Author Archives: Kate Sparkes

About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with a Mountie, two kids who take turns playing Jeckyll and Hyde, two cats, an intentional boxer and an accidental chihuahua. She's the author of the bestselling Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy). www.katesparkes.com

Ready to Kick Off Your Summer Reading?

Summer?

SUMMER?!

Let me show you the view from my front window just over a week ago:

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It got better. We’ve got grass again now, though we’re expecting flurries on the weekend. But still. It ain’t summer.

But according to the calendar, we’re almost there. And that means it’s time to plan for summer reading, and I’ve got a couple of books to share with you–one on sale, one FREE, both Urban Fantasy by Canadian authors. Whether you’re looking for something hot and blood-spattered or a ghost story to chill your bones, we’ve got you covered.

 

Resurrection (Immortal Soulless Book One)

99¢

Tanith Frost

links: www.books2read.com/isresurrection

COVER1WITHTEXT

Since the night of Aviva’s murder she’s been forced to accept a new reality—burned by sunlight, dependent on the blood of the living, searching for her place in a dark world she didn’t believe existed until she awoke without a heartbeat. When rogue vampires arrive in her clan’s territory and threaten the uneasy peace of the supernatural world, this uncertain new vampire with troubling gifts may be the only one able to stand between a pack of ruthless killers and the unsuspecting humans they prey on.

Amazon reviewers call Resurrection “decadently dark,” “completely gripping,” and “a phenomenal new take on vampires”!**

99¢ for a limited time! Available via Amazon Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks

 

 

Death at Peony House

FREE!

Krista Walsh

Links: www.books2read.com/peonyhouse

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Magic is a dangerous temptation 

After lights are seen in the windows of the city’s abandoned hospital, sorceress and journalist Daphne Heartstone heads to Peony House in search of a headline.

What she discovers is a dead body and a clue to a hundred-and-fifty-year-old cold case.

Detective Hunter Avery, the man Daphne loved and lost, warns her away from the case, but the ghosts of Peony House have demanded her help.

Not to mention, her job is on the line if she doesn’t have a story on her editor’s desk for Saturday’s edition.

Daphne has worked hard to escape her past of dark magic and blind ambition, but as she walks the balance between light and dark, she’ll learn how many promises she’s willing to break to protect the people she loves.

Personal note from Kate: I love this series, and this book being FREE for a limited time means now is the perfect time to dive in! Unforgettable characters, mystery, ghosts, a bit of romance, a whole lot of interesting worldbuilding… this is my jam. Fair warning, though: This is a complete series, and it’s hard to put down once you start.

Enjoy!

-K

 


*Fullest of full disclosure: I’m mentioning these books because I think there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy them if you like my books, but I do have personal relationships with both authors. Krista Walsh is an author I’ve worked with for a few years as a critique partner, and we’ve left our fingerprints all over each other’s books. And Tanith Frost is… we’re close. We share office space. And brain space. If you’re wondering what I’ve been up to since I last published under my own name, there you go.

**If you prefer a “clean” read, this isn’t the series for you. It gets hot in here. And dark. And there’s cussin’. Gasp.

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Email permissions are like Taco Bell: A pain at both ends. However…

(I was going to call this post “the agony of email”, but come on. That was mildly amusing.)

Raise your hand if you’ve received a bunch of emails lately asking you to update your preferences and give permission for authors and other marketing types to send you emails.

Okay, I actually can’t see you. You can put your hand down.

I’m guessing it’s at least a few of you though, right? And if you’re on my list or Tanith Frost’s, you’ve definitely received them from us.

Or your spam folder has. And if that’s the case you’re going to want to go hunt for them ASAP, assuming you want to stay subscribed to get news on upcoming giveaways (both), cover reveals (Tanith), upcoming new releases (also Tanith), and future free stories (fingers crossed all over the place on that one). Because as of May 25, subscribers who haven’t confirmed permission for us to send emails are going to be unsubscribed.

Dun dun dunnnnnnn…

Spoiler alert: The actual cover will look significantly more badass than this

I mean, I know. What a pain in the ass, right? You already took time to sign up once. WHAT MORE DO WE NEED?

