There’s An Epilogue In This Freaking Book

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When I started writing about Serengard six years ago, I would have laughed if you told me it would lead here: to a four-book series, the last of which is 430 pages long, and the launch of an audiobook.

It started as a dare. At 22, I’d been writing for most of my life, but kept every one of those writings under lock and key. Friends and family would glimpse an abstract chapter here or there, but read a whole draft? Nope.

I blurted out Coldness of Marek during NaNoWriMo 2011 with the intention of finally letting people read something I had written. I wasn’t sure if I’d be posting it on WattPad, a blog, or letting a dog-eared printout circulate at Thanksgiving, but I decided I would be emotionally uninvested in the outcome enough to not care who on the planet got their hands on it.

What could possibly go wrong, if I didn’t care? Well…a local press-for-hire told me it was one of the most well-written manuscripts they’d ever had submitted, and it went to my head a bit. Cool, I can churn out good writing in my sleep? Okie dokie. Self-publish that thing, make it a paperback, I don’t care. Let everyone in the fam have a copy, I don’t care. Good reviews and bad didn’t dent me much, because I’d seen the whole investment as merely a fun jaunt.

But something happened. I was asked about the sequel. There definitely was a sequel just screaming to be written. Hey, I had fun with NaNoWriMo last year, let’s do it again!

Problem: I got invested. Almost as invested as I had been in my lock and key stories. Dammit. Now I owed myself something. Now I owed my readers something. Now I had to let the whole world in on the little secret that, yes, I can write passionately…I just like to hide it. Knights of Rilch wasn’t a story that I could relate to, or that anyone else could likely relate to, but it came from deep in my soul and carried themes dear to me. Loyalty. The friendship between a brother and sister. Tough love. Mentors. Things I couldn’t just shrug a shoulder at.

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Darci Cole, Narrator

Then came the weird and awkward task of revising Coldness of Marek to actually work within a series — a series I cared about, with a debut that I didn’t? Fun fun. The only thing to be done was to pepper in bits of story that I did care about. Deepen the villains. Hint at the many layers of the washed-up, bitter characters. Weave the two books together so they shared a bit of a bond. Saving Coldness was tricky, and it felt like making a patchwork quilt, but this was also the point in the game where I had several amazing critique partners and beta readers giving me invaluable feedback. I also found an awesome editor who helped it flow and make a bit of sense. Its second release in 2013 garnered a positive response that rather shocked me (is still shocking me!), and eventually led to the creation of the audiobook, narrated by the incredible Darci Cole.

The release of Knights of Rilch was one of the most exhilarating events of my writer life. The year it came out, 2014, I had two kids, and two books. I was doing the two things I loved the most: hugging my babies and writing. (I was also knee-deep in the online book world, which was already felt like it was changing too fast for me to keep up.)

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Knights of Rilch Review Copies

The trouble with Knights of Rilch was that it was too long. I had to split it in two, into another book. (That other book became Rise of Orion and took on a life of its own.) I poured so much effort into getting Rise out there the same year so that Knights wouldn’t be left dangling, I burned right out. I’m not sure why I pushed so hard. It wasn’t smart. I didn’t even have the morale to properly promote it.

What floored me, though, was that Rise sold even better than Knights did. (And Knights did well, for the modest expectations of the amateur self-publisher I was.) I mean, I didn’t even email my friends to tell them I had a book coming out. I forgot to inform my local bookstores that Knights had a buddy. (The day I found Rise of Orion chilling on the shelf of Bull Moose anyway made me cry. I mean…they had my author name on auto-order?) I still run into people who say, “Wait, there’s a third one?” Yeah. And…the other trouble was…I had ended the third one on a cliffhanger. There wasn’t enough space in that book, either.

At this point, I realized I’d finally dug in and created a story with characters that had long, slow arcs. I’d put a fast pace on the plot and a slow burn on the timeline. I liked it that way…maybe even loved it that way. Rise of Orion certainly didn’t contain any neat little bows. The story must go on.

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(Aside: who likes neat little bows, though?)

