On Outlining and Not

Diana Pharaoh FrancisDiana Pharaoh Francis

I can’t decide if I’m late or early on this post. The main problem is that I’m on the road with the family and time has become . . . fluid.

I want to talk to Diana Pharaoh Francisyou about plotting. When I first started writing, I would create an outline. It wasn’t a really in-depth outline. It usually covered the beginning, the major plot points, and the ending. One thing to remember about plot is that it’s a causal sequence of events. Causal is important, because in my plotting, I’d know why a character did something and how that ended up creating the next plot point, and so on. So when plotting, I’d start with the characters and the world, and I’d stir up some trouble, and think how they dealt with that, and what that caused, and so on. I usually would have some sort of main event or problem that I knew I wanted them to deal with. Because of that, I’d have to backfill on the motivations, and the events leading up to that point, and then after, proceed as usual. Sometimes I’d know the ending, so the backfill was about how to get there. Trace of Magic - 600x900x300

Sounds pretty easy, right?

It used to be. But now my head refuses to let that happen. I have the worst time creating plot before I write. I often don’t know the ending. This kills me. I’m always uncertain that the story will be interesting enough or having enough going on. I’m never sure where I’m writing to. And even if I do have a plot point or peg that I’m writing toward, I often can’t figure out the backfill. I’m an incredibly linear writer, so getting that done is crucial so I know where I’m going to go.

I’m not saying I get writer’s block, but I am saying that I’m writing on faith a lot: faith in myself that I’m enough of a storyteller to create a good tale, and faith in myself that everything will all come together in the end. There is one thing that helps to some extent, and that is concentrating on writing the next scene, the next moment, and let that just come out. I’m writing the sequel right now to Trace of Magic (did you see the cover??? Do you like it?) and I’m having to use this method. When I do, my lizard brain kicks into action and ideas happen and I figure out a few steps ahead and then a few more. I create a depth of scene and character in those moments and let them flesh themselves out. This seems to work, but it is incredibly frustrating.

I’ve tried a bunch of techniques for sorting through this better. I’ve used Tarot Cards, a kind of quick plot design method created by Mark Teppo, timelines, a murder board, and so on. I just am having trouble creating that causal sequence and figuring out how the characters would work through events. I can’t seem to force it, no matter how hard I try. Apparently this is my process now. Hopefully it will change for the better later. For now, I’ll embrace it and run with it the best that I’m able.


You can preorder Trace of Magic now on Kindle. More formats will follow, including Nook, but it’s not posted up there yet. The book releases on August 29th.

Got questions?? Ask away!


The Biography of Me: I didn’t start out to be a writer. I was a storyteller from as far back as I can remember, and a daydreamer of epic stories, but it never occurred to me to write anything down. I read voraciously, but I wasn’t one of those people who said–hey! I could do this! Or even, this is so awful I could do better. I marveled at writers and thought of writing as something other people did. I did try my hand at some really horrible poetry in my senior year of high school. It was dramatic and bleak and world-tiltingly awful. When I got to college, I did poorly in my freshman comp class. I wrote in purple prose and use twenty words for what I could say in two. I loved language, but I didn’t really have much control over it. Then I took a creative writing class. It was awful. Total slaughter. I had caught the bug, though, and from there on out, I wrote. Eventually I wrote a really bad romance and finished it. I finished it! I could do that! And then I went to graduate school and another graduate school, got married, had dogs, had kids, went to work professing, and kept writing. Finally I had my first book accepted and I’ve been writing ever since.

As far as the prosaic stuff goes, I like to crochet, bake bread, spoil corgis, eat chocolate, sing to the radio, pretend to play tennis, geocache, crochet, and garden. Though I really hate weeding. I also like to make my hair purple with some frequency. You can find me on twitter as @dianapfrancis and my website at www.dianapfrancis.com or on facebook.

It’s Raining Deadlines — Jim C. Hines


Codex-Born-Full-185x300 Jim C HinesFaith Hunter was kind enough to invite me to do a guest post for Magical Words back in January of this year. We agreed I’d contribute a post for early August, to coincide with the release of Codex Born. And then I did something that makes me Hulk out and smash my desk: I forgot about the commitment I’d made, and missed my deadline.

