Renewing my Blogging Vows

I’ve heard it said that by blogging, you can learn a lot about yourself. I’ve definitely found that’s true throughout my year of experience running this blog and being an Author Person. I’ve learned that I naturally take an impersonal tone when I write in this format and struggle to come off as human. I’ve learned that I’m perfectionist about what kind of content is on my blog. I’ve learned that I really like writing posts where I can order things into lists.

Biggest lesson? God, I hate blogging.

Twitter? Twitter is easy, I’ll post whatever off the cup observations I have. Facebook? I can posts pictures of my cats like a champion! Email? I love responding to my fans!

Blogging? Yeaaah. Different story altogether.

A lot of it is the aforementioned perfectionism. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say about anything. I have tons to say about everything. But I always get caught up in my own anxieties about the content on my site. I don’t know, guys. Are my opinions on Star Wars and the perfect Starbucks drink really blog-worthy? Does anyone really want to know about the cute things my cats do? How does a list of best video game husbands contribute to my “brand?”

So I get caught up with two sentences of a blog post about my upcoming wedding and then delete them. And then, unable to come up with anything more compelling to that, I don’t make a post at all. Even now, writing this blog about my difficulties writing blogs, I’m facing those same anxieties. Nobody wants to hear about this, Kate! Your readers want to know how the next book is coming, not that you sweat over dumb posts like this one! I just caught myself with the whole thing highlighted and my finger hovering over the delete key! Oi.

Blogging is important, and I know it is. It’s a way that I can reach out to you, my readers, and help you get to know what kind of person I am outside of the writing in my books. It’s a way that I can check in with all of you. It’s a face I can show the people who are just coming to this site because they heard about my book.

When I started this blog, the first thing I wrote about was my difficulty in blogging and how I’d tried twenty times to make a good “first post.” Nothing has really changed in the year since then, except now I have a lot more people watching.

So here’s my goal: at least six posts a month every month until The Timeseer’s Gambit hits shelves on August 4th. That’s not so bad. I mean, I’m still sweating at the thought of it, but it’s not so bad. The thing is, I want to get better. I want to show you guys all the little things about my life. I want my fans to have a place where they can come to see me talk about things. Important things and silly things, relevant things and random things. I want to see if I can get over this hump in my head.

And if I can’t…

Well, there’s always twitter. And the bitter sting of defeat!

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The Best Books I Read in 2015

It’s been an amazing year for me in reading. Normally, there are only a couple books in a year I discover that I want to share with everyone I know. In 2015, not so much! There were long stretches where I found I had a hard time reading at all because I’d burned through three winners in a row and doubted I could find anything that could measure up! It’s honestly hard to narrow my best reads of 2015 down to just five, but I’m going to try. In no particular order…

1. The Fifth Season – NK Jemisin

I’ve loved every book that Nora Jemisin has written. She’s an immensely talented writer and her stories are incredibly unique. Her work is always so utterly unlike anything I’ve seen before, and that’s part of what makes it so engaging. But only part. Just as much credit has to be given to the pure strength of her prose. Jemisin’s writing can carry you away as she bends the rules of language and uses words as paints.

The Fifth Season blows everything else she’s written out of the water. It’s dark, it’s beautiful, it’s unforgiving, it will make you wince and sob and wish and think. It tells a unique, fantasy story about marginalized groups without ever descending to the platitude of allegory. It’s grand, epic, and apocalyptic, filled with some of the most fascinating and complex world-building I’ve seen in fantasy, but it’s also intimate and personal.

2. The Girl With All The Gifts – Mike Carey

The thing about The Girl With All The Gifts is that as soon as you know anything at all about it, it’s already half ruined. I could say that it inhabits a genre I usually have no use for, but then I’d have to assign it a genre, and that would ruin it. I could say that it’s the best take on one specific theme I’ve ever seen, but if I name the theme, that would also ruin it. I could talk about how it lets female characters do things that female characters rarely get to do, but I don’t want to talk about those things, because that would spoil that they happen!

I’ll recommend The Girl With All The Gifts in the same way the back of the book does: this is a story about a little girl named Melanie. She wants to marry a prince and loves going to class and learning. Every morning, she’s unchained from her bed, strapped into a chair, and wheeled into the schoolroom by military personelle. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they never laugh.

It’s a book where you discover… everything. You start with only that knowledge – a little girl named Melanie locked in a room in a military base – and bit by bit you unearth her story. And it’s absolutely brilliant. If you’re the type who can go into a book with blind trust that it’ll be good, check it out and please don’t find out anything else before you do!

3. Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, and Abaddon’s Gate – James S. A. Corey

I’m cheating and counting these three as one book due to being the first three in a series that I really can’t pick a favourite from.

A friend recommended me Leviathan Wakes years ago, promising diverse and memorable sci-fi. I bought it and it’s been sitting on my shelf for a long time. I love sci-fi, really, but it always takes me just that little bit more gumption to dig into than my other genres of choice, and the book looked a little intimidating. I finally got around to reading it this year in preparation for The Expanse TV adaptation on Sy-Fy and oh my god, I can’t believe I put something this amazing off.

The Expanse are amazing, wonderful books. I’ve always had a taste for the Lovecraftian, and The Expanse is something entirely unique in that the space horrors leave us alone until we actually go into space to find them. They’re also as strangely beautiful as they are deeply horrific.

It’s appropriate that the books are being made into TV, because I find they have the same appeal as my favourite television series do. They’re filled with well drawn, likeable characters, and a damned compelling central conflict that’s framed in new and exciting ways in each separate book. They’re also amazingly diverse and have some of the best minority characters (and certainly the highest volume of minority characters) that I’ve seen in books this year. Leviathan Wakes strays a little too close to typical white-guy sci-fi, but the authors make up for it in spades in the rest of the series. I’m devastated that after Cibola Burn and Nemesis Games, I’m going to have to wait for the next one like a peasant, biting my nails down the whole time.

