Do You Type ‘The End’?

Master of the Opera Bundle High ResMASTER OF THE OPERA, my erotic retelling of The Phantom of the Opera set in modern day at the Santa Fe Opera House, originally published as a serial ebook, is now available in print! Exclusively from Books A Million for the time being. You can read a snippet from the book at That’s What I’m Talking About.

It's kind of funny to have a "release" like this, for a book that originally came out a year and a half ago, and that I finished writing long before that. I've written so many books and novellas since then, that it feels forever ago. In particular, I've written three more Twelve Kingdoms books, with the last two hitting 125K and 130K words. Even more distance from this serial novel I wrote in six parts.

All the same, finishing is finishing, and it always seems to carve a chunk out of me. I sometimes get asked in interviews how I celebrate finishing a book (answer: I don't, being done is joy enough! I guess I celebrate by not having to be writing it anymore). I know a lot of writers have a big ritual upon finishing. Some of them post to Facebook, etc., with a screenshot with a big

THE END

I have never done this. When I've questioned it, some writers say their editors expect it, so they know pages aren't missing. I guess I've always felt it should be obvious that it's the end and the story is done. So I'm curious - do you all type "The End"?

The Perils of Social Media

Under Contract by Jeffe KennedyBy Jeffe Kennedy

My newest sexy romance comes out July 13th! More information and preorder links here.

It's a funny thing, being an author and doing the whole social media thing to promote books. This counts - doing my monthly posts here at RMFW - talking about thoughts and my life. Occasionally mentioning a book release, as above.

But there's a pitfall to social media I never anticipated.

No, not the time-suck. Not the trolls or the haters. Though those are all real things. It's how doing this has affected my friendships.

The plus side is that I have a whole bunch of online relationships who seriously light up my life. Some of them I know in person, some I've met in person after meeting online. Others I've never met in real life (IRL). Then there's another set of people, IRL friends, some I've known for years - like my high school boyfriend - who I rarely see or talk to. But they keep up with me online.

This came to kind of a head for me over the weekend, when my old boyfriend made a snarky comment on Facebook about how I had been in Denver and it would have been nice if I'd mentioned to old friends who would've liked to see me. The thing was, I nearly had mentioned to him - my husband even suggested it - but I was feeling miffed. We'd had an email exchange, which I initiated, where I asked how he was because I hadn't heard from him in so long. I felt like he was terse with me, and then he didn't ask how I was.

So I was kind of hurt and didn't tell him I was in town.

When he made this snarky comment, I emailed again and explained - and we sorted it out. But he also said this to me:

I do care about you and what's going on in your life, but I feel like have a pretty good window into that, following all of your online breadcrumb trails.

Which, I can understand. Except I don't know about it! I suspect this happens with a quite a few of my old IRL friends. It's easy to find me online. When I do see them, I'm often surprised at how much they know about what I've been doing. Of course they do! And it's lovely that they keep tabs on me. It can be lonely-making for me, however, because I can't feel that they're out there.

Also, while I'm pretty forthcoming about myself online - after all, I started out as a writer of personal essays - I'm also pretty aware of my author brand. That is, I do present a particular face of myself on social media. It's an authentic face, but I don't share EVERYTHING. I don't think people should. The upshot is, if my friends follow my life online, they'll think that I'm happily rolling along. For the most part, that's true.

But, if I'm not, if something isn't going well in my life, I'm very unlikely to say so online.

I suppose the solution is to do what I did with my old boyfriend and be sure to reach out. Definitely more productive than sulking!

We'll be having brunch in a couple of weeks, when I pass through Denver again.

Why the Itsy Bitsy Spider Is a Bad Metaphor

By Jeffe KennedyThe Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy

Now that summer is here, I start my mornings by watering the potted plants on the patio, which always sets the spiders scurrying away. I don't worry about them, because I know they'll come back to their webs and continue spinning and weaving. I do worry about the finches, who love to build their nests in the hanging baskets. I have to find spots to add water so I don't chill the eggs or drown the hatchlings.

