Relapse Release Part Dos and Updates


Just a quick post to check in and remind all Smashwords, Nook, Apple, and other non-Kindle e-book users that Relapse will be available for your e-readers next week! I’m aiming for a release date of Tuesday, June 2…which should be fine, but I know that, after I upload Relapse to Smashwords, there might be some lag time while the other platforms get updated. I’ll try to post updates and links once Relapse goes live on various sites. So get excited!!! :-) And thanks for being patient. I think in the future I will just go ahead and release my books to all platforms rather than being exclusive to Kindle for the first few months. Seems like the fair thing to do at this point. For the first few days of its release, Relapse will be $0.99, so get it while it’s hot. ;-)

Before I prepared Relapse for publication via Smashwords, I read through it again and also re-edited the pdf (for Createspace) and Kindle versions. There wasn’t anything terrible, but I did catch a few typos and misplaced punctuation. (There was one cringe-worthy mistake. I had changed a small detail toward the end before I released it to Amazon last December, but I guess I forgot to update some of the related dialogue. Woops. That’s what happens when you change things last-minute. I don’t know if anyone else caught it, but it’s fixed now, anyway!) So I’ve also updated the Kindle version, which should go live soon, and am in the process of updating the paperback version as well. Plus, now that I kind of know what I’m doing this time around, making the updates and re-formatting Relapse for Smashwords didn’t take too long. (To be honest, I always dread the formatting part. It’s my least favorite part of being a self-published author. It’s not even that it takes that long–it’s just tedious. Maybe one day I’ll make enough money to pay a minion to do it for me. I’d like to do that right now, haha, but I’m not sure anyone would respond to the job ad: “Minion needed to assist independent author. Must be willing to accept payment in the form of food and hugs.”)

Okay, now for the part of this post I want to avoid…but I won’t, lol. I feel like I’m (over)due for an update about the next book in the series, but honestly I don’t have a whole lot to announce right now. I wish I did. It’s not that I’m not working on stuff, but I’m still more in the early planning stages than in the throes of writing anything. I’m jumping around between projects and outlining/updating notes/starting to write. I’m also at that point where I write something then immediately hate it afterwards and want to start over. I know in my head what’s coming next, but it’s been hard getting it down anywhere.

What I do know is (and I think I’ve probably mentioned this before, but it might be worth saying again), although Siobhan and Jasper’s story isn’t over, I’m also going to focus on some of the other characters. And, even though I set up the ending of Relapse to make some room to do this, I’m still a little reluctant to do so because I don’t know how people will feel about it. Although I’ve gotten enough positive feedback about Carly’s subplot in Relapse that I think you won’t mind a book just about her…? I guess since I’m the writer, it’s really up to me, lol…I have to go where my imagination and characters are taking me. Still, it’s hard starting a series in the era of binge-reading…I feel like I should have the whole series out at once so that people can just read all of them, but I didn’t plan it out that way. I might try to do that with the next couple of books, especially now that I’m done with school…work on several at the same time so that the time between release dates is shorter.

This post is starting to get a bit rambly, haha. I guess what I’m trying to ‘fess up to is that I don’t have a publication date for the next book in the Reborn series yet. I do know that there is likely going to be one novel (or novella) about Carly, one focusing on Anna, and two more about Siobhan. I have some ideas for titles, but none of this is set in stone. I’d like to have something out by the end of October–really just so I can have a Halloween release date–but I can’t make any promises yet. I’ll keep you posted. I don’t like making excuses for myself (but I’m going to, anyway, lol)…between my defense and graduating, the past few months have flown by, and things didn’t really slow down as much as I thought they would afterwards. We’re trying to get this other paper out the door, and I’m going to a conference next week, and looking for a job, and I’m moving soon–not sure to where, either, so I have to figure out that, too. Ugh.

So, first thing’s first: Relapse has been formatted for Smashwords and will release next week. Check. Next, I will be figuring out those other things and hopefully have more to say in the coming weeks.

Last but not least, Happy Memorial Day! Take some time out of your (hopefully) day off to remember the brave men and women who have served our country.

*****

Jasper might be gone for good, but Siobhan can’t escape the memory of him.

Or, rather, Psyche’s memories of him—memories of a kinder, gentler man, not the one who lied and manipulated her. She should have tried harder to reach him—to save Jasper from the darkness consuming him. Guilt—maybe that’s the reason why she still sees his face everywhere she turns. That, or she’s going crazy.

And Siobhan really doesn’t have time to lose her mind. Her best friend is in love with their enemy and is addicted to an alien drug. The Alpha Rhos blame her sorority for their sister’s death and take their quest for vengeance too far. Desperate, the Gamma Lambda Phis call on the help of the most deceitful Olympian of all, making her a promise they’re not even sure they can keep.

Once again, Siobhan finds herself not knowing who she can turn to or who she can trust. She comes to realize that her greatest enemy is the darkness within herself.

 reborncoverbig

The M Word


….Marketing. (Why, what were you thinking?)

