Rigors of Research … by Katriena Knights

Knights_SummoningSebastianOne of the great things about writing is that you can use it as an excuse to research almost anything. String theory, exoplanets, the Alaskan bush, ancient Sumerian literature, conspiracy theories—you name it, it’s story fodder. In fact, I’ve been known to tweak a story plot specifically to give me a reason to read up on something I’ve found that looks interesting.

Sometimes I might take it a little too far… But heck, that’s part of the fun, right?

In my new book, due out August 5th, I researched something that’s interested me for a long time—the Tunguska event that occurred in Siberia in 1908. I first heard about it on The X-Files (I’ve learned a lot of things from The X-Files); in fact there’s an episode called “Tunguska.” (It’s part one of a two-part mythology arc sequence—“Tunguska” and “Terma,” but I digress.) In that show, the mysterious explosion is blamed on aliens (because of course it is), but in my book I’ve come up with a different explanation.

Interest in Tunguska has come into popular culture again since the 2013 meteor flyby in Chelyabinsk, also in Siberia. That gets into the story, too, although not in terms of mystical origins.

This all sounded pretty cool when I came up with it. Then I started writing the story and realized how much research I had to do. My characters spend time in Chelyabinsk, then go to Vanavara, which the nearest small town to Tunguska. In the process, I ended up researching the layout of Moscow’s main international airport, including reading Russian maps that showed where to find the Burger King as well as menu items from a couple of airport restaurants (including one where you can get a baked potato with crab on it). So the time I’ve spent learning Russian—which came about partially due to another book, which has a Russian protagonist—paid off for that one. Otherwise it might have been tricky to figure out what was on those potatoes, because Google Translate, while an awesome innovation, isn’t always the most accurate.

I spent a lot of time on YouTube, too, watching video tours of Chelyabinsk and Vanavara, and then on Google Street View, taking a tour of a pedestrian mall in downtown Chelyabinsk. All the time, I was thinking not only that it was a hell of a lot of fun, but that it’s amazing the kind of access we have these days to details we previously could only get by spending time in the places we want to write about.

That’s not to say everything in Summoning Sebastian is a hundred percent accurate. I’m sure I made mistakes. But I did the best I could, and I enjoyed writing the book. And, best of all, I was able to travel to Siberia without having to deal with the bugs.

Summoning Sebastian is currently available for pre-order from Samhain Publishing at a reduced pre-order price.

Stop by my blog for news on upcoming books and other ramblings, and follow me on Twitter.


Katriena Knights wrote her first poem when she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinios, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children. Visit her at her website or her blog.

Do Yer Own Thing

Xmas TreeBy Katriena Knights

Over the holidays, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, it seems like we get inundated with messages about how we “should” celebrate the holidays. What you’re supposed to eat, how you’re supposed to decorate, who you’re supposed to invite where—it gets overwhelming.

A few years ago, I realized Christmas was getting far too stressful for me, mostly because putting up the tree was so time-consuming, and the tree itself took up so much room. So we went out and bought a 3-foot-high, purple, pre-lit tree. My daughter decorates it every year with pictures from whatever fannish thing she’s into that year. This year it’s a Sleepy Hollow tree, and instead of regular Christmas lights, we have jack-o’-lantern lights hung among the stockings. We’ve had a Luigi tree, a Teen Wolf tree, and an Assassins’ Creed tree.

This year for Thanksgiving, I decided to mix things up with that holiday, as well. My kids took a vote on what we wanted to eat and discovered nobody really likes turkey. So we had tacos for lunch, then for dinner we had sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with corn, and green bean casserole.

What’s the point of this, other than that my family is weird? Well, I often find myself similarly overwhelmed with what I “should” be doing with my writing career (and even more overwhelmed sometimes with what I “shouldn’t” be doing). With all these differing voices, I end up chasing other people’s ideas, following other people’s advice, and never quite focusing on what I want from my writing.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to apply my holiday strategy to my relationship with the publishing industry. If the “experts” say I should be eating turkey, I’m going to stop and think really hard about whether I really want to eat turkey. If I’ve got a major jones for a drumstick, then fine—I’ll grab me some drumstick. But if it feels like the right thing to do, I’m going to have tacos instead.