Blood of Ashlin was gnawing gently at my consciousness for all of 2014, while I was releasing two books and chasing two toddlers and wondering if I’d ever go to the beach again. I drafted it, revised it for a couple of years, and really, really took my time. The amount of frustration that went into it is hard to even quantify. It’s a story that’s a little too complex for me to summarize. (It’s supposed to be a summary in and of itself, actually.) It doesn’t explain everything — I don’t know that there is a way to explain what Serengard is or has become — but there’s a lot more paint on that canvas than I’ve flung at my past canvas’. And there might even be a neat little bow or two. I mean, this series is done, done. There’s an actual epilogue in that freaking book.

That brings me to today. A completed project. A series under my belt. Blood of Ashlin on the shelf next to the other three, where it belongs. Coldness of Marek beginning a new life on Audible and iTunes. I don’t know what this means for my writing career going forward, but I know I loved making this art, and I enjoyed sharing it way more than that lock-and-key-writer in me would have ever imagined.


BloodOfAshlinCoverAfter the death of notorious Seren king Altrun, Izannah Orion ascends the throne in Serengard under less than traditional circumstances. Ten years younger than she should be, and with questionable parentage, she is merely a stand-in for an heir that murdered his siblings and threatened to eclipse the kingdom in dark chaos. Against bad odds, Izannah quells unrest, forges treaties, and engenders trust where it is least expected…even in the thick-skinned, deeply scarred Captain of the Guard. more

Blood of Ashlin (Serengard, Book 4) Paperback/eBook
Amazon | Barnes & Noble |Books-A-MillionKindleKobo | iBooks | Nook


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Coldness of Marek Audiobook

Serengard has been under Orion rule for centuries – centuries of insufferable adherence to laws and traditions that its people no longer believe in. Raised by her scholarly grandfather in the fiery southern city of Neroi, Trzl is dedicated to turning the monarchy into a free society where knowledge is king and no one has to be subject to the whims of an Orion. more

Coldness of Marek (Serengard, Book 1) Audiobook
Amazon | AudibleiTunes

 

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The Trouble With a Series, and the Upsides to Self-Doubt

One of the crazy things I did this year was put out two novels in the space of ten months.

I know, it’s not really crazy at all for most self-published authors. Many of you release five or six a year. Honestly, I could maybe draft that many in a year–as long as none of them had to see the light of day for awhile–but I’m pretty sure two full-length fantasy novels is my limit as far as publishing goes.

I’m learning that, while I love writing, publishing can be the pits. I take awhile to recharge creatively anyway. And not just awhile…a long while. Deadlines are my friends, for sure, but since publishing is so stressful, I need to factor into each draft/revision/rewrite a couple of extra months [for writer-brain mutiny] in which I dally off to dance around with old projects or start new ones or pen short stories or songs. If I don’t give myself permission to do this, I cease to be able to write. I end up bumming around the internet or staring at the ceiling. I also need to factor in a month (or four) after the pressure of each book release in which to wallow in ice cream and try to reacquaint myself with the joys of literature. Otherwise, I’m not likely to have the wherewithal to pull that excellent plot twist or profound line out of my hat, and I end up having to extend my deadline anyway.

Anyway.

Rise of Orion came out on December 2nd, and I was practically radio silent about it. There were so many weird little hitches with getting it distributed, it made me cry at times. Neither of the first two books in the series gave me this many problems. I mean, the first one was difficult, for sure, mainly because I was a publishing rookie. But for reasons beyond my control, release day came and Rise of Orion was up on Amazon and iTunes only.  It was not available though some of my favorite bookstores–Barnes & Noble, for one–and I just didn’t feel like proclaiming its existence to the four winds when the buy options were still so limited. (I appreciate Amazon for sure, but I don’t like to solely distribute through them. I love indie bookstores and smaller online retailers and I want to be a part of the book culture they propagate, even if I’m only a tiny part.) There’s always a low after the amount of adrenaline expenditure preceding a book release, and although I was extra bummed, I chocked it up to the fact that I didn’t feel it was real without the paperback in bookstores (especially since bookstore appeal was a lovely new thing I experienced with Knights of Rilch).

But maybe putting out the third book in a series was sure to be a downer, since there’s really no way to pitch it, to share about it, to be excited about it, outside of the group that has already read books one and two. There’s just nowhere to go with that indelible feeling that this is my best work yet. This is the masterpiece of my life so far. I’m damned proud of it, and yet it’s weird to even breathe a word of its plot because, without context, that produces the strangest looks.