4. A Natural History of Dragons – Marie Brennan

I enjoyed Brennan’s Onyx Court series. Especially the brilliant third book, A Star Shall Fall, which is one of my favourite novels of all time. So I was prepared to like her newest Lady Trent Memoirs series. I was not prepared for just how much.

As you may have guessed, I love mannered fantasy. I also, coincidentally, love ladylike fantasy protagonists who are nevertheless tough and empowered. And on top of that, I love anything that mixes science with magic. So I shouldn’t have been surprised by how much I adored this book. But I still didn’t expect just how much it captured me. As much as I loved the plot, a travelogue romp about curses, religious sects, smuggling rings, and conspiracies, what I loved a thousand times more was the natural history itself. Every time Isabella did a dissection, or wrote down her observations about how a dragon moved or nested or its hunting behaviours, I was just utterly captured.

The conceit of the book – framed around being a fictional memoir written by Lady Trent herself – just adds another layer of enjoyment. Isabella’s passion for learning comes across through “her” writing, and I held my breath when she was close to breakthroughs and cheered whenever she finally teased out some bit of new knowledge about the creatures she loved so much.

5. Words of Radiance – Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson is undoubtably one of the most talented fantasy writers of this age, and I feel comfortable stating that his work is going to be remembered for generations to come. The fantasy he writes today is going to be a bar set for the future of the genre. No one writes world-building as complex and layered as he does, and no one is so perfectly in control of every aspect of the story they want to tell.

Despite all this, he’s never been one of my personal favourites. His writing focuses very much on combat, on tests of strength, and on becoming more powerful. He does it better than anyone, but it’s not my usual cup of tea. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of his, but never with total abandon before.

Words of Radiance changed that.

I did just mention that I love ladylike protagonists who are very strong and tough and complex and empowered! I’ve always been very girly in a lot of ways, and I’ve always found it hard to find female characters who are overtly feminine without being damsels or background characters. Words of Radiance is very much about Shallan Davar, a quirky, determined, and complicated artist who is everything I love in ladylike protags. She also happens to be, amusingly enough, another natural historian, eager to unlock the secrets of the strange world these books are set in. Shallan has the kind of backstory that could make a stone weep, but her determination to see a good world and live there is deeply affecting and touching.

Shallan, combined with the unbelievably detailed world Sanderson has created in this series, made this book something that captured me from its first page to its eventual thousandth. I’ve thought about it constantly since I put it down and I really can’t wait for the next one.

There you have it! Each of these books are absolutely brilliant and you should seek them out! I can’t wait to discover all the great books I’ll find this year and I can’t wait to share them with you.

Official Release Date for The Timeseer’s Gambit!

Good news, everyone! I finally have permission to share the official release date for book 2 of the Faraday Files, The Timeseer’s Gambit! The  book will be available for purchase on August 4th, 2016! I know that seems like a long wait but it’ll be here before you know it! In the meantime, I’ll be working away on book 3, The Heartreader’s Secret.

I can’t wait to see what you all think about The Timeseer’s Gambit! I’m incredibly proud of it and so far, everyone seems to think it’s even better than the first!

Backstage Character Pass — William Cartwright

Every writer has their favourites.

We love all our characters equally, of course, and all differently. Some (Chris) have deeply personal roots in our own souls. Some (Rachel) are such a labour of love to get right that every word is precious. And some (Olivia) are just damn fun to write. But deep down in our hearts, I think we all have one that we knew we’d save from a fire if we had to choose.

For me, that’s William Cartwright.

Will’s origin story is definitely the oddest of my main cast.

Part of constructing the world of Darrington City was embedding fun mystery-solving avenues into the world. The gift of timeseeing let me roll a lot of modern detective tech into one. Namely: video surveillance, DNA testing, and fingerprinting. The ability to get a glimpse into the crime scene at the time the crime happened.Timeseeing itself was fully fleshed out very early on.

But the timeseer was kind of an amorphous blob. I knew she (yes, she!) had to be a major character in the grand scheme, an integral part of the core cast. Otherwise, her abilities would seem too convenient whenever they were wheeled out. Beyond that, I just decided I’d get to her when she arrived. My original outline for The Deathsniffer’s Assistant even has a line for the scene in which Will first appears – “meet timeseer character (flesh her out later.)”

I’m a predictable beast.When I give myself permission to do something “later,” it always ends the same way. I get to the scene in question and still haven’t decided what to do. So it happened with my timeseer. Olivia and Chris entered the room, looked my amorphous blob in the eyes, and right then and there my blob needed a name, a face, a history, and a personality.

I’d kind of haphazardly assigned a few traits to my blob in the back of my head. She was going to be soft, beautiful, spiritual, and gentle. A little bit fey. Not quite connected to what was going on around her, always living in the pasts that she could see. I’d kind of stuck a name to her, too, scribbled on a post-it note and stuck to the blob. Hannah.

Tire screeches right about now. Doesn’t this sound a lot like Will’s handler, the soft-spoken and gorgeous Officer Hannah Burke?

Why, yes! Yes it does.

As Olivia and Chris looked the blob in the eyes, it occurred to me that Chris was the only major male character in the core cast. And I didn’t really like my spiritual, listless timeseer. I didn’t have a sense of who she really was beyond a list of traits I thought would be interesting to write. There was nothing to pull them together. I had no sense of her as a person at all.

So I rolled everything way back. Square one. I looked at what a timeseer was. Someone with the rarest, most valuable categorization. Someone whose magic was almost mythical in a world where magic is nothing. The one gift that’s still “special.” What would someone with that ability be like?

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art of the ponce by http://stormbourne-art.tumblr.com/

Uh, well, they’d be kind of a ponce.

And then – bam. Fireworks in my brain, and like Athena out of Zeus’s forehead, William Cartwright appeared. A puff of smoke, a trill of fanfare, and an entire character was standing where the blob had been. I didn’t slowly discover Will, his history, his motivations, his personality, his backstory. In one moment he was not. And in the next, he was.