I am slowly but surely trying to get back into the swing of writing and blog updating. Just last week I successfully defended my PhD dissertation (hooray!!!), and now my hunt for a “real job” resumes. Since I can’t seem to stick to one field, I’m also thinking ahead to my plans for the rest of the Reborn series, and I’ll update the good ol’ blog about that soon. (It feels good to get back to story writing.) But, like I said, today’s post is about something many writers perhaps view as a necessary evil: marketing and promotion.

I’ve talked about marketing strategies and what’s worked (and hasn’t worked) so far for me before on this blog. Since I’m still trying new and different approaches to see what works–it’s definitely a learning process–I thought I’d touch on this subject again. I know that some of us as writers detest marketing and promotion out of principle–we want our stories to stand on their own and attract an audience because they’re great stories, not because we’re shoving them down our potential audience’s throats. Although I get that, I’ve never really been averse to the mere concept of promotion. No matter how good your book actually is, no one is going to pick it up (or download it onto their Kindle) and read it unless they know it exists/where to find it. Nevertheless, as I’ve come to accept myself, there are definitely other factors–many of them beyond your control–that will affect your sales. So, here is an updated post about what I’ve tried as far as marketing goes, what’s worked for me (and continues to work), and some other factors to consider.

1. Free Promotions

I’m listing this one first because it’s worked the best for me (I can’t speak for all authors), although, as with any strategy, there are upsides and downsides. Clearly one of the disadvantages is you’re giving your book away for free and not making even the 35% royalty from your $0.99 book (or whatever rate/price combo you’ve chosen). But, if you’re just starting out and primarily concerned with building an audience (like I am), it might be something you want to consider more seriously. If you’re new to self-publishing, a little bit of background about Amazon Kindle: At least in the beginning, you will probably sell most of your ebooks on Amazon’s platform. It really does seem to dominate the e-book market. When you enroll your book in the KDP Select program, you are able to take advantage of Amazon’s free promotion tool or something called the “Kindle Countdown Deal” (a note about that in a moment). One possible drawback, depending on your view, is that the electronic version of your book has to be exclusive to Kindle for the three-month enrollment period. So you can offer a paperback version through Createspace (spellcheck wanted to change that to meatspace…), but no Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple, etc, at least until the enrollment period ends.

Advantages: You will likely “sell” lots and lots of books using Amazon’s free promotion tool because readers like to stuff their Kindle Cloud with free books. (There are downsides to this–see next.) My debut novel Reborn sold exceptionally well during the first few months of its release using this tool–and still does the few times I’ve tried it since then–and usually hits the Kindle Free bestsellers list in its genre. Obviously if some people are merely downloading as many free ebooks as possible, like I said, not everyone is going to get around to reading it right away…but even if a handful of people do, that’s a handful more than you may have had otherwise. Some Facebook and Twitter pages are on the lookout for free/$0.99 books, so it helps get the word out about your book without you having to do too much (except put it on sale).

I’ve also noticed that, after the free promotion, my sales remain pretty steady for a time after the book goes back to its original price. Something similar happened when I decided to make Reborn free on Smashwords (which links to a network of other major e-book platforms–again, B&N, Apple, etc.). I had never really tried it using Smashwords before until recently, and I haven’t really sold many books through these other platforms. (Unlike Amazon, your book doesn’t have to be exclusive to these other sites to make it free–you just change the price on Smashwords, and it updates all related sites.) Well, it certainly boosted sales, particularly to B&N, including after Reborn went back to its original price. I picked up a few more readers this way who are excited for Relapse to release to these other platforms this summer. Further, with Amazon’s price match option, Amazon takes the liberty of adjusting the price of your book to better compete with other retailers. (This is a neat trick to circumvent  KDP Select…shhhh, don’t tell Amazon…)

Disadvantages: Since readers are stuffing their Kindle or whatever with free books, don’t expect this to necessarily correlate with more reviews on Amazon/B&N/Goodreads or an influx of followers on your preferred social media sites. With every promotion, a few more reviews, followers, or additions to someone’s TBR list trickle in. So it’s up to you how much time you really want to pump into these types of promotions. Yes, it seems to help–but you also seem to have to do it pretty consistently to start seeing some real results, and it can get frustrating. You also have to put aside your ego a bit since you’re giving away your months and months of hard work for free (or at least very cheap). The jury is still out on how this tactic will work for me in the long run.

A note about the Kindle Countdown Deal (KCD): I wasn’t very happy with the results when I tried this. For the KCD, you reduce the price (but it can’t be free) for a number of days you specify. For example, I set a sale price of $0.99 for my ebook that’s usually $2.99, and on Amazon there’s a little timer that counts down to the day the deal will end. You can also raise the price back up in increments ($0.99 to $1.99 to $2.00, so on and so forth). I created a two-day promotion for Relapse on Amazon.com and sold maybe like seven ebooks in about the first 12 hours of the deal…so, ok, but not great. When I next tried it on Amazon.co.uk (and made the sale period longer), I sold a big fat zero. Unfortunately, you can only run one KCD per market (US or UK) per enrollment period, which is pretty long (three months). Maybe it would have helped to make the sale period longer in the US (where I live), but I’m not re-enrolling Relapse in KDP select, so that might be a future experiment. However, other authors have been pleased with their KCD results.

