Self-Editing Tip #8: Dialogue Tags Don’t Need All the Action

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We all know dialogue is extremely important in fiction, and writing it correctly can make or break a piece of writing (see Self-Editing Tip #5). Once we have the mechanics of dialogue punctuation and paragraphing down, the next step is to review dialogue tags and action tags.

tag, in fiction, is any piece of narrative that directly corresponds to a piece of dialogue—before, during, or after the sentence of dialogue. This also means that the tag is part of the same sentence as the dialogue.

Example: “I need coffee,” she said. 

The tag here is she said, which is the dialogue tag for the entire sentence.

Example: “I need coffee,” she said, running a hand through her hair. 

We have the same dialogue tag (she said), followed by an action tag (running a hand through her hair).

What’s really important to remember, which I covered a bit in Tip #5 about dialogue punctuation, is the difference between a dialogue tag and an action tag, and how to appropriately use them. For 99% of dialogue, you can add a dialogue tag only, but not an action tag only (kind of like a rectangle is a square, but not the other way around…). Every action tag needs to be accompanied by a dialogue tag, except for sentences written in the following style:

Example: “Do you know—” she slammed the door “—how late you are?”

This kind of sentence is written to show a specific action occurring in the middle of a character’s sentence (the character even paused to “slam the door”) as opposed to writing, “Do you know how late you are?” She slammed the door in the middle of the sentence. This type of dialogue (with only an action tag) is most effective when used sparingly to show particular emphasis, not for every sentence of dialogue.

Now that we have that differentiation out of the way, what I really want to talk about is how to know when a dialogue tag (and therefore an action tag, if you so choose) is really necessary in your work. There are a few schools of thought on this: Always use dialogue tags; Never use dialogue tags; Use them but never the word said; Always use said in place of “frilly” tags like scoffed or snarled. I’m definitely not here to advocate for one “rule” or the other. As I say time and again, I believe 90% of fiction is the author’s own personal, stylistic choice. My job is to help you look at your work from a different angle, tighten your writing, and eliminate unnecessary prose to help things flow.

There are two types of sentences where a dialogue tag, action tag, or even prose after the dialogue are completely unnecessary, and when you know what to look for, they become quite obvious.

Example: “What in the world…” he said, his voice trailing off.

Example: “I told you not to—” he started, but she interrupted him.

What’s so wrong about these sentences? Nothing, really. But they can be cleaner, simply because the action tags (his voice trailing off and but she interrupted him) are superfluous. We already know these things are happening simply because of the punctuation in use. An ellipsis in the first example () is used to show a pause in dialogue, or a “voice trailing off”. An em-dash in the second example () is used to show an abrupt halt in dialogue, or “an interruption”. If we already know who the speaker is, we can delete the entire tag (action and dialogue) from each sentence, and the reader will know what’s happening. If it’s not immediately clear in the paragraph who the speaker is, the dialogue tags can be kept, but the action tags most definitely can still be removed.

That brings me to my next point, which is how to know when a dialogue tag is even necessary in the first place when two or more characters are speaking. I see a lot of dialogue tags in conversations between two characters, sentence after sentence, and it can drive me a little crazy sometimes. The biggest indicator of another character speaking is the move to a new paragraph. Then we have the dialogue tags, but they are not always necessary.

Example: Caroline rolled her eyes. “Mom, I’m fine,” she said, slinging on her backpack. 

“It’s my job to worry about you,” her mother said. She frowned, looking Caroline up and down, and added, “Is that what you’re wearing?”

“Bye, Mom,” Caroline said and hurried through the front door.

Technically, there is nothing wrong with this example. The dialogue is punctuated correctly, with a new paragraph for each speaker. We know who’s saying what. The commas are all in the right place, and there’s a variety of sentence structures here. But every line of dialogue has a dialogue tag, and that can quickly become repetitive if we’re reading a long conversation. It’s not necessary to remove every single dialogue tag in a conversation, but I recommend not having more than two in a row for variety’s sake. In the following example, I’ve removed every dialogue tag and changed the action tags (which can’t exist without dialogue tags) to simple sentences of action all on their own.

Example: Caroline rolled her eyes and slung on her backpack. “Mom, I’m fine.”

“It’s my job to worry about you.” Her mother frowned and looked her up and down. “Is that what you’re wearing?”

“Bye, Mom.” Caroline hurried through the front door. 

Of course, this is up to you, whether you want to write a conversation with no dialogue tags at all, or whether you want to spice it up and add one every now and then. But in a conversation between only two people, clarity can be maintained without using a single tag at all. Take a look at Self-Editing Tip #2 for my advice on two-character conversations made of only dialogue.

What about dialogue with more than two characters? Are dialogue tags required for those? Not necessarily. You can do the same thing as the above example with three or more characters as well, as long as you make it clear who’s saying what.

Example: I found myself more worried than usual, and I had to say something. “Do you think that’s a good—”

“Who cares?” Emily stripped down to her swimsuit. 

Martin looked at me with wide eyes and shrugged. “Like we’ve ever been able to stop her?”

Zero dialogue tags! And I’ve even written an interruption from the first line of dialogue (using an em-dash), followed immediately by Emily’s dialogue.

There is one type of written conversation in which I highly recommend using dialogue tags, and this is a strong preference of mine. I see this in scenes where three or more characters are present.

Example: Karen’s three sons sat on the dock, their legs dangling into the rising tide. Tyler looked out over the water, staring at the reflected sunset. “Do you think we’re ever coming back?” 

“I don’t know.” Matt threw a rock into the river. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

“Yeah…” Tyler sighed.