But come on. It’s not like it’s the only 110,000 word novel I’ll ever put out. The final installment in the series will probably be that long (err, yes, there’s a fourth book). And after Serengard, I’m going to move on to new things. I’m going to write in other genres for different audiences. It’s strange to think that the manuscript I’m toiling over this very moment will someday be that little book I whisper under my breath about, “I can do so much better now!”

That’s one of the things with a series. Though I busted my butt on it, my first book is truly Rookie Me. It’s humbling every time I tentatively tell a new reader that my latest release is the third in a series and they have to start with book one. Because the now Better Writer in me winces at that less-seasoned debut and knows that it will be awhile before they get to the third, if they ever do. Pfft, they’ll never read my good stuff. They’ll never know I can do better. Oh God, where is the gin.

Or if they do…if they read Coldness and Knights and Rise…and read the fourth book…and ten years from now I’m spinning out literary historicals, will I blush awkwardly when someone mentions my foray into Epic Fantasy when I was still a twenty-something with two little kids and no one to talk to bookstore owners and work with editors but myself? Will it be real embarrassment (it shouldn’t be–I work hard, I make my own destiny), or just that touch of insecurity that every writer has deep down, that deep-seated self-doubt? It’s not like I’m not proud of my stories. I am. But I wonder how natural it is to see flaws with your past as soon as you can do something greater? Is it just me?

There are some books I am in complete awestruck euphoria over. I hug them and love them and put them on my shelf and gush over them, re-read them every Christmas break, and buy copies for all of my friends. I do this with wild abandon. I feel this way over books whose authors I’ve never met, authors who are dead, and authors who have an audience of twelve. And I always wonder if somewhere, someday, someone will feel that way about one of my books. If such a thing ever happens, you can bet I will still feel insecure. I will still have all the writerly doubt that comes with putting art out in the world. Is it possible to kill that doubt? Maybe. Would that be healthy? I don’t know. At the moment, I’m apt to think there is something good about this vulnerability. It’s what’s driving me to produce something more stunning next time, to make every novel I write more powerful than the last, to write every chapter of every story tighter, cleaner, stronger.

And that is always a good thing. I don’t even know where I was going with this, I just wanted to get it out. I may still have a touch of separation blues, but I’m glad I have another manuscript to give my full 100% to. There’s always another story. I’ll write more books. I’ll find new horizons. Maybe another series, even. (Don’t say the word “series” around me for awhile, though. Seriously.)

Release dates (now with blurbs)!

After much scheduling and double checking, making sure I’ve allowed for plenty of double and triple checks on everything, I’m excited to announce that COLDNESS OF MAREK and its sequel KNIGHTS OF RILCH have release dates!

Here they are:

COLDNESS OF MAREKAdult/NA Epic Fantasy
Deeply entangled in revolutionizing her native country of Serengard, Trzl will sacrifice anything for her cause– even the life of the man she loves. After a tangled mess of betrayals leaves her a single mother at nineteen, she seeks refuge near the chilling Cliffs of Marek. But she has enemies even here; and when a marauder takes her captive, she must learn to play her own hand of betrayal to protect herself and her son.
Release Date: August 6th, 2013 !!!

KNIGHTS OF RILCHAdult/NA Epic Fantasy
When a mob of rebels kills her parents and burns Serengard’s capital to the ground, crown princess Kierstaz Orion is determined to reclaim her kingdom and exact revenge. And with a price on their heads and assassins nipping at their heels, Kierstaz and her brother have only one means of doing so: leading a handful of knights against the rebel army. But the two of them are keeping secrets from each other that could tear them apart… and what remains of their country as well.
Release Date: October 8th, 2013 !!!

Several cool things will be happening in the upcoming months, most likely in this order:

1. The rewrite of COLDNESS OF MAREK will be completed and sent to its last round of betas. I will make final adjustments according to their notes.

