning the senseless loss of so many good people. That day, under a blue sky stretching as far as I could see, I cried for people I will never know, for their families, and for a grief-stricken nation scarred not by bullets or guns, but by the hands of an individual whose motives we may never know.

The boulder pier, Virginia Beach.

The boulder pier, Virginia Beach.

Every human is inherently both good and evil. Each of us carries those seeds from birth. Whether they are watered by nature or nurture is immaterial. The roots are there, growing within us, a fact humans have grappled with since the beginnings of self-awareness hundreds of thousands of years ago. The idea that evil deeds are caused by outside forces clings to ideological dogmas like Marxism, in part because no individual can accept the innate bad residing within herself. Poverty must be the root of crime, such philosophies insist, and poverty is caused by corporate greed. Those filthy capitalist pigs, Marxists scream. Power to the people.

Never mind that white collar crime is rooted in the excess of money, not its lack, and the fact that some people are just wrong inside. Let's not allow logic to stand in the way of a good slogan.

Before I'm accused of flogging an abhorred (and logically untenable) ideology, I should add that this same attitude exists across a wide swath of human beliefs. The religiously faithful believe morality is achieved only through the belief in a higher power, and that good and bad alike are imposed on humans by outside powers, God and Satan in Christianity, for example. 

It's easy to place our sins at the feet of a supernatural force, or someone else's misdeeds, or a tool (like a gun), and much harder to accept personal responsibility. 

But this is human nature. To decry it is an exercise in futility. We will always look outside ourselves for answers.

Virginia Beach

The Atlantic Ocean at Virginia Beach.

Monday night, I packed and loaded everything I didn't need for the next day into the car. The next morning, after a night spent working and too little sleep, I headed for my final destination, the Nauticus campus in downtown Norfolk. 

If America was broken and its people ruined by innate evil, it didn't show here. In the morning, I toured the museums and science centers housed inside Nauticus (officially the National Maritime Center), and toured the deck of the USS Wisconsin, a decommissioned battleship moored onsite. The entire complex was manned in part by volunteers who, unless I'm sorely mistaken, were former military service members. Tourists speaking a variety of languages mingled with Americans of all flavors.

On the Battleship Wisconsin, I skirted the people and ducked under lifeboats, through topside narrow corridors created between clearly labeled machinery and steel sided compartments. Everything was a flat gray I came to associate with the Navy during my brief stay in the area, everything except the deck and the giant anchor chains stretched along a sizable chunk of its length.

I had just enough time for lunch between that and a Navy Base Cruise scheduled for two o'clock, so I went to the onsite Dockside Cafe and ordered a truly awesome club sandwich. The gentleman manning the cash register was a Jersey boy, born and bred. We had a lovely conversation about the differences between there and Virginia, including his love of the mountains and snow (I told him to come on out to Western North Carolina), and how that area of Virginia isn't really the South. 

Lunch was brought to me by a thin woman in her '60s, and I swear, she had to be a native Southerner. When I tried to take my food tray from her, she said, "I got it, hon" and took it to my table. I got a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and a big smile. I'm not sure which made my day, the conversation with the cashier, the excellent meal, or her, but by the time I finished eating and headed off for the cruise, I was in a much better mood.

A gun on the USS Wisconsin.

A 16" gun on the USS Wisconsin, Norfolk, Virginia.

The Navy Base Cruise is a two-hour tour of that section of the Elizabeth River. We saw a ship in dry dock and enough boats, ships, and cargo-loading cranes for a lifetime. The tour guide pointed out many of the features we could see, including historic sites in Norfolk and nearby Portsmouth, and was kind enough to detail the different seagoing vessels as we passed.

I have never seen so many gray ships in my life. Since I'm only seldom around large bodies of water, that's probably not saying much.

The halfway point of the tour was the Navy Base itself. We saw only parts of it, mainly the ships moored at various piers. The highlight for me was seeing the two aircraft carriers moored at the farthest pier. My brother was a yellow shirt on the USS Abraham Lincoln and an uncle served aboard the USS Nimitz. I knew that aircraft carriers are floating cities, but until I saw them for myself, I didn't realize how truly massive the carriers are.

We had some special guests on board during the cruise, a reunion of crew members of the USS Harlan R. Dickson. After the ship (boat?) turned around near the aircraft carriers, the reunion guests performed a small memorial to shipmates and other military personnel lost in combat. It was a brief ceremony. Some of the wives threw flowers into the boat's wake, someone said a prayer, and at the end, Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" was broadcast over the speakers.

I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free.

Even a staunch libertarian like me feels a burst of nationalistic fervor when Greenwood sings, and I'd gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.

America is a symbol for freedom, and not just any kind of freedom, but that on the most basic level, the freedom of the individual to live his or her life in a way that most benefits him, as long as it materially harms no other's rights to the same. That ideal has drawn millions of immigrants to this great land for centuries, and we enfold them into our embrace, much as the ocean gathers shells from the shore and returns them to her depths. Humans were meant to live free. For much of the world, America is freedom's home.

So maybe I wasn't being nationalistic after all when I heard those words. I would fight, and die, for the ideal of freedom, but I will always remember that an ideal is nothing without the people in whom it is imbued, and a country is nothing without its people. Many fight to uphold those ideals, here at home by speaking out against injustices and promoting freedom wherever they can, or elsewhere through military and other service to our country.

Some give their lives fighting wars we don't always understand. Death is inevitable. Even the universe will die at some point, and be reborn again as something new. Sacrifice for freedom isn't a new concept, but it's difficult to accept when someone else is dying for your right to live freely.

Letter in bronze, Armed Forces Memorial, Norfolk, Virginia.

Letter in bronze, Armed Forces Memorial, Norfolk.

An Armed Forces Memorial occupies one corner of the sidewalk near where the Navy Base Cruise boat docks. It consists of excerpts from letters written by deceased soldiers, cast in bronze sheets that were scattered around the enclosure as if they'd been blown there by the wind. The letters contained sentiments of poignant beauty alongside blunt hopelessness and despair.

