Monday 26 February 2024

Facing the final boss

You can tell by the title that I’ve been reading too much manga lately. I’ve also been writing a book where the protagonists are facing the same adversary they’ve faced once before, and it’s meant to be the battle that ends the series. They almost lost the previous time, and now the stakes are higher.

In Saved by the Spell, House of Magic 2, Phoebe, Kane and their mage, vampire and werewolf friends faced a dark mage, Julius Blackhart. His goal was simple: he wanted to take over London and a powerful spell protecting it. For nefarious purposes, naturally. He was defeated, but only barely.

Now he’s back in book 5, and, naturally, he has to be more difficult to defeat than before to keep the readers’ interest. He’s become a warlock and has more powerful allies too—as far as warlocks are willing to have allies.

But having the good guys face the same bad guy, even if more powerful, and likely fight the same battle too, is boring. I tried to find ways to make the antagonist more interesting, and raise the stakes for the good guys. Nothing helped. Until I came to ask, what if Blackhart isn’t the final boss.

The readers of this blog know I’ve struggled with House of Magic 5 since January. It’s the end of February and the book hasn’t progressed at all. The only explanation I eventually came up with was that Blackhart and his goals weren’t interesting enough for me. So they probably wouldn’t interest my readers either.

However, once I came up with the idea that Blackhart isn’t the final boss Phoebe and Kane are facing, the story started to develop in a whole new way. The big question of course is, who is worse than a warlock in this urban fantasy world, and what does he/she want.

I’m not giving the answer here, but it does take the story out of London. It might take it out of this world as well. The opportunity to imagine a completely new world is intriguing, and will push me to write the book faster. I hope, anyway. And if all goes well, it will give me a reason to write more books in this series too.

Monday 19 February 2024

Getting the tone right

I write romances and mysteries, both contemporary and paranormal, cozy and a bit edgier. When I first started publishing, I had two pen names to keep the genres from getting mixed up. But at some point, it felt easier to combine everything under one pen name, and so my genre selection became a bit eclectic.

When it comes to romances, whether contemporary or paranormal, my books always have at least one sex scene. They’re fairly explicit, though never terribly long. They are romances, after all, not erotica. But not all books with romances need sex scenes.

When I started writing P.I. Tracy Hayes mysteries, I knew that there would be a slow-building romance between Tracy and Jackson, her boss. It took until book 7, Valentine of a P.I., before the pair ended up in bed together. And when they did, I closed the bedroom door. For me, it was enough to know that they’d reached that point. There have been four more books since, and the bedroom door has stayed closed.

I made the same decision with my paranormal cozy series, House of Magic. That, too, has a slow romance between Phoebe and her boss Kane, but they only waited until book 4, Magic by the Book, to get in bed together. And I closed the door again.

It’s not like I don’t know how to write sex scenes. I chose not to.

However, my readers aren’t entirely happy. Twice now, I’ve had reviewers specifically mention the disappointing lack of sex and tell that they’d lowered the rating because of it. As a reader, I get it. You’ve waited long enough and deserve some spice. But as the author, I have to get the tone right. And sex would ruin it.

It’s not always about sex either. I’ve had reviewers complain for my use of f-word in my cozy mysteries. And I understand where they’re coming from too. However, my mysteries aren’t entirely cozy. That’s especially true with my crime caper series, The Reed Files, where the male MC, Eliot, is a former mafia enforcer from New Jersey. I simply cannot imagine he wouldn’t use the f-word. So those will stay.

Violence, too, is a balancing act. A writer asked on social media the other day, how much violence should there be in a historical fantasy. Readers might expect some of it, but others might be put off. At the end of the day, though, it’s the writer’s world and they get to decide. For every reader they might lose for not meeting the readers expectations—and readers are so diverse, it’s impossible to meet all of them—they might gain two.

And sometimes I want to push the genre a bit too. So, very likely, The Reed Files at least will have an explicit sex scene or two in the future—once the slow-burn romance reaches that far. And I wouldn’t put it past some characters in the House of Magic using the f-word too. The readers who find curse words too much might be outraged by the sex scenes, but the readers who want the sex will be happy. Most importantly, I’ve written the book that I want to write.

