Ambrose’s Rome

“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” ~ Mason Cooley

In this time when people are self-isolating in the hope of avoiding the spread of COVID-19, and travellers have been advised to rather stay home, what better way to still trot the globe than from the comfort of your own armchair? That’s the beauty of reading, and it’s also one of the reasons why I wrote the MYTHICAL MENAGERIE series – to help me revisit all my favourite European cities when I couldn’t do so in person.

In HUNTER’S RESOLVE, the fifth installment of the series, Ambrose Davids finds himself in Rome, on the trail of a trafficker. The Eternal City is a bucket list destination for many and while Italy is currently in quarantine with its borders closed off to the rest of the world, following Ambrose on his adventures might just be the best way to enjoy this beautiful city.

Here are a few of my favourite images from across the web showing scenes of Ambrose’s Rome to get your imagination going. Enjoy!

(PS: These images are plucked from Pinterest, so I don’t know who the original copyright belongs to. If you do, please contact me and I’ll gladly credit the correct source.)

Are you inspired by travel destinations? Do you like to read stories that are set in places where you’ve been or where you’d like to go? Have you ever been to Rome?

Cover Reveal: Myth Hunter

The wait is finally over…

After almost three years, I’m just about ready to publish my first full-length novel! Long-time readers will know that when I started writing the Mythical Menagerie series, I envisioned them as serialised installments, each a short story of their own, that would eventually encompass one large story arc.

Initially I released these individual installments on their own, but since serialisation works best when there’s a new release every week or so and I write glacially slow, that plan never really worked. By the time Part 3 came out, people couldn’t remember what had happened in Part 1 anymore.

So I had to change my plans and I decided to bunch a group of stories together into a Series 1 collection that would be the length of a complete novel. All the stories in Series 1 are complete on their own, but together they form a larger story that can stand on its own, but will eventually just be the start of all the adventures I have in mind for Ambrose Davids, Freelance Procurement Specialist. I hope this will be a better format for my readers and I really hope they’ll hold out until the whole story line is complete!

When I published the first three installments, I had to have covers designed for each of them. Although I really liked these covers (especially the one for Beginner’s Luck), people in the know told me that they didn’t exactly conform to genre expectations. What do you think?

Now that I’m releasing a complete novel, I had the chance to take all of the genre expectations in mind and come up with something much more suitable. And I absolutely love it!

So without further ado… Ta-daaaa!

This cover was designed by the incredibly talented Covers by Tallulah and I think it conveys the spirit of the story I’ve written while looking like it’s urban fantasy, albeit something different from the usual fare.

What do you think?

Looking Ahead to 2020

Where did 2019 go? I blinked and it was gone! I swear, the older I get, the faster the years go by. So as we stand on the cusp of not only a new year, but also a new decade, let’s invoke Janus, god of doorways, to look at the year gone by and the new year ahead.

Janus, Roman god of doorways | Adolphe Giraldon, Wikimedia Commons

How did I do with my writerly resolutions for 2019?

Complete all instalments of the Mythical Menagerie series

Done! Sort of. I still need to edit the final instalment of Book 1, which I anticipate to have ready for beta readers around the end of January 2020.

Compile the completed series as a single novel to be published wide

Fail! I wanted to get this done before my 40th birthday, which was in June 2019. Things didn’t work out as planned, but I’m hoping to get it published early 2020, before my next birthday, which still sort of adheres to that milestone.

Continue writing a monthly flash fiction piece

Done! I have quite the collection of flash fiction pieces now. Not yet enough words for a novel, but maybe by the end of 2020 it will be enough to either set up for sale as a collection, or give away as a freebie for subscribers.

Write bi-weekly blog posts as part of a content marketing strategy

Sort of… I do try to write at least twice a month, but sometimes this falls by the wayside. Certainly something I can be better at.

Complete the first draft of a full fantasy novel

Fail! Not even close. I am a glacially slow writer and Ambrose’s adventures are taking up all my writing time. Still something to aim for.