When will this war end? I long to be home.

I read those letters as I waited for the cruise to begin, and I thought of my grandfather, who died during World War II, not so that his wife and children would have freedom, but on the slim hope that the Nazi occupied land he flew over would someday share in that freedom. He gave his life for people he never knew, and they repaid him by burying him and his crew mates, and remembering them. It was all they could give until that freedom was achieved. Later, one of the witnesses, then a young boy, founded a museum to honor those who died that day in the air battle over his village. 

Everything has an ugly side. For my grandfather, the fight for an ideal led to his death.

For the victims of the Las Vegas shooting, the freedom of self-defense enshrined in the 2nd Amendment was perverted and twisted at the hands of an individual who lacked all respect for it and other individuals.

We cannot have the good without having the bad. 

America will never be the Utopian ideal libertarians hope for, in which individuals exist in perfect respect for one another, and I fervently hope it will never devolve into the socialistic, omniscient state my friends on the left desire it to be. Neither is realistic, nor overly likely to succeed or persevere. 

In the wake of the tragedy that unfolded in the City of Lights, I was reminded again and again that America is not the embodiment of evil, that her heart is her people, and the people, while flawed and merely human, are basically good. 

It was there in a sheepish waitress's smile when I hunted her down to retrieve the silverware she'd forgotten to bring me.

It was there in the love shared by couples walking along the beach, disturbing birds busy chasing waves.

It was there in the conversations shared with me and overheard, in the friendship offered by the many people I met, and in the kindness bestowed upon a stranger just passing through.

America isn't lost. It isn't broken. It's there if you look for it, beyond the yellow journalism, fake news, and social media rants, beneath the ever unconstitutional restrictions imposed upon our freedoms by well-intentioned (and occasionally politically expedient) politicians. It exists in the hearts and minds of her people, and in the communities we build one with another, not in borders or government offices or even a piece of paper enshrining humanity's natural rights. 

I wasn't looking for America when I set out on my quest to shake the restlessness plaguing me, certainly not the America portrayed in news broadcasts here and abroad, but America is what I found. The journey was a potent reminder of the power we have to perpetuate one of the most fragile and pursued states humans have ever faced: The freedom of, and absolute right to, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Bon voyage, my friends, and safe travels. Freedom is gonna be a bumpy ride.

The Pontiac Man

The Pontiac Man

I come from a family of many stories. When we can’t find one appropriate for a situation, we make one up on the spot. I tease my dad that he kissed the Blarney Stone one time too many, as good a reason as any as to why he’s such a great storyteller, but the truth is, some people have the gift of story and he’s one of them.

One of his stories revolves around Pontiacs. Dad has been a fan of the brand for a long time now, particularly of the Grand Am and Grand Prix models. When the company decided to no longer produce them, it about broke his heart.

Dad owned versions of one or the other a few times. I bought one from him, and Dad gave another to my son when he turned eighteen, so we like to joke that Pontiacs are a family tradition. Dad reminds my son frequently about the power of a Pontiac. “When drivers see a Pontiac man coming, they know to get out of the way,” he’ll tease. When my son and I are out driving in his car and he hesitates, I say, “It’s a Pontiac, honey.” And away we go, carried along by the power and thrill of the Grand Prix’s roar.

For the longest time, I’ve wanted to write an essay about my father’s love of Pontiacs, and have never found a good place to start. Finally, I wrote a short story called “The Pontiac Man.” It’s not about Dad, no, and it’s not even about cars (although Dad did pick out the particular model used in the story), but it is a tribute in my own small way to the influence Pontiacs have had on our family.

“The Pontiac Man” is currently available online as a free read, for this week only. You can read it here, and when you’re done, take a moment to remember the passing of the Pontiac, an American legend, into the vaunted halls of memory.


Book and Author News

Book and Author News

Lots of news this month, particularly concerning the Sunshine Walkingstick Series published under Celia Roman, one of my pen names.

First up, the free stuff. I have three GoodReads giveaways going on right now, each ending on 30 August 2017. Three paperback copies of each title are up for grabs to US residents, so hop on over and enter: Greenwood Cove (Sunshine Walkingstick, Book 1) by Celia Roman; Alien Mine (The Pruxnae Series, Book 3) by Lucy Varna; and The Vampire's Favorite (The Vampyr Series, Book 2) by V.R. Cumming. Good luck!

Cemetery Hill, the third novel in the Sunshine Walkingstick Series, is almost here. I'm so excited to finish this one, as it's a doozy in a lot of ways. The official release date is 13 October 2017, a perfect date considering the creep factor. In fact, I moved the release date for that very reason.

Cemetery Hill is available for preorder now, or if you'd rather wait, just keep an eye out here, on Facebook, or in the Celia Roman newsletter and I'll let you know when it's available for sale. 

I've already contracted out the audio edition, and yes, the lovely Rebecca Winder will be narrating it.

Speaking of audiobooks, the audio edition of The Deep Wood (Sunshine Walkingstick, Book 2) is finally here. It's available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes

I've also released the audio edition of Death Omen (A Sunshine Walkingstick Short Story), which Rebecca kindly narrated for me. Since I couldn't ever get my mailing list provider to cooperate so I could make it available for newsletter subscribers, I finally put it up for sale. It's available at Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. While the digital edition of Death Omen is still free to newsletter subscribers, other readers can now purchase either the ebook or paperback editions at their leisure.

After Cemetery Hill is released in October (with the audiobook following probably in November), I likely will not have news on the Sunshine Walkingstick Series for a good, long while. For one, I want to catch up with my other series, but for another, Sunny has worn me out. (I talked about that a little in my last news update.) It's possible that I may never write in the series world again outside of short stories, but saying so for certain would be unwise. I have been known to get a wild hair every once in a while and write something unplanned. That's how we got Sunny in the first place!

Speaking of wild hairs and unplanned stories, I'm (very tentatively) working on a surprise for all my readers, regardless of which pen name one prefers. Keep your fingers crossed, as it should be an interesting surprise, if I can squeeze in the time to work on it.