This is my last monthly post for the RMFW blog. I want to thank everybody who’s read my posts for the last year or so. It’s been super fun, but I’m going to focus on my own blog for a while and see if I can’t blow some of the dust out of its nooks and crannies, as it’s been pretty neglected lately. I hope everyone has a fantastic holiday season, followed by a new year overflowing with successes and a career direction that feels right for you—even if it means your Christmas tree is full of Abbybod fan art.

The Research Conundrum

By Katriena Knights

For some reason, I keep developing plots for my stories that require a ton of research. I don’t know why I’ve been doing this. I guess the need to just learn stuff overcomes the desire to get a book done quickly and efficiently. For example, my current WIP is a sequel to Necromancing Nim, which took place in Denver and Urbana, Illinois. Both places I’m pretty familiar with. But the sequel, Summoning Sebastian, sends my little vampire/vampire/human ménage off to the wilds of Siberia.

I’ve never been to the wilds of Siberia. I’m not sure I ever want to go to the wilds of Siberia. But the book ended up there. So I have to do research.

The conundrum comes when I try to figure out how to do research. My first instinct is to learn EVERYTHINGALLOFITRIGHTNOW. So I buy a ton of books, print out a bunch of websites, and collect a metric whackton of information.

And then almost never read it. Or at least not all of it.

I go ahead and plow through my story, stopping here and there to look up items, but mostly extrapolating from what I actually have managed to read from this information-collection orgy. So the story gets written. But then when I’m done I feel like I have a ton of research gaps.

So we go back to LEARNEVERYTHINGALLOFITRIGHTNOW. That creates a vicious circle.

I’m working on a piece now where I’ve constructed the plot based on some things I already know will work, but that I’ll need to do a bit of research on to clarify. When I go back to do the rewrite on each section (this is a really fast turnaround job), I do the research on just the bits I need to know about, make whatever additions or changes I think are going to work, then move on.

When I started Summoning Sebastian, I collected a ton of books about Russia. (In all fairness, I’m doing research on I think two, maybe three other WIPs with the same materials.) And yes, a lot of what I learned in the initial reading made it into the story. But when it came down to it, I did a lot more on-the-spot research, writing sections in a fairly vague, generic way, then coming back and filling in details as I got to individual scenes that needed them.

I really have no idea which is the better approach. I know I tend to over-research. In the midst of researching for several stories set in Russia or with Russian protagonists, I ended up actually learning a bit of Russian. Which is overkill in the extreme. On the other hand, while I was cleaning up bits of Summoning Sebastian, it was really handy to be able to read menus of airport restaurants in Chelyabinsk without having to run everything through Google Translate. Your mileage may vary.

What are other ways to approach research? Is binging an acceptable method, or should I reconsider my life choices? Has anybody else been crazy enough to learn an entire language just to write a foreign character? Talk to me below. I promise not to judge.

Photo credit: "Old Books" by zdelia, from freeimages.com

The Perils of First Person

by Katriena Knights

Many beginning authors start their writing adventures with first person. To many beginners, it feels more natural, more immediate, and even easier. But writing in first person carries a number of stumbling blocks and dangers that aren’t as obvious in third person.

So what’s the big deal? Write in first person, and your reader will feel like they’re right in the middle of the action, right? In fact, this leads to the first peril of first person writing—keeping your protagonist in the middle of the action. Which isn’t always as easy as it might seem.

If you decide to write your story in first person, you can’t recount any events that happen while your protagonist is absent. This can cause all kinds of problems, especially with a more complex story. You should take this into account when you’re plotting your story, and be sure your main character participates fully in any major plot twists. In Twilight, Stephenie Meyer commits a major faux pas in this regard by having Bella fall unconscious during a critical moment of the story’s climax. It’s a really good way to lose your reader. Apparently this didn’t bother her jillions of readers, but it bugged the heck out of me.

