Monthly Archives

September 2016

How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #4

“You know, my uncle Olaf submitted his book to ______________. He says they’re not like other publishers; they read -all- the manuscripts sent in to them. His was published in only two months, too. You should try them!”

I’ve actually been told this, by a well-meaning neighbor who was. no doubt, sorry for me because I had to keep waiting forever for the whole publication process to pan out.

Notice that I said well-meant. It was. This neighbor and I are on friendly terms. We played bunco together. What this was symptomatic of is that she suspected I didn’t know my options. That I hadn’t done all the homework, and that her uncle Olaf had trumped me on that score.

The truth is that I was quite familiar with Uncle Olaf’s publisher. When I was treasurer of OWFI, we wrangled about this publisher a lot, trying to determine what the organization’s stance was regarding its ‘legitimacy’ as a book publisher.

I’ve also known someone who published his book through Publisher T. He hadn’t done his homework. He’d sent it to them because someone he knew at work had a cousin who worked for the publisher. Turns out his publisher was a subsidy press, charging him for editing, cover design, and creating a book trailer. He’d already purchased a hundred copies of his book, too. But hey, it was going to be out in only a few months.

I bought a copy of that book because I try to support my friends. The cover smeared when I brushed my fingers over it. I would not have been satisfied with the editor’s work.

But there are plenty of publishing options out there, and they have different uses.

So a short primer on book publishers below, with links:

I have used most of these:

1) Self-publishing
There’s a great article at Writer Beware that discusses the merits and pitfalls of self-publishing. Writers who self-publish -can- make good money, although history shows that the vast majority who go this route don’t.

The main difficulty here for some authors is learning all the formatting. And designing covers. And editing. You can pay others to do these for you, but that cuts into your pocketbook. For me, it’s worth it, because my editor at E-Quality Press does a fantastic job proofing and formatting, and my cover artists have always done great work for me.

2) Small Press Publishing

I’ve had work published by small presses. There are a lot of excellent ones out there, but I suggest being careful.

I was given the cards of a couple of other small presses at cons. I didn’t submit to either of those. I didn’t know their reputations, so I balked. I lucked out, because now neither exists. This is one of the problems for small presses. They don’t always make it and can collapse, taking your rights with them if you’re not careful.Writer Beware has a good list of what to look for in a Small Press, which people should read before going that route.

((BE WARNED: There are presses out there that call themselves Small Presses, but ARE NOT. They are vanity or subsidy presses. In fact, many of them specifically say on their websites that they are not vanity presses….but I suspect that if they feel a need to say that, it’s because someone thinks they are.))

3) Major Press Publishing
I’ve also been published via a Big 6 (5? 4?) publisher. I got that contract because my agent was full of awesome. Yes, there are people out there who land contracts without agents. I’m just saying that I wouldn’t have been able to do so. Nor would I have had the knowledge or clout to negotiate improvements to the boiler-plate contract like my agent did.

For that publisher, I had to rewrite. And rewrite. And edit and edit and edit. And it was about 18 months from landing the book contract to seeing an actual book. Sometimes this takes even longer.

A large part of the difficulty level on this is its level of rejection. You have to endure a LOT of that along the way. Rejection by agents. Rejection by publishers. Rejection of books after you land a publisher. It’s not all glamour. In fact, there’s very little glamour these days.mBut they do have some promotional advantages over smaller publishers. So that’s something to keep in mind.

And then there’s
4) Vanity/Subsidy Publishing

They want to publish your manuscript. And they can edit it for you for a small fee. And they can design a cover for you for a small fee. And they can….well, whatever…for a small fee. See the pattern? This is what my friend used, and I think he’s still in the red.

These are the publishers who don’t follow Yog’s Law: All money flows toward the writer. Writer Beware has good discussion of this here as well as a list of publishers they have questions about here (scroll down).

Now, I HAVE NOT used one of these. I’m a believer in Yog’s Law.

However, I will say that I can perfectly understand why some people might chose this route. Not because they’ve not done their homework, but because they would prefer to pay someone to handle the publication process for them. If they’re primarily interested in actually holding a book in their hands and aren’t worried about the money involved, this can be a valid option. Also, if they don’t have the time to wait or are writing about a tiny niche interest (family cookbook?), this can be a valid way to go….just not for me.

