Writing

My Writing Process

This week’s post was inspired by Magen Cube’s newsletter, Notes on Monstrosity, where they discuss their writing process. Finding out how other writers writer is something I find incredibly interesting, to the point that I will watch Youtube videos of writers trying famous authors’ processes or daily schedules. It’s fascinating how what works for one author would probably trample my brain into exhausted dust. In my creative classes, it’s a topic my students ask about and how they can best streamline the process. I’d like to make it clear that you will need to figure that out on your own and try what different writers do or venture out on your own and see what your brain jives with.

Some of you are going to read my process and be mad. So be it. My process is not what is preached by many writers. I do not hurdle to the finish line as fast as I can because, frankly, I am not fond of cleaning up the mess after. That’s it. I’m lazy. I do not have the mental fortitude to clean up the same draft 6+ times because I decide to speed through it the first time and now have a 100+ things I need to remember to fix AND do copy edits and such after. That’s not how this is going to go, so if you’re looking for how to write a book in 30 days or write 5k a day or whatever else the hustle culture is pedaling these days, this is not the blog post you seek.

Consider, I have written and published 7 (going on 8) books this way, so it works for me *shrugs*

The Beginning

Typically, my ideas start off with two characters or a single character, and everything sort of grows out of that. I spend a lot of time at the beginning feeling out who they are, what’s wrong with them, what they want, what their core personality is. From there, I think about how these characters would meet and interact because that will be the majority of the story. Then, I get stuck for like 2 weeks trying to figure out the conflict/plot. How do I figure this out? Usually thinking how I can best traumatize these characters. At the same time, I tend to start making a Pinterest board because I’m a very visual person. Once I start throwing together what they look like and where they are, more concrete aesthetic and plot things start to gel for me.

During this part, I’ll often try to start the story to better feel out the characters and have a few false starts. This happens more often with brand new characters than when I’m adding on to a pre-existing series, which makes sense because with new characters, this is more exploratory writing, not word count writing. During this early stage, I need to remember to be kind to myself because my first month or so of working on a book is SLOW. There is a lot of feeling in the dark until things make sense. At some point during this process, I can mentally see the ending or something toward the end to work towards. With that in mind, we get into the drafting stage.

Drafting

I want to make it very clear that I am a “slow” writer. Slow in comparison to the people who can bang out a 60k book in 2 months and have it ready for publication 2 months later. My books are usually 90k+, and I only write 500 to 1500 words a day with the latter being a *really* good day or me playing catch up because I skipped a day or two due to not feeling good. My monthly word counts average around 15k with the first month or two of a new draft often having less. Early on, I tend to write in 20 minute sprints, something akin to the Pomodoro Method. It forces me to write and move forward when I’m feeling hesitant.

But here is my cardinal sin, according to other writers. I EDIT AS I GO.

Yes, dear reader, I go back and edit what I wrote during my previous session as a warm-up. I do this because

a) I am an underwriter, so I need to add more detail. Often, after I’ve written a scene, that detail becomes clearer, and it makes more sense for me to add it now while it’s still fresh in my mind than 2 months from now when I don’t remember what the hell the room is supposed to look like. My brain is like a sieve or a browser with 25 tabs open and you can’t figure out where the music is coming from. I try not to over-complicate it if I can.

b) It’s less work for me later. Future Kara doesn’t appreciate it when Past Kara leaves cryptic messages in a draft that make no sense. [ADD CHAIR] For what, Past Kara?? Why and for what purpose do they need a chair?? I know some people can do this, I cannot. It just frustrates me. Then again, I am not a perfectionist, and as someone is who at least somewhat full of themselves, as many artists are, I tend to read my work and think it’s pretty good and editing it is just tumbling that shiny rock further. Ego is key for this process to work. I am self-conscious about many things; my writing is not one of them.

Once I have reacquainted myself with where I left off, it is time to write. As I said, I tend to write 500-1500 words a day, and this is either done in the morning around 10 AM or late at night with little in between. It’s when my brain works best.

