Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Take the Carina Challenge

I’ve mentioned here and elsewhere what a slow writer I am. How it takes me forever to get a story written, polished and off to market. How I work much better when I have a set deadline, with actual consequences if I miss it (which is why setting personal deadlines doesn’t really work for me). This is why I like contests and open calls so much. It forces me to accomplish something—a finished story, in this case—by a certain due date. Miss it, and I’m SOL.

Which is why I (figuratively) wet my pants when I heard Carina Press had announced an open call for an anthology.

Carina Press is a digital-only offshoot of Harlequin. Unlike the Harlequin paperback lines, Carina’s more daring. They’ll take anything: M/F, M/M, multiples and poly, tame, spicy, erotica, you name it. This time around they’re looking for novellas, with a word count of 25,000 to 40,000 words. That’s fairly short by writing standards, a week’s work for speedy writers, more like two months for me. Deadlines are spread out from August to October.

That’s right, I said deadlines. Carina’s got five of them going, due at various times: Taboo love, due August 1; science fiction/alien love, due September 6; two shapeshifter anthos, one het, one M/M, both due September 20; and a jewel thief/heist/caper antho, due October 4. Except for the two that were specifically designated hetero and M/M, pretty much any pairing goes.

With five subjects to choose from, I shouldn’t have any trouble coming up with ideas to fit at least one of the anthos. Sure enough, I did. I’ve got ideas I can apply to all five of the books.

This is the challenge I’ve set for myself: aim a story, minimum 25K words, at each and every one of Carina’s open calls. See how many I can get finished, or close to finished (I believe Carina takes proposals as well as completed works) by the specified due dates. If this doesn’t get me writing, and writing a lot, over the next several months, I might as well pack it in and go back to office drudgery.

Some aren’t a problem. I’ve got abandoned stuff in the closet I can resurrect for the the SF and both of the shapeshifter books. The toughies will be the taboo book and the caper book. I’ve always wanted to write a caper story—I love reading them—but my mind won’t wrap itself around the concept. Well, that one’s due last, so I’ve got extra time. The taboo antho … eh. Maybe something will come to me.

The best part is, this will force me to write, polish, and sub. All I needed was the deadline. Now I’ve got five of them. And if they don’t get picked, no prob. I can market the finished products to other publishers.

I haven’t decided yet what names I’ll put on them. The M/Ms can be JJ’s; I guess the others will be me, though maybe not the taboo one. I might want to disguise myself for that. I’ve already started the SF story. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Want to get in on the fun? Here’s a link for the specs: You can look up Carina’s general submission guidelines on their website, Happy writing!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Special Guest Post: Together Again by Solara Gordon

Fellow Shapeshifter Seductions author Solara Gordon's new book comes out this week! Solara was kind enough to send me the info so I don't have to write a post. Check it out here and over at the Siren site.

Together Again (MF)
by Solara Gordon
Pacific Cay Trilogy 1
Siren-BookStrand, Inc.
Heat Rating: SIZZLING
Word Count: 66,484

AVAILABLE: Tuesday, May 17th
[Siren Allure: Erotic Contemporary Romance, M/F, HEA]

Tim Smith wants a second chance with his first love, Susan Nealson. Convincing Susan he’s worth a second chance isn’t going to be easy. Given his on-again-off-again ex-boyfriend past with her, he isn’t sure how to proceed, due to the apology he believes he owes her, and his divorce.

When Susan agrees to be a mutual friend’s maid of honor, Tim might have the incentive he’s looking for. Susan isn’t anticipating being paired up with the dateless best man, Tim. She wouldn’t turn down a chance to revisit their past sexual chemistry. Beyond that, she’s unsure taking a risk on Tim is in her best interest.

Giving first loves a second chance requires letting go of the past and embracing what today offers. When their chemistry ignites into more than sex, can they move past their botched history and embrace their second chance at love? Or will they remain stuck in the past trying to correct it?


Tim stood. He leaned down and kissed Susan’s cheek before heading toward the back door. He turned, smiling, and asked, “How do you want your steak cooked?”

Susan pushed back from the table, making her way quickly to where Tim stood. “You don’t want to know if your apology is accepted?”

“I brought you here to have dinner. Talk about recipes and help me get them written down.” Tim cupped her cheek, continuing where he left off. “I planned to apologize in addition to dinner.”

“I’m unsure what to say.” Susan moved back to the table, sitting down again.