I emailed her to apologize. Fortunately, Faith is both kind and forgiving. As a fellow author, I think she understands that no matter how hard we try, sometimes life gets in the way. She commented in her email to me, “For instance, today, I have to get groceries, go to the vet and the dry-cleaners, show up for a doctor’s apt, and, oh yeah. Write a couple thousand words.”

Sometimes things slip through the cracks. Sometimes we blow it.

This wasn’t much of an issue when I first began writing. Back then, my only deadlines were self-imposed. There might be a contest I wanted to enter, or an open call for anthology submissions, but it wasn’t a lot to keep track of. If I missed one, it didn’t affect anyone else (except the poor editor or contest judge who was deprived of the chance to read my BRILLIANT retelling of the Adam & Eve story, in which Eve is actually a vampire, and–)

Anyway, things changed once I sold my first book. Suddenly I had deadlines from my publisher, who were paying me actual money for the next book. They paid some of that money up front when we signed the contract.

No problem! All I had to do was get the next book written and turned in by a deadline that was twelve months out. I could do that.

And for the most part, I did. My once joked that I was one of the only authors he represented who consistently hit deadlines. But then there were more deadlines. Not only did I have to write another book, I had to talk to my editor about revisions and get those back to her. I had to review page proofs. There was publicity stuff to take care of. And all these tasks had to be done on time in order to get the book out on schedule.

It was my fifth book, The Mermaid’s Madness, that broke me. My wife had gone in for several knee surgeries, meaning I was full-time caregiver for her and the kids while she recovered. I was writing Mermaid and revising the previous book and doing all of my regular stuff around the house plus all of the work my wife usually does—and I want to give a shout-out to all the single parents out there who somehow keep all those different plates spinning, because holy crap!—and I realized there was no way I was going to get this book turned in on time.

I called my agent, talked to my editor, and got an extension. I ended up skipping part of our family vacation that year. The book wasn’t too late, and I don’t think I messed up the production schedule very much, but I was not a happy writer, husband, or father.

Life happens. Kids get sick. A pipe freezes and breaks in your basement. (Maybe not your basement, but I live in Michigan.) A tree falls and smashes the kids’ playset in the back yard. Your dog gets digestive troubles and creates new patterns all over your formerly single-color carpet…

So what do you do? How do you get ahead of all those deadlines, and what do you do when your best effort isn’t enough?

  1. Be realistic. I’d love to write 3 books a year like a few of my colleagues, but I know that kind of schedule would break me. When I negotiated my last deal with DAW, I asked for more time. It meant the next book wouldn’t be out as soon as I wanted, but it also meant I had time to finish the book, and to do it well. I was surprising how much more relaxed I felt when that contract went through with the extended deadlines.
  2. Track your progress. I have a pretty good idea how much I can write in a day, and for the past year, I’ve been spreadsheeting (that’s a word, right?) my daily progress. What this does is show me the progress I’m making, and whether I’m on track to hit my deadlines. If I fall behind, I see that sooner, with more time to do something about it.
  3. Play Habit RPG. This might not work for everyone, but over the past few months, I’ve gotten quite fond of this free application that turns your habits and To Do List into a role-playing game. “Write 1000 words (or revise 2000)” is one of my daily items, and every time I check it off, my character gains gold and XP. It’s a little silly, but it’s helped me both with motivation, and by giving me a To Do List where I can note things like, “Write Guest Blog Post for Magical Words.”
  4. Keep a list. Mine’s in Habit RPG, but the point is, human brains can only hold so much before they leak. Whether it’s a whiteboard, smartphone reminders, online game, or all of the above, give your brain a hand. (And now Jim pauses to contemplate that visual…)
  5. Learn to say no. I hate this one. The me from ten years ago screams my name, William Shatner style, whenever I turn down an anthology invitation. But I can’t do everything, and each time I take on a short story, it’s the equivalent of shaving 1-2 weeks off another deadline. Saying no can be really, really hard, but it’s important.
  6. Prioritize. Because we’re not going to get everything done today.

What happens when you blow it?