I think this is why he’s so special to me. I have to think very hard about my characters, about all the little pieces that make them who they are. I’ve only very recently finalized the last details of Olivia’s childhood! It takes time to assemble truly human characters. But it wasn’t like that with William. As soon as I discovered him, I discovered all of him. And, not content to just be a talking surveillance camera, he pushed himself into every last corner of the story.

It’s hard not to love a character with that much agency over his fate.

I kind of think of Will as a chihuahua. When you first meet him, you’re taken in by how tiny he is and how he looks so decorative. How cute! But just like the dog, Will’s territorial, cranky, peckish, and furiously loyal to a very small group – so loyal, in fact, that he’s willing to make anyone outside that group his enemy. Lots of bark and lots of bite in a package so small and adorable it’s hard to take seriously. But underestimating Will is a bad idea. He’ll mess you up, mate.

As you might be able to guess from the title, The Timeseer’s Gambit is Will’s book in a lot of ways. His appearances in The Deathsniffer’s Assistant are few, but I’ve been told quite a few times that he makes a really strong impression. I absolutely can’t wait until you get to know him better in the sequel. You’ll find out where he and Chris know one another from, and really get into some meat of his character. I hope you all love him as much as I do!

What did you think of Will? Are you looking forward to unpacking his mysteries and finding out where he knows Chris from and why Chris doesn’t remember him? And do you agree with what some readers have theorized – that there’s some attraction going on between the two young men?

Other Backstage Character Passes:
Chris
Olivia
Maris
Rosemary
Rachel

Backstage Character Pass — Rachel Albany

[This Backstage Character Pass contains some very minor SPOILERS for The Deathsniffer’s Assistant! Read at your own risk.]

No character deviated more from their original plan than Rachel Albany.

I’ve written about how The Deathsniffer’s Assistant originally started as a NaNoWriMo side project without an outline that I later realized had some potential. What I haven’t talked about is how much of the book changed between those mile markers. While I picked it back up and continued writing more or less where I left off, the very fabric and intent of the novel had changed.

The original novel didn’t have the Floating Castle.

Michael and Julia Buckley had been killed in a carriage accident. There was no larger plot, no political landscape, no depression, and no conspiracy. It was just the val Daren murder.

While I left the novel fallow, those ideas began to sprout and bloom. The murders themselves weren’t enough to hold up the book. I didn’t want to just tell murder mysteries in a fantasy setting. I wanted something bigger. Parents dying in a silly accident didn’t provide my narrator enough baggage or motivation, and with no overarching mystery for the main characters to solve, the series lacked a mission statement.

This is when the Floating Castle was born.

The details of that story are for another time. But the birth of the Floating Castle was also the birth of the Miss Albany who reached the presses.

I immediately knew that I needed a character representing the reformist point of view. An important part of making a conflict seem human is personifying it. I needed someone the audience respected and trusted to voice the views of the reformist camp – and more importantly, to trust the reformist leader, Dr. Livingstone. A major plot point hinged on the audience believing the doctor was a good man, and a character who could grandfather him into the story was necessary.

Even from the first draft, the Miss Albany character existed. But she was different, a pinched older woman, severe and intense with a completely different backstory. I didn’t want to create a new character, so I decided to have Miss Albany perform double duty.

And then I thought – well, since we’re already tinkering, why not triple duty?

See, I knew from moment one that I wanted Chris and Olivia to have an extremely intimate relationship that readers would see flourish over time. I also knew that I wanted absolutely no romantic connection between them. Their relationship would have to be completely platonic. The age difference, power difference, and fundamental personality conflicts between them was a part of that, but it was more. I wanted to explore how platonic relationships can be as meaningful and as important as romantic ones. I wanted to show a sexually compatible man and woman forming a deep connection without sex being an aspect of it. And, most importantly, I wanted Olivia to never become subservient – in any way – to Chris or Chris’s development.

I had to remove all risk of subtext, make it obvious to the reader that there was no romantic attraction between the Deathsniffer and her assistant. And the easiest way to do that is to show how they act around someone they are attracted to.

So: Rachel.

Three separate character ideas became one complete character: a governess for Rosemary, a romantic interest for Christopher, and a reformist sympathizer for the audience. She had to be someone Rosemary would initially resent, later respect, and eventually love. She had to be someone Chris would want, but also someone who would challenge his preconceptions. And she had to be implicitly trustworthy: forthright, stubborn and strong-willed.

Rachel became one of the most vital characters to the series as a result of this compound mission statement. She also became the most challenging to write. A single character pulling triple duty is economical writing, but it’s also tough. Rachel had to be playing all three roles in equal measure while still pursuing her own personal agenda. Finding the balance between her three roles in the story and her agency was tough, and no character has undergone more revisions in either book than Rachel.

rachel
MTWX’s gorgeous art shows the different faces of Rachel Albany.

The most important piece of advice I always want to give new writers is that they shouldn’t be so afraid of a first draft. I see so many writers struggle with fear of starting. And I want to tell them all that first draft is so mutable. (I talk about this a lot in my Getting Out of the Labyrinth series, especially Writing Part 1 and Writing Part 2.) Your book is going to change so much! And that’s not only fine, it’s awesome. Nothing is more inspiring than the knowledge that your work can still grow and adapt as you write. No word you write is written in stone. And I think Rachel is a great example of how much change can happen and how positive it can be!

I love all of my characters, and appreciation for any of them makes my day. But it’s curious. If I had to pick a favourite, it wouldn’t be Rachel. And yet, when someone tells me that she’s their favourite, nothing else makes me happier. Rachel is such a challenging character. Writing her is never effortless. I constantly have to work on juggling so many things while she’s onscreen. So when I hear that she really worked for someone, it’s crazy rewarding!

In The Timeseer’s Gambit, you’ll get to see Rachel more relaxed and comfortable in her position as Rosemary’s nanny. She and Chris have gotten to know one another better and their dynamic has subtly changed. You’re also going to learn quite a bit more about her infamous brother, the mysterious Garrett Albany you heard so much about in the first book. Look forward to it!