Honestly, I’m not the best person to ask. I know this is a Serious Legal Thing that has something to do with Europe and privacy, and we can get in Big Trouble if we’re caught sending emails without the proper permissions*. So yeah. We asked you to do this. There may be some marketing types who are super organized and on the ball and already have the right permissions, or who actually keep track of which subscribers are in the EU and which aren’t.

If such unicorns exist, I am not one of them. If you’re one of my subscribers, you got the email. And whether you live in Topeka or Tuscany I’ve asked you to update your permissions just so I know who still wants to be on the list.

Two birds/one stone. Bumbling GDPR compliance/”are you still there?” service. Boom.

BUT KATE, WHAT A PAAAAIIIIIIIN.

I know.

But look at it this way. It’s like spring cleaning for everyone! If you signed up for my newsletter because you wanted to win something in a giveaway but haven’t opened one since, you never have to see them clogging up your inbox again!** Same goes for anyone else who’s doing a big clean-up. We’re doing the work for you! YAY! And if you do find our content interesting and want to keep receiving our Big Fun Newsletters, it only takes a minute to click the button, check the boxes, and submit… and then maaaaybe some authors might be planning fun stuff for the subscribers who stick around.

I dunno. It’s just something I heard.

Gratuitous photo of a past giveaway

And though it’s maybe a liiiiiitle bit painful to let go of all of the people who haven’t updated preferences and won’t be receiving future Big Exciting News, this is good for me, too. I do this now, and in the future I’ll know that everyone who’s getting my emails is getting them because they’re excited to see what’s coming next, not because they entered a giveaway or other list-builder promotion and happened to get signed up along the way. The people who stick around now are in it for the long haul. THEY WANT TO WIN THE SIGNED PAPERBACKS. GO TEAM!!!***

I already refer to my newsletter subscribers as VIPs, and that will only be more true by next week.

So long story short: If you want to keep receiving my super-fun newsletters packed with good stuff on a seriously irregular basis (because hey, I’m not going to bother you if I don’t have anything to say), please make sure you check for either the first GDPR email or the update I sent today (and Tanith asks that you do the same) and take a minute to click and update your preferences.

You can of course sign up again at any time in the future if you get bumped. But this feels easier, doesn’t it?

(And if you’re not subscribed yet but want to be, here’s the link for mine. And what the heck, here’s Tanith’s, too. We do have fun.)

 

*Dammit, Jim. I’m an author, not a marketer. I DEAL IN MAGIC, NOT LEGALITIES!

**Yes, yes, or your spam folder…

***Fun fact: I didn’t know until I had to start a newsletter list that it costs money to have subscribers on there whether they’re opening emails or not. So releasing uninterested parties back into the wild (hopefully we’ll meet again some day, insert wistful sigh here) means I may just have a liiiiitle bit more in the ol’ budget for more awesome giveaways. ANOTHER WIN! HOLY CARP! (Side note: NEVER take marketing advice from me. This is probably terrible.)

 


Sci-Fi on the Rock? Yeah. It Rocked.

(This post first appeared as a message to newsletter subscribers several weeks ago, and the response has been positive enough that I decided to share it here. Interested in being part of the fun on a more regular basis? You can sign up here to receive three free stories and not-at-all frequent email newsletters. Already a subscriber but didn’t get the message? Check your spam folder and mark the message “not spam”–and be sure to look for today’s important message so you can update your settings and stay in the VIP club!)

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Okay. So.

This winter has been a blah one. Have you noticed? It seems like anyone who’s regularly affected by seasonal depression has been hit hard, and even those who aren’t have found it… well, blah. Since December I’ve wanted nothing more than to wrap myself in a cocoon of blankets, lose myself in my fictional realities, and forget that the grey, cold, frequently unkind world outside my house exists. I haven’t felt like I had much to offer in newsletters, and I’ve backed away a bit from social media so I could avoid the anxiety it so often brings.