Remember "Intersections," the first story for the Romancing the Weird anthology? Well, I finally finished it and did indeed release it to newsletter subscribers this past July. I'm working on the next two stories for the anthology, one of which is already mentioned on the book's page. It's a tossup as to which story I'll finish first, but one of them should be released soon.

So far, I have about eight stories I hope to include in Romancing the Weird. Whether all of them make the cut or not is another thing!

Now that Sunny's first three books are mostly out of the way (we still have some editing to do before the official release date), I've turned my attention to the next story on my list, The Gathering Storm, which is officially Book 6 in the Daughters of the People Series, but is in reality the seventh book. 

The series was originally supposed to have seven books, a symbolic reflection of the Seven Sisters. When Tempered came along, I slid it in between Books 3 and 4 (The Enemy Within and In All Things, Balance) as Book 3.5, which has confused the dickens out of readers. Yes, you should read Tempered between those two! Then I had such a blast writing from India's point of view, I added another .5, bringing the entire number of novels in the series to nine. Unplanned stories seem to be a thing for me, but that usually works out to everyone's benefit, so I'm not complaining.

Anyway, as part of my preparation for diving back into writing in this series, I've been re-reading the books, beginning with The Prophecy. If you haven't already, you can read some of my thoughts on revisiting the series here.

Yes, this is my first series, but even if it weren't, it would be my favorite. The story world is so deep, and it draws from areas in which I have personal experience, including genealogy, history, and archaeology. Plus, I really enjoy the variety of characters and situations. Every story is fresh and new, and allows me to bring in different aspects of life every single time. I had no idea, for instance, how much of my personal beliefs slipped into the stories until the current re-read.

Since I'm slowly re-immersing myself in the world of the People, I may go ahead and write the final two books in the series after completing the first draft for The Gathering Storm, if my momentum holds. Redemption, officially Book 6.5, will jump back a little in time and pick up not long after Bobby Upton's kidnapping. Those who enjoyed seeing peeks of India Furia and her budding romance with Hiro Okada, one of Bobby's BFFs, will absolutely love Redemption, as it will feature the contrarian Daughter and the former Delta Force Operator.

The couple featured in the final book, War's Last Refuge, is a surprise I've been holding onto from the beginning. Alas, all good things must end. The big reveal happens in The Gathering Storm; by the end of Sigrid and Will's tale, readers should have a good idea of which characters will take the lead in the series finale. 

I know my slower writing schedule is frustrating to some readers, but I am working steadily on the first draft for The Gathering Storm. No promises on a release date yet, but I'm well aware that it's been two years since Sanctuary's release. I absolutely, positively, beyond any doubt did not mean to leave readers hanging that long. Hopefully, I can make it up to you by providing a solid finish to the series in the last three books. If I have my way (and since I'm the writer, there's a pretty good chance of that), I'll be writing and releasing many more books in this story world over the coming decades. 

Speaking of extra stories, Say Yes, the first Sons of the People novel, was one of those unplanned surprises. I just finished re-reading it, and have to say, Petey's epilogue had me a little teary eyed.

I hardly ever do sales on Say Yes, since it's sort of hanging out there on its own until I get more stories in the series done, but it's been a while since its release, so it's time. Right now, you can pick up Say Yes for free at Kobo, or for $.99 or the equivalent at Amazon. Those prices are good for a very short, very limited time. Since the regular retail price is $4.99, go get your copy now and enjoy it while beach reading season is still upon us here in the northern hemisphere.

I wrote a blog post for authors called "How Much Is Your Writing Really Worth?" that somewhat briefly discusses placing a real dollar value on your work, if only so you'll have a goal to shoot for. I haven't written much for that blog over the past few months because the posts generally take a lot of work. Right now, I'd rather focus on writing fiction, which is where I make my livelihood.

That said, I'm slowly beginning work on a pet project, Alternate Realms Magazine, which will eventually feature original short stories in a quarterly format, supplemented by articles and reviews on the website. The focus there will be on short fiction created by indie and hybrid authors, as well as unpublished writers and freelancers. Getting the magazine started (and it will be a magazine) will likely take a lot of elbow grease, but I believe in the project and hope to attract readers and writers to it in a slow and incremental fashion.

That's all my news for now. Don't forget to enter the GoodReads giveaways and pick up Say Yes while it's on sale. 

Rediscovering the Joy

Rediscovering the Joy

A few weeks ago, when it became clear that I was on the verge of (finally) finishing the first draft of Cemetery Hill (Sunshine Walkingstick, Book 3, by Celia Roman), I decided to re-read the Daughters of the People Series (Lucy Varna) in preparation for continuing work in that story world. The last series release was in August 2015 (Sanctuary, Book 5), and while I've been fiddling with developing the final three books in the series over the past two years, I wanted to refresh my memory on the story world before diving into it again.

The evolution of the cover for The Prophecy, with the original cover on the left and the latest one on the right. All covers were designed by L.J. Anderson, Mayhem Cover Creations.

I've written elsewhere about the way the Daughters of the People Series came about, from the initial concepts to writing The Prophecy, my first novel. The magic of discovery, that first moment when I realized I could actually write fiction, changed my life. Finishing The Prophecy was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, and the start of my career as a writer.

My first year of writing was so steeped in that magic, I couldn't stop writing. The dam, built over forty plus years of dreaming and trying and, often, failing, had broken. Words gushed out faster than I could capture them, and the ideas flowed with them. My editor jokes that if I never had another idea, I could write at a steady pace for years without running out of the ones already found.

Somewhere along the way, under the stress of family tragedy, a surprisingly well-selling novel, and a reader-oriented publishing schedule, I lost that magic. Writing became a chore, one I began to dread, and over the past two years, I struggled to write. It wasn't just that the joy I'd discovered in writing had disappeared; my entire process collapsed. Anyone who's followed my career can easily tell this simply by looking at the number of titles published in 2016 and 2017, compared to my first two years. The difference is staggering.

