2013 and 2014 GOLDEN HEART® Finalist

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Happy book birthday to Michelle Hauck and GRUDGING!!

Michelle and I met through her blog and the Sun vs. Snow contest she runs every January with fellow blogger and YA writer Amy Trueblood. I was one of the "winners" of that contest a couple years ago when my entry led to many agent requests and eventually signing with my agent for FOUR BULLETS.

Michelle does so much to help other authors, also running the Query Combat and Nightmare on Query Street contests. Today I'm happy to join in the celebration for her brand new ebook GRUDGING, releasing today from Harper Voyager Impulse!

Check it out...

Find it: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Goodreads

Doesn't that cover just say ADVENTURE? Here's a bit about the story:

A world of chivalry and witchcraft…and the invaders who would destroy everything.

The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa…demanding blood.

 On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.

The Women of the Song.

 But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power.  And time is running out.

A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.

Meet the generous and lovely Michelle...

Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two teenagers. Two papillons help balance out the teenage drama. Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. A book worm, she passes up the darker vices in favor of chocolate and looks for any excuse to reward herself. Bio finished? Time for a sweet snack.

She is a co-host of the yearly contests Query Kombat and Nightmare on Query Street, and Sun versus Snow.

Her epic fantasy, Kindar's Cure, is published by Divertir Publishing. Her short story, Frost and Fog, is published by The Elephant's Bookshelf Press in their anthology, Summer's Double Edge. She's repped by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary.

Connect with Michelle:  

Keep reading for an excerpt of GRUDGING...

Shortly after the combat, Ramiro made his excuses to the men at the wall and left, returning to the citadel and taking the stairs to the roof. Some alcalde’s wife from the past had turned this spot into an outdoor garden and dining room, making it a favorite retreat for many. A peaceful place when he felt anything but.

Other people’s blood spotted his white shirt. Had things gone differently, it could easily have been his own. He needed a bath and a rest, but his mind hummed from the conflict, leaving him unable to stop pacing. Cold chills claimed his limbs. His stomach was sourer than when alcohol had filled it. With no clear single-combat victory, he hadn’t earned his beard. The night reeked of disappointment.

How long? How long could they keep the Northerners out?

Stars spotted the night sky here, where the citadel met the top of the world. Or so it had always seemed to him as a child. Life was no longer so certain now that he was older.

He drew in the cool scent of creeping jasmine, carefully tended and watered by hand in pots across the rooftop. Colina Hermosa spread before him, a humbling sight. The city stretched away from the citadel on all sides, a jewel shining with lights. It spread down the hill, becoming wider and grander as it sprawled, with imposing avenues and white-clad stucco buildings whose thick walls and small windows kept out the noonday heat. There was squalor and dirt as well, fits of temper, rudeness, and often impatience. But the darkness hid all that, washing the city of its faults and giving it a fresh life until it tumbled like the sea against the immovable stone walls that now held out the Northerners.

His heart swelled with love. Something worth defending. Home.

Outside the high, white walls, well beyond arrow shot, was a sight not so welcoming. There, jammed between the city and a deep, old quarry used to build the city walls, campfires burned. A red swarm of rage and death, brimstone and smoke, offering a grim contrast with the peaceful firmament. Not by the hundreds did they burn, but by the thousands, mirroring the stars in the sky. How many peasants’ houses did they demolish to feed so much hungry fire? They must be down to burning cacti. How they kept it up night after night, he couldn’t begin to comprehend. Salvador had talked on about supply trains and quartermasters, but Ramiro had let his imagination dwell on his first ride instead. An indulgence he regretted now.

If only each fire meant a single enemy, but that was wishful thinking. Each fire contained tens of men. Tens and thousands. And behind them, the siege machines waited their turn. A lethal combination for Colina Hermosa.

He touched the spot above his spleen, and whispered, “Santiago, don’t let me give in to despair.”


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Word Count Magic- The Sprint

Are you a sprinter? Not the track-and-field kind, but the writing kind. I never was-- until recently.

