Tag Archives: the loyal heart

Character Interview – Toby Dunkirke from The Noble Hearts trilogy

Jun 28, 2016

I’m continuing my series of character interviews today with one of my most beloved characters. Toby Dunkirke is a supporting character in my very first books: The Noble Hearts series (The Loyal Heart, The Faithful Heart, and The Courageous Heart). I stopped writing Medieval Historical Romance years ago, but Toby and his friends have always kept a special place in my heart. Let’s find out why…

 

The Loyal Heart_smallMerry: Hey Toby, it’s great to see you again!

Toby: And do be seen. I really appreciate you bringing me off the shelf, so to speak. It means so much.

Merry: And you mean so much to me. So tell me, what is it like being a major secondary character in other people’s books.

Toby: It’s a bit of a relief, to tell you the truth. I get to be a part of the stories and play a pivotal role, but it keeps me out of the center of attention. I’m not very good at being the center of attention.

Merry: So you’re sort of a loyal side-kick then?

Toby: Loyal and in some cases long-suffering. I tell you, Ethan…I mean, Lord Ethan…can get into all sorts of trouble. He’s a bit full of himself sometimes, my master. But that’s to be expected when someone is born into the position they’re born into only to lose everything.

Merry: But you stuck with Ethan through thick and thin, right? You were faithful through the whole thing.

Toby: Oh, absolutely! I couldn’t be anything but faithful to Ethan. Well, except for… (blushes) No, at heart, I have always been faithful to Ethan. We practically grew up together, you know. Ethan and my sister, Joanna, and I.

Merry: I understand you accompanied Ethan to the Crusades as well. That was awfully courageous of you.

Toby: (scoffs) I don’t consider myself courageous, not at all. I didn’t fight. Not really. My role in the Crusades was more that of squire.

Merry: And after? When you came home?

The Faithful Heart_smallToby: Ah, afterwards, my role was…my role was babysitter, I suppose. Of course, Lady Aubrey was incredibly happy to see Ethan when he returned, but things weren’t the way they used to be. In fact, so much had changed that it’s a wonder we didn’t get into even more trouble.

Merry: Did you enjoy getting into trouble with Ethan?

Toby: Heavens, no! I would have been content to stay at home, eating Joanna’s cooking and maybe tending a small vegetable patch. I never set out to be a hero.

Merry: But you became a hero, right?

Toby: I certainly wouldn’t put it that way. I merely did what I needed to do.

Merry: What do you think about Sir Crispin?

Toby: (frowns) That’s difficult to say. Sir Crispin caused so many problems for Ethan…er, Sir Ethan…right from the beginning. And he was the lackey of Buxton, you know. But I always thought the man could be something more. It was interesting to watch the way he changed along with everything else that was changing.

Merry: How do you feel about playing a central role in one of the most emotional scenes I’ve ever written? One that I still cry over every time I read?

Toby: (blushes) Oh, well, that. I only did what I had to do, that’s all. I’m flattered that you would find it so touching. But by that point I knew what had to be and what could never be, so I did the only thing I could do. I think Joanna would have been proud of me. And Ethan, of course.

Merry: So what do you have to say about the criticism that your story sounds a lot like the Robin Hood legend?

Toby: Well, that was sort of the point, wasn’t it? In a vague way?

The Courageous Heart_smallMerry: It was, actually.

Toby: I mean, there are certain iconic stories that stay with us through the ages. Different people have played with those stories in different ways throughout the centuries. We actually like to see familiar motifs turned into something else. The familiar keeps us grounded and the new elements, the unfamiliar, expand our minds into new territory. What’s not to like about that?

Merry: My thoughts exactly! But let’s let the readers decide for themselves.

 

You can read all about Toby, Sir Ethan, Lady Aubrey, and Sir Crispin in The Noble Hearts trilogy. They should be read in order, beginning with The Loyal Heart. Exclusively available on Amazon and for Kindle Unlimited!

Unlocking the Completely Baffling Mystery of Author Branding

May 23, 2014
And this is where it all started....

And this is where it all started….

When I first started publishing back in 2011, I thought to myself, “YAY! I’m a writer! I can write books now!”

Ha! Little did I know that writing the books is only about 50% of the rigmarole of being a writer. It’s the most fun part, mind you. It’s the part that I really and truly love and the part that makes me happy from the inside out. But the reality is that the day I became a published author (before that, even) I also became a marketer and a salesperson. I had to learn about things that completely baffled me on so many levels. Terms like “sales funnel” and “loss leader”, things that I would normally run screaming from, became my bread and butter.