Outlining or the Lack of

You may have noticed I didn’t mention making an outline. That is because I don’t make a traditional outline before I start writing. I do make a retroactive outline covering what I’ve already written, so I can go back and reference it as I move forward, which has been VERY helpful to me. I have a blog post about it here. Something I have been doing with The Reanimator’s Heart is using Sarra Canon’s Three Act Structure outline, which is based off Save the Cat! Writes a Novel and a few other structure books. I have been filling in scenes I think fit into the general structure to help me figure out the order of things and where I’m going, but I do this one act at a time. Act 1, then Act 2 part 1, Act 2 part 2, then Act 3 and not a moment ahead of time if I can help it. It is a very loose outline that is subject to change, but seeing everything laid out helps me keep the flow going.

Ironically, if I’m writing a short story, I tend to make a loose outline, but I think this is because, at most, I can hold about 30k words worth of direction in my head. Beyond that, my brain gets overwhelmed and sort of melts. My process is avoiding the brain melting stage at all costs.

To be continued…

Originally, this was going to be one MASSIVE blog post, but I have decided to break this up right here before the editing process. Truthfully, the drafting process and editing process feel very different to me, so it’s a good place to stop for now. In 2 weeks, the post on my editing process will come out, so I hope you will come back to read it.

Personal Life

On Supportive Partners

Be forewarned that this will probably be a little gushy. Today is my 17th anniversary with my partner, so the thing that is first and foremost in my mind today is how much I love him and how much he supports me on a daily basis.

First off, let me introduce my partner a little. He is a programmer who also does cosplay and art, though his creativity really lies in 3D mediums (like cosplay armor). He is incredibly handy, a loving dog parent, and my goblin wrangler (I am the goblin in the relationship, every good relationship has one of each or that’s my theory). The Morticia to my Gomez, blah blah blah. I love him immensely and will happily gush about his many positive attributes, but I will spare you all for now.

I feel like today’s post is a no-brainer, but one of the best things that has happened to me is finding a partner who supports me and my creative endeavors. I should probably also define support in this case. I don’t think your partner needs to share all your interests. My partner and I certainly don’t. I don’t cosplay, he doesn’t write stories, but we’re both artists. We both respect the creative activities that we’re interested in. Earlier in my life, I thought my partner had to like the same things as me. I tried to get him to read my work or read books, and my poor ADHD-brained partner just couldn’t do it. At first, I was mad. How could my partner who loves me dearly not be actively involved in my projects? Was that not what support is?

Well, not really. Just as I am not hot gluing helmets made of foam, my partner doesn’t need to read my work in order to help. For one, he is the person I bounce ideas off of the most. Often, he’s just a sounding board because talking an issue out tends to speed up the process of figuring out where I’m going. He’s been helping with The Reanimator’s Heart and my other projects so much that he asked me to draw out a relationship diagram in order to keep everyone straight when we talk about them. While he isn’t likely to sit down with my book and read it cover-to-cover, he is the person who helps me the most on a daily basis, and I’m kind of glad he doesn’t because there are spicy scenes and part of me would be mortified if he read them. Don’t question the logic of it; it’s just embarrassing.

This past year or so, I’ve struggled a lot with self-worth and whether or not I can get my writing career back on track and try to rely more on that income. My partner has been the one to constantly remind me not to get down on myself and that I can eventually get to the place I want to be. It just might take some time. Whenever I mention wanting to learn some new craft or potentially trying to get back into more traditional types of art, he always agrees that I should. Trust me when I say my partner is not a yes-man. He will happily bring me back to earth when I start to spin off, but when it comes to my art or trying different things, he’s the first to tell me I should if it’s calling to me. I think part of it has to do with us both being artistic people who are also neurodivergent. We understand the siren call of a new skill or craft.

I posted this on Twitter the other day, but I think it’s very apropos for this post:

I found someone who appreciates me and all the weird shit that comes with loving me. He listens when I gush on and on about Our Flag Means Death and looks at the thousandth piece of cool pottery I’ve found on Instagram. I’ve been remodeling my office, and he’s gone along with every idea I’ve had in order to make it the perfect gothy oasis I’ve dreamed of. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when my partner acted like what I loved was cringe-worthy or weird or juvenile. I’ve seen a lot of people’s partner’s say things or roll their eyes when the other person starts gushing about their special interest or a new hobby. Or they’ve fully bought into the capitalist notion that every hobby should be profitable, and if they aren’t, they should be abandoned for more serious pursuits. Whatever those are.