Monday 12 February 2024

Change of pace

As those who have read this blog this year may have noticed, I’ve struggled with writing House of Magic 5. Last week wasn’t any more productive than before, and after 26 writing days, the manuscript stands at whopping 9000 words, averaging 350 words a day.

It has, however, presented me with two surprises already. One is a romantic pair I had no plans of forming between two side-characters. One moment I was stuck, and the next, on a whim, I paired them. And it works. For me, at least. I’m not sure how the readers will react, as one of them is a bit of a fan favourite.

The other surprise is the need for a change in the narrative pace. The series is told in one character’s first-person point of view, which works fine. However, due to events in the previous book, the rather vast cast is split in two for most of this one, leaving the MC’s romantic interest in the dark. So, I was contemplating writing some chapters from his point of view.

I’ve never done such a switch in the middle of a series. I have a dual point of view series where both MCs narrate in first person, and several books in third person. Here though, I thought the additional point of view could be in third person. I’ve read books where the MC is in first person and the other points of view are in third person. Occasionally it works, and then other times it doesn’t.

The other option is to use first person for him as well, but I’m hesitant to use that. I’m not sure I’d get his voice right, as he’s such a different person from the MC. And part of his allure is that he’s a bit of a mystery for the MC and reader alike. Would it ruin the series if we get an insight into him as well?

I don’t know the answer. And until I do, the book might stall even more. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Monday 5 February 2024

Naming names

One of the most difficult things for me in writing fiction is coming up with names for the characters. There isn’t a character so trivial that I wouldn’t pay attention to their name, and I agonise endlessly about the names of the main characters. A name that felt good at the start of the writing process might feel completely wrong by the end of it, and has to be changed.

For trivial characters like murder victims, random neighbours, and people with a line or two who nonetheless get a name, I usually turn to social media. I follow thousands of people on X with both unique and mundane names, but I usually go for the latter. I take the first name from one and the last name from another, and have a suitable random character name that should be as forgettable as the character.

Trivial characters can never have interesting names. Those are reserved for the main ones. I used to have a long list of names I found interesting, some suitable for heroes and others for villains, but after 35 books, I’ve exhausted most of it and need to come up with new ones all the time. Internet with its baby name sites and other helpful lists is invaluable, but the abundance of names also makes it difficult to choose the best ones.

The series that’s been especially annoying in this respect is The Reed Files. Both main characters are criminals who change their names often, and I want all the names to be interesting and suitable for them. I’m particularly fond of the name Eliot Reed, but there will come a time when he’ll have to ditch it for good. But his character is already established, making it even more difficult to choose a good name. Then again, he started his life as Jonathan Moreira in the P.I. Tracy Hayes series, so it’s not like I haven’t changed it before.

Occasionally I choose the name first and make the character to match. Other times, I plan the character first and then choose the name. A working-class detective will have a different name than a centuries old vampire aristocrat, obviously. Age and time matter too. Not all modern names were around a century ago and vice versa. Behind the Name site that I often use has lists of most popular names in each country for each year, going back a few decades, which is usually enough for me. Then it’s the question of whether I want my character to have a popular name or a unique one. Would a unique name change the character?

I’m currently planning another spin-off from the P.I. Tracy Hayes series. It’ll feature her brother Trevor, so his name is set. But the upcoming other MC is giving me a headache.

I came up with the series name first, which features the character’s last name. Choosing the first name that will match it has proven annoying. Even more so, because I don’t exactly know yet what kind of a character I’m dealing with: rich, poor, educated, cool, messy or something else. I came up with a good one, and then I tried to pronounce it and it turned out to be a mouthful, so that had to go. I’m not in a hurry, the series won’t launch until next year, but it’s bugging me.

I have another series in the making on the background where the names give me a bit of a headache too. They didn’t at first and I was really happy with the names of both MCs. Then I changed the ethnicity of one of them, and now I’m not sure if the name should change to match or not. And then I realised I’d used the name of the other MC for a villain in a different book. There probably won’t be people who remember—I didn’t until I reread the book the other day—but it’s started to annoy me as well. So that’ll have to change too. Maybe.