Grow my email list to 1000 subscribers

Fail! My strategy has changed since I made this resolution. My list was close to 700 subscribers at one point, but is now down to just over 650. I’ve come to the realisation that it’s not quantity but quality that matters here. Instead of forcing lots of freebie seekers to subscribe in exchange for a free read (which just languishes unread on their TBR pile in any case), I’m letting the list grow organically now. I’d much rather have someone on it who is there willingly and of their own accord, and who enjoys what I write. Having ten people email me to tell me how much they enjoyed my story is infinitely better than having 700 people who just ignore my unopened mails.

Release an audio book version of one of my short stories

Fail! Let’s finish one format before we tackle another one.

I also had the following secondary objectives:

Increase followers and their engagement on my Facebook page

Fail! I currently have 77 Facebook followers, most of which are family and friends.

Use Instagram more effectively to engage with the book reading community

Fail! I have around 165 Instagram followers at the moment, pretty much the same as last year.

Create a monthly video for my (much neglected) YouTube channel

Fail! This is not something I focussed on in 2019. I’m still a little camera shy…

Create some sort of writing or reading course for passive income

Fail! I’m in two minds over this one. Of course, passive income would be fantastic, but who am I to give writing advice? There are literally thousands of people out there more qualified to do this than me. Maybe in the far future.

Well, it seems like I’ve really been slacking in 2019 with only 2.5 of my goals actually achieved. This is the reason why I find roundup posts like these so invaluable – so I can get motivated again to pick my socks up and get my act together.

What did I achieve this past year?

  • I wrote 3 instalments (2 of which are novelette length and the third is novella length)
  • I changed tactics from releasing each instalment to keeping them and compiling them into a novel length “Series 1” in a longer running novel series
  • I made Beginner’s Luck free on various platforms and unpublished both Banshee’s Wail and Asrai’s Curse so as not to confuse readers
  • I had a new book cover for the complete novel designed by a talented cover designer (cover reveal to come soon in the new year)
  • I changed email provider from Mailchimp to Mailerlite
  • I created Strawberry Moon Press, my own publishing imprint
  • I decided on a publishing strategy for when the novel is finally finished
  • I travelled through Slovenia and Croatia for 3 weeks and came back inspired!
  • I attempted NaNoWriMo again – and finally made peace with the fact that it’s just not for me
  • I completed Neil Gaiman’s Storytelling Master Class
  • I completed a Udemy course on Social Media Marketing Mastery
  • I read 48 books

So I did manage a few things at least, even if I didn’t deliver on most of my resolutions.

Here’s what I have in mind for 2020:

  • Complete and publish Series 1 of the Mythical Menagerie Series
  • Write and edit 3 instalments of Series 2 of the Mythical Menagerie Series
  • Continue writing a monthly flash fiction piece for my email subscribers
  • Compile a flash fiction collection novel
  • Write bi-monthly blog posts for my author blog
  • Write bi-monthly blog posts for my travel blog
  • Read 1 non-fiction book per month

Additionally, if I have enough focus and energy left, I’d like to also do the following:

  • Complete the first draft of a fantasy novel
  • Engage more and grow my following on Facebook
  • Engage more and grow my following on Instagram
  • Create some content for my YouTube channel

2020’s list looks a lot like 2019’s, I see. However, I do believe that it’s doable and, with my eternal optimism revving at high speed, I’m ready to make it happen this year.

What are your plans for the new year? Did you achieve any of your resolutions for 2019?

My 2019 in Books

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 47 books this year. There are still a few days left in 2019 and I expect that number might go up by one or two more, but let’s work with those 47 for now.

47 feels like a very low number to me. In 2018, I read 62 books, but many of those were free novellas from indie authors, while this year I read more full-length novels. The amount of pages read is about 1500 or so less, so in reality I guess I have been slacking a little bit this year. I don’t really understand why people would challenge themselves to read x number of books though – read as many as you like! Some are short and some are long, some are audio only and others are mostly graphic art, but as long as you do read, it’s all good.