Some of those concepts were more confusing to me than others. I will confess that the first time I heard that, as an author, I should be branding myself, I cringed. Branding is the Golden Arches. Branding is “Just Do It”. Branding is the fact that I can go into any Starbucks in the country and find the same color and grain of wood in the fixtures. To me it felt very sterile and “catchy”, but not in the good way. What does branding have to do with writing books? I wanted to reach people on an emotional level, make them fall in love with characters and stories.

Well, as with a bunch of other things about the business of publishing, I was wrong. More than that, once I tapped into my brand as an author, a lot of other things clicked into place, including how and where to market my books and what audience I should be courting.

And then it started to evolve....

And then it started to evolve….

One of the things that made my head hurt in the beginning was that I knew I would be publishing in more than one genre. I knew that my historical romance novels weren’t going to fit into the standard historical romance mold. I knew that my sci-fi novels weren’t going to fit into the regular perception of what constitutes sci-fi. I knew from day one that I was going to march to the beat of my own drummer, and that that march was potentially a lonely one. I worried myself silly about how I was going to fit into just one basket.

My author brand didn’t flash like lightning into my brain in a moment of bliss. In fact, it took me two years to figure it out to the point where I thought “Yes! This is me!” It all started with my name. I knew I wanted to publish everything under my real name, Merry Farmer, and that name alone. This was reinforced when awesome NY Times Bestselling author Jonathan Maberry told me I had one of the best author names he’d ever seen. Ah-ha! I was heading in the right direction.

The other element that added to my brand was the super awesome font that my cover designer, another Jonathan, found for the Noble Heart’s covers. I really like that font. Like, A LOT! It’s pretty awesome. But it also embodies both a spirit of romance and a more adventurous feeling. Definitely part of the brand.

The final piece of the branding puzzle came from my books themselves. I write romance, I write sci-fi. Neither are usual. What do they have in common? Well, I love writing romance. It’s the stuff of life! My sci-fi is full of it. I also love writing action scenes and adventure. My romance novels have all sorts of sword fights and gun fights and rescue scenes. Ah-ha! The genres I write may be very different, but the spirit of my writing is the same no matter what I’m writing. I have a definite style.

Merry Farmer: Timeless Romance, Epic Adventure

BEHOLD! A brilliant example of branding!  You know exactly what you're going to get when you look at Anne from Badass Marketing's logo.  The logo embodies everything she is.  THIS is what you're going for!

BEHOLD! A brilliant example of branding! You know exactly what you’re going to get when you look at Anne from Badass Marketing’s logo. The logo embodies everything she is. THIS is what you’re going for!

That was it! After two years of trying to figure it out, trying to wrap my mind around the concept of branding, there it was. I’m sold! Not only does it have a certain ring to it, in just four words it sums up everything that I write and everything that I am. It also helps to keep me focused and directed on what matters in my writing. When all else fails, I can identify myself and my writing with those four words.

So that’s my story, but what does this mean to you as an aspiring writer or established writer trying to figure it all out? Look inside of yourself and your writing. There is something about it that is uniquely you. The reason you write is because you have something to say that no one else has to say. You are able to tell stories that no one else is able to tell. Once you find that thing, you will know what your brand is as an author. Once you brand yourself, not only will you be able to concisely explain yourself to your potential audience, you will be able to keep yourself on track with your own writing. For those who want to go traditional, you will have a perfect tool to sell yourself and your future career to the agents and editors who will be the best fit for you. The more you know yourself and what your purpose as a writer is, the better you will be able to rocket forward into awesomeness!

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The Secret Power of Series

May 08, 2014
© Grigorenko | Dreamstime.com

© Grigorenko | Dreamstime.com

Okay, writers. I’m going to tell you something you already know. Ready?

Nothing sells books like more books. Series are totally the way to go.

Heard that before? We all have, especially those of us who are indie authors. But you know, it’s really true. I mean, really, REALLY true. I’ve seen authors skyrocket in sales and popularity when they find a series that touches people and run with it.

Here’s the thing, though. In my humble opinion, not all series are created equal. Or rather, different kinds of series accomplish different things. I have two series out right now, one medieval romance and one historical western romance. They are structured entirely differently than each other, and as a result they’ve performed differently. Here’s how….