2. Social Media (subtitle: Popular! You’re gonna be popular!)

Clearly, this encompasses a variety of platforms–Wordpress, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and a lot of newfangled apps that I’m too old/stubborn to try. I’m going to touch on the ones I use here, with some advantages/disadvantages and dos/donts. Obviously, I use WordPress to host my blog. Maybe one day I’ll be willing to shell out cash for a real web site (when I get my real job), but for now my blog works just fine. I use it for the same things and have tried to confine it in recent months to just writing and book-related posts.

Facebook: This may come as some surprise, but, even after all of Facebook’s changes, it still seems to work the best for me, personally. I have both my Facebook page (S.L. Stacy), and I created a separate profile (from my personal account) to network with reviewers, readers, and fellow authors and writers. (Be my friend! LOL) When I first started out with just my blog, I had about 20 or so followers (mostly my friends and family), and now I’m up to 319…more than some, measly compared to others, but it’s still helping me expand my readership. With Facebook’s new restrictions, there has been a decline in the number of people that see my posts, but some of them still do well considering I don’t pay for ads. And I’m on Facebook more than I’m willing to admit, so I update it fairly regularly.

By the way, has anyone else taken out an ad on your Facebook page to extend your reach? I tried it once (for only $5), and it definitely helped boost the number of people on Facebook who saw the post and increased interaction a bit (as far as likes and shares go). It definitely did not boost book sales, though. I’m really cynical about social media ads because I can’t remember the last time I actually clicked on one and bought something (never).

Twitter: Oh, Twitter. Although I see the possible utility of Twitter and I do use it from time to time, I get super annoyed with it. This is one social media platform that I think authors need to be very careful with. I’ve noticed a lot of writers who just constantly blast tweet after tweet about their books every single day, and I don’t see how that could possibly work. Even though you have your profile description and little picture/avatar, you are still (hopefully) an actual person behind it, so show your followers that and tweet about other things besides your book. Not that you shouldn’t tweet about your book(s) at all-I tend to do it a lot when the book first releases and during any sales, but that’s it. I also HATE getting direct messages from other accounts asking me to buy their book or follow their Facebook page. I don’t see how that works, either (If it’s worked for you, feel free to let me know in the comments. I’m interested in your experiences, too.)

Although, just like the next platform I’m going to touch on, there can be a lot of hate/negativity on Twitter. I’m just philosophically opposed to the whole let’s-gang-up-on-this-artist-and-tweet-mean-things-to-them-because-rage thing that seems to happen on Twitter. You probably wouldn’t do that in real life, so why is it ok to do it on social media because you get to hide behind your computer? (WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?!!!!) The whole idea of it just makes me sad for humanity, even when I don’t necessarily disagree with why people are angry/annoyed.

I do somehow have over 900 Twitter followers now. Again, I don’t really know what that means, but it makes me feel kind of awesome even though it’s not uncommon on Twitter these days with all the follow-back etiquette.

Goodreads: I’m on Goodreads, and, yes, it’s just another way to reach potential readers–and that’s awesome. But beware of trolls. Also, don’t stalk your reviews. (I’m still guilty of that. Do as I say, not as I do.)

Tumblr: I have a Tumblr, but I don’t really use it that much anymore. Honestly, I’m pretty sure most of its users are in high school-early 20s, and it just makes me feel kind of old. As far as book promotions go, it hasn’t really helped or hurt me when I used it more frequently.

3. Brand/Genre

Branding is a fun one, and another thing some may be wary of. It’s supposed to be about the art, not the brand, right? Although often branding seems to take over, diminishing the value of the art itself (this seems to happen a lot with the “music” industry, or is at least talked about a lot), establishing some sort of basic brand/persona isn’t a bad thing. It lets readers know what you and your books are about, what they might expect from them, if your work might mesh with their usual tastes in reading material, etc. Well-designed blog and/or Facebook banners can help convey a sense of this. (Hire a graphic designer if you’re not good at creating banners and book covers. It’s probably one of the best investments you can make as a budding author. I love the work that Heidi, who has designed my banners and both of my book covers, has done for myself and others. I find it’s better to establish a relationship with a graphic designer rather than using those pre-made book covers you can buy on certain sites, but that could just be me.) Your presence on social media and topics you like to cover on your blog(s) also helps establish your brand.

Genre is probably an obvious one. Is your book primarily a mystery? A romance? Sci fi? Literary fiction? Thriller? Horror? Your book might merge elements from multiple genres, but pick a few that you think describe it best.

Although this seems straightforward (and maybe it is, for a lot of people), I’ve found that trying to categorizing one’s book can be a bit tricky, especially when you’re writing “romance.” Apparently, what this genre term means to me and what it means to other readers differs in some aspects. To me, “romance” has always been an umbrella term or euphemism for…lady smut? Haha! I’ve dubbed my series a paranormal romance because it definitely has overwhelmingly paranormal elements, and one of the primary themes (although there are a lot of other plot threads) is an intensely erotic relationship between my two main characters (that is not always romantic, although they have their moments). But, apparently when some people see that PR or romance tag, they want the formula, HEA or HFN ending. Yeah, sorry guys. you’re not going to find that here (or at least not for another few books. (You learn very quickly when you put your work out there that you aren’t going to please everyone, so don’t expect to or even try.) For me, I’ve found the best description for my work seems to be “PR/urban fantasy” or “urban fantasy with strong elements of romance.” (Because urbanfantasciencefictionmance is not a genre.)