Have any comments, questions, or just something to say about Miss Rachel Albany? Let me know! I love hearing from my fans.

Other Backstage Character Passes:
Chris
Olivia
Maris
Rosemary

Outside My Comfort Zone — An Interview with Author Tegan Wren

One of the reasons I chose Curiosity Quills over other publishers was the promise of a close community of writers. And I’ve found that in spades. There are so many great people who share the imprint and I’m honoured to know all of them. One of the writers I connected most strongly with was Tegan Wren, whose tweets about the guilty pleasure of Captain Crunch spoke to me on a deep and hungry level.

Tegan’s greatness as a person lead me to seek out her book. I was surprised when it was a contempory romance novel! It turns out that CQ had just launched a romance imprint and Tegan was one of their first big “gets!” As some followers might know, I have a taste for trashy historical romances. You know, the ones with naked Fabio on the cover clutching some debutante in a rose silk gown. But I’ve never been much for contemporary romances, and especially not ones with single POV!

But I liked Tegan – a lot. So I decided right then and there that I was going to read this book whether it was my type of thing or not. Even if I hated it, this person I liked so much would pocket some royalties!

Right, so, I most definitely did not hate it.

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You can get a copy of Inconceivable! on Amazon!

Tegan Wren’s Inconceivable! is a novel wherein forthright American university student Hatty catches the eye of the handsome, popular Prince John while belting karaoke. John is tickled by her folksiness and honesty, and Hatty is charmed by his Prince Charming looks and noble nature. They begin a romance fraught with sexual frustration, contracts, and secrecy, dogged by paparazzi and gossip-mongers. Part 1 of the book follows their courtship and eventual engagement, while Part 2 and 3 get into the real twist of the story. There’s no royal happily ever after waiting for Hatty and her prince because they can’t conceive an heir.

The novel is deeply insightful, poignant with emotion, and incredibly personal. It’s also funny, charming, sexy, and a bonafide page turner. I’d say this book kept me up late many nights, but I burned through it in only two, unable to put it down. Even after crawling into bed and turning the lights out, my e-reader ended up back in my hand as I devoured eagerly, quivering to find out what happens next.

I’m so glad to have Tegan here today on my blog answering questions about the book. In a fun double feature, she’s doing the same with me! It turns out that, like me, Tegan bought the book because she liked the author and then got totally swept away. You can read the sister to this interview over [here]  and find out how the contemporary romance writer fell in love with my fantasy mystery novel the way same I fell for hers.

1. First off — what would you say to someone (like me) who thought your book sounded interesting, but wasn’t a habitual reader of first person contemporary romance?

I’d say that I’m also not a habitual reader of first person contemporary romance, so I wrote the story for readers like me who simply want a beautiful, complicated, messy love story with a healthy dose of humor and reality thrown in. I’ve realized over the years that even though I read across many genres, one theme that shows up in a lot of books I love is a compelling love story. I thought about the things I enjoy in a romantic story line and tried to incorporate those things into my narrative. So, it’s my hope that INCONCEIVABLE! will appeal to readers who DO enjoy contemporary romance, but it will also appeal to people like you and me who bring a bit more skepticism to these types of tales.

2. Well, let’s dive into the big question. The reason you capture the struggle of infertility so well is because you’ve been through it yourself. How did it feel to tap into those experiences and  relive them with Hatty?

Yes, I drew on my own experiences with infertility to write that part of Hatty and John’s story. It was intense to tap into my memories and relive the roller coaster ride that played out every single month we were trying to get pregnant. I’m thankful for my editor, Christina, who knew what it was like to obsess over pregnancy tests, hoping for two lines, and then being disappointed when there’s only one. She played a big role in helping me achieve authenticity. It was cathartic to write this book at a time in my life when I know my own happy ending: my three children, all of whom we adopted from outside the U.S., keep my arms full and my heart happy. I always knew that Hatty and John would also find their own happily ever after, too, and that it would turn other people’s expectations upside down.

3. I can’t help it — I’m a fantasy writer at heart! One of the things that I loved most about Inconceivable! was discovering the culture and history of the fictional European nation of Toulene. Your world-building could put any of us fantasy types to shame. Could you talk a bit  about the process of creating Toulene?

First, that’s a HUGE compliment, so thank you! I love that you asked about this because creating my own country was one of the most fun aspects of writing this book.

I had to decide whether I was going to set the story in the U.K. or elsewhere (my idea for the royalty angle came from wondering what it would be like for Prince William and Duchess Kate to experience infertility). So, this will tell you how my brain works: the idea of creating a new country seemed way less daunting than doing the research to set the book in the U.K. I’ve visited many countries in Europe, but I’ve only spent about an hour in London, and that was at Heathrow. I didn’t have enough firsthand experience with the country to set the story there and have it be believable.

(When you read the book, I hope you can tell I’ve walked the streets in Ghent and Paris because I tried to bring that sense of authenticity to the story.)

Then, I started to think about where my country would be. I’ve traveled a decent amount in the area where Toulene sits (between Belgium and France). I’ve long been a student of the French language and culture. So, it seemed like a fun idea to position my country in a place that’s somewhat familiar to me.

I wanted the dominant language to be English, so I had to come up with a history that supported that. That’s when I decided that the country was founded by disgruntled landed gentry who left England.

I don’t know how you lovely “fantasy types” do it, but I basically built my Toulene “box” and then used whatever I could fit inside it. My husband had the idea of Hatty’s grandfather having done a spread for LIFE magazine in Toulene after World War II. It’s those little details woven into the story that I think (hope!) make the country seem like a real place.

Consistency was very important, as was uniqueness. Why go to the trouble of making your own country if it’s similar to ones that already exist? I’ve had some readers ask me if Toulene is a real country. I absolutely love that question because it means I achieved some level of authenticity.

4. One of the most interesting characters in the book was “Kendra27,” an online friend of Hatty’s. Knowing you struggled with infertility yourself, how much is Kendra27 based on your own experiences?