The first series I published was The Noble Hearts. The three novels in this series, The Loyal Heart, The Faithful Heart, and The Courageous Heart, are dependent upon each other. You can read them out of order, but there is an overarching plot to all three books. They are designed to be read in order. You won’t completely get The Courageous Heart unless you’ve read the first two (which is a shame, because in my opinion, The Courageous Heart is the best of the three by far).

My other series, Montana Romance, currently consists of four novels and three novellas. Each book in that series stands completely alone. You could read them in any order and the others would still be complete stories that makes sense from beginning to end. The only thing you’d miss out on by reading them out of order is maybe spoilers about who ended up with who. But let’s face it, this is romance. We all know who is going to end up with who from reading the back cover blurb.

© Farsh | Dreamstime.com

© Farsh | Dreamstime.com

I’ve had several reviewers and commenters say that they read In Your Arms or Fool For Love, and now even Somebody to Love, without having read any of the other books in the series and that they’ve enjoyed them thoroughly. I haven’t had the same sort of comments about The Noble Hearts. Guess which series sells better? By, like, a factor of ten?

Yes, they say that series are where the money is, but I would like to throw a little caveat in there and say that connected books that take place within the same world but can be read on their own really make the money. Does this mean that you shouldn’t write a continuous series? I hope not, because my Sci-Fi series, Grace’s Moon, which I will start publishing in July, is a continuous series.

My current working theory with continuous series is that it’s all about how you promote that first book. I think you have to continuously, diligently promote the living daylights out of that first book, and probably offer it at a discount or free too! (Side note: offering the first book of a series for free only works—and works WELL—if there are several other books in the series) We’ll see. I plan to kick some butt with Grace’s Moon.

But what if I don’t? I remember hearing something that I think Hugh Howey said about series. If the first couple of books don’t sell well, abandon the series and write something else. Hmm. On the surface that sounds appealing. Is it in our best interest to continue writing something that isn’t selling? It depends.

I recently read another article that complained deeply about the volume of series that authors (particularly indie authors) have started then abandoned. The author of that article expressed a level of betrayal from the readers and a reluctance for them to read anything more by the authors who had previously left them hanging. Now that rings true to me!

So what’s the answer? As far as Grace’s Moon (or any other series I plan to write in the future) goes, I have my initial game plan and I have ideas to extend it. The books that I know I am going to write are the kind that just have to be written. They’re inside me, struggling to get out. I’m not going to turn them away because their predecessors haven’t done well. I plan to publish four Grace books by the end of the year.

What about after that? Well, we’ll see. I have generations-worth of ideas for that series, but I also have—no joke—about ten other series begging to be written. The fourth book in the series will come to a satisfactory conclusion, but more will be possible.

In the end, I think that’s the best way to go with series. Write what you have to write and don’t cut it short, but leave the door open for more. I only intended to write four books in the Montana Romance series. Then the novellas popped to mind. Then a whole second series about the children of the main characters of the first season and their interactions with WWI. Then an interim book that takes place in 1908. I left the door open, and I think it will ultimately serve me well.

Yep, series are where the magic is.

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How My Writing Has Changed (And Yours Will Too!)

Feb 19, 2014
Things were different when I was a younger writer

Things were different when I was a younger writer

The one consistency in life is that everything changes. The publishing industry is in the midst of colossal change that, like a beautiful phoenix immolating and rising from its own ashes, I’m obsessed with. But more than just the industry on a global scale changes. I’ve noticed that my own writing process has changed a lot too, and I think it bears commenting on.

Now, this is not exactly new information, and I’m not the first person who has had this transformation in their writing. That’s why I’m posting about it here, as a sort of warning and guidepost for what could or has happened to you, if you’re a writer.

Once upon a time, writing was my hobby. It was something I did for fun, to entertain myself, if you will. Granted, I’ve always written a lot. I still do! But now the motivation behind my writing, the actual process itself, and the approach that I take to it are all vastly different. Once, I would write the same way I watched tv. I’d get bored or inspired, plop down with a spiral-bound notebook, and go to town on whatever story struck my fancy at the time. I never finished anything, but I really enjoyed the process.

Then I started getting serious about writing. I had had a bad break-up in early 2008, and to drag myself back up out of the abyss of depression about it, I began writing The Loyal Heart. I was determined to finish it: to write a book with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I worked so hard on it then because I didn’t have any interest in going out at night or on the weekends, but I needed focus. When I got to the end, I realized I wanted to write a story for Jack too, so I started The Faithful Heart.

