That Motivation-less Villian

I think we are all painfully familiar with the motivation-less villian. I’m not talking about the ones with weak motivation. I mean the cardboard cut-out that exists to make the hero look heroic. The mustache twirling cardboard cut-out.

The first draft of The Star of Time was plagued with this. He showed up when it was convenient and caused trouble. The heroine overcame his dastardly plan (and looked heroic) and then he ran away only to show up later and try again. It was empty and flat.

It took awhile, but I eventually did round him out.

I tell you that because since that personal experience I now pay a LOT more attention to the villains in the books I read. Especially the ones I loathe.

And I just read a really good one – Mistress of Rome, by Kate Quinn.

A Brief Aside – It was a tantalizing breath of fresh air to find a historical fiction book set in something other than World War 2.

Anyway! If you haven’t read it – THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD, TURN AWAY

Mistress of Rome is a multiple POV book that covers the rule of Emperor Domitian from start to finish.

The main players are Thea (a slave girl/woman), Arius (a gladiator), and Lepida Pollia (the villain and also a member of the middle-upper class). There are other great characters, but these three are the POVs.

Lepida Pollia

Ah, Lepida. Poor Lepida.

Now, you need to know that my favorite thing to do after finishing a book I enjoyed is to go read the one-star reviews on GoodReads. Often, these are the reviews that make me think critically about what I just read. Doing this has opened my eyes to problematic tropes, institutional racism, and a bunch of other problems that show up in fiction. It doesn’t affect my feelings towards the book itself, but it has helped me become a more critical reader. (And all our favorites are problematic)

It was the one-star reviews of this book that drove me to write this, not as a rebuttal, but more of a character exercise. See, a lot of criticism was directed at Lepida for being a motivation less villian, and I didn’t read her that way.


We start the book with Thea and Lepida and build out from there. Thea is a slave in Rome, and serves Lepida. They are the same age – 15. Emperor Domitian has just ascended. We learn early on that Lepida has a bit of a sadistic streak – she loves figuring out what will make people squirm and then weaponizing that. And she hates Thea, because she can’t find that pain point in her own slave. Thea isn’t scared of Lepida.

Lepida needs to feel superior in every room she occupies and anytime Thea is around she feels inferior. Thea speaks multiple languages and is literate. Lepida is darn near illiterate, and Thea takes several opportunities to tweak her master about this.

But sadism isn’t Lepida’s motivation. It’s a tool she uses to achieve her real aim – social climbing.

Raised by a social climber, Lepida follows closely in her Father’s footsteps. Meaning she won’t move unless it’s to climb another rung. And in true well-rounded villian fashion, she is the hero in her own head and can never understand why she loses (always to Thea). Her deep-seated need to feel superior is at the heart of every decision Lepida makes.

Why? Why is she so driven? I would ask, do we really need to know? Is that truly a question that can be answered?

Listen. I’ve known plenty of Lepida’s in my life. They’re horrid people. And quite frankly, very little of their back story would make them sympathetic. But, if you really want to know what I think the answer is here – it’s her father.

See, Daddy Pollia uses Thea as a sexual outlet. The book isn’t necessarily explicit (def not Game of Thrones anyway) so you don’t get a rapey play-by-play, but you know Thea doesn’t consent and she can’t anyway. She’s a slave.

But still. It’s the first time we see Thea chosen over Lepida. Now, Lepida doesn’t come out and say that she wishes her father would choose her in that way over Thea, but she does spend time wondering what anyone sees in Thea – Lepida is far more beautiful. From there we see a rivalry blossom and Lepida constantly frustrated that Thea is chosen over her at nearly every turn.

Lepida wants to win. She wants to best everyone and be better than everyone. She weaponizes her sexuality. She manipulates everyone around her. Nobody in Lepida’s world is anymore than a rung on the ladder to climb to the heights of power.

And that is what makes her fall from the heights so spectacular and such a payoff.

Not every villian needs a McGuffin to seek and compete with the hero. Sometimes the motivation really is just hatred and personality faults.

On the other hand, it’s hard to not feel a little sorry for Lepida, too. Because as her female foils show, even in a society that devalues women to a substantial degree, youthful sexuality isn’t the only way to get what you want.

Lepida’s no cardboard cutout. She’s visceral and looms large even as Thea diminishes her.

Disagree? Please tell me about it in the comments. There’s a LOT to learn here (for me anyway!).

Because Now It Must Be Said *SIGH*

If you buy a book with my name on, I promise I WROTE EVERY WORD OF IT.

I feel like I talk about my writing enough here that most people that see this will know this, but after the #copypastecris scandal of late …

Anyway, the words are mine. Good, bad, ugly, indifferent. They’re all mine.