I knew Hatty had to interact with other women online because for many of us, it’s the most immediate way to connect with other women who are going through infertility. There were five women I met through an infertility discussion group online. I chatted with them multiple times a day when we were trying to conceive. In fact, I’m still friends with one of them on Facebook and we still send each other Christmas cards. Like us, she and her husband ended up adopting kids from overseas. I suppose it’s because of the anonymity and the sense of sisterhood, the online infertility community is a place where women can be ugly-honest with each other about their infertility, how it makes them feel, and the questions they have about procedures. I felt like I was a more informed patient because I’d read so much online about other women’s experiences. I knew which procedures were likely a waste of time and money, and which promised the highest success rates.

The online infertility community is also full of cheerleaders and shoulders to cry on. There was no way I could tell Hatty’s story and leave that out. Obviously, her situation was a bit more unique because she’s royalty, but knowing Hatty’s personality, that wouldn’t stop her from engaging with the online community.

5. Where did the idea to thread newspaper articles throughout the book come from?

Very early in the process of developing this story, I imagined the snarky headlines from the tabloids. I knew they had to be a part of the book because it showed the additional pressure Hatty was under as a member of the royal family. Almost as soon as I thought about a royal couple going through infertility, the “barren-ness” popped into my head. Having worked as a journalist and being a closet-fan of celebrity gossip rags, it was quite easy to write the stories, though it pained me to imagine Hatty and John reading them. Having the articles themselves in the book was also a way to bring in some outside voices and to step outside Hatty’s head for a few moments. I thought it brought a nice change from a pacing stand point.

6. Inconceivable! is a romance novel, but it doesn’t follow any of the usual formulas for the genre. Was it challenging or liberating to colour outside the lines like that?

Honestly, I just wrote the story without a genre in mind, thinking it would end up being women’s fiction because I read a fair amount in that genre. But based on some wise feedback I received from several agents, I knew I needed to rework it to fit (somewhat) into the romance genre. It’s still an awkward fit in some ways, primarily because so much drama happens after the wedding. But, I felt confident that my story would find an audience, even if it didn’t fit the traditional mold. I think that’s why Curiosity Quills acquired the rights; they were looking for compelling love stories with satisfying endings that challenged the formulas of the genre. So, it was liberating to write a story I wanted to read, but then I did have to do some tweaking later to make sure the love story was the driving force. I really adore where the story ended up.

7. I can’t even imagine how much research went into this book. While you were learning about European royals, nobles, and locations, did you find any particularly interesting tidbits you couldn’t work into the book?

Honestly, I can’t think of anything I found in my research that didn’t end up in the book or inform a part of the story in some way. I implied earlier that I don’t like to do research, but I really DO love research. For some of Toulene’s history, I made up the stories. The tale of the uncle who married a commoner and died this miserable death was something out of my imagination. If you read enough about the history of Europe’s royal families, it’s easy to see how a scene like that could really happen.

I researched old issues of LIFE magazine and found a famous photo shoot I could credit to Hatty’s grandfather to flesh out a bit more of her family’s history. (It comes up in conversation the first time she meets Prince John’s father.) One of the cool things that started stirring in my brain as I did my research was wondering what role Toulene would play in World War II. I’ve started writing a novel that has a major story line involving this part of the country’s history. However, it’s lower on my writing priority list than a couple of other projects I have going.

(Kate: I’m so excited that Tegan is going to take us back to Toulene some day! What a great tidbit!)

8.  Part 1 builds the sexual tension between John and Hatty to a fever pitch, and yet the consummation of their relationship occurs offscreen during a timeskip. Was this a constraint of the book’s structure, or a stylistic choice on your part?

I’m surprised more people haven’t asked about this, so I’m glad you did! It was a stylistic choice. As a reader, I really admire writers who play with my expectations. So, in a romance where there’s clearly this unbelievable attraction between two people, you’d absolutely expect this mind-blowing scene on their honeymoon…(surprise: I wrote it but I never submitted it to any agents or publishers…only about four people have read it). Because of the infertility aspect of the story, I knew there would be plenty of opportunities to address that aspect of their relationship, so I wanted to reveal it slowly through that part of the book. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to pull back the curtain on how infertility invades a couple’s life behind closed doors. Even though discussing infertility is not as taboo as it once was, most people don’t discuss the full ramifications of this medical challenge, and I wanted to explore that as a way of increasing compassion for what infertile couples experience.

Finally, one of the reasons I think a lot of people don’t give romance books a chance is because of the fear of too many hot and heavy scenes. In hoping that my book would have broad appeal, I wanted to ensure I addressed this part of their relationship in a tasteful way that framed it within the context of their infertility.

9. Any hints about what’s coming next from you? I can’t wait to dig into your next book!

Thank you!

Well, I’ve finished a young adult contemporary novel, but I’m currently revising it. I’m getting deeper into a time travel romance tentatively titled CHANDELIERS. It’s about an American French teacher who is doing a reenactment at Versailles when she experiences a time slip. She finds herself at court with Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. And surprise! There’s another person who’s there from present, and he happens to be a handsome doctor. The pair are going to help the monarchs as they struggle to produce an heir. (Sound familiar?) Not long after our time travelers realize they’re madly in love with each other, they stumble upon a way to come back to the present. But they think it may only work for one of them. Will they risk being separated for the chance to return home? Or will they choose to live together in the past? You’ll have to read CHANDELIERS to see what they choose.

The best compliment Tegan Wren ever received came from her sixth grade teacher: “You always have a book in your hand!”

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Tegan Wren with her beautiful book.

Guided by her love of the creative process, Tegan grew up acting in theatre productions and writing poetry, short stories, and plays. She turned her eye to writing about real life when she worked as a journalist, producing reports for various radio and television stations in medium and large markets in the Midwest and also filing some stories for a major national news network. She spent several years writing online content, which ranged from creating descriptions of toilets for a retail website to composing a blog post about visiting Maui.