“Understood. How about you think on it while I get the charcoal started?” Tim reached for the doorknob, hesitating. His actions let her know he waited for her answer.

Susan inhaled, drumming her fingers on her leg, contemplating what to say. Telling him no way wasn’t exactly fair. He hadn’t said “I got you here on false pretenses.” Could she let go of the angst, anger, and hurt from the past? She looked down, pressing her lips together. She thought she’d done just that, left the image of the young immature male named Timothy, who later decided Tim suited him better in the dust of the bygone times of junior high like when he walked up to her at a dance and demanded she dance with him. As to high school, some of that shaped who she was today. His fashion comments left her wondering about his sexuality until she heard about him scoring with one of her friends. Where he learned about clothes she didn’t know, but his tastes went garish and loud for a couple of years. At least someone had shown him about coordinating outfits better by their junior year. And he had the nerve to talk to her about her makeup and clothes. His actions today had spoken louder than his words of yesteryear. Her view of men came from her taking time to understand them better and not from her father’s viewpoint. God knew his jaded descriptions and examples came from his haggard past and relationship failures. Strength came with maturity and knowledge. Self-knowledge mattered for maturity. A click broke the silence engulfing her and her thoughts. She looked up. Tim stood holding the door open as if he kept waiting and hoping.

If she said yes, was she willing to let it all go? Every past indiscretion? Each anger and hurt? Even if some had been worth it? There were parts of her that wanted closure and needed to understand why. One thing neither of them had been good at back then was talking. They said words and mimicked understanding. They hadn’t really gotten the full view. They’d come close a few times like today and so far this evening. Maybe more was in the offing if she said she partially accepted his apology.

Susan stood and walked over to Tim. She laid her hand on his shoulder. He turned his head toward her. She spoke as his gaze met hers. “Partially accepted.”

Tim moved his lips, ready to reply. Susan pressed her finger against his lips. She leaned closer, kissed his cheek, and whispered, “Unfinished business. We’ll talk after dinner is served.” She turned and walked to the sink where the yams and salad fixings lay. She didn’t look up until a soft click of the door sounded. Tim wasn’t in sight. He’d gotten her unspoken message. She washed the yams, dried them and scored them with crosscuts, and then rubbed brown sugar with a pinch of cinnamon on them. Her mind raced with how she was going to start the conversation with Tim. She took the aluminum foil out of the drawer Tim had shown her earlier, and she wrapped the yams. Susan wondered what specifically Tim felt the need to apologize for.

* * * *

Tim pulled the door shut behind him, standing still until he heard the soft click of the latch. He closed his eyes, slowly inhaling and exhaling like his life coach taught him. Shudders and shivers roared over him. Susan had said she partially accepted his apology? What did that mean? Had he screwed even that up? Her even-keeled tone and pitch reminded him of Karlene… He shuddered again. Susan wasn’t Karlene—nowhere near her. He took another deep breath and exhaled. He unclenched his hands and focused on the moment at hand.

Throughout his marriage, he prepared for the worst with great vigor. Karlene had her explosive moments during her pregnancies. With her second, he’d learned enough about female physiology to get him a reprieve from time to time. Truth was they probably married too early or had kids sooner than either of them were ready. How did he explain this to Susan? Was it necessary? Maybe not right now. His need to apologize came from wanting another chance. A way to show he’d changed and yet say what he’d felt back from the time they’d gone to their first junior high dance together. Matched up by a couple of friends, he hadn’t known her name at first. Now he did and he was ready to give them another shot. Talking was going to take time and effort. Would Susan agree? Yes, maybe things were looking up.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Today we’re going to discuss priorities and putting important stuff first. But before that rant, good news. I’ve got the second draft of my WIP all typed up and printed out. I’m going to let it sit for a week while I do the research I should have been doing all along. Then I can fact-check and edit before I type up the final draft into the laptop for emailing to publishers. Sure, it’s an extra step and extra work, but I’ve discovered I catch more errors when I retype. We all want our final drafts to be all polished and sparkly when we send them off to market, right?

I’d been hoping to be at this point at least two months ago. I wanted to send this one out in March, but everything took longer than I’d estimated. I’d blame time management, but here’s the problem: time can’t be managed. You grab for it and it slips away from you. Life has this funny habit of getting in the way when you’re trying to get things done.

Take last weekend. I hope everybody had a fun Mother’s Day. I had a—well, let me tell you all about it. After all, I’ve got a blog page to fill.

