Monthly Archives: April 2016

April Wrap-Up

So… April is over. How did that happen? It seems like I was just setting my goals for this month, and WHOOSH. Gone. Time to set some for May.

Crazy.

I know things have been quiet here while I’ve been focusing on my actual writing work, but here’s a quick recap.

LIFE

Drank a lot of coffee. Drank even more tea. Had a CT scan on my head. Bought myself flowers (not related to any of the previous, but it happened).

My province’s budget came out, and includes massive library closures, larger class sizes in schools, and an additional 10% tax on books (when we’re already the Canadian province with the lowest literacy rate, SWEET DEAL). I get that we need money, but the short-sightedness of all of this blew my mind, and there may have been some ranting on Twitter. *cough*

April is still winter here, even though everyone always forgets that and expects it to be spring. Nine degrees one day, snow the next. At least it’s pretty.

I started Couch to 5K training this month, and just finished week three this morning. What I’m doing now wouldn’t seem like a challenge to most runners, but it is for me. I like the feeling of pushing myself through the hard parts and getting the feeling of accomplishment that comes with that. Of course, I’ve thought of a bunch of ways this is like becoming a writer, but that’s a whole other post.

Screenshot 2016-04-30 13.38.22

Me and my running buddy after week 3, day 1. The snow caught up with us. 🙂

 

READING

According to Goodreads, I read/finished four books in April. The first was You Are A Badass, which was a quick, easy introduction to a lot of self-improvement stuff like overcoming hang-ups (big thing for me, still working on that whole fear of success deal), setting goals, affirmations, visualizations, etc. The casual tone was nice, save for the use of “rill” instead of “really,” which made me want to set the book down and back away slowly. I also read Nail Your Story by Monica Leonelle (interesting take on story structure with ideas and worksheets I’ll be using in the future), The Bear Went Over the Mountain by William Kotzwinkle (fun story a friend sent me ages ago and I finally had time to read), and The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski (lovely adventure/fantasy-with-no-magic romance. Slow to start, amazing twists and excitement by the end. Recommended to anyone who likes my stuff). Oh. I also read Hard as Ice by Victoria Barbour (another Newfoundland author). I liked Against Her Rules a little better, but it was a fun romance read with the same NL vibe as that one. I need to add that to GR…

Next up: Beloved by Toni Morrison. I’m not sure I’m ready for this one, but I’m trying to alternate in-my-genres books and not-my-genres books, and this is next up for lit fic. Wish me and my tear ducts luck.

Screenshot 2016-04-30 14.04.46

Isn’t this cover adorable?

WRITING

April was an interesting month for my work. Into Elurien, my 50K* contribution to a series of stand-alone novellas by bestselling indie Fantasy Romance authors, is going fabulously. It came back from edits needing a little work, but that went quickly, and it’s now out with beta readers. It’s getting amazing feedback from readers so far. One who loved the Bound Trilogy said she thinks she might like this story even better. I’m completely in love with the characters in this one, and will be sad to let them go. I didn’t even know them back in January, and now we’re almost finished… crazy. But it’s very ready to go, and I can’t wait to see it out in the world.

My other project, The Phoenix Game (working title), is proving a bit more challenging. I didn’t do enough ground-work before I started drafting, because I was trying to take advantage of the weeks I had while IE was out with alpha readers and with my editor. I didn’t get to know the characters well enough, didn’t explore the themes and ideas I’m working with in enough depth, and while my vision for the story is massive and beautiful, the mechanics weren’t quite in place yet. Add to that the challenge of writing in third person when I prefer first (for reading and writing), and what I’ve got so far is 30K words of a book with potential, but that doesn’t have the momentum and keen edge that I want.

So I’m taking a break and reading a bit more on story structure before I continue. Yes, it’s just a first draft, but when I know I’ve made a wrong turn I like to study the map and fix it instead of driving off cliffs, you know?

