Category Archives: Lakeside Series

So, what the hell happened?

I have this vision of myself, sashaying back into this space as if no time had passed and nothing ever happened. As if I hadn’t ignored this blog, my writer friends, my readers and my craft. But I don’t think it would feel right to come back without at least an explanation. It won’t just be a pity party, I promise.

 

The truth is, though, that my most productive writing time was the absolute lowest point of my life. I loved writing, but it was almost literally the only thing I had left that gave any confidence, any feelings of accomplishment or joy at all. And when I go back and read some of my earlier work, that still resonates off every page for me. I was isolated, suffering from deep depression, social anxiety that made it hard for me to leave my house. I was afraid of my therapist, afraid of opening the mail. I was scared of people and being seen and most of all, I was afraid that I simply wasn’t built to function in a normal life.

 

Throughout 2015, I was working hard to change all that. I got a part-time job – translating and writing for a media analysis company – and although I sat in a corner hardly speaking a word to anyone the first few weeks, it really turned out to be much less scary than I thought it would be. I was – and am – good at my job and was quickly promoted to a full-time position. I’m deputy head of the editorial department now and while I still recognize and remember the person I was a few years ago, it’s also hard to imagine letting it get this bad. Letting me be so unhappy for so long.

 

I didn’t mean to stop writing. But there came a point, where other things became more important to fight for. And writing is a struggle – a wonderful one, but it takes commitment and showing up every day even when it hurts. Even when you hate every word you’re putting on the page, even when someone writes a terrible (or even just a “meh!”) review and makes you feel like you’ve been so right about hating yourself all along!

 

So when I started working full time, but hadn’t worked on any of my other problems, I usually came home exhausted. I sat in front of my screen and the word processor would blur in front of my eyes and I’d go have a nap instead. Or I’d go eat something. Which is the next problem I had to tackle.

I went to see my doctor in 2016, and he basically referred me to a specialist for gastric bypass surgery. Now, I shouldn’t have needed that wake-up call. But apparently, I did. Like I said, I was busy getting my life together and actively ignoring all the other construction sites… like my weight, which had skyrocketed all through my depression.

 

So that became my next project. I did not get surgery – because I was terrified and also, I didn’t feel like I had actually tried all that hard. And at least I wanted to do that. I wanted to try and fix this without carving up my body.

And so I did.

I went from this… (and you can only imagine how much I cringe showing you this. Myself, at my heaviest)

New haircut, sleepy at the office.

Ein Beitrag geteilt von Laila Balke (@lailajblake) am

To this…

20171013_162701 (2)

I spent the last 18 months losing about 140 lbs. And although I made a few attempts in that time to get back into writing, I quickly realized that I couldn’t do both yet. I couldn’t stay as focused on my weight loss journey as I needed to be when I split my focus. I’m still on that journey and far from skinny. But I’m not in any immediate health danger, I feel great. I have a lot energy and I realized if it was between being actually skinny or being a writer… I want to be a writer.

I’m still working to lose weight and build and strengthen those healthier habits.  But I’m also writing again and have been for a while. Even if I had (and still have) a lot of anxiety about sharing that with you in case I’d just go and disappoint again.

 

For those who are still interested – and believe me, I’d understand if there aren’t many people left – I’m currently working on finally finishing the third and last installment in the Lakeside Series. And the end feels almost tangible. Maybe three more chapters to go (and then a lot of editing). It feels good – in many ways because this series has been weighing on me for a long time. I don’t like unfinished things and I am super excited about sharing with you where my mind has been at throughout this time, and what Moira and Owain’s happy ending will look like.

 

And before I finally wrap this up (because it’s getting wooordy), thank you so much for sticking around and reading this. For your empathy and patience for something that really scared me to put into words.

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Cover Art Adventures

As a writer, we’re supposed to hate and eschew clichés like vampires do garlic and crosses. They should make us shrivel and cringe, and sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t and we reach right into that trow of overused phrases and sprinkle them around our prose, anyway.

Here’s one that I hate and that makes me cringe: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Now, as a cliché (i.e. we’re not actually talking about books but about people) it doesn’t work because we all USE our “cover” to send messages. That’s why goths dress the way they do, and punks and why business-people wear all the same boring suits :) . I’ve grown up a fat chick with a pretty face, and like everybody else, of course,  I’ve always been aware of being judged by my looks, but just as aware of the messages my choices in clothes and make-up etc. send to people. That’s why we wear clothes. And even if we don’t care (and quite often I don’t, I just dress in what’s comfortable) that still sends a message that we’re the kind of people who don’t effing care what we look like when we go to the grocery store.

