2017 plans (aka “when is the next book coming out?”)

So, the kids are finally back at school and I’ve dragged myself kicking and screaming out of holiday mode and started contemplating what the rest of the year might look like, bookwise.

I’m hoping to get four books published this year. At first glance, this might seem like slacking off, compared to last year, which saw the publication of five books: Moonborn, The Fairytale Curse, The Cauldron’s Gift, Stolen Magic and Murdered Gods. But The Fairytale Curse and The Cauldron’s Gift had already been drafted before I’d even published my first book, and Stolen Magic was drafted in 2015, so I had a great headstart on last year’s publishing schedule.

Unfortunately for me, my stockpile of novels is now empty. Everything I publish this year will have to be written this year (apart from the first 20,000 words or so of Rivers of Hell). So four books this year is pretty ambitious!

All of that is by way of saying: I have a plan in my head, but I’m realistic enough to know that I have a habit of overestimating how much I can get done in a day, and life with three kids tends to derail my plans with frustrating regularity. So I’m not going to be too specific about release dates. The next book out will be Rivers of Hell, book 3 in the Shadows of the Immortals series. Hopefully that will be out in late March or early April.

After that, I’ll be working on books 4 and 5, which should be out later in the year. That will be the end of the series. If I’m lucky, I might also be able to squeeze in the third and final book of the Magic’s Return series, The Fox’s Debt, before the end of the year.

In short, I have a busy year of writing ahead! Thank you to everyone who has asked when the next book will be out—it’s lovely to know that you’re out there, eagerly awaiting more books about Lexi and Jake and the gang. I’m having a lot of fun writing them. I promise you I’m doing my best to get those books to you ASAP!

I’ll try to keep the Books page of this site updated with news about upcoming books, but the best way to make sure you’re up to date with all the news is to subscribe to my mailing list. I send a newsletter about once a month, and subscribers are the first to hear the latest book news.

Stolen Magic cover reveal

So remember when I said I was working on Book 3 of the Magic’s Return series, and it would be out before the end of the year?

Yeah, not so much. I’ve decided to leave that series for a little while and start a new urban fantasy series for adults instead. I love my YA series, and I will definitely write more of it, but I had this awesome idea involving shapeshifters, elemental magic and a girl who could control animals. I threw in some Greek gods and set it all in an alternate version of our world, and had so much fun writing it that I couldn’t wait to share it with you!

Once again my cover designer at artbykarri.com has done a magnificent job. Isn’t it beautiful?

stolenmagic-small

Here’s the blurb:

“Lexi Jardine may be a thief, but she’s not stupid. When a crooked fireshaper wants her to steal a ring from the boss of his order, she knows it’s a one-way ticket to sleeping with the fishes. Her answer is to drop off the face of the earth.

Safely hidden in a quiet seaside town, she just needs to keep her head down and pretend to be a regular human. Since her only magical ability is the power to control animals, that should be easy, right?

Then a new fireshaper shows up in town. He’s hot as hell but oddly hostile. With his suspicious eyes watching her every move, her safe haven starts feeling more like a trap. When her best friend disappears, Lexi knows the time for hiding is over. Though the fireshapers are more powerful, Lexi’s not one to abandon a friend—but it will take everything she’s got to save them both from the flames.”

Available on Amazon now!

Is it still called a “sale” when everything’s free?

sff august promo

Moonborn is part of a giant science fiction and fantasy sale running this weekend. There are over 120 books taking part, and all of them are completely free. You can’t ask for a better deal than that!

Why not go crazy and load up your kindle? Find the details of all the books included here.

Moonborn cover reveal

Good news! Moonborn, the story of how Garth became a werewolf and what he did to get exiled from the pack, will be available next week. It’s a prequel to The Proving series, so Kate doesn’t appear, but a few familiar characters show up (although they’re all much younger!).

It’s a novella, so less than half the size of my novels, but packed full of excitement. Poor Garth gets put through the wringer, but torturing your characters is one of the great joys of being a writer, and I’ve really loved spending some extra time with Garth. He’s always such fun to write!

That’s him on the cover there, looking all young and handsome. He’s about fifteen years younger here than in the Twiceborn books.