My mother used to tell me, "Thursday's child has far to go." I always took that to mean I had a lot of work to do before I'd get anywhere, that I had a long, long road ahead of me. When I told Mom this, she looked startled and said, "No, it means you're going to do great things."

Whenever I doubt myself, I try to remember that conversation, and her implicit faith.


The original cover for Light's Bane (left) and the current one (right).

For the past nine months or so, I've been concentrating on writing and publishing the Sunshine Walkingstick Series. It was an experiment, to see if I could write non-romantic fiction and to try to determine in which genre my writing style will fit best. Although I love each and every story world I write in, I've grown tired of Romance. My (writer's) voice and the style of stories I write don't fit well with what Romance readers enjoy reading.

Some, yes. Of course, yes, as I have a dedicated audience for each of my romantic series. 

But I kept asking myself if I'd be better off writing in a genre that tolerates, for example, deeper world building, a slower build, and stories that make the reader think. The umbrella of Speculative Fiction seemed like a good fit. I've always wanted to write short stories, I love all things Weird and Wondrous, and I had ideas by the bucket load. 

So I started a new pen name (Isobel Fletcher) under which I planned to write short stories of all genres fantastical, as well as novel length SciFi Horror. I'm still heading in that direction.

My plan (and I did craft a plan) entailed writing under two pen names, neither one of which would produce strict romances.

Eh. I should know better than to plan. 

From left to right, the first cover for The Enemy Within, the concept cover I created one afternoon, and the cover L.J. created based on that concept. It was at this point that she redesigned the covers for the first two novels in the Daughters of the People Series, and the concept off of which the covers for later novels were designed.

I promised myself that before I went too far down a new path, and especially before I added any new novels to my schedule, I would finish all the series I already had going so I could start with a relatively clear slate. Getting through the Sunshine Walkingstick Series was like slogging through cold molasses. That constant pressure to hurry up and publish killed 95% of the joy of writing in Sunny's world. For the first time since finishing The Prophecy, I found myself unable to juggle stories, a process that had been incredibly successful for me during my first two years writing fiction. Yes, I snuck in a few short stories here and there, but that was later, after I began to realize that I was doing everything all wrong.

When it feels wrong, it probably is wrong.

But this is the advice that nearly everyone gives to other writers: Write in series. Write in genres that sell. Create a publication schedule and stick to it.

That doesn't work for me. It took me entirely too long to realize that, and now that I have, I wonder why I ever thought it was a good idea in the first place, when what I'd been doing (writing what moved me, publishing as I finished) had worked so well. Organic planning works for me, and yes, I do have a plan. Rigid schedules? Not so much. 

Here's another piece of advice some writers tout as absolute truth: Never read your finished stories. Never look back. Always look forward.

That one doesn't work for me either. For one, some of my story worlds are so intricate, there's no way I can store all that information in a series bible. I mean, for pete's sake. The Daughters of the People Series is a nine book series, plus half a dozen or so short stories (several already published), a spin-off series (beginning with Say Yes), and more to come. It's just easier to read the stories.

For another, I actually like the stories I've written. Imagine that, a writer enjoying her own story worlds. 

It's been so long since I've written in the Daughters of the People world, there's no way I could finish the final three books in the series without refreshing my memory. But let me tell you, I dreaded the thought of picking up The Prophecy and reading it again. I knew my writing style had changed. Shoot, it changed so much in the first year alone that I ended up revising my first two novels and issuing second editions of each one.

I knew going into this re-read that I couldn't revise those books again, no matter how flawed they were. I just don't have the time. There are going to be problems, I thought, and tacked on a well-meant, Just cut off your internal editor and get through the story so you can move on.

The middle three books in the series: Tempered; In All Things, Balance; and Sanctuary. Tempered was not an original part of my seven-book-series plan. The main female character, Hawthorne, appeared in the first book, and grew on me so much, I decided to give her her own story. It was a finalist in the 2015 Maggie Award for Excellence (Georgia Romance Writers) in its category. 

And you know what? I found problems. The opening was slow, the writing was stilted, those damn misused participle phrases I hate so much kept popping up.

Know what else? About a third of the way through The Prophecy, I forgot all that and started enjoying the story. I rediscovered the magic I'd created nearly four years ago during the seven weeks it took me to write it.

By the end of the story, I was hooked. As soon as I finished The Prophecy, I picked up Light's Bane and sped through it, went on to The Enemy Within and ditto, and am now halfway through Tempered. These books are my bedtime reading. At times, I literally have to force myself to put them down so I can get enough sleep to function the next day. I don't always succeed, but now I know why some readers call the series addictive. 

Before my process breakdown roughly two years ago, I had planned on expanding the Daughters of the People world with two spin-off series, one being the aptly named Sons of the People Series and the other a seven book series that would take place after the final book in the Daughters of the People Series. Additionally, I had planned two short story collections, one of which I decided to go ahead with regardless (I already have a cover, too), and a three-part story starring the Woman with No Face.

The funny thing is, before all the craziness that started in the summer of 2015, I knew I could write in the world of the People for a very long time and be happy for it. Now that I've rediscovered the joy of this story world, I have also rediscovered that certainty. 

No Good Deed by Lucy Varna
The Christmas Surprise by Lucy Varna
Trick or Treat by Lucy Varna

The covers I created for three Daughters of the People short stories, which I wrote for newsletter subscribers. Two of the stories will be included in the first short story collection. The third will serve as the opening scenes of a Sons of the People novel. 

I was able to resist the temptation to fix the flaws in The Prophecy, including the typos. They weren't so numerous that they detract from the story.

Light's Bane, on the other hand, needs another pass. When I revised it (early 2015), I remember carrying a really heavy workload and hurrying to get the revision finished so I could move on. I wish now that I'd taken the time to read it again, or send it to a proofreader, this after my editor and I had already done numerous passes searching for problems.

Not enough, apparently. Halfway through reading my personal paperback copy, I had found so many typos, missing words, and extra words, I finally gave in and printed the entire manuscript off, after which I red-inked errors as I read. As soon as I can work it into my schedule, I'll go back and proofread the first half, but that won't be until I finish re-reading the series to date.