This is a little off-topic, but we had a lively little discussion on one of the Facebook groups I belong to, the Indie Author Review Exchange, about genre–more specifically, what constitutes “women’s fiction” and whether or not we should even call it women’s fiction or use designations like “chick lit,” etc. As far as marketing strategies go, it will help you to know who you’re writing for, who you think will want to buy your book. (Are you writing for young adults? 20-somethings? Men? Women? Do you think your work has broader appeal and could be enjoyed by just about anyone?) It’s not a bad thing to want to read a book with a main character who will resonate with you, who you can relate to because you share a certain characteristic with them. And, on the one hand, I’m proud to be a female writer writing for what I expect will be a primarily, 18+ female audience.

BUT. But. On the other hand, I’m starting to see the downsides to gender-targeted advertising of any kind. It would probably be ok if it felt like it was an even playing field–maybe men tend to like this set of things, and women tend to like this set of things, and it’s all good because it’s all worthwhile entertainment. Well, first off, we know that not all men like the same things…ditto with women. We’re all different.

Secondly, it usually isn’t treated like the above. When you’re a woman, it usually feels like: Men like this set of things, which are awesome and worthwhile and manly, and women, being inherently silly, like this other set of silly, terrible things that are unrealistic and a complete waste of time. (By the way, I’m not saying that only men or all men feel this way. Women put down each other all the time for the things they like. Everyone has done it at some point, myself included. I’m consciously trying to stop and catch myself when I do it.) Yes, some of our female audience-targeted entertainment may indeed be silly, even stupid. I’ve come to accept that I like a lot of “silly” things. But, men–as much as I love you–a lot of the things you like are silly (and unrealistic), too. ;-)

I’ve grown in my opinion of this topic of genre and gender since I’ve entered the indie writing world. I’ve come to realize that a lot of the assumptions we make about our intended audience–even though it’s a useful marketing tool–are restrictive and kind of sexist. As a romance writer, I didn’t realize how many male romance writers were out there (besides Nicholas Sparks…). Men write romance and read romance–some because they want to support fellow writers (male or female) in the genre, even if it’s not their favorite, and others simply because they like it. I’ve been able to reach a lot of different kinds of readers with Reborn, which–even if most of my audience will, in the end, be composed of my target, 18+ female readers–is pretty cool.

4. Other Variables

Despite everything I’ve said, about sales/promotions, social media, and branding, I’m beginning to realize that there’s a few major variables in the self-pub equation that are pretty much out of your control. Namely, time and luck. Ok, time you do have control over, as far as just keep on writing–don’t give up, and as you build your brand and your body of work, the readers will come. It just takes time. A lot of time. Patience is not one of my virtues, but I’m working on that. You also have control over how you budget your time between writing, networking, promoting, reading, and doing other life things. But luck? Waiting for the right reader to come along and download your ebook and love it so much they tell their vast social network about you and your book? Yeah, you have no control over that. I hope it happens for you (and for me, too).

But in the meantime, experiment with a few marketing strategies and see what works the best for you. Have a presence on your select social media platforms without becoming one of the “BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK!” automatons. The most important thing you can probably do, though, is to start on your next project–write, write, write. Remind yourself why you’re doing this: Because you love it, you love writing, you love your imaginary world, you love your characters and you want so share that passion with others. There will be many ups and downs on this journey, and sometimes you will need to be your own biggest cheerleader.

Speaking of writing…..

*****

Here are some other blog posts that I’ve found helpful (albeit cynical) and that motivated my own evolving attitudes on marketing and promotion:

Marketing, Social Media & Book Signings: Why NONE of These Directly Impact Book Sales

Please Shut Up: Why Self-Promotion as an Author Doesn’t Work

Checking In


Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Just a few quick updates and things, and probably the last post for awhile…or, at least, until after April 17th. Or maybe not, since I frequently get the urge to update social media and the good ol’ blog when I’m procrastinating. (But, seriously, if you catch me on here you should yell at me to get off and do my work.)

Last week was my spring “break,” over which I did work, although I didn’t get quite as much done as I’d planned. Instead my laptop crashed mid-week. As in crashed, to the floor, because it fell off my couch…onto carpet, and it really didn’t fall that hard, but apparently it was enough to screw up the hard drive. I knew it wasn’t good when the computer started beeping at me and wouldn’t reboot.