By the time IE is finished and up for pre-order (May 15), I should be ready to focus entirely on this one. It’s the most challenging book I’ve ever written. A YA story with a potentially complicated structure involving the past and the future (as well as gods and mortals), a deep backstory, themes that I’m still conflicted about myself, and a big cast of characters who are all likely to demand more page time than I can realistically give them when my goal is to keep it around 100K words after edits.

And that’s exciting. It’s wonderful. And it’s a little intimidating when the kids’ summer vacation is just around the corner and I have edits booked for January.

But I think writing is like a game. You level up with each finished project, and while I couldn’t have done this one justice a few years ago, I’m ready  for this challenge now.

Screenshot 2016-04-30 14.05.19

So that’s my April. I’m going to go plan for May now. That will include lots of fun stuff for my readers. Not just pre-orders, but teasers, chapter reveals, a character reveal or two, and (if I can find time), maybe some videos for me to post here and on YouTube as I continue to step outside of my comfort zone and do new things.

Anything is possible.

What were your highlights this month?

*I know, 50K is technically a novel, but series guidelines permit it. Consider it extra value, as it’ll be the same price it would have been at 30K words. 😉

 

 


INTO ELURIEN COVER REVEAL

Here we go.

I can’t even explain how excited I am about this book. What started as a “Yeah, I could squeeze a shorter project into my schedule” became something I’m madly in love with. These characters, this world, the ideas I got to play with and the story that took shape as I wrote it… It’s just so much more than I ever expected it to be when I took it on as a fun challenge. One of my favourite things I’ve ever written.

Here’s the cover copy again, for anyone who missed it:

Out of plans and out of luck…

Hazel Walsh left her island town three years ago, determined to never to return. But a series of missteps and misfortunes have left her homeless, heartbroken, and with no option but to return and take a job she doesn’t want in a place she fears will strangle her.

On her way, she stops for the night at the Old Brook Inn. It’s a place of local myth and legend—things that Hazel hasn’t believed in since she was a child. When she finds a strange key in the attic and tries it in a locked door, she suddenly wishes she’d paid more attention to the fantasy stories she once scoffed at.

She’s thrown into a world in the midst of revolution, where monsters have overthrown the humans who once enslaved them. All of them, that is, except Verelle, the cruel sorceress queen who vanished at the moment of Hazel’s arrival. If Hazel wants to have any chance of surviving and making it back to her own world, she’ll have to join forces with the amalgus Zinian—horned, winged, mysterious, and monstrously attractive—to unravel the mystery of Verelle’s disappearance. If they can’t, the fates of two worlds may be at stake.

This one will be available for pre-order May 15 and releases June 15, 2016. You can add it to your Goodreads TBR now via this link.

Ready? Here you go.

EBOOK

Whew.

Big thanks to Jennifer at JM Rising Horse Creations, who did such an amazing job with this gorgeous cover! Not only that, she’s doing ALL of the covers for the Skeleton Key series. You can check them out here.

What is the Skeleton Key series? It’s 30 books by 30 authors, all standalone fantasy romance novellas with a happily ever after guaranteed, featuring a range story types, sub-genres, worlds, characters, and heat levels. It looks like we’ve got fae, dragons, shifters, warrior queens, and of course monsters (*happy dance*). It’s going to be amazing. I’m really excited about this series, and I’ll have more information for you as we get closer to release day.

Thanks so much for stopping by! Please feel free to share this post. ^_^

 

 


CRUNCH TIME! :D

Yeah, I put a stupid happy face in the title. It seemed fitting.

The past month or so has been weird for me. I finished up post-alpha reader revisions on Into Elurien several weeks before it was scheduled to go to my editor, and she was kind enough to let me send it in so I’d stop picking at it, and in case she could get to it a bit early.

Sue may be a kindred spirit. She gets it.

Anyway, I had another project to work on after I sent that off. A big one. Probably the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done, in style if not scope or size. It’s a story I’ve been excited about since the idea popped into my head early one morning last year, and I’ve been itching to get to it.