By comparison, I found one typo in The Enemy Within. Yes, I have a rigorous process. Errors will slip in, no matter what steps an author and her team take to prevent them. Nothing is perfect.

That said, when I published second editions of the first two novels, I standardized a format for the print editions that I then used in subsequent books. For some reason, I never reformatted The Enemy Within and Tempered so that the series would have a uniform interior look. I'll also be making time to do that, but again, probably not until I finish re-reading the entire series.

I could leave everything as it is, but writing is my business and it behooves me to do everything I can to create a professional product. When readers open my books, I want them to have the best reading experience possible. There should never be any question that I'm a reputable writer and publisher; where quality is concerned, my books should be indistinguishable from those released by corporate publishers. 

From left to right, The Gathering Storm (the next book in the Daughters of the People Series), the cover for the first short story collection, and Say Yes, the first Sons of the People novel. 

After handing off that last Sunshine Walkingstick novel to my editor a couple of weeks ago, I started working on The Gathering Storm, the next Daughters of the People novel. To be honest, it took me a while to get into it. I'd lived in Sunny's perspective for so long, it was difficult for me to adjust to the more subtle and detailed style I used for the stories written of the People. Writing the first couple of new scenes felt like I was pulling my own teeth.

Last night was different, though. After sitting down and studying my plot cards, I began a scene from Sigrid Glyvynsdatter's point of view. (The lead female character, who is a geneticist with the Institute for Early Cultural Studies, the People's primary research branch.) Her assistant, a non-member of the People named George Howe, with whom readers of earlier books should be familiar, walked in with some very interesting information. Big clue revealed in that scene, although I may tone it down in subsequent revisions, but that's not the point here. The point is that for the first time in a very, very long time, I was so excited about what I was writing, I forgot that I was working.

Yeah, that's been a problem.

People have a lot of funny notions about writing. Richard Parry, a fellow writer, shared a post with me a few days ago in which he outlined what non-writers believe a writer's schedule looks like. It involved a lot of drinking and angst. I laughed so hard, I cried. (And then I went and bought another one of his books, because dang, is he good.)

Folks, writing is a lot of hard work. If you haven't read the post in which I described how I wrote my first novel, I urge you to do so now. Take note of how long it took, in particular the number of hours. If you don't want to go look, that's ok. It was seventy-seven. Yup, seventy-seven hours just to write the first draft of a novel. Those seventy-seven hours were spread over thirty-three days, and those thirty-three days were spread over seven weeks. And that was just the first draft. It doesn't count the time my editor put into reading that draft as I wrote it, nor the time I put into the second draft, nor his time editing that second draft, nor any time I put into polishing the story and, finally, revising it.

Writing is not easy.

But it should be fun. It's taken a lot for me to rediscover the fun in writing. I hope I never lose it again.

In case you're interested, here's the current suggested reading order for stories written in the world of the People, including the final three as-yet-unpublished novels in the Daughters of the People Series:

The Prophecy
"No Good Deed"
"Trick or Treat"
Light's Bane
Original Prologue, Light's Bane
"The Christmas Surprise"
The Enemy Within
Say Yes
Bonus Scene, Say Yes
In All Things, Balance
Bonus Scene, In All Things, Balance
"Tomorrow's Promise"
The Gathering Storm
War's Last Refuge

More information on the series is available at a dedicated website for all things People, including the official translation of the Legend of Beginnings and some commentary on it and the Prophecy of Light.

How I Wrote My First Novel in Seven Weeks

How I Wrote My First Novel in Seven Weeks

Note: Most of this post was originally published in January 2014 on a now-defunct blog. My process hasn’t changed significantly since then, only now I have the experience to understand exactly how hard it is to write when I deviate too much from this process. Lessons learned!

Yesterday*, I promised to share the techniques I used to plot and write my first novel, in the hopes of helping another would-be author who’s having similar problems. I didn’t expect for that post to come today, but that’s the idea I woke up with this morning, so here goes.

First, a little background. I’m a professional genealogist. As part of my “job” (I’m self-employed, so defining my work duties is entirely up to me) I write non-fiction genealogy-oriented articles and edit a small genealogical society newsletter. I also have a genealogy blog, where I share whatever comes to mind related to genealogy. Sometimes that’s information about my ancestors; other times, it’s thoughts on genealogy as a profession. My blogs suffer when my mind is focused elsewhere, it’s true, but the way I write posts is similar to the way I write other non-fiction. Since that’s important to the process I used to write my first novel, I want to take just a moment to provide an explanation. This reads a bit like one of those stupid infomercials, and I apologize for that. I did try to cut some of the you won’t believe what happens next crap out, but there’s only so much you can do with a this is how I did that story. Please bear with me while I explain.

Writing Non-Fiction Begins with an Outline

Yes, the dreaded non-fiction outline, the bane of school children everywhere. Or, at least, it was in my day. Report-writing is so uncommon in schools now that the lack draws criticism from educators everywhere, including Will Fitzhugh, editor of The Concord Review, the only academic journal devoted to publishing original historical research papers written by high school students. If you think students shouldn’t write non-fiction in high school, I’m about to change your mind because understanding how I write non-fiction was KEY to discovering my fiction-writing process, and that all begins with outlining…which I learned how to do in school, thanks to all the report-writing I was required to do back then.

I’ll spare you the grisly details of all that and jump right to the good stuff: outlining the non-fiction I write today. When I write a non-fiction article, the first thing I do is jot down ideas about the content. I then refine those ideas, adding or deleting where needed, and arrange the ideas into a logical order. This forms the basis of my outline.