She’s had the opportunity to travel overseas, and uses those adventures to inform her writing. She also draws inspiration from her own struggles and life experiences. Tegan and her husband, Patrick, struggled with infertility for five years before becoming parents through adoption.

Tegan is excited to have her debut novel, INCONCEIVABLE!, included in the launch of the new romance imprint Curiosity Thrills from Curiosity Quills Press. She’s a proud member of Romance Writers of America.

 

Please check out Tegan’s book and get yourself a copy! It’s a wonderful tale of romance and heartbreak and triumph and it’s worth the effort for sure. You can get it here on Amazon for Kindle or in Paperback!

 

Getting Out of the NaNoWriByrinth — Five Lesson I Learned While Writing a Novel in November

It’s that time of year.

Aspirational writers, hobby writers, published writers, and fanfiction writers all come together for the month of November. We descend like a horde of locusts upon the internet, taking over social media with our hashtags, word count widgets, and blog posts. ‘Tis the season for commiseration, advice and encouragement.

crest-05e1a637392425b4d5225780797e5a76November is National Novel Writing Month, when writers of all kinds and types try to write a novel in thirty days! Or… to write 50 000 words in thirty days. There’s some debate over which is the main goal. More on that later. But one thing is for certain: you want to write a lot in a short time.

I first tried NaNo in my early twenties. I only got ten thousand words – two chapters – into the book in question. I tried again off and on for years. Three unfinished manuscripts are lying about on old hard drives, the skeletal remains of NaNos both failed and succeeded.

There’s also one other. It’s called the Deathsniffer’s Assistant, and you might have read it.

To my knowledge, I’m the only published author in my circles who’s both finished and pubbed a NaNo project. And I learned a lot about NaNo that I want to share with those aspirational writers who really want to get a book out there.

To those working NaNo for the pure joy of if – this isn’t for you! Do whatever makes you happy! But for those who want to put words into something they can eventually show to an agent, here are some things that I learned.

1. Treat your NaNo prep like you’d treat prep for any other novel.

NaNoWriMo puts forward a “justgo” attitude. Don’t worry about if it’s good. Just blank out and write. And that’s NaNo’s strength. But if you’re trying to get something out there, I recommend checking out my Getting out of the Labyrinth series, especially the posts on planning and outlining. Have a plan! “Justgo” doesn’t mean swan diving gracefully to your inevitable failure. Writing is a journey, and any successful journey needs a some sort of map. I’ve gotten lost in too many NaNo projects that I thought I didn’t need one for.

2. Writing 50 000 words is good. Writing a novel is better.

I think a lot of people put too much emphasis on the magic number, and not enough on the key word. It’s national novel writing month. Not national dick around until you have 50 000 words month. Too many times, I just wrote a whole lot of words, padding my word count with fluff and avoiding contractions so that I could say I arrived at the finish line. I have 25 000 words of just two chapters in one NaNo grave. That’s appalling.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: measuring progress by word count is fine, but measuring progress by progress is better. Your goal in NaNo should be to either write a novel or writing a big chunk of a novel. If you’ve got a NaNo graveyard of your own, try to switch it up this year. Maybe just ignore that magic 50 altogether. Aim for ten of twenty outlined chapters, instead!

Shooting for actual progress instead of a numerical target encourages economical writing over padded writing, and you’ll end up with something much closer to real novel status when December hits.

3. NaNo rules suggest you start something new. I suggest you work on something old.

The Deathsniffer’s Assistant was a NaNo project twice, in fact. The first time I went in without an outline or real plans and ended up with three overlong chapters and no direction. Two years later, when I attempted the project again, I picked up where I left off (with an outline this time) instead of starting something new. NaNoWriMo official rules say you shouldn’t work on something already in progress, but I needed another unfinished manuscript like I needed a hole in the head. If you’ve got a bunch of stalled projects lying around that you want to keep working on, it might do you more good to put another 50k words into one of those than to just add something else to the pile.

4. Celebrate well-earned victory, but don’t let it be the end of the journey.

50 000 words is a little long for a novella, but quite short for a novel. If you’re working on something intended for publication, it’s very likely that you won’t be at the end of your outline when you reach the magic number. And the temptation when you hit it is to drink a bottle of wine and take a bubble bath… and leave the novel behind. Don’t give in! You succeeded at NaNo, but until you have a completed project under your belt, nothing is finished. I abandoned The Deathsniffer’s Assistant for eight months after reaching 50k on it during that second NaNo, and the longer I let it sit, the harder it was to get back to it. Let your November be a running start towards the discipline and momentum that’s really needed to be successful in writing.

5. Don’t forget about those all important revisions.

Even if you finish a novel in November, your novel is not done. NaNo encourages functional writing, focusing on quantity and speed. It’s a great way to marathon yourself into a lot of words – and a terrible, terrible way to get a finished product. Even an amazing first draft is a first draft. Many agents live in fear of their slush piles in December and January, wincing whenever the dreaded NaNoWriMo is mentioned in a cover letter. Cool your jets and take some time to workshop and revise your finished project before trying to introduce it to the world. Let that paper baby grow up – don’t just throw it into the world the moment it’s born.

For more writing tips, check out my Getting out of the Labyrinth series, where I take stalled writers step by step through the lessons I learned from planning to publication. For all of you doing NaNoWriMo this month, good luck! Don’t listen to anyone tell you that nothing good can ever come from November. It did for me! Just be smart and be realistic. This November might be the year your book dreams come true!

Backstage Character Pass — Rosemary Buckley

Ah, Rosemary.

All my characters seem to be polarizing except for her. Depending on who is talking, Olivia can be an empowering riot or an unreadable monster. Chris can be a well written beta male or a grating self-congratulatory dandy. Rosemary, though? There is a very clear consensus on Rosemary.

She’s a spoiled brat.

rosemary's aesthetic was inspired greatly by victorian porcelain dolls.
rosemary’s aesthetic was inspired greatly by victorian porcelain dolls.