The cover was done by my talented friend Shayne of Wicked Good Book Covers.

Moonborn small

Giant fantasy and sci fi bonanza!

September-promo500

This weekend, the 12th-13th September, sees a great sale for fans of fantasy and science fiction. Aussie author Patty Jansen has organised a whole bunch of indie authors, who are all discounting books this weekend. There are over forty books at the bargain price of 99 cents, including my own Twiceborn, plus several more which are the first in their series at the unbeatable price of free!

There’s a range of books, from epic fantasy to urban fantasy, horror to science fiction, so there’s something for everyone. I have my eye on a few of these, and will be picking up some bargains myself. And if you like epic fantasy, I can highly recommend Pauline Ross’s The Fire Mages, which I’ve read and loved. I’ve read a couple of Patty’s too, though not the ones she has for sale here, and she tells a great story.

Go direct to the page of 99 cent specials here, or click on this link to take you to the main promotional page. From there you can access both the 99 cent page and the free page. (Fellow Aussies please note, some of these books may not be discounted until Saturday afternoon, since it will still be Friday in the US when it’s Saturday morning here.)

Happy reading!

Writing the second book

So, you’ve published your first book—congratulations! That’s a huge achievement. Enjoy that feeling of accomplishment. But not for too long! Your readers will be waiting for the next book, particularly if the first one was the start of a series.

That should make it easier, right? If you’re writing a series, you’ve already introduced the main characters and set up some worldbuilding. Maybe you’ve even introduced a series-long problem for your main character to solve. If you’re really lucky, you might already know what the second book is going to be about. Piece of cake!

Or not.

Take The Twiceborn Queen. The mystery of Kate’s memory loss and what was really going on there, plus a big plot twist I won’t mention in case you haven’t read Twiceborn yet, were the things that made Twiceborn such fun to write. But those things were dealt with in Book 1, and Book 2 was going to be a much more straightforward action adventure as a result. I knew who Kate’s two main rivals were, and that by the end of the book she needed to defeat them. But how? And what was the rest of the story going to be about? “Kate defeats X and Y” is only five words long after all, and I needed about 90,000 words to make the book about the same length as Twiceborn. What were the other 89,995 going to say?

In fact, I was so uninspired that I took a year off and wrote a different book that had nothing to do with Kate and her problems, one that I felt enthused about writing. Meanwhile The Twiceborn Queen hung over my head, making me feel all kinds of inadequate. I’d loved writing Twiceborn! Why did the thought of continuing the story make my brain cells run screaming for cover?

Maybe it’s just me, and other writers don’t have this trouble. But maybe second-bookitis is a thing, and it might be helpful to some other writer to hear how I got over this horrible affliction.

First off I started by listing all the unresolved issues and sources of ongoing friction that remained from Book 1. Twiceborn was a complete story in itself, but I’d left a few loose threads hanging in the larger, trilogy-spanning story. Then I brainstormed for each one, thinking of all the possible things that could happen as a result.

Don’t censor your ideas at this stage! Write down everything that occurs to you, even if it seems like crap. Sometimes that crap will spark some of your best ideas. Try to stretch a bit, and think of some really outlandish possibilities. It’s all grist to your imagination’s mill.

Some of the ideas I came up with were clearly never going to fly, but I highlighted the ones that seemed useable, and at least the beginnings of a story started to emerge. I jumped in and started writing. Things went along quite well for a while, but eventually I got stuck again.

This is the part where having at least one completed novel under your belt really helps. You know you can do this, because you’ve done it before. Cast your mind back to what helped you when you got stuck on the first one. Long soaky baths? Going for walks? Timed writing exercises? Bouncing ideas off a friend? Whatever it was, try that now.

In my case, I remembered the planning stages of Twiceborn, and how much fun I’d had researching some new and different mythological creatures for my shifters. So I tried that again, and came across the kitsune, the fox-women of Japan. I’d read about them as a child, but never seen them in an adult fantasy. The decision to include one led the plot in a whole new direction, and gave me a very important new character.

Even better, it got me excited about writing this book. Writing a book is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re not bursting with excitement at the start, making it to the end is an even bigger feat of endurance.

