Slow Progress

I want to apologize for not updating the various series lately. I’ve actually finished the first drafts of two novels over the last two months, and I’m currently working on editing those into shape.

The first (and one I’m currently editing) is the next book in the Palace of Dreams series: Dreams from the Grave, wherein Shironne and Mikael try to decipher what he is supposed to learn from his own father’s death, but the only tool he has to do so is his dreams.

I’m hoping to have this one off to the editor by the end of May, although I’m not quite on track. I must work faster!


The second book I finished (last month) is intended to be published under a pseudonym, and is rather different in texture from the above work. It’s been fun to work with this one, although who knows if it will sell?

Mary Quirk 1

This is a young adult novel (as one might guess from the title) and I’m still working on a marketing plan for it. I have been publishing chapters of the ROUGH DRAFT on Wattpad, though, if you’re curious.

(ROUGH DRAFT means that it still needs editing, just like the chapters that I post here. That’s also a tentative cover, along with a horrible horrible series name!)

Anyhow, I hope to get back to regular posts on the serials next month, although no one can be sure how things will pan out, then!

I hope everyone is staying safe and being cautious!




Things an Author Doesn’t Actually Control

J. Kathleen Cheney

It’s interesting (and sometimes infuriating) to see some of the things that fans blame on authors. Authors who are traditionally published often have little control over their published properties. That’s simply part of the way that the business runs.

But authors still take heat for some of these things. Recently an author had a book released, and for some reason, Amazon didn’t release the ebook on time.

And fans sent hate mail to the author.

Can you really call those fans?

So I’m going to put down here a list of Things that Traditionally Published Authors Generally Don’t Control.*


The Release Date

Yes, we don’t have much say over when our next book is coming out. Our publisher sets up a scheduled date and everyone races toward getting things done on time, but if we miss a crucial part in the publication process (say, for example, edits just take too…

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Beth Cato: Researching the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 — J. Kathleen Cheney

Today my guest is Beth Cato, whose new book, Breath of Earth, is available today. I get to tell you about her new book, and she’ll also discuss one of my favorite topics–researching the historical events behind it! From the back cover: After the earth’s power under her city is suddenly left unprotected, a young…

via Beth Cato: Researching the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 — J. Kathleen Cheney

New Words from the Golden City

cover splashTGC

I’m close to setting up a pre-order page for After the War, the final (chronologically) novella in the Golden City series.  I’m still waiting on the cover, but as soon as that’s finalized, I’ll work on turning that live. (The cover artist–Rachel A, Marks–is also a writer, and she’s in the midst of edits for her next book.)

My planned date for After the War to go on sale is August 1, although that might change if there are complications.

In addition, my patrons have received the first chapter in a new work that tells of the meetings of Miguel Gaspar, Gabriel Anjos, Nadezhda Vladimirova, and the Lady.  I’ve jokingly called them my Torchwood in the past because they seem to work behind the scenes, focusing on the creepy and weird stuff. (if you don’t understand the reference, that’s OK.)

The work is very tentatively titled The Undiscovered Truth, although that may change.  (The first chapter is available here on my website, but it’s password protected so that only my patrons see it.)



Reflections on first person…

I’ve been working on cleaning up my mss of Whatever Else (for some reason, a lot of periods were deleted) and that led me to think about writing first person rather than third.

I have a limited number of stories in which I used first person, and for most of those, I was trying to portray a specific ‘voice’.

For example, A Hand for Each was written to sound similar to the writing of Richard Dana (Two Years Before the Mast).  I wanted the narrator to sound like an English seaman.

After five long years of herding freighters about the Indian peninsula, we had finally been given orders to return home. How I longed to see England again. My family wrote to me but their letters often went astray, likely arriving in a port we had just left. I knew that I missed many of them.


The Stains of the Past was meant to sound more like a young woman with a past: 

I believe in redemption. Every week when I go to confession, the priest tells me my sins are forgiven. I am a new person now, he has explained, and my penitence has created in me a clean heart. Unfortunately, my sins haven’t been forgotten. My past will always be with me, at least as far as Kiya is concerned.


In The Nature of Demons, I wanted the hapless narrator to sound a bit like Dr. Watson. I was thrilled when one of the critiquers actually mentioned that my Dr. Antris sounded like…Dr. Watson!