Communicate. If you’re going to miss a writing deadline, tell your editor! The sooner they know, the easier it is for them to shift things around in their schedule, or find someone else to fill the gap. It’s a hard conversation to have, but if you wait until the last minute, you end up making a lot of people’s lives more difficult…and some of those people have long memories.

Life happens. I’ve found that most people are understanding when you have to ask for an extension or back out of a project, as long as you’re up front about it, let them know as quickly as possible, and don’t make it a habit.

Some of them will even give you a second chance to write a guest blog post.

Jim C Hines photoBio
Jim C. Hines’ first novel was Goblin Quest, the humorous tale of a nearsighted goblin runt and his pet fire-spider. Actor and author Wil Wheaton described the book as “too f***ing cool for words,” which is pretty much the Best Blurb Ever. After finishing the goblin trilogy, he went on to write the Princess series of fairy tale retellings, and is currently working on the Magic ex Libris books, a modern-day fantasy series about a magic-wielding librarian, a dryad, a secret society founded by Johannes Gutenberg, a flaming spider, and an enchanted convertible. His short fiction has appeared in more than 40 magazines and anthologies.

Jim is an active blogger about topics ranging from sexism and harassment to zombie-themed Christmas carols, and won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2012. He has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Masters in English, and lives with his wife and two children in mid-Michigan. You can find him online at www.jimchines.com.

Other Links
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jimchines
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jimhines

Carol Berg: Explorations


Hi all and thanks to the Magical Words crew for having me in this month! It’s been a while since I debuted a new series – 2010, it would have been. Dust and Light, released just this week, opens my newest, the two-book Novels of Sanctuary. This is my fifth series, and no, it definitely doesn’t get any easier to send it out into the world. But I’m taking a deep breath and typing away.

The Sanctuary novels mark a couple of firsts for me. The first first? Each of my previous four series and my standalone, Song of the Beast, take place in a different world.
The mountains and deserts of the Derzhi Empire for Transformation and the other books of the Rai-kirah.
The dragon-ravaged kingdoms of the Seven Gods in Song of the Beast.DustandLight_mid
The dual worlds of the mundane Four Realms and magical Avonar for the Bridge of D’Arnath quartet.
The early 17th century style Sabria, burgeoning with science and discovery, for the novels of the Collegia Magica.
And for the Lighthouse Duet, Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone, a prosperous medieval kingdom on the brink of a dark age.
Never have I written a new series in an previously existing world. Until Now. So why depart from my usual practice?

The Lighthouse books took place in a deliciously complex world. A civil war rages in a once-prosperous kingdom. The weather has declined into what seems eternal winter. Famine and plagues have resulted, along with fanatics who roam the countryside, determined to reduce civilization to rubble in order to appease their particular deities. In this world magic is confined to a group of wealthy families – self-named purebloods – who provide their services to cities, nobles, clergy, or whomever else can afford to pay for them. To nurture and preserve their magic, purebloods keep themselves detached from ordinary society and politics in a mannered, disciplined, restrictive subculture, binding themselves to their clients by strict contracts. Nature itself seems to support their strict life, constraining a sorcerer’s inborn magic to either the father’s or the mother’s bloodline talent.

It was great fun to develop this chaotic society and, in particular, the pureblood culture. But as it happened, the hero of Flesh and Spirit spent his life running away from his pureblood heritage. He called the life of a pureblood sorcerer “slavery with golden chains” and it – quite literally – came near driving him crazy. But Valen’s jaundiced viewpoint and the strange path of his life left many aspects of pureblood society unexplored. I really wanted to discover more about it. That’s why I chose to go back.

Which leads me to the second first. All of my previous works took flight from an impression of a character, the image of a person in an uncomfortable situation. Maybe world weary slave who was once a magical warrior, standing on the slave auction block. (Seyonne in Transformation) Or a broken musician who has been brutally imprisoned for seventeen years on the day he is kicked out of prison still not knowing why. (Aidan in Song of the Beast)

But when I decided I wanted to revisit Navronne in order to explore the machinations of pureblood life, I had to go looking for who might tell the story. I wanted to tell the story of someone who, unlike Valen, believed in pureblood disciplines, not just as rules to be obeyed, but a duty mandated by the divine gift of magic in his blood. Someone who didn’t run away. These books would not be either a sequel or a prequel to the Lighthouse books, but rather a parallel story, covering the same time period, contrasting the adventures of the rebel and the believer. That way, readers would to be able to read either series first without spoilers. But who was this guy who followed the rules?