They say your thoughts and ideas are formed by what you read, so let’s have a look at what was bubbling around in my brain in 2019.

(Please note, I’ve added affiliate links to some of these books – they won’t cost you anything extra, but if you decide to buy from the link I’ll get a small commission to help feed my reading habit.)

Books That I Read for Review Purposes

I love that I get paid to read books, but seriously, sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. Indie publishing means there are no more gatekeepers, but oftentimes those gatekeepers are sorely needed. The books I read for review this year were generally not too bad, thank goodness. One was excellent and one nearly did me in. We’ll see if I continue with this particular time sink next year.

Books by Author Friends

It’s always nerve-wracking to read a book written by a friend – what if I don’t like it? Should I be honest or should I sugarcoat it? Luckily, my friends are all excellent writers! I particularly enjoyed Starheart, A Study of Ash and Smoke, and Last Fight of the Old Hound!

Books on Writing and Marketing

I’m always trying to improve my writing skills, and I’ve discovered a love for book marketing. Most people don’t realise how difficult it is to write a (good) novel! And trying to get other people to actually read it is even more challenging (even more so if they need to pay for it first).

Other Non-Fiction Books

I’m a little disappointed by how short this list is. Reading non-fiction is where I get my ideas from and it fills my creative well, so I’ll definitely need to make it a priority for 2020. I always used to read one book for fun, followed by one book for the mind, but this habit has fallen by the wayside the last few years. Time to implement it again, I think. This year, my favourite non-fiction book was Big Magic and I’d recommend it to any creative in need of some motivation or inspiration.

Books that were Okay

Sometimes books just don’t live up to my expectations. They may have an interesting idea, or great writing or fantastic worldbuilding, but somehow they just disappoint. For me, The Belles was great on almost all counts, except that it didn’t convey the message that the shallow society and its crappy morals are less than ideal. Similarly, I really wanted to like Angelfall (because angels) and Talon (because dragons), but they just didn’t do much for me.

Books that I Liked

I’d recommend every book on this list, either for their great writing, great characters and/or plot, or creativity. They were all fun reads, but just lacked that little something that pushes a book from being good to being great. I was particularly pleased to discover The Mermaid’s Sister, which has beautifully lyrical writing and quirky characters, and the concept of time as a currency in Everless was fascinating.

Books that I Loved

Needless to say, I think you should add all of these books to your TBR pile if you haven’t read them already. The Swan Thieves and The Shadow of the Wind were both riveting, and The First Time I Died was clever and quirky.

My favourite book of 2019 was hands-down Strange the Dreamer – I loved everything about it and it makes me want to quit writing, because I’ll never be as good as this book is.

What was your favourite book this year? Recommend something I have to read in 2020 in the comments below.

My Thoughts: Kindle Unlimited Now in South Africa

I got the best news on Black Friday!

I received an email from Amazon to tell me that I can sign up for three months of free access to Kindle Unlimited. My first thought was that, annoyingly, they’ve assumed yet again that I’m based in the US, since we all know that a third-world country such as South Africa does not get access to good stuff like KU.

I clicked on the link just for the hell of it, and before I knew it, I had thousands of books to read for free at my fingertips.

Naturally, I panicked and promptly unsubscribed.

Then I pinged EVERYONE I know and confirmed that, yes, South Africa is indeed now also eligible for KU.

I immediately did a little happy dance.

Then I re-subscribed, and then I panicked again and suffered from overload paralysis, unable to decide which of the millions of books I could now read for free I should start with.

For two days, I did nothing.

Finally, I went through my wish list and loaned three books to read. I felt both liberated and disappointed, a complex combination of emotions and one that had me alternatively ecstatic and dejected for the rest of the weekend.

I have an author friend who absolutely detests Kindle Unlimited, for very valid reasons, but as a reader (and one who is too stingy to pay more than $2.99 for an e-book – I blame our crappy exchange rate), having Kindle Unlimited feels like year-round Christmas. I can read millions of books for free (or close to free once my monthly subscription kicks in).