Anywho, my three-year-old laptop now has a brand spankin’ new hard drive, and I didn’t lose anything vitally important (like, you know, my dissertation) because I back that shit up. Although I am mad at myself for losing some book-related notes and things, which I thought I had backed up, but apparently I hadn’t gotten around to it in a while. It really wasn’t that much, and I was planning to make more detailed notes and get reorganized anyway…but still. Kinda mad at myself. Oh well. It’s like a fresh start…a clean slate. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Okay, we’ll get to the update part now, I promise:

1. For Kindle users: Because I like to play around with the prices of my books to see what will happen, Relapse will be on sale tomorrow, Wednesday March 18 through March 20 for $0.99! And it’s always free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. Get it here. On a related note, Relapse is enrolled in KDP Select right now and has to be exclusive to Amazon until the enrollment period expires. Which brings us to…

2. For Nook and all other ebook users: I’ll make Relapse available to all other platforms Tuesday, June 2, 2015.

Also, thanks to everyone who downloaded Reborn for Nook and iBooks during my last promotion a few weeks ago. To be honest, I hadn’t sold many copies through these other platforms (not nearly as many as I have through Amazon, and I’ve heard similar stories from other indie authors). But I had never really tried the free promotion thing on Smashwords, and when I did it boosted sales way beyond my expectations. I mean, I know people like free stuff–I do, too–but still, I didn’t expect to give away 400+ copies. And, at this point, I really just want to reach more readers and build my audience, so every little bit helps! Plus, it boosted sales post-promotion, too. So, I just wanted to say thanks…and, if you find yourself with a free minute or two, I would love you forever if you left a review on Barnes & Noble! And now you have Relapse to look forward to in a few months! ;-)

Art and Culture


I’ve been debating over whether I should write this post or not. I’m still not sure, but–since the Internet provides us with such an easy avenue for (over)sharing of opinions–it’s happening. Why the uncertainty? Well, for one, this post was inspired by a certain movie, based off of a bestselling book, that released on Valentine’s Day and has, in a short time, grossed bajillions of dollars (I may be exaggerating, slightly…). That’s right–the both much beloved and reviled Fifty Shades of Grey. And, to some degree, I–as some of you may also be–am simply getting sick of hearing about it, period. So I will try to make this post a little more broad than just this book/movie, but I can’t ignore it completely. Secondly…if the Fifty Shades controversy has shown us anything, it’s that some people can’t engage in a critique or debate without being just plain mean. More than likely, only my friends will read this post and few others will actually come across it–and fewer still will leave a comment–but there’s always that nagging fear that someone will just respond with something nasty and counterproductive.

And, third…I don’t really feel strongly about this book either way. I read all three of them out of sheer curiosity (I jumped on the bandwagon after they became popular). I haven’t seen the movie, yet. I’m nowhere near a super fan…nor am I an extreme “hater,” either. It’s been awhile since I read them…I reviewed all three of them (you can read my review of the first book here). I was surprised when I went back and read my critiques, because my opinion has changed (somewhat) over the last several years.

I will tell you upfront what this post is not about: the quality of E.L. James’s writing. Did I feel like they were the most well written books ever? No. Did I like the main heroine, Anna? Not particularly. Like the franchise the Shades books were inspired by (Twilight, if you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know that by now), Anna is sort of a bland character, if you prefer strong, vivid, interesting characters (and I hope you do)–then again, she’s the perfect character if you are seeking to “insert” yourself into the book in place of Anna for the purposes of fantasizing. Look, there’s a lot of bad, poorly written porn (even if it’s more visual rather than literary) geared towards men’s fantasies–and I don’t think I’m exaggerating this time when I say it’s probably a billion dollar industry. My point is, just because Shades is in a book form, doesn’t mean it’s required to have outstanding style. Its purpose is to titillate (and, most likely, shock).

(As an aside: That’s definitely not to say that a book can’t have all the things–be well written, with strong, interesting, dynamic characters, and also be sexy. I’m just saying that, when it comes to what may be a book with mediocre writing that is written by a woman intended for a bunch of other women to read–suddenly everyone has exceedingly high standards of the written word and cinematography.)

I’m going on off a tangent–as I’m prone to do, with posts like this–so let me bring it back to today’s intended topic: art and culture. Because, while some dissenters criticize James’s writing, and others call it a Twilight rip off and accuse her of plagiarism, much of the criticism has been over Christian’s personality, his relationship with Anna, and how that might affect impressionable readers.

I don’t think any of us can deny that art can affect us, and can do so deeply. In fact, as artists, writers, singers, performers, etc., we’d be doing our crafts a disservice by trying to argue otherwise. We’re usually willing to accept this when we find other people who consume and enjoy the art we put out into the world, but it becomes a little harder to stomach when we have to admit that it can also affect some people negatively. So I think we can all agree that, yes, art can evoke both positive and negative responses–including unintended ones–and that the culture surrounding us in turn affects art, maybe sometimes in ways we don’t even realize.

At its core, art is also a very selfish activity. Before you put your art out into the world (whether it’s a painting, a short story, a book, a song, a movie)–before you have readers, listeners, viewers–it’s just you and your idea. In the case of writing, you’re writing characters and themes that are, for whatever reason, interesting to you–you’re expressing yourself and your emotions. (I’m not trying to speak for all writers when I say this, but…to be completely honest, I haven’t always worried about what others might say/how others might interpret my books, or how they might affect people (in the negative sense). Recently, I’ve started obsessing over this, but, if I’m going to get anything down on paper, I have to block it out. I’m not going to censor myself because I’m worried about what someone else might think.)