But one must emerge some time–or so my family insisted when they found out I’d been invited to share a vendor’s table at Sci-Fi on the Rock, Newfoundland’s biggest Sci-Fi and Fantasy convention.

Was I excited? In theory, yes. In practice? HECK no. I knew there would be people there. My poor melancholic, introverted heart shuddered at the very thought of that many strangers packed into one hotel for three long days. And anyone who knows me knows I’m not so keen on the promotion and SELLING parts of the writing business. So while I loved the idea of the convention itself, the practical details of planning the trip and interacting with people in person (I’m actually quite happy chatting through email) had me more than a little nervous.

And besides all of that… People can often be scary, intimidating, or just downright disappointing. Whether it’s politics, food choices, or Facebook posts, many of us seem more interested in judging others based on the things that divide us than in embracing what we have in common–and the world of Sci-Fi and Fantasy can seem at times like it’s no better than anything else our species has to offer, especially online. That can be disheartening, especially because fandom should be about embracing what we love, not bashing what we hate (and not about hurting people for not loving something enough or for doing it in what we think is the wrong way).

But attending SFotR reminded me that there’s another side of humanity that’s so much bigger than a few loud, nasty voices.

I saw cosplayers in professional-looking costumes that took my breath away or brought me to tears with their beauty… and I saw them mugging for photos with anyone who asked, complimenting costumes at every skill level, and being extremely open and gracious.

I saw a weekend-long event where respect was the expectation, where everyone was accepted, where social awkwardness was okay, and where people wore and celebrated whatever they wanted without worrying about judgements based on gender, body type, or physical appearance.

I saw people drawn together by what they love, not divided by what they hate.

Now, I was stuck behind my vendor table for most of the event. I didn’t see everything. But what I did see–from vendors and presenters supporting each other to the way people’s faces lit up when we complimented their costumes as they walked by–was kind of magical.

Oh, and the panel on Worldbuilding that I hosted with Candace Osmond and JJ King was a blast! We had an hour to fill, and the audience had so many questions that we could easily have stretched it to at least an hour and a half. I love talking about writing, and I’m so thankful that we had that opportunity to answer questions and help other writers with their worlds and approaches to their stories.

The highlights of my weekend were definitely that panel… and seeing a complete stranger flaked out on a chair, deeply absorbed in one of my books. Pretty amazing.

Yeah. I’m glad I went.

The event is over now. Spring hasn’t arrived here in Newfoundland, and won’t for some time yet. I picked up a nasty cold while I was having such a good time being around people. Things still look pretty blah in the world at large. But my faith in humanity has been maybe a little bit restored–or at least I’ve been reminded that we’re more than the hateful voices who somehow always manage to grab the megaphone. And as I sit here at my desk and try to focus on getting back to work on my pen name’s ongoing series, I’m glad I’ve got some fun new memories to keep me warm…and a few new books to read.

…Because my TBR pile wasn’t already big enough. ^_^

-Kate

Want to see some of those costumes I mentioned? Photographer Riche Perez has some incredible photos posted here, or  click here for the Facebook video of CBC’s live coverage of the costume contest! The audio’s not perfect at the beginning of the video, but it gets better.


Magic or Monsters Giveaway!

It’s February, and that means it’s almost my birthday!

Last year I gave newsletter subscribers a present for my birthday–a brand new, exclusive novella. That was loads of fun, but I’ve been busy with other projects this year and didn’t have time to write a new story. Still, I wanted to give something away for my birthday.

And that brings us to the “Magic or Monsters” giveaway!

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This giveaway is closes at midnight on February 22 so I can pick the winner on the 23rd, so be sure to enter soon!

The winner’s going to have a tough choice to make: Magic, or monsters? One randomly selected winner will receive a signed paperback copy of Bound OR Into Elurien, along with an ornament that goes with the story (a golden feather for Bound, a key for Into Elurien), PLUS a book-themed pinback button and a gift pouch of my favourite writing tea* to cozy up with while reading.

This giveaway is open internationally (please note that shipping times will vary by destination), and is not endorsed/sponsored by any entity other than myself.

Here’s the rafflecopter link to enter.** Good luck!