And there was Lucian de Remeni-Masson just waiting for me! Here’s what Lucian says about how to cope with life’s difficulties:

Discipline, so my family had taught me. Reasoned behavior derived from custom, clarity, and conviction. Registry discipline had been a foundation of my family, prescribing how we honored and worked with each other, as much a part of me as how I ate, how I walked, the very languages I spoke. I believed that purebloods and ordinaries had been born to different purposes in this life and that my place required certain things of me, no matter that they felt awkward or difficult or unkind.

In Ash and Silver (the second book of the duo, coming next year) a young woman tells Lucian that he had taught her the meaning of duty:
Not needful tasks commanded or required of thee unwilling, but joyful purpose, no matter difficulty or hardship.

When we meet Lucian he is contracted to the Pureblood Registry – those who administer the strict pureblood life. He draws identity portraits of purebloods. His magical bent for portraiture ensures that his rendering of a subject is recognizably true. Unfortunately it is also boring.

Lucian is stuck in this boring job because of a single violation of the rules when he was at a university. Yeah, he’s very different from rebellious, illiterate, and modestly talented Valen, but Lucian certainly isn’t perfect. And I certainly couldn’t let him sail through life in his cocoon of wealth, privilege, and talent. His youthful indiscretion and a terrible family tragedy have begun a spiraling downfall that sweeps him into a life he had never imagined. Seemingly overnight he finds himself at the city necropolis, drawing identity portraits of the dead. Not as comfortable, but certainly not boring!

The heart of Dust and Light is the interweaving of two mysteries – the strangling death of a young street urchin in the royal city and the savage massacre of a wealthy pureblood family by rampaging fanatics. The investigation of these two mysteries leads my hero to dangerous discoveries about the fundamental nature of pureblood magic in Navronne.

Oh, yes, we explore the culture and then threaten to blow it up! What could be more fun than that? I hope readers will enjoy the exploration along with me. Dust and Light is available in trade paperback, ebook, and audio from your favorite online or brick-and-mortar bookseller.

Note: For those who’ve read the Lighthouse books, Dust and Light actually begins about two years earlier than Flesh and Spirit, in the early days of the civil war. And though readers can read either series first, you’ll find a few “Easter eggs” – references to a few old friends and places. I hope that will be fun.


CarolBerg-smallerThough a devoted reader, Carol Berg majored in mathematics at Rice University and computer science at the University of Colorado, so she wouldn’t have to write papers. Somewhere in the middle of a software engineering career, she started writing for fun, and the habit ate her life. Carol’s fourteen epic fantasy novels have won national and international awards, including multiple Colorado Book Awards and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. They’ve been read, so readers tell her, on five continents, on a submarine under the Mediterranean, in the war zone of Iraq, and on the slopes of Denali. Her newest, Dust and Light, is the first in a new fantasy/mystery duology about a sorcerer who draws portraits of the dead. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls Dust and Light “captivating and satisfying” and RT Book Reviews names it “outstanding.” Carol camps, hikes, and bikes in Colorado and lives on the internet at http://www.carolberg.com.

Web: http://www.carolberg.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/carolberg
Blog: http://textcrumbs.blogspot.com

Delilah S Dawson: How To Plot A Character-Driven Story, or Why Harry Potter Should Probably Be A Complete D-bag



No. You didn’t. Because even though Neville could’ve been the Chosen One, Voldemort decided it was Harry instead and set about killing off his parents and giving him a scar.

It all comes down to choices. Your choice, as the god and writer. And the choices your characters make.servants

First of all, let’s determine if your story is character-driven. Consider your main character. Does that story revolve around who they are, specifically, in such a way that it wouldn’t exist without them? Are their history, back story, and skills integral to every mile marker of the story? Could you replace them with another passerby and have the same end result? Could you have the same story if you made Neville the hero?