Matt sniffed and tossed another rock. “She said we didn’t have any other choice.” 

“I don’t care what Mom said.  This is where we grew up. This is what we know. You do what you want, but I’m gonna make sure we keep this place,” Kevin said.

Wait, Kevin? I thought Tyler had that last paragraph.

In the above example, even though it starts out with Karen’s three sons, Kevin isn’t actually introduced until the end of his dialogue, which is after four sentences. Every time I read something like this, I get thrown off with the introduction of the third speaker. When a different speaker isn’t introduced right away, it’s easier to assume that the speaker is one we’ve already seen before in the conversation. The easy way to fix this is to rewrite Kevin’s dialogue and introduce him immediately.

Example: “I don’t care what Mom said,” Kevin added. “This is where we grew up. This is what we know. You do what you want, but I’m gonna make sure we keep this place.” 

This way, we know exactly who’s speaking right away, and the reader doesn’t get thrown for a loop when their initial impression of the speaker is completely changed.

As I’ve said before, using dialogue and action tags can be a stylistic choice, and there are ways to work around using them, not using them, and replacing them. The key thing, as with all good writing techniques, is to find your own balance of variety and clarity when writing good dialogue.

Self-Editing Tip #7: Variety is Key (Even with Sentence Structure)

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Sentence structure is one of the elements I believe make up an author’s narrative voice—their style, if you will. And as we see over and over again, each author clearly has their individual preferences when it comes to how they structure their sentences. Long, flowing, and wordy. Short, choppy, and to the point. A mix of the two. All of these are appropriate and can work together to build an author’s style.

But just like everything in writing (characters, plot lines, dialogue, vocabulary), variety is key—even with sentence structure. When you’re just starting to find your narrative voice and unique style, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of repeating the same sentence structure over and over again. I’ve seen this with a number of my clients, and I really try to stress the fact that we don’t want meaningless repetition throughout a work of fiction.

While it might be impossible to single out every single combination of phrases and sentence types, I want to talk about the two most common sentence structures I see repeated in manuscripts. There are so many ways to rewrite a sentence that doesn’t flow well at first, or that seems to be written exactly as the one before it or the one after it. Knowing these different types of sentences and how to rearrange them to create that ever-important variety will keep your narrative from sounding like a broken record and help you find your own unique style.

The most commonly repeated sentence structure I’ve seen lately uses the word “as” as a conjunction, bringing together two independent clauses.

Example: He turned to face her as the door opened. 

Normally, this type of sentence is used to show the action of both independent clauses happening at the same time (“as” can also be replaced with “while”). However, when “as” is used simply as the only conjunction in sentence after sentence, it really stands out.

Example: “I’ve been waiting for you,” he said as he lit the candle. He turned to face her as the door opened. 

This is what I see most often—”as” used over and over again in each sentence (I see it a lot when an author wants to combine a dialogue tag with an action tag in the same sentence, as shown in the first sentence above. I’ll be going into how to do this more effectively in next week’s post).

When I find repetition in these sentences, I always look for ways to spice it up a little bit, changing the structure around so the sentences don’t sound so repetitive. Let’s take a look at the first sentence in the above example. When two independent clauses are connected by a conjunction and have the same subject (the “who” or “what” performing the action), the conjunction can almost always be taken out, and one of the clauses can almost always be changed to use a present participle (the verb getting an -ing ending).

Example: “I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, lighting the candle. He turned to face her as the door opened. 

Now these sentences don’t sound so repetitive. The same thing can be accomplished when “as” is used at the beginning of the sentence.

Example: As he lit the candle, he said, “I’ve been waiting for you.” 

Changed to:

Example: Lighting the candle, he said, “I’ve been waiting for you.” 

This only works when both clauses have the same subject. If you’re wanting to find variety with something like the second sentence, where each independent clause has a different subject (he turned to face her; the door opened), turning either of those verbs in the present participle form (adding -ing) will not work.

Incorrect Example: Turning to face her, the door opened.

As seen above, if you tried the same present participle switch in this sentence, it literally means “the door turned to face her” and “the door opened.” Not what we’re trying to say. You can, however, use another conjunction like “and” when trying to create variety in a group of sentences that all use “as”.

Example: “I’ve been waiting for you,” he said and lit the candle. He turned to face her as the door opened. 

Example: Lighting the candle, he said, “I’ve been waiting for you.” He turned to face her, and the door opened. 

Sometimes, you can even put them all together if you want a longer sentence among a few shorter sentences.

Example: “I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, lighting the candle and turning to face her as the door opened. 

Here, we have the the present participle with “lighting” and “turning” and the conjunction “as”, all in the same sentence. The possibilities are endless when we know how to conjugate the verbs and how to arrange them together in one or more sentences.

Another common sentence type I see, which I almost always change, involves adding multiple verbs or dependent clauses without turning them into a list within the sentence (or simply making them all separate sentences), as shown below:

Example: She twirled with her dagger and she flung it at the wall and watched as the blade buried itself into the wood.

Example: She twirled with her dagger. She flung it at the wall. The girl watched as the blade buried itself into the wood. 

Yes, this is a mouthful, but I see it a lot. Most simply, this can be combined as a list of action because the first three verbs (twirled, flung, and watched) all have the same subject (she).

Example: She twirled with her dagger, flung it at the wall, and watched as the blade buried itself into the wood.

Of course, I’m a firm believer in the Oxford comma, which is why I use it here. Also, I would even further remove words from the sentence, most notably deleting “as”.

Example: She twirled with her dagger, flung it at the wall, and watched the blade bury itself into the wood.  