It made me immensely sad to think about people who are in relationship where their partner doesn’t love them for all their weirdness and silly hobbies or their special interests. They don’t have to love that thing too, but they have to love and respect you enough to understand that you love them and that it is all a part of you as a person. While my partner doesn’t crochet or write or like arcade carpet, he would never dissuade me from my pursuit of those things. He knows the weirdness is what comes part and parcel with the things he loves, and trust me, he’s a fan of the weirdness too.

Happy anniversary, Peaches! I hope he knows how much I love and appreciate him and how he’s been the tent pole that props up my dreams when I struggle under their weight.

Book Reviews

12 Queer Books to Read Now (Pt 2)

Last week I posted a list of 12 Queer Books to Read Now (Pt 1), and because I read a shit ton of queer authors, I wanted to do a second post full of authors you can check out. I may also do a list of authors I have on my to-be-read pile but haven’t gotten to yet. We shall see. You may have also noticed that I changed the title from queer authors to queer books because I don’t think an author needs to be out to write a queer book, so this is more inclusive.

  1. Anna-Marie McLemore– McLemore’s books are an auto-buy for me because their books are so rich with texture, magic, and queer characters. Many of their characters are also neurodivergent and/or trans, which speaks to me. I highly recommend Lakelore or When the Moon was Ours.
  2. Tehlor Kay Mejia– Mejia has teamed up with McLemore before, but I also really enjoyed her dystopian, Latinx fantasy duology We Set the Dark on Fire, which has a really interesting sapphic couple at the center of the story.
  3. Keito Gaku– Gaku’s 4 volume manga Boys Run the Riot is the first I’ve read featuring a trans masc character by a trans masc author. The story is about friends, fashion, and going after who you are and what you want to be.
  4. Margaret Owen– I adored all three of her books so far (with Little Thieves being my favorite), which all feature lots of queer characters and have asexual rep as well. If you like heroines who are a bit rough around the edges and softer, dorkier love interests, her books are for you.
  5. Talia Hibbert– While Hibberts Brown Sisters series is M/F romance, Dani Brown is bi and Hibbert is nonbinary, and that queerness shows in the books. Hibbert’s books have queer side characters with the promise of future queer stories. Also, great neurodivergent rep in the Brown Sisters series!
  6. Lara Kinsey– Kinsey writes quite a bit of f/f romance, and I absolutely loved Budding Romance and Blooming into You. She manages to cram so much development into novellas. They’re perfect if you need a short, compelling piece.
  7. KJ Charles– I would be remiss if I didn’t include KJ Charles’s books on the list. Her queer romances are *chef kiss* and run from magical fantasy to political intrigue.
  8. Joanna Chambers– Chambers’s work is reminiscent of KJ Charles’s as they both write historical, political/historical focused MM romance. My favorites from Chambers are the Winterbourne series, which are shorter and follow different characters. They’re soft and sweet and just warm.
  9. P. Djèlí Clark– I don’t think Clark has a single book that doesn’t have a queer character. The main pair in A Dead Djinn in Cairo is sapphic, and his books have complex characters, amazing stories, and interesting magic with lots of rich texture.
  10. Yuki Fumino– Fumino’s I Hear the Sunspot is one of my favorite manga series. It features a very slow-burn MM pair and talks a lot of deafness and what it’s like to be hard-of-hearing with an immense amount of detail. One MC is losing his hearing and the other works for a company that tries to make things more inclusive for the deaf community.
  11. E E Ottoman– Ottoman is a trans masc author who writes some really fantastic romance featuring trans characters. They’re smart, cozy, and usually have quite a bit of heat.
  12. Nina VarelaCrier’s War and its sequel were books that I read and sort of sat there in a daze after because I enjoyed them so much. A robot princess, a human girl in the midst of starting a rebellion, and the collision course that brings them together. Who can ask for more?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope you have a bunch of new books to add to your TBR pile and stay tuned for EVEN MORE authors to add in a future post.