Mind you, I knew nothing about writing for publication whatsoever. The first draft of The Loyal Heart was 250,000 words and the first draft of The Faithful Heart was 200,000! I didn’t understand story structure or character development or efficiency of prose on an explicit level at all. (Although I have to give myself props and say that I have always understood them on an implicit level).

That’s when I started going to writer’s conferences, learning craft, listening to established authors, and *gasp* submitting to agents. It should be noted that I never liked the whole agent-trad publishing thing. Then I discovered self-publishing, and the lightbulb went off with 1000 watts above my head. Eureka! I’d found it!

Really, I guess that’s when things started to change for me. I went from treating writing as a hobby to seeing it as a career path. This was a huge change that effected everything about my process, planning, and execution. One single added element to what I had done before changed the whole game. Are you ready for it? For the epic game-changer?

Deadlines.

Yes, enforcing deadlines on myself has changed everything. I don’t know what it is about saying “I am going to do X by this specific date” that takes writing to a whole new level, but it’s there. I’m talking about a couple of different kinds of deadlines too. First, there’s the “I MUST have the first draft of this book finished by mm/dd/yyyy” deadline. That one is, of course, determined by the whole “I have reserved a spot with Miss Freelance Editor who has a packed client roster on mm/dd/yyyy and it HAS to be drafted and polished a few times before I send it to her”. And ultimately, that is decided by the whole “This book’s publication date WILL BE mm/dd/yyyy”. I work very well with time constraints.

Actually, I work very well when I discipline myself. I’m very good at self-discipline, which is one of the number one reasons I am well-suited to be a self-publishing success story. And that’s the biggest change in my writing. It used to be an occasional thing. Now it’s an every day thing, at a specific time, with a specific word count goal. I MUST write the same way I must complete the tasks at my day job to keep from being fired. Also—and don’t tell my boss this—my biggest motivation for staying self-disciplined is because I am this close to being able to quit the day job and make a living from my writing alone.

That’s all well and good, Merry, but how has your actual process of writing changed?

Funny you should ask! I used to be a pantser. Now I’m…. Okay, it wouldn’t be 100% accurate to say I’m a plotter, but I’m at least 50% a plotter now. Why? Because I’ve found that I need to have blueprints and a roadmap of the story I’m writing in order to knock out the word count I set for myself in order to stay on schedule. I used to just sit down and write. Now I won’t begin a novel until I know what the last scene is, what the climactic scene is, and what two or three turning points in the story are before that. I visualize those things. I jot notes about them. I then start writing, but every few days I sit down with a pad of paper and a pen and write notes about where I’ve been in the story and what I need to do to get to my next plot point. I plot as I go. It’s essential in order to stay on track.

Yay for revisions!

Yay for revisions!

My other big process change is that I now like revising more than I like writing the first draft. Oh man! I never thought I’d hear myself say that! But it’s so true. I struggle to smack that draft out onto the page, and then I just love going over and over and over it to make sure it works. And let me tell you, stuff gets CHANGED. In fact, I pretty much rewrote half of In Your Arms after getting 60% of the way through and changing my mind about the plot. Like, the main action and conflict of the plot. It didn’t work before. It works now. Because I worked with it and tweaked it and was very, very honest with myself about it. THAT’S editing! And it’s a wonderful thing!

Here’s the big question though: Is writing still fun for me?

The answer might surprise you.

Kinda.

Writing is no longer a hobby or a leisure activity. It’s a job. It’s a job that I love, mind you, but it’s still a job. When I write now, I see dollar signs. Yes, I confess, I do. I see the ability to support myself, to pay the bills, to live the life I want to live. The personal stakes have risen to towering heights for me. Nowadays, I write because I have to. Granted, I also still want to, but I have to write if I want to reach the heights that I damn well want to reach. You can’t pin those kinds of dreams on hobbies. You have to be dead serious about what you’re doing to bet your life and your future on it.

So now I study craft more than I ever have before. Yes, with nine books published, some awards, a bunch of accolades, and all that, I study craft much more studiously than ever! I take critique more to heart than I ever have. I would very much like to think that I am more critical of my own work—in the good way!—than I ever have been before and that I am able to judge it more objectively than I used to in the past. All of those things are big changes.

Changes happen, but they are good things. Embrace those changes! Accept the fact that if you keep up with this craft, it won’t be your fun thing anymore. Make friends with the fact that you will come to depend on it to put food in your mouth and to pay the power bill. Be honest about the changes you need to make in order to reach higher, to write better, and to promote wider. But most of all, never, ever rest on your laurels or think that you’ve worked hard enough. Keep going! Keep pushing! Keep changing!