P.S. If you need to catch up you can see Courtney Milan’s original post here.

P.P.S. Nora Roberts is a QUEEN and I love her and she also terrifies me a little, but like, in a way that makes me want to have a cup of tea with her but also use my very best manners. Read her thoughts on this disaster here.

P.P.P.S. This was my favorite quote from Queen Nora:

Because the culture that fosters this ugly behavior has to be pulled out into the light and burned to cinders. Then we’re going to salt the freaking earth.

Yes, she’s talking about the scam trolls in KU. Yes, she acknowledges in way that I have not seen many trad-pubbed authors do that legitimate self-pubbed authors are being damaged by scam trolls. I love her. My little self-pubbed heart loves her so much.

Quinning | February 2019

When last we heard from our conquering hero …

In my last update I told you about how I worked so terrifically hard to catch up to my production calendar and everything was awesome?

It’s even better now.

This never happens, so I’m writing it all down for later this year when (possibly) everything has gone off the rails and I wonder why I ever thought this was a good idea.

I finished Star of Storms. I even finished it three days early.

Long story short, I had one glorious day in a hotel room by myself and I powered through to the last scene. Then I binge watched Surviving R. Kelley and the first part of season one of The Good Doctor (because I needed to remind myself that there is good and hope and wonderful-ness in the world).

Side note: The overwhelming message I have been receiving for 2019 has been that if you are a man and either have a lot of money or make a lot of money for other me you can basically do whatever the heck you want and get away with it. My hope is that the tide is shifting on this, albeit slower than it feels it should. IMO, Surviving R. Kelley should be required viewing for all Americans because where have any of us been in this? I can make excuses all day long, but let’s be honest – he would not have made it past the first offense if any of his victims had been white. Don’t @ me.

Moving on.

I finished SoS on Tuesday, took Wednesday off, and woke up Thursday ready to write. Like, the schedule demanded words and I was all, “well, I could go back to rewrites on SoF, or … ?”

And then I remembered that I had written a skeleton plot on another try at the ding-dang-dadgum romance novel that I’ve been banging my head against for over a year now. I “finished” it before, at the end of 2018, but as I read back through it, I just … it wasn’t hitting the right notes. I set it aside. AGAIN.

This time though, I know it’s working. I went back to the drawing board and reread some of my favorite contemporary romances. (Look. I KNOW that’s what all the advice said, but I’m basically a teenager in publishing years and YOU’RE NOT MY REAL MOM!) I paid close attention to when and what was happening. I took notes. And I sketched out a plot between Christmas and New Year’s. I scheduled time to work on the book – after SoS was complete, but booked February 18 through March 1 to work on plotting. ONLY plotting. Any word count would come from that.

Only, when I re-read through the plot I loved it so much that I just jumped right in and the magic started happening right away.

It’s been a week and I’ve written over 12,000 words. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s still a first draft, and yeah, I had to go back and rework a couple of things that weren’t conflicty (*not a real word, but it’s mine now if Webster’s comes knocking) enough. But that’s a landmark in production for me. I have it penciled in at around 50,000 words. But according to my production calendar I’m not supposed to be here, where I already am, until (checks notes) sometime in the middle of March.

All that to say, I am going to keep working on this one. I may finish way earlier than predicted and then I will probably move to editing as I’ll have three completed first drafts that will need it. I’m not holding my breath or anything, but y’all. This is exciting!

Yearly Admin and Production Update

January always gets lost in a whirlwind of yearly admin tasks. Tax papers start to flood the mailbox, but what’s worse now is that they’re invading my email as more and more companies push to go paperless. I mean, I get that they save money, but my heavens if it isn’t hard to find that email with a generic title and vague link after it’s been flooded out by three weeks of emails.

Anyway, on the good news side, I spent the first two weeks of January re-reading the first half of The Star of Storms that I wrote last fall before falling into a pre-mid-terms news coma and general malaise. That immediately put me behind in my production schedule.

I was sorely tempted to flip the desk and say FORGET IT ALL, but I really, really liked what I had written (it’s still a first draft and mildly problematic) so much so that I reached the mid-point where I had stopped writing and went to flip to the next chapter asking (OUT LOUD) “Ooooh, I wonder what happens next?”

Only, I’m the writer and I HAD STOPPED THERE so now it was up to me to determine WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

I was so mad at myself.

So, instead of abandoning all hope and deciding that January 2020 would be as good a time as any to start a writing career, I ran the numbers and determined that I could catch up on production if I wrote 2000 words per day.