Some hate Chris for being a terrible parental figure and letting her get to this point. Some skip right over Chris and get down to hating Rosie herself. In fact, there’s only one reader I can think of who really, really likes Rosemary – and I’ll get to him later.

First, I want to talk about the origin of the character. I said in my Maris backstage pass that except for Chris and Olivia, every major character in the book either joined the cast halfway through or deviated wildly from their original sketch. Rosemary is in the latter category. When I conceptualized the character, I had something a little more… delicate in mind. Initially named Rosaline, Chris’s gifted sister was of the ethereal waif archetype, an odd and spiritual eight-year-old girl, dreamy and fey and strange. She lived more on the elemental plane than in the real world and needed protecting from her own nature as much as from the outside forces closing in around her.

I tried to write that character. And there was really no moment when the dainty Rosaline became the precocious Rosemary. It was just that the character I was trying to write just refused to stick.

Rosaline would not go down on paper. She kept developing an attitude and getting older. Her wispy blonde curls wouldn’t become a solid image in my mind, and I kept having visions of an imperious little devil-child with jet black bouncing curls and a face like a porcelain doll.

There was also the issue of agency. Rosaline sat wrong with me. She had no real will of her own, and was so ghostly and sweet that no conflict would arise between her and Chris. Chris could handle Rosaline in a way that he can’t handle Rosemary, and it was just too easy. Becoming a parent when you’re only fifteen shouldn’t be easy. I wanted Chris to make mistake and I wanted his sister to be an entity who exerted her own will on the story – and on Chris himself.

So I started to write something more comfortable for me.

When my own younger sister was five years old, she demanded that the husky nine-year-old  boy who lived down the street get out of “her”chair. When he didn’t immediately obey, she grabbed him by his shirt, threw him onto the floor, and climbed up in his place, smiling happily. He ran all the way home crying.

They say to “write what you know,” don’t they?

I know what it’s like to have a little sister who’s a handful and a half. My own little Rosemary was my closest companion and the constant bane of my existence. We were the best of friends and she drove me crazy. To me, that’s what little sisters are. Strong-willed, stubborn little monsters who want everything, think they deserve even more, and make you love them so much it hurts even while you want to strangle them. I couldn’t conceptualize a little sister like Rosaline. So Rosaline became Rosemary.

Oh, and that one lone reader who adores little Rosie?

That would be our dad.

Rosemary isn’t just an expy of my sister, of course. They’re very different people. For instance: when people call Rosie a spoiled brat, they’re right. She is, from her head to her toes. She’s what Chris has made her into. Unlike my own sister, who I only had to take care for occasional nightmarish babysitting sessions, Rosemary was essentially raised by a teenage boy. Chris loves her so much it hurts, but he’s never had any how to handle her. He’s done the best he can, but she’d be a hard child for even two experienced and devoted adults to raise. Chris’s love for Rosie and his desire to keep her pliant led to him giving her everything she wanted. Never good parenting strategy. Fernand’s firmer hand only went so far when he was willing to cede to Chris himself.

Rosemary is a tough character to write – harder than Rosaline would have been. None of my characters are designed for likeability, but Rosie takes that to an extreme. And yet, for the story to work, I needed readers to buy Chris’s love for her. I needed them to see how much he loved her and how much she could be hurt by the factions lining up to use her. I needed them to see that Chris is a terrible parental figure while also respecting all he’s given up and how hard he’s tried. It’s really tough to evoke all these conflicting reactions, especially on a character carrying so much of the narrator’s motivations on her shoulders.

But I think Rosemary is a more rewarding character in the long run. It’s easy to make readers care about a cherubic, spiritual little waif. The reason that character is so overused in fantasy is because she’s easy. But I’ve always love young female characters like Malta Vestrit of Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings books, or Sansa Stark from George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire: girls who are too “difficult,” too spoiled, too spirited. Those characters go on to grow and change and make a reader think twice about dismissing them. I’m hoping Rosemary will succeed in the same way.

In The Timeseer’s Gambit, you’ll get to see Rosemary taking those first steps toward increased maturity. She’s got a long road ahead of her, but I hope in the end she’ll have been worth it.

Let me know what you think of Rosemary in the comments!

Other Backstage Character Passes:
Chris
Olivia
Maris

Backstage Character Pass — Maris Dawson

Chris and Olivia are the only two characters who were both planned to be in the book and came out the way they were initially planned. Everyone else either joined the cast later on, or deviated wildly from their original concept.

Officer Maris Dawson is one of the former.

There’s exactly one reason that Maris broke into the book. While finishing up my outline and making sure it was going to work – this was once I already had over ten thousand words written! – I came to an unfortunate realization: The Deathsniffer’s Assistant didn’t pass the Bechdel test.

The test is a simple bit of feminist critical theory that started as a joke by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in the 1980s. It has three criteria. In order to pass, a piece of media has to have:

1. At least two female characters,
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something other than a man.

Passing Bechdel doesn’t mean that something is feminist. And failing doesn’t mean that something is bad. But it’s a very low bar to set and it’s shocking just how few movies, books, video games, and so forth actually pass it.

It didn’t seem possible that I could fail the test. I strongly identify as a feminist and work hard to ensure my female characters are diverse, interesting, and have their own agendas. Considerably more of my cast is female than male! But as I went through the list of characters in my first book and compared them against the outline, I came to a pretty startling realization.

Rosemary, Evelyn and Analaea val Daren, and Vanessa Caldwell all interacted at least once with Olivia. But each time, they were discussing a man. The murder victim in the first book is male, and Olivia’s interactions with these characters were either about him or Christopher. Rachel and Rosemary’s interaction all happens offscreen and is communicated to Chris by one or the other. Somehow, while I had passed the first two qualifiers with flying colours, I’d utterly failed the third. It became obvious that I was going to need to add another female character, someone with a more personal relationship to one of my leads, if I was going to pass the test.

tumblr_nudthe1rlL1urkoeko1_1280I identified a bit of world-building I’d glossed over. I’d decided early on that investigators were beholden to the police, who used them as independent contractors and outsourced their cases. The sudden permission to create another character let me explore that a bit, and I decided that Olivia needed a supervisor.