Spiders, though, can take care of themselves pretty well.

But it puts me in mind of that old nursery rhyme, the Itsy Bitsy Spider.

The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout.
Down came the rain and washed the spider out.
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain, and
The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the spout again.

It's a playful song, especially if you add the finger games to it. And it's apparently about fortitude and determination, not letting set-backs keep you down forever.

The thing is, however, it's not a useful metaphor in the end. A spider continues back up the spout mindlessly, by instinct. It has no memory of the rain or ability to conceptualize that it could be washed away again, over and over, even drown in the next deluge. The metaphor fails to take into account the devastating emotional impact of being literally or figuratively washed away.

Lest you all decide I'm overthinking a child's nursery rhyme, I want to point out that these things stick with us. Particularly if we don't examine them. My favorite religious studies professor in college said that most people never grow past a five-year-old's understanding of their religion. By that he meant that we learn the pretty, simple stories, internalize them and never return to ponder their import with the critical analysis and study of an adult mind.

The advice to simply get up again after failure, to just keep going or try, try again! can be more painful than helpful. Especially for creative types, coming back and continuing to offer our art to the world after rejection or failure is not a matter of mindlessly climbing back up the spout. It takes a tremendous effort to experience pain and walk towards it again.

It's not only about waiting for the sun to dry up the rain - it's about finding it in ourselves to overcome fear and be creative anyway.

Keep spinning and weaving, writer friends!

Coming to Terms with Book Reviews

Sexy Games by Jeffe KennedyBy Jeffe Kennedy

This is the cover for the Italian translation of my erotic romance, Going Under. I love it so hard.

A girl never forgets her first translation. :-)

A little known fact about me (I think) is that I spent many years studying martial arts - primarily Chinese internal styles. I still practice some of the arts on my own, but no longer study with a school. It was a valuable experience on many levels and most recently fun to play with as I created a martial system for my warrior heroine, Ursula, in my upcoming release (May 26), The Talon of the Hawk. The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe KennedyWith Ursula on my mind - particularly as I'm starting the fourth book in that series - I've mulling over the metaphor of knife-throwing.

Yes, I learned how to throw knives as part of the training I did, including a shuriken, which I confess I keep on my desk and have a tendency to toy with on annoying conference calls. One thing my teacher said about knife-throwing is that it's important to learn to enjoy the moments you DON'T stick the knife in the target as much as the moments you DO.

Counter-intuitive, yes?

Now, my teacher got any number of things warped and wrong (don't get me started), but I think he had something there. A lesson I've yet to fully internalize. See, it's very easy to get focused on success. Learning to throw knives can be an exercise in frustration - all those times the knives miss the target, barely stick and fall away or, the worst, bang loudly and ignominiously flat before bouncing off. When you manage to get it right and *really* stick the point deep in the wood, it's... satisfying. Even thrilling.

But my teacher's point is along the lines of the journey being the valuable lesson, not the destination. Viewed that way, it's irrelevant whether the knife sticks, because it's the process of throwing that's important.

I think about this - especially lately - when one of my books gets a less than five-star review. And yes, I confess I'm one of THOSE people who see anything less than five-stars as not-quite-good enough. It's the grade that's not an A. It's the room for improvement. It's the knife that kinda sticks but then falls away.

A five-star review, in contrast, feels as thrilling as the perfect throw with the point buried solidly deep. Every time.

And yet... I *know* I shouldn't feel this way. In my heart I know that the reviews and ratings are just part of the destination, that it's the writing, the journey that truly matters. Most of the time this works for me - diverting myself back into the work, focusing on the writing and what it means to me, where it takes me. In fact, that this is on my mind at all right now is likely a product of having been between books for too long. I need to get Book 4 of The Twelve Kingdoms started. In a big way.

At any rate, I suppose this is my particular room for improvement. One of the many ways I need to grow and learn. I understand in my head that not everyone will LOVE my books, but I have a ways to travel to embrace the miss in my heart as much as the hit.

Time to throw some more knives.