ETA: In a discussion elsewhere I mention that one of the easiest ways to tell a small press from a subsidy press is to look at how many authors they have. Subsidy presses make their money from selling services and books to the authors, so they want to have as many authors as possible. If you see hundreds of writers on their author list, then they’re probably a subsidy press.

The issue here is that most people writers talk to don’t know the difference between a book published by a POD publisher and Random House. To most, a book is a book is a book. That’s Shakespeare, right?

But that’s a topic for another day…

How Research Helped Create My Story

This the second post in a series of guest posts by authors who, like me, have found themselves falling down into a Research Rabbit Hole, often with hilarious results. Because this is the true danger of research….it sucks you in!


I’ve lived basically all my life in Auckland, New Zealand, so when I wanted to write a contemporary urban fantasy, I naturally set it there. This is the story of how Book 2 in the series arose almost entirely from research.

One of the criticisms I got for Book 1 was that there was too much incidental information about the city in it. One of the characters is a huge history nerd, and knows everything about the city, and she has a habit of tossing in irrelevant facts at odd moments. I responded to this in two ways: firstly, I trimmed a couple of the less germane references out and republished; and secondly, I turned it into a feature. People often talk about how, in urban fantasy, the city where it’s set can be like another character. I wanted to push that almost to the point of being literal.

To do that, I researched Zealandia. Not many people, even in New Zealand, know who Zealandia is. She fell out of favour after World War II, presumably because of a changing sense of national identity. She’s the personified spirit of New Zealand (the equivalent of Uncle Sam, if you like), the daughter of Britannia, and also one of the supporters on the New Zealand coat of arms.

NZ coat of arms (1911)

My plan was that Zealandia would manifest to my history-nerd character, Steampunk Sally, and act as a kind of wisdom figure, linking her to the power of the city and enabling her to save the day.

Now, when I started looking into Zealandia, I discovered that there was a statue of her which I’d walked past many times without noticing it – it’s on the opposite side of a memorial from the route I’d often taken after work, when I was working downtown and my wife was in the hospital. Nearby is Grafton Bridge, which crosses a gully to the hospital, and also sits partly over a Victorian cemetery. Here’s a photo I took on one of my walks, showing graves underneath the roadway of the bridge:

Graves under Grafton Bridge

Ever since I noticed that, I’d had a story in mind in which the people from those graves rose up and attacked the living people who kept driving above them. I was also aware of the mass grave beside the bridge, which holds the cremated remains of 4000 people whose original graves were dug up to make room for a motorway (freeway) in the 1960s.

All these elements came together and created almost the entire plot of Auckland Allies 2: Ghost Bridge. A necromancer is raising the Victorian ghosts to attack the hospital, using wedding rings stolen from the graves when they were opened 50 years ago. Only by taking on the power of Auckland, under the mentorship of Zealandia, can Sally help her team to contain the threat.

I gave my cover artist my photo to use as reference, and this is what he did with it:

Ghost Bridge cover

Not only was that book tremendous fun to write, it was a lot of fun to do the research, and to come up with a kind of “secret history” in which real-life places, objects, and events drove a decidedly fictional narrative. It’s the kind of thing I want to do again.


Mike Reeves-McMillan writes, as well as the Auckland Allies series, a steampunkish series about heroic civil servants and engineers (The Gryphon Clerks), and a sword-and-sorcery heist series that he describes as “Leverage meets Lankhmar” (Hand of the Trickster). You can connect with him on Google+ or Facebook, and read more about Auckland Allies at his website; he’s just published Book 3, which features Sally as Zealandia on the cover.


Follow Mike: Website/ Facebook/ Google+

Research for Writers of Historical Fiction, #3

We talked briefly about how much research is needed for your book, and now we’ll just dive in.

I always start with my Number One GoTo Resource: THE LIBRARY

This is a seriously underused resource, and I want people who’ve never bothered with their library to reconsider that. Why? Because you’ve already paid for it. It’s free, and waiting there for you.

And there’s a magic person there called The Research Librarian who can make your burden so much lighter. (Sometimes they have different titles, but most libraries have a person dedicated to helping people find weird things.)

So lets talk about using the Library (Public or University):

Start off at home.