And then Maris kind of just… happened. The moment I realized that she should exist, she did exist. A stern, tough, handsome redhead, burly and indelicate and dry. Faux-Scottish with a rough brogue, contrasting Olivia’s sharp-tongued English way of speaking. Someone who would have no tolerance for Olivia’s bullshit, but who Olivia would be incredibly fond of. Someone to show the reader – and Chris – that Olivia did care about some things other than herself, that in her own way, she had formed attachments to the world she inhabited.

Everything about Maris snapped into focus in a split second, and she quickly wound herself in through all the empty spaces the book had. She became absolutely necessary to the story. She provided a little window into Olivia’s life pre-Chris, and provided the context for a major subplot in the first book, the minor mystery of Constance. She allowed me to have another likable, sympathetic character with traditionalist leanings, to make the deck seem less stacked in favour of the reformists. And, as I originally planned, she let me pass Bechdel.

Whenever I read sections where she and Olivia rib one another, ask about each other’s personal lives, or just complain about work, I smile to myself. It humanizes Olivia a bit, adds texture to her life, and makes her feel like she existed before Chris met her. All that aside, Maris has become a central part of the series as a whole and plays an increasingly major role in future books. Passing Bechdel actually did make my book stronger.

I see a sentiment online a lot. “Diversity shouldn’t be added for the sake of adding it.” And to them I say: why not? Maris is one of my most popular and favourite characters, and she wouldn’t exist if I wasn’t trying to check those boxes. If an element doesn’t work, by all means, massage or cut it. That’s just good writing. But fantastic characters and plotlines might be hiding behind that diversity barrier. You just need to be willing to look.

Maris is at her most professional in The Deathsniffer’s Assistant, but in The Timeseer’s Gambit, you’ll see her in a much more personal context and learn a bit about who she is when she isn’t Officer Dawson!

Other Backstage Character Passes:
Chris
Olivia

Backstage Character Pass — Olivia Faraday

Beyond any doubt, my most polarizing character has been the eccentric Deathsniffer, Olivia Faraday. Some of my readers seem entirely focused on her to the exclusion of everything else. Some go so far as to say that she single-handedly ruined the book for them. All other reactions lay somewhere on that spectrum. The one thing I’ve heard absolutely nobody say is nothing at all. For better or for worse, Olivia Faraday gets a reaction.

I’m not the sort of person to dismiss reader feedback. I fully understand how and why Olivia could be a character so distasteful that someone couldn’t stand her. I hope those people come back for the sequel and beyond because Olivia has a lot of growing to do, and there’s a lot of story left to see.

But the little Olivia voice in my head that guides me when I write her? She smirks and proudly says “well, good.”

While I’m always disappointed when Olivia leaves a bad taste in someone’s mouth, it was something I not only expected, but anticipated going into the release of the book. She was never going to be a pleasant character, and I made sure as I wrote to make it clear that, in a lot of ways, she is a very bad person.

A lot of people have compared Olivia to the incomparable Sherlock Holmes, both favourably and unfavourably, but as I said in my Chris backstage pass, the characters of Olivia and Chris were either unconciously or not at all inspired from Holmes and Watson. The seed that grew into Olivia was the first one planted in my mind. Chris grew into her empty spaces, to be her foil and complement. Olivia grew all by herself.

And that seed was the idea of the Deathsniffer as a concept. The idea of a society where all detectives can choose or deny their own cases, and the realization that someone who chose to specialize in murder would be seen as ghoulish. With that weight of society’s judgement on your shoulders, what kind of person would you need to be? There were two answers: a brooding hero who is willing to shoulder the burden of ostracization to do the right thing and hunt down dangerous killers, or someone who just really liked murder mysteries and didn’t care about society’s judgement.

One character was infinitely more interesting to me than the other, and Olivia Faraday was born.

lil olivia fanart by MTWX
lil olivia fanart by MTWX

Right from that starting kernel of an idea, I had the image of this flambouyantly dressed, childishly excitable, and blissfully unnerving woman in my head. She’d whirl into crime scenes, tap people pertly on their noses while wearing a shit-eating grin, and then breeze past with hair and ribbons flying. She’d be a character who instantly filled every scene and made an impression, for better or worse. She’d be petite and short, a pint-sized ball of unsettling energy.

On the surface, that’s a pretty decent surface character sketch of Olivia. But that character lacks the most important ingredient: humanity. Olivia’s humanity developed and came to the forefront after I began to write. She’s a deeply private person who values her autonomy. She has a complicated relationship with her semi-estranged mother. She vascilates wildly between emotional extremes from one moment to the next; her manic glee can be shattered in a heartbeat, leaving behind churlishness or listlessness. Despite – because? – of her lack of interest in social mores, she doesn’t share any of society’s predjudices. And despite being occassionally monstrous, she doesn’t want to be a monster.

I know what personality disorders I’ve had in mind as I’ve written Olivia, though I’d prefer not to name them specifically. It’s never good to diagnose your characters when the society they’re being written in don’t have equivalent disorders. But I will say this: Olivia isn’t a sociopath. Not exactly. She’s more than capable of empathy, guilt, love, and the full range of human emotion. She just doesn’t default to that state. She has to manually turn it on and fight the urge to flip it back off – because the world is just easier and simpler without it.

I fully understand why she’s not universally loved. Olivia can be petty, cruel, and heartless when she’s not just oblivious. But that’s all a feature, not a bug. I prefer writing characters who are interesting to characters who are likeable or good.

In the sequel, tune in to see Chris drag Olivia, kicking and screaming, a little further into the world that people live in instead of the one Olivia lives in. And to see Olivia drag Chris, whining and dragging his feet, into the one where being polite isn’t the same thing as being nice.

Other Backstage Character Passes:
Chris