So try to get back to that “this is gonna be so cool” feeling. What made you want to write the book in the first place? What was that initial idea that was so good you just had to turn it into a book?

Got it? Good. Now get writing. That’s the other thing I’ve learned. The more you write, the more ideas you get. Ideas beget ideas, and words beget more words. Don’t “stop to think” for more than a day otherwise, before you know it, Facebook, TV and life in general will have gotten in the way and a week will have gone by without writing—and you still won’t have any idea of what to write next. Just keep writing, fumbling your way forward through the story. There’s a quote I love from EL Doctorow: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Sometimes it helps to have a deadline. Make a booking with your editor to give yourself a little pressure to get it done. If you’re particularly brave, you could even set up a pre-order on Amazon so you have a drop-dead “finish by this date OR ELSE” deadline. (Not for the faint-hearted!)

Hopefully by the time you get to the end you’ll find, as I did with The Twiceborn Queen, that you’re completely in love with this new book, even though a couple of months before you had no ideas and zero enthusiasm. It’s like a magic trick. You’ve created something out of nothing!

Congratulations! You’ve done it again. But don’t rest on your laurels—there’s still Book 3 to write!

The Twiceborn Queen cover reveal!

Finally! After months of work—more months than I’d hoped, due to the whooping cough making everything take sooo much looooonger—The Twiceborn Queen is almost ready for release.

Kate’s adventures continue and, while her situation may have become happier, life certainly hasn’t gotten any easier for my poor heroine. Writers are such sadists! We love throwing roadblocks in our characters’ way and seeing how they cope. The Twiceborn Queen picks up the story only a few days after the events of Twiceborn:

“Kate O’Connor’s had a rough week. Thrown into the middle of a war of succession between the daughters of the dragon queen, her introduction to the hidden world of the shifters almost proved fatal. Now, because of Kate and her new powers, that hidden realm has been revealed to the world, which hasn’t exactly won Kate any popularity contests.

Still, it’s not all bad news. After all, it’s not every day you regain a loved one you thought lost forever. Throw in a hot new boyfriend, and suddenly Kate’s got a lot to live for—which is bad timing, because now the queen’s set a bounty on her head and every shifter in Sydney is trying to collect it.

Kate may have defeated a dragon already, but there are plenty more where that one came from. As her enemies close in and the body count mounts, Kate begins a desperate search for allies. The deadly game of the proving continues. If Kate is to save the people she loves, failure is not an option. The rules are simple: win or die.”

And now, at last, I can show you the gorgeous cover:

Twiceborn Queen

The book will be out next month. If you’d like to know when it’s released, and have the opportunity to buy it for only 99 cents, join my mailing list here.

Can’t wait to share this book with you!

Looking for a good book?

I’ve branched out in my reading a little lately, and sampled some non-fiction, crime, chick lit, historical and of course, good old fantasy. Here are three books you might enjoy:

Midnight Confessions

midnight confessions

With all the sparkle of a Jennifer Crusie novel, Midnight Confessions reels you in from the very first scene and doesn’t let go until the end. Jenna, still miserably in love with her ex, is nevertheless attending his engagement party when she meets Mitch, a soap star. Mitch isn’t really her type, and she’s still in love with the undeserving Drew anyway, but as a favour to her friend she agrees to go out with Mitch.

She’s supposed to be pumping him for soap-star gossip, but somehow they seem to spend more time talking about her. He’s so easy to talk to, and there’s certainly a spark of something there—but he’s not her type, right? Except every time she tells herself that, we are less and less convinced, and Mitch is so determined, and so hot …

Sometimes I wanted to shake Jenna! Mitch was so perfect, so patient and understanding, and so hot—did I mention the hotness??—and she was so determinedly looking for love in all the wrong places. But her obsession with Mr Wrong and the insecurity of her bruised heart were very believable. Jenna and Mitch were both great characters, and their verbal sparring was very amusing.