The vast majority of library systems now have their catalogs on-line, so if you join your local library, you can easily search to see what they–or any library in that system–have available on the topics you’re interested in.

Libraries are great places to start for the basic information. You can borrow books on the location you’re researching, the historical period, the events of that time, the clothing worn, etc.  You can borrow DVDs and CDs to watch movies, travel guides, and listen to music that’s appropriate to your time period and location. Basic stuff.

The majority of the items you can get in your library are going to be newer books and DVDs. In some ways, libraries are like book stores, where a finite amount of space means that things that aren’t being checked out often have to go. The 100-year-old book on French crockery? Probably not available….right away.

But that’s the beauty of the library–the inter-library loan.

That 100-year-old book on French crockery? The can probably borrow it from another library pretty quickly. So you won’t have to purchase the thing. (Or at least can look at it to make an educated decision of whether you want to purchase it.)

But hey, you ask, how do I even know the book on crockery exists if it’s not in the library?

Well, this is one of the values of basic books. You can flip to the back of your DK Book of Cooking, and look through that author’s sources….and there you’ll find the gold: All the things that another author has already used and vetted for you.


When Researching, Stand on the Shoulders of Giants


(Photo by Eric Sala & Tània García, Wikimedia Commons)

Other people have surely researched these topics before you. Make use of what they learned.

If they thought a book was important enough to include in their listing of sources, that means the book might also be valuable for you. So flip to the back of their book and read through them.

Don’t start from scratch!


So library books not only have information in them, they also provide a pathway to other books. Those are the books that you might want to borrow from other libraries (if possible).

But I don’t know how to do inter-library loans, you cry…

Well, this is the beginning point for you to get help from your RESEARCH LIBRARIAN. If there’s anyone within that library who can locate a resource for you, it’s that person. Make use of them! Treat them well! Listen to their advice!

Let me tell you some of the interesting interactions I’ve had with Research Librarians:


I said, I’m looking for information on Pierce-Arrow Automobiles, circa 1910.  Librarian says, Oh, there’s a guy who lives just down the street who collects them. He’s part of an old car enthusiast group!  

Research Librarians often have information about local groups and specialists with whom they can hook you up. (She also mentioned to me a local SCA group that does fencing live weekly, and a group that had weekly meetings to study Farsi.  She knew EVERYTHING.)


I contacted the Local History Librarian at the Saratoga Springs Public Library and told her I would be in town on a Monday to research 1933 Saratoga Springs, particularly anything about the medical profession, the horse racing, and the town layout. When I arrived, she had multiple books and files pulled for me, many of which were not available for loan, such as city directories, newspaper clippings, and papers donated by local families. She also gave me contact information for several historical society people who would have pertinent information.

Research Librarians, especially in the locale in which your story is set, will know where to find exactly what you’re looking for, even when it’s not loanable.


I approached the Research Librarian about a journal article that I wanted to read, but it was behind a paywall. She said, No problem, we have a JSTOR membership…and she printed it out for me.

Research Librarians have access to a lot of pay-wall hidden resources, and if you’re nice to them and they have the time, they’re often willing to share.


All of those stories are evidence that the Research Librarians want to be used. Can they find everything you need? No, not always. A couple of years back, I emailed the LHL in Sartoga Springs and asked a very specific question: Were women allowed in the hotel gambling rooms in 1909?   A few hours later, she got back to me and said, “I’m sorry, but I have nothing about gambling in 1909 in my gambling file, which is very odd.”

As it turns out, there was a reason she had nothing in her file, and I stumbled over the answer a few days later, but that’s a story for another slide.  The point, is, however, that they can’t do ALL your research for you, but they can do a lot.

So use your library…and your Research Librarian. Stand on the shoulders of those giants!




Next week: Talking about the Internet, #1



RRH Confession #3

When researching for The Shores of Spain, I kept reading books about sailing because I knew that a good deal of the book (as outlined) would take place on a yacht. I wasn’t ‘getting it’ so I actually learned to sail by going to the YMCA and taking a summer sailing course. (And yes, I hate natural bodies of water.)