Same Story, Different Book

Jan 08, 2014
Who's copying who?

Who’s copying who?

This month’s issue of the Romance Writer’s Report (the trade magazine for the Romance Writers of America) included a fantastic article by Erin Quinn and Kris Kennedy entitled “That’s My Book She Wrote!” about those painful moments when you pick up another book and realize someone else has written your story. The article talked about how common it actually is for writers to discover deep, deep similarities in plot, character, and situations in the work of others. Sometimes those books were published ages ago by bigger (or smaller) name writers, and sometimes two authors just randomly publish similar work at the same time.

Ouch!

The thing is, I’ve heard about this phenomenon before. In fact, I remember hearing a story years ago at a writers conference about some poor, hapless author who had just written a brilliant story about underprivileged kids in an inner city school whose math teacher taught them to count cards. Then they all went to Vegas and ended up making a killing. Apparently the book was smart, well-written, engaging…and pitched at exactly the same time as the movie “21” hit theaters. (“21” was based on the true story of MIT students, led by their math professor, who attempted to pay their tuition through gambling in Vegas) It didn’t matter how original the idea was to that author, the same story was already out there.

The solution to problems like this, we were told back then, was to read voraciously within your genre so that you could be sure not to duplicate anything. So imagine my surprise when Quinn and Kennedy in the RWR article recommend not reading anything in the genre you write at all! Hmm. Well, those are two entirely different approaches! So which one is the right thing to do?

The thing is, to a certain extent, I feel like writers are held to an impossibly high standard. On the one hand, we’re told that there are no original stories anymore. Everything is archetypal and has pretty much been done. True. At least in one form or another. On the other hand, we’re encouraged to write original stories, to come up with the spin that no one has ever thought of before.

Did you know that this is actually a relatively modern invention? Yes it is! Back in the eighteenth century and earlier, the mark of a true literary genius was a writer who could imitate the “perfect” styles and tell the same story in the most conventional way. The goal was not to come up with unique thoughts, but rather to perfect the form to the point where it was flawless. The same was true of music and art too.

Originality is new, all things considered. That doesn’t mean, however, that there is no place for exploring familiar tropes and retelling well-known tales. There’s a trend in historical romance right now to retell fairy tales with new and unique characters. I like that! And how many Jane Austen spin-offs are out there these days? Tons. I have an idea for one myself. I would also love to repurpose the plot of L.M. Montgomery’s novel The Blue Castle someday because I think the premise is just so brilliant.

the blue castleBut would I be criticized for that? I think I would. I was certainly criticized for repurposing the Robin Hood legend with my debut novel, The Loyal Heart. And Quinn and Kennedy cite tons of examples of authors who found themselves inadvertently rehashing someone else’s work, including Diane Gabaldon (NYT bestselling author of the truly excellent “Outlander” series).

Should authors be criticized when similarities appear?

Well, my gut inclines toward a little “Yes” and a little “No”. Mostly no though. Stories are universal, as are inspirations. There is an actual phenomenon that Quinn and Kennedy mention in their article called the theory of multiple discovery. It’s the reason why there are conflicting claims across continents as to who invented the car, the telephone, the discovery of oxygen, and the invention of calculus. Ideas are just in the air. It’s a well-known fact.

In a way, I feel like we should embrace these same-i-tudes. That’s where tropes come from, after all, and who’s to say that we can’t set out deliberately to pay tribute to a trope—or even a specific author—through imitation?

And at the same time, I think there are cases that skate so close to plagiarism they make me cringe. I don’t like the current trend of publishing fan fiction. Writing fan fiction is all well and good, and I recommend it as a way to hone your writing skills. But that work should be kept safely in a drawer. I have a hard time swallowing it when an author goes public and states that they deliberately copied someone else’s work and repurposed it for their own use. As in, there’s a difference between saying “I was inspired by L.M. Montgomery’s plot, so I looked for a way to adapt it to modern circumstances” as opposed to “I wrote fanfiction of L.M. Montgomery’s characters, then changed the names and published it”.

Does that make sense? Is it a clear enough distinction? Or, like some people claim about porn, is it an “I’ll know it when I see it” proposition?

What do you think? Are similar stories just a result of the theory of multiple discovery and something to be explored and embraced, or should authors be diligent about not repeating anything?