May 12

A Podcast and A Surprise!

When an unseen enemy threatens mankind by taking over their bodies and erasing their memories, Melanie will risk everything to protect the people she cares most about, proving that love can conquer all in a dangerous new world.

A new podcast has been released upon the world.  This time Ollie, Cyna, Kayla and I discuss The Host. We watched the movie, some of us have read the book. And, like usual, we don’t hold back our opinions. However, instead of posting the podcast at this blog, I thought I’d direct you to:


Yes. We now have an official website for all our podcasts. We’re quite proud of the site, though at the moment it is bare bones. You can see all our past podcasts, along with our plans for upcoming ones. We’d love to receive comments on the new site or even on our latest podcast. Don’t be shy.  Check it out. Mark it as a favorite site.

May 2

Guest Blogger Lynn Viehl: Same Playground, Different Games: How to Sustain a Novel Series

I would like to welcome Lynn Viehl to my blog. She is the author of 49 novels in 8 genres. She doesn’t have a website, but she does offer plenty of entertainment on her blog,  Today she has written a fascinating article on Sustaining a Novel Series.
Same Playground, Different Games: How to Sustain a Novel Series by Lynn Viehl

The difference between standalone books and novel series can be expressed in playground terms. When you were a kid and met a bunch of other kids at a vacant lot who just want to play one impromptu game, you stayed for a couple hours.  You may or may not have met them again for another game there or somewhere else;  generally there was no expectation or commitment required.   That’s a standalone playground.

When you put in the time to find the perfect place where you and a group of friends you organize can meet and play games together on a regular schedule,  you don’t meet once and then never come back.  Even if you play different games, you keep returning — and that’s a series playground.

This is not to say that the standalone novel is in any sense inferior; both types of books offer different challenges and appeal, and in their own respects both are very tough to write.  I’m a career series writer so that’s where lies the bulk of my author experience, but I’ve written a few standalones and believe me, they’re no stroll through the playground.

In order to write and sustain a novel series you need to devote a lot of time, effort and creativity in building a universe and a cast of characters who can generate multiple book-length stories and inspire readers to keep coming back for more.  No matter what genre you write in, there are some elements that are common to all series books.  Naturally everyone has their own opinion, but here’s what I think they are:

Multiple conflicts:  your series should have at least one very large, difficult-to-resolve conflict, and many other smaller, easier-to-resolve conflicts.  Usually this big conflict is what drives the series, connects the books and provides continuity.  The smaller conflicts drive the individual novels within the series, often by spinning off or being related to the series conflict.  While they don’t have to be resolved in one book, they shouldn’t eclipse the series conflict.  They should also contribute something to moving along the big conflict before they’re resolved.

Multi-story Cast of Characters:  Your series cast doesn’t have to number in the hundreds, but you do need enough characters to carry the story through several books.  Generally I start with a pair of protagonists who are central to the series and the series conflict, and build other characters out from them.  In my books, everyone has some kind of connection to the series protagonists.  Other writers use casts of characters who are all related to each other (the family tree approach), or who work through chronological timelines (generational stories in the same setting) or who deal with episodic conflicts (as in mysteries where you have the same PI solving different puzzles in each book.)

Expansive World-Building:  You don’t tell the same story over and over in a series, but you generally do have to stay in the same universe.  This is why it’s important to build your worlds not only well, but craft them with the potential for expansion.  This is not strictly about setting, either; you can invent one haunted house and use it as the setting for a dozen books — but to keep your reader interested it had better be a complex haunted house, with lots of mysterious rooms and multiple ghosts and different conflicts that have to be resolved or you’ll just end up telling the same story multiple times (i.e. a nice couple moves into haunted house, are scared witless, uncovers tragic secret, battles bad ghost, makes terrible sacrifice, barely escapes with their lives, etc., aka the cliché haunted house story.)

Another vital aspect of series writing is to build a universe that you as a writer want to creatively explore for years.  This because unless you can knock out ten series novels in twelve months you may be spending years writing in this universe.  If you lose interest, how do you think the reader is going to feel when you start phoning it in?  One of my series continued for eight years, another took me twelve years with a four-year hiatus in the middle.  Altogether between the two series I published twenty-seven novels and novellas, but thanks to putting in the time to creating universes I wanted to write in with conflicts that challenged me and characters who fascinated me, I never once got bored.

Series length is also something you need to think about in advance.  I’ve written long, mid-size and short series novels, and the one thing I’ve learned is to always have a series exit strategy prepared.  You may generate so many sales with your series that your publisher will let you write as many books as you want.  For most of us pros, that doesn’t happen — eventually sales and new readers decline and a series plateaus or drops off the radar.  Some writers are fine with not finishing series, especially when a publisher decides to end it before the author is ready to pack it up.  I think series readers deserve closure, though, and I’ve always tried to give mine that when I know I’m writing what will be the last book in a series.

Nightbound, the third and final novel in my Lords of the Darkyn trilogy, is one of those stories.  While I can’t say I’ll never write another Darkyn novel — in Publishing, anything is possible — I am putting the universe on hiatus for now to see if reader interest will sustain another trilogy.  If not, I have my new Disenchanted & Co. urban fantasy series kicking off this fall, and yet another series currently in development.  Which brings me to my final piece of advice — don’t grow too dependent on any series you write, but try to give yourself the creative space and permission to build new universes and tell their stories.  You might find the games you play in your next series playground attract even more of a crowd than the last.

