Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Life Was Tough

One of my writing persona, Susan Gourley, writes epic fantasy. There are lots of definitions of epic fantasy out there but most of them expect the story to be set in a medieval setting. Mine is. I love reading books in that setting, even historical fiction that isn't fantasy.

I recently finished reading John Marco's novel, The Forever Knight. His series of which this book is the fourth, is one of my favorites. I've read his other works also. They're all in fantasy lands in a medieval time period. The Forever Knight, like Marco's other books remind me to try and keep things real in my own books.

Life was really difficult in such a setting. No real doctors or medicine. The food was simple and often scarce. Most people we would term the nobility didn't care about the welfare of the peasants. Those poor people suffered from poor food, lack of housing and were often pressed into service to fight a war they couldn't care less about. In such wars, they were considered expendable. A noble might celebrate victory in a battle, but families would starve the following winter because their fields had been destroyed and their menfolk killed. There were no social or government agencies to help the masses. The place of women in such societies could be an entirely other discussion.

Fantasy worlds can be whatever the author wants them to be, but the way Marco presents an unsettling realism to the plight of regular folks draws me into his books. He shows the bitter side of battle victories and isn't afraid to show the emotional devastation of loss. I hope I convey such details in my books even half as thoroughly.

Do you enjoy medieval settings? Have you read books where the peasants were too happy? Have you read John Marco? What do you think would have caused the biggest hardship for the medieval peasant? After paying fall tuition for my two children in college I'm feeling a little like a peasant myself.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Vacation Over

Sorry I didn't get to visit blogs last week, but I was busy enjoying my vacation in Colorado Springs. My youngest son is doing an internship at The Broadmoor, a premiere resort in Colorado Springs. Besides the joy of seeing him after many months, it was awesome to hear all the wonderful things his bosses had to say about him. He loves the job, the people he works with and the area.

I'll share some of what I learned on my vacation but for today, I'm going to mention a few observations I made on my cross country drive from central Pennsylvania to Colorado and back again. I very much welcome input and discussion in the comments. Today is about the roads.

My husband didn't want to drive but I wanted to see some parts of this great country that I'd never seen before. Pennsylvania and Ohio has completely inadequate roads to handle the number of cars using them. They shouldn't be able to call a road a turnpike unless it has three lanes in each direction. Pennsylvania does have the cool tunnels that always remind me of Will Smith in I, Robot.

Ohio gets the award for having the most cops pulling over speeders. Wish they would use the money from all those fines to put in a few more lanes so traffic could move better. Indiana and Illinois get the awards for most road construction while still having the worst roads I drove upon. Kansas ... I loved driving there. My husband was bored with the landscape, but I loved it and the open highway in front of me. Colorado had the best police cars. Lots of big suvs and hot looking chargers. And who can mind driving when you can see all those mountains in front of you.

So, just a little detour from my usual talk about writing. What do you think of our country's byways and highways? Any state you love driving in or hate driving in? Agree with my assessments or do you have a different opinion?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

To Do Lists

Like many of my blogger friends, I've eased back a bit over the summer months. With my daughter home from college, I've spent lots of time with her. I've been blogging only Mondays and Wednesdays for most of the summer. Starting next week, I'm going back to blogging three times per week again.

I'm going to catch up on my Goodreads book lists and write some reviews. I'm going to tackle some more of that TBR pile. On a side burner is a start of a plan for promotion for First Dragon which has a November release date as of now.

And seriously, I have a lot of pictures on the new camera I got for Christmas and I'm going to start using some of those photos on my blog. I'll probably do some clean up and rearranging of my writing space. I always do that at least twice per year.

I'll also be diving back into The Marine's Heiress, hopefully getting the second draft done within six weeks. After that I have the first draft of the second book in The Morbunda Saga waiting on the shelf. War Dragon will pick up where First Dragon left off. It's great to have plans.