In fact, the narration all the way through, told from Jenna’s point of view, was very entertaining. How could you not love a book whose first line is: “The only reason I even agreed to come to Drew’s engagement party was so I could see if his fiancee is prettier than me”? Jenna is an easy heroine to get behind: her insecurities and her yearning for a lost love would be familiar to most women, and by the end of the book I was rooting for her to sort herself out and find happiness with the delectable Mitch.

The Fire Mages

fire mages

You know how people are always complaining that fantasy worlds shouldn’t be so patriarchal just because most of them are modelled on the Middle Ages, and that someone should write a fantasy where the women have true equality in society?

Well, someone has. Her name is Pauline M Ross, and the book is The Fire Mages. It’s a great read, full of magic and adventure, and tells the story of Kyra, a very level-headed young girl who has big ambitions to be a law scribe and wield magic through written spells. It’s a big dream for a village girl, but Kyra is prepared to work hard, and refuses to be turned aside from her plans.

As the novel opens, the local lord’s steward throws the first roadblock in her way by bringing her an offer to become the lord’s drusse, a kind of legal mistress. Kyra’s mother sees the advantages of this position, but Kyra refuses to be swayed. Through sheer determination she makes it to the city and begins her training, rising through the ranks with her hard work. She even manages to find herself a powerful mage as patron, and everything seems to be going well, until the steward comes calling again, this time for her sister. Her sister agrees to become the lord’s drusse, but begs the half-trained Kyra for a simple favour. Of course it turns out to be anything but simple, and everything goes so wrong that Kyra’s dreams are shattered.

In her quest to find out what went wrong, Kyra discovers power she had never dreamed of, and uncovers the mysteries of the deadly Imperial City of the ancient mages. She faces many dangers along the way, and does so with a refreshing pragmatism. There are no hysterics for this capable young woman.

I loved Kyra’s world. It was full of women being real people, not just serving wenches and prostitutes. There were female stablehands, translators, wagoners, inn managers and guards—just about any job you could imagine had women working alongside the men. In a nice touch, there were even male “companions” to be bought for a night’s pleasure at the inns, as well as female ones. How’s that for equality? It certainly made a nice change from the usual male-dominated fantasy worlds. Throw in an interesting new magic system and you have a very well-developed world. Ross has obviously put a lot of thought into her society, its politics and its history. It’s a fascinating place, so I’m glad she has other books set in this world to explore. This one was certainly a compelling story.

Pope Joan

pope joan

This was a novelisation of the life of the probably-real female pope, Pope Joan. So few records remain that historians cannot agree on whether she actually existed, and the “facts” of her life are few, so the author had lots of scope for invention. Her use, more than once, of amazing coincidences to get Joan out of trouble bothered me, but I couldn’t fault the historical side of the novel. She obviously did a lot of research, and has recreated the look and feel of an often-overlooked part of history, which made for a fascinating read.

And, reading this book, you know why they called it “the Dark Ages”. Her vivid descriptions of the life people led back then, and the terrible attitudes and superstitions of society, made me very glad I didn’t live in those times. Everyone suffered, even the wealthy, but the poor lived short lives of deprivation and hardship. To be a poor woman was the worst of the worst, with men firmly convinced that women’s brains weren’t able to be educated–that even to try was a sin and an abomination–and that women were no more than a useful chattel.

Joan, in desperation to escape this limited life, seizes her opportunity to impersonate her dead brother, and takes his place as a monk at a monastery, where her clever mind delights in learning. Thus her gender-bending life begins, a life that takes her all the way to the Church’s highest office, with no one any the wiser that “John Anglicus” is really a woman.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the mindset of the people of those times. Though their attitudes were enough to make a modern woman grind her teeth, it was interesting to get a feel for how people saw the world in those times. These characters aren’t just modern people parading through the book in ninth century costumes. They truly are from another world. I’m glad that world is gone, but it was interesting to read about.

A boy, a sphinx, and an unanswerable riddle

I have a new story out! It’s only a short story (quite tiny at 4,000 words), but it makes me feel all accomplished and author-y to have two books to my name—even if they are only ebooks at present. (Don’t ask my why the paperback of Twiceborn isn’t out yet. Sigh.)

So, new story: it’s called “The Family Business”. Here is the cover. Cute, no?