(Need more information on the books so you’ll know which to choose if you’ll win? You can find information on all of my books at my website, katesparkes.com)

 

——

*Glitter and Gold from David’s Tea. So magical.

**Entries available for newsletter subscribers, tweeting about the giveaway, or just for visiting my Facebook page.


What About the Symphony?

I wasn’t going to post today, but I ran across an idea in my morning reading (quoted in Thrive by Arianna Huffington) that made me think–and that I thought might be helpful for others, as well.

“No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve in quality as it goes along or that the whole point of it is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.”

-Alan Watts

Quite the idea to process while I was going over my plans for the day, setting my goals, and generally trying to take steps to improve my life. Does this mean we should let go with the idea of improving ourselves, our circumstances, our productivity (*cough*), or our lives?

I don’t think so. But it’s a great reminder to look at why I’m setting the goals I am, why I’m creating new habits, and why I’m putting so much damned work into making my days work for me instead of letting them slip away.

Because, as with so much of life, it’s about balance.

I don’t have a boss. Nobody’s going to fire me if I’m unproductive in the short term. Maybe that’s why it’s easy for me to let a day go by and feel like I’ve wasted it (especially if I’m in a bad place with social media or other things that seem enjoyable, but really add nothing to my life). That’s why I need a to do list, why I set my top three priorities for the day, why I get my work done before I play.

On the other hand, it’s also far too easy to buy into the self-improvement hype that says you can do anything and everything if only you believe in yourself… which really means you’re falling short if you’re not doing, having, and being it all (and posting it on Instagram, obviously). To focus so much on what we should be doing to better our lives that we never actually stop to reflect on how far we’ve come or to enjoy the benefits of all this improvement.

I mean, so many things that I do don’t seem like parts of a symphony. I meditate, but I often find the process uncomfortable. I work so hard on my writing that the fun bit where I’m making up stories for my own enjoyment is dwarfed by the analysis, the problem solving, the revisions, the editing, the learning about writing craft–things that can be rewarding in the end, but are often stressful in the moment (and don’t even get me started on marketing, bookkeeping, or taxes). I don’t enjoy telling my kids to get off their tablets and enduring their grumbling, and I don’t enjoy getting them to clean up after themselves when it would really be easier and less stressful to do it myself. I don’t enjoy cooking or cleaning at all. And playing with my schedule and tracking results was rather tedious.

Why not let it go?

Because though I don’t always enjoy this stuff in the moment, it improves my quality of life in general.

Meditation is helping me stay in the moment and is helping me distance myself from emotions and physical pain that might otherwise consume me. Improving my writing means a better experience for my readers, and it offers me immense satisfaction in knowing that I’m learning and growing (and all that other crap makes it possible for me to keep writing, because income to cover editing costs is rather essential). The effort I put into making my kids do things they don’t like is helping them establish habits that will help them (and me) in the long run. Cooking puts food on the table, and while I don’t like cleaning, I do like a clean house.

And as for improving my productivity, I’m happier when I’m getting stuff done, and everyone in this house is happier when I’m not stressed about deadlines that crept up while I was procrastinating. I like knowing that I’m doing my best.

…And none of that is me disagreeing with the quote. It’s why this idea is so important.

Because I do get caught up in it. I feel at times like every minute has to be well spent on working toward a goal or doing something productive. I tend to become unduly absorbed in improving my life.

At times I need to be reminded to stop and smell the damn roses. To appreciate the “fog happiness” that my work offers if only I take time to step away from the stresses and appreciate it.

To actually live the life I’m working so hard at.

Who I am and what I’m doing right now are important and worth enjoying all on their own. This moment and this day aren’t just steps toward some end goal, and what I’ve got now is pretty damned amazing.

Not every day has to be perfect. Blah days and down days and unproductive days are normal and fine. But taken as a whole, there’s a whole lot to appreciate, even in darker times.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done to get to where I am, and my life is immensely more satisfying than it was five years ago. I’ll keep working on improving what I can as needs arise.