2. Both final drafts will be sent to my copy editor. She will polish and edit, edit and polish!

3. I will launch a street team, which will involve a cover reveal, ARCs, giveaways, blog tour, and more fun stuff.

4. Final proof-readings will happen.

5. Design team will finalize cover and formatting.

6. COLDNESS will go to print! KNIGHTS will go to print!

I’ll do my best to keep you up to date on the process and what’s happening when. It’s all going to be pretty darn exciting!

Major Decisions (check!)

I hinted in my last post that I was re-writing my 54k YA Fantasy COLDNESS OF MAREK. Now that I know what I am writing is actually an Adult/NA Epic Fantasy series, COLDNESS needs to be entirely reworked to fit with the rest of it. Just don’t freak out when I take the original off of my website and Amazon– I didn’t quit. I am coming back!

(Sidenote: although the themes of the story move me into the “adult” category, my writing is still PG-13. Certainly not R. Just so that’s clear.)

Those of you who read the first edition, you do not have to buy or borrow the re-release to understand the sequel. The actual story hasn’t changed; I’m just adding about 25,000 words, tweaking the points of view and polishing the narrative. The result will be a little darker, a little deeper novel, and you will be able to pick up KNIGHTS OF RILCH and know exactly what is going on. But stay tuned, because I’ll be giving out ARC copies to blog tour hosts and there will be lots of random giveaways!

I originally projected KNIGHTS OF RILCH for release this spring, but I need to take my time with both books. I want to be sure I have every little wrinkle ironed out, every sentence nicely structured. In order to accomplish this, I’ve asked other writers to beta read my various drafts and give input. I have a copy editor and a cover artist lined up (yay!), and probably will need a final proof reader or two as well.

So that means lots of rounds of little revisions. But I’m certain it will be worth all of the time and effort!

And I may as well mention this now, there will be a third book!!!

Everyone who bought COLDNESS OF MAREK last year, I can’t thank you enough for believing in my story, for taking a chance on a new author, and for staying around for the sequels. Hugs! Gahhhh I’m so excited. And so nervous.

So this is what I’ve decided.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve probably observed my recent indecision surrounding publishing options for this next book. I’ve finally made my decision, and so I’ll treat you to a chronological narrative of my thoughts, interactions, and OH MY GOSH I’M SO CONFUSED moments.

Originally, I was pretty set on self-publishing KNIGHTS OF RILCH as the sequel to COLDNESS OF MAREK. I had a good experience in the self-pub world, in spite of some definite mistakes I made in the process (more about this in my post: Can I please/has/do a remix?).

While writing RILCH and participating in NaNoWriMo for the second time, I finally joined the writing crowd on Twitter… and discovered that they are a warm, sharing bunch of people. As bad as this sounds, I was completely floored by this. Much of the arts I’ve been involved in– school-related and professionally– have been competitive to the point of being snobby and cruel. So I was not prepared AT ALL.

This opened up a new world for me. Suddenly I was excited about traditional publishing. I had assumed, from my limited reading on the publishing world (which pretty much stopped at magazine and Internet articles), that agents and publishing houses were not interested in writers succeeding. (Seriously, this is a THING. I don’t know if it’s just the media being negative or what, but somehow all those “big bad, big five” tales are everywhere, and it was all I was exposed to for a good while). When I finally found the bloggers and contests and actual agents of the writing world, I learned that this could not be further from the truth. And as I read all these success stories, soaked up all this encouragement, and perused all these agent wishlists, I realized I would love to be a part of this.

And then I started reading a lot of depressing stuff about the Indie movement. Turns out self-publishing is also a shortcut for people who haven’t worked to get their writing completely polished, and this scared me because this is what I did. I wasn’t trying to shortcut the system, but I also wasn’t trying to launch a career. I just wanted all my friends to read something I wrote, so I bought an ISBN and spent the money to get 200 copies printed locally. I didn’t plan on marketing it all over the place, or even allowing another author to read it EVER, but when I started hearing how this could sink you into the abyss of the low quality eBook crowd that grates on the nerves of authors and agents everywhere, it seemed a good reason to panic. I immediately copied my finished manuscript of COLDNESS OF MAREK into a Scrivener file and began a rewrite. I wondered if there was some way I could justify burning the remaining 40 copies of the original that haven’t been sold… and I started looking at the sequel and wondering if I could possibly market it as a stand-alone novel.