For example, this morning, I jotted down ideas for an article I’ll likely publish in the newsletter I edit. The working title is “Researching Hidden Ancestors” and is based on four ideas I brainstormed this morning (right before I brainstormed this blog post): analyzing every record; expanding research; reading records rather than relying on indexes; and researching the FAN Club. From there, I developed an (informal) outline that looks like this:

  • Introduction
  • Defining “hidden” ancestors
  1. Focus on using records as much as finding them
  2. Techniques described can be used for any ancestor
  • Thoroughly analyze every record
  • Deep record analysis
  1. Example: ?
  • Expand the search
  1. Using non-typical records; going beyond Federal censuses and “low-hanging” fruit
  2. Example: Fletcher brothers (no land; tax records explain)
  • Be prepared to read
  1. Hidden ancestors hidden because records aren’t necessarily in their name
  2. Indexes therefore useless; read every record if no reliable abstract available
  3. Example: Sally Hemphill’s deceased child
  • Research the FAN Club
  1. Many hidden ancestors can be found through their Friends/Family Associates and Neighbors (i.e. FAN Club)
  2. Example: Amy (Nichols) Ledford
  • Conclusion

None of this means anything to non-genealogy readers, but it will mean something to its intended audience (none of whom will ever read this, so there’s no worry of spoilers). Now, I’ll use that outline to write the article, which will probably end up being around four pages long. Not bad for half an hour of brainstorming, eh?

What does outlining non-fiction have to do with writing fiction? Simple. My main problem with writing fiction was not with character development or world-building or lack of ideas, but with plot. I always ran out of plot a few pages into the story. One day, I realized that a non-fiction outline serves the same purpose as plot in fiction. The outline is simply a list of things discussed; plot is what happens in the story, i.e. the things you “discuss” while building the story. Same thing, different application. I already knew how to build an outline thanks to writing non-fiction. Applying it to writing fiction was really very easy, once I made that connection.

That was just the first step. Now, I had to figure out how to actually develop the plot in a fictional work, and for that, I had to figure out why I was having such a hard time getting from great beginnings to great endings. I don’t know why, but it hit me that I needed to actually see the story’s outline. Fictional stories have too many plot points to fit handily into a one- or two-page outline. So I brainstormed, did some research into how others handle the same problem, and came up with the next two keys.

Visual Plotting with Index Cards

Because I needed to “see” the story, I had to figure out a way to get the story into a larger format. I already knew a computer screen was too small because my favorite method of outlining non-fiction involves my computer. Handily enough, I have a free wall in my home, down a hallway, that was just large enough to use as a story board of sorts. I also remembered another technique I learned back in high school: using index cards to jot down research notes. I combined the two and came up with a workable system for visual plotting by pinning index cards, with ideas jotted on them, to my big wall. I pinned cards from left to right as to where I thought they would go in the story, with “uncertains” off to the side or pinned above the main story. If I had idea cards that were too vague and needed more definition, I pinned them to the side as well.

For example, one of my “big idea” cards read something like “Hero and Heroine fall in love.” That idea needed a lot of defining, but it was something that had to happen in the story, so I pinned it to the side and kept that in mind as I worked. Once I finished putting all my ideas on index cards and arranged them into a logical order, I began developing the plot, something I’ll describe in the next section.

When I was finished, I pulled every single card down, keeping them in order, and put the “outline” into a file in OneNote. I rubberbanded the cards and pulled them out when I got ready to write for the evening. Between this, a spiral-bound notebook (for jotting down ideas about what I want to write that night, a la Rachel Aaron), and things like character files (also in OneNote), I had everything I needed to actually finish the story.

The great thing about using this system is that I could move the cards around, and I did. A lot. As my idea of how the story should go developed, I did a lot of rearranging. I could also “see” that the story fell into three distinct “acts” and could plan accordingly. This helped develop the flow of the story, the ups and downs that naturally occur and thus make the story interesting.

Visual plotting is not by any means a new technique, nor is using index cards to plot, so this isn’t some unique idea I developed. Use your favorite search engine and you’ll see what I mean. What is unique about this is how it fit into my brain. That’s it.

Still, my process wasn’t quite complete. I took Rachel Aaron’s advice and wrote down every single thing I could think of in my story when I first pinned cards to the wall, but still had a lot of holes. That’s where the next key comes in.

Plot Points vs. Scenes

I’ve read a lot (and I do mean a lot) of books and articles on writing fiction, and nearly every single one of them emphasizes plotting using scenes. Holly Lisle, for example, describes a way to plot under pressure by writing down scenes on index cards. It wasn’t until after I’d unpinned and collated all my index cards that I realized I wasn’t jotting down scenes per se but plot points, and there’s a whole world of difference. When plotting via scenes, you have to think of every single element that goes into the scene. That means that the author has to know who’s going to be in a scene, where it’s going to take place, and what’s going to happen before figuring out the entire story. That absolutely doesn’t work for me, for a reason I’ll explain in a moment.

With plot points, on the other hand, you don’t have to figure out how to integrate them into a scene until you actually hit that point in the story. That leaves a lot of leeway for character and story development that wouldn’t necessarily take place with a rigid scene-by-scene outline.

Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t have ideas for scenes as I was plotting, because I did, and when I did, I made sure to jot down enough information on the pertinent index card that I could recreate the scene when it came time to write it. Honestly, though, a lot of my index cards looked like these examples (I removed spoilers):

  • Thwarted sex #1
  • Confrontation between Hero and Heroine over (specific underlying theme)
  • (This character) tells (that character) about (problem in story)
  • (Other character) gets upset because of XYZ

And so forth.

To develop the plot, I began with my initial ideas, written down and scattered across my wall, then identified holes in the story and filled those in, working back and forth using logic and basic story formulae (e.g. the first kiss, internal/external conflict, reactions from other characters, set-ups for additional stories, etc.) until I had a workable book-length plot. But I didn’t focus on scenes. I focused on things that had to happen to make the story logical. Having those plot points allowed me to move rather quickly through writing the story, in spite of the fact that I didn’t know exactly how I was going to integrate the PPs into the story, which brings me to my next point.

Plotters vs. Pantsers

I’ve known for a while that I prefer writing fiction by the seat of my pants (Pantser) rather than following a fully developed, rigid outline (Plotter); technically, I consider myself a hybrid because I combine the two for a very organic approach to writing. Even in non-fiction, my outlines are rather loose. I only developed the example above as much as I did to give you an idea of how I outline and then write non-fiction. Normally, I’d take my basic ideas and begin writing, but here I wanted to show you my thought process because it’s important to how I learned to plot fiction.

