The Problems with Indie Publishing

Over the past two years, I’ve had a lot of indie writers ask me for advice, and I gladly give it.  I’ve been messaged, responded to emails, and the like, but eventually I post the advice here on my website for all to see.

In case any of you want my “credentials,” I am now speaking as not just an indie author, because I really don’t think that gives me much cred, even if I am a bestselling author.  The only thing about the whole deal that gives me cred is that I have readers who want to buy my books.  Nowadays, anyone can publish a book, so I don’t think it’s that big a deal.  Lots of people can even get high rankings if they’re savvy with marketing.

No, my cred comes from education and training.  I have no fewer than three degrees in English (two of them are graduate degrees, one terminal), and I graduated with honors in all cases.  I’ve also been traditionally published (under another name and for other types of writing).  I taught college English–including and especially Creative Writing classes–for seven years, and let’s not even talk about all the “how to” books I have read centered around this amazing profession.

Okay, the stage is set and you, my audience, are waiting patiently for the lights to go down and the show to begin, so I’ll get to the point.

JUST BECAUSE YOU’VE WRITTEN A BOOK DOESN’T MEAN IT’S READY TO BE PUBLISHED.

There.  I said it and I feel better, although I’m pretty sure no one’s listening.  In fact, I think I hear crickets out there.  I’d say it again, but I think you’re probably already getting bored here.  My point is this—I get the draw, the need, the f*cking compulsion to write.  Believe me—I do.  I really do!  I’ve been writing since I was a kid (yes, decades, okay?).  But, as the master Stephen King says in his amazing book about the craft (On Writing), a writer needs to have tools in his (or her!) toolbox…to become a good writer.  No, not to just become a writer and definitely not to become a great writer.  This is just to be a decent writer.

My point is this:  I wrote books as a kid.  Yes, I did.  And I even had readers.  Fortunately, none of them slit their wrists having to read my childish tripe.  But I wrote.  I wrote a lot.

It was by no means ready to publish.  There are lots of things I’ve written over the years that will never see the light of day.  Why?  Because they’re not good enough.  Yep, they’re my babies, and lots of that writing made me a better writer, but some of it just wasn’t good enough.  And THAT, my friends, is my point.  A first (or sometimes even twentieth) draft is not ready for publication.  Aside from many of the indie books I’ve read through that need better editing (and, yes, many are ones that have credited editors!), there are lots other problems.  So, if any of you are aspiring writers, I hope my advice can help you.  I’ve seen many an indie author skewered by readers when, really, if he or she’d just spent more time and perhaps worked on their draft a little more, that writer could have had a masterpiece.  I’m not going to repeat things I’ve said in previous posts, but here are a couple of things I’ve seen in recent indie books that have driven me completely bonkers.  If I were these writers’ Creative Writing teacher, I would have pointed out all the good things I’d read, but I would also tell them they needed to work on these things before clicking that godd*mned Publish button:

Show; don’t tell.  This is a classic “mistake,” for lack of a better word, because often—as people—we have a need to explain things.  Really, though, a lot of telling in a book can get boring.  Readers want to see what’s happening.  Think of it this way—wouldn’t you get sick and tired of watching a long movie that was just a few still pictures (or a blank colored screen) but had a narrator’s voice telling you something?  Hell, yes.  Of course you would!  You would probably begin to tune it out.  (Oh, I know—there are a few of you who wouldn’t, but the majority of us would.)  You’d much rather see action, interaction, reaction—and a little dialogue would be nice too.  I recently read an indie book that had a lot of explanation that was okay, but then an entire seemingly important scene was brushed off with just a few sentences…and it was all telling rather than showing.  I can’t invest my emotions if you’re only telling.  I need to see it and become a part of it to care and want to continue reading your book.

If you bring it up, it better be f*cking important.  I’ve had students who have told me, “But that really happened in real life!”  Well, that might be nice, but let’s face it—real life is full of boring, insignificant moments.  And that’s okay.  If everything that happened in our lives were pressing or extremely important, I think we’d never sleep and we’d likely die young.  We need the quiet moments and even the unimportant ones to make the significant stuff really matter.  But that’s beside the point.  I (and other readers) do not want to read stuff that doesn’t matter, EVEN IF THAT’S THE WAY REAL LIFE WORKS.  If you make mention of a gun in chapter one, I better find out why it matters in chapter fifteen (or thirty or fifty or…you get the point).  If one person glares at another, you better let us know why.  If it doesn’t matter, delete it.  DELETE IT.  Yes, I know it’s hard cutting stuff out, but your readers will thank you for it.  It doesn’t even have to be huge.  It could be something as simple as something that happened in one of my books that I was recently revising.  I got ready to cut a paragraph where I explained that someone gave his cell number out to several people in case they needed it, and as I revised, I made a note to possibly cut that scene…but, it turned out, in the next chapter, one of the characters called this guy, and then I had that revelation:  “Oh, yeah.  If I hadn’t mentioned him giving out his number back there, readers would have been wondering how the hell this girl had gotten it.”  So, that paragraph was saved because it mattered…but it had been on the chopping block during revision.  Yes, it’s a small thing, but it needed to be there.  If that one paragraph had been the only mention (because this guy was a bodyguard trying to assure these people that they could call him anytime), I would have cut it, even though it might have shed a little more light on the character.  It turned out to be necessary.

I guess a better way to say it is this:  Don’t fill your story with bullshit.  Make it all count.