So I reject the cliché. Don’t be a superficial asshole, but also stop pretending like how we dress, what we say, how we act in public says NOTHING about us as people. Of course it says stuff about me. Not everything, by far. And most people may be inept at reading all those signals correctly, who knows, but there’s a correlation between a person and their “cover”.

I also reject the premise: There is also a correlation between a book and its cover. And it’s intricate and fascinating and it’s something to love and explore rather than just put off as superficial, image obsessed internet culture.

I love good covers. And I love the process, too. After writing, it’s kind of the funnest part of this whole publishing deal, and I have to admit, the fact that I get to design my own covers and work with artists and do all of that, is one of the biggest incentives for self-publishing for me. Because yeah, I don’t like that lack of control, leaving the public, outward representation of my work to people who aren’t me. I LOVE doing them, love the process of creating a cover that is not only pleasing to the eye, but also represents the content, the genre, the target audience, and yeah, your own brand. That’s fascinating stuff.

When By the Light of the Moon was first published, I did have some impact (i.e. I was asked to describe a few possibilities and I had the opportunity to suggest small alterations), but I was never happy the cover. I always felt slightly weird asking people to read my book, almost like I had to say “I know, I know what it looks like, but please…? Could you do that thing that I don’t believe in and reject, where you don’t judge the book by its cover?” And that’s an uncomfortable position to stand and to market yourself and your book from.

The re-release cover of By the Light of the Moon is different. I can fully stand behind it and say “I love this cover.” That doesn’t mean everybody will, or that it will connect with anyone who chances upon it, but I love it. I can stand with both feet on the ground, shoulders back, chin held high and promote it.
It took ages to get there, though (which is e.g. what a good cover says. It says that the publisher or author believes in the book enough to spend ages, or a lot of money working it out). I think I have at least 10 different cover mock-ups for By the Light of the Moon on my computer. And I don’t mean evolving ones (then we get into the hundreds), but complete separate ideas from completely different source images. In the end, the only one I sort of liked would have relied on a very expensive photograph and I just didn’t (and don’t) have 500 bucks to blow on a cover. So I went back to the drawing board and changed my tack. It’s fantasy, after all, maybe photography is the wrong way to go.

Landscape without Owain-wolfy.

Landscape without Owain-wolfy.

Now, I am very lucky to have grown up in a family of artists and so I could go to my grandmother (whom I chose because I thought her personal style resonated most with my writing and my ideas for a cover, and I still hope I didn’t somehow insult my grandfather by not asking him). And we talked a LOT. I told her about the book, about my ideas. She talked about painting proportions and constraints and in the end, she painted something that I liked, but that I also didn’t know how to use. It was a little too colorful, with too much going on and at first I completely despaired of ever getting this right.
In the end, and after soooo many attempts, I found a way to limit the color and the busyness of the painting (if you want to compare, I took out most of the reddish/purple hues from the dress, the sky etc. and pumped up the real red in her hair; I got rid of her hands and the shore at the bottom of the painting and yeah, in the end, I added a tree that wasn’t there for color contrast balance).

Roswit Balke, my grandmother, working on my beautiful cover.

Roswit Balke, my beautiful grandmother, working on my cover.

This time around, and for Lakeside #2, I could take all those experiences on board and give my grandmother a much better idea of what I needed. And I think it shows. I was there yesterday to look at the progress, and we sat together, talking, looking at pictures of wolves and drew one into different copies of the same painting. It was a lot of fun, but I look at the unfinished work, and I can already see, that i will have to work a LOT less hard to make this a cover. It’s basically already one, and all I have to do is add the title.

I write a lot about how writing is learning. Every day. But this stuff is as well, and I’m really grateful and appreciative of the lessons I am given and allowed to learn on this journey.

Owain-Wolfy is stalking the forest, making his way into the picture.

Owain-Wolfy is stalking the forest, making his way into the picture.

For me, getting really involved with my covers, is almost an extended part of the writing process. It allows me to translate the written word into a visual impression, it makes me think about what my books are, what they represent and how I want them to be seen and i love that part.

It doesn’t always work – i.e. for After Life Lessons, we chose a very calm and thoughtful cover because we did want people to judge the book by it. And still we get a lot feedback about the gory action-ridden zombie bonanza they expected (and didn’t find inside this very calm cover). But that’s all part of the learning process. And it’s all good. It’s all part of the fun.