That’s a not impossible goal most days, so I dove in and started writing. On days that I was tempted to do other things (well, hello there Sims 4) I forced myself to write first just so I could mark that one thing off my mental to-do list.

I’m pleased to say that I am almost fully caught up and will likely be fully caught up by Friday. Like, I was only 500 words off goal last Friday night.

That felt really, really good.

The downside is that I just don’t have the mental bandwidth to edit and write at the same time. I reached the point in book two, The Star of Fire, that I needed to do some pretty extensive re-writing and I had to call it quits on that momentarily. The plan now (subject to change at the whims of the writer) is to finish knocking SOS and then edit SOF while also plotting the first in a new series.

And yeah, SOS won’t be the last in the series, but it will give me three books and a natural pause in the story. I decided to break there for a beat and write another book in another genre, because well, money. I can always come back to the SOT world as a fun project (and I imagine Mr. Quinn will push for it as he really likes these books), but I need to see some sell-through to know it’s worth it to keep pounding away at this. I know my fellow authors will hear that one.

So that’s where I am.

As a side note, I also got some mad little tasks off my lingering list of things that need to be done that I don’t wanna do. That felt good too.

My Most Important Lesson {To Date}

I think all newborn baby writers tap away on their first book with the latent idea that their book is for the masses. Everyone will read and enjoy my masterpiece they think.

Other writers know better.

I know better (now).

The truth is that not every book is for every reader. There is no Everyman in the world who will universally love every book ever.

Never was this lesson driven home for me more than over the last week. I found myself, as I usually do around this time of year, wanting to read some good romance novels. This can be tricky for me, because I enjoy specific kinds of romance and Amazon isn’t the greatest place to actually find what you’re looking for in most romance sub-categories.

I love sweet romance, and while I’ll read steamy from certain authors, those have to be highly recommended (so leave me a list in the comments would you, Mama needs some good romances! Still!).

Anyway, I found a handful of new to me authors with books that looked like they might work and I downloaded them to my Kindle.

And I deleted them almost as quickly.

My first reaction was “Those weren’t good books.”

But, I was wrong.

See, the first book was deleted because it was written in first person present. I discarded that one before I was three sentences in. So, I can’t say it was a bad book based on a stylistic choice.

The second one was not a sweet romance and danced over the light steam line with impunity. Again, a stylistic choice, though I wish Amazon would make romance categorization easier/better/whatever.

Those books weren’t bad books, they just weren’t the books for me!

I don;t like first person present. But other people do. They like to write it and they like to read it. I don’t, but that did not make this book a bad book.

I don’t like erotic romance. But, other people do. They like to read it and they like to write it. I don’t, but that did not make this book a bad book.

And that, I think, is an important idea to keep in mind when reading reviews on your own work. The people that didn’t like your book may say that you wrote a bad book. They may offer constructive criticism. But it may be that their dislike should only be read as “this wasn’t the book for them.”

For the record, I didn’t review either book. Nobody deserves a bad review based on stylistic choices in my opinion. And I did find a great book that fit the bill, so that was a good thing as well.

But all of this was a great lesson for me. Readers are allowed to like what they like and they don’t have to justify that.

Getting a Move On

Every writing book I’ve read in the last few weeks has had one thing in common. Besides talking about writing.

They all have spent a fair amount of words on the importance of moving your body. And I get it. Writing is super sedentary. Literally nothing I do requires me to move. I could work in bed all day if I wanted.

That’s not a good thing. It sounds amazing, but it’s not good.

So, I signed up for a 5k in March. And I fired up the old Couch to 5k app again. It’s not my first time racing, and hopefully it won’t be my last. On a positive note, I didn’t hate running as much as I did before. Of course, I’ve been out exactly one time, so talk to me in a few weeks about how I’m feeling.

This time around I really want to pay attention to whether or not I feel more creative overall. That’s supposed to be a benefit of getting out and moving. I think last time I was so miserable the only creative boost I saw was in writing about food. Ha!

I won’t bore you with training details here, but will let you know how the 5k goes.

2019 Goals and Plans

I cringe every time I write goals now, because my reporting back always seems to center around all the reasons why I didn’t make my goals. It gets tiring really fast. It’s almost like my contrary nature makes me self-sabotage. I don’t know. It’s weird.

And yet, here I am writing down the goals I have in my head for 2019.


I’m sticking with the 5,000 words per week plan again. This should put me somewhere around 200,000 words for the year. I’ve already put together a production calendar that has blocked off vacation and travel time and noted events that may hamper production so I can hopefully plan better.

I also included ample plotting time in the calendar for each new book. I’ve found that I write better with an overview, a framework. It often gets changed on the fly, but giving myself space and time to plan the next book before diving in should help when it comes time to buckle down and write.


