A New Look–and My Fox Fetish Explained

My website has a snazzy new banner created by the talented Kyleigh Castronaro of Free to Be Covers and Designs. She also designed the logo using my little spirit animal, the fox, and two of my favorite colors. If you’re an author, you should really check out her Facebook page here. She has premade book covers at fantabulous prices, and she also does custom work.

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Why foxes? Because I love them. Like a genderqueer person (like me), they are sort of a creature between–not quite a dog, not quite a cat. They are their own unique beastie. I’ve loved them since I was small. My first story written in English (previous attempts were penned in scribbles) was about saving a family of foxes from hunters. I’m not quite sure why, but I’ve always been drawn to trickster gods and trickster animals. I suppose it’s because they live by their wits, depending on their brains more than their brawn. They’re also often misunderstood. Two of my favorites, foxes and corvids (ravens, crows, jays), are often seen as nuisances or are associated with evil. No animal is ever evil.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the new look!

An Audiobook with Heat and Heart

My contemporary M/M romance, Zen Alpha, is now an audiobook vibrantly narrated by voice actor, Hugh Bradley! You can buy it on Amazon and Audible. If you subscribe to Audible, you can get it for free. Zen_Alpha

Although ‘alpha’ is in the title, it’s not an Omegaverse story. (No MPREG, no shifters—not that there’s anything wrong with those.) Zen Alpha is a contemporary romantic comedy. I wrote this story shortly after Trump won the U.S. presidential election. I was appalled to hear people around me describe him as ‘strong.’ He’s a chest-thumping, bullying, bellowing idiot. Narcissism isn’t strength. Cruelty isn’t strength. Willful indifference isn’t strength. I don’t know how, or exactly when, Americans started thinking personality defects were virtues, but it makes me sick.

So, I wrote Zen Alpha. No, it’s not a political diatribe or anything. It’s a sweet love story with gay characters and erotic sex scenes, but there’s an allegorical thread running through it. It’s about a young, somewhat insecure, man who keeps insisting that his obnoxious, emotionally abusive boyfriend is the man of his dreams. Even as he begins to develop feelings for his kindhearted, helpful neighbor, he wonders how he can love someone who isn’t an alpha male—the sort of self-centered, uncouth silverback society seems to think is so desirable.

Because a good romantic comedy needs a few teary scenes, Zen Alpha has some drama. But it’s a romance, so, of course, there’s an HEA (happily ever after.) If you hate Trump like I do and want to escape the toxicity of our current age, or if you just love steamy M/M romance, give Zen Alpha a listen. I hope it makes you smile and takes your mind off your problems for a bit. We all need more joy in our lives.

 

Zen Alpha Audio Book!

So, I’ve been doing some other things besides wanting to strangle Facebook and WordPress for their horrible lack of support regarding GDPR. (They could really learn a thing or two from MailChimp, who provided tools and easy to follow instructions for their users. I LOVE MailChimp!) But I’ve actually been focused on more than just GDPR. I’m creating an audio book!

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Soon, my M/M contemporary romance Zen Alpha will be available as an audio book. I found a wonderful voice actor to narrate it. If you’re looking for him on acx.com, he’s James Sasser, but he also goes by Hugh Bradley. You should visit him on his Facebook page here!

This is my first audio book, so I’m really excited! Working with Hugh has been fabulous. If you’re an author looking for someone to narrate your book, you should check him out. He not only has an attractive voice, he has a great sense of timing and seems very versatile.

Zen Alpha should be coming to Audible soon!

GDPR and Me

New regulations from the EU are going into effect May 25, 2018. These regulations are designed to protect the privacy of EU citizens on the internet. I wholeheartedly support the spirit of these regulations. I wish the U.S. would do more to protect the privacy of its citizens.

However, trying to make my website and newsletter compliant has been a big headache. I’m not a lawyer nor an IT professional. I’m an indie author. I’m a writer–and I’ve done very little of that lately because I’m so anxious about running afoul of these regulations. I have put up a privacy policy on this website. You can read it here. Apparently, somewhere behind the scenes of my website, WordPress has a database (that is supposedly mine) of the IP addresses and emails of people who comment on my blog posts. I can’t find ANY databases anywhere. Until I can find them and figure out how NOT to collect that information, I’m disabling comments.