I could go on and on, my friends, but I think I’ve said enough for today and likely pissed a few people off.  I think it’s cool that anyone who feels the overwhelming need to write can do it and can have the satisfaction of potentially having it read by an adoring audience.  But…if you want ME to read it, you can improve your chances by taking my Creative Writing classes.  ;)

Rant done!

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Be a Part of Bullet History!

This giveaway was inspired by one of my Inked Anthology sisters, Stacy Gail.  When we did the Inked Halftime Party on Facebook last weekend, Stacy had a giveaway for entrants where they could name a character in an upcoming book.  She totally inspired me to do that too!

I will be writing Slash and Burn, Bullet #5, as one of my next three projects.  The story’s in my head; I just need to get it down on paper.  Oh, and I need to name some of the characters!

Slash and Burn is going to be Nick’s book.  I don’t have the blurb written yet, but I can give you an idea of what it’s about.  Val Hella, Val’s new band, goes on tour with Last Five Seconds to promote her band’s debut album.  Also in this band are Brad, playing lead guitar, and Nick on drums.  They audition women bass players and choose…Nick’s love interest.  I don’t have a name for her!  I’ve had a couple of ideas but nothing I’m thrilled with.  That’s where you come in.  Anyway, Nick has played the field for, well, forever, having a lot of fun, and nowhere near ready to settle down, but here comes this girl, and she’s Nick’s dream.  Not only is she as free-spirited as Nick, but she’s also bisexual, and when Nick finds out, he thinks he’s died and gone to heaven.  He’s in over his head before he knows it, though, and it’s too late by the time he finds his heart entangled.

So…what’s her name?  I’m hoping you can tell me.  I’m going to leave this giveaway live until October 15, 2014, so everyone who wants to enter has plenty of time to come up with the perfect name.  I’m collecting entries via Google forms, because I’m going to post this giveaway on every social media outlet I have.  Yes, you can enter more than once!

What do you win?  Well, a dedication to YOU in Slash and Burn, first of all.  You’ll get my sincere thanks.  What else?  An ARC (in Kindle/mobi format delivered directly to your reading device or app) of the book too before it’s published!

Want to be part of Bullet history?  Now’s your chance!

Expected publication date is either late 2014 or early 2015, although that’s subject to change based on the cantankerousness of my muse.  Thank you in advance for your help and best of luck.  Nick’s girl needs you!  :)

To enter, complete the Google form here:  Name Nick’s love interest!

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ARG!!!

Over the past two years, I have been messaged, tagged, added to Facebook groups, and emailed more than I’d like to remember about one nasty little subject.

PIRACY.

Now, you probably think you know where this blog post is going, but I don’t think you do.  Let’s clear the air first, though, so I can affirm that, yes, I am anti-piracy!  Now…let’s slip into the past a little before coming back to the present to talk about modern-day pirates.

No, not medieval swashbuckling pirates!  I want to journey back to the 80s.

I was a teen then and that was when I discovered my obsession with metal and hard rock music.  Even then, supporting what I loved was important to me, so while my friends were making cassette copies of their fave albums and sharing them with friends, I was hoarding my cold hard cash from my little part-time job to buy those tapes legitimately.  By the time I went to college, I realized that I spent almost more money on music than I did on clothes!

Yeah, even as a kid with little money, I did that.  Oh, sure, I had a few pirated tapes, but I felt so guilty about it.  Yep, I did.  So I went out and replaced all the pirated copies with the real deal!

So…fast forward to today.  Like most authors, I have found my books pirated.  Yeah, it does suck, but I figure it comes with the territory.  But here is where I and most authors part ways in ideology.

A lot of authors think, for some reason, that their ARC copies are what are being pirated.  I even know of one famous author who went to the trouble of marking every ARC that went out with a “fingerprint” of sorts, so if it got pirated, she’d discover the guilty party.

But I don’t believe those ARC copies are what’s being pirated.

Why?  Well, for starters, I published for a year and a half before I ever gave out a single ARC.  It wasn’t until Bullet that I gave out ARCs, and that was right before publication.  But guess what?  Tangled Web, MADversary, Got the Life, and a few other books had already been pirated.

Yep.  That’s right.

Don’t get me wrong.  Once Bullet propelled me to the top, the piracy got a thousand times worse, but it had already happened.  So, I’m sure, some of you are asking how that happened.  My answer is I don’t know.  I don’t know how criminals manage to commit crimes, nor do I care, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Just because I lock my house doesn’t mean someone won’t break into it.  That just means I’ve made it harder, but if a criminal wants in, he’ll find a way.

Sure, Amazon, B&N, iTunes, Kobo, and the others have done their best to encrypt the files, but don’t kid yourself.  It happens anyway, and I REFUSE TO BELIEVE that any of the people I’ve ever given an ARC to were behind any of my books being pirated. 

It sucks—really sucks—but I think (just like some of those shitty reviews we get) it’s the nature of the business, something we have to expect.  Don’t get me wrong—I don’t take it sitting down.  I have hired not one but two companies to deal with that for me.  They don’t catch everything, but they again do something that I don’t want to do.  I want to write, for heaven’s sake.  I don’t want to spend my days telling people to stop stealing my stuff.

It comes down to this—there are always bad guys.  I have to believe, though, that most readers are ethical and avoid those sites.  I have to hope that most readers will feel like I did (and do) and pay for their enjoyment.  After all, it’s the right thing. 