I have two books that are in editing now. Hoping to get those published soon.

By the end of 2019 the plan is to have three more ready to go or already published.

That’s it. That’s all there is. I decided to keep it super simple this year, in hopes that it will be easier to achieve and evaluate at the end of the year.

2018 Year in Review

Happy New Year’s Eve! Stay safe out there tonight.

2018 was a bit of a rough year all around, right? It seems like no matter where you live, things are in a constant state of panic-inducing chaos. Here in the states that culminated with our mid-term elections and is ongoing in the state of the nation’s capitol. Still, I learned a lot in 2018. About writing, about the business of being a writer, about goal setting, and about myself.

Let’s start with the writing.

Back in December of 2017 I set a goal to write 1,200 words a day. Every day. For 365 days.

I mean, I knew I could write 1,200 words in a day, so how hard could it be?

(Pauses to let laughter die down)

Turns out, it’s not technically hard. What it is, is hard to maintain when you’re doing any number of other things, like editing, rewriting, publishing, or struggling with a plot issue. Or living a life not tied to the computer (weekends).

By mid-February I had already broken the streak and felt like a completely unqualified loser. Add that to the epic fail that was the contemporary romance I was working on and well, it was incredibly demotivating. So much so that my daily writing habit nearly faded completely.

I was getting bitter toward anything in my life that took me away from writing before I had the words down and that wasn’t a good place. Then summer hit with all it’s craziness and …

I changed tactics. Gave myself weekends off (unless I wanted to work) and eased up on the word count. I knocked it back to a much more achievable 5,000 words per week and started feeling a bit more success.

As for the production plan for 2018, it went off the rails with my word count. Still, I managed to finish two books. These will be published in 2019, so be watching for that.

The business part is easy. I published one book last year. It didn’t go gangbusters, but I did sell a handful of copies and am hoping to do a little more when the sequel comes out later in 2019. Yeah, slow publishing isn’t the best way to make money as an author, but you have to start somewhere.

And authors are exactly like people who plant trees. They both wish they’d started 20 years ago.

As for the learning about myself? Well, I learned that I am capable. I can do this thing. The writing gets easier with practice. The plotting gets easier. The procrastinating gets easier. The goal setting gets easier. Look, everything gets easier with experience and practice and I can see/feel that happening for me. It’s exciting in a time when I need something exciting to keep me moving forward.

Getting the words down comes faster, if not easier. And I learned that I really, truly love my job. I love it enough that I’ll keep going even if I don’t make crazy money at it.

2018 was a good year. I am really looking forward to 2019!

Merry Christmas!

The funny thing about writing is that it, well, requires a LOT of writing. And that’s what I’ve been up to.

All that to say, I hope you have a very Merry Holiday season. I have some posts planned for the new year and will see you then!

NaNoWriMo Prep Week

On publication of this post, we will have a little more than two days before the start of NaNoWriMo. You know what that means! Time to prep for real!


If you need meal ideas I have some suggestions here and here. This year I have another suggestion – EMeals.

I used EMeals back in the day when I was working and had two little kids. The pre-planned meals and ready to go shopping list were lifesavers. When I quit working to stay at home this was one of the things that got cut. Then Pinterest happened. And I did meal planning on my own.

But, y’all, I am overwhelmed by the same meals on Pinterest 476 different ways. Did you even know that there could be 476 tortilla soup recipes? Me either. I would scroll and scroll and everything was either unappetizing, unhealthy, a variation of the same recipe I saw 30 seconds ago, or an all-day affair. I don’t want to cook all day. Thanks.

Last week I went back to EMeals to get out of our dinnertime rut. And you know what? It’s even better!

I pick the meals from any of their meal plans – clean eating, gluten free, budget, paleo. The list goes on and on. Then, I can send the shopping list to Kroger Clicklist and once I load up my shopping cart I just drive over and pick up my groceries. At mealtime, I go into chef mode and the recipe is on my screen, step-by-step. As a bonus, most meals take 30 minutes or less. The food’s good and healthy and the family has been raving.

But you’re here for the time savings right?

The time savings here is incredible. I planned our week’s meals and did my grocery shopping in less than 30 minutes. It was another 30 minutes to drive to the store where an employee came out and loaded my groceries into the car, then to drive home. Considering that a shopping trip would usually take me upwards of 2 hours plus time to make the list and find the meals? That’s 90 minutes just off the shopping plus probably another 2 hours off the planning and list making.

So I think I saved about 4 hours out of my week and I have a plan for dinners for the week and they cook fast.

Yeah, I’m ready to win NaNo.