I’m still trying to figure this out. I will probably disable the newsletter sign-up thingy until I’m certain it’s GDPR compliant. The main thing about all of this that I find so upsetting is that the big corporations, who probably present more of a threat to people’s privacy (I’m thinking of a big one right now whose CEO’s last name begins with Z) have teams of lawyers and tech gurus at their disposal. I only have me, a bunch of cats, a dog, and a husband whose reaction to all of this was, “You’re a writer. You don’t really need a website and all of that, do you?” (Um…yeah, I do.)  Unlike the big corporations, I do actually care about people’s privacy. I care about my readers. But I don’t know how to navigate any of this.

The more I try to figure all of this out, the more lost I feel. It’s enough to make me wonder if I should just stop everything. I toyed with that idea for a while. Seriously. But being a writer has been my dream since I was very small. I’m not ready to give up on it yet.

 

Love Your Skin!

man showerMay is Skin Cancer Awareness Month! Are you aware of skin cancer? I wasn’t, honestly. My skin was just something I lived in. It kept the wet bits contained, that was enough for me. Your skin is actually pretty important. It’s the largest organ in the human body. It’s our first line of defense against bacteria. And, apparently, sun exposure is really bad for it.

I knew that. But I loooove the sun. In summers past, I spent as much time in it as possible wearing as little as possible. Sunscreen was an afterthought. If I had some, I might use it, but I was never very diligent about wearing it or reapplying it. I’m very fair skinned. I’ve fallen asleep on the decks of boats and woken up purple. I knew this was bad.

So, I wasn’t terribly surprised to hear yesterday that the biopsy of the dime-sized, latte-colored spot on my left side turned out to be basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer. It rarely spreads and, as skin cancers go, isn’t a nasty one. My dermatologist is going to cut it out, give me a few stitches, and everything should be fine. I won’t be getting on the elliptical for ten days, but I think I can live with that. Still, it could have been much worse. I wish I had paid more attention to my skin and to sun exposure.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, there are over five million reported cases of skin cancer in the United States each year. Let’s try to bring those numbers down! Protect yourself with sunscreen and try not to burn. Here is a link to the Skin Care Foundation’s guidelines for avoiding overexposure to the sun.

Their site also has information on skin cancer and what to look for. I would advise seeing a dermatologist for any bump or blemish you think looks suspicious. My BCC doesn’t look like any picture I’ve seen on the web, so I thought it was fine. Unfortunately, google isn’t a medical degree. I didn’t seek help until the spot (which I called a large freckle–very scientific) started itching. I think it was my body trying to tell me to pay attention.

So, take care of your skin. Love it! If you’re ever reading one of my books poolside or at the beach, please use protection. My characters love you and want you to be healthy. And if you have anything worrying you, this is the perfect time to make an appointment with a dermatologist for an exam. Happy Skin Cancer Awareness Month!

 

Know Your Characters

blue_eyeToday, I saw a post in a writing group in which someone was stuck on whether his MC (main character) would move onto a new relationship following the disappearance and possible death of her lover. Obviously, one should consider the depth of the relationship in question, but why not look to the character to solve this problem? If you have a well-developed character who seems like a real person to you, problems like this aren’t problems at all.

For instance, take veterinarian Dr. Garland Sands from my latest M/M historical romance, A Little Sin. After his lover commits suicide, he is able to move on and find love again. However, if his lover had vanished, I don’t believe he would ever stop looking for him. He’s an idealist and an optimist. He’s a hopeful character. Not only would he be unable to give up hope of finding his lover again, he would probably go to the ends of the Earth searching for him.

A very different character in my epic fantasy novel, Under the Shadow, Mylinka, is separated from her childhood love. Although he has only disappeared, evidence suggests he was killed in a purging of mages. Mylinka is a pessimist. She’s a war orphan with some nightmarish experiences. It’s easy for her to believe the worst. She’s also a highly adaptable pragmatist, so she moves on to other relationships.

So you can see how two very different characters will react to the same circumstances in extremely different ways. If you’re stuck on whether or not a character would do something, just ask the character. If your character won’t talk, maybe you need to develop him more.

How? Fill out some character worksheets. There are tons out there! My favorite character questionnaire is in Will Dunne’s The Dramatic Writer’s Companion. It asks questions like ‘what is your character’s greatest achievement so far? What is his greatest failure?’ Rather than spending a lot of time on your character’s hairstyle, it delves deep into the character’s interior life. It’s my favorite writing book despite the fact that I don’t write screenplays. Another fun way to learn more about your characters is to take online personality tests as if you were them.