In the past couple of years, I've had writer friends invite me to "sprint" with them. I didn't take them up on it because I wasn't all-the-way sure how to do it or exactly why I'd need to do it. I write every day already and at a fairly fast clip. I didn't think I needed it. Boy, was I wrong.

Whereas I normally write 800-1000 words per hour, I found that I could knock out up to 2500 words in two 20-minute sprints. And this was writing at night, when I'm usually too brain dead to write anything. It was like word count magic!

Now, these are first-draft words. I'm writing messy, not going back to fix typos or punctuation during the sprint, not worrying about beautiful prose or clever turns of phrase. And that's okay, because first drafts are allowed to suck-- the fancy stuff comes in later drafts. But I've been pretty amazed when I go into my writing sessions the next day at how usable those sprint-born words are. I've hardly had to throw out anything (yet), and these sessions have launched me farther ahead in my WIP than I would normally be at this point in the process.

Here's what finally got me to try sprinting...

The writing community at the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood recently announced their Winter Writing Festival, and Kim Law clearly explained the concept in this sprinting primer.

The Winter Writing Festival is open to anyone who'd like to join the fun and receive the support and encouragement the Rubies are known for. Among other things, they offer several opportunities each day (morning and night) to sprint with other writers. Here's how it works: first, you sign-up. Quick and easy. Then you log in, check out the sprint schedule, which features some amazing writer "hosts" who'll be there firing the starter pistol and writing with you, and click the chat room link in the upper left corner of the page.

That's it-- you're in. Someone (or more likely several someones) will welcome you to the chat room and tell you how many minutes away the next sprint is. There's a little interaction among the writers-- it can get pretty funny in there-- and then the host counts you down, says "GO," and you let your fingers fly for the next 20 or 30 minutes, not stopping for anything, not checking Facebook or Twitter or your phone or the mail, etc. Then everyone comes back into the chat room and reports their progress. It varies among writers. Some are lightning fast- some are slower. It doesn't matter. Everyone's cheering each other on.

It's incredible how much you can get done when your mind is completely focused. Not everyone is working on a first draft. Some are revising, some are addressing copyedits. A friend of mine recently knocked out The Dreaded Synopsis during a sprinting session. For me, the sprints are most productive when I've already written earlier in the day, and I've left off in the middle of a scene or I know where I want the next scene to go-- when I'm warmed-up, so to speak.

But it's not just about word count. Somehow my mind, knowing that it has no time to stop and fret about the small stuff, is more creatively free during sprints. Does that make me sound like a hippy-dippy weirdo? It's hard to explain. I've found that my sprint-words are very dialogue heavy-- I'll go back later and fill in tags and scene blocking and description-- and that dialogue has been going in some very interesting directions. My story is taking turns I hadn't anticipated, and it's fun! It's almost like the internal editor is bypassed because it can't keep up with the speed of the "right brain."

So now I'm a sprint addict. I've sprinted not only with the Rubies now, but with friends who happened to be on Twitter at the same time and suggested a group sprint. I can't seem to sprint on my own. I know my time deadline is a fake one, so it doesn't keep me from "wandering."

But I never have to do it on my own because there are always other writers ready to "3... 2... 1... Go!" with you. Twitter is full of sprinters! A quick search of "writing sprints" revealed these hashtags--    and , and I know there are so many more. And no matter where in the world you are, there's always some writer awake and on Twitter. American night owl? Sprint with an Aussie!

Maybe it won't work as well for you as it has for me. But it's worth trying, right? Trying something new-to-me turned me from sprint skeptic to complete convert. And took me all the way to THE END of the first draft of my current project.

Have you tried sprinting yet? Have I convinced you to give it a shot? Let me know, and maybe we'll sprint together sometime!



Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Wisdom of Waiting-- Are you Rushing Your First Book?

How do you feel about the first book you ever wrote? You love it don't you? It might be shoved under the bed or languishing on the hard drive. You might have vowed that NO ONE will EVER read it. But you love it. It's your first love, your baby-- the one that made you a writer.

My first completed novel was a YA Fantasy romance and a project near and dear to my heart, as most "firsts" are. I wrote it over six months, working at night, the thoughts and emotions pouring out as my fingers flew over the keyboard. I had passion for my subject, a great concept, and I was unencumbered by such trivial annoyances as story structure, character arcs, and theme.