And yet.

This is going to sound horribly unprofessional, especially if you’re familiar with the production styles of other writers, many of whom crank books out in a month, work on two or three books at a time in various states of production, and have no trouble jumping from story to story… but I really hate working on multiple projects.

I just don’t deal well with interruptions. I can’t start working in the morning if I know I’m likely to be interrupted in an hour by Jehovah’s Witnesses*.  I like hours to spread out, get my head into whatever I’m working on… time to procrastinate… I know, it’s a problem. I’m working on it!

My point is, I had a hard time getting momentum on the first draft of The Phoenix Game (working title) when I knew Into Elurien would be coming back before I got through the draft. I like to push through drafts in one go, so the knowledge that I’d be interrupted–even a few weeks down the road–was distracting and demotivating.

So as much as I adore this new book and all of its puzzling challenges, it was actually a relief when I opened my email yesterday to find Into Elurien back safe from edits. I mean, it’s bleeding, but it’s basically cosmetic issues. Big change from my full-length novels, which come back hacked to shreds, requiring a month or more of work to put them back together.

So that’s progress, and I’m excited to get IE done so I can then turn my full attention back to PG and really dig deep into it.

Today I get to return to my beloved Hazel, who’s going to be getting a little character work done to help her story flow well. I get to get reacquainted with Auphel, who’s stealing hearts wherever she goes. And I get to see Zinian again, who’s just… Yeah. It’s getting hard having my heart split between all of my book guys. He’s special. I want one.

What was I saying?

Right. PROGRESS! I’ve got beta readers lined up for the beginning of May. Pre-orders going up May 15. Release day June 15. Parties. Giveaways. Teasers.

And, of course, the cover reveal TOMORROW. AND sending out the newsletter, in which subscribers will meet Zinian for themselves. First excerpt. GAH. Excitement! Flailing!

You can probably tell I’m excited about this book. 😉

Into elurien promo square release month

 

*Yes, they come once a week. They know I’m not converting, but I AM learning a lot about prophecy and beliefs other than my own, which are Totally Useful Things in my line of work. And they’re really nice.


COVER REVEAL ANNOUNCEMENT (and a newsletter bonus!)

*taps microphone*

Hello?

Hi. Just a quick post today. After much hemming and hawing and trying to decide whether the cover reveal for Into Elurien should wait until pre-orders are available, I’ve come to a decision.

And the decision is: Screw that. I want you guys to see it. Those of you who haven’t, I mean. Newsletter subscribers saw it last month. 🙂

So the official Into Elurien cover reveal will be happening this Friday, April 15. That’s exactly one month before pre-orders go up. EEK!

into elurien teaser

DRESS! BOOK! MAGIC! DARKNESS! YAY!

I want this week to be special for newsletter subscribers, too, so they’re going to get something EXTRA special on Friday. They’ve seen the cover, so they get to meet… well, a very interesting character an early chapter excerpt.

You want to sign up for this. Zinian is a bit of a monster, but I think you’ll like him. Visit this link to get on the list, and be sure to add my email to your approved senders list so you don’t miss the excitement!

And I’ll see you here on Friday. 🙂

(If you’d like to help out by posting the cover reveal on your own blog, I’d be really grateful and super excited to have you on board! Just email me at kate.sparkes@live.ca and we’ll work that out. Anyone who helps out will be first in line for an advance review copy of this adventure-packed new adult fantasy romance–just let me know you want one when we talk.)

 


Author Chat: Celine Jeanjean on Sequels

Hi, everyone! Today it’s my pleasure to host a guest author on the blog. If you’ve been hanging around here, or if you follow me on Instagram, you probably know how much I enjoyed The Bloodless Assassin (formerly titled The Viper and the Urchin) by Celine Jeanjean. The sequel, The Black Orchid, is currently available for pre-order and releases tomorrow, so it seemed like a great time to chat with Celine about the unique challenges presented by sequels.