Lynn Viehl has been generous enough to offer a prize pack to one lucky winner.  The backpack is from Target, and includes the three books which she’ll sign for the winner, the green handmade journal and matching memo book (both crafted by The Book Whisperer on Etsy), and a fun sword-pen she found at BAM.
To enter, leave a comment.

Edited: Giveaway is now closed. The winner will be announced at Midnight May 5, 2013 MST.

April 23

Boise Run/Walk: First Season Review

I’ve survived an entire season at Boise Run/Walk and loved it.  I say survive because I’m one of those people who shun other people.  I find large crowds exhausting and frustrating; interacting with people makes me anxious. Despite this I thought I’d give Boise Run/Walk a try.

I wasn’t having any luck getting any exercise on my own. However, in my past, when I was held accountable, I got quite a bit of exercise and my favorite of the exercises I had been doing was Running and Walking. So, with the hope that I’d get the same accountability with the group that I’d had with a student personal trainer and a college coach, I signed up for the winter semester.

Almost immediately, I was made to feel welcome but not overwhelmed.  The members were also every shape and size.  Some were life-long joggers/walkers, others, like me were couch potatoes.  We would meet at one of two locations. For the first hour or so, there’d be a discussion on health or running, whether it was proper nutrition, hydration, form or something else.  I learned a lot during these sessions, though I still need to put a lot of it to practice. Prizes were sometimes offered for best answer or best question… I was the lucky winner of one of them. One of the prizes was a gift card at a store I’d never heard of much less been to.

However at the store I learned even more about running from the sales personnel, and got a lot of the equipment I needed to be a more successful walker.  I can’t tell you the difference that simply walking in the right kind of shoes will do for you.  In the wrong shoes, I ended up with blisters so bad I had red skin underneath and my back was killing me.  In the proper shoes, my discomfort was a minimum. Also a hydration belt is a BIG help when you’re walking more than three or four miles, especially uphill.

After the class, everyone would walk around the neighborhood or park. This gave me the advantage of knowing my goal, my destination but not having to see tons and tons of people passing me over and over like they would if we were simply running around on a track or in a gym.  That would have frustrated me and probably resulted in me quitting early on.  But with us in a neighborhood or park, I was usually to my half-way point by the time I saw other members return from their distance.  Those training for Robie almost always went twice the distance I did and ran or jog it.  They’d encourage me to keep going when they saw me with something as simple as “Almost there” or “Keep it up.”

Although most members seemed to be runners or joggers, I found myself in a small group of walkers, who also made sure I didn’t wind up going the wrong way.  I didn’t know the area well, and probably still have a lot more places to explore. However, Boise Run/Walk did introduce me to some great walking/running trails.

My group encouraged me to stretch out sore muscles and keep walking, especially when we were walking uphill.  Although I was slowing them down they were patient, allowing me to take the time I needed.   On flat ground, I was more mobile. I let my group dictate the speed of the walk, as they moved faster than me, so I still got a workout in simply walking.

I never felt intimidated because of a lack of my own abilities, which I’ve felt before in classes.
At one point I ended up needing to take Katelynn, my seven-year-old sister with me on one of the walks.  Either that or miss a Saturday and I’d already missed two thanks to a trip I took in January.  She was welcomed as easily as I was.  She had a blast and insisted on returning with me.  The few times she didn’t return with me, members asked about her.

I tended to push myself too hard when I exercised regularly. So I decided to take Coach Steve’s advice and simply spend the season walking, no jogging, no running.  Simply walk.  Get a base started.  This sentiment was recommended to me by several members as well.  I took their advice to heart. I finished the season without having run or jogged once. I accomplished a lot in simply doing this.  I can walk farther with fewer pains.  I have more stamina and feel more prepared for a more strenuous workout.

Now that the season is over and the spring season is starting, I plan on doing intervals, walking and running on my Saturdays.  I probably won’t be very good at this for a while.  Even running a full minute will probably be near impossible for the first month, but if I stick to it, I imagine I’ll be able to run a full minute without slowing or stopping and then run two minutes, then three.  It’s the small steps that make out the large leaps in your life.  And I’m looking forward to the new regiment I’ll be pushing on my body and another two seasons with Boise Run/Walk.  Hopefully when I need to sign up for another season, my fourth one, I’ll have the money for the membership then as well.

Boise Run/Walk has been a great experience for me.  I have a lot more to learn from the group, and about myself. And I recommend everyone join who may be interested in walking, running or jogging.

November 20

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien: A different review

In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the walled Enclave and those, like sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone, who live outside. Following in her mother’s footsteps Gaia has become a midwife, delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing a quota over to be “advanced” into the privileged society of the Enclave. Gaia has always believed this is her duty, until the night her mother and father are arrested by the very people they so loyally serve.

Now Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught, but her choice is simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying.

So every month, or so, a few of my friends and I get together on Skype to discuss writing, whether we’re talking about tropes are critiquing a book we’ve all read.  This time Cyna of You’re Killing Me, Ollie of Olivia’s Secret Reading Room and I decided to try recording one of these meetings. The podcast is very rough.  We didn’t even introduce ourselves at the beginning but I think it turned out well for a first attempt and we are talking about doing this on a semi-regular basis. The project may become bigger than that, but right now no guarantees.  In the below podcast you can listen to what we had to say about Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien. Let me know if there are any topics you would like to see discussed whether via podcast or written.