A more educated man would have recognized the signs, I thought.  Only a week before, the king had forced Menhas’ company on me, naming him a shaman among his tribe — a storyteller and healer.  As such, I expected him to have at least a passing familiarity with the hundred forms of demons.  “Do your people not have stories of these creatures?”


In Fleurs du Mal, I wanted the protagonist to be disdainful and cold.

I looked at Anne instead. She clung to Jeremy’s arm with one hand as we walked, her hips swaying as if she still heard a tango in the night air. I couldn’t decide what to make of her attachment to him. He is far out of his league, I thought, my trusting little brother.


And in Whatever Else, I wanted my main character to sound…a bit helpless. She’s in a society where women are chattel, and has never been trained to do more than be a wife. So it was a difficult voice for me to write, but I hope I cam up with the right one:

His sudden claim baffled me. Arras had been my husband nearly four years. Three years older than my nineteen, Seyvas was of an age with him; even through the worst of our peoples’ squabbling, he and Arras had remained friends. Since our wedding, though, Seyvas hadn’t come to the manor at all. Not until now.

I turned back to him and whispered, “What are you talking about? You’ve known Arras all your life.”

“Arras is dead,” my brother answered in a flat voice, his eyes gone bleak

I stared at him, mouth agape.


So for me, the choice of first person is usually tied to the fact that I want the POV character to sound different than me. I want them to have a very distinctive personality.

What’s your reasoning behind the times that you chose to write in first person?


In the Back Matter

As I’m putting together what should be the last (chronologically) novella in the Golden City cycle, I’m inserting a bit of information in the back. I didn’t have the option of doing this before (I was never asked, and when I -did- ask for a map, I didn’t get one).

However, since I’m controlling this one, I can stick in whatever I want.  So I’m putting in a couple of things, including the chart of Alejandro’s ancestry shown in the previous post and a list of characters from the novella.

And because that’s information in a different format, anyone who looks at it might discover a few interesting, if not entirely pertinent, facts.

(There are some potential spoilers here for the series, so if you’d rather avoid, don’t read past this point.) 


So here are a couple of things from the chart:

  1. Duilio’s mother is named Giana Fadda. I don’t think her surname has ever come up before because she’s generally referred to as Lady Ferreira. Fadda is a Sardinian name, since she was raised by her mother and a Sardinian fisherman (whom her mother rescued after a shipwreck) on the island of Sardinia. Therefore, she grew up speaking Portuguese, Sardinian, Catalan, and a smattering of other languages from the Italian city states.
  2. Alessio did have one child (with Tigana before she became Erdano’s queen). Someone asked about this earlier, thinking that I must have gotten the chart wrong. While I’d always intended to reveal that, it never did fit into any of the books. (I actually wrote it into The Seer’s Choice, but then deleted that part as it didn’t have anything to do with the scene.) But my idea was that Alessio pretty much grew up in Erdano’s shadow. Given that both of them had a propensity for multiple lovers, it wouldn’t be too shocking if Tigana, at some point, strayed from Erdano’s bedroom to Alessio’s. All in all, it would be a good thing to have Alessio’s son, her firstborn, leading the harem rather than one of Erdano’s because–let’s face it–Erdano’s not the sharpest card in the deck.

And here are a couple from my character list from After the War (included below)

  1. Raimundo ends up marrying Ana Pereira de Santos. I had intended from the start to have him sneaking out of the palace and spying on society events, trying to learn who his future subjects were. And he, at one point, met a wallflower who was hiding in an alcove. So the  party where he surprised Duilio? Yep, he knew from Ana that Duilio was invited. Ana had been his spy within society for a couple of years by the time he reached the throne. (I wrote some of those scenes, but they never fit in.)
  2.  In After the War, I go ahead and admit that the Lady is half fairy. I’d always left it open to interpretation before, but here so much time has passed that everyone has figured it out, so it’s no longer a secret.


The author knows all the family secrets.

Here’s a bonus one:

I say in the books that Lady Ferreira has money of her own. No one really questioned how a selkie could have money, but here’s what happened:

When she was 15, she fled Sardinia for Portugal, her mother’s homeland. In selkie form, she swam around the Mediterranean coast, and located a rich shipwreck just on the Portuguese side of Spain–too deep for a human diver to find, but not too deep for a seal. So she collected as much of the gold as she could (using buckets carried in her mouth), and buried the gold in a cave in the Algarve. Later in life, after she marries Joaquim’s father (a boat builder) , they raise the shipwreck and claim the remaining gold.

Turns out I have convoluted explanations for everything….



