Looking Back, Peeking Ahead

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Happy new year card. Vector illustration. Can use for printing and web.

Every year when I write this New Year’s post, I say how glad I am the old year is over and how much I hope the new year will be nicer. I’m going to stop doing that, ‘cuz I think I’m jinxing us all. Besides, I am very much a glass-half-empty kind of person (actually, I’m more of a “I’m supposed to have a glass? Nobody told me I was supposed to have a glass! Where do I get a glass?!” kind of person). I tend to get bogged down in the muck and forget to look up and see the sun shining.

With that in mind, let’s look back at 2018, and then I’ll throw out some plans and guesses about 2019, and let’s just hope we’re all still standing this time next year, and getting a ray or two of sunshine every once it a while.

2018 had its ups and downs, that’s for sure. But a few days ago, Charlotte Clymer, a writer and activist I follow and enjoy on Twitter, tweeted a suggestion that we list three good things that happened in 2018, big or small, just the first three things that came to mind. I tweeted my 3 things, and then I kept thinking, and I ended up finding a decent list of ups.

Let’s start there—eat dessert first, as they say.

  • Published eight books—seven full-length novels, and a half-length Christmas novella:
  • *Aurora Terminus won Honorable Mention in the Science Fiction category of the 2018 Writer’s Digest Self-Published eBook Awards! More on that coming soon.
  • My collection of scholarly essays on Sons of Anarchy came out from McFarland.
  • Was invited to lead a seminar on self-publishing at the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association conference, and was invited to do it again in 2019.
  • Enjoyed a lovely, romantic road trip up the Pacific Coast with my husband, which was an A+ vacation from first to last, and during which I had a cool idea for a new series.
  • Had a great time and met some wonderful readers and writers (including Cat Porter, at last!) at the Motorcycles, Mobsters, and Mayhem signing in Cincinnati, OH in July.
  • Started and finished six books (three that came out in 2018 and three that will come out in 2019), which is some kind of miracle, considering one of my downs of the year.

That’s a pretty nice list. I kind of want to stop there and just bask in last year’s ups, but I also want to talk a little about a couple of the downs, because they were significant, writing-wise.

There were some big downs for my family, chief among them the death of my mother-in-law on Thanksgiving morning, after a long fight with cancer. The holidays, as you can imagine, were teeming with difficult tasks and complicated emotions, and those tasks and emotions continue.

I don’t talk much about my personal life except as it touches on my writing life, but my MIL’s death does have some significance for my writing. For one thing, perhaps most obviously, it was her battle with cancer that lit the fire under my memories of my father’s death more than thirty years ago. Those experiences drove me to write Fight.

For another thing, going through her house during the holidays and sorting her photos and mementos has sparked a different kind of inspiration. I’ve learned so much in the past month about this woman I’d known for more than twenty years. As an affluent young woman in the 1950s, she had an interesting life, full of joys and frustrations, and I’m thinking about writing a story set in that time period, about a young woman in similar circumstances. My deep affection for the poet Sylvia Plath might play into this idea a bit as well.

The sparks of inspiration I’ve felt this year have been especially important because my other big down of 2018 was my first real bout with writer’s block. I know it seems ridiculous to say I had a bad bout of writer’s block this year and also completed six books, but it’s true, and I was a mess.

I’ve had a few little glitches over my years of writing fiction—a week or two here or there where I couldn’t get any words down—and those glitches certainly scared me. But they always passed quickly, and I started hitting the keys again. This summer, however, and for months thereafter, I was really flailing.

The weird thing was, I didn’t stop writing. I got my words down just about every day.

But the fire wasn’t there. Lola had fled. She’d left the words but taken their life.

I had the ideas, but on the page, they were cold. I wrote a whole novel like that, and most of another (neither is included in my count above, because neither may ever see any eyes but my own). Three other projects died or went dormant 10,000-20,000 words in. I kept trying to find that spark but just could not. Even ideas I had extensive notes for, things I’d been excited to write—once I got started I was just meh.

And that was a billion times scarier than those scattered bouts of the words not coming. The lack of interest in the endeavor, and the words that came being bland—that felt truly like the end of the road for my writing, and it nearly broke me. Writing is not the thing that keeps a roof over my head. It’s the thing that keeps my head screwed on at all.

Scrambling for something that would catch fire, I picked up an idea I’ve knocked around for awhile, for a historical romance set in Depression-era Appalachia, with a pack horse librarian as the lead. It required a lot of reading before I could even get started, and that was the medicine I needed, I think. As I fell deeper into the research and began to admire these women more and more, I felt that quiver in my chest, that hot shot of adrenaline I get when Lola straps in and grabs the wheel. After months of writing like some soulless bot that had been inputted with thousands of hours of genre fiction, I was finally getting lost in a story again, and the words flowed out with grace and depth.

Sure, dirt-poor hill folk aren’t the characters that leap to most minds when people think of romantic couples, but I enjoy writing about people who find love and joy no matter how dark the world around them. Those librarians were badass heroes in a time of deep hardship, and I absolutely loved living with mine for a while, and with her gentle mountain man as well. I especially love them because they brought my words back to me—my words, the ones full of the fire of my heart and soul.

The first part of the year was a bit more than usually productive for me, I had five books written by the end of July, which is why I’m still able to claim six books completed (and worthy of reading) despite my months of flailing. Maybe Lola was just tired.

All I know is I really hope I don’t have to deal with that again anytime soon.

Or, you know, ever.


Okay. So that was 2018. What’s ahead in 2019?