As it turned out, this only affected a couple of scenes in the final book because I ended up taking out most of my sailing travel in favor of train travel!  But I did learn a new trick ;o)


Once Upon A Time In Whitehall, Or, Why The Fields of Alt-History Are Full of Rabbit Holes

This the first in a series of guest posts by authors who, like me, have found themselves falling down into a Research Rabbit Hole, often with hilarious results. Because this is the true danger of research….it sucks you in!

Today’s Guest Author: Kat Otis

Like many research rabbit holes, this one started with a book. I don’t recall when or why I purchased The Collected What If: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been, but it was worth every penny (however many pennies it was). You should check it out. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The premise of the book is simple: the history of our world isn’t inevitable and there are countless moments where a small change could have altered everything. Forty-five of them are presented in this book and one immediately captured my imagination. What if King Charles I of England delayed his 1641 trip to Scotland by a single week? What if he caught the same plague that broke out in a house near his London residence of Whitehall Palace? What if he – and his immediate family – died?

In other words, what if the British Civil Wars never happened?

The long-term implications of this for British history, French history, and American history are mindboggling, but I managed to avoid that research rabbit hole by dint of having fallen into a similar one a few years earlier. I still have several hundred years’ worth of alt-historical genealogical charts for the various late medieval Iberian monarchies that will never see the light of day because what the heck was I thinking???*


So I looked to the short term – to Charles I’s heir, his elder sister, Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, the Winter Queen, the Queen of Hearts. To a dozen plus books on the Thirty Years War. To another dozen plus biographies for her and her thirteen(!!!) children. Aaaaaaand to the 2000+ pages of the Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, the first two volumes of which cover her childhood, marriage, and early widowhood. Actually, I expect there to be another thousand pages or so when Volume III comes out, but only the first two volumes were necessary for this rabbit hole.


But wait. It gets worse. Because if Elizabeth became Queen, then her eleven surviving children would be catapulted from penniless exiles to extremely eligible princes and princess. Who might they marry? Foreign princes and princesses to create alliances across the Continent in the service of regaining the Palatinate and Bohemia in the Holy Roman Empire? English or Scottish noblemen and –women to secure the throne and ensure peace at home? What old friends would she raise to power? What foreign and domestic nobles will flock to the new Queen’s Court… and the rival Courts of her grown sons and daughters? All of which have dozens and scores and hundreds of books written about them.

Okay, okay, it was obviously time to reel it in. Because how much did I really want to write about political machinations? Hint: not much!

Luckily, while I have a massive historian crush on Elizabeth Stuart, I have almost as big an historian crush on one of her children – Sophia of the Palatinate, born a penniless exile, abruptly vaulted into the position of being heir to the British throne after the death of her first cousin twice removed, poor young Prince William, Duke of Gloucester. I consider it one of history’s minor tragedies that she missed becoming Queen of Great Britain by one month and a walk in the park. (Seriously: if she hadn’t been walking in the garden and run for shelter in a sudden rainstorm, she’d have probably outlived Queen Anne of Great Britain and taken the throne. Alas, she did die and we were stuck with King George I instead.) She’s kind of awesome and would make a great main character.

But if this novel (it’s a novel, or a maybe a series of novels, or let’s be honest here a series of series of novels…) was going to be more focused on a teen aged Sophia, that required a whole other set of research books on the street layout of 1640s London, the archaeological reconstruction of Whitehall Palace, seventeenth-century embroidery, banqueting menus, etiquette books, gaming manuals, books about horses because I knew nothing about horses, and…

Look, at this point, I think it’s best I just resort to quoting from my another of my historian crushes, Sir Thomas Roe:

“Great matters have small beginnings.”**

Have I dropped you down your own rabbit holes yet? If not, better luck to the next guest blogger!





*At this point in the writing of the blog post, I tried to find an animated gif or video clip of someone carefully stepping around a hole only to fall into another hole. I’m sure these exist. Alas, my Google-fu only turned up videos on how to make brick mortar repairs, advice on how to hike Mount Timpanogos safely, and “8 Reasons It Wasn’t Easy Being Spartan.” I’d like to say I resisted the urge to click any of those links… but we all know that would be a lie.