Cast of Characters (After the War)

(Again, there are some potential spoilers here for the series, so if you’d rather avoid, don’t read past this point.) 

Alejandro (Alexandre) Ferreira, Jandro—Son of Alexandre Ferreira and Leandra Rocha,

half sereia, half human, seer.

Ana (Santos), Duchess of Coimbra

Bastião—former guard for the current Duke of Coimbra

Duilio Ferreira—eldest living brother of Alejandro Ferreira

Isabella Anjos—daughter of Gabriel Anjos and Nadezhda Vladimirova, healer

James Markovich—Englishman of Russian ancestry, maledictor

Jandro—nickname for Alejandro (J is pronounced like an H)

João—character in story written by a young Alejandro Ferreira

João da Silva—name used for an unknown man in Portugal

Joaquim Tavares, Inspector—Alejandro’s elder brother, finder

the Lady—half-fairy, wife of Miguel Gaspar

Lighter—English witch, assigned to work with Alejandro during the war, firestarter

Marcos Davila—half sereia of Spanish birth, Serafina’s father

Mariona Palmeira—sereia, younger sister of Serafina

Marina Arenias—sereia, Alejandro’s adoptive mother

Mendosa (Luis)—Ferreira family butler

Miguel Gaspar, Inspector—mestiço from Cabo Verde, husband of the Lady

Miguel Pinheiro—adopted son of Captain Rafael Pinheiro

Phillips—Irish Separatist, assigned to work with Alejandro during the war

Rafael Pinheiro, Captain—cousin of Alejandro, seer

Raimundo, Duke of Coimbra

Roberto Machado—footman in the Ferreira house, war veteran

Safira Palmeira—Serafina’s mother

Serafina (Serafim) Palmeira—eldest daughter of Safira Palmeira and Marcos Davila, sereia





I’ve been working on the last bits of my upcoming ebook, and one of the things I -wanted- to include was a chart that Alejandro makes to keep track of his rather ungainly family.


I’m not an expert at this sort of thing, but I’m more or less happy with how it turned out.  (There might be some spoilers here, but since the finalt book is approaching a year old, I’m not going to feel too guilty about that.

So this will, hopefully translate into an ebook. ::fingers crossed::



Writing Advice: Should I Plot? Or Pants?

This is one of those strange areas in which the answer seems perfectly obvious: whatever works.

The problem that most people have isn’t grasping the fact that while plotting works for some authors, it doesn’t work for others. Most people get that.

The problem is, they don’t know which option will work for them.

For me, it’s a mixed bag.

I’ll give you two examples:

  1. I woke up one morning with a story idea in my head. I outlined it, and started typing. (My outline for it was only a couple of pages, but it was a novella). I typed and followed my outline and 26K words later, I was done.  That story was Iron Shoes, and went on to be a Nebula finalist in 2010.  IronShoes_Draft2DigitalFinal (2)

2. I had an idea  for a long time, and finally put together an outline for the story. It was a few pages long (again, a novella), and I sat down and began typing.  Within three paragraphs, one of the throw-away characters who didn’t even have a name suddenly took on a personality…and then I had to give him a name, and a story, and a reason for even being in scene 1. (That would be Duilio). And I tossed away my outlline, then sat there and wrote in a fever until 15K later, I had a novella, “Of Ambergris, Blood, and Brandy”.  That novella was later rewritten as a novel, The Golden City (a Locus Award finalist for 2013)

goldencity_100dpi (1)

My point being that both things worked for me. Yes, I prefer to outline, but…sometimes the outline just can’t contain what’s going on with the story. Could I have written The Golden City without having Duilio Ferreira suddenly appear in it? Could I have simply followed my outline? Yes.

It would have been a different story. It might have been a better story…or a horrible one.


Here’s what I do:

I generally start out with a halfhearted outline-usually only a few pages long. Then I start writing.  I’ve learned that for me, the outline -usually- loses contact with the story somewhere about the 2/3 mark.  (The Golden City was an aberration, with the breakaway coming on page 1. Iron Shoes, on the other hand, never broke away.)

That’s when I do my REAL outlining–at the 2/3 point. I sit down and figure out where all my plot points need to fall, how long I have, and what loose ends I still need to tie up. It’s one of the least fun parts of my writing process, because I really want to stop and get back to writing words. But I make an effort.

Then I start writing again.  And once I get to end of a novel, I check in with my outline and tweak it a bit, and start my edit pass.