The Real Deal Isn’t

NMS cropA couple of weeks ago an ex-MFA (Master of Fine Arts) teacher published a - I'm calling it a bitter rant - about how he can tell the "truth," now that he's no longer teaching. I think that's a fair representation, given that the article is titled "Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One."

The article annoyed people on a number of levels, largely because the author makes so many sweeping statements that he asserts as absolutes, but that are really a matter of opinion. For example, he says that writers are born with talent - either you have it or you don't - and if you don't, you might as well not even try. We could have along debate there about talent vs. work, but I think most people will agree that having talent helps, but it's far from a guarantee of success. And the concept of "talent" means different things in different aspects of life.

On of my fellow members of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), Kyle Aisteach, asked on those forums how we all felt about the line "if you didn't decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you're probably not going to make it." He conducted an informal poll of the membership - and in SFWA, you have to meet a publication standard to be a member - on who felt they were serious about writing as a teenager. I'm one who was serious about being a doctor or a scientist as a teenager. That's me in the high school yearbook photo for those of us who qualified as National Merit Scholars. Yeah - we hammed up our nerdiness. It's can be a long story, but suffice to say that it took me many years to see a non-science career as a worthwhile pursuit. I didn't take writing seriously as a teenager because I didn't see it as valuable.

I think that's an important point in responding to the part of this article I want to address. In case you don't want to click to the article (really, who could blame you?), here's the bit I'm talking about.

If you aren't a serious reader, don't expect anyone to read what you write.

Without exception, my best students were the ones who read the hardest books I could assign and asked for more. One student, having finished his assigned books early, asked me to assign him three big novels for the period between semesters. Infinite Jest, 2666, and Gravity's Rainbow, I told him, almost as a joke. He read all three and submitted an extra-credit essay, too. That guy was the Real Deal.

Conversely, I've had students ask if I could assign shorter books, or—without a trace of embarrassment—say they weren't into "the classics" as if "the classics" was some single, aesthetically consistent genre. Students who claimed to enjoy "all sorts" of books were invariably the ones with the most limited taste. One student, upon reading The Great Gatsby (for the first time! Yes, a graduate student!), told me she preferred to read books "that don't make me work so hard to understand the words." I almost quit my job on the spot.

I have a number of issues here. Yes, I totally agree that writers should read. Reading is key to our understanding of our own work and the work others are engaged in. I object, very much, to the idea that a serious reader is one who reads books that are 1) "Hard," 2) "Big," 3) Not short, 4) "Classics" 5) Full of hard-to-understand words. That kind of arrogance rubs me the wrong way. The idea that more-difficult is more valuable is part of what kept me focusing on a course of study and career that I didn't love.

The worst part of this, however, is the unconscious sexism here. At least, I HOPE it's not consciously done! Note that the student he dubs as "The Real Deal," is male. It also seems he's quite privileged, as he spends his school break reading huge tomes and writing extra-credit essays. Not, say, working 12-hour days at a job to pay tuition. Note also that all three books the author suggests as "serious" reading are by white, male authors. Conversely the student he disdains, who - GASP! - had never read The Great Gatsby, another book by a white, male author, about white, privileged people, is female.

Could be a coincidence? Except his reported response to her is to want to quit his job on the spot, not the special effort he gave The Real Deal Guy, by suggesting specific books that might work for him.

(I also think it's funny that he decries the assumption that "'the classics' [are] some single, aesthetically consistent genre," when I could probably assemble a decent argument for that very thing.)

In the end, it's clear that this guy is Disappointed. He tries for the claim that it's not important that people think you're smart, when he's spent the entire article convincing us how smart he is. Certainly far smarter than the chick who'd never read The Great Gatsby. I don't really care about him - but I do care about the aspiring writers he may have wounded in his vanity. I wish I could reach out to that young woman and give her some reading suggestions. I'd like to tell her that talent means little compared to hard work and perseverance.

Most of all, I want to tell her - and that author - this: There is no such thing as The Real Deal.