Now, being a hybrid Plotter-Pantser doesn’t mean I hadn’t put a lot of thought into the story because I had. I’ve been developing this story world for about two years and I had already made a rough outline of the seven-book story arc (titles plus one or two sentences on what happens in each story, but no detailed notes as to characters, etc.).

So, I already had a good idea of where I wanted the story to go. I just needed to develop that idea better and that’s what I did with the visual-index-card-plotting system I described above. As I wrote, I used the story’s plot points to pull myself through from one scene to the next, developing the characters, adding back story (often unexpected revelations), and deepening story lines as I went. I often found myself adding plot twists and characters, too, such as three men I dreamed up when I realized my Hero needed male friends. I hadn’t planned those characters at all in my initial plotting and planning. When I sat down to write one night, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t showing enough interaction between my main characters and the rest of the community. (One of my favorite sayings in genealogy is, “No ancestor is an island unto himself.” This applies very well to fictional characters as well.) It turns out that those three characters all have critical roles to play in upcoming story lines, although only one (probably) will actually have his own story written out (Book 4).

When I finished the first draft, I discovered not one superfluous scene. Not. One. In fact, I had to add a scene, one that I had down as a plot point but accounted for in another way in the first draft. When I looked over my scenes list, I realized the story would really benefit from having that plot point expanded and explained in its own scene. The organic approach does have its advantages!

Writing Speed**

One of the big concerns people have with systems that produce first drafts quickly is that the writing quality suffers. I did not find that to be the case at all. In fact, the changes I made to my first draft were minor: typos, grammatical errors, tightening phrases, and adding small (and I really do mean small) fixes for plot holes or, more often, for stories yet to come in this series. Here’s the breakdown on time spent writing the first draft:

  • 33 days total writing, 68895 final word count (for the first draft)
  • 77.02 hours total writing time, or 2.33 hours per day
  • 2087.73 words per day, or 894.51 words per hour

Now, I did my math late at night after putting in a 4540 word day, so it might be a little off, but you get the idea. This is nowhere near Rachel Aaron’s 10K-word days, but I did manage to write an entire novel in a little over a month’s time by putting in 2 1/3 hours per day on average. To be fair, I did revise a little as I went, so my first draft was more like a first-second draft. But, it was really solid work, and I credit that to the plotting and writing system I used.

And Other Stuff

Each night when I sat down to write, I didn’t set a time limit or a word count goal. Instead, I focused on producing at least one well-written scene per night, and sometimes even managed two scenes, if I had enough time. I know, I didn’t plot based on scenes, but the one-scene-per-writing-session was a goal that helped me focus well enough to get from one night’s writing to the next. Many, many times when I finished writing, I would have ideas for the next scene, which I would write in my notebook or on the pertinent index card. Or I would wake up in the morning with an idea for the next scene, or I would brainstorm it during the day while doing something else, or…

Another key factor was enthusiasm. I know I keep referring to Rachel Aaron, but here’s where her system really made a difference for me. My enthusiasm ran pretty high during that first draft, in part because I was finally writing the way I always wanted to. I’m pacing myself a bit more with the second book, but my enthusiasm is still pretty high. I love my characters, I love the story, and I love the story’s world. I’m having a fantastic time writing about the people who’ve been hanging out in my head for a couple of years now. And in February, you’re going to have the chance to meet them because that’s when I plan to release the first book. Anyway, that’s it. That’s how I plotted and wrote the first draft of my first novel in seven weeks. I hope this overview is useful.

* Addendum: 18 April 2015

I wrote the above in January 2014, just a couple of weeks after completing the first draft of my first novel, The Prophecy. Since then, I’ve refined my writing process even more and learned an awful lot about what constitutes good writing. I learned so much, in fact, that I completely revised The Prophecy. The story didn’t change. That was always solid, but the way I told it changed a lot. I’ll eventually discuss how I revised The Prophecy elsewhere, possibly as part of how my writing (and the way I look at it) changed over time.

I’m also no longer a professional genealogist. Believe it or not, I’m making more money as a writer than I did doing research-for-hire. I’m still fairly well-known for it, among certain circles, and hope to one day return to the field and complete the many methodological articles I’d like to write.

** Regarding Writing Speed vs. Writing Quality

There’s a huge debate going on in the writing community juxtaposing the speed with which the first draft is written vs. the quality of the finished product. Other people combat those misconceptions far better than I could, including such heavy hitters as Russell Blake and Dean Wesley Smith.

The longer I write fiction, the more I realize that I have a comfortable, natural pace, usually around two to four thousand words per day (I still try to write complete scenes, so that’s about two to three scenes), five to six days per week, or about two to four hours a day. Sometimes I write longer. Occasionally, I don’t write at all, but even then, I’m doing something writing related. This system has allowed me to publish (as of April 2015) nine novels and one novella as well as a spattering of short stories.

I’m sure someday I’ll discuss my exact writing process, but the biggest point I want to hammer home is that the quality of the first draft has nothing to do with the quality of the finished product. All good writers edit and revise their first drafts at least once, all of them. I revise as I go along, refining ideas and story, developing characters and the story world. etc. Once the first draft is completed, I go over the entire thing twice, send it to my editor for a good look-see, then go over it again at least once prior to publication.

Almost everything I do after finishing the first draft is refining the writing. That’s what works for me. Other writers may do something different, and that’s fine. It’s great, even. What works for one person isn’t going to work for everyone else. That was the most important lesson I learned while writing my first novel. After years (decades, even) of reading writing how-to books, I realized that the rigid structure-first, story-last formula didn’t work for me. In fact, nothing about my writing process is rigid except that I devote time each day to my writing business, whether it’s writing (and I do try to write every day), editing and revising, formatting books for publication, blogging, learning (yes, I’m still learning; hope I always am), marketing, creating my own covers and teasers… I usually put in ten to twelve hour days, all totaled, but that’s part of being self-employed. I love what I do, love it so much, I hope I never have to stop. How many people can truly say that about the work they do?