So far, each character has had a name that I like by the time I hit the publish button, but I’ve occasionally wished later that I’d chosen differently. The most obvious annoyance is Alexander Hamilton, the vampire lord in my Two-Natured London series—no relation to the historical person—but I mostly call him Lord Foley anyway. And I’ve only once used the same name for the hero in two different books, that I recall. I have Marcus Hamilton in Beloved Warrior of Two-Natured London series, and Marcus Wright in Which Way to Love?, a stand-alone contemporary romance. In my defence, I originally published the latter under a different pen name, so it didn’t seem to matter at that time.


I plan to write many more books in the future, so the problem of the names will only become worse. But it’s a fun challenge, and I haven’t failed yet.

Monday 29 January 2024

Reading my own books

I’ve been publishing my own books since 2012 and have 35 books out, most of them in four series. That’s quite a lot of books to keep tabs on when writing series with continuing plots and recurring characters.

I try to keep good notes on what characters look like and where they live, but it took me a while to pick up the habit, so earlier books don’t have those. Some details I don’t think are important to write down, only to learn my error later. I check out the pertinent bits, but continuity errors occasionally occur.

However, I seldom read entire books, not even the previous one in the series in preparation for the next. I don’t have time for it, and rereading books that I already know well seem pointless when there are so many new books to read.

The only exception was several years ago, when I read and partially rewrote the first three books that I’ve published. They sorely needed refreshing, but my writing has improved a lot since too, and I think they and other early books of mine could use another rewrite.

But this month, I’ve read three of my books. I started with It Happened on a Lie, a stand-alone contemporary romance that I first published in 2014. I had a vague recollection that it wasn’t very good, so as I prepared to upload a new cover for it, I read it through.

To my surprise, it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. The ending is a bit abrupt, but it’s only a novella, some 25000 words, and the romance concludes well, so it didn’t matter. I did consider writing one more act, but it seemed to have everything it needed, so I let it be. I did make some changes though.

The novella was an experiment in length to see whether I could write a complete story in as few words as possible. While the characters were surprisingly well-developed for such a short work, it had led to cutting corners, like omitting names of speakers in several places, creating confusing conversations. It wasn’t a big task to add those. And now I can rest easy knowing that even though it isn’t exactly a masterpiece of romantic fiction, it’s not bad as I thought.

Last week, I read two of my House of Magic books, Saved by the Spell (book 2), and Magic by the Book (book 4). I’d started writing book 5, thinking I can build on events in those two books, but then it turned out I had no recollection of how they ended. I especially couldn’t remember the fate of the bad guy in one of them. So a reread was in order.

Saved by the Spell was published in 2021, but I’d completely forgotten what happens in it. I didn’t remember a major character, I’d forgotten the antagonist’s motivation, and many plot twists came as a surprise for me. I have no idea what past me was thinking, but the present me would’ve written a different story.

But it was fun to reminisce. It was nice to see where the characters had been, and how far they’ve come since. I spotted some errors too, like an embarrassing typo in the first chapter and the colour of one car changing. I think I changed it back in the subsequent book, but I need to check.

Magic by the Book came out last year, but it was full of details I’d forgotten that I need for the upcoming book to avoid continuity errors. They were good details for planning the plot too, something that I’ve been struggling with the whole month. Now I think I’m ready to tackle that task.

All in all, a good exercise. And I think I’ll continue with it. This year I’ll publish P.I. Tracy Hayes 12, which might be the last one in the series—for now. It’ll be nice to remember the journey and wrap up some things in the last book, and if inspiration strikes, maybe plan for the future books too. Or maybe a spin-off…

Do you reread your own books? Do you still like them, or has your style and tastes changed since writing them?

Monday 22 January 2024

Another less productive week

I’m writing a blog post for a second week in a row, which definitely hasn’t happened in years. For lack of interesting things to write about, here’s another recap of my life.

Last week, I made a resolution to work on my WIP, House of Magic 5. That didn’t happen. Mostly, because I didn’t feel like it. The cold that had bothered me the week before was mostly gone, so I can’t blame that anymore either. I did think about it a lot though, and I’ve resolved a few issues that were keeping me back.