Do you do less blogging in the summer or keep the same routine year round? Do you keep your Goodreads current or do you play catch up with it about once a month like I do? Do you often rearrange your creative space, be it a corner of a room or an entire room that's all yours?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Take a Walk

Did you all start singing when you read the title? Yes, a little Passion Pit playing on the iPod while I write this post. But I'm not talking about romance, I'm talking about writing.

Finally, finally, I finished the first draft of The Marine's Heiress last Friday. I wanted to finish the book by the end of June but it took longer than I thought and was actually a bit longer, coming in at 85K before edits. There's lots to be cut, some added, some changed but that first draft is done. I'm eager to get onto the second draft, but first I'm going to take a walk. Well, actually, a long ride. I'm going to Colorado to visit my son in Colorado Springs. I'll be away from my writing for an entire week. All told, it will be about ten days until I get back to The Marine's Heiress. Long enough to think through the things I need to change and fix. Let it all percolate for a little bit.

How long do set aside a manuscript or story before you work on the second draft? Or do you dive right in? How long does it take you to do that second draft compared to the first? Do you like Passion Pit?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Clothing Optional

As I near the finish of the first, very rough, draft of The Marine's Heiress(working title) I'm starting of all the things I need to fix in the second draft. Tons and tons of things as usual but there is one constant I have to work on in the second draft of every novel I've ever written.

When I write, I have a clear picture in my mind of what my characters look like and even what they're wearing. But I'm very bad about getting that down in print. I tend to skip over descriptions of attire when I read books. As I sit here writing this in my flannel shorts and baggy tee shirt, I admit I'm not much of a fashion judge. On the other hand, a character's attire shows something about that character's personality just like my new running shoes do about me. And sometimes, because even my romance novels have a lot of action in them, what the characters are wearing can determine their movements. Someday, I'm going to write a novel where they all wear tee shirts and jeans with some great running shoes and never dress up into something fancier.

On a side note, I missed the cover reveal for Cloaked in Fur for Monday. TF Walsh's paranormal romance will be available on August 5th. Isn't that a great cover.

Do you spend a lot of attention to the attire of your characters when you write? Do you find it distracting when the attire is described in a lot of detail or do you want more than you get? What your favorite attire for when you're writing?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Writers: More Than Their Writing

My daughter has been researching and making plans to dive into the craft of weaving. Like me, she reads all the time and in a variety of genres. She's also been reading a lot of nonfiction, some historical and some centered in the Middle East where she hopes to work one day after she graduates from college with her degree in International Relations. In a lot of those books, historical and middle eastern, people are weaving. Women in bad situations scrape out a living by working at one of the oldest crafts in human history. She's put a lot of thought into, checking out how to make a homemade loom and pricing them on eBay and Amazon. Looms are very expensive.

Her interest in the skill of weaving reminds me how many of my writer friends have other talents. Some are skilled bakers and cooks. Some work in the technology fields and really know their way around the computer. Some have skills in music or art.

I am an average baker, average with the crochet hook and a little better than average at cross-stitchery. I love jigsaw puzzles, like to exercise and enjoy the outdoors when it's warm.

Some weeks like the past two, I feel like I'm using every minute of my day to write as I try to finish the first draft of my current WIP by the end of the week. But I took some time to bake yesterday and of course a few hours off to read. But it's so easy to get caught up in the writing, since I enjoy it, and let all those other fun things go. Don't forget the other little joys beyond your writing.

I think few creative people put all their energy into one medium. Where else do your talents show up? Do you find those other activities as enjoyable as writing? Know anyone with a loom for sale?

Friday, July 12, 2013

What Makes a Book Memorable

Oh, how I love summer. After doing a little house cleaning, a little shopping, a little weeding, I picked up the book I had started reading, my sunglasses and headed for the pool. I only had a few chapters left in the book so I finished it quickly. I had intended to leave the balmy water and start dinner when I finished the book. But I didn't.