The downside is that there are loads of books on my wish list that aren’t in KU. As a writer, I made the decision to have my novel in KU for the first three months and then take it wide, so I understand the reasoning. But as a reader who now has access to KU, I’m incredibly disappointed when a book I want to read is not available in there. I mean, I can read millions of books for free – why would I pay for this specific book?

So… my feelings are mixed. I think KU is great for readers, but I’ll end up having to pay for some of the books I really want to read in any case. It remains to be seen where most of those books fall. Will the $10 per month still be worth it if the majority of the books I want to read are not part of KU? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I have three months of free KU access and I’m going to make the most of it!

Me, the next three months | © Pixabay

PS: Wondering which book I decided to read first with my shiny new Kindle Unlimited subscription? Check out Jo MacGregor’s Garnet McGee series – I’m currently on Book 2: The First Time I Fell.

PPS: This post contains affiliate links. It doesn’t cost you any extra, but I get a small commission if you choose to buy from these links. Thanks for feeding my reading habit!

What are your thoughts on Kindle Unlimited? Love it, or hate it?

What I’m Currently Working On: Final Installment of Mythical Menagerie Series 1

Like the eternal optimist that I am, I signed up for NaNoWriMo again this month. We’re now pretty much halfway through November, which means I should be somewhere along the 25k word mark. I’m nowhere close to it, lagging behind at around 10k instead.

And I’m okay with that.

I’ve come to the realization that I really do enjoy not being pressured into writing every day, but even less so to be forced to adhere to a certain number of words. I know, I know, those are the hallmarks of a professional writer, but we can all agree that I’m not a professional writer. Writing a first draft is agony for me and I’d much rather do it at my own pace.

Now, if we were talking about National Novel Editing Month, then I probably wouldn’t have any issues keeping up or exceeding the required word amount, but alas.

(And yes, I’m a NaNo rebel, so this blog post is totally counting towards my word count!)

In any event, I am moving through writing the final installment of the Mythical Menageries Series 1 at a much quicker pace than I normally would have, so I’m quite content with that. The first draft will definitely be finished before the end of November. I plan to start the editing process (which I much prefer!) in December, have it ready for betas in January (because let’s face it, no one is going to beta read while on Christmas holiday) and then have the final draft of this installment done by middle February, if all goes well.

And then, dear readers, the novel will FINALLY be finished.

I’ll have to read through all the installments and make sure everything makes sense and that I haven’t accidentally renamed characters or forgotten key moments or left unresolved storylines (apart from those purposely left open for Series 2). I might try to enhance some descriptions, because I tend to underwrite (hence writing novelettes instead of novels). When that’s all done, the novel should be ready for release early 2019!

Other than that, I have a few bits and bobs that I’m busy with:

  • I still have to write this month’s flash fiction for my subscribers
  • I need to make some promotional images for Instagram
  • I want to do a series of short promo videos about mythological creatures
  • I want to do short AMA videos to post on Facebook, so if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below
  • I want to finish my Neil Gaiman storytelling Master Class
  • I’m working through a Udemy course on social media marketing – so interesting
  • I need to write a blurb for the novel

On a more personal front, I’ve recently started on a new health regime and have joined the gym again as part of that. I’m not into weight training and mostly go for cardio or yoga. I really enjoy yoga and have made it my personal mission to get much better at it. I want to be able to do a handstand again!

I also realized that the year is nearly over and I haven’t even written anything interesting about our June trip to Slovenia and Croatia on my travel blog yet. This will need to be rectified, before those memories fade too much.

If you’re a rugby supporter, you’ll know that the Springboks won the World Cup this month. The hubby and I were a little at odds at first, but he came around in the end, hehe.

The whole country has been celebrating ever since and it’s been wonderful to see all of South Africa’s disparate cultures come together as a nation again, something we’ve sorely needed lately.

Can you believe 2019 is almost over?! I swear the years go faster the older I get. So many things still to do on my checklist! Better get cracking…

Is there anything you want to ask me that I can answer in video format? How are your goals for 2019 coming along?