I just wrote what I saw and heard in my head, as if transcribing a movie. And because I'm a lifelong lover of books, I managed to end up with a somewhat decent plot through osmosis. Because I've been a professional writer (journalist) my entire adult life, I managed to end up with a pretty clean book grammatically, and some of the prose wasn't half bad. What I did NOT end up with... was a great book. I didn't know this at the time.

I didn't know any other writers, had never heard of a critique partner or critique group, and was completely unfamiliar with the publishing industry. But I began the task of learning about it. It took a lot of research just to understand how the publishing process works. I learned about agents and decided I needed to get one. That led me to a charity auction where bidders could win the chance to have literary agents critique their work, usually the first three chapters and synopsis. I was hoping to win an auction and have the agent fall in love with my story and offer me representation. That did not happen.

I did win TWO critiques (accidentally) but neither agent offered me rep. What they offered was something far more valuable-- they told me my story wasn't perfect and where to start to make it better. It was hard to hear at first, as many "truths" are. But I believed they knew far more about it than I did. And they were representatives of the very group I needed to impress. Their peers were likely to find the same faults in my writing. And so the work began.

Some of the terms the agents used in their critique were unfamiliar to me-- GMC, story arc. I Googled them and found some incredible author's blogs that shared writing tips in terms I could understand. I started a (never-ending) homeschooling process and applied what I learned to my little work-in-progress. Over time it improved. I learned where a story should start (and threw out my whole first chapter.) I learned my main character should WANT something in every scene, and I gave her goals. I entered RWA writing contests and gained valuable feedback on what worked and what didn't for readers. I attended writing conferences and found critique partners who gave me honest feedback and pointed me to helpful writing craft books. I kept working.

And then my book became a Golden Heart finalist. It's a huge honor, and many of my peers were surprised I'd achieved it with my first book. But that "first book" had already undergone so many changes from its very first incarnation. It was the culmination of all the lessons I'd learned... up to that point.

I was sure the nomination would lead to agent representation if not a book deal. That didn't happen.

I did get a lot of requests from my queries. I also got a lot of rejections-- maybe not as many as some-- I have friends who've racked up hundreds of R's on their way to representation and sales. I didn't send as many queries, I guess, because I kept hearing the same sorts of things-- they liked it but didn't love it, it was original and well-written but *something* was missing. It was also a fantasy during a time when agents were seeking contemporary stories and anything fantasy/paranormal was making editors "run the other way." But that wasn't the main problem.

I loved that story with all my heart, but something wasn't right. It wasn't ready. And I wasn't ready. I wasn't a good enough writer yet to know how to fix it. So I put it away, and I moved on to the next story that had invaded my heart and my head.

This one was much, much easier to write because now I had some tools in my belt. From the outset I had a plan for the characters and a plot to add to all that passion for telling the story. That was the story that got me an agent.

Since that first book, I've written six novels. With each one I've learned. My first love was always in my heart, waiting for the time to be right, waiting for me to learn enough to return to it and know what it needed from me. I always knew I'd go back.

And a few months ago when I got to a stopping point in my other work, I picked it back up again and read it from start to finish. And I knew what to do. I dived back into that world and re-wrote the book, using all I've learned. It was a sort of high, working on it again. I was filled with energy, excited in a way I haven't been in a long time. I had the proper distance from it to see it as it was, to fix its flaws and make it the best it could be.

And it's ready. Nothing is missing.

If I'd kept sending it out as it was, I believe I would have continued hitting brick walls, becoming bruised and eventually broken, losing heart in the whole publishing process and doubting myself as a writer. In this case, it was wiser to wait, to let the book and myself marinate and mature. I had heard from other writers about the importance of writing the next book. But I couldn't understand it truly until I'd been through it myself. If I could go back and give advice to newbie-writer me, I'd say, "Don't rush it. Just keep going and learning. Your first love will wait for you, and when the time is right, you'll both be ready."

Or to borrow a quote from Maya Angelou-- "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."