The Family Business small

The blurb is:

“Renardo and his brothers are up to their eyeballs in debt, with one last chance to save their merchant business (and their gonads) from the moneylender. The great city of Tebos is holding its Festival of Song in three days’ time, and they have a wagonload of songbirds to sell.

There’s just one large, man-eating problem: the bored sphinx who guards the city’s gates, and her deadly riddle game. Renardo doesn’t even want to be a merchant, but somehow it falls to him to outwit the sphinx. No pressure. All he has to do is come up with an unanswerable riddle.”

It’s on sale at Amazon for only 99 cents. Grab a copy and fill in a happy fifteen or twenty minutes on your next commute, or while you’re waiting at soccer practice/the doctor’s surgery/whatever.

And speaking of 99 cents: Twiceborn is also on sale at that bargain basement price for the next few days, so if you’ve been meaning to grab a copy of that but haven’t quite gotten around to it, now would be a good time! It was featured on Valentines Day on the Kindle Books and Tips blog. Not exactly your typical Valentines Day fare, unless your idea of romance includes homicidal dragons, but oh well. Not being much of a romantic myself, the significance of the date had slipped my mind when I made the booking!

So, you may be wondering why “The Family Business” has suddenly appeared. Weren’t you supposed to be working furiously on The Twiceborn Queen, Marina? You never mentioned anything about some random short story being published in that big long list of things you were going to achieve that you blogged about recently.

Well yes, that’s true. Life, as they say, is full of surprises, and one that landed in my lap mid-January was a sinus infection that is still ongoing. Surprise! At its worst I was getting maybe three hours’ sleep a night, and let’s just say that the revision schedule fell a little behind.

I decided to call it early on and shift my deadline with the editor from 1 March to 1 April, which meant that it would be four months between releases instead of the three I’d planned. So I decided to put out a short story instead, one that had already been published a couple of years ago in a magazine, so it didn’t need any work from my end apart from organising a cover and the formatting.

I’m still on the first revision of The Twiceborn Queen, a little over halfway. That’s not where I’d like to be, obviously, but all the new scenes I had to add were in the first half, so hopefully progress will be quicker from here.

The Carnivore even took the ducklings out on Valentines Day so I could work without interruptions. To a writer, that’s the best Valentines Day present ever!

When they came home, Drama Duck presented me with a single rose, nicely gift-wrapped.

“It’s from Dad,” she said.

They were both grinning like idiots, and she couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“We totally didn’t find that on the train where some guy had left it behind,” she added.

The Carnivore gave me a fond smile. “You’re worth it, honey.”

Hope you enjoyed Valentines Day, if you celebrate it. Did you get anything nice from your significant other (scavenged or otherwise)?

Book covers and headless bodies

How do you feel about headless bodies on book covers? Not as in decapitated and spouting blood, but the kind of cover where part of the model’s head is cut off by the top of the book.

Like this:

 

Or this:

Love ’em? Hate ’em? Never even thought about ’em?

There are some people (and Drama Duck is one of them) who will pass over a book if the cover shows the model’s face. They don’t like the image interfering with their own imagining of what the character looks like. I don’t know how many of these people there are, but there are enough to have spawned a trend in cover design for obscuring the model’s features. Sometimes that’s done with shadows or positioning the head at an angle, but quite often the top of the face is just chopped off.

I like both those covers I showed you, but I must admit I’m more of an “eyes are the windows to the soul” kind of person – I like to see a face. Not that it influences my buying habits at all. I’m usually drawn to colours first anyway, and if I stop for a closer look it will be the blurb and a sample of the writing that decides whether I buy or not.

But now I’m working with a designer on the cover for Twiceborn. The great thing about self-publishing rather than going with a traditional publisher is you get complete control over what your cover looks like. Trad-pubbed authors get little or no say in their cover design, and are sometimes stuck with covers they hate.

But having to make all the decisions can also be the bad thing about self-publishing! Headless or full-faced? Which do you prefer in covers? Or isn’t it important to you? (I could well be over-thinking the issue, I realise. Maybe most people really don’t care and I should just take a deep breath and move on.)

What do you think, Internets?