If you can’t replace your protagonist with a sentient lamp or switch out characters for the same ending, your story is probably character-driven. And that means that at every juncture of your plot, you must be true to you character’s history, feelings, personality, and skills. You can’t let your world shove them around to suit you, the writer. The protagonist must be an active participant. Which isn’t to say that the main character in a plot-driven story is merely an empty space; just that you will have fewer choices with each new challenge because *the character* will make the choices.

As an example, let’s talk a little more about Harry Potter.

Why do I choose Harry? Because his is a uniquely character driven story… that’s full of missteps.

The series is named after Harry and follows his point of view. Every step of the way, the story is Harry’s story and couldn’t proceed without his feelings, his reactions. If Voldemort had assumed Neville was the Chosen One, then the story would’ve gone completely differently. If Ron or Hermione had been making the calls, the plot would’ve taken a sharp turn. Every step, it’s all about Harry and Harry’s past and Harry’s choices and Harry’s mistakes, which means it’s character driven.

But… that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

First of all, a kid raised in a cupboard under the stairs with no hugs, no love, no warmth for nine years isn’t going to be a thoughtful, nice kid. He’s going to be a damaged sociopath incapable of real connections, or at least a depressive, antiheroic jerk who hates everything. When you start from the moment Hagrid shows up, the story is fine. But if you consider the previous nine years as told by Rowling, the character-driven story doesn’t do honor to a realistic consideration of Harry’s psyche and history. I think about this issue whenever I’m following a protagonist. Are they who they would actually be after the history and memories I’ve given them? Are they a realistic sum of their parts and backstory? If they’re not, you’re not doing your job properly as a writer.

If you’re looking at how Harry’s decisions move him through the plot, consider his first big decision. Draco offers him friendship, and Harry must choose between a powerful, rich kid and a friendly poor kid. He chooses Ron, and then he uses his knowledge of Draco and Slytherin to push the Sorting Hat away from Slytherin, which sends him into Gryffindor, which completely changes the tone of the protagonist and every choice made after that one. Imagine a book where Harry shrugs at Ron, shakes Draco’s hand, and gets sorted into Slytherin. Completely different book, right?

So how do you write something as character-driven as Harry Potter without falling prey to the plot holes and missteps? You make sure that every point is aligned, and you avoid making a melodramatically horrible backstory just to make a character sympathetic or more interesting. Even the worst childhoods are balanced out with moments of joy and mercy. And whoever your protagonist is when they start out, you make sure that the sins of their youth are visible as flaws and weaknesses. They must have strengths, both obvious and hidden. They must have negative traits and make mistakes. And you must give them the chance to change, to find redemption.

At the very least, you add in little touches that make it seem realistic. If Dumbledore had said, early on, “Harry, your mother’s love acted as a spell to help you weather any neglect, any sadness. It was a constant balm, such that any time the Dursleys were cruel to you, you had a permanent protective coating around your heart. Without that, you would surely be as damaged and broken as Voldemort.”

But he didn’t say that until rather late in the series. And so Harry Potter’s kindness, loyalty, and generosity seem unattached to his past, as if his entire life didn’t start until Hagrid showed up and removed him.


  1. Decide who you need the character to be when the story begins.

  2. Decide who you want the character to be when the story ends.

  3. Figure out what history, memories, and nature would allow them to be both 1. and 2. and add them in at the appropriate moments to make it believable for the reader.

  4. At ever plot point both major and minor, look at 1. 2. and 3. and make sure the character’s decisions and dialog align with their past, present, and future.

  5. If you stall out or something isn’t working, go to the last plot point in the story. Do past, present, and future align? Did the character make the decision only they would make? Or did you, as the writer and the story’s god, push them in the direction that suited you best?

  6. At the end, make sure the character has experienced a satisfying arc that aligns with the plot.

Only in the later books did Rowling make it clear that Harry could just have easily turned out like Voldemort and Neville could’ve just as easily been the hero of the entire story. Part of the writer’s job is to constantly check the map, the compass, and the current position of the story and make sure that your character is exactly where they should be. That’s the only way to keep from getting lost or to unintentionally let your plot stray from where your character would take it.