What motivates the people consuming said art can vary widely and, often, be at odds with the creator’s self-expression or intention. I’m going to try to stick to the book example because a book inspired this post, and, as a writer, it’s what I can speak to best. Fans may fall in love with the book for any number of reasons–the style, atmosphere, and characters drew them in, the characters really spoke and jumped off the page for them, they see themselves as one of the characters, the book got them through a difficult time, whatever. For some others, it may be the opposite–it could be that a situation or character reminds them of a difficult time in their life, or something about the book clashes with a believe or value they cherish–whatever the case, they find the book offensive. Critics analyze the book and, not only consider aspects like the style and quality of the writing and characters, but also perhaps what it reflects about our society–and how it might affect other readers. This is all fair. The artist also has to be aware that, once that book or painting or song goes out into the world, it’s open to different and varied interpretations.

I guess where I’m going with this is: Critique is fine. I’m not about to say that we shouldn’t critique Fifty Shades, or talk about what kind of impact our society has had on it–and the kind of impact it could have on our society or even certain individuals. Art and culture are intertwined. I’m just wondering why, as a society, we can’t seem to have a reasonable discussion about a book written by a woman, seemingly intended for and read by millions of other women, without being mean. And not just mean–ugly and horrible. (I mean, E.L. James (as other famous people have) gets harassed a lot on Twitter. Which is one thing I hate about social media–although it has its perks, it also makes it really easy for people to anonymously harass other people and say things they would never, in a million years, have the guts to say to someone’s face.)

Okay, I was going to try to keep this general, but my brain keeps coming back around to Fifty Shades, in particular. Most of the cultural criticism I’ve alluded to centers around Christian and Anna’s relationship–some interpret it as abusive (well, I guess they wouldn’t say “interpret,” they would say it is abusive). I think it’s fair to say there may be undertones of that.

But I also have to say I’m not sure why we seem to be so afraid that millions of women can’t separate a book or a fantasy from reality. Like I said, it might affect some people negatively…and, maybe to try to prevent that, we should point out and discuss the seemingly questionable material (as we’ve been doing).

There’s something about the amount of criticism we’ve been heaping on James and Fifty, though, that I’m starting to find just as disconcerting as some people find the books themselves. For one thing, there does seem to be this element to it that we’re talking about it so much because, again, it’s a sexy book written by a woman for other women…and that we usually seem to be overly concerned with, not how art is affecting us, but how art is (negatively) affecting women…because somehow we’re more prone to messages (“hidden” or otherwise) in art and the media. (I guess the flip side to this is not that we feel women are more susceptible to these messages, but that the formula in Fifty Shades is outdated and patriarchal, and that these themes are being perpetuated by the fact that the books are so popular.)

The other element I find disturbing is that I’ve started to see posts and things encouraging boyfriends/husbands to not to take their girlfriends/wives to see the movie because it’s not really “romantic,” and we don’t want them to get the wrong impression (because, see above comment)! I think that’s a terrible and counterproductive suggestion and could actually backfire. Your boyfriend does not get to decide for you what guilty pleasures or fantasies you choose to indulge in. I also read this article by some guy who went to see the movie and also seems to be overly concerned that a woman (again, I’m talking about adult women, here, not preteens or teenagers) is going to get the wrong idea about romance from watching this movie. Which brings me to what will hopefully be my last two points, because I didn’t expect this post to get so massive.

Why do women like Fifty Shades? Why do they “like” Christian Grey? Perhaps women like Christian because he sounds f***able. He’s hot, and he’s rich, and it sounds like he’s good, at, you know…doin’ stuff. ;-) I think it’s perfectly possible to like a fictional character and realize that not all of their traits are ideal traits for a mate in real life. Romance novels (we’ll get to the genre term “romance” in a minute), like those of other genres, are read for pleasure and escapism. At least when I read them, I’m not looking for the hero (or antihero) to have traits my next boyfriend is going to have. (And I don’t think anyone has ever expressed any concern or fear over whether men are going to date women like those in the porn they watch.)

And, finally, the other argument the crux of the Fifty Shades criticism seems to depend on is that it is a “romance” novel, and many of Christian’s actions are not romantic. Which…they’re not, really, but I think this is an even more complicated issue than you might think. For one thing, women in our culture are expected to enjoy stories about romance and not just necessarily those just about sex…so the couple often tends to have a deeper connection than just a physical one. If it is true that most women tend to need both the physical and emotional connection in their porn or erotica…that’s fine with me. Again, it’s a complex issue–is it true, or is it what society tells us is true?

A related issue: I know that, as a woman who writes stories with strong “romantic” themes, I feel compelled to put the “romance” stamp on it even if it’s not necessarily romantic, in the traditional sense. Romance, as a genre, encompasses more than you might think. Sure, much of it still follows the formula of your archetypal, charming, strapping hero falling in love with the sassy, buxom, virginal heroine…maybe they feel a mutual dislike towards one another at first even as they fight down their growing passion for one another…until one sweltering, starry night they give into that fiery passion…and, after a few more obstacles are thrown in their way–just when you think all hope is lost–they finally overcome all, get together, and live happily-ever-after. Formula romances are great. Often, they’re exactly what you need; sometimes you just wanna know things are going to work out for the best, and not be disappointed when they don’t.