We can even further tighten up this sentence if we need variety from a group of sentences that have lots of lists in them. Because “dagger” is referenced twice in this sentence (as dagger and as it), we can also combine the phrases using that object. I also like to remove things like “she watched”, “she saw”, “she heard”, or “she felt” when a piece is written in third person limited (also my preference).

Example: She twirled and flung her dagger at the wall, the blade burying itself into the wood. 

This works with the second clause using the present participle, even though the two independent clauses have separate subjects (she and the blade) because we include each subject in its appropriate clause.

Or we can incorporate the present participle into both independent clauses.

Example: She twirled, flinging her dagger at the wall, the blade burying itself into the wood.

Example: Twirling, she flung her dagger at the wall, the blade burying itself into the wood.

Or we can use the present participle on one end and a conjunction on the other.

Example: Twirling, she flung her dagger at the wall, and the blade buried itself into the wood.

Sometimes, it’s helpful to use the present participle of a verb at the beginning of a sentence when you’re trying to eliminate starting every sentence with “she”, your character’s name, or “the girl”.

As show above, we don’t always have to use “and” or “then” in order to describe the sequence of events. Lists, and even independent clauses, can be brought together using these conjugation and conjunction rules to show the sequence of events, to make the action stronger, and to really tighten and clean up your writing.

Of course, there are so many other types of sentence structure and so many different ways to organize the action in your sentences. These are only guidelines to show how you can rearrange your own sentences when it seems you write most of them the same way. Once we understand the mechanics of our writing, it’s so much easier to find that flowing narrative we all seek.

As always, if you have any other questions on this topic of variety in sentence structure, please don’t hesitate to ask. That’s what I’m here for!

Call to Arms: Year-long survey reveals which book advertiser offers best value for money

Last year, I shared with you the result of my Call to Arms, on my very popular post, Book Marketing Results 2015. I now have collected enough data to follow up with this year’s results. Like …

Source: Call to Arms: Year-long survey reveals which book advertiser offers best value for money

Interview with Author Don M. Forst

Today I’m interviewing Don Forst, another client of mine who came to me with his third novel, The Replacement Conspiracy, after having written a super entertaining two-part series: The Reincarnation of Vincent Van Gogh and The Return of Vincent Van Gogh. I loved working with Don, who is also an Expressionist painter, and wanted to share a little bit about his most recent publication.author

How long have you been writing?

At six in the morning on August 23, 2013, I awoke with an idea for a book. That idea became The Reincarnation of Vincent Van Gogh.

What is your ideal setting for writing? What makes it difficult/easy for you?

An original story idea invades my mind, any time or place. Consequently, I always carry my small digital recorder and immediately record my new thought. It has occurred between holes as I’m walking the golf course, or when I’m watching TV. Then at my home office, I incorporate the recording into my word program, and the story grows.

Why did you decide to write in the Suspense/Thriller genre?

I made no conscious decision for suspense. The story made the decision for me.

Did anything specifically inspire your ideas for The Replacement Conspiracy?

A Sixty Minutes segment presented a dozen people with the extraordinary ability to recall details of every day of their lives. Expanding on this, I thought, What if somebody had the ability to mentally photograph and recall every painting in detail they’ve seen? And so you have the beginning of the book.

What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome in writing this novel?

 There was none. The novel seemed to write itself.

What is your favorite part of the whole writing and/or publishing process?

 As an artist, I love creating a painting. You begin with a blank canvass. Writing, you start with a blank page. I find it fascinating how my readers respond to the characters in the book. My characters become alive for them. They are a product of my mind, and yet from experience, my readers have become angry with me if I allow harm to befall them.

Do you have any other publications?

 Yes, The Reincarnation of Vincent Van Gogh and the sequel, The Return of Vincent Van Gogh.

What’s coming up next for you?

I’m presently involved with a new book, and the current title is A Small Earthquake. To date, I’ve completed over a hundred pages, but I don’t know where I’m going. I’m presently waiting for an idea to arrive. If it should fail to measure up, I’ll not publish. It’s similar to when I create one of my expressionism paintings. I started with a general idea, working on the canvas. On the canvas, I develop the painting. I love this method of work. I find it electrifying, to create and have no preconceived idea of the completed product.

Check out Don’s latest Thriller release, The Replacement Conspiracy. Replacement Conspiracy Ebook

And for a limited time until July 19th, the ebook version of Don’s first novel, The Reincarnation of Vincent Van Gogh, is on sale for just $0.99!  Reincarnation

When Life Gets in the Way of Itself

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It’s incredibly hard to believe that I haven’t posted anything here for almost two months. That was definitely never intentional, nor do I plan to let that happen again. But, as I’ve come to experience all too recently in the last few months, life tends to get in its own way, and I’d look pretty silly making any promises at this point.

Part of me wanted to finally share what was going on within my professional/personal realm, and the other part of me perhaps has a little OCD issue and can’t stand the thought of one month of my blog archives completely devoid of a single post. So today, on the last day of April, my last chance to rectify that, I’m sitting down to share what’s been happening with me. And because my personal life and my business life are so closely tied, this also means I’m sharing what’s been happening with KLH CreateWorks as well.

Just this last Valentine’s Day, my husband and I found out that we’re pregnant, thus embarking on the crazy journey of gearing up to have our first kid. It wasn’t truly a surprise, nor were we ‘trying’ – we’d had the conversation and made the decision to finally let things ‘work out as they will’, and we’d thought nothing of it. Needless to say, we were absolutely delighted to find out, still are, and can’t wait for this little nugget of life to get here and join us in October.