**Nadine Akkerman, ed., The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Vol. II, p. 523


Kat Otis lives a peripatetic life with a pair f cats who enjoy riding in the car as long as there’s no country music involved.  Her most recent published work is The Gong-Farmer’s Daughter at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show  a story about plague, poison, and cesspits in Jacobean London

Follow her at: Website / Twitter



The Horn

A new series from the world of Dreaming Death

The Horn: Oathbreaker (Book 1)

Read the First Chapter here!


Available at: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Apple / Others

The chief of the Oathbreakers, Amal Horn is one of only a handful of people aware of the true power the abandoned underground Fortress of Salonen holds. The Cince Empire wants its secrets, though, and will do anything to get someone inside. When the Horn find a stranger trespassing on the glacier below it, they realize the Cince have formulated a new plan of attack. Now the Horn Family must decide whether to wake the sleeping Fortress so it can defend itself against the Cince…or kill it forever.

Dalyan doesn’t know why he was sent to find the abandoned Fortress, what makes it worth the time his masters invested in training him. When the Horn arrest him for trespassing on the glacier beneath it, he goes with them willingly enough. After all, he didn’t return to his masters on schedule, and now they’re trying to kill him.

But more than that, he feels drawn to the abandoned Fortress, as if he belongs there…



JCheney_Original_ebookAvailable at: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Apple / Others

Original (Book 2)

Amal, Lady Horn, has always been called rash. She makes decisions far too quickly for the elders of the Horn Family. Bringing home a mysterious foreigner—one who has ties to her people’s ancient enemies, the Cince—is bad enough, but now she’s taken him as her lover. She might even want more from him.

Dalyan is an Original, a copy of a man long dead. The elders of the Horn Family thought they could use his singular knowledge to resurrect an ancient Fortress, a sentient underground city long abandoned by its people. But when Dalyan can’t access the memoires of the man from whom he’s copied, the elders begin to ask whether he’s an unfortunate liability instead. For Amal’s sake, Dalyan is determined to prove them wrong.

Together Amal and Dalyan work to build a coalition to raise the hidden Fortress, but they’ll need the help of Amal’s friends, of the Oathbreakers spread across the country, and—if possible—the king himself.




Overseer (Book 3)

Available at: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Apple / Others

A new player has arrived at Horn Keep, and it’s up to Amal to decide whether he’s the key to keeping her people safe, or the threat they’ve feared the most. Aulis is, like Dalyan, a version of the same long-dead engineer, a Founder of the Salonen Fortress. That alone should make him worth keeping alive.

But he’s served the Cince Empire for almost two decades, the very people who want to steal Salonen Fortress. Now Amal is faced with the task of deciding whether he’s even capable of telling the truth, whether he can lie to Dalyan. The question is…are they the same man or not?

And is buying Aulis’ loyalty worth the risk of giving him the one thing he wants more than life itself? It’s within Amal’s power, but she knows that doing so will forever change her people’s world…







Research for Writers of Historical Fiction, #2

When giving my spiel on Historical Research, after listing out my credentials, I then proceed to the most important question. How much research do I need?

Below there’s a screen shot of the slide I use, but I’ll put it at the bottom because I usually address these points one at a time. So I’ll start with my very first consideration:

#1) I am not Isabelle Allende…

I pull this point from an interview I heard with her on NPR several years ago where she talked about taking 4 years off writing to research her next novel.

Most writers do not make nearly the amount of money that Allende does. We don’t have the option of taking 4 years off. In fact, when I was writing for Penguin, I produced a book roughly once every 9 months.

9 months. That includes all the time I had to research.

Most writers have to work at a very fast pace, so we have to learn to research efficiently. We can’t spend time learning everything about a topic. We have to learn just enough to write the book. Because every moment we spend researching is time we spend not writing.

So how does a writer know how much to do?

#2) Estimate how much time you have.

This is much tougher than it sounds. Until you have a few novels under your belt, you probably don’t know how long it takes you to write one. But after a couple, you’ve got a better understanding of that.

For me, I always gave myself one month to research and plan the book. I admit, I generally fudged on that number, and started writing before the month was up. But I had a limit set, and that was the important part. I knew when I had to set aside the full-on research and move on.

#3) Be familiar with your genre’s demands.

Readers of some genres are famously picky.

Here’s an example I usually use:


Here are partial covers for two Romances: A Regency Romance (Georgian, actually, but…) on the left, and a Historical Romance on the right.