But this morning, I added that quote to my bullet journal. I put it on the January “memories” page, on the back of my habit tracker and directly opposite the spot where I note my accomplishments for the month.

Because it’s easy to note the good stuff without really stopping to go, “Yes, I did a thing that improved my life. I did a favour for Future Me, and she’s going to be thrilled about it. I helped make someone else’s life better. I did something I couldn’t have imagined doing a year ago. I improved a relationship even though it felt awkward in the moment. I changed my world in some way.”

It’s easy for me to just jump into the next goal, to not stop to listen and enjoy the symphony as it plays, and to become unduly absorbed in the improvements as though there’s some end goal I’m racing for.

This moment, right now, even with all of its stresses and problems, is what I dreamed of just a few years ago. There’s no guarantee anything will last forever. Every symphony ends. I’m glad to have been reminded to appreciate mine while it lasts.

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Writing Process Evolution

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If you’ve been following posts on this blog for a while, you know I like to change things up. Experiment. See how I can tweak things to make my life easier.

I’m trying something new in my writing process that’s working pretty well so far, so I thought I’d write a quick post in case the idea is helpful to anyone else.

Why? Because I’m procrastinating. It’s Friday afternoon, I reached the end of a stage in this writing process yesterday, and the next step (outlining the rest of the series so I know this book is heading in the right direction) is looking rather daunting.

So here we go.

I’m a plotter/planner/outliner. I like to know my characters fairly well before I write, and I like to know where the story is going before I start. That doesn’t mean things can’t change a lot as I write, but it does mean I struggle less with figuring out what comes next, or with later having to cut or rewrite massive sections to achieve good story structure, tension, etc. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it does work for me.* If you’re a pantser who likes to dive into an idea and start writing without a map, this probably won’t apply to you… or maybe it will, come to think of it. Read on.

I usually start with a solid outline. At the very least I’ll have my story structure beats pencilled in based on Save the Cat (Blake Snyder) and Story Engineering (Larry Brooks)–both books I’d recommend, though the former is definitely a faster and more fun read than the latter. For larger books I’m taking more time with, I’ll also dig into theme, character webs, and other helpful stuff with the help of The Anatomy of Story (John Truby). Then I’ll do my scene outlines on index cards, sketching out very quickly what will happen in the scene, and then I’ll start my first full draft.

What I’m doing this time is inspired partly by the Snowflake Method and partly by Monica Leonelle’s methods in Write Better, Faster (which I’m in the middle of right now).

In any case, what I’m doing is a step between the index cards and the first draft. I’m expanding on the notecards, writing out the full scene as I imagine it flowing in my mind, but it’s not first draft quality. It’s just me narrating what’s happening in the scene, throwing in dialogue, action beats, and anything else that comes clearly to mind that I might want to use later. Full sentences, full paragraphs, writing out full scenes and chapters for the full book, but it’s super quick.

The quick draft I just finished is about 26,000 words for a book that will likely come out between 80K and 90K words in its finished form.

Now, that’s still a lot of words. If this step was unnecessary, it would be a complete waste of time. Here’s why I did it:

By writing out the story quickly, I built momentum that kept me writing quickly–and thanks to the notes I’d already made and the planning I’d done, it was efficient, too. Not a whole lot of having to stop and think about what comes next or slowing down to make sure I was phrasing things correctly. I had a 6800 word day on Wednesday (writing for 4 hours), which is unheard of for me. I was writing six scenes a day instead of one.

And now that I have this not-quite-a-draft, I can look it over and see issues that weren’t visible at all in the index card stage, but that I would otherwise have needed to correct after the first draft–after I’d already invested a lot more time and word count into scenes that would need to be rewritten. Or they’d be the issues that stopped me in my tracks during that first draft, slowing me down and discouraging me when that’s the last thing I need.

My hope is that this extra step will ultimately save me time. My first full draft will actually be a revision draft, with the major bumps (mostly related to character motivation) ironed out for me, so this could save me a lot of revisions after the first draft/before my crit readers see the book. And actually writing the draft should go quickly, too, because I’ll have my scenes laid out already. I’ll be able to enjoy exploring the dialogue, descriptions, and all the other fun stuff without having to stop and bang my head against the wall because I’m running into plot and character issues I didn’t see coming.