(Cover art by the excessively talented Ravven)

Writing your first book is hard. The next is another beast entirely.

This post is an edited transcript of our recent chat. As interesting as our tangents about cover art (what is with all of the beheaded hot dudes and drowning chicks, anyway?), reacting to reviews, our dogs, and the current state of publishing were, we’ll try to keep this post on topic. 🙂

KS: So, Celine, would you like to give us a quick introduction to what your books are about?

CJ: Sure! The series follows Longinus (the Viper) and Rory (the urchin). Longinus is a pedantic assassin with an inconvenient blood phobia. Rory’s an urchin girl with big dreams of becoming a famous swordswoman. They meet when Rory saves Longinus during an assassination gone wrong and then blackmails him so he’ll teach her swordfighting. It’s pretty much irritation at first sight for them both. They argue, they get on each other’s nerves, and ultimately become very close in a very platonic way.

The books are both fun action capers, they’re a mix of steampunk, non-magic fantasy (in that they take place in another world than ours) and there’s quite a bit of humour. And then each story has a darker mystery running throughout, where Rory and Longinus find themselves fighting to save the city.

KS: And now it’s sequel time.When did you start working on The Black Orchid? Was that something you had drafted before The Bloodless Assassin came out? Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do?

CJ: I had a completely blank slate after Bloodless Assassin was finished. I always wanted each book to work as a standalone, so I had no particular idea of what would happen next, other than Rory and Longinus would get into some trouble together. Likewise, I didn’t get the idea for book 3 until I was nearly done with The Black Orchid. There’s a bit of an emotional thread running throughout the books, in that the characters grow and change over time, but that’s as much as I know before I start writing a story. Although I think I might know the overall story for book 4 already. That might change as I write book 3, mind you. One thing’s for sure, I have so much fun creating new cities that I think Rory and Longinus will do a lot of travelling as the series develops!

KS: And you gave us a fantastic glimpse of that worldbuilding on your blog not long ago. I can’t wait to see what locations you create next! I find your series process interesting. And it strikes me as brave, because I would totally freak out if I didn’t have some idea what was going to happen next. I drafted Torn before Bound’s release, and Sworn before Torn’s release.

CJ: Yours is a continuous story whereas mine are separate stories with a common thread. I imagine if I wrote something like Bound, I’d plan out the whole thing first.

KS: I really had only a vague idea how the larger story would end when I released Bound. I’m glad I did things the way I did for the series, being able to plant seeds in earlier books that would sprout later, but leaving lots of room for exploration. Each book was a really unique experience for me. Did you find you faced different challenges in writing this book compared to what you dealt with for book one?

CJ: Yes absolutely. One of the challenges I found was dealing with the Worst Case Scenario of writing each book. When I was writing Bloodless Assassin, I kept picturing the worst thing that could happen: that nobody read the book (or that a handful of people read it and left 1 star reviews – I could never decide which was worse). But then I told myself that if that happened, then nobody would actually know about my book, so I could quietly retire it and start again from scratch. That made it less scary because I could see how I’d pick myself up if I failed, so most of the time I was just having fun with Bloodless Assassin.

With Black Orchid, I have readers now, and those readers have expectations. Which is a wonderful thing, of course, and I’m incredibly grateful, but I’ve found that this time my Worst Case Scenario is much harder to ignore: the idea of people who loved Bloodless Assassin reading Black Orchid and putting it aside, disappointed. I found myself second guessing what I wrote a lot more. Writing a book 1 in a series is far more freeing because there’s zero expectations, so you can literally just have fun with it. With book 2 there’s definitely a whole lot more pressure. Thankfully I did manage to set it aside most of the time so I’m not quite a basket-case yet.