Enter the amazing world of contests. I started with Cupid’s Literary Connection’s Blind Speed Dating. At first, I figured this would be a wonderful way to test the waters, to see if there was any interest in the traditional market for what I had written, before I began querying agents individually. I really, really wanted to learn how to do this, but more than that I wanted to network with other writers and get feedback on my query and storyline. Is it comparable to what other people are writing? Would an agent even glance at it? I was hoping my fellow writers could answer these questions for me… and I was not disappointed. Especially with the Kissing Scene Competition, the feedback and advice that they were willing to share made me feel like someone had dumped a huge bucket of love all over me.

But I learned something else in the competition. As soon as my entry went up on the site, I knew this was not what I wanted to do with this particular novel. The idea of landing an agent with KNIGHTS OF RILCH was actually a little scary. I started reading all of the other entries… queries that had been polished to a high shine by writers that had been querying for months upon months; writers that had been studying this business for years, that wanted an agent so much more than I did. I wanted that validation, to be sure, but  I feel that it would be very, very unfair to seek that relationship only halfheartedly, and halfhearted is how I feel about it. It is tough, because I read so many agent wishlists, agents that I admire and stand in awe of, where I felt, “that’s what I have! I just need to pitch it in a way you’ll be interested!” but I am not comfortable pitching this book. I don’t feel certain enough to tell an agent, “This is the series. This is where the story will end, this is how many books will be involved, and it will all fit into this genre and be marketable to this crowd.”

If there is anything I have learned over the past year, it’s that I am not quite ready to have anything set in stone, and any kind of publishing contract is very much a permanent thing. As much as I respect the traditional publishing route, I am grateful for the flexibility self-publishing provides. The fact that I can pull COLDNESS OF MAREK off the market and rewrite it without hurting anybody else’s long-term plans or pocketbooks is a blessing. I can fix these mistakes. I can learn and grow. I can let this series go where it will, and it doesn’t have to be read by a huge audience to pay off an advance and make it worthwhile for an agent, an editor, a design team, etc. In the end, I am responsible for the quality of my work.

I’m actually very excited about going Indie with this novel. Thankfully, by now I have my wonderful CP, Michelle, and a few beta readers (one of whom is the amazing EM Castellan) who are helping me look at my work critically and shine it far beyond what I had attained with COLDNESS OF MAREK. I’m going to be much more patient this time, and I’m going to approach this as a writer, not as a girl who wants her friends to read her work… even though that was fun while it lasted.

To everyone who has been so helpful and supportive as I’ve been making these decisions, thank you for your advice and encouragement! And to everyone who has been following me since I started writing novels, thank you for hanging in there with me! You mean the world to me.

Can I please/has/do a remix?

So. I’m sure you already guessed this is about my 54k self-published Coldness of Marek. When I pushed it into print in a short run of 200 copies, I really wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with it. I thought this was a little bitty story to hand to my friends who had been patiently waiting for NINE YEARS for me to have something I considered “good enough” to send to a publisher. This seemed like the happy medium. Not “good enough” to query with, but good enough for my buddies to read.

The response I got was, truly, a surprise. Four and five star reviews, and one three star (for which I am very grateful. I need that three star review as much as I needed the five and four). But the resounding refrain was that I needed a sequel. Seriously?

I guess I didn’t end the book as well as I thought I did. And my world-building was just getting started. The whole idea of Coldness of Marek turned into a springboard for a series. And as such, the original little story of a naive, passionate single mother who learns how to grow up and be responsible for herself felt way too small. I always said I might be embarrassed by Coldness of Marek someday and that I wouldn’t mind, but the more I learn about the publishing world and the more I write of this world and these characters, the more Coldness just doesn’t fit anymore.

And I find myself wanting to rewrite it to jive with the revamped story I find in the 90k NA sequel manuscript.

DangIt

But I can’t do that! It’s already published! It’s available in eBook form! It’s copyrighted and it has an ISBN and the thousands of hours put into designing and formatting cannot be in vain!

I don’t know what to say. Except that I am so sorely tempted to try to start this journey all over again, from the top. *big sigh* What to do? I’m ready for any and all advice right about now.