Another question to ask is particularly important if you plan to write a series. Can you sustain a first-person narrative over the course of your series? This approach is common in the YA and Urban Fantasy genre, but keep it in mind as you’re constructing your initial plans and proposals.

In the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon manages to make it through nearly two massive tomes without deviating from the POV of her main character, Claire Beauchamp-Randall-Fraser. But it’s not long before her story outgrows this POV, and Gabaldon starts dealing with the shortcomings of first person by using third person in various scenes. At first, she frames this as Jamie relating stories to Claire. But then she also needs to tell Bree and Roger’s story, and that’s when the first-person train goes completely off the rails. The bulk of Gabaldon’s epic series is told in alternating first and third person, with the only first-person sections being those told from Claire’s POV. I’m not saying it doesn’t work—it works very well in these books. But it’s a tricky thing to balance, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that approach.

Another fairly common approach to first-person narrative is to alternate the POV characters, telling each section from a first-person perspective. This can be an effective way to explore more than one character, but there are some pitfalls here, as well. Don’t try to use too many characters—your reader is likely to get confused about whose POV she’s in. Also, it’s very important to vary the narrative voice. I’ve read some alternating first-person POV stories where the voices of the characters were virtually identical, even though one was female and one was male. This made it very difficult for me to orient myself, since there were few proper names to let me know whose head I was in.

I’m not one of those readers who’ll flat-out refuse to read a book if it’s in first person—although they do exist—but like any reader I can be pulled out of a story if the technique falls short. So when you’re considering the structure and plot for your first-person story, think about addressing some of these possible problems so you can head them off at the pass.

(By the way, this post is brought to you by my laboring over my recent WIP, the sequel to Necromancing Nim, which is written in—you guessed it—first person.)

Implementing Your Conference

By Katriena Knights

Author’s Note: Several people are posting their reviews of the recent Colorado Gold conference. I decided to do something different rather than just post, “Colorado Gold was Awesome!!!1!1!!!1.” So instead I’m going to talk about ways to use all the great ideas you get at conferences without overwhelming yourself with change.

Writer’s conferences are a great way to network with other writers, learn more about your craft, and find out what’s working for whom in the world of promotion and sales. A serious writer should probably attend at least one or two a year to keep on top of the latest trends in the industry and to bump elbows with other writers who are undoubtedly experiencing the same struggles and frustrations. You can learn a ton at a good conference--sometimes enough to kick your career or the quality of your writing up to that next level.

Conferences can also be overwhelming, though. You come home filled to bursting with great ideas, but when you start trying to implement them, it’s just too much. Adding that great promotional idea takes away too much time from the manuscript you’re trying to finish, or the kick in the pants you just got about the book you’ve had on the back burner diverts your attention so you can’t focus on the manuscript you’ve got under deadline.

So how do you reconcile these conflicting needs? The best way is to break down what you’ve learned and figure out how to ease into the new routines. This way you can take advantage of what you’ve learned without derailing everything you’ve already built. Here are some ways to accomplish this:

  1. Organize your notes. Look through the notes and materials you brought home from the conference. Sort out the things that got you really fired up—the ones you want to start doing immediately. Set other ideas to the side for future reference.
  2. Figure out what’s relevant. Which of these ideas address an immediate concern? Is there a promotional tool you think will prod your sales up if you use it consistently? Is there a brainstorming idea that looks like it could get you out of the writer’s block you’ve been battling on your WIP? Put those on the top of the pile.
  3. Prioritize. Figure out what makes the most sense to try right away, and what would probably fit into your routine if you leave it for a bit later. For example, if you’ve already committed to a project that has to start immediately after the conference, don’t try to start a new writing or promotional routine that will eat all the time you have for that commitment. You might even put everything aside for a few days to get other work out of the way or to let your ideas marinate.
  4. Implement one thing at a time. Don’t try to change your entire routine in a day. Ease into the new approaches. If the promotional guru you heard at the conference presented a complex posting schedule for your social media, try bumping up your posts gradually on one platform at a time rather than tackling the full schedule from day one. That way you’ll have a new routine in place right away and can build toward the final goal.
  5. Keep building. Once you feel comfortable with the new routine, add to it. Whether your goal is writing more words or posting more promo, keep moving forward incrementally. Go from a post a day to two posts a day. Go from 250 words a day to 500. If you keep moving forward, you’ll end up where you want to be, even if it takes a little longer than you’d like.
  6. Weed things out. Just because a particular method works for one writer doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. If something isn’t comfortable or doesn’t produce the results you’re after, ditch it. It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong or that you’ve given up. It just means that particular approach didn’t work for you. Never be afraid to do this. Trying to struggle through a routine that you find tedious is rarely going to get you the results you want.