And then from a more ‘technical’ standpoint, I found that with a sequel you have more of a balance to tread. You want to have the stuff people seemed to love in book 1 but at the same time make book 2 a unique thing that’s not just a rehashing of book 1 (I’m looking at you, bad Hollywood sequels). And part of that for me was trying to make sure there was as much of a sense of discovery in terms of the setting in Black Orchid as there was in Bloodless Assassin, despite it taking place in the same city.

KS: I think we may be kindred spirits. We have the same worries/paranoias. ^_^

CJ: Did you find publishing book 2 harder than book 1?

KS: I think the hardest thing about writing the middle book in a trilogy was making it its own story. None of them are intended as standalones, but each book needed a complete story arc and a definite challenge for each character to overcome, and Torn had to bridge the gap between the beginning and the series climax.

Do you have any advice for authors embarking on the sequel experience?

CJ: I think for sequel writing, the most important thing is keeping reader voices out of your head – even if it’s very positive stuff. One thing I fell prey to while writing Black Orchid was at some point consciously trying to please readers. I wrote this whole (rather large bit) which was totally created on the back of some very nice reader comments — because I really wanted to give them more of the stuff they’d liked. And it was totally wrong for the story and I had to cut it all out. That’s not to say it was worthless, it might even be transformed into a little side novella, but I realised how important it is not to let people into your head as you’re writing.

KS: That’s good advice! I think that was one place where having a definite idea of where my trilogy/story was going helped me. People wanted certain things to happen, and I already knew “no, that’s not going to be a thing,” or “I think this person will be happy about where this goes.”

CJ: Yes, that would really help. Probably a big advantage of trilogies over standalones
Did you know how the whole thing was going to end by the way, from the start?

KS: I knew a few big things, but not exactly how they would happen or how everyone would get there. I’m glad I knew the things I did so I could get those ideas started in earlier books and build to them rather than throwing concepts in at the last minute, but I’m also glad I got to explore and be surprised.

To wrap up:  What do you think makes a strong sequel? You mentioned bad movie sequels. How do you avoid that?

CJ: For me a bad sequel is a sequel written for the wrong reasons. Bad Hollywood sequels for me stink of business men rubbing their hands at how much money they’ll be able to make from it. A sequel has to be written with as much artistic integrity as the first book, and if the story was done at book 1, then it needs to stay done at book 1.

KS: Thanks so much for taking time to chat with me about sequels! I think we’ll need to do this again some time. Unleash all of our ideas on all of those other topics on the world. 🙂

CJ: Thank you so much for having me, this was fun! We should definitely do it again, if only to cover some of our many, many tangents! 😉

Here’s the link to The Bloodless Assassin (which you should all definitely check out–one of my favourite indie books from the past few years), and to the sequel, The Black Orchid. You can find Celine here at her site.

Thanks for joining us!

-K


March Reads and Book Haul

I know, it’s a little late to be posting this. March is long gone, right? But better late than never, and it’s always fun to talk about books. 🙂

Of course, now I have to actually remember what I read in March…

Okay. According to Goodreads, I read Pure (Julianna Baggott), Iterate and Optimize (Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant), Fifth Business (Robertson Davies), Landline (Rainbow Rowell), and Against Her Rules (Victoria Barbour). If you want to check out my reviews/ratings on those books, here’s the link to my Goodreads shelf.

Fifth Business was the high point of my reading last month. I read it in high school, and my teacher somehow managed to not ruin it while we were dissecting it. If I were taking a critical view I could find things to complain about, but I’m not. These days I’m sick of this reading slump and am desperate to enjoy books, so I don’t question it when I do. It’s a fascinating book. It’s funny that I say I don’t enjoy “Literature” and Can-Lit all that much, but some of my all-time favourite books fall into that genre. I guess I’m picky about it. I don’t care for self-importance or pretentious writing in books. When I find an amazing story without those flaws, though, I’ll enjoy it no matter what genre it makes its home in.

As for my March book haul… 

…we went to St. John’s, which meant that I got to go to Chapters. It’s four+ hours from my house, but is actually the closest proper bookstore I’ve got, so going is always exciting. That’s not to say I bought all of these new, though. I am on an author’s paycheque here, guys. I also hit Value Village and got lucky, so the balance here is 9 new and 8 used.