Coincidentally, when I found out the good news, I’d just spent six weeks recovering from some fairly intense surgery on my foot. Six weeks on the couch in my office, unable to walk. Six weeks of a viable excuse to do nothing but get lots of work done on my laptop. And, as luck would have it, the first six weeks of my pregnancy’s first trimester. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I still felt so awful after the surgery. Surprise!

So then followed the gobs of first trimester symptoms, with which I won’t bore you or bog you down here. The point is that I struggled a lot with balancing my work and my personal life. I still have some rough days, but when the smell of my office made me nauseous and just looking at the computer screen for a few seconds brought on a migraine, things got a little difficult . And while I had (and still have) the mental excuse of ‘these things are normal. I’m pregnant. I need to go easy on myself and just go with the flow,’ a little nugget in the back of my head kept telling me I should be able to ignore all the physical symptoms that knock me out of my normal routine because this is what I do. I write. I edit. I work. I interact. Shouldn’t that come first and foremost before some seemingly endless, pregnancy-induced, flu-like purgatory in which I’d found myself?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m so excited so be bringing a new baby Hutson into the world soon. I can’t believe we’re already almost halfway there. But parts of being pregnant are hard. Parts of life in general are hard.

I had to slow down the insane volume of work I’d been accepting simply so I could remain in integrity with keeping my editing deadlines and remaining available to my clients on a regular basis. I had to reschedule my days with the understanding that my self-care and personal needs had to come first now if I wanted to be able to get anything done. And I had to give myself a break for not being up to the task of maintaining what had been my extraordinarily busy and remarkably productive work week.

No, nobody’s going to tell a pregnant woman to ‘just step up to the plate and do it already!’ Or, fortunately, nobody’s said that to me. But it doesn’t mean I haven’t thought it to myself. Some people tell me that things will get easier once the hormonal causes of ‘baby brain’ die down after the silly kid gets here, while others tell me that it never goes away and I’m just going to have to get used to it. Every day, I’m getting a little better at being okay with that. I forge on.

I’m still working on client manuscripts, three of which have been published since my last post and which I’ll be sharing here hopefully next week. I finally managed to finish the final revision draft of ‘Mother of the Drackan’, ‘Daughter of the Drackan’s’ sequel, which will be out and available the last week of May. And, today, I’ve managed to find the time both to write this blog post here (which I hope to continue to do more frequently now that I’m riding the glorious (in comparison) waves of the second trimester) and to pop off right after this to, after months of feeling guilty about it, work on my own WiP, which is so close to being finished I can taste it in the air.

 And the biggest reason I wanted to share this today is because everyone has life stuff that gets in the way of their other life stuff. I’m fortunate enough to be able to do what I love for a living, to make my own schedule and be my own boss every day, but it’s not without its own ups and downs. Even those of us who seem like we have it all together and made get derailed sometimes, even by joyous surprises like new babies. Even if you think you’ve got your life down perfectly and are in control of the whole shebang, life has other plans sometimes. And that’s not a bad thing. That doesn’t mean you have to beat yourself up over it. Whether you’re a business owner, an editor, a writer, a parent, a student, a whatever-you-love-being, life is unpredictable and can change in a split second. There’s no point in beating yourself up over an inability to control the way the winds are blowing. Taking a break from a soul-project doesn’t mean you’ve given up. Not writing a blog post for almost two months doesn’t mean your business has failed. Giving yourself a break and a rest and a little bit of love, even amidst all the chaos, doesn’t mean you’ve stopped being incredible. Don’t forget that.

So now, I’m off to give life some space to get back out of its own way again.

CWC’s Project #3: Ark

I’m so excited this month to be able to talk about CWC’s third collaboration, Ark, the Sci-Fi Adventure I coordinated myself since June of last year. As CWC’s first two projects The Concierge and Ambition were more Suspense-Romance novels, Ark is definitely a break from the mold. I also think its success, during the writing process, opened up a few more doors for a bunch of different genre choices for CWC’s ensuing projects. Project #4, Wytch Born, is totally a High Fantasy Epic Saga. Project #5, which just started and is tentatively titled The Map, has so far become a Psychological Mystery/Romance. Who knows what’s coming next?

I was so fortunate to have served as the Story Coordinator for Ark, and as I’m also CWC’s Chief Editor, I’m now overseeing the final editing process for this awesome collaboration before it goes to print later this month. 21 incredibly talented authors, half of whom have never even dabbled in Sci-Fi before, came together to write, structure, solve, and pump out one of the most intricate story lines I’ve ever read myself. The amazing thing about CWC collaborations, including Ark, is the consistency of voice within the narrative. This thing reads like it was written by one author. I know I say this every time I talk about a CWC collaboration, but it’s just so true – and so brilliantly amazing when you think about the fact that these authors wrote their chapters with nothing but summaries of the chapters already written.

I could go on and on about all the intricate details of characterization in this collaboration, of surprisingly complex plot twists and seemingly impossible hurdles. The characters are real, raw, and oftentimes hilarious, the motivations behind even the basest life forms poignant, and the threat to the universe terrifying. I’ll just have to settle for letting you read Ark’s summary before it’s even been released. So keep an eye out for information on Ark’s release this month. You don’t want to miss it.

Ark Cover

The renowned planetary zoologist, Dr.Dirk Forret, has always loved exploring new planets, discovering and cataloging new species, and returning to Earth with his new-found knowledge. His beloved Ark, the exploratory research vessel, serves as both mobile laboratory and home to the hundreds of her crew members, who have all put their lives in Dirk’s hands on their mission to Santelli Minor.