But not all stories that get this “romance” stamp are like this–and they’re not supposed to be. Well, at least not to me. I do know firsthand that there are readers who see “romance” and expect the formula, expect the HEA ending–and, when they don’t get it, are confused, at best–and at worst, pissed. But I think the romance genre has expanded and can evoke more raw emotions than just “awwwww….how romantic!” “Romance” novels can be dark, shocking, or even disturbing–and the characters aren’t required to be cookie cutter heroes and heroines who only do good things and have sound morals. (Maybe what we really need is a new genre name.) Personally, I enjoy writing deeply flawed characters–it’s more fun and challenging to imagine what might motivate someone to choose wrong over right.

I guess what I’m trying to say is…what the heck am I trying to say, anyway? When I read Fifty Shades, I noted that Christian was controlling and some of his behavior disturbing…but I didn’t think this behavior was supposed to be traditionally romantic. To me, it was an author pushing a certain type of character–a controlling, manipulative one with some deep, dark demons and a Red Room of Pain–as far as he could go in that direction. At its core, Fifty Shades is just a forbidden lust story. Anna knows that Christian has flaws and is maybe into some stuff she’s not sure if she can handle, but she’s intrigued by this darker, forbidden aspect. Christian isn’t supposed to be a role model or dating material.

Then again, I could see where maybe a more impressionable reader might be more easily influenced by a story like this than I would be. Not everyone would share the same outlook going into the book, or probably even feels the same way about the genre. Even so, I just personally don’t think there are many types of situations or characters (if any) that are completely off-limits in fiction, although context is also important. I just take Christian to be a (rather poorly constructed) antihero who has a lot of skeletons and not too many redeeming qualities.

So some will love, some will critique, and some will be offended. And some, like myself, will be totally wishy washy and kinda understand where the criticism is coming from, but then again, not really. I just wish we could all discuss it in a civilized way. Because, really, when is the last time you’ve ever heard of a male artist, writer, or anything getting so much slack? (Robin Thicke? He’s really the only example I can come up with.) I don’t think the answer is to ban the movie, either, as others have also suggested.

What I’d hoped would be a more general post kind of just turned out to be about Fifty. For that, I am sorry…but it’s been on my mind lately, and, you know…must…vent…on…Interwebz. I’d love to hear your thoughts…as long as you can keep it rational and civil.

But I have to go, for now…actually, because I’m going to the movie…

 

Checking In


This is just a short post to say hi and Happy Valentine’s Day! Enjoy the day with your loved ones. And, if you’re a fellow single lady (or gent), make sure to treat yourself!

I wanted to use up my last free day while Relapse is enrolled in KDP Select, so it’s free through the end of the day today! It’s the perfect read for Valentine’s Day…well, if you like your romances dark with a side of twisted. You can download it here and add it on Goodreads here.

Have anything special planned for the day! Feel free to share in the comments! I have a lot of work to do today, so I’m living vicariously through you. ;-)

rose quote

Return of the Mac: A Review of Burned


There have only been a few authors in my life that have left me almost not able to function until their next book comes out. That I read it as soon as I get my hands on it. In high school and part of college, that author was J.K. Rowling. Now, in my adult life, I have Karen Marie Moning.

It was actually my mom who discovered the Fever series seven or so years ago. I think back then there were already three or four books out, so I didn’t have long to wait until the next installment. (Now, the wait is longer, harder, but still totally worth it.) I was immediately sucked in to the seedy underbelly of Ms. Moning’s Dublin, where the Unseelie lurk and dark forces are at work to bring the walls between our world and the Fae’s down. I crushed on Jericho Barrons, a sexy, enigmatic antihero equal parts elegant and wild. And I loved the fever world’s kick ass heroine, MacKayla (Mac) Lane, who, over the series, transforms from a blonde, pink Southern girl without a care in the world to a fierce Unseelie fighter and a protector of Dublin, the city she’s grown to love even though it took her twin sister, Alina.

The first five Fever books are primarily from Mac’s point-of-view. Fans of the series know that the last book, Iced, was Dani “Mega” O’Malley’s time to shine, with some insight into Christian MacKeltar’s life as he made the agonizing transformation from sexy, Highlander druid to insatiable Unseelie Prince, as well as Kat’s POV and life with the sidhe-seers at the abbey. I feel like not too many people were thrilled with a book that was told mostly from Dani’s POV, and, although perhaps not my favorite in the series–I think that honor still goes to Shadowfever–I enjoyed Iced, and Dani’s story was definitely one that needed to be told.

In Burned, “Mac is back,” as it quotes on the front cover–and I think Ms. Moning’s got her groove back. The book was fun, sexy, packed with action and suspense, and I couldn’t put it down. Well, somehow I managed to for a few hours to get some shut-eye, but this morning I was right back reading, and I finished it within the day. Like I said, not many books have sucked me in quite like the Fever and Highlander series have. I devoured it, and when it was over I was in some sort of book haze/coma, wanting more but knowing that more probably won’t come for another year, maybe longer.

Ugh.

I’m not sure what to even say about this book–like Shadowfever, there are so many twists in it–and so many inklings of things to come–I’m not sure I can talk about it without accidentally giving something away. I can say, though, that it centers mostly around Mac and Dani’s relationship, which–if you’ve read the series–you know was tried when Mac found out Dani, of all people, was the one who killed her dear twin sister, Alina. (You find out even more about the circumstances surrounding this in Burned.) Mac and Jericho’s relationship, which was sort of wrapped up nicely enough at the end of Shadowfever (I will always remember the quote, “I will always be priya for this man.”), is also tested in this latest installment.