Again, however, I want to say this, and I hope it’s the last time I have to:  I do not—DO NOT!—believe any of my blogger friends or other ARC readers have or would be involved in pirating my books.  I cannot believe that.  There comes a time when you have to let go and trust…and I do.

Peace out!

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Letting Go

I met my friend Pauline after she read Bullet.  I’m not going to give her last name (to protect her identity, because I didn’t tell her I was going to mention her in a blog post), but basically my book spoke to her.  It gave her hope but she also said that the character Brad taught her that letting go doesn’t mean someone is throwing in the towel.  Pauline’s heartfelt letter meant so much to me and gave me a lot to reflect on, because there were a lot of themes in Bullet and that was definitely one of them.  I also wanted to convey the message that sometimes good guys do finish first.

That said, I might be able to write about that kind of thing but it doesn’t mean I always live it.  In fact, I’d say letting go is one of the hardest things for me to do and on lots of levels.  For instance, I’ve never been able to throw away a single letter my grandmothers wrote me.  I have a hard time throwing away my youngest children’s school papers, even though they threaten to overtake my house.  If I’m upset about something (really upset) or feel bad, it takes me a long time to get over it.

I carry memories and emotions like a backpack–a heavy one.  In most ways, I don’t think that’s good.  It’s not a healthy way to live.  It’s much better to let things go.  Otherwise, they pick at you and pull you and drag you down, keeping you from enjoying your life.

For a writer like me, though, sometimes it can be good, because I can channel those memories and emotions.  In Feverish, I remembered what it was like my first time riding on a plane and then I was able to enrich Emily’s character by describing it through her eyes.  Using Bullet as an example again, you better believe I tapped into the things I felt and did as a teenager.  I could take away the mystery and tell you a couple of scenes that were actually stripped straight from my brain and my own personal experiences, but where’s the fun in that?  So many of my books have a little piece of me, and I draw on the personal to enrich my fiction.

Right now, I’m writing Bullet 4.5, Christmas Stalkings, a novella that will appear in an anthology later this fall, and then I’ll finally be writing Seal All Exits, Tangled Web 3, and, man…is that going to be dark.  Fortunately, most of that story is out of my realm of experience (sometimes a good thing!).  After that, though, I’ll be writing a story I’m itching to get down, and that’s Savage.  It’s a zombie story (so that’s completely fiction), but you better believe it’ll be drawing deep from my wells of personal experience.  And that’s one good thing too…even though I might hang on to emotions and ideas and negative memories way longer than I should, putting them on paper is cathartic.  In a lot of ways, that’s how I too can finally let go.

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History in the Making?

I’ve started a new Throwback Thursday segment on Facebook, one where I plan to give a little background behind each one of my books.  Last Thursday, I focused on Tangled Web and I wanted to say a little more here, first because there are probably a few of you who didn’t get a chance to read it and also because I feel like expanding on my thoughts.  And let’s face it.  Facebook doesn’t keep anything forever…but my website does!

In December 2010, I had written my tenth-ish novel.  I’m not sure; I lost count.  Yes, folks, I’ve always been a writer!  Anyway, I had quit smoking a couple years earlier using Chantix, and while that drug made it easy to quit, it also threw me into a severe depression.  It permanently altered my brain.  I’m not telling you that to make you feel sorry for me; I’m just “setting the stage.”  I was having a hard time doing anything other than what I had to, which was working two jobs (one was teaching college classes and the other was as a supervisor for an underpaid government job) and taking my kids to and from school.  Oh, and fulfilling the requirements of two part-time writing gigs I had on the side.  Oh, and a contract job.  I always forget about that one because the hours were limited—just an hour here and there, about ten a week, give or take.

But on with the story.  I was inspired to write another novel.  Let me do a little more stage setting here:  I have always been an avid reader, but I mostly read nonfiction, literary fiction (my job as an English prof demanded it at the time), and what I read for fun (other than nonfiction) included books by John Grisham, Stephen King, and Toni Morrison.  I’d heard of ebooks but hadn’t familiarized myself with the Kindle or Nook…

Yet.

Anyway, I was inspired to write another book—to add to my collection, I suppose, because even though I’d been published, I hadn’t yet had a novel picked up by a publisher.  But the call to write is strong—a compulsion, actually—and I sat down at the computer and wrote the first book I had written in four years.

Writing that damn book pulled me out of my depression.  Suddenly I was writing again.  Really writing.  Sure, I’d been writing articles for websites (and the subject matter varied widely, but often it was about grammar!) and the occasional poem or short story…but I found my big writing mojo again.  That was huge, folks.  It wasn’t difficult for me to bang out an article or a poem or even a flash fiction story, but a novel?  Yeah, that felt great.  Once more, I had the passion burning a fire in my belly so hot that I had to write.  I can’t tell you how good that felt.  But I also felt rusty.  Writing that book was hard.  Getting it from brain to computer took more effort than writing usually did for me.  It didn’t matter, though.  The story had to be told and I was doing it.

Right about that time, I was beta reading for another author friend, Stacy Gail (she has a book in the Inked anthology).  She had just been picked up by a publisher!!!  Stacy is one of those authors who has written hundreds of books and has continually honed and polished her writing.  She never stopped.  I was so excited and happy for her and I started thinking again about the big prize.  See, friends, I had been published in every other way possible (under another name, so don’t even try Googling it)—poetry (scads), short stories, articles (hundreds)—but getting a novel picked up had eluded me time and time again.  I would query publishers and often got “nice” rejections (personal ones, so you know they liked your work—it just wasn’t for them for whatever reason) but they were still rejections nonetheless.  Same with agents.