The readers of Regency Romance novels (L) are notoriously picky about the day to day period details included in the book: The clothing, the social events, the mores. If you get a character or dinner or historical event wrong, they’ll skewer you for not having done your homework. Don’t have your characters go to Almacks on Thursday for the ample dinner buffet.

The readers of Historical Romance (R), are far less picky. They’re more concerned about the romance than the period history.  In fact, although the book on the right is set in the same time period (Georgian Era) you honestly can’t tell. There are a few mentions of the hero not having powdered hair and one or two about the clothing, but otherwise, it’s fairly indistinguishable from other HR books set in the Regency period or the Victorian period. When I looked at a few of the 1-star reviews on that book, none of them remarked on the book’s historical accuracy or lack of it. That wasn’t why they were reading it.

(BTW, I thought the book was charming, so don’t think I’m bashing the author. I read all of her books.)

Basically, the two genres, although set in the same time period, simply have different demands. So you need to know that when you start working in your genre.

How do you find that out?

  1. READ YOUR GENRE to see what other authors are doing as far as accuracy and research.
  2. JOIN A GROUP that specializes in that genre, so you’ll have someone to be your sounding board. If you’re not sure whether or not you need to research, they can tell you what’s important.

#4) Different eras/items require different levels of research. 

Where, when, and what you have in your story can affect how much research you need to do.  So I’ll put in some examples here.


What does your character travel in? I did a google search to see how many times two travel options come up on Google. The results gave me an ‘ballpark’ idea on how many experts there are on either topic.

Buckboard: About 62,900 results

Pullman Train: About 10,500,000 results

For every webpage that mentions buckboards, there are 166 times as many pages that talk about Pullman Train Cars. You can extrapolate this as meaning that if you have your characters cross the state in a buckboard, any mistake you make is far less likely to be noticed than if they travel in a train–far fewer buckboard experts than train experts.

vecror-page-decor-and-text-deviders_08[1]Some time periods/events are far more richly studied. If you set your story during the American Civil War in Georgia, you will find there are a gazillion people who’ve studied that period and setting extensively, and therefore can poke holes in your work.

If you set your story during the Spanish-American War in Guam, you’ll find far fewer people who can contest your setting details.

(Having set things in 1902 Portugal, I find there are very few American readers who can argue about anything I wrote. While Americans might know about 1902 America–and possibly 1902 England–they generally don’t have a clue about Portugal at that time. I could have said almost anything and gotten away with it, I suspect.)


Finally, what about your time period? Are there still people alive who remember that period? If so, you risk running afoul of them. Be choosy about when you set your stuff.

I discussed with another author my idea of setting a short story on 12/29/1940 in London, the height of the Blitz. The other author told me that the British are very touchy about American writers writing about Their War (as she called it). She is American (but lives in Scotland) and has written a couple of award-winning books set in WW2 England, so she has experience with how much work it takes to get every detail right. For a short story, the amount of research I probably would have had to do so as to cover the topic properly…would not have been worthwhile.


#5) Have a Beta Reader who’s familiar with your setting/genre.

This isn’t always possible. I currently am without a beta reader, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend having one if possible. They can save your bacon (and therefore cut down on the amount of research you’ll have to do.)

Why? Because you can’t count on your editor to catch mistakes.

With my first editor, I had the eye-opening experience of her pointing out a sentence in the text and asking…“You say she’s wearing a suit. Do you mean a suit with a skirt? Or a pantsuit?

I was flabbergasted. My book was set in 1902 Europe. Gentlewomen in Europe didn’t wear pantsuits, nor did their maids.

Clearly, my editor didn’t know that, which told me she knew little about the time period in which I was writing. If there was a mistake in the setting, she was not going to catch it. That wasn’t her job. Editors aren’t there to fact-check.

So if you can get someone other than yourself and your editor to double-check you, that’s extremely helpful and will save you research time.




 Chose carefully, and you can get away with doing far less research.


Sorry this one was so long! But if you want to start researching, you need to have some idea of how much you’ll have to do!

Next Week: Getting Started!




RRH Confession #2

When I started working on novels set in Portugal, I realized that most of my characters would be Catholic. (Portugal at that time would have been 95% Catholic). So I bought a copy of Catholicism for Dummies and read it pretty-much cover to cover.