If you’ve already written a draft and aren’t sure if your plot and character fit, I suggest making a chapter-by-chapter spreadsheet with columns for Major Events, Tension Rating, Plot Threads, and Character Arc. Going chapter by chapter, you should be able to go down the column and see the steps the character takes in time with the plot. If you see a hole, fix it. There’s nothing wrong with realigning your plot and character in later drafts. If you like, think of it as a spell.


See? Even plot holes can be fixed with the right magic.

delilahauthorpicDelilah S. Dawson’s next release is her YA debut, SERVANTS OF THE STORM, a Southern Gothic Horror about hurricanes and demons in Savannah, GA. She’s also the author of the steampunk fantasy Blud series for Pocket, including Wicked as They Come, Wicked After Midnight, and Wicked as She Wants, which recently won the Steampunk Book of the Year award and the May Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews. Spring 2015 brings her next YA, HIT, a pre-dystopian about teen assassins in a bank-owned America. Delilah loves sassy boots, eating weird animals, painting, having adventures, and cupcakes and lives in the North Georgia mountains with her husband, children, a Tennessee Walking Horse, and a floppy mutt named Merle. If you want her to blush, read her geekrotica e-novellas, The Lumberfox and The Superfox, written under the pseudonym Ava Lovelace.

You Know What They Say About Assumptions…

Lucienne DiverLucienne Diver

I debated the opening of this post about a zillion times. Do I start by asking whether you know how many assumptions you make in a day? It’s a silly question. Of course you don’t. Without even thinking about it, you assume your orange juice will taste like oranges, that your coffee or tea will taste as it always has…unless you’ve that day forgotten the sugar…that the sky will be blue or some variation thereof… The point is that we make countless assumptions on a daily basis, based on our experiences and expectations.

Novelists do the same. I’m rereading my second novel now (VAMPED, the first in my series by the same name) because the rights have reverted, and I’m going to be bringing out a new digital edition. And you know what…I felt so deeply the connection between my two main characters, I expected the readers to feel it as well. I never understood criticism that I had to dig deeper. To me, it was there. All of it. How could anyone not see it?

Now I know better. I’ve learned so much writing later novels. I’ve come so far. The anthropologist in me wants to preserve this first novel as it was, like a fly in amber, a stage in my evolution. Another part of me wants to apply everything I’ve learned since. The truth is that I will tweak but more or less let the book stand. I still love it, love these characters, especially love my fans who saw in the book what I saw, but…I can’t help but tinker.

I’m sure that when I’m on my twentieth novel I’ll look back on my Latter-Day Olympians series and want to tweak the bejeebers out of it as well. But right now…right now, I’m in love with it. For those of you who don’t know, the first two books (BAD BLOOD and CRAZY IN THE BLOOD) are out in both print and digital, the third (RISE OF THE BLOOD) is out in digital and coming in print September 2nd and the third, BATTLE FOR THE BLOOD, will be out in digital shortly thereafter. I love this one too, flaws and all..and there are undoubtedly flaws. This is why authors never blurb their own books (among other reasons). We’d say things like, “There are parts of this novel that are surprisingly good.” Or “Sections of this actually don’t suck.” But what we really mean is that we hope you’ll share our delusions of grandeur, our fantasies (and fantasy worlds) and love our creations the way that we do.

In so many ways, I feel that Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN was really about writing, with the monster being the way we view our novels, rejecting them at first for their flaws and yet sending them out into the world that way to fight for their own existence. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Or too little. But the truth is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and we all hope that you’ll love our little monsters. I know I do.

Talking about character–Trace of Magic

Diana Pharaoh FrancisDiana Pharaoh Francis

Hello Everyone! I’m so glad to be back. I’ve missed you all. Okay, really I’ve been reading and lurking, so I’ve been here, but I did miss getting a chance to talk and visit with you.


I’ve been busy with a lot of projects, but the one I’m here to talk about today is titled Trace of Magic. I’ve been describing it as an alternate-history, urban-fantasy, noir, romance thing. You might ask what that means. It’s set in a never-existed Colorado. Diamond City sits on the ege of an ancient prehistoric volcano where the diamond mining outpaces that in South Africa. The town is largely run by competing magical mafias (called Tyets), who are in the middle of a major turf war. Riley Hollis is my main character.


obligatory and updated author photo

obligatory and updated author photo

I love Riley. I had such fun writing her. In fact I’m still having fun, as I am in the middle of writing the sequel. When I was writing Trace of Magic, it was one of those gift books that rolls out of my brain to my fingertips and into the computer like a waterfall. I had to write faster to keep up. I admit I laughed a lot while writing it (sometimes it was more of a cackle—I haven’t given up character torture in any way, shape, or form.)