NaNoWriMo 2019: Yes, I Know, I’m Crazy

The last time I attempted NaNoWriMo, I failed miserably. I managed to reach the grand total of 4862 words, which I think we’ll all agree is a far cry from the required 50k.

And yet, this year, against my better judgement, I’m going to try again.

I’m in a much better place this year than I was the last time. My little one no longer wakes me up in the middle of the night, so I’m (mostly) getting my sleep in. I’m following a healthy diet and have gone back to the gym again, so my body is slowly starting to feel better. I’ve got a new job that makes me happy. And most importantly, I write regularly – not daily, but often enough that my writing muscles are much stronger than my actual physical muscles.

This year, I can do this.

Like the NaNo rebel that I am, I also won’t be working on a novel. Instead, I’ll be writing the last installment of the Mythical Menagerie Series 1, which should get me up to 20k words, followed by the first installment of Series 2, which should bring the total to 40k words, and then I have a short story planned for the final stretch that should get me to 50k. In theory, at least. I’ve also made peace with the fact that 50k is an arbitrary number – if I can get more writing done than usual, I’ll be happy, even if I don’t reach that specific goal.

I’m planning on getting up at 4:50 every morning and writing until 6:00, because my brain is at its best early in the morning, even though the rest of me isn’t. Failing that, the university for which I e-tutor in the evenings is finishing up its semester end of October, so I will have the hours that I spend at night on that free for writing. If all else fails, I’ll try to squeeze in some writing time during lunch (or on the job, but don’t tell anyone I said that!).

In terms of preparation, I already have plots for the first two stories and a vague idea for the short story (which I’ll need to finalise ASAP in this last week before November). I also still need to print out my inspiration boards, because they’re invaluable in helping me visualise the story in my mind and on the page. I have a Scrivener project prepped and ready to start counting the words.

So yes, this year I can do this.

Wish me luck!

Research Discovery: Common Misconceptions about Werewolves

Yes, I know I said I’d never write about alpha males, but as it turns out, there happens to be a werewolf in the Mythical Menagerie series. Rest assured, it’s not the alpha male we’ve all been subjected to by your typical urban fantasy – you know the kind, the brooding misunderstood loner who’s really softhearted, but don’t mess with his girl or the inner beast will come out. Nope, my werewolf is going to break the mould somewhat.

Hairy beast | © Leo Karstens, Pixabay

While I was doing some research about werewolves, I came across a few interesting facts that I hadn’t know before and that I thought was interesting enough to share here.

We all know that a werewolf is created when a human is bitten by someone who is already a werewolf, right? But where did the first werewolf come from? Well, most old stories talk about Lycaon, king of Arcadia, who served the flesh of his own son to Zeus to test if the god was indeed all-knowing. As it turns out, Zeus did not take kindly to being tested, especially in such a gruesome manner, so he cursed Lycaon and turned him into a wolf (and also restored the dead son back to life). There are also some myths that tell about saints who could curse people by transforming them into wolves. So being turned into a werewolf is a divine punishment, and not the result of being bitten, although there are stories in which people transform willingly with the help of various magical items.

While the old myths clearly state that werewolves are humans who have been turned into wolves (the animal kind), my perception of the creatures have been influenced by bad horror movies into picturing a werewolf as some sort of hairy human-wolf hybrid creature, which isn’t historically accurate.

Werewolves form part of a class of creatures called therianthropes, a term that refers to any human that can shapeshift into another species. Lycanthropy (from Lycaon) is what we call the ability to shift into wolf form.

Surprisingly, silver bullets do not, in fact, kill werewolves, according to ancient legends (which makes sense, if you think about it, since people didn’t have bullets in Lycaon’s time, did they?). This belief is relatively new and has its origins in 19th century German folklore, and has since been exploited by novelists and Hollywood as a convenient weakness for an almost indestructible creature. Although all therianthropes are vulnerable to silver, the old stories tell us that the only way to cure a werewolf is by ingesting wolf’s bane or by exorcism. I imagine a good old beheading would also do the trick, if you were thinking of killing rather than curing.