Once you’re really in touch with your characters, you won’t need to ask how they’ll act. You’ll just know. And if you’re still not sure, just ask them. I often have trouble getting mine to shut up. I’m trying to write a paranormal romance, and Garland from A Little Sin and Ward from Zen Alpha keep bugging me. They want me to write more about them. That’s the only drawback to creating characters that become real people—they don’t always do what you want.

Negative Rating Survival 101

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To be perfectly honest, as a writer, I sort of hate Goodreads. Why? Because readers can leave ratings without leaving a review explaining why they rated it that way. I also hate them because GR has no way of verifying that the reader actually bought and/or read the book. For example, there is a user who goes by Wendy on GR who rates something like four or five books a day (I’m not exaggerating) and rates them all one-star. “She” only “reads” LGBT books. To me, this looks like an obvious troll. However, after I and many others complained to GR, they responded that she isn’t violating their policies and there’s nothing they can do. She is one of GR’s highest rated reviewers. I’m not kidding. I truly wish I were.

However, there are many normal, honest, real readers on GR that also leave low ratings. This used to irk me. I wanted—no, desperately needed—to know why they didn’t like my book. This still bothers me, but not to the extent it once did. I have four strategies for dealing with this. No, they don’t involve wine or chocolate, but those do help.

  • Look at the reader’s profile.

This is done simply by clicking on her portrait. You can (usually, sometimes profiles are private) see what other books the reader has read and how she rated them. If you recognize some of the books and/or authors, this might give you some insight as to what she didn’t like it. Maybe she mostly reads YA and your book is definitely not YA. Maybe she prefers plot-driven books and yours is character-driven. Maybe she’s just rather harsh and gives most books a low rating. (This is different from our troll, Wendy, who only gives one-stars and “reads” unrealistic quantities of books.) My new release received a two-star rating from a guy yesterday and I was momentarily devastated. When I looked at his profile, I saw that he also recently gave two stars to a book by an author I admire. An award-winning author. Obviously, this guy just has bad taste in books. Heehee.

  • Realize that the reader isn’t you.

Okay, that sounds elementary to some of you, but it was a revelation for me. I don’t rate/review books the way most people (apparently) do. I see books as works of art. I love and respect them—even if I don’t enjoy them. Because I view them as works of art, I see them as having inherent value—some artistic merit apart from whatever my experience is with the book. (And yes, I adored literature classes.) I don’t know if this is a writer-thing or just how I was raised. I’ve never left a negative rating or review of a book. I will give it three stars and say some things I liked (there are always things I liked), things I didn’t like (without dwelling), and who I think might actually like it. Or I don’t review it at all. I leave negative reviews of hospitals if they overcharge me and restaurants if they’re dirty or a business if their customer service is horrible, but books get a pass.

Most readers DO NOT think this way. For them, books are entertainment. If a book fails to entertain, it’s crap. I was sneaking about on a reader message board the other day and someone said if a book contained a certain element she didn’t like, she’d dropkick it off a cliff. This horrified me. If someone talked about kicking kittens off a cliff, I would have had a similar visceral reaction. Most readers aren’t literary scholars who will examine a book from different perspectives. They’re people looking to escape the daily grind of their lives. They want something that meets their needs, whatever those happen to be at the time, and if your book doesn’t meet them, well, off the cliff it goes.

For me, this was an ah-ha moment. It gave me a better understanding of my audience and even some empathy for them that I didn’t quite have before. Sometimes, if they dislike something, they just…didn’t like it. They may not even be able to articulate it. So, they leave a rating. However much I dislike ratings, I have to respect that.

  • Revel in the good ratings and reviews.

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I guess I tend to be a negative person. When I first started publishing, someone could write a beautiful review and I would be on Cloud Nine for a of couple of hours. One low rating and I was in the dumps for days. Now, I try to fully appreciate good ratings and reviews. I roll around in them, reading them several times. I try to imagine the people who left them (okay, I snoop around in their profiles) and send them good wishes and good vibes. I’m not just grateful to them, I love them.

  • Keep writing.

Don’t let a negative anything affect your love of writing. If you find yourself unable to focus on writing because you’re hung up on a negative rating or review, block it out. You might want to take a break and do something nice for yourself—take a hot bath, go for a run, visit with a good friend—whatever makes you happy and puts you in a positive headspace. And then dive back into your work. Don’t let anything get between you and your art. Ever.