Book Reviews

12 Queer Authors to Read Now (Part 1)

I am deep in the writing trenches this week, so today’s blog is going to be a little different from the usual fare. Since June is Pride Month, now is the perfect time to share some queer authors/books that I think you should read. Not just in June, but all year long. Today, I’ll be posting the first 12, and I will do another 12 next week as well since there are way too many amazing queer books/authors for one post.

  1. Jordan L. Hawk– Jordan’s books are a lot like mine (gay, monsters, mysteries), so if you like my work, you will love Jordan’s. I highly recommend all of his series, but I particularly enjoyed Widdershins as well as his latest book The Forgotten Dead.
  2. A. E. Bross– Bross’s The Roots that Clutch is a fantasy story set in a desert world with lots of queer characters, found family, magic, and interesting world-building.
  3. Magen Cubed– Magen’s Leather and Lace is the buddy cop/monster hunters in love kind of story that has a ton of action that is balanced with tenderness and silliness. Dorian and Cash are a hoot.
  4. Cat Sebastian– Cat’s books are notoriously tender, and what I love most about her work is that even the MF romance is queer. If you love historical romance with a heavy dose of queerness, hit up her work, especially Tommy Cabot Was Here.
  5. Suzanne Clay– Suzanne’s work is new to me, but I read By Pain of Death, which is a Hades and Persephone retelling where Persephone is trans (Seph) and Hades is disabled/dealing with chronic pain.
  6. Aster Glenn Gray– I just finished Gray’s Briarley, which is a MM Beauty and Beast retelling where the beast is a dragon man who has been trapped in his castle for 100 years (set during WWII). Gray’s work appears to be mostly historical and very queer, so you know I’ll be buying more.
  7. Arden Powell– Powell is one of my favorites right now, especially with their Flos Magicae series. Interconnected historical-fantasy stories with lots of queer characters and interesting magic/world-building.
  8. Allie Therin– Therin’s Magic in Manhattan series and the spin-off series is so good. Magic, relics, kick-ass main characters with complicated pasts and relationships.
  9. Ella Stainton– A Scottish nobleman who talks to ghosts teams up with a non-believing psychologist, what could be better than that? Snarky and passionate with plenty of adventure and surprise, Best Laid Plaids is worth a read if you like MM historical romance.
  10. Olivia Waite– The Feminine Pursuits series is F/F romance that is to die for. Feminine yet feminist with an incredibly varied cast in interesting jobs (weaver, beekeeper, etc.), circumstances, etc. I love all 3, so no playing favorites here.
  11. Lee Welch– Lee’s M/M fantasy romances are filled with great world-building and complex characters. The latest, Seducing the Sorcerer, also has a ridiculous enchanted fabric horse that I adore.
  12. Nghi Vo– I love all of Nghi Vo’s work, especially since there is a sapphic edge (overt or more covert) in all of her work. If you like complex, layered books, I highly recommend The Empress of Salt and Fortune, or for old Hollywood glamor mixed with magic, Siren Queen is for you.

That’s it for today’s Pride Month book list. Come back next week for 12 more books/authors to add to your to-be-read pile!

Monthly Review

May 2022 Wrap-Up Post

Ah, May. The month when my allergies beat me up and steal my lunch money every year. But the semester is over, the grading is done, and I can fully invest my time in my work. I know we aren’t completely done with May, but I think the end of the 29th is good enough to capture most of what I have done. If anything earth-shattering happens those last two days, I’ll edit and add them. Let’s take a look at what my goals were for May.

  • Read 8 books
  • Word count goals
    • Minimum goal: 15k
    • True goal: 17k
    • Stretch goal 19k
  • Blog Weekly
  • Monthly Newsletter
  • Finish majority of room/office clean up
  • Play video games and craft more to unwind
  • Do a craft for fun (I’ve been slacking)

Let’s see how it went.