Convention Report – Coastal Magic Con

Flash Fiction Panel - with Jeffe Kennedy, Lucienne Diver and Damon SuedeBy Jeffe Kennedy

A year ago, a gal I knew through Twitter pinged me and asked if I'd consider attending her conference as a featured author the following spring. She promised me Florida beaches in February, enthusiastic readers and great, organized programming.

Wow - did she ever deliver!

I just last night returned from the Coastal Magic Convention, which ran February 5-8. This is now at the top of my list for favorite reader-organized conventions. Let me tell you the reasons why.

Author/Blogger Speed Dating

The convention invites featured bloggers as well as featured authors and Thursday evening kicked off with speed-dating. Authors sat two to a table (I got to share with the charming Angie Fox), while the bloggers circulated on a timed schedule. The bloggers were excited to meet new authors and asked great questions. Two of them (Chelle from Literal Addiction and FranJessca from Book Lovin' Mamas) even brought us goody bags, including wine jewelry with our book covers. This was a terrific way to meet book bloggers who wanted to meet US.

So Many Panels!

Besides the speed dating, I was scheduled for five other appearances. The panels were well-composed and fun to do, with terrific attendance and audience participation. One of our appearances was a Meet & Greet, with four authors and opportunities to hang out and win prizes. Another was Cinema Craptastique, led by Damon Suede, in which I tweeted out our snark to the larger world. The audience was in tears with laughter. Authors on the panels said smart, interesting things and the audience asked insightful questions.

Flash Fiction

Okay, I was dubious about this one, but... wow! That's the photo above. (Thanks to Little Read Riding Hood for the pic!) Six authors sat at the front of the room and took prompts from the audience of at least 75 people. I believe this photo was shot during the prompt that included 1684, space opera, and octopus people. One person would kick off the story and keep going as long as they could, then pass it to the person next to them. I love this shot of Damon Suede and Lucienne Diver watching me with incredulous amusement as I waxed on about octopus Princess Uvula's dusky blue tentacles and delicious grape scent. We all had an unbelievable amount of fun with this.

Book Signing

The book signing came late in the conference, on Saturday afternoon, last event of the day before the nighttime dance mixer. The amazing part of this was that I'd been in front of new readers and bloggers so much by this point that bunches of people came by my table to buy my books. For those who've sat through conference book signings where people have no idea who you are, you'll get how huge this is.

The Love

I don't know if it was because the convention took place in a gorgeous beachside hotel with copious alcoholic fruity drinks or what, but it was SO MUCH FUN. It felt like a big party, with all the readers and bloggers there explicitly to discover new writers. They were happy and excited for everything we offered.

Highly recommend!

 

Angsting Through the Walls

Under His Touch

I do it every damn time.

I keep thinking one of these days I'll learn, but I never seem to.

In every single book, I hit a point where I'm completely and utterly convinced that it's terrible. That THIS one is the book I'll have to pull the plug on and admit to failure.

It doesn't matter that pretty much every writer I've ever talked to says the same thing, I always feel alone in my despair. It also makes no difference for my brain to remind my heart that I do this on Every Single Book. With the luxury of hindsight, my published books all feel precious, wonderful and perfect. Like a woman who blanks out the pain of childbirth, I remember only the joy and wonder of the experience.

Never the angst.

I'm trying to keep this in mind right now, as UNDER HIS TOUCH, the second in my FALLING UNDER erotic romance trilogy releases next week (January 19!), even as I'm writing the third book, UNDER CONTRACT. I'm pretty sure UNDER CONTRACT is *terrible*. Each book in this trilogy has gotten darker and more emotional. I suspect readers will want to kill me with THIS one. I thought about not finishing. I really tried not to go some places in the story. None of that is working and I'm captive on this story train, hurtling to the bridge over the chasm that is surely destroyed.

Did I mention angst?

At the same time, I remember last summer, sitting on the patio and crying as I talked to one of my crit partners (CP) about writing UNDER HIS TOUCH. I was sure readers would hate me. I wanted to reel it back and didn't seem to be able to. I thought I might not be able to finish it.

Yeah, she talked me out of my tree.