I’m particular about what books I’ll buy used, at least when I can afford to be. I try to only buy used when I wouldn’t ever buy the book new, so I know the author isn’t missing out on a sale. I buy used when I’m at least half-sure based on reviews or my own experience that I won’t enjoy them and probably won’t finish, but want to give them a fair shot anyway (the Mortal Instruments books and Hush, Hush), have heard of the book but am not curious to snap it up (All the Bright Things), if I’ve read and enjoyed the book but for some reason don’t want to buy new (I enjoyed Matched, but was really disappointed with the sequel, so it’s not a series I’m invested enough in to buy new for my shelf), or books that I’ve lost or worn out old copies of (The Shipping News). And antique books, of course. Can’t really buy those new.

And if I do enjoy those books I’m iffy on, I’ll either grab new copies or leave good reviews to thank the author. One of those “do unto others” situations, I guess. Money’s not the only way readers can help us out, though purchases are always appreciated!

As for the new books, Throne of Glass is one of my favourite YA Fantasy books. I didn’t adore Crown of Midnight, but part of that might have been the fact that I caved and bought the massive, uncomfortable hardcover before the paperback came out*, so I bought that and whatever else of the series I could find in paperback. Hard as Ice is book two in the Heart’s Ease series. I really enjoyed Against Her Rules in spite of it being very much a SERIOUSLY GUYS ROMANCE NOVEL (the Newfoundland setting and competent writing really helped there), which I’d picked up at the library. Promise of Shadows and The Girl Who Circumnavigated blah blah blah (sorry, I can’t even remember the title long enough to type it out after I scroll down) were $5.99 bargain books that looked interesting, so I grabbed them. The Sandman was a gift from my graphic novel-loving husband who was terribly excited to hear that I wanted to start the series, the drawing book is a project for me and one of the kids to work on together, and You Are A Badass was… well, I want to understand my own badassness, man.

I’m getting there. And I’ve actually finished and reviewed that one on Goodreads, but that’ll fall under April here.

I also picked up some books on my Kindle this month, mostly business stuff about writing cover copy and book outlines and… *yawn*

My next book haul will be less exciting. I’m doing a “no spend” month, or as close to it as I can. I have a signed paperback of an upcoming release ordered, and if a certain Kickstarter campaign gets funded, I’m on the hook there. But we can still chat about reading and stuff.

If I remember to post again. O.o

TELL ME: What did you read last month? Are you a fan of anything in my book haul pic? No spoilers, please!

*I’m resisting the urge to rant AGAIN against publishers who do that. I hate it. So much. Just let us choose what format we want on release day. Thanks.

 


Deconstructing Damsport: a round the world tour of the research and inspiration behind the creation of the city

Fantastic insight into the building of an amazing Fantasy world. I absolutely fell in love with Damsport and its inhabitabts when I read The Viper and the Urchin (now titled The Bloodless Assassin, which is really fitting). It’s one of those books that deserves WAY more hype than it gets. Read this post, then check it out! Book two is out April 9.

Celine Jeanjean's Blog: Down the Rabbit Hole

orchid_promoVery excitingly, The Black Orchid, book 2 in the Rory and Longinus saga, is now available to pre-order. To celebrate, I thought I’d let you take a peek behind the curtain of Damsport’s creation. I’ve been interviewing authors about their research for a little while but I have yet to put myself under the microscope, as it were. Now I won’t interview myself because that’s just too meta, but I thought I’d share the inspirations that went into creating Damsport.

Picasso famously said: “Good artists borrow; great artists steal.” I won’t go as far as to say that I’m a great artist, but one of the things I love to do is to steal — and I steal a great deal, from all over the place. It’ll come as no surprise that I stole from Victorian London, and I purposefully gave a little nod to Dickens in creating…

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