But this isn’t a normal expedition. When Dirk’s head of security breaks protocol and engages with the planet’s unexpected humanoid species, Dirk and his crew find themselves, at first, with what seems like a viral breakout inducing a comatose state. With half the crew immobilized and seemingly in a trance, a small team reaches out beyond their original plans in search of the cause and a way to reverse the disease. What awaits them is far beyond anything they’ve ever imagined, and calls them to do more than they ever believed they could.

Join Dirk and the Ark on this perilous journey among ancient tribes, communion with the planet’s sentient nature, and the dangerous forces trying to break free into the universe. Only one thing can stop it, and nobody likes what their last option has become.

If you want to see more about CWC’s other publications or current projects, check us out at www.collaborativewritingchallenge.com!

Interview with Author E.C. Jarvis

As I love to do with all my clients, and even Indie Author friends whose books I absolutely adore, I’m bringing you an interview this week with E.C. Jarvis, author of The Blood and Destiny Series and The Consort’s Chronicles Series. Her first book, The Machine: Book one of The Blood and Destiny Series, was actually the first book I’d ever read in the Steampunk genre, and it totally turned me on to the entire realm. She also just released Desire and Duty: Book One of the Consort’s Chronicles last month, which consequently is the only piece of Erotic Fiction I’ve ever enjoyed reading. Had to bring you this interview from another insanely talented author. And I’m tellin’ ya right now – you won’t regret getting your own copy of either of these books. Author

How long have you been writing?

I have been writing seriously for 18 months. Before that, writing was always there as a hobby since I was a kid. I remember writing a few stories in school and getting praised for them, but it was always a secret thing I would do just for myself, never as something to share with the rest of the world.

How do you balance writing with your everyday life, especially as as parent?

I have a set amount of time each day when I can write, mostly in the evenings after my daughter is in bed. It’s limiting, but I make it work. I don’t watch tv, so I guess that’s my sacrifice – I don’t miss it at all. When my husband sits at my side, watching endless fishing, logging and trucking programs (seriously Dave? Jeez), I sit tap-tippity-tapping away. Poor guy does get barked at if he tries to strike up a conversation when I’m in full flow, though.

Which of your current genres do you enjoy writing more – Steampunk or Erotic Fantasy?

Oh man…that’s like asking which of your kids you like best, isn’t it? Luckily, I only have one child, so that actual question will never get asked. They both have merits, and I guess I’d be giving a cop-out answer by saying that my mood changes and some days I prefer writing one. Then that changes the next day. If I really must choose, I will say that at the moment, the erotic fantasy is getting a lot more of my attention. But who knows? Tomorrow, that could all change.

Do you write in any other genres?

I have been known to write short stories in all manner of other genres. Sci-fi, Mystery, Noir, Grime. I also write a lot of poetry. I guess my real calling is “Fantasy” and all the sub-genres therein. I just get bored writing in the ‘real’ world and like to build a whole world from the ground up. I did have in mind to start a young adult novel at some point, but to be honest, my writing is too dark and dirty to go down that route, and I think I’d have to try too hard to silence the bad words that want to come out of my characters when they speak. Best be true to myself, right?

Desire and Duty: Book One of the Consort’s Chronicles is the first book of erotica, or Erotic Fantasy, I’ve read that I actually very much enjoyed. Did you start writing in this genre because you’d read others you thoroughly enjoyed, or because you wanted to attempt it yourself?

It started (as my Steampunk book did also) as a short shot. I just had these characters, scenes and concepts in my head that just wouldn’t go away until I wrote them down, and the more I wrote, the bigger it grew. I literally just started writing it to get rid of it so I could focus on the other series again. Damn thing had other ideas, though. I like being able to go to the extreme – where in other books the sexy bits get limited to a small scene or a ‘fade-to-black’, with erotica, you can go all out. I tend to avoid the graphic descriptions, though. No need to get anatomical. I’m learning as I go what works and what doesn’t. Too many erotic books force the sexual content to the point where it becomes comical or outright boring. I try to keep the sexy stuff in context with the plot and not just stick two characters together in a hot embrace for the sake of it.

What inspired you to write The Machine and your subsequent books in the Steampunk genre specifically?

It was born from a writing prompt on the Steampunk section of writing.com. I’d only just joined the group, looking for some inspiration. I had no idea what Steampunk was and had to send myself on a steep learning curve. I wrote about five thousand words as a short story and submitted it to the contest and won (let’s not mention the fact that I was the only entrant, okay?). But of the few people who read it, the one piece of feedback I kept getting was that it felt like it was part of something bigger. I agreed, and just kept writing. As I’m working my way through the fourth and final book in the series, I guess it really was part of something a lot bigger.

What are the top three things that compel you to write, where you just can’t help yourself and have to pump out some words?

I’m always living two steps away from or within my own imagination. At any point during any day, I’m thinking about things that I shouldn’t be thinking about. I’m imagining characters having conversations, I’m thinking up nefarious plot twists. Even when I watch movies or read other books, I’ll take the world and create my own characters and spin offs – like my own imaginary fan fiction. The words are almost always there, bubbling below the surface and when I sit down and write them out, it just feels natural.

As to top three, I guess there are certain times where the deepest inspirational moments always occur.

  • The shower, guaranteed to give me the answers to tricky plot problems or some gems of dialogue. Something about the rushing water and steamy air sets my brain alight.
  • The drive to or from work. Okay, I know I should be focused on the road, and I am, I promise, but like I said, there is a running commentary at the back of my mind at all times and it tends to get loud as I trundle along the same stretch of road every day.
  • In bed. No…not the kinky sort. I like sleeping. I think I was a cat in a former life. If I could sleep for 16 hours a day, I probably would. I also love to dream and I frequently practice lucid dreaming, there’s gold in those moments.