I wasn’t completely idle. I wrote several hundred words to a book that’s been a side-project of mine for about a year now. It’s on a back-burner and won’t be published until the next year earliest, so it wasn’t exactly a pressing task. But often when I can’t get my writing to work, I go back to it, tweak it or write a chapter or so.  By the time it’s finished, it’ll be either brilliantly polished or a weird mess.

I also redid the covers of the Two-Natured London bundles. I create my own covers and my skills aren’t always up to the task. But I recently figured out how to give the boxes a more 3D effect, so naturally I had to fix the old covers. They’re not perfect, but they’re better than they used to be. You can find them on Amazon only, as theyre on Prime, so members can read them free.

I read a couple of books, one of which, Stars of Chaos, a Chinese boylove steampunk novel by priest, I liked enough to review on my blog. The other was a review copy from Edelweiss, but it was a disappointment and I barely managed to finish it, and only by skimming a lot. I was in a minority though. It has over twenty thousand reviews on Goodreads and most of them are positive.

I read a couple of mangas too, one of which wasn’t even a free review copy, so my decision to cut back on them is on a second week of solid failure. And thats not even counting all the Korean webtoons that I subscribe to.

Lastly, I tinkered with a miniature library that I got as a Christmas present, the kind that will fit into a bookshelf. It’ll take forever to finish; it has so many tiny parts that need to be assembled. My shoulders are in a constant pain for bending down to see better what I’m doing.

So, there was my week. Today, I’ve already opened the WIP file, so there’s a good chance this week it’ll see some progress. I’ll let you know how it went next week.

Monday 15 January 2024

Back to routines

It’s not easy to restart a blog after a long absence. Especially since the absence is mostly due to having nothing interesting to write about in the first place. I still have nothing, but I can always update about my life.

Author's workspace—clean.

I’ve spent the past ten days suffering from a cold (no covid or flu, thankfully.) It came with a relatively high fever (for me), a clogged nose, and a cough that will probably stay with me for months. Needless to say, I didn’t even open my WIP file, which puts my already unrealistically tight writing schedule to jeopardy.

Admittedly, I likely would’ve struggled writing it even without the cold. My work in progress is House of Magic 5—still without a title, though I kind of know what it’ll be. Book 4 ended with a bit of a cliffhanger that readers didn’t like, but which I wrote anyway, to prompt the series to a new direction. And now I’m not happy with where I pushed it. So, until I come to terms with it, the book won’t happen.

Magic by the Book by Susanna Shore

I did write something though, namely book reviews. I had a lot of time to read between naps, and I finished three novels and a longish manhwa. The books were all from the same series by Marie Brennan set in the Legends of Five Rings game world. I haven’t played the game, but I’ve enjoyed all the books set there that I’ve read. If you’re interested in my reviews, you can find them here, here and here. And I finished a couple of mangas from NetGalley, so my decision not to download so many of them this year is faltering already.

I also wrote thousand words to a book that I had an idea for one night when coughing kept me awake. It’s one of those books that’ll never advance farther than that, but it was a great opening and I had to get it out of my system. And I wrote an opening to a short story too. That’ll likely suffer the same fate as well.

The Restorer's Home Omnibus 2 by Kim Sang-yeop

I finished updating the new covers and revised files of my contemporary romances. They’re up on Amazon already, but it’ll take a week or so until they’re on other marketplaces. No one’s commented on the covers yet, so I don’t know if people like them as much as I do.

The new covers

And I finally joined the Alliance of Independent Authors today. I’ve meant to for years, but I’ve never got around to doing it. As a self-publishing author, it’s nice to have access to professional help should I ever need any. And they have all kinds of great resources for writers too.

The Night Parade of 100 Demons by Marie Brennan

This week, I really need to focus on my work in (almost) progress. It currently stands at about 500 words, half of which I’ll probably delete. I’ll let you know how it went next week, if I remember to update this blog. I also have a long list of books to read, some for NetGalley and Edelweiss, some for purely my own joy. So, a busy week ahead.