I screeched up to the deadline so my CPs and editor at Carina got the draft at the same time. So the CP comments and developmental edits arrived all at once. (My editor knew I was doing this and was fine with it, btw.) You know what?

They ALL loved it.

I was flabbergasted. Every single one of them gave me the fewest revision notes I'd received thus far. Unreal.

And fabulous.

Early reviews are great, too. A balm to my angsty soul.

I'm trying to remind myself of this, as I'm writing the book that ISN'T ANYWHERE NEARLY AS GOOD AS THAT ONE. In fact, it's really quite awful. I'm doomed.

Why do we do this to ourselves???

Facing Fear of Failure

By Jeffe Kennedy

The Talon of the HawkThis is the cover for my next TWELVE KINGDOMS book, THE TALON OF THE HAWK. It comes out May, 2015, but the Addicted 2 Heroines blog is running a Hottest Heroines cover contest for all covers revealed in 2014. I was thrilled they chose the TALON cover for round one, and even more delighted that it won that round! Even more, I'm really pleased that Kensington gave my warrior princess such a strong pose.

She's fearless and it shows.

Not so easy for the rest of us, but then our battles tend to be less overt. I was talking with a writer friend the other day about fear and how starting each new book is an act of courage. She'd tweeted something that struck a chord with me and we went back and forth about it. It was a well-timed conversation for me because I'm drafting a new erotic romance, the third in my FALLING UNDER trilogy. And this week I saw two Publishers Weekly reviews for my books. One, for UNDER HIS TOUCH, the second in the FALLING UNDER trilogy, which comes out in January, is pretty good. But it penetrated my brain, little whispers of it echoing as I draft this new book. Worse, the other review, for THE TEARS OF THE ROSE, the second book in THE TWELVE KINGDOMS, which came out two weeks ago is really quite terrible. One of those deals where the reviewer did not get at all what the story meant to do. If the very same book hadn't been nominated for best Fantasy Romance of the year in the RT Reviewers Choice awards, I'd have been devastated.

As it is, I can recognize that this sort of thing is inevitable when I make bold choices as a writer. In THE TEARS OF THE ROSE I took on writing an unlikable heroine. One that most readers say they feel like slapping for the first half of the book - until they discover they've slowly grown to like and admire her, until at the end they're cheering. That's exactly what I wanted. I don't think our heroines should be perfect people. We celebrate the deeply flawed hero who redeems himself - I wanted the same thing for this heroine. I knew going in that some readers would not get this at all. We can talk about the social reasons that women are held to different standards of likability than men, but it's an old conversation. This book was my offering to that dialogue.

It took courage to write it anyway. It's hard to hear harsh criticism, even when you knew it was possible, even likely.

I think it's even more difficult to battle this fear in this age of dense social media. Everywhere I turn I see harsh reviews, pet peeves and rants about books. In fact, I wrote a whole blog post on how damaging I think it is for writers to read any of those lists or articles on "tropes that need to die." The upshot is that fear of criticism kills creativity.

As I said, all of this has been heavy on my mind as I draft this new erotic romance. I'm a write-for-discovery writer. While I know my general premise, I follow the story as I write. This book is taking me to dark, angsty places. I resisted the story for a while, thinking about potential criticism. Which led to me spinning for a number of days. When readers and reviewers question why the author made a particular choice, I think they don't realize how often it's not our choice at all. It's the story's choice. At least, that's true for me - I can either follow the story or I can fight it. Guess who eventually wins?

Still, it takes courage at every stage - writing, sending out to my agent and editor, revising, release day, facing reader feedback and reviews.

If only I had a big golden sword, huh?

World Fantasy Con 2014

The Tears of the RoseBy Jeffe Kennedy

Last weekend I attended the 40th World Fantasy Convention (WFC). In fact, I’m writing this post as I fly home, so I’m in that post-conference phase where everything I heard and learned has melted together in my brain.

This was only the second time I attended World Fantasy—the first being two years ago in Toronto. A lot has changed for me in the last two years. Also, I faithfully attend RWA and RT. Those factors and a few others made this a very different conference for me.