What’s coming up next for you?

Book 2 of the Steampunk Blood and Destiny series will be published soon. I will finish the first draft of book 2 of the erotic romance series in the next month or so. Then I reeeeally need to finish writing the fourth and final book of the Steampunk bunch. Then publish book 3 and 4. Then write book 3 of the erotic romance (did I mention it would be a trilogy? Well it will). Is that enough? Oh yeah, I’m working on a couple of anthology submissions on the side, plus my blog, plus now I have been accepted as a frequent contributor to http://ourwriteside.com/

THEN after all that is done, I need to start a new series…

What genres would you never write?

As I mentioned before, I don’t think I could pull off a YA book. I’m too rude and my head is filled with inappropriate language and scenarios. I can’t edit those parts out long enough to write a whole novel.

It’s not really a genre, but I cannot write in first person. Finally, I just can’t put out trashy work. I need my own stories to be interesting, funny, intriguing, captivating, multi-layered, and entertaining for me to write. If they don’t tick those boxes, then I don’t bother writing them.

Excerpts: Click on the book cover to grab your copy!

Desire and Duty

Averys was the Emperor of Kienia. Most women across the nation, if not the world, would throw themselves at his feet for the chance to share his bed. Lenora would have counted herself among them, of course, twelve months ago, and had been overwhelmed with joy when he’d chosen her as his new wife. Things were a little different now. The shine and glamour had worn off and the grim reality of the marriage grew clearer every day. His nightly routine was now so ingrained in her mind that it threw her when he didn’t bend down to touch his toes—not that he could quite reach them—before getting into bed.

“Not touching your toes today, love?” she asked.

He paused, one knee perched on the end of the bed, hands splayed out at her feet. He grunted through his nose and stood up again to finish his stretches, giving her a not-so-pleasant display of his hairy rear-end in the mirror as he bent over. She snapped her eyes shut and bit her tongue to suppress a laugh. Laughing at a man—Emperor or not—prior to engaging in amorous activities was a sure-fire way to put him in a bad mood.

He lurched onto the bed, dragging the silk bedsheet away from her fingers, and crawled closer. His thick arms and legs held his looming body above. As he reached her face, his nose to hers, a hand snaked down the side of her chest and across her hip bone. He’d declared admiration for her “child-bearing hips” more than once. His hand trailed her inner thigh and then pulled her knee up, draping her leg across his shoulder. His other hand gave her breast a firm squeeze, eliciting a grunt of approval from deep within his chest. Such was the extent of his foreplay; he didn’t bother with a kiss these days. As she felt him bearing down to join with her, his eyes narrowed.

“Give me a son,” he said.

The Machine Front Cover

The ship was silent save for the constant humming from the rotors until the quiet was pierced by a short whoosh, followed by a dull thud. On another barrel opposite Imago, the protruding handle of a throwing knife wobbled side to side for a moment and then stopped.

“Relax your elbow,” Holt called, though he trained his attention on the rudder as he steered the ship away from a town that had appeared on the horizon. A great mushroom cloud of smog billowed into the air above it like an aura. Larissa stared at the barrel; the knife hit the center of the black dot Holt had painted on as a target. She wrinkled her nose and poked her tongue out at the back of his head as she retrieved the knife.

“Being juvenile won’t improve your aim,” he stated flatly.

“I hit the target dead on,” she muttered under her breath, and made a mental note that this man seemed to have eyes in the back of his head.

“You did hit it, though it is stationary and large. The real skill comes from hitting a small and fast-moving target, and you won’t achieve that if you don’t relax your elbow.”

“Fine. I bet I could still surprise you if I had a moving target to practise on.”

“You could use the cat.”

“What is it with people and my cat? He’s the perfect companion, he never judges, criticizes, or complains, and he’s much better company than you.”

“If you say so.”

Larissa lobbed the knife again and it smacked into the barrel side on, ricocheting across the ship deck and sticking into the bottom of Imago’s barrel. The cat gave Larissa one long stare, jumped down, and headed into the cabin.

“Well, at least he’s silent about his criticisms,” she conceded.

Being Your Own Boss: You Do All the Work and You Don’t Get Fired

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For years, I’d thought I never wanted to work for myself because I didn’t enjoy what all that responsibility looked like. No one to tell me what to do, no motivation not to mess up, putting all my eggs in one basket.

Yes, sadly, I thought I preferred the dredges of working somewhere I didn’t particularly feel passionate about and being the best at whatever position into which someone else felt it appropriate to squeeze me.

I’ve worked as a server and bartender (for more restaurants and longer than I care to admit), at a university Writing Program, an ice cream store, a computer networking and repair company, a law firm, a chiropractic office, as a personal assistant, and a ‘quality control’ manager. Not in that order.

I’d made my way ‘up the ladder’ of these businesses only to look down, see how far I’d climbed, and say, “Nope. I don’t feel like going up anymore.” I’ve turned down so many offers for top-level positions, it makes my head spin. And everyone wondered why.

I didn’t want that much responsibility.

Only when I stopped worrying about what I was going to do next and how I was going to find ‘the perfect job’ did the universe bash me over the head and tell me, “Hey, take this one. Be your own boss.”

Thank the Writing Gods I listened!

Working for yourself isn’t for everybody. Heck, it wasn’t even for me until I was ready. But I absolutely love it, and I’m convinced I’ll never go back to work for someone else again. It’s like moving out of your parents’ house, making it on your own, and doing everything in your power to keep making it so you don’t have to go back and try to comfortably fit all your stuff in what once had been your bedroom – and is now a storage room.