 

PS: Just putting it out there. I am open to advising authors about covers or helping them realize their dream visual representation. So if you’re still looking for a cover artist and like my stuff, why not send me a quick email at laila@lailablake.com.

Let’s talk about love. Insta-love.

Almost all my characters suffer from what I understand is a fatal flaw in romance novels.

Almost all my characters have a tragic slant towards insta-love.

Now, I don’t actually write romance, as far as I would define it, although Driftwood Deeds
comes pretty close. I think, I write novels with love stories in their side or main plots, usually some kind of genre cross-over, because that’s what makes me happy. But there is still that romantic connection, the nod to everybody who does like to read about love. Like me, like you – like almost everybody it seems, considering that even very male-oriented staples usually feature some kind of love story, love interest or love-related motivation. And why wouldn’t it?
medium_2834306912After (and often enough before) the basic necessities for survival are satisfied, love seems to be one of the forces in our lives that creates the most change, the most flux, drama, happiness, anxiety and contentment, all at once. It’s a literary gold mine. What would 1984 be without the strange, crooked love story between Winston and Juliet? Or even Fight Club, without Marla Singer? It surprised me at the time when I read that Chuck Palahniuk categorized his novel as a love story. It made a crazy amount of sense, when I read it again.

So this insta-love business. I understand why it’s a somewhat hated trope. It smacks a little bit of neglect, of giving your characters something good too easily. And maybe that’s true. Sometimes. But avoiding insta-love completely, would also remove my personal experience of love from my writing. And I don’t want to do that. I want my writing to be real, and honest. Not so personal that you can read some of my stories and feel like I just put my life’s story on your shoulders, but personal enough to transport truth.
For me, love was always quick. And it takes a while to understand that my personal experience is not everybody else’s. So for a long time, the idea of insta-love baffled me. Do we really need reasons for falling in love? Do we need conflict and emotional back and forth? It’s never been that way for me – the reasons and the drama came later.

I’ve read a lot about introverts and emphatic and sensitive people recently, ostensibly in order to put a nicer spin on a lot of my character traits, redefining them for myself as assets. But I came across something interesting, which was that highly sensitive people often report falling in love really fast and head-over-heels intensely. Maybe because there is something about our nervous systems that is easy overwhelmed in general (loud parties, a problem, that news report about the suffering after an earthquake) and of course love can be the most overwhelming of all.

Maybe it’s the romance novel expectation: when the plot is the love story, why throw the prize away a few pages after they meet? I understand that rationally, but in every other way I find that hugely problematic.
For one thing, why is that the prize? Surely the prize is actually being with that person, and realizing you can actually make it work.

It also bothers me, when (usually) the girl doesn’t like him at first, thinks he’s a bit brutish or arrogant or stupid or whatever, and then we spend a novel reading about how she was wrong and he got her anyway. Why do we insist on telling women not to trust their instincts? Instincts are good! We should foster them, try to divide them from our prejudices, hone them and allow them to influence our decisions.
Another way love is oven deferred in books, is due to pride. And again, I understand about not giving away the prize and all, but I actually like reading about people who are open and generous about their feelings. Who don’t hold onto them like little old misers with their pennies. Who are open to falling in love, even if it hurts; who laugh, even at slightly stupid jokes; who cry when something is sad rather than refusing to feel. Why do we so often look down on people who feel.

So you fall for someone and the worst thing that can happen is that it doesn’t work out, you get rejected, you find out he isn’t really that great… yeah, that stuff hurts. And we can learn to deal with that. Especially when we are open about that pain, too.

BTLOTM -- color240x360In By the Light of the Moon, Moira and Owain, once they find a connection, fall in love hard and fast. And I never considered that this might be insta-love. Especially because she is a 19-year-old who’s never been in love before. Isn’t that how we fall in love for the first time? Hard and fast, without reason or pride, absolutely at the mercy of this avalanche of hormones and joy and panic that spreads through our bodies at the sight of his smile, at the feel of his first touch?

I still fall in love like that.

I’m a grown-up now, so I know not to say it. I know that I can only say I am in love with someone when I am ready to make a commitment and, better yet, when they have said it first so I know they are ready for a commitment – but all that is just my head talking, my cultural programming, the knowledge of acceptable word usage. So I use different words, but the feeling is still there.
The truth is there isn’t one way to love, or one definition. Love can be all sort of things, and go through all sorts of phases – but that first flutter, the overwhelming feeling that this person could be someone incredible, why is that so underrated anymore?