Working through what you’ve learned at a writers’ conference and getting those tidbits to work for you is a challenge, but in the long run it can be the best way to give your career a kick in the pants. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but don’t be afraid to take it slowly, either.

Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers — Part II

As promised, we're back with more great advice for conference-goers from a few of your regular RMFW Blog contributors

Liesa Malik

1) Remember that all people at the conference are approachable, but it's best to have a few questions to ask. Things like "what do you like best about writing?" or "where do you see your publishing career a year/five years from now?" are a start. Just be sure you're interested in finding out the answers.

2) Go to the sessions. Yes you get a lot out of the networking, but many of the sessions are absolute gold for information and training in your writing life.

3) Buy CDs and books. The CDs are helpful reminders (and the keynotes are almost ALWAYS motivational) and the books are generally by people attending the conference. How better to support the people who are sharing their gifts with you?

Pamela Nowak

1. Workshop sessions are valuable to every attendee--we can all learn something--but select carefully. Read the descriptions and choose those aimed for your craft level and step-in-the process. If you're a new writer, stick with the basics and concentrate on where you are in the process so you are not overwhelmed. Advanced writers should focus on advanced craft or marketing or writing life sessions to complement their social recharging.

2. Take advantage of the FULL conference experience. Boost your knowledge by attending sessions. Energize by socializing with other writers. Charge up your commitment to writing by setting new goals.

Katriena Knights

1. Don't beat yourself up for not doing it "right." There are many ways to take in a con experience. You can go to the same con five, six, ten years in a row and never follow the same pattern.

2. Don't be afraid to take a break. In the past, I've spent so much time trying to do everything I thought was important that I wore myself down. If you end up flat on your back from exhaustion, con crud, or whatever, even what you're able to take home from the con isn't going to do you as much good as is could have if you listened to your brain and your body.

3. But...don't be afraid to try anything and everything. Don't limit yourself because you think an individual workshop might be "too hard" or "too basic," or not in your genre or whatever. If it looks interesting, or if something's just tweaking your brain about that event, go. There's so much to choose from that I've been known to close my eyes and point at the program to decide where to go. OTOH, I've been to conferences where I picked through the program and created a throughline for myself, following a specific topic from presenter to presenter.

I guess my basic advice is honor yourself even if you feel like you're wimping out, because you're probably not, and don't think because you didn't do what you think you should that you didn't get what you could have gotten out of the con. I have no idea if that makes sense, but I know I started enjoying this kind of thing a lot more when I started honoring my need to just get the hell away from everything and everybody from time to time.

Jeanne Stein

1. I think the most important piece of advice I can offer is don't be afraid to approach an author you've read and liked and tell them how much you enjoy their books. That's a great ice breaker. After an intro like that, every author I know would be more than willing to answer a few questions and perhaps share a tip or two about succeeding in this crazy business. And where to find the authors? If not on a panel, the bar is always a good place to start!!

Again, feel free to add your own conference tips in the comment section. And if you're attending Colorado Gold for the first time, have a wonderful time.

Sharing What You Know and Making Some Dough

By Katriena Knights

As writers, we often find ourselves focusing on our writing as our sole source of income. While this is understandable, it can also prevent us from seeing other opportunities to add income streams, have some fun, and help other aspiring writers—or even other folks—while we’re at it.