I am my own boss!

With that comes a glorious realization that I get to call all the shots, make my own hours, be accountable to only myself (yes, and clients), and nobody can fire me. I also have to do all the work.

What’s the point of this story? Working for yourself is hard. There’s a lot of trial and error, a lot of experimenting with what works, a lot of time invested and attention paid to how to improve in every area.

This applies both to my business, KLH CreateWorks, and to my career as an Indie Author. Admittedly, being your own boss as an Indie Author feels more overwhelming than as a business owner. And I know a lot of Indie Authors who struggle with that overwhelm, too.

I heard from a client the other day that she was freaking out about her cover designer. She’d booked the cover in October to be finished in January, and it still hadn’t happened. She’d taken her career in stride – planned the cover reveal, a tentative release date, done a bunch of pre-marketing she was set to scatter all over the world, and was only waiting on that cover. And it still wasn’t done.

The one thing she said to me that really stood out was that she “felt like she’d lost.” Like being an Indie Author is a competition, and if you’re not perfect, you’re out! Of course, I felt super compelled to slow her down in her freak-out and remind her that that’s as far from the truth as possible.

As an Indie Author, this is not a competition. This is not a game with a set of rules or a win-lose situation. This is what we do. It applies to Indie Authors, business owners, entrepreneurs – anyone who creates something out of nothing and does that for a living.

So you work for yourself. No boss breathing down your neck, no deadlines for things which turn your brain into a soggy mush of goop. No droning 9-5 hours with the minute-counting anticipation of clocking out and going home to your real life. And you can’t get fired.

You’re your own boss. You call all the shots, and yes, everything is up to you and in your control. Both of those things are terrifying. When we work for someone else, we don’t have to deal with that terror. Everything’s already done for us – get an assignment, do your job, get paid, move on. That’s it.

Those of us who have left that world are in for a wild ride. We have to meet people, find other professionals to add to our craft – designers, illustrators, editors, formatters, beta readers. Sometimes things work out. Sometimes they hit pretty gigantic gaps in the road. And what do we lose? Time, maybe a little money, some excitement and confidence sometimes. But we keep going, because those obstacles only make us better at what we do the next time around.

So take your time. Be proud of your work. Accept the imperfections and learn how to work with them. You’re in control now, and you got this! If you work for yourself, in my opinion, the only way you can “lose” is if you give up completely on your dreams and intentions. And then, the only person who really beats you is yourself.

Breaking Down the Reader/Author Barrier

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Nope, this isn’t a how-to post for authors. No tips or advice for doing this in your own work…and really, it has nothing to do with the act of writing at all.

This is simply a silly little ranting post of excitement on my part, and of course, I made a few connections through this excitement which felt cool enough to share.

Today I got an email newsletter from another Indie Author out there whom I admire quite a bit. I’ve read samples of his Supernatural Mystery novels and have them lined up on my TBR list, but it was a single non-fiction work of his which specifically attracted me. Not only did that book help me within some technical aspects of being an Indie Author, but it also greatly improved and widened the scope of work I’m now able to offer my own clients. Win-win.

Anyways, this email today offered a link for me to sign up to get a free copy of his next book coming out, which is essentially a follow-up to the last non-fiction work. Of course I signed up – who doesn’t like free books from authors they admire? And of course I got excited.

So excited, in fact, that I copied the tiny URL and wrote up this huge post about how awesome this opportunity was. I wanted to share with everyone I knew that free books from this guy could be had!

And then I stopped myself.

My overactive imagination (and admittedly sometimes over-empathetic daydreams) convinced me that maybe, just maybe, this author really didn’t want a huge sign-up list for free copies of his latest book going out to whoever I wanted without him having any control over it. The subscription form didn’t appear on his website to the public, nor was it mentioned anywhere else. And I thought: If I chose just a few people to offer this deal to, would I want them hijacking my subscription form to potentially override all my plans?

No. The answer was no. I’d be thrilled that someone wanted to share my work with the world, but if I’d planned something like sending emails out to current subscribers for a free giveaway, chances are I’d have planned specific next steps for it, too (don’t know what that would be, but I trust my future scheming).

So instead, I wrote the guy an email. I explained my appreciation of his work, my gratitude, how it’s helped me, and recounted all my shocking woes of halting the whir of excitement to consider what he may have wanted. And I asked for his permission to share it.

Yes, of course it was (what I thought to be) a hilariously witty written display of my experience of crazed share-mongering, and I threw in a few great lines I thought he’d enjoy reading. I’ve never met the man. Never talked to him. But I figured – hey! This email is totally something I’d love to get from an anonymous reader, and I’d be compelled to reply to something like this.

I’m not going to share any more details until I hear back from him (I’ve got a gnawing hunch I may look back on this, months from now, and slap myself in the forehead with a laugh of defeat). I anxiously await that reply, and I also know there’s a chance it won’t happen. Just because.

But here’s the connection I made through this that I thought was cool enough (at least for me) to be my post today.

I’d been compelled to write this awesome email about something I’m totally invested in, and then I realized that’s exactly what I want from my readers. And I check my email for his reply as eagerly as my readers await the responses from me. Woah.

There really isn’t any difference – there’s no big, looming, titanium-mesh-wrapped concrete wall between authors and readers. It takes just as much effort for a reader to reach out as it does for an author to say, “Hello! Thanks for sending me this, for reading and loving my work. Let’s chat!” (of course, taking into consideration the fact that said author may not write as much in reply as their fans do…or maybe so. Long-winded writers and all).