# # #

My mother passed away about six years ago, and I never got around to having kids of my own, so Mother’s Day to me is just another Sunday any more. It’s also a chance to pick up a few extra bucks delivering flowers for a local florist chain. They always need drivers around the holidays, Mother’s Day in particular. (And Valentine’s Day, but I don’t sign up for that. Too much chance of snow or ice. I live in a semi-rural area, with miles of narrow, twisty, back country roads, a lot of them on mountains. Let the folks with 4-wheel drives handle that one.) So my aging Jetta and I signed up to make moms happy on Friday and Saturday. The guy said he was good for Sunday, but I agreed to be on call.

It wasn’t until I got home and double-checked the calendar that I realized my first mistake. Mother’s Day is the second Sunday in May. The first Saturday in May is Free Comic Book Day, a celebration I try not to miss. I grew up reading comic books, and still hang out at my local comic shop. I read a lot of the original books those big Marvel movies were based on. And anything with “free” in the name is a place I want to be.

However, thanks to May starting on a Sunday this year, Free Comic Book Day was set for the Saturday before Mother’s Day. I’d just agreed to work on that Saturday. Crap. By the time I got there all the good freebies would be gone and I’d be stuck pawing through leftover issues of Strawberry Shortcake and the indie books nobody’s heard of. Well, couldn’t be helped. I’d made a commitment. Anyway, it only takes three-four hours to do the flower delivery. I could go afterwards. No sweat.

I should have known Murphy’s Law wasn’t finished with me.

Wednesday afternoon I got an assignment from my freelance employer. Due date: Monday. Roughly four days to get the work done and out, and two of those days were now already spoken for. It’s not even Thursday yet, and the pressure’s already on. And there’s nobody to blame but me. I agreed to both the paid jobs. I just wasn’t expecting the short deadline on the freelance stuff. Jurassic Park was right: life finds a way to screw you sideways.

What do you do? You bull your way through. And you set priorities.

Top of the list was the flower delivery. I had to show up at a certain time, pick up my load, and deliver. Would’ve worked out fine if Friday hadn’t been one long, never-ending rain storm. Trying to spot street signs and house numbers from a moving vehicle is bad enough. It’s worse in the rain, with your windows fogged up. Then I got lost in the retirement home complex. My last delivery of the day was on Farmersville Road. Farmersville Road stretches across half the county, in all four directions. The address didn’t specify which section it was on. I asked a guy with GPS on his cell phone to find it on MapQuest for me, and he sent me off in the wrong direction. In the rain. It was that kind of a day.

Saturday went a lot better. It wasn’t raining, for starters. Good thing, because I got a route with all those twisty mountain roads and houses up on hillsides with steep driveways. Not something I would have wanted to attempt in pouring rain with a stick shift. However, the houses are farther apart out there, and the streets aren’t always marked. And there’s always that one other driver right on your bumper when you’re trying to read numbers on mailboxes. Seriously. I’m tooling along looking for Mrs. Zitslaff’s house so I can give her her basket of posies, and the only other driver on the backcountry two-lane is glued to my car’s rear end. On the one long section where I had no deliveries and knew where I was headed, I had nobody behind me. Go figure.

After deliveries I went to my next priority, the paid freelance work. I managed to finish the first run-through by Saturday, so I planned to devote all day Sunday to that project, in order to make Monday’s deadline. Good thing, because two days of climbing in and out of the car for four hours at a stretch left me with hip and leg pains and general overall tiredness. I’m so out of shape it isn’t funny. But the freelance work’s on the computer, and I can work in bed. Except for the hour or so I spent mowing the lawn, which had sprouted during the previous week’s rain. Well, getting up and moving around is always good for the bod.

Somehow, I did it. I made it through flower deliveries in the rain and got the paid work finished by Monday’s deadline and got the lawn looking decent again. I even made it out to Free Comic Book Day, although most of the good ones were already gone, as I’d feared. No big. The companies will just reboot their whole line in another year or two anyway, and the storylines they’re putting out now will become irrelevant. Just watch the movies. It’s easier.

Of course, something had to give, and it was my own writing. Now you know why it takes me so long to write a story. Things like this keep cropping up. Then I have to prioritize, and somehow it’s always my own personal stuff that has to get shoved to the back. Until I start putting my own work first, I’m not going to get anywhere. Maybe if it supported me the way the paid jobs do, I’d give more attention to it. I’m going to have to work on that.