Books

I set out to read 8 books, and I read 8 books in May.

  1. The Hellion’s Waltz (#3) by Olivia Waite- 4 stars, wonderful sapphic historical romance between a union activist/weaver and a piano teacher
  2. Along the Saltwise Sea (#2) by A. Deborah Baker (aka Seanan McGuire)- 4 stars, a middle grade story with a sort of Wizard of Oz style voice and adventure
  3. Love Bites (Southern Gothic series) by Magen Cubed- 4 stars, origin short story for the Leather and Lace series. It’s interesting to see how the story developed and expanded
  4. How to Train Your Pet Human (Southern Gothic series) by Magen Cubed- 5 stars, erotic short stories attached to the characters from Leather and Lace. As always, Cash and Dorian are hilarious and wonderful
  5. Siren Queen by Nghi Vo- 4 stars, a sapphic historical-fantasy story set in pre-Hayes Code Hollywood, horrific and glorious
  6. The 7 Days Author Guide to Book Advertising by Matthew J Holmes- 4 stars, useful in deciding what sort of ads to use and how they differ, not very specific or fleshed out
  7. Saga (#3) by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples- 4 stars, rereading in preparation for volume 10’s release in October
  8. Fevered Star (#2) by Rebecca Roanhorse- 4 stars, fantastic second book in a Meso/Indigenous American inspired world

Admin/Behind the Scenes Author Stuff

  • Researched AMS ads and ran one (yay for trying new things)
  • Made a book trailer and posted it on TikTok
  • Ran a free book ad with Free Booksy that was a FLOP, as far as paid promotion goes
  • Created a book launch/pre-order checklist for The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Made a list of keywords for The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Finished grading and posted my students’ grades
  • Brainstormed the future newsletter freebie “Jasmine and Jaguars”
  • I have been working on my disaster of a room/office. I have organized all my clothes/purged the ones I don’t want, thrown out a metric shit ton of my childhood toys and junk, organized my books and purged the ones I no longer want. I have the vast majority of the work done. The only things left to tackle is some more childhood stuff that needs to go and getting rid of old furniture.

Blogs Posted


Writing

My goal this month was to add 15,000 words at a minimum, and I am currently on track to hit that if I write 1,000 words a day for the next few days. I think I can do it, but it might be close or I might fall slightly short. Either way, it’s fine. My stats below do not include the 30th or 31st of May.

  • Week 1- 2,700 words and 2 missed days, 540 words/writing day
  • Week 2- 2,600 words and 3 missed days, 650 words/writing day
  • Week 3- 2,700 words and 3 missed days, 675 words/writing day
  • Week 4- 5,100 words and 0 missed days, 729 words/writing day

So this month has been a mixed bag as you can see from above. I’m not 100% sure what sort of went wrong this month, but I have a few ideas. First is that I hit the second half of act two. In terms of plotting, that is the hardest spot for me because it requires weaving all the threads you’ve created and load them up for act three where they must tie together and make a satisfying, coherent ending. This is where I end up pausing the most while working to make sure I’m staying on track. The second issue was my mom being home several days due to it being her birthday month, which threw me off along with the post-semester change in schedule. That transition period always trips me up. Ultimately, the tragedies toward the latter half of the month have been hard to deal with. I alternate between throwing myself into my work to deal and being so numbed out that I can’t do anything.

Shockingly, I’m very happy with what I’ve written so far this month, which I hope will continue as I move into June. The Reanimator’s Heart should be fully written by the middle of July, fingers crossed. I edit as I go, so the hope is that there will be minimal large scale issues to fix.


Hopes for June

I still haven’t done any crafts or really played any of my video games this month. I’m hoping I can find better balance in June and actually do some things to refill my creative well besides reading. I have a few needle felting kits that are small projects, so I may try doing those to see if I can at least complete one project this quarter. Below are my goals for June.