As far as comparisons, WFC is much more like RWA. It’s mainly a professional conference, more on the business and craft side and heavily attended by agents and editors. My agent, Connor Goldsmith, attended. He is still fairly new to me and this was the first time we met in person. Happily, we got on terrifically and he did amazing work for me at the conference. Based in New York, Connor already knows the editors—far better than I do. Especially as many of the fantasy editors are not people I’ve met before. With THE TEARS OF THE ROSE coming out in a couple of weeks (11/25!) and with us in talks to add three more books to the series, the timing worked perfectly. Connor is all the outgoing that I’m not and he dedicated himself over the several days to making sure I met everyone he thought I should.
As a result, I spent a lot of time in the bar, with Connor and his agent buddies, which made for a very different conference experience. Two agents I spent a great deal of time with were Jennifer Udden and Amy Boggs, from Donald Maass Literary Agency. Amy reps Thea Harrison and I’ve been glomming her Elder Races series lately, so we had a lot of discussions about the books and the series. Amy is so smart and just lovely to talk with. Jennifer reps more romance along with SFF and she’s a delight. In fact, we’re hoping to have her out to Albuquerque this fall for my local RWA chapter’s conference, LERA’s Enchanting the Page.

Hanging out with the agents and hearing their conversations lends a different perspective, as they reported back to each other what editors were saying, which pitches they received well and what they just did not want to hear. Over and over I heard them saying the editors pretty much cut short any pitch involving paranormal romance or urban fantasy. Conversely, they all wanted epic fantasy. As we all know, this could change in six months, but that’s where things stand now.

Just saying.

Other than that, I attended my first SFWA business meeting and worked the SFWA informational table. I met so many people I’d only talked to online and I’m happy to report that everyone was welcoming, inclusive and generally delightful. I made new friendships and I’m coming home eager to volunteer to support the organization.

I give WFC a big thumbs up as a professional writers conference. Next year it will be in Saratoga Springs, so still in the US. (They’re talking Helsinki after that, so this is a good opportunity to avoid the international travel ticket.)

Anything I left out? I’m happy to answer questions in the comments!

(P.S. I just landed in Dallas to find out that the RT Reviewers Choice Awards Nominees were announced and THE TEARS OF THE ROSE has been nominated for best Fantasy Romance and THE MARK OF THE TALA for Book of the Year. WOW. I'm just thrilled and verklumpt.)

Back Off, Man – I’m a Scientist!

Rogue's ParadiseBy Jeffe Kennedy

This is release week for Rogue's Paradise, the third book in my Covenant of Thorns trilogy. The first book, Rogue's Pawn, came out just over two years ago, in July of 2012. It was the first novel I wrote and first published - which took a long time, as the genre of Fantasy Romance wasn't as well known when I first started shopping it. So, this feels like the end of a long adventure for me.

Or, maybe more accurate, a lovely stopping-off point to catch my breath and enjoy the view.

As the last two years have passed, the series has slowly gained readers, largely by word of mouth, which has been interesting to observe. One thing that struck me over time was the consistent misinterpretation people made.

I'd describe the book - or series - as being about "a scientist is trapped in Faerie." If their eyes didn't glaze over or roll, I'd go on to explain about the magic, the struggle to gain power and control, the bargain to bear a firstborn child for Rogue, a fae lord. At this point, far more people than I imagined would furrow their brows and say "firstborn child? How can he have a baby?"

See, they heard "scientist" and thought "male."

It was funny to me, because it had never once occurred to me that people would have that problem. To me, the books were obviously heroine-centric - written in 1st person POV - so when I described the plot in terms of what happened to my scientist, I figured people would know that was my heroine. I might have made the implicit assumption, too, that of course people would recognize that my scientist was a woman because I, myself, am a female scientist.

Alas, no.

Still, it's been instructive. And a great adventure.

If you're interested in checking out the trilogy, you can enter to win any of the books over at one of my other group blogs, Here Be Magic.