So generally, I’m using a hybrid form of pantsing and plotting. It’s what works for me.

Therefore, I’m not going to come down on either side, the plotting or pantsing side. The trick is to know that one tactic isn’t necessarily better than the other.

For me, the situation appears to be this:

  1. Outlining will work for one writer, but not another.
  2. Outlining can work for one writer for one story, and yet not the next.
  3. Outlining can work in tandem with pantsing on the same story.
  4. The situation can change. Plotters become pantsers and vice versa.

So try them both out. See which fits better. Be reckless and combine them! There’s no rule that says you have to pick one method and stick with it for the rest of your life. (Unless you get a tattoo. Then you’re stuck.)



Bonus story: At a workshop, I had to write a story in 24 hours. I plotted the snot out of that thing, researching and setting up the small world where a clockwork-type factory functioned under the streets of Paris, doling out life and death. I slept for about three hours that night, and when I got up, started writing….a TOTALLY DIFFERENT STORY. I actually managed to get that 7K monstrosity typed out before the deadline that afternoon, but it was a close shave.

That story was “Fleurs du Mal”, which was later published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. And other than being set in Paris, it has NOTHING in common with the story I outlined.

Why this happens, I don’t know.



Writing Advice: Choose your advisors carefully

I don’t often dispense writing advice. In a lot of ways, I don’t think I’ve yet earned that right.  I’m not a million seller. There’s not a movie to be based on my works. And I’m not an industry insider. The only source from which I can draw my advice is my own admittedly-limited experience (and that of my friends).

But I’m going to dish some out anyway.

This weekend on my Tumblr feed, I ran across this quote:

“The difference between good writers and bad writers has little to do with skill. It has to do with perseverance. Bad writers quit. Good writers keep going. That’s all there is to it.”

Jeff Goins

I found this an objectionable statement, equating perseverance with ‘good writing’. I suspect that the author meant something more like “perseverance is required for successful publication“, but that’s not what he said.*

He -said- that people who quit writing aren’t good writers.

And that’s wrong. There are plenty of brilliant writers out there who are no longer publishing. This industry is brutal, and navigating its vagaries can be exhausting for an able-bodied young person with ample spare time.  For someone who’s ill; for someone whose finances barely allow them time to sleep,much less write; for someone who has 12 other projects in the work or 3 kids at home….sometimes pursuit of publication just isn’t in the cards. Not at the moment. Perhaps not ever.

That doesn’t make them a BAD writer.

For me, it was hard to balance work with writing. I was a teacher, and every moment that I spent writing was time taken away from my students’ possible futures. (This is a guilt thing). It was hard for me to work on writing when I needed to make lesson plans and grade and write grants and scholarships. So when I was teaching, I wrote very little save for during those 8 weeks of summer. That didn’t make me a BAD writer.

So my main advice here is to look at the person who’s giving you advice. In the case of the guy above, he seems to be a self-help guru with 4 books published (the most recent by his own press). Yes, he’s a big seller (on Amazon), but has he ever tried to pitch a fantasy novel to one of the Big 5?  Has he ever submitted to Clarkesworld? Has he ever tried to publish in your market?

Perhaps his advice isn’t the best match, then.

For me, the pithy statement above was simply miss-aimed. Equating talent and skill with persistence doesn’t work for me, no matter how good a little soundbite it makes.




*And yes, I’m aware that this might be out of context. I haven’t read the book. However, alone and with no context is how I encountered it being touted on Tumblr…




After the War

I’ve finally finished the rough draft of After the War!


After the War is  planned to be the final novella in the Golden City setting. By final, I mean the last one I have planned chronologically, not the last one I intend to work on.

I am actually working on two other things in that setting: a prequel novella (or two) showing the meetings of Gaspar, Anjos, Vladimirova, and the Lady; and a sequel about Cristiano (Joaquim’s clever younger brother) and a submarine race. (I mean a literal submarine race and not the euphemistic version of that term.)

My Patreon patrons will get access to the final chapter of After the War today (it’s on this website, but password protected), and I hope to have that novella available for purchase by the end of the summer. I have a cover commissioned, and I should be sending it to my editor/formatter by the end of the week.

Cross your fingers that all goes as timed.


If you’re looking for other new  (free) fiction by me, I’d suggest reading The Horn, which is set in the Dreaming Death world (although I concerns a different Family.)

The Horn  

The Horn, page 2