And as an added, unanticipated bonus, this quick draft has got me REALLY excited about writing these scenes in full and seeing how the notes I’ve made play out when my amazing characters step into the driver’s seat. I’m able to make sure that I’m excited about all of them, which means (ideally) that they’ll also be scenes readers will be excited to read. I can see whether there are laggy bits and correct them now, before I’m invested in them or feeling too lazy to want to change things up.

So there you go. This is the first book I’m using this expanded outlining method on, but I’ve got high hopes for it and plan to use it again in the future. I already wish I’d thought of it for the project currently with my editor. It could have saved me a full rewrite… live and learn, right?

Have any tips of your own that help you save time and frustration in the writing process? Please leave them in the comments!

——

*I was a pantser, once upon a time. I’d like to just dive into a story to see where it goes again some day, but I find that for me planning a story is far more efficient, and I’m slow enough as it is. 🙂


I’m Not Dead

I KNOW, I know. I fell off the face of the Earth for a while. And I was doing so well, too.

The truth is, I’ve been focusing my time and energy on revisions and self-editing on a book that’s due to my editor January 1, and it hasn’t left a lot of time for making words otherwise.

So here’s a quick update, and I’ll write more once this monster is off my desk:

-I completed the Whole30 program in November. It did wonders for my migraine symptoms (unless some unrelated miracle occurred), but I ran into other problems. Like not eating enough. The medication I’m on kills my appetite, and having to be super careful about what I was eating (and extra time for food planning/prep), having few snack options, and not being able to stomach big meals meant I was probably way under the calorie count my body needs, especially when I’m working my brain so hard. I was exhausted all the time. And three weeks after finishing, I’m STILL exhausted. And my migraines are giving me hell now, of course, because (long story short) I didn’t get to do a careful reintroduction. So I need to take a good, hard look at how I’m going to tackle this one again in the new year. (To be clear: The program was great and totally worthwhile, but my particular situation hindered me a bit. I’ll do a full post on my experiences with Whole30 if anyone is curious.)

-I kind of crashed over the last month. In particular, I had a few bad weeks of depression/anxiety, which is something I usually manage to keep under control. A lot of it had to do with the book I’m working on–deadlines, huge writing challenges, perfectionism, and low energy are a bad combination. It was also looking at my work from a career standpoint (which led to fear of the future), Christmas stress, feeling overwhelmed by life… My point in sharing this being that we all face this stuff sometimes, and if you’re going through it, you’re not alone. We all crash. The important thing is to figure out what happened and dust ourselves off so we can get moving again (and to get help when we need it).

-But in spite of that, I should have this (($#&ing) book ready to go to my editor on time. I’ll share more about it soon, but for now I’m still keeping it under wraps. It’s challenged me in a lot of ways. Not just technically, but in the hits I’ve taken to my confidence and the fights I’ve had with myself over why it’s been so hard. But early responses from readers have been fantastic, and my Big Bad Editor’s only going to make it better. So that’s exciting.

The less-good news is that it’s a duology, so I need to think long and hard about whether I want to release part one too long before part two is going to be ready to go. Big decisions.

-As for my productivity experiment, I’m sticking to a schedule right now where I’m trying to take advantage of my natural energy/focus rhythms, getting most of my work done in the late morning and afternoon. I wish I could say I was still getting up early and enjoying my wonderful quiet time, but my exhaustion is so bad that I’ve been physically unable to get up before I absolutely have to. I’ve also been too tired at night to do much of anything after supper. Here’s hoping a bit of recharging and less deadline stress after Christmas will help me get back into the swing of things.

-And yes, I’m almost ready for Christmas. I dropped the ball on sending cards (I think I mailed five of them), but I’m just going to have to forgive myself for that. And for a lot of other things. I’m doing my best, and that’s all I can reasonably ask of myself.

So there we go. We’re updated.

And just in case I don’t get a chance to come back and say it: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and all the best to you in the new year!


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