Book and Author News

Book and Author News

It's been a crazy hectic month here. Lots going on, which translates to lots of book news, starting with brand new audiobooks.

As promised, Rebecca Winder finished narrating "Death Omen" (the Sunshine Walkingstick short story available exclusively to newsletter subscribers) and it is absolutely awesome. Rebecca has a smooth, pleasant speaking voice and does an incredible job rendering Sunny's deep woods accent. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the audio version to upload to my mailing list host. Until I decide what to do with it, anyone subscribed to the Celia Roman newsletter who wants a copy can email me ( with a request.

The Deep Wood by Celia Roman, available in audiobook format.

Rebecca should also soon be turning in the audio files for The Deep Wood, the second Sunshine Walkingstick novel. It will take me about ten to fourteen days to review them, plus another ten to fourteen days for ACX to do a quality control check, so look for the finalized audiobook to be available to listeners around the end of July or possibly the first of August.

If you haven't listened to Greenwood Cove yet and would like to try it, simply email me and I'll send you a download code. I only have a few left, so if you're interested, email me as soon as you can. So far, most of the people who've heard it have enjoyed it. It's hard not to with a narrator as great as Rebecca!

Work is progressing slowly but steadily on the third (and possibly final) novel in the Sunshine Walkingstick series, Cemetery Hill. I hit a point where the story felt unwieldy. When I laid out my plot cards and gave them a good "look see," as Sunny would say, I realized why: There was too much going on in the story; I had too much planned.

So I cut a few things, moved a few others to the (potential) next book, and rearranged the timeline for what was left. I'm now about 35,000 words into what should be a 55,000 to 60,000 word story. I sincerely hope to have the first draft finished in the next couple of weeks, after which I will do a light edit myself, then send it off to my editor. I'm aiming for an August release, but it may be September by the time Cemetery Hill makes it through the editorial process and is ready for readers.

As to other novels in the series, if a fourth book is published, then there will also be a fifth (and possibly a sixth) as a major turning point happens in the fourth book that will need to be resolved in a subsequent one.

Cemetery Hill by Celia Roman

I'm not sure yet if I want to write two to three more novels in this series. Sunny is incredibly difficult to write. While some critics call her a stereotype, I assure you she's not; I grew up around many, many people like her, including members of my own family. Even still, writing the local dialect is time consuming in a way that writing more standard English, even when slang is included, is not. If you're interested in seeing the series continue, shoot me an email and let me know. Sometimes, knowing that readers really love a series helps me decide which direction I want to take. 

The Gathering Storm by Lucy Varna

Regardless of what I decide to do with the Sunshine Walkingstick Series, the next book on my list to write is The Gathering Storm, officially book six of the Daughters of the People Series. It's been almost two years since the release of Sanctuary, the last installment, and readers are chomping at the bit for more. 

I am, too, to be honest. The Prophecy, the series' starter, was my first novel and a culmination of a lifelong dream to write fiction, and so, the story world is very dear to me. 

To prepare for working on The Gathering Storm, I'm reading The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science that Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry by Bryan Sykes. If that isn't a big clue as to part of what's going to happen in The Gathering Storm, I don't know what is!

On the short story front, I turned "Intersections," the first story in the Romancing the Weird anthology (written under the name Isobel Fletcher), in to my editor last week. What I thought was going to be a 3000 to 5000 word story ended up being a whopping 10,000 words. Normally, Richard reads each story as it's written, but with this one, I waited until the first draft was finished before turning it in. He contacted me a couple of days later and told me parts of it confused him.

Back to the drawing board. Hey, folks. This is why writers have editors.

He's going over "Intersections" a second time before he turns it back over to me. There may be a little more back and forth, but I'm looking to release this one to newsletter subscribers in July. 

In the meantime, I finished a second short story titled "Such a Good Wife" that I have started sending out to short story magazines. Selling to a magazine is a much slower process than releasing self-published titles. It's also something of an experiment for me. I've never tried to publish fiction through more traditional routes, so we'll see how this goes. 

While brainstorming what to include in this post, I realized it had been a good, long while since I'd done anything with the Cullowhee Heritage Series, released under my first pen name, Lucy Varna. A Higher Purpose, the first entry in the series, was my first novella. 

It was also my first fail as a writer. I completely missed the mark with readers on this one, and fully intended to rectify that by revising it and releasing a second edition. After completing second editions of my first two novels, however, I simply had no energy left for the kind of intensive revisions A Higher Purpose needed, so I put it on the back burner, fully intending to come back to it as soon as I could.

A Higher Purpose by Lucy Varna

As soon as I could turned out to be longer than I expected by about eighteen months. I've added revisions for A Higher Purpose to my schedule and will try to slowly work on it over the next few months. Until then, I'm gearing up for a big sale on its successor, A Wicked Love, which can be read as a stand alone. Not sure if I'll announce the sale here or not, but if you're a newsletter subscriber or follow me on Facebook, you'll get a notice. 

The Cullowhee Heritage Series was supposed to be four stories long, one focusing on a different descendant of the same witch. After the poor reception the series received from readers, I decided to drop it, simply because I had other stories readers enjoyed more. I may revive the series at a later date, but don't hold your breath (that includes you, Aunt Liz) as I haven't set my writing schedule beyond the stories I've already committed to finishing, which are: Cemetery Hill; The Gathering Storm, Redemption, and War's Last Refuge (the final novels in the Daughters of the People Series); The Master Vampire (the final novel in the Vampyr Series); Sweet Surrender (the final novel in the Pruxnae Series); and the stories for the Romancing the Weird anthology.

Notice a pattern? Yup, I'm finishing a lot of series up before I commit to anything else. Ideally, I'd like to finish all those stories by the end of 2017, but I'm not counting on it as I have a lot of other items on my plate at the moment.

For example, I'm getting the house ready for an influx of visitors for August's solar eclipse. As it happens, my house sits within the band of the full shadow, so we'll have a front row seat to the event of the year. It should be an interesting show!