  • Read 8 books
  • Word count goals
    • Minimum goal 13k
    • Real goal 15k
    • Stretch goal 17k
  • Finish the room/office destruction/cleaning
  • Blog weekly
  • Monthly newsletter
  • Approve cover design
  • Work on new reader magnet story
  • Play a video game/do some crafts
Personal Life

When You Don’t Recognize Your Face

Today’s post is probably going to be a little on the odd side as this is, I think, a niche experience. I hope it’s a niche experience because it wasn’t a very pleasant one.

If you’ve followed me for any length of time on social media, you may have seen me post about how my eczema used to be really bad until I started taking Dupixent in 2020, and it finally was brought under control. When most people think of eczema, they think of a crusty, red patch on someone’s arm or the back of their leg, but I had severe eczema. What qualifies as severe eczema? Treatment resistant, over a significant portion of your body, impairs quality of life, and flares last a long time. I had all of that.

As soon as I hit puberty around 11, the eczema patches that were on my arms and legs basically took over my entire body. I had angry, red skin that weeped over most of my body, and at the time, the doctors prescribed cream, which helped but wasn’t enough to bring down the internal inflammation. Steroid pills helped while I took them, but within days of stopping a course of steroids, the eczema came back worse. Nothing I did worked, no amount of avoiding triggers was enough. My body was raging from the inside out, and I was consumed by pain and fatigue.

It feels so dramatic to say that, but until I felt better, I didn’t realize how awful I felt at the time. My skin cracked and burned constantly. The inflammation made me exhausted (like having HORRIBLE allergies or a cold 24/7 for weeks or months on end). And my self-confidence plummeted because I looked and felt ugly. I didn’t bother to try to cover up the open wounds on my face because makeup made it more irritated. Between not having enough spoons to care and fighting a loosing battle with my skin, I gave up on giving a shit about how my face looked and stopped looking in the mirror beyond checking specific body parts (teeth, eyes, nose, etc.).

Even the clothing I wore required me to work around my eczema. I wasn’t hiding it so much as covering it in fabric that could act as a wick for sweat. In summer, I ended up wearing long-sleeve t-shirts or light hoodies and long pants because when the open wounds were exposed to the air or sweat on a hot day, they burned and got more inflamed. I was never someone who enjoyed showing skin, but what I wanted to wear and what I could wear didn’t always align. The open wounds also liked to bleed at random, so I ruined many a t-shirt that way.

When I started taking Dupixent back in 2020, I was hopeful but skeptical. My dermatologist was convinced it would help me, and I wasn’t opposed to trying an expensive medication if my insurance was willing to cover it since nothing else worked. Shockingly, it worked incredibly well. Within weeks of starting, there was marked improvement on several fronts. It turns out what I thought was a deviated septum making it hard to breathe was inflammation in my sinuses. The Dupixent calmed my whole body. My skin cleared up, my sinus passages deflated, and my asthma has all but cleared up. I no longer sound like Darth Vader when I breathe (thanks, family, for pointing that out repeatedly when I couldn’t control it). I had no idea how miserable I was since I had been suffering with such heavy inflammation for over 18 years, but now that it’s better, I can’t imagine going back to feeling that shitty. At this point, I’m paranoid about my insurance no longer covering my meds, but a post on the failings of the American healthcare system is for another day.

Now, here comes the weird dilemma: I didn’t know what my face really looked like.

I can hear some of you now. “Kara, you had a mirror, and no one swapped out your head when no one was looking.” Yes, but I have literally had eczema covering my whole face since I was 11 years old in 2002. I never really understood what my adult face looked like with clear skin and without heavy inflammation, which causes your face to look puffier than it is. My face shape has changed, my nose looks different, my skin (obviously) looks different, and now, when I stare at my face in the mirror, I have to remind myself to zoom out and see my face as a whole rather than parts. When I try to do a Tiktok or take a selfie, my brain still rebels at seeing my face. It’s simultaneously closer to the person I have in my head and incredibly jarring because I’m not used to seeing it like this. I’m not the person who is riddled with eczema and miserable. I still have inflammatory problems that like to pop up (stiff or achy joints, the occasional small eczema patch, IBS), but my quality of life is so much better that it’s painful to think of how many years I wasted feeling horrible. Not that, that could have been helped without access to Dupixent.