Well, Ms. Stacy happened to tell me about indie publishing phenom Amanda Hocking.  That young lady just so happened to get recognition and earn a substantial income thanks to this thing called indie publishing.  Hmm…so I started researching.

Let me interrupt here.  It’s not that I think I’m not good enough to be published traditionally.

Nope, that’s not it at all.  But any of you who have tried to go the traditional route know what a pain in the ass it is.  If you’ve ever written a detailed synopsis of your book (one where you have to tell every little thing that happens but condensed enough that a publisher/agent can read through it in five minutes or less and know every plot point of your book) or agonized for days over a query letter (I wish I was kidding), then you know what I’m going to say next.

I want to write fiction…not a sales pitch.  And, essentially, that’s what you’re doing when you’re looking for a publisher or agent.  Add to that one rejection after another (nice or not)…and you feel somewhat discouraged. 

So when I read about Hocking’s success, I decided to go for it, because I just wanted what most writers want:  to be read.  I might have been foolish enough at the time to think that most people would love my writing (I now know that’s not the case!), but how could anyone love it if they hadn’t read it?  And they couldn’t read it if I kept getting stymied by publishers.

Indie publishing, though…that was a way around it.

So, fire ignited once more, I sent my manuscript out to beta-reading friends.  Some of those folks had read my writing before; others hadn’t.  Others had but hadn’t read my, uh, steamy stuff, so they were in for a treat.  I got the FULL STEAM AHEAD message and continued my research.  I had to create a cover (and I could already see it in my mind…so here’s a little trivia for ya—the guitar and, yes, the bra on the cover of Tangled Web belong to me).  I couldn’t get the picture to look exactly the way I wanted, so hubby came to the rescue.  Okay, cover done.

Formatting…I played around with.  I started with Amazon.  I had no idea what the f*ck a mobi file was at the time.  I was quite naïve.  I had no idea how my document would look on a Kindle.  But I learned.  Oh, God, I learned.  Once exposed to ebooks, I began researching via the one-click method…and I learned that way too.  I looked at how other authors formatted their books and then made my own way.  I had no idea at the time that there were folks out there who made covers, who did formatting…none of that.  I didn’t know there were bloggers out there regularly reading and reviewing books.  Hell, I didn’t figure that one out entirely until the success of Bullet exposed me to that world.  No…

This is one you’ve heard from me time and time again—all I knew was that I now had an opportunity to put my baby out there and get it seen.  And I developed the philosophy that if I wrote it, readers would find it.  Eventually.  I had to believe in that, particularly when days were bleak…and, man, were they ever.

So how did it fare out in the land of Amazon?  Well, after clicking Publish, I set up my Facebook page and Twitter account.  I started a blog (not this one—I moved here several months later).  I continued researching and tweaking my book to make it look better.  I started researching other venues and discovered Barnes & Noble and then Smashwords (which I no longer use, although I’ve left several of my books published there).  I kept my eye on the prize, so to speak, because otherwise I might have wanted to hang it all up.

No, that’s not true, because I didn’t know any better.  All I knew was that a couple of people were buying my book.  How many?  Well, check this out…

I published on April 17 but it went live on Amazon on April 18, 2011.  In April, I sold FIVE copies (oh, and ONE in the UK!)…six copies in all, less than one a day.  But those were six people who had never heard of me.  They were folks willing to spend a buck on an unknown author with no reviews but someone who grabbed their attention.  You six people—THANK YOU!!!  I am grateful for you!

May 2011…eight copies, US sales only.  Yep, after one and a half months, I’d sold fourteen copies total.  But guess what?  I know I’m a good writer, and I knew my audience simply had to find me.  I didn’t (and, arguably, still don’t) know sh*t about marketing, so I had to believe that they would find me.  It wasn’t until June that I began publishing on other venues, but I had no idea that Amazon truly ruled the roost when it comes to ebook sales.  That’s okay, though, because I wanted to expand to potentially be seen by other readers who wouldn’t find me on Amazon!

Sure, 14 copies in six weeks might seem discouraging…and it was, but I was working on other projects and still researching the hell out of indie publishing and learning more and applying that knowledge every damn day.

Anyway, Tangled Web was the book that started it all.  And it got a little boost a few months later when a big blogger (not mentioning names, because I’m pretty sure she doesn’t like my writing) read it and gave it an okay review.  I sold 600 copies of Tangled Web in August and September, thanks to her attention.  Found a few haters (you can read the nasty reviews on Goodreads if you like), but my audience—the ones who did like my writing—was slowly finding me. 

I’d like to say the rest is history, but I’m still writing it.  Thank you, friends, for following me on this amazing journey.  Clicking that damn Publish button is not a decision I regret!

If you have never read my first baby, it’s one of my 99 cent reads.  I can hook you up here.  Just pick your poison:

Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/nvcyqun

Amazon UK: http://tinyurl.com/mmr4yv7

Barnes & Noble: http://tinyurl.com/lurnglo

iTunes: http://bit.ly/1pl568W

Kobo: http://bit.ly/1C5Hc5o

Smashwords: http://tinyurl.com/mab64yc

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Supporting a Worthy Cause

Friends, I support a lot of charities, ones I feel strongly about. This week, I was challenged to do the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS. After much thought and little time available, I have decided to donate to the charity, but I will not be doing the accompanying video nor will I call anyone out. I was going to do something a little rebellious, but anything I would say would likely be misconstrued. Let me just say that I think it’s awesome that so much money is being raised for ALS.