You see, I do a lot of thinking in the pool. I retreat there when I'm stuck in a scene or even to plot out the next book I intend to write. So I finished reading this particular book and thought I was disappointed. It was a strange book, kind of a mystery, lots of sadness and not one light moment in the entire novel. At the end, the mystery was rather run of the mill but it was what was happening in the background that stayed with me. So I floated about in the pool and thought about it the story. Then I thought about what the writer had intended. Of course I don't know exactly what he intended, but if it was for the reader to wonder how they would have behaved in the situation he created in his novel, it certainly worked for me.

For an extra hour of sun that my skin does not need, I imagined how my family and I could survive physically and psychologically in that fictional scenario created by the author. I'm not going to forget that novel anytime soon. It was memorable to me because I couldn't help but insert myself into one of the fictional roles. I usually don't like books that are filled with hopelessness and where every character is flawed do deeply they need professional help. So this author did a lot of things right. And while I floated in that pool, I wondered if the books I write are memorable to readers even if only for a little while.

Speaking of memorable, don't forget to check out Jeffrey Beesler's blog tour for the release of his latest novel, Optical Osmosis.

What makes a book memorable for you? Have you ever had a book stick with you even though you weren't sure you even liked it? Have you visited Jeffrey?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Much thanks to Melissa Bradley for passing me the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award. It gives me the chance to talk about sisters and I have lots of them to talk about.

I have three older sisters, all nurses, and a younger sister, the only one of us to follow our parent's farming footsteps. I love them all dearly and they're all different.

My oldest sister has always been motherly to us. She had to babysit us sometimes and I admit we gave her a hard time. Going along with her very kind heart, she always putting others before herself. Of course, the kind of nursing she does is in a long-term care facility.

My second oldest sister, the most like me, works as an oncology nurse. It takes a special person, a strong but compassionate person to do what she does. We share a great love of books, the joys of our children and love of sports. She lives in Mississippi so we only see each other once or twice a year. If she lived nearby, we would be hanging out all the time. And she and my husband get along great so the three of us have lots of fun together.

My third to the oldest sister lives in Washington state and works in emergency care. She's a supervisor and I'm sure she allows no messing around on her shift. She might be the only person I know who loves books more than I do. We played tons of softball together growing up and I miss our times together.

My baby sister, the farmer, answered the call of the land. There is no other sister who can make me laugh like she can. We share children of nearly the same age and have gone through those child-bearing years together. She'd chosen a living that requires hard work and I admire her for it.

Blogging friends are like those sisters of mine. They're all a little different but they all have something that cements our friendship even if we only ever meet online. And there's something special and unique about them, be they blogging sisters or brothers. I'm so happy to have met you all. Thanks, Melissa at Melissa's Imaginarium for the award. Instead of passing it on, I hope in the comments, my blogging family can share something about a sibling or a blogging friend who is like a brother or sister.

Care to share a sibling story?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Not Super All the Time

I'm busy with the last quarter of my second Recon Marine novel. If you haven't read the first book, the military men in this series are genetically enhanced men raised to be killing machines. With out going in to great detail, they're strong, fast, smart, nearly impervious to disease and trained to handle great amounts of pain and discomfort. They've also been taught nearly everything there is to know about battle strategies and tactics to be used in any situation. They also have access to and the knowledge of how to use the most up to date technology in weaponry and communications.

The Marines sound invincible. What fun is that? Even Superman has to have a weakness. Achilles had his heel. So what is my marines' weaknesses? That's the fun part of writing a new book. My main character can't be all powerful and unbeatable.

My poor hero is suffering right now, everything going wrong. None of his plans are going as he expected. Everything he cares about is in danger and people have been lost. The enemy pretty much has him surrounded. If I do this right, this will be the point in the book where the reader can't put it down. The dark moment when all seems lost and only great courage and extreme cleverness can save the day.