So, now, I’m thirty years old, and trying to figure out my face and get used to it. I’m happy that I have so many trans friends because I think they understand this feeling of suddenly not recognizing yourself but also being happy with the results. In their case, it’s hormones. In mine, it’s a lack of inflammation. I think it helps, too, that I’m nonbinary, and I don’t feel the need to cram my face into a feminine box because it certainly doesn’t fit. The other day, I made a goofy face, and my partner looked at me and was like, “You have a nice face. Your face looks very neutral, like not too girly or masculine.” Somehow, that made my day because, ultimately, I fall somewhere in the middle. Having my body cooperate with that feeling for once in its itchy, angry life still feels strange, but I’ll take the weird small victories.

Writing

Fighting the Process

I love writing.

Now, picture me grimacing as I say it. I do love writing, but toward the second half of a book, I find myself fighting the process as it changes.

To me, there’s a big difference in how I write the first half versus the second half of a book. Think about the first half as laying down railroad tracks. I need to set everything up, I’m building, I’m adding. It all has to make sense and get me to a certain destination. Now, the second half is driving the train on those tracks. It’s more dangerous, it requires more focus, and I need to slow down around certain turns or I might run us off the tracks completely.

Every book I resist the slow down in the second half of the book. I know that the second half of act two needs the most careful attention because it’s where everything gets more complicated, but those complications have to rely on things I’ve already laid down in act one and the first half of act two rather than new things. Loose ends must be braided together, they have to make sense, and some mysteries even need to be tied up before the third act. It’s a complicated balancing act, and as someone generally lacking in forethought, it creates a bit of a problem because I need to parse out where I’m going before I start writing.

This leads to the bottleneck problem. I don’t want to just write anything to get my daily word count in, so I get stuck, stop writing for a few days, and fall behind. This leads to me freaking out that I’m falling behind and things are horrible. I start questioning the quality of the book or if I’m smart enough to figure out how to get it to the end. I become a mess. Sadly, this is also part of the second half of act two process. Don’t worry, I’ll think I’m brilliant again in act three when words pour forth with relative ease. But for about 20,000 words I’m very annoyed at myself because bridging the gap between all I’ve built and where I know I need to end up isn’t easy.

I would argue that the second half of act two is the hardest part of writing a book. It runs from midpoint to climax/final battle, and everything you build in the first half of the book needs to come to an emotional and physical head here while still making sense. The third act is probably the easiest for me. It’s all downhill from there. Everything I’ve written is coming to a crescendo, and typically, I know where I want the story to end up fairly early on. It’s the amorphous middle that causes me the most stress.

Something I’ve noticed with my last few books (because I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the process aspect of my writing) is that what works in act one and act two part one does not work in act two part two. At the beginning, I just sort of wing it, then tidy, then wing it, etc., at the halfway point I do a major edit, and while I write, I create some semblance of organization by creating an outline of what I’ve already written (I have a whole blog post on this). This helps me to avoid rereading my book over and over as I move forward. This is a process I’ve been doing since I started writing. It feels natural and works for me. The problem is that none of this works in the second half due to all the loose ends.

I struggled really hard with the second half of The Wolf Witch and Kinship and Kindness, and unfortunately, The Reanimator’s Heart is following in their footsteps. What I’m trying to do now is not fight the process and do what might actually help in the moment. There’s often a disconnect in my mind of what will help and what I think will help. I tend to assume I don’t need to make a small outline or I don’t need to take notes, I’ll remember (famous last words from someone whose brain is like a colander). What I’ve found that is helping is, shockingly, TAKING NOTES on what I need to make sure I incorporate in later chapters or things that I’ve introduced that need to be tied up later. My other go-to is making index cards with scenes on them because I find it difficult to figure out the order of operations with the major moments I need to hit.