That said, I am currently undergoing my own struggles right now. No, I am not going to talk about them, but suffice it to say that I am having to withdraw from social media a bit. You won’t notice it at first, especially because I am currently promoting the release of Inked.  Speaking of charities and donating, all proceeds from the sales of Inked go to a worthy cause.  If you haven’t seen our statement yet, this is it:

The authors of INKED are proud to announce that all sales from the book will go to benefit women in need of mastectomy tattoos and tattoos that cover scars.  Award-winning, world-renowned tattoo artist Madame Lazonga specializes in tattooing women, particularly in beautifying women who have experienced the scars that surviving cancer can leave behind.

This art is not cheap, but it can be incredibly healing for women.  Madame Lazonga has agreed to use all proceeds from the INKED anthology to benefit women who want these types of tattoos but perhaps cannot afford all or part of the procedure.  Because our anthology revolves around tattoos and women, we couldn’t think of a better cause.

To see some of Madame Lazonga’s work, please visit her website.

In the recent past, I’ve donated to mental health, breast cancer awareness, and many other charities.  This charity, though, is so important to me for many reasons.  This book is not doing as well as I would have hoped.  I had wanted it to earn so much more than it is, so if you can help me get the word out, that would be fantastic!

Buy Links

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1q6aj2i

Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/1q6apa2

Amazon CA: http://amzn.to/1rr1tzY

Amazon AUS: http://bit.ly/1rr1DY3

Thanks for all your support, my friends!

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Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre Yoooooooooooooou Readddddddddddddy???

Apologies to Korn (oh…who I get to see later this month, by the way!!!).

Anyway, I wasn’t writing today’s post to brag about the next concert I’m going to.  Instead, I want to make sure you’re ready to snatch up your copy of Inked.  It’s an anthology that I’ve headed up, due to be released August 25.  We’re getting close, and I cannot wait for you to read it.  I’m excited for you to read all the stories, but I’m super excited for you to read Punctured, Bruised, and Barely Tattooed, my contribution to this collection.  I think you’re going to love it!

To whet your appetite, I want to give you a tiny taste.  Here’s chapter one of Kory and Stone’s story.  Sound like it might be something you want to read?

Punctured, Bruised, and Barely Tattooed

Chapter One

Kory McCallister sat on the brown vinyl couch in the air conditioned studio.  She pulled her thumb away from her lip once again, because that nail had already been chewed into oblivion.

So stupid.  Yeah, stupid that she was so nervous, but she couldn’t help it.  She was going to see Stone Bowman soon.  God, that man was her dream guy and he probably had no idea she even existed.

She took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves.  No, she wasn’t nervous about getting pierced.  She’d done it plenty of times and, with her fear of needles, she was surprised that she’d been able to do it so many times, but it was because of Stone.  She’d entered this place two years ago and there he’d been—tall, dark, shoulder-length hair, scruff on his face, coal-dark eyes, and holy hell, more tattoos than her eyes could take in.  His neck, arms, chest (although his shirt covered most of it), and heaven knew what else.  His body was a living canvas, and Kory had fallen in love with the guy the first time she’d seen him.  He was a dream.  He was also a calming influence, part of why she thought she’d never be able to be pierced by anyone else on the planet, and she supposed that was why he was so good at his job.

He was also a hell of a tattoo artist, but Kory’s fear of needles had prevented her so many times from getting a tattoo.

No one would have ever guessed she was afraid of having a needle poke her because the girl was pierced all over—multiple eyebrow piercings, nose, lips, and her ears were pincushions.  She also had a belly ring.  She still had plenty of places to pierce, but she didn’t want to have Stone doing the honors on her nipple…not now, anyway.  She definitely didn’t want anyone else doing it, either.

She knew having Stone pierce her was a waste of his supreme talents as a tattoo artist, but he was co-owner of the shop.  She always requested him and he’d never refused.

Kory knew her friends thought she was crazy.  Earlier that day, they’d been shaking their heads at her, asking why another piercing?  Didn’t she have enough holes in her body?  And how would that work with her business major anyway?  They never listened to her counterarguments—that she could remove the piercings whenever she needed to, very little harm done, and it wasn’t like she was getting tattoos.

Of course, that was what she was working up to…but there was that fear of needles stopping her.

Silly, yes, because she was pierced.  A lot.

The needle was quick, though, and it wasn’t like getting a tattoo, where it would take hours of work with a vibrating gun.  No, instead, it was with a—well, yeah, that fucker was a big ass needle, but it was fast…at least the way Stone did it.

That was why she’d gone to get pierced in the first place—to get over that fear.  She had an irrational phobia about needles, and she was tired of saying she was a strong woman when she couldn’t even get her nose pierced.

She had thought about it for weeks and weeks and finally found the courage to march in to the shop called The Iron Maiden.  It was early evening, close to the time the shop was going to close, and she’d told the guy she wanted her nose pierced and wanted it done fast.  He had so many questions, though, and she couldn’t remember their conversation to this day.  All she could remember was his absolute beauty, inside and out, and she credited him with making needles a little less scary.