Do you enjoy writing the 'dark moment' part of the book? What was the last book you read that you just couldn't put down? For me it was Royce Prouty's Stoker's Manuscript. Ever read a book where the hero was too 'super?'

Saturday, July 6, 2013


It had never happened to me before, but today I received a one star review on Amazon for one of my books. The poor guy said he wanted his money back because it was a more a romance novel than a science fiction book. Well...duh. Didn't he read my bio or any of the other reviews before he bought it?

I've been thrilled that the book had been selling so well in science fiction categories because it was written as a ROMANCE novel under my romance pen name, Susan Kelley.

But maybe not all book buyers look are reviews. Maybe not all book buyers look at what else an author has written. When I find a book by an author I like, I tend to look up all their books. Sell me one of your books and I might buy them all or get them out of the library. When a book by an unknown to me author catches my eye, I look at reviews, I read excerpts, I might see what else they wrote.

With two children in college, dollars are important to me and somewhat limited. I buy books carefully. I make sure before I make a purchase. Of the books I've purchased over the past year, I only had one I was disappointed  in and wish I hadn't bought.

I didn't upset when I saw the guy's review where he says, 'don't waste your money.' I actually laughed, though he must have been really incensed since it was the only book review he's ever bothered with. My advice to him is know what you're buying. But then again, it's not my fault if the Amazon rankings indicate good sales in the scifi categories. Obviously, some scifi readers liked the book.

Do you investigate before you buy a book by reading reviews or checking out an author's backlist? Have you ever purchased a book and felt you were mislead as to the genre? Ever give someone a one star review?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

IWSG: Balance

Can it really be the July version of the Insecure Writers Support Group? Many thanks to the creator of this monthly blog fest, Alex Cavanaugh. Visit his website for more links to this informative and supportive group of writers.

This month I'd like to share something I'm struggling with in my current WIP. If you visit me here or know me on facebook, you know I've been thrilled with my most recent release, The Marine's Queen, and the sales it's generated. I've been surprised and happy with the categories on Kindle where it lingers in the top 100.

The book was published as a science fiction romance and spend nearly two months in the top 100 in that category but then a few weeks later it reached the top 100 in two different scifi areas. It's doing best in genetic engineering and remains as a best seller.

Some readers have criticized the books for too much romance, others for not enough and still others have written me letters to say it's just right. Now as I write the follow up book, should I put in more science since the first one is still doing well in those categories. So now what do I do in my WIP? I'm trying to keep it the same amount as the first book but am I balancing it correctly?

How do you know if you're getting the balance correct? What is more important to you when reading a book? The relationships between characters? The personal growth of characters? Exciting action in the plot line? Which parts are easiest for you to write?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Summer Fare

I don't watch tons of TV but there are some shows I enjoy. I often as not watch them on demand as live, but I still try to keep up. More and more the TV shows  I watch are not on the major networks. I watching last season Hell on Wheels as I write this. I've been enjoying Graceland on USA, Copper on BBC America, and Defiance on Syfy.

I'm so glad those cable stations pick up the entertainment slack in the summer. I like those little stations competing against the big guys even if some of the have affiliation with the big networks. I love how they're making inroads into the rankings of top shows and how some of them attract some big stars to appear on them and how they give a break to some actors just starting out.

These shows on networks like AMC, USA, SyFy, and others like them remind me of the independent publishers competing against the powerhouses based in New York. More and more fans are finding the quality work put out by some of these wonderful presses. More readers are finding new authors and falling in love with them. Those tough little presses don't get the exposure, the big advertising dollars or special spots in the front of the book store. But new technologies like ereaders (like on demand programing) levels the playing field quite a bit.

So this summer when you're packing for that trip to the beach or even a stacation on the deck, pick up that light weight ereader, buy some books from small presses and enjoy the wonderful offerings of the 'little guys' who are making a big splash.

Don't forget this Wednesday is Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

How do you spend your TV hours? What summer fare are you enjoying? Are you giving a little love to any small presses lately?