Just as soon as I find the time. I just got another freelance assignment, with another short Monday deadline. There goes my weekend. Again. I want to get it wrapped up by Sunday so I can go out and catch Captain America: Civil War. Priorities, you know.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Bully for You

Currently I’m reading my way through a young adult series from back around 2009, which means it has vampires and a boarding school in it. Ah, the good old days. In one book, the main character has to deal with the school bitch, who, because she’s part vampire, is probably decades if not centuries older than she looks. And yet she behaves like a teenage mean girl, because this is a young adult novel. The feminist movement and years of social change have had next to no impact on what we market to impressionable teenage readers, apparently.

This book got me thinking about bullies, and the mistaken impression bullying is a childhood problem, that presumably vanishes once you and your nemeses grow up and hit physical and emotional adulthood. News flash: no, it doesn’t. I’ve worked in literally dozens of companies and a variety of industries. I’ve both witnessed and personally experienced more bullying in the so-called adult workplace than I ever did in twelve years in the public school system.

It’s not just the boss throwing his/her weight around, either. I’ve seen supervisors bully their subordinates, employees bully their manager, and employees bully each other. My mother worked in a retirement facility, and related tales of how the employees played games of divide and conquer with their harried supervisors. I was once harassed to the point I had to quit a job. Complaining to management did no good because the production manager was part of the clique attacking me. I witnessed something similar happen to a girl at another job. Any place the sharks smell blood in the water, they move in and start to circle.

These aren’t kids fresh out of high school and still carrying teen mindsets around. These are supposedly grown men and women, some of them with spouses and children. It covers all age groups, includes both genders, and crosses whatever status lines exist at your workplace (the group that targeted me didn’t even work in my department). I once had a coworker who would try to get me in trouble if I didn’t help her do her work (which wasn’t even part of my job, or my department.) She was in her 70s. So much for growing out of it.

Here’s a classic bully story. I only witnessed this; I didn’t have to deal with it, thank God. The office manager at one of the newspapers where I worked liked to play games with her two subordinates. She’d constantly pick at one while fawning all over the other. That office had a revolving door of workers for close to two years. We were having to bring in new office workers every couple of months or so.

Why did she do this? I assume because she could. One of the sales guys had known her at another job and said she’d tried to get her boss fired there. She was in her 30s, I think, married with two kids. Allegedly a grown woman.

Every employee who walked out the door gave the same story to the general manager: “I can’t work with her.” His answer was always the same: “Nothing can be done.” Why? Because she was the owner’s drinking buddy. They’d hit bars together on the weekends. The owner wouldn’t hear a word against her. The first thing a bully does is secure his/her own position. Once they’ve got their asses covered, they can start trolling for victims.

Why do people do this? Like I said, because they can. And because they get some kind of payoff from it. Dr. Phil has often stated, “People do what works.” If bully behavior worked for you while you were growing up, why would you abandon your winning formula just because you’re not a kid any more?

Also, consider the circumstances. The average workplace is populated by a bunch of people who, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t have anything to do with each other. A lot of them probably don’t want to be there, but don’t have any choice. They’re stuck in an enclosed space for eight to nine hours a day, at least five days a week, performing the same tasks day in and day out. Cram enough rats in a cage and pretty soon they turn on each other. The weak, the different and the unprotected get eaten alive. That’s how our children are socialized from the ages of five to eighteen. Then they step out of the classroom and into the office and they’re right back in the same situation. Is it any wonder they carry the lessons learned into adulthood?

As far as I know, none of these bullies ever got fired from their jobs, at least not for bullying. That office manager I talked about earlier ended up quitting because she lost her protector. The owner got married and didn’t need the manager to hang out with any more. The manager moved on to greener pastures and fresher game. Most of the places I worked went out of business, some of them while I was still there, so I’m assuming the bullies lost their jobs at some point, though not for anything they did to me or any other victims. I’ll just have to be content with that.

I wonder about that manager’s children, too. They should be old enough to be moving into the work force by now. How will they treat their fellow workers? If they’re pulling this same crap on others, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. If your kid is complaining about bullies at school, take a good look at the parents. Odds are the little darlings learned their bad behavior at Mommy or Daddy’s knee.

This is just another reason why I’m in no rush to find a job that puts me back in an office. I need to stay away from the rats. Yeah, I know about cyberbullying, but that’s a whole other topic. As long as I stay off Facebook, I should be okay.