Of course it’s not as stable, it’s not a promise, it’s not a guarantee, but isn’t that beauty in it? Isn’t that something that can grow? And isn’t the growth an interesting story, too?
I love Pride & Prejudice, but I still want to shake Lizzie and Darcy because they are wasting so much precious time, so many moments together. They even manage to almost destroy the sweet insta-love between Jane and Bingly with their pride and rationality. And I want to shake them for that, too.

And yeah, I hate insta-love too when it’s about superficial stuff. When love comes from the way someone wears their hair, or the cocky smile on his face. But that’s not all we perceive. I think after even evening together, we can see so much in a person. In their opinions, their jokes, their reactions, the little nuances in their voice, especially in their voice.
I think we should pat ourselves and our characters on the back and trust a little more, give some weight to first impressions and instincts, to sudden rushes of feeling.

Sure, they’ll lead us astray sometimes. But that’s no reason to stop feeling.

photo credit: Brandon Christopher Warren and mohammadali via photopin cc

New Release: By the Light of the Moon (Lakeside #1) + Giveaway

Less than two months ago, we celebrated the release of After Life Lessons on April 8th 2014. It was a coincidence, the desire to hold fast to the traditional book release Tuesday, and a conscious disassociation with April Fools Day a week previous. It was, however, the one-year-anniversary of my very first book release.

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On April 8th 2013, Crimson Romance released By the Light of the Moon, and started something really important to me. We have since gone our separate ways, but I will never not be grateful for the opportunity they gave me – in particular the then editor Jennifer Lawler, who believed in me. It was difficult time for me, maybe the lowest of my life yet, and the fact that someone did – someone thought I was good enough to publish meant the world for me and shaped the way I’ve approached writing ever since.

The imprint changed over time, as everything does, and even before I submitted Book 2 in the Lakeside series, I had a feeling my writing didn’t fit in there anymore. In the end, we decided to part ways over creative differences regarding this series – which I wished to take away from a mostly romance trilogy and towards a more general fantasy story with a strong romance side-plot. I decided I was better off doing it myself, but my gratitude remains with Crimson Romance and the wonderful authors I met there.

The Revisions

From the first, even before the original publications, there were things I wanted to change. But the imprint was on a schedule, and I had been stupid enough to start submitting before I was 100% sold on my own manuscript. I was impatient and silly and never would have thought anyone would actually pick it up; I just wanted to be part of the game, you know?

But once it was published, unsurprisingly, it was exactly those issues that kept readers from enjoying the book to the extend they, and I wanted to: the beginning was too complicated, too slow. I’ve spent the last half year, on and off, over and over again, finding ways of unraveling the complications and speeding it up. I created artwork, edited out a host of errors and wrote a few new scenes.
Some of it was painful – like loosing the beautiful lesbian prologue between a Fae and her servant spy. But I think in the end, the book is much better for it.

The Content

By the Light of the Moon is the first book in a romantic paranormal fantasy trilogy, set in alternate history medieval times. It follows the life of a young noblewoman suffering from mental illness and ptsd, her forbidden love story with her shape-shifter guard and the sinister forces around her. It’s a story about magic and love and deception, and I can’t wait to finally promote it the way I always wanted to, to bring the trilogy to it’s conclusion.

Withdrawn and with a reputation for her strange, eccentric ways, young Lady Moira Rochmond is old to be unwed. Rumors say, she has been seen barefoot in the orchard, is awake all night in moon-struck rambles and sleeps all day. Some will even claim her ghostly pallor and aloof manner are signs of illness, of a curse or insanity.

The hopes of the peaceful succession to her father’s fief lie in an advantageous marriage. When a suitor does show interest, her family pushes for a decision.
Almost resigned to the fact that she has no choice but to play the part she has been given in life, Moira is faced with Owain.  A member of the mysterious Blaidyn creatures and a new guard in her father’s castle, he is specifically tasked to keep her safe. He is different from other people she knows and when one night under the full moon, she makes the acquaintance of the wolf who shares Owain’s soul, her life starts to change and to unravel.

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The Giveaway

As always, what fun would it be if I didn’t let you all enter to win something? a Rafflecopter giveaway

 Get your copy today and make a girl really really happy :)

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