Yes, there really is a book called that. It’s well-written and was very helpful.


How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #3

Oh, you’re a writer? Do you have a book published? Can I find it at Barnes & Noble?


(photo via Pixabay)

These questions fall back on a cultural perception: Real Books are found in Book Stores.

Hidden Meaning: If it’s not in a book store, then it’s ________________

Fill in the blank above as you will, but it can generally be summed up as ‘not real’.


There are two issues that this brings up:
1) There’s a cultural assumption–declining, but still there–that physical books are the only valid form of writing.

This implies that publication in magazines is invalid. Publication in anthologies–which are books, but not by one author–is questionable. (You write short stories? Who does that?) Publishing in on-line venues is dismissable. And publication in e-books? Well, anyone can do that, right? Aunt Geneva published her cookbook through Smashwords, so…

OK, here’s the deal.
There are a lot of different types of publications which pay varying amounts and require varying levels of professionalism. All of them are valid for different readers. Do you want to publish a novella via Smashwords as an e-book? For the right kind of novella, this can be quite profitable. Do you want to publish a short story via an e-magazine? Provided they accept your work*, it can be a great experience. I’ve actually brought in some good money from e-magazines. No complaint.

Truth is, there’s more to the publishing world than print novels…and it’s changing fast.


Photo via Pixabay

2) There’s a cultural assumption that a writer isn’t a ‘real’ writer until they’re paid (preferably a lot of money, a lá J. K. Rowling.)

Okay, let me be up front about this. I like getting paid. I do write for money. 

But that isn’t true of all writers. A lot of perfectly good writers never even try to make money at it. For various reasons. They may either chose not to dedicate that much time to it or they may chose to write a form for which they can’t get paid (such as fan-fic) or paid much (such as poetry.)

A lot of people write for the love. That doesn’t mean they’re not writers. They’re not -paid- writers. But seriously, do we look askance at the guy who plays his guitar for fun? Ask him where his albums are available? Do we ask quilters where they’ve sold a quilt recently? Ask the model train guy if he’s won any local model train competitions? A lot of people have ‘hobbies’ and no one thinks twice about them. But when someone’s hobby is writing? People seem to find that weird, as if only the validation of being published is what makes it ‘real’.

(The whole idea of leveling up in the writing world is an interesting construct, one which I find myself buying in to from time to time. The external validation thing can definitely mess with your mind.)

Anyhow, the difficultly with the above questions is that they put the writer on the spot. One of the reasons that I have business cards is so that I can hand one to someone and say, “Links to most of my publications can be found on my webpage or blog.”

It’s rather difficult to explain that you have stories at this on-line site, but they’d need to subscribe to see them. Or that you’re in Anthology X, but it’s out of print now. Or that you’ve put the story up on your own webpage because you have the rights back now.

And when you’re a new writer and don’t even have those publications to share, you hem and haw and explain that you’re not published yet but you’ve got a manuscript at publisher X, which is where the questioner pats you on the head and thinks you’re a little deluded. For the last year I’ve been explaining that I have some books coming out….eventually. But until I can produce said book, I suspect a lot of my listeners don’t believe me.

So if you ask those questions, you might get a blank look.

But we are writers. We are!

*Provided you can endure all the rejections….


Research for Writers of Historical Fiction, #1

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a research junkie.

I generally have to rein myself in to keep out of the Research Rabbit Hole. It’s a warm and cozy place  to be, but one where we’re not getting writing done.

So I often talk about this conundrum at various conferences (This year at the DFW Writers Con, Roanoke Writers’ Conference, and early next year at a North Texas RWA meeting.) I try to keep my presentation about the topic under 55 minutes, although a lot of that comes with me talking at full El Paso speed.

For some time, I’ve been meaning to post what I have in my presentations along with the thousand other (hyperbole) resources that I have.  So without further ado, I’ll kick off this fall with the first of my posts on RESEARCH FOR WRITERS OF HISTORICAL FICTION!

(That should be mentally pronounced in your head by James Earl Jones.)

The first slide is, of course, my cover:

Not terribly exciting, I admit, but I had to start somewhere.