Another belief is that a werewolf can only transform during the full moon. This one at least, seems to be mostly accurate, since the ancients believed that the waxing and waning of the moon could initiate the change. Modern science has also shown that some people do actually become more violent when the moon is full.

When I’m writing my werewolf, I’ll be keeping the old legends as well as the modern myths in mind. He’ll be a combination of both and something unique to Ambrose’s world and my Mythical Menagerie series.

Do you have any interesting werewolf myths and legends to add to this post? How do you feel about werewolves in novels and in movies – love them or hate them? And why?

What I’m Currently Working On: MM Series 1 Final Installment

I won’t lie, I’m feeling a little dejected.

I spent the better half of the last month plotting and planning the final installment of my Mythical Menagerie Series 1. I have about 20k words to write and then I’ll have reached my desired word count and the entire novel will be finished. Long hours were spent at my favourite coffee shop, sipping on a chocolate freezo and filling my notebook with pages and pages of red scribbles.

My favourite writing spot.

I had a plot! It was exciting! It opened up lots of new possibilities for Series 2! There was even going to be a werewolf (although I vowed you’d never find me writing about testosterone-driven alpha males).

But what it didn’t do was resolve the one outstanding plot hole that needed to be addressed to bring closure to the story arc.

So, much to my distress, I decided to push this story out to Series 2. The final installment needs to be a denouement rather than more rising action. It needs to slow down after the climax of the previous installment and it needs to feel like a satisfying ending.

So I’m back to square one. I know what I need to write about, but the details are still eluding me, and how I’m going to turn this into something that’s both entertaining and a slow-down of the action, yet exciting enough to hook readers into Series 2, is beyond me right now.

Which also means, of course, that my self-imposed deadline to have the entire novel published before the end of the year is most likely not going to happen. It might – if I can come up with a good enough idea, I’m very willing to do the early morning writing thing along with the crazies attempting NaNoWriMo this year.

It just remains to be seen if I can wrap my head around a new plot in time.

How are you doing with the goals you’ve set for yourself this year? Are you on target or are you also scrambling against the clock to try and make them happen on time?

Survey Results: Your Preferred Retailer Platform

In last month’s newsletter I asked my subscribers to vote on their preferred retailer platform. I’ve not had a very good response – only 89 people completed the survey, but at least the results have given me some idea of where my readers buy their e-books.

Since the Mythical Menagerie series 1 is almost complete, my main concern (apart from actually finishing the book!) is to try to determine where to make it available. I asked my newsletter subscribers to vote between Kindle Unlimited and other large retailers, with the option to select “Other” and let me know which retailer I’m neglecting. The main feedback for this category was Google Play – huge oversight! I use Draft 2 Digital as my distributor, and unfortunately Google Play is still only in beta with them. Hopefully by the time the novel is ready for release, this will have been rectified. There is always the option to go direct – but life’s too short and I’d rather do other things (such as writing!) than log into every retailer manually whenever I need to update something.

So here are the results of the survey:

As you can see, 15% voted Kindle Unlimited, 54% prefer Amazon but are not in KU, and 31% in total make use of other retailers. So clearly, Amazon is the way to go.

However, I subscribe to the motto of not having all your eggs in one basket, and I definitely don’t want to disappoint any subscribers on my list who have been waiting patiently for years (!) for this novel to be released. I’d like to go wide with it.

So here is my plan to have the best of both: when the novel releases I will enroll it in KU for the required minimum period of 3 months. This will allow the first batch of readers to get their hands on it. When that time is up, I’ll take it out of KU and release it wide across all of the retailers available via Draft 2 Digital. That should give everyone a chance to read it and maximise my distribution potential.

I’ve worked really hard on this novel and I can’t wait to share the finished product with the world. Hopefully this tactic should satisfy everyone.

What is your preferred online retailer? Do you think my distribution plan will keep long-time subscribers happy and would you be willing to wait for the 3 months exclusivity period if you don’t use Kindle Unlimited?