It’s not actually that difficult or weird to have written an email to another author, because I understand what it feels like to receive them. And really, the one thing we all share, reader and author alike, is the capacity to completely geek out on books!

To those of you who find themselves very much like me – not wanting to step on anyone’s toes, annoy them, or overreach some preconceived notion of ‘respectful boundaries’ (especially when someone puts their email address up there for all to see and says, ‘Email me!”) – just try it out. Send that author/entertainer/artist/public figure a message. Share how much of an impact they’ve had on whatever parts of your life get excited about their work.  Ask them questions, interact, offer something of yourself. It feels like a super weird, pseudo-stalker role to fill, but look at it this way:

You do what you do because you love it. So do they. How would you want someone to share that with you?

(I’m not-so-secretly hoping this author sends me an email even more entertaining than the one I wrote him. I want to be one-upped so badly.)

How to Thank Your Readers Without Living to Please Them

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This is kind of a sore subject for writers, I know. I feel it nagging just beneath my skin myself when I get a comment from someone about something they “didn’t like”. We put so much of ourselves into our work – so much energy, focus, love, frustration, and force – that it’s hard not to take the tiniest criticism as a reflection of who we are as a person. Really, though, comments are made on our writing, our choice of names, scenes, characters, and description, and have very little to do with us personally. But boy, does it ever feel personal.

I got a phone call from a client of mine last week to discuss this exact topic. She’d texted me that morning to ask if we could have a quick chat, and while she graciously agreed to give me an hour to wake up (I need it. Badly), I was a little hesitant about what to expect. I don’t normally enjoy phone calls (mostly because somehow I manage to make them rather awkward…or at least I think I do), but this client and I have fostered a beautiful little friendship since we started working together, and I couldn’t very well deny her. So I told her to call away.

It’s a good thing I did, because what she really wanted to talk about had been nagging at the back of her mind for a day or so, and I’m sure she lost a little bit of sleep over it. I could feel the tension, the horror, the gut-clenching dread in her voice.

One of her beta readers for a novel of hers I’d edited had come back at her with some “criticism”, and while I’m sure the intention wasn’t purely destructive, it rather had that effect. In this awesome YA Paranormal novel, my client had completely built her own world and made some modifications to a specific race therein. She gave them a new name (one I’d never personally heard before and found rather cool), described them beautifully, and nothing seemed out of place. This beta reader, however, found that the name my client used for this race was completely un-befitting of both the genre and the story, and assured her that it would only confuse readers and she needed to change it.

I’ve read plenty of books in this genre, and it never confused me. I also have never heard the term before, so it was a fresh, new, exciting take on the world. My client just about lost it.

 We took some time to discuss the way I felt about her use of the term for her characters, how it worked perfectly within the story, and about all the research she had done (to the effect of not having found anything along the lines of what the beta reader had said). Finally, with a sigh of relief, my client giggled and thanked me for reassuring her that she didn’t need to completely change the term. It was pretty much a building block of her entire novel (and what will be the first in a really super series).

You may have heard me say before, a billion times and in just as many places, that I truly believe only 10% of fiction is made up of “rules”. Those rules follow the guidelines of punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Some things simply exist in black and white. The other 90%, however, is completely up to you, the author.

What do I mean when I say this? Exactly what I said. That encompasses everything – from sentence structure, rhythm, character names, scene delivery, pace, POV, narrative tense, description, dialogue, world-building, plot, single quotes, double quotes, internal dialogue, italicizing, bolding, sectioning paragraphs… The list goes on and on. Pretty much everything besides punctuation, grammar, and spelling are free game (and admittedly I’ll add that there are some exceptions, but that’s specific to each work). All these things are left up to the author’s preference (and their editor, but if your editor is bashing everything you do, you’re probably working with the wrong one).

Yes, as authors, of course we want to please the entire world and create the next brilliant work of fiction against which no literary mind can argue. Unfortunately (or fortunately), that will never happen. Books on the New York Times Best Seller List are not loved, adored, and fawned over by everyone. Even the classics have their critics. And that is a huge boon to your career as an author, and to your freedom to create whatever the heck you want.

Understanding and realizing that you will never make every single reader experience a life-changing metamorphosis after reading your book might just be the huge weight off your shoulders you’ve been looking for. For every one comment I receive about something in my writing “not working”, I get twenty more about how phenomenal it was. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten plenty of feedback from multiple people about something needing work, and that’s when I give weight to the opinion and look at it one more time from a different angle.

I know, that one piece of criticism, that one ‘I did not like it’, can definitely pack a lot more punch than the dozens of other positive comments. What’s wrong with this reader? How come my writing isn’t perfect for them? Do they really just not like me? Are they trying to ruin my life?

I always thank every reader and every reviewer for taking the time to enjoy (or not enjoy) my work and especially for taking even more time to share it with me. Don’t get me wrong, not all negative comments are just brushed aside and flushed down the toilet. I do keep a little page of all the things readers felt “could have been better”. If I hear it more than once, I take a look at it. If I hear it more than twice, I think it’s time to consider changing it around a bit. Hopefully, using beta readers, critique groups, and writing buddies will give you invaluable headway in making sure you fix those “more than once” instances before you publish your work.

The point is, there will always be someone who finds one teenie (or giant) thing they do not enjoy. Even outside the realm of your book. But that being said, I want you to remember that you are the author, you are the creator, and if you really, really, adamantly and with all your heart believe in what you’re doing, don’t let anybody stop you.

How do you take not-so-constructive criticism from your readers? What do you do to help yourself get over that “mountain in the road”? I always love to hear from you.

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