Since that day two years ago—during the summer after she graduated high school—she’d been back almost every month.  She doubted Stone even remembered who she was from one visit to the next, but his image in Kory’s head had kept her focused for years.

Truthfully, Kory knew she belonged more in that shop than she did in college, majoring in business.  With her background, she was surprised she wanted it too, but she never wanted to have to beg from anyone for anything.  When she left her foster parents’ house after graduation, she knew she had one of two paths—she could be the tough-as-nails, hard ass, bruised and destroyed burnout who worked shitty jobs or maybe became a stripper, but that would be following the path of her egg donor, and there was no way in hell she wanted to be like that woman.  The other path was the one untraveled by people of her kind.  She didn’t want to be beholden to the man, so she would become him.  She was smart enough—street smart, anyway—and her foster parents had helped her see that she had value.  She could learn whatever she needed to, so long as she applied herself.

She heard the door to the back part of the shop open.  They played the same music back there that they did in the front area where they sold the body jewelry and clothing, but hearing the music coming from that area wasn’t what tipped her off to the door opening.  No, it was Stone walking out with a satisfied customer.  Kory tried not to feel jealous, but that customer was tall, thin, and blonde, and Kory was pretty sure the woman had fake boobs to boot.

Stone was smiling and chatting with her as he led her to the counter while continuing to discuss aftercare.  She tittered, revealing overly white teeth, as she handed a silver toned credit card to the guy at the counter.  The guy—a kid named Richie—mentioned to Stone that he had another customer waiting.  Kory looked at her phone, hoping she looked distracted, as though she hadn’t a care in the world, because really she was on pins and needles waiting for him to get his ass over there.

God, he probably thought she just was a stupid kid.  She’d grown her dark hair out since the first time she’d seen him, and she knew she looked more like a woman today than she had back then.  Unlike the busty babe he’d just tatted, though, Kory’s breasts were small.  Of course, they matched her body.  She was small all over, and it just made her self-conscious.  She knew people dismissed her, so she had to make up for it with her voice and gestures.  The problem was that behavior was often at odds with how she felt inside.

She was a mess, a basket of contradictions.  That meant she’d never make a good girlfriend, would never be dating material, would—

“Hey.”  She heard Stone’s voice just a couple of feet away as her brain was considering an exit strategy.

Too late.  Besides, she could feel the butterflies freaking out in her tummy now as an eerie calm washed over her back.  “Hey.”  She looked in his eyes.  Wow.  Yeah.  This guy was the shit.

“Richie said you’re itching for another piercing.”

She swallowed.  “Uh, yeah.”  God, she felt like she could drown in his dark eyes.  She could—and she’d be content breathing in the water, filling her soul with his essence.  Kory so many times felt like she didn’t belong anywhere—nowhere on the planet—but she could see herself finding peace in his eyes.

Now, though, his gaze unnerved her.  It wasn’t like it was in her fantasies.  There they had an easy relationship.  In real life, though, he was just a hot guy and she was merely his customer.  His annoying punctured, slightly stalkerish customer who needed an excuse to be touched by him once more.

He tilted his head toward the door to the back, indicating that he was going to lead her behind the glass door.  She stood, her legs a little wobbly, and she couldn’t help but focus on his hand as he grabbed the handle.  Fuck.  Those tattoos all over his hand made her feel warm between her legs.  If he knew what seeing him did to her, he’d be kicking her ass out and filing a restraining order.

Jesus.

She was so absorbed in her warm thoughts that she almost missed what he asked.  She forced herself to focus so she could remember the words that had just come out of his mouth.  Oh, what she wanted pierced.  Yeah.  She gulped again, walking through the door toward the back while he held it open, and said, “Tragus.”

He half smiled and nodded.  “Right or left?”

She hadn’t thought about it, really.  No way would she get them both done—not now.  It would give her another excuse to visit if she only got one.  She turned around, pulling hair behind her ears on both sides.  “I don’t know.  What do you think?”

He shrugged.  “I think it would look okay on either side.”  They stopped near an alcove where a cushioned table butted up against a wall, almost like a doctor’s office.  She knew the drill and hopped up before Stone could say a word.  He opened a drawer and started getting out supplies and set them next to the piece of jewelry Kory had chosen long before he had been involved.  “Do you have a preference?”

No, not really.  She just wanted his hands on her again.  She would never say that, though.  “Hmm.  Maybe balance.  You know—even me out?”

He didn’t even look up from what he was doing.  “So on the right then?”

Wow.  He remembered that she had more holes on the left than the right.  Part of that was because of the industrial she had in the right ear, and she’d never bothered to put other piercings in the gap above where the bar went through.  That was good, though, because it gave her plenty of options for later…until he realized she had a problem and refused to continue piercing her.

She wasn’t a freak, though.  She knew plenty of people who were crazy pierced—the ones who had to have surgery to be pierced through bone, and even some of the extreme ear stretchers, something Kory couldn’t quite get into…those were the ones who had a problem.

Sure, she did too, but it had nothing to do with being addicted to body modification.  It was an addiction for the man doing the work.

“Yeah, that’s fine.”

He turned around and wiped with alcohol the tiny area where the tragus piercing would go.  She couldn’t help but look at his face.  He was right there and he was close, and it was at that moment that Kory realized that she probably trusted this man more than she trusted anyone else.  Why?  Because he had, multiple times, had her well being in his hands and, while piercings stung, he’d never injured her. 