If you’ve been writing long enough to have experienced some success, then you undoubtedly know some things you could pass on to other people who are trying to break into the business or who just want to improve their skills. You probably have other skills, too, that you could share with others. So why not teach a class?

There are many venues where you can teach, whether you want to strut your knowledge in front of a live audience or prefer to hide behind your computer screen. Some are specifically aimed at writers, while others offer classes of all kinds. Some pay after your teaching session, while others allow you to put a class online and earn a cut of the cost each time a student purchases it. Some don’t pay at all, but might serve as a good practice field before you jump into paying venues.

Places you may—or may not—have thought about for presenting classes include:

  • Your local library
  • Your local rec center
  • Chamber of Commerce meetings
  • Local writers’ groups
  • Community colleges
  • Conferences

Some online locations include:

  • Savvy Authors
  • Udemy
  • Our own RMFW
  • Online writers’ groups
  • Online conferences

And one of our RMFW members has even posted a series on how to get a job teaching classes on cruise ships. Of course, nobody is interested in getting a free cruise to the Bahamas or whatever, so your mileage may vary.

Many of these places have websites where you can find a place to apply to teach a class. Some online places, like Udemy, allow you to upload your own classes and determine your own pricing. Most will have to approve your class before it goes live, though.

To propose a class, you’ll usually have to provide a general synopsis, a more detailed outline, a biography, and a list of your credentials, including other classes you’ve taught before. If you’re interested in pursuing this type of work, taking some extra time with your proposals will help give you the best possible chance to have your workshop chosen.

And don’t limit yourself to writing workshops. If you’re looking into your local library, take an inventory of your skills and see what you might be able to contribute. Branch out! Most writers have a wide variety of skills, so don’t forget about them. Our local Chamber of Commerce offers a monthly program discussing business skills like how to make effective presentations—many writers could provide a workshop on writing white pages or ad copy that would probably be well received in this venue. Use your imagination—get out a piece of paper and start brainstorming on what you might be able to offer for an individual venue. And after you’ve given a workshop a few times, you might consider converting your materials into an ebook, thus providing another source of income after you’ve taught people “live.”

Now that I’ve given you some ideas about how to spread your wings into teaching, I’d like to indulge in a moment of Blatant Self-Promotion. I’ll be teaching How to Write Memorable and Meaningful Sex Scenes at Savvy Authors starting tomorrow. They’re still taking registrations, so if you’re interested, drop by savvyauthors.com.

In the immortal words of Bartles & Jaymes (does anybody remember those commercials?) “Thank yew for yer support.”


Honoring Your Contract

By Katriena Knights

One of the most important things you can do is a writer is honor your contracts. I’m not talking about your contracts with your publishers. I’m talking about your contracts with your readers.

Wait, what? Authors don’t sign contracts with readers, do they? So what am I yapping on about this time?

Readers have expectations. These expectations vary depending upon what kind of book you’re writing. Or, in some cases, the kind of book you claim to be writing. Violating these expectations can lose you your readers—sometimes permanently.

Of course this is more true with genre writing than literary. Most mainstream books have some built-in expectations, as well, but they’re a bit more fluid. Still, when you move from writing for yourself to writing to an audience, it’s a good idea to keep those audience expectations in mind. Most of these expectations have to do with the book’s ending.

For example, in a romance, your reader expects a happily-ever-after ending—an HEA—or at least a happy-for-now—HFN. If your romantic couple decides to go there separate ways, or if one dies horribly, your book isn’t a romance. If you market it as a romance and it lacks the HEA or HFN, your readers will discover you’ve violated that contract and probably won’t come back.

Mystery readers expect the crime to be solved, whether it’s a murder or petty theft. The solving of the crime should drive the plot, and the solution should drive the climax. Loose ends might be left here and there, but the main crime should be wrapped up. If you decide to be extra “edgy” and “realistic” and leave the crime unsolved, you’ve violated your contract. (There are mystery writers who’ve successfully published books that don’t wrap everything up, but they were long-time, established authors with a fan base willing to go along for the ride.)