The thing that I enjoyed most about Riley was that she’s not super anything. She’s got a very special magical skill that is much stronger than anybody else, but it’s sort of a passive magic in many ways. She can track people, even dead people, and she can create powerful nulls which nullify other people’s magics, but she’s not your basic kick-ass, take names hero like my character Max is in my Horngate Witches series. She’s got to solve things in a more normal way, and she has to worry about getting killed, maimed, kidnapped, and everything else along the way.


In this book, Riley ends up taking on the magical mafia with the unwanted help of a corrupt cop (who works for one faction of the mafia). Her almost-brother-in-law is kidnapped, and she has to try to find him. I think what made Riley so fun to write is that she’s stubborn, she’s well-aware of the dangers and she deals with those dangers with snarky attitude—in other words, she’s scared down to her toes, but she’s going to laugh about it and fake courage because she has no choice, and at least if she’s laughing, she’s not huddled in a corner gibbering in fear.


This is the first book I’ve written in first person. That’s a challenge, but also a lot of fun, because the immediacy of the voice and character make for some wonderful scenes. Our own Faith Hunter tells me it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, and Romantic Times gave it their Top Pick, which is really exciting. I don’t have a cover yet (well I do, but not permission to share, so maybe next week). So instead of a cover to tantalize, I’ll leave you with the following scene to introduce you to Riley. I hope you enjoy:


A shape loomed over me suddenly, and Clay Price slid into the seat opposite me. My mouth dropped open. As far as I knew, he’d never evenset foot in the diner before.


“What do you want?”


He slid my coffee out of my hand and took a sip, then eyed it in surprise. “That’s good,” he said.


“Not to mention it’s mine,” I said, eyeing him balefully. It was the best coffee in town, though I’d not yet creamed and sugared it to suit my taste buds. He seemed to like his black.


He set the cup down, then ran his fingers through his hair. He was the carefully controlled type, so his gesture startled me. I examined him. He didn’t look any better than I did. His eyes were sunken, and grooves cut deeply around his nose and mouth.


“You know, if you’re hungry, there are other tables. Empty tables,” I pointed out.


He sipped my coffee again. “But you’re not sitting at the other tables.”


A frisson of foreboding rippled through me. I shivered. It had nothing to do with cold. “You came looking for me?”


“I knew you were a smart woman.”




He pulled a manila file from inside his leather jacket and set it on the table. “I want you to do a trace for me.”


Like I said before, my cardinal rule is not to be stupid. Taking a case working for Price—a cop and a Tyet enforcer—was the dictionary definition of stupid. Insane even. I didn’t even think before I said, “No.”


Price didn’t seem to notice. He shoved the file across the gray Formica.


I looked at it and then back at him. “Maybe you have a hearing problem,” I said. “I’ll speak slower. No. I’m busy. If you want me on a trace, you’re going to have to wait your turn. Give me your card. I’ll call you in a few days.” Like hell I would. I wouldn’t call him if I was buried alive and he owned the only shovel on the entire planet.


I started to get up. He grabbed my arm and yanked me back down. “You don’t seem to understand, Miss Hollis. You’re working for me until I find what I’m looking for. Unless, of course, you want me crawling over you like stink on shit. In that case, I’ll make your life so interesting you won’t have time to sleep.”


Interesting was code for he would dog my ass all the way to hell if necessary. He would, too. Detective Clay Price was a pit bull. He didn’t know the meaning of “back off.” Once he got his teeth into you, you’d be dragging him around like a ball and chain until you gave in or died.


You can preorder Trace of Magic now on Kindle. More formats will follow, including Nook, but it’s not posted up there yet. The book releases on August 29th.

Got questions?? Ask away!