God, he was gorgeous.  Kory loved how the colorful tattoos crept up his neck.  If he would have decided to grow out his beard, it would have covered the tops of them.  More than that, though, she loved the tattoos on his hands.  The ones on his arms crawled down the backs of his hands, and he also had letters on his fingers.  One hand had the letters P-A-I-N on the knuckles and the other had the letters F-U-C-K.  Kory was pretty sure it was a statement—fuck pain—which was appropriate for a guy who tattooed and pierced others for a living.  Kory knew he wasn’t pierced much, at least where her eyes could see.  He had slightly stretched piercings in his ears and Kory could tell he used to have snakebites that he had since allowed to close up.  She bet those had been sexy.

If Kory were the blushing kind, her cheeks would have turned pink when she started wondering if maybe he was pierced in places she could only imagine.

The alcohol felt cool against her skin and he turned away from her to grab his needle.  She bit her lip and looked ahead, swallowing.  “You gonna close your eyes?”

She grinned and glanced up at him.  That meant he did remember her, because she always had to close her eyes.  That was okay, though, because she could feel his body heat close to her, assuring her through the pain that it was going to be all right.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Wanna add the anthology to your Goodreads TBR?  You can here: Inked

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All Good Things Must Come to an End–BUT NOT YET!

It seems as though every time I mention I am working on another Bullet book or when someone is reminiscing about one of the older ones, many readers are surprised.  They have no idea that I have plans for more Bullet books, even though I haven’t kept it secret.  J  I said on Facebook last week in a post that I should probably announce it ad nauseum until people get tired of hearing it.

I think by now most of my closest followers know, but if not, here’s hoping this blog post will be an announcement of sorts.  So, for the record…

THE BULLET SERIES IS NOT DONE.

Nope.  Not by a long shot.  Let me go ahead and let you know what you can look forward to:

4.5 Christmas Stalkings – a novella that will be out late this year as part of an anthology.  The blurb:  Val, Brad, and the kids decide to take a short but needed winter vacation to get away from it all and enjoy each other’s company, but one thing is stopping them from relaxing like they should.  Since fronting her new band Val Hella, Val has discovered the darker side of fame—she has a stalker, one who seems intent upon stepping up his game to get what he wants, and the ruin of their vacation becomes the least of their worries.

5 Slash and Burn – This is going to be Nick’s story.  I had really hoped to write it this year, but time is getting away from me.  I still have three to four other projects I need to finish before getting to this one, and since it’s August already, I’m thinking this one won’t be ready until 2015.  The good news, though, is that you have a little something before then.  If you want a hint about his book, Nick plays drums for Val’s new band Val Hella (both he and Brad are in the band as a side project).  The bassist for the band is a woman who not only plays both sides of the fence but has captured Nick’s heart in a big way.  This one is going to be angsty.  There will be no mistaking the Bullet vibe.

6 Untitled – I still have a story for Zane; I just don’t have a title yet.  Do you remember Jennifer from Bullet, Val’s roommate and Zane’s on-again, off-again girlfriend?  Well, they hook up again, but she has a little secret she’s been keeping from him.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! Again, I’m amazed at how many people do not know this news—I will also be writing a Feverish spinoff. Here is what I have planned so far:

1.5 Boiling Point – a novella.  So many readers begged for more Clay and Emily, and so I will be launching this series with a novella about Last Five Seconds on tour.  Emily goes along for the ride and gets to experience the ups and downs of touring life.

2 Untitled – Brian’s story.  So many readers fell in love with his character in Feverish and I’ve been told they want his story first!

3 Untitled – Silver’s story.  He’s the drummer of the band.

Aaaand I’m pretty sure I will be writing a fourth book as well.  Even though Devil (AKA Sam, Last Five Seconds’ lead singer) has had a steady girlfriend doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a story.

So, if you’ve been tempted to tell me how sad you are that the Bullet series is over, don’t.  We have a long way to go.  None of my series have ended yet.  Everything comes to an end eventually, but not yet!  And I’m sorry you’re having to wait, but so many other stories in my head are demanding to be let out.  Just know that these books will get written.  It’s just a matter of when!

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I’m Touched

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—my writing is not for everyone, just as I don’t like everything I read.  What a boring planet this would be if we all liked the same things.  That’s not a bad thing.  I even understand that some folks who like some of my books don’t like all of them, and I experienced a lot of dislike the last two weeks regarding Finger Bang.

That’s okay.  Life goes on.

One thing that I can’t just sit back and listen to, though, is reading comments from readers who seem to think they know everything.  A couple of reviewers commented that the character Kaylee was unrealistic because she had never masturbated.  Well, true to form, I got pissed and ranted on my Facebook page, because, growing up, I was very much like Kaylee.  I grew up in a strict religious household where masturbation and premarital sex were frowned upon.  So guess what?

I didn’t.

And I confessed that on my page, much to my husband’s horror.  ;)   But you know what?  The outpouring of comments from readers was beyond amazing.  It turns out that I was not the only woman who’d never touched herself.  I’m not judging either way, and I hope that’s evident from the first chapter (and more) in the book.  Kaylee’s friends are open, modern women who are more than content to explore their sexuality and even talk about it.