Although most of the story is told from Mac’s POV, we get glimpses of Barrons at the very beginning, the Unseelie king, Christian as he’s being tortured by the Crimson Hag, Kat as she struggles to maintain leadership of the sidhe-seers at the abbey, and even Lor. (I have to admit, out of all the POVs, I think I enjoyed Lor’s the least, although I guess he was kind of amusing. I just didn’t find it very convincing–it was a  little too much for me, although he and his budding love interest were sort of cute towards the end.) We also get glimpses of a new, ultra kick ass assassin, Jada–who, even though her dialogue is reminiscent of Seven of Nine’s in Star Trek: Voyager (everything is inefficient), she turns out to be oh so important. The transitions between the first (and third) person POVs works well for the book and, even though Ms. Moning conveniently labels each chapter with the character’s name, the styles are different enough that I think you’d be able to tell them apart, anyway–something I hope I can master.

There are also some very old friends in this book–namely, twins Drustan and Dageus MacKeltar from the Highlander series. They’re pivotal to the mission to save Christian from the clutches of the Crimson Hag. New troubles are also brewing in post-apocalyptic Dublin–problems even the Unseelie king may not be able to fix (and it’s questionable whether he even wants to). Although some issues leftover from Iced are resolved, and Mac comes to term with some demons from her past, there are still lots of loose ends at the end of Burned and a slight cliffhanger, which will leave you yearning for the next book.

This book got me right in the feels, and I know I won’t be able to shake it all week. I even called my mom to fangirl about it…which, in retrospect, was kind of mean because she won’t read it until I bring my copy home with me, lol. If you’re a fellow Moning Maniac, I know you will love Burned. If you haven’t read the Fever series–do it. Immediately. And the Highlander series, too–or at least the Immortal Highlander.

What’s Next?


This is sort of my overdue update/New Year’s resolution post. Although I haven’t really made concrete resolutions so much as general goals. I don’t like making specific resolutions because then I feel guilty when I don’t actually do them, lol. In particular, I want to share with you my plans for upcoming projects. Relapse doesn’t so much end in a major cliffhanger, but it definitely has some loose ends, so you may be wondering: What’s next for the Reborn series?

The short answer is: Er, I dunno…..

But that’s not entirely true. Hence, the longer answer:

I have lots of ideas for future books (yay!). Right now most of them are still jumbled up in my head, so I have to put them down into a plan/outline. I’ve known almost since I started writing Reborn where the series was headed, especially as far as Siobhan’s story is concerned. But I’ve since realized that I also want to focus on some of the other characters. For instance, I really want to go into Anna’s story in more depth. She may just get her own book, or at least be the principle POV in the next book. I also left things hanging with Carly at the end of Relapse, so I want to pick up her story again. Siobhan’s story obviously isn’t over, either–I’ve hinted that she has some special abilities compared to the other halflings, but we still don’t know why. Well, I know why. ;-)

I just can’t decide how I want to split all of this up. I could alternate a few POVs within one book, like I did in Relapse, or I might write the third book about Siobhan and then a few novellas focusing on these other characters…and then maybe release a few things around the same time. I just really don’t know how I want to do it right now. My goal over the next few months or so is to get my notes organized and do some outlining to figure all of this out.

But I’m not allowed to write anything yet, haha. I have to concentrate all of that brain power/energy on finishing up what I need to in order to graduate first. I’m so close. Between school stuff and putting the finishing touches on Relapse and promoting it, I got kind of burned out at the end of last semester. For some reason, I didn’t think I would–I guess because the editing and marketing stuff, even though it’s work in one way, it’s also a lot of fun, at least for me. But by the time winter break rolled around, I was just…done, haha. I didn’t do or think about anything over break. I had two weeks off this time, which was nice.

By the way, the reason I’m not allowing myself to do the actual writing yet is because once I get into the zone, it’s hard to get out. I get really obsessed with it. I’m obsessed with this whole thing, anyway…it’s hard for me to resist doing at least something related to it, whether it’s updating notes or the Facebook page or whatever. I also have a growing pile of awesome books to read and review for fellow indie authors, which I’m starting to make a dent in. I think one of the best parts of this has been helping fellow writers with their projects and reading incredible books I might not otherwise have gotten the chance to read. It’s also forced me to read outside of my YA/NA/paranormal romance/urban fantasy comfort zone, which is good, too.

I seem to be rambling a lot, but haven’t actually recorded any goals yet. So, here we go:

1. Finish dissertation.

2. Find a big kid job.

3. Get caught up on reviews.

4. Continue to update book-related notes and do some serious outlining.

5. Solidify details of next project. And then tell all of you about it!

I guess my point is, there is definitely more to come from the Reborn series, so stay tuned. In the coming months, I’ll have a better idea of installments and release dates and announce those when I have it all figured out. Thanks for being with me at the beginning of this journey, and for your patience. :-) And please feel free to share your thoughts or questions in the comments.

*****

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Relapse on Goodreads.