The Biography of Me: I didn’t start out to be a writer. I was a storyteller from as far back as I can remember, and a daydreamer of epic stories, but it never occurred to me to write anything down. I read voraciously, but I wasn’t one of those people who said–hey! I could do this! Or even, this is so awful I could do better. I marveled at writers and thought of writing as something other people did. I did try my hand at some really horrible poetry in my senior year of high school. It was dramatic and bleak and world-tiltingly awful. When I got to college, I did poorly in my freshman comp class. I wrote in purple prose and use twenty words for what I could say in two. I loved language, but I didn’t really have much control over it. Then I took a creative writing class. It was awful. Total slaughter. I had caught the bug, though, and from there on out, I wrote. Eventually I wrote a really bad romance and finished it. I finished it! I could do that! And then I went to graduate school and another graduate school, got married, had dogs, had kids, went to work professing, and kept writing. Finally I had my first book accepted and I’ve been writing ever since.

As far as the prosaic stuff goes, I like to crochet, bake bread, spoil corgis, eat chocolate, sing to the radio, pretend to play tennis, geocache, crochet, and garden. Though I really hate weeding. I also like to make my hair purple with some frequency. You can find me on twitter as @dianapfrancis and my website at www.dianapfrancis.com or on facebook.




Misty Massey: Diving Back In

Misty MasseyMisty Massey

Well, hey y’all!  It’s been a while, and I’m tickled to be posting today.

There are a lot of things no one tells you when you finally sell a book.  They don’t tell you how long it will take for checks to come in.  It takes a long, long time – it’s usually one check on contract signing, one check on manuscript delivery and the last one on release.  That wonderful dollar amount you saw on the initial offer looks a little depressing when it’s broken into chunks over the course of months.   They don’t tell you that you might have to completely rewrite your book once the editor has gotten a nice, close look at it.  It’s called an editorial letter, but it’s really a long, sad list of all the things you didn’t know the editor didn’t like.  They don’t tell you that you’ll have to handle your own promotional events, and that going to conventions is really, really expensive unless you’re George R R Martin or Neil Gaiman.  Those guys get everything comped – the rest of us are scrambling to make hotel reservations like everyone else.

And they don’t tell you that you might shut down.

After Mad Kestrel sold to Tor, I was beside myself with glee.  I was an author!  I was going to see my name on a book cover in stores!   I knew good and well that I needed to be in my chair working on the next book, but I was somewhat overwhelmed by it all, and let a few weeks go by.  Suddenly my release day was looming.  Who can write when that’s happening?  I did book signings and cons and interviews and blog appearances and it was wonderful.  I was so very busy that I didn’t write a word.

Before I knew what was happening, months had gone by, and I’d written nothing.  Well, not exactly nothing – I wrote a couple of short stories for a couple of anthologies, stories I was very proud of, but those don’t bring in the same kind of money, and they certainly don’t support a novel-writing career.  A year went by, then two, and I still had only part of a book finished.  My momentum was gone, and getting back into the world was harder and harder.  At last I finished, and sent the second book off to my agent.  But my publisher felt it wasn’t ready, and sent it back to me.  I should have thrown myself into the work of rewriting, but instead I fell into a fairly deep depression, one that I was able to mask in front of most people.  I laughed and told people I was still working, but inside I died a little every time someone asked about my next book.

Eventually I decided to go back to the beginning.  I’d started writing with short stories, so I would try writing stories and see where it led me.  I outlined two stories and started working.  Slowly, the flow kestrelsvoyages3returned.  With every page I finished, I felt a little better.  I told people what I was doing, and they reacted with enthusiasm.  I found that place again, the place you go when you write, where the ideas live and grow.  And in July of this year, I released Kestrel’s Voyages, a book of four short stories featuring that fabulous pirate captain who sails the seas whistling at the wind.  I’m proud of it, and I hope readers will enjoy it, too.

Since I finished that book, I’ve been able to sit down and work almost every day.  Sometimes I end the night with thousands of words on paper, and sometimes only hundreds, but at least I’m producing words.  The ideas are bouncing around in my head the way they used to.  I’m feeling the way I used to feel, as if I can do anything with the power of my imagination.  I’m not kidding myself – I know I can’t guarantee I won’t fall down again.  But I’ve learned a lesson, and I hope it sticks.  Because writing feels so much better than not writing.