I think (although I have no evidence for it) that the women who find it hard to believe are those who weren’t raised in a religious household where you’ve grown up believing in the very real possibility of hell and that you’ll be going there if you sin.  The problem is that masturbation, while not considered sin outright, is frowned upon because of a perceived lack of control over one’s body “temple,” and it is an unspoken rule that one will not touch oneself.  Premarital sex is a big no-no, but not quite as bad if you’re engaged.  Don’t ask.  So, yes, this environment is conducive to sexual repression and frustration big time.  I often wonder if that’s why I write what I do today.  Maybe it’s the natural outcome of being in that environment.

But I felt the need to share the evidence.  See, those people dogging me are just spouting off at the mouth, assuming knowledge they don’t have.  An article entitled “How Common is Masturbation, Really?” in Psychology Today offers evidence to my argument, stating, “Masturbation is considerably less prevalent than many people believe.”  It also mentions that younger women are less likely to engage in the practice, as well as (surprise, surprise) women from religious backgrounds.

So…I’m not changing what I write any time soon.  I suspect that if you’re on my website reading this, you might be glad to read that.

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A Matter of Perspective

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had readers complain (well, maybe not complain, but voice their opinions) about a specific point of view I’ve used in a book.  For the hell of it, let me tell you a few of those opinions, but then I’ll tell you why I’ve chosen the POVs I have for the books I’ve written.

One reader gave one of the Bullet books a one-star rating because the first book (Bullet) was first person from Valerie’s perspective.  In case you didn’t know, Rock Bottom and Feverish are third person dual perspective and Fully Automatic is third person from Brad’s perspective.  This reader was pissed because, she said, if I wrote the first book in first person, they should all be written in first person, because that was the only kind of book she could get into.  I think she even said that maybe that one-star rating would teach me to stick with first person.  Nope.  ‘Fraid it didn’t.  It just pissed me off that she didn’t give the book a fair chance and then lashed out at me to boot.

Most readers are far more kind.  One reader lamented that Be Careful What You Wish For was first person perspective from Jessica’s POV, and she really wanted to read Kage’s side.  She wanted to know what was going on in his head at this point or that point.  Another reader recently said she’d love (down the road) to know what Sean is thinking in the Nicki books.  I completely understand wanting to know what other characters are dealing with, which is the main reason I chose to write Fully Automatic.

Let’s talk about point of view.  Sometimes I choose a particular point of view because it’s easier for me to get into it as a writer (Then Kiss Me is the perfect example.  I don’t think I could have written that book any other way).  Most times, though, the POV serves the story.  Let me explain a few of my choices, in case you were curious.  It is not something I take lightly, as I feel POV serves the story.

  • Bullet I wrote as first-person perspective, because I wanted readers to feel close to Val.  I wanted them to really feel like they were part of the story, and oftentimes I think first-person perspective accomplishes that mission better than third-person (although close third-person, when done right, can do the same thing).  I don’t think I was one-hundred percent successful, though, because many readers hated Val, thought she made poor choices, didn’t understand why she stayed with Ethan, etc.  I also hoped that her age would explain a lot of that, but…you can’t please everyone, right?  I still stand by my choice, though.  I don’t think Bullet would have been as powerful if told from third person POV.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For.  This book too I wrote from that POV, because I was dealing with very delicate subject matter, one that readers would dismiss and be angry about right off the bat (cheating).  I knew going in that the only way to get readers to be on Jessica’s side was to help them understand first her desperation and second the deep connection she felt for Kage.  Then, once the story is well underway, Jessica feels deep doubts, and she fears that Kage might be cheating on her.  I wanted you as the reader to wonder it too and to have your suspicions.  If you could see inside Kage’s head with dual-person perspective, you would have known exactly what he was thinking and doing and then there would have been no suspense.  Makes sense, right?  I wanted to explore the notion of trust as well as show how history and a little doubt can absolutely poison a relationship.  I don’t think it would have worked as well if you’d known exactly what Kage was thinking and feeling and doing.  I could have, I suppose, written it from third-person POV, sticking solely with Jessica’s perspective, but again—first person just felt right.  I wanted you inside her head, and I think that was a good choice.  I know…not everyone will agree with me.  But know this—“hiding” information from readers can help build tension, doubt, mystery, and intrigue and, many times, that’s why I do it.
  • Fully Automatic I wrote because so many readers begged to know Brad’s story.  What was he thinking?  What was he feeling?  I didn’t want to just write a retelling, though, so I gave a lot of his back story and also focused more on what Brad was doing outside the Bullet story.  You still saw his POV on things that happened in Bullet, of course.  There was no way to avoid that and, really, what the hell kind of book would it have been if none of the story was present in Brad’s POV?  Needless to say, I still got a few complaints.  This time readers said it was merely a retelling of Bullet.  Yeah, I had to bite my tongue a few times.  I need to continue reminding myself that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, and not everyone is going to like every book I write.

I will probably never write from various other perspectives simply because I find it confusing as a reader.  For example, I’ve read a couple of books told in first-person but from dual perspectives.  I’ve found that quite confusing.  You all know I have a hard enough time writing from the male perspective anyway.  I don’t dare throw first person into the mix, no matter how compelling it may feel.  I have—in my deep, dark past—written in omniscient third-person POV, but it seems too cold and distant for my type of writing.  Even when I write third-person, I like to hover close to my characters, if that makes any sense.  I want you in their heads and hearts.

And, speaking of, I have a book I need to finish writing.  Happy reading! :)

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