With any book, of any genre, readers expect a conclusion of some sort. If too much is left hanging, plot points are tied up, or characters are left without resolution, you’ll lose some readers. This is why my copy of Trumpet of the Swan fell apart after about ten readings, but I only read Stuart Little a couple of times. Louis got a nicely constructed happily-ever-after, but poor Stuart didn’t get a nicely tied-up ending. I suppose maybe it was appropriate for his story, but I’m still bitter about it.

However, that’s an example where the genre didn’t dictate the ending. It wasn’t a violation of a genre contract, but it didn’t live up to my personal expectations. As a writer, there’s nothing you can do about that, so there’s no point trying. But do keep in mind the expectations of your genre and of your average reader when you’re stitching that plot together.

How to Make Your Editor Happy

By Katriena Knights

Nobody wants one, but everybody needs one. Maybe it sounds like a riddle Bilbo Baggins should have tossed Gollum’s way, but it’s really just a fact of the publishing business. Everybody needs an editor. Even the editors.

I’ve worked as an editor for almost ten years, in addition to writing my own books. There’s a certain satisfaction in figuring out what an author is trying to say, that maybe they didn’t even know they were saying, and helping them tease that out of their manuscript. There’s a bit less satisfaction in finding all the typos and grammatical errors an author may have committed, but it’s part of the job, too.

But this post isn’t about working as an editor. It’s about how to interact with your editor in a way that’ll keep your relationship positive and productive. The more positive your relationship is, the more likely you’ll be able to work together to produce a piece of work you’re both happy with. And if you and your editor are happy with it, your readers are that much more likely to be happy with it, too.

So, with that in mind, here are some guidelines for communicating with your editor.

  1. Your editor is always right. Well, okay, maybe not always dead right on every issue, but if your editor flags something because it made her cringe or roll her eyes or just get confused or made her go back to read a sentence more than once, it’s worth your time to take a look at the suggestions. And it would probably behoove you to make a change, even if it’s different from what the editor suggests. After all, your editor is your first reader, and if something doesn’t make sense to her, it’s probably not going to make sense to somebody else.
  2. Don’t tell the editor flat-out no. As an editor, I don’t have a problem with an author not wanting to make a change. But I do like to at least hear why they don’t want to make that change. Sometimes, by explaining what they meant to say or get across, the author can give me insight into how a phrase or a plot point isn’t doing what the author intended. When this happens, we rework it together until the author’s intent is crystal clear. At other times, it becomes clear that we’re not on the same page, and that’s fine. The author should win in these cases, unless it involves a conflict with a publisher’s guidelines. And even then, if you’ve explained something to me and I understand you feel strongly about it, I’ll go to bat for you with the bosspeople and do what I can to keep your vision intact.
  3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Fighting about punctuation is a waste of time, unless somebody’s moved a comma and completely changed the meaning of a sentence. In most cases, minor grammatical tweaks like this are a matter of house style, and even if the editor changes them, a line editor will change them back. If it’s really important to the story, then yes, talk to the editor about arranging exceptions. But if it’s just a style issue, it’s better to let it go. (This is an advantage of self-publishing, by the way—you get to make your own style guide. My personal style guide REQUIRES the Oxford comma…)
  4. Save your energy for the big stuff. If it’s worth throwing down over, throw down. There are occasions when an editor or publisher’s demands for your story are so counter to what you wanted to get across with that work that you just have to draw that line in the sand. And there are things worth throwing down over. You’ll know what they are, because the thought of changing them makes you nauseated. Focus on those things. Hopefully, you’ll never run across an editor who works at this kind of cross-purposes with you.
  5. Send chocolate. Chocolate is always a good idea.

MOMENT OF BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION: My new book, Blood on the Ice, arrives tomorrow at Samhain publishing. I hope you'll take a gander!


Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog

When You Shouldn’t Finish What You Started

By Katriena Knights

One of the cardinal rules of being a writer is to finish what you start. After all, if you don’t finish those stories, you won’t have anything to submit or publish, right? Right. But there are times when it’s best not to finish or revisit an unfinished or unpolished piece.