First, in deference to my newly turbocharged writer’s block anxiety, I’m slowing down my publishing schedule, hopefully only a little, but possibly significantly. Eight is just too damn many, and apparently Lola is starting to feel the strain. Ideally, assuming Lola hangs in there with me, I’ll put out six books this year. For sure, I’ll put out at least three, since those are already written.

The three I’m ready to lock in plans for:

  • 5 January: Hidden Worthiness (Pagano Brothers 2). Donnie’s story, coming out this Saturday, 5 January. You can preorder now at Amazon and elsewhere.
  • 2 March: Book 8 of the Brazen Bulls Series—this is Becker’s story, and the conclusion of the series. More information coming soon, with the reveal in a couple weeks.
  • 4 May: My pack horse librarian/Appalachia book. More info in early spring.

Those three are written, have covers, and are revised except, in the case of the Bulls book and the Appalachian story, for final editing, so I can commit to their releases.

After that, in the second half of the year, I know what I want to do. I want to release Book 3 of the Pagano Brothers and Book 3 of the Sawtooth Mountains stories. But I’m not ready to call those plans yet. Let’s call them hopes.

I’m also trying to decide what, if anything, to do with the epic fantasy novel I’m about to finally complete (and what an agonizing, bloody birth this fucker’s had). I might just shove it in a folder deep on my hard drive and pretend it never happened.

As for anything else, well, I’m afraid to think that far yet. I will follow inspiration wherever it goes, and hope it keeps leading me forward. I envision the Pagano Brothers to eventually be a four-to-six book series. I’m not sure how long the Sawtooth series will turn out to be—those stories don’t have a strong series story threaded through them, they’re more like related standalones, so I will write in that world whenever I have a story to tell in it.

I have a gazillion ideas (key among them: an MMA series and a firefighter series based in Pilar Cordero’s station from Fire & Dark), but Lola gets what Lola wants. I don’t want her running off again. So I’ll write whatever lights my fire and hope like hell the fire stays lit.

I thought I’d end this New Year’s post by addressing a few questions I get quite a lot, which relate to my authorial plans:

  1. Will you write a sequel to Aurora Terminus?
    Before this writer’s block ordeal, when everything was painfully hard, AT was hands-down the hardest book I’ve written. I love the result, I love the world and the characters, and I love having written it, but I can’t say I loved writing it.

    It’s also the least-seller in my list. I don’t write to sell books, but I do write to have fun. When I love the writing, I don’t give much of a damn about sales (Skål, Northwomen!). On the other hand, selling books eases the pain when the writing is hard. When neither sales nor fun is happening, it’s not easy to get up much enthusiasm for the task, you know?

    That said, people who read AT loved it, and now it’s gotten a little award I’ll be able to put on the cover (I’ve been motivated by gold stars since grade school), and I’m feeling much more warm and fuzzy toward it. Plus, I ended it with a few loose threads that could be woven into a trilogy, and I even have the titles and covers ready for two more books, not to mention the main ideas for their stories, so … call the forecast on this “partly sunny.” A strong maybe, leaning to probably.

  2. Will you ever release audiobooks?
    I would like to do this, and I have tried a couple different tacks, but neither have worked out.  The cost to do it right is just prohibitive, and the lower-cost upfront options haven’t panned out. I certainly don’t want to narrate them myself, and trust me, you don’t want that, either.

    At this point, after two strikes, my attention has moved on, so the answer is “probably not, unfortunately.”

  3. After The Brazen Bulls series ends, do you think you’ll write more biker romance? (Related: Will you ever write about the Horde again?)
    To both, my answer is “I hope so.”

    I don’t like to make promises I don’t know for sure I can keep, and nothing I have not yet written is a promise I will make, but I will say that I would like to write more bikers and have the ideas for it—next-generation series for both the Bulls and the MO Horde, and maybe someday a series for the Montana Horde as well. For now, though, the next year or so, I’m taking a break from bikers and getting my brain’s Harley tuned up. Twenty-seven biker books is a whole lot of Harleys and leather, and I want to give Lola a chance to feel fresh about that world again.

    Meanwhile, I’m hoping to write Mo and Delaney’s story as a standalone. Set in the 60s-70s, when Mo and D fell in love, when D went to war, and when he came home with Dane and founded the club. That will be a story about a biker, but not necessarily a biker book. If you know what I mean.

Okay, that’s my old year wrap-up and my new year forecast! I hope you had a delightful holiday, and that 2019 is good to you and yours.


Oh, hey—and PS! I’m attending my first international signing this year—RARE19 London, in September. I’m thrilled and terrified in equal measure, lol!




  1. Love your writing. My daughter and I can’t get enough of your books. And, as we live in Massachusetts, your Pagano series really hit home. Keep them coming, girl. Wel’ll be there.

  2. When I read that you had writer’s block but published 8 books last year – incredible!!! I still marvel at how you do this and have another full-time job as a professor. I really love your books, they stay with me LONG after I’ve read them and you are one of the few author’s whose work I read more than once (I’ve ready Isaac and Lillie’s story 3 times now). So, I guess this is just a note to say thanks for sharing your gift and that as much as I love your books, I hope you do slow down if it allows you to smell the coffee and the flowers and bask in the glow of the love you have in your family.

  3. AT, best book EVER. For the last few years I’ve been into the dystopian thing and this book was just so……….elegant in its presentation of that imagined world. Yes, bad things happened but nothing gratuitous. So even if you don’t write a follow up, I’ll re-read this many times. Good luck and happy New Years.

  4. Hi, today I finished Book 8 of the Brazen Bulls Series and just wanted to say THANK YOU! you’re an amazing author and I hope you never stop sharing your wonder gift with the world. Along with Holidays and Birthdays, I know mark my calendar with each of your releases. Can’t wait for May 🙂

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