This is where I usually discuss what sort of historical research I’ve done, so here’s my research CV:

  1. Russian and Chinese culture of 1200, for a series of short stories about an alternate history where the Golden Horde was wiped out by dragons in 1120 or so. (The Dragon’s Child)
  2. 1905-1909 Saratoga Springs, NY, for three novellas set in the horse-racing world of that time. (Iron Shoes)
  3. 1902-1903 Portugal and Spain, for three novels and a novella set then (The Golden City series)
  4. 1920 Portugal, for a novel set post WW1 (After the War)
  5. 1815 Russia, for a novella set at a dacha outside St. Petersburg (The Sparrow in Hiding)
  6. 1918 London, for a short story set in the Third London General Hospital. (Masks of War)
  7. 1820 South Pacific, for my pirate story in Shimmer’s Pirate Issue. (A Hand for Each)
  8. (unpublished) 1933 Saratoga Springs (which is a different place than 1905 SS)
  9. (unpublished) 1909 Portugal Submarine Race story (yes…actually about submarines…not a euphemism.)

You can see which time periods and locales I favor here, and therefore my information may not be as applicable to your particular areas of interest. If you’re writing about a medieval weapons maker, my advice won’t be as on point as if you were writing something set post-1800, for example, or in Russia or Portugal.

However…my basic ideas should be able to transfer across the spectrum of research.


I am, as a researcher, trying to accomplish four things. I want to:

  1. Research the setting/time enough that my reader will feel grounded in it,
  2. But quickly, so that I have time to write, and yet
  3. Making as few mistakes as possible
  4. Without making the research overly-obvious (and thus a distraction from the story).

So this is what I’ll be discussing in this series….how I try to do that.

Your mileage may vary.


And next week, slide 2, where I discuss whether or not I am Isabel Allende…



RRH Confession #1….When I was writing my pirate story, I made myself watch all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies because I didn’t want to have anything in my story (already written by that point) to resonate with that series.





The Sparrow in Hiding

The Sparrow in Hiding

Now Available: Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo, Others

Irina’s family has come to the countryside to escape the summer heat of St. Petersburg, but she discovers a new worker has been hired to maintain her family’s aviary, a one-armed man who poses an intriguing mystery.

Evgeny is hiding from a witch…and his father, who’s controlled by her. With the help of his younger sister, he’d survived the witch’s curse, but in the aftermath, he was left with only one arm, eyes that appear inhuman, and an ability to see the truth in others’ souls.

Will he ever be safe from the witch again?



Read an excerpt here.



Short Stories

A Hand for Each

Available soon on:

Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Others

The HMS Fortitude falls in battle, but Lieutenant Davies’ trials are just beginning. He doesn’t know who he’s fighting, where the ship is going, or what price he’ll have to pay to keep his ship…

Originally published in the Shimmer Magazine Pirate Issue, November 2007.






The Stains of the Past

Available on:

Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Others


From the world of The King’s Daughter:

Rhianyes Revisarian was a courtesan–until the day she met Kiyaden Sidreiyan, a man who could touch her and read all her past. Kiyadan saw past the woman she’d become to the girl who’d once wanted something very different of her life, and that set Rhianyes on a new course…but would she have to walk that path always alone?




Whatever Else

Available on:

Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Apple /Others

Maia is a young woman with only a small gift: the ability to watch others from afar. To cement a treaty between two clans, she married Arras, a young man she’s known most of her life. But when her brother comes to visit, he reveals a shameful secret that leaves Maia questioning everything she believes about her husband.

Now she must use her small gift to determine the truth of her brother’s claim…and decide whether to stay at her husband’s side or flee him.



Read an excerpt here.

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Fleurs du Mal

Available on:

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Bertrand Everslee has been sent to Paris to extract his younger brother from the clutches of a dubious woman, but when he meets her, he learns that she’s not what his family expected. Something frightening has come to Paris, embodied in Anne DuBourg…

*Originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and reprinted in The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year 3




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The Bear Girl

Available on:

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Rosethorne has lived on the mountain as long as she can remember, well within Grandmother Bear’s territory, but Grandmother is old and unwell. So when the old bear demands that Rose find that spot across the mountains, what else is Rose to do?

*Originally published in WolfSongs, Volume 1