I’d like to parse out why I suddenly become resistant to changing tactics in order to move forward. Part of it is I don’t want to admit that I am struggling with a particular part of the book. There’s a lot of internal chanting of “the words will come if I just relax, refill the creative well, and let them flow.” If it’s been more than a day and they haven’t come, they need to be forced out (unless you’re burnt out). The first step to writing more is admitting you are stuck. The other issue, I think, is a little more convoluted. Sometimes I think not changing tactics is almost self-punishment, like I can’t not be trying to write. How dare I take time away from staring at Word to do anything else! I catch myself doing this a lot.

What I’m trying to do now is when I feel myself getting stuck but pulling toward a certain tactic, I lean into it. Subconsciously, I must know I need it or that it might help, but I’m always afraid that I’m just procrastinating by making cards or writing out bulleted notes, etc. I’ve noticed that often when I get stuck, it’s because my subconscious has realized I messed up and my conscious brain needs to catch up. The problem is trusting that inner voice and actually listening to it because the part of my brain focused on productivity just wants to plow through.

This post is really me trying process what I’ve been dealing with these past few weeks as I dive headfirst into the second half of act two.

I must trust the process.

I must be willing to put in the time to create aids that will make writing easier.

I must understand that refilling my creative well and those aids are necessary for my process.

Finally, I must understand that the writing process changes depending on the stage of writing I’m on, and that I must be willing to be flexible and adapt to what is happening me in the moment.

Personal Life · Writing

When a Happy Ending is an Act of Defiance

I’ve been struggling to think of what to say this past week. Or really the past month or so, because most of my thoughts amount to “I have lots of feelings, none of them good.”

Living in the US, I have been constantly surrounded by headlines about overturning reproductive healthcare/abortion, attacks on queer relationships, and transphobic laws that seem to want to stamp out our existence. It’s so much all at once that it’s mind-numbing. I’m a nonbinary person with a uterus, and while my reproductive health is somewhat secure due to steps my partner and I have previously taken, this is all a lot. I think for anyone who gives a shit about other people, this past month has been a lot.

I’m tired, my brain feels pulled in a hundred directions, and I feel the negativity creeping through my veins because a very loud minority has decided I shouldn’t exist and many of my friends shouldn’t exist. Or if they do, it’s only on their terms.

And it has made it very hard to write lately. The weight of hatred and uncertainty looms over me constantly, but it reminds me why I started writing in the first place.

Back in 2014, we were still fighting to have same-sex marriage recognized. States were facing lawsuits after banning it even after it was legalized country-wide. Anti-queer sentiment was overt, loud, and just as painful as it is now. I remember staring at my books with their cast of queer characters and wondering if there was still a place in the world for me. Publishers were still pushing queer characters to the sidelines or cutting queer plotlines all together unless they were not on the page. I’ve written before about why I self-published, so I won’t stay on it too long, but the sidelining of queer characters/relationships was why I decided to self-publish. No publisher or company or anyone but me could make my characters straight.

Writing queer characters who eventually got their happily ever after was an act of defiance. In romance, marriage is the usual happily ever after because that’s what cis het M/F couples do. It’s recognizable, it’s legally binding, it’s overt. I wanted that for my characters even if that wasn’t legally possible in the 1890s. The next best thing was a faux wedding (as seen in Dead Magic‘s binding ceremony), but having queer characters find each other, love each other, live closely, and be recognized as a couple by their friends and family was still defiance.

When you write anything involving historical elements and queer characters, reviewers will toss back in your face that “being gay was illegal” back then. Well, so was prostitution, adultery, theft, and murder, yet all those happened as well and no one complains when they read about those things in historical romance. The double standard is eye-roll inducing, but each of those obnoxious reviews spurred me to write more queer characters and eventually more trans characters.

In the back of Kinship and Kindness, I even included a short further reading section about trans people in the 1800s. So many lived normal lives where they worked regular jobs, socialized, and even married. Often, the weren’t even outed as trans until after death, but people don’t want to take into account that people could blend in or that their communities protected them or at least looked the other way if they knew. We all know of famous supposedly straight historical figures who had a “roommate they were really close to” or “a dear friend” they often holidayed with in the South of France that people still refuse to believe were some flavor of queer.

When we write queer characters during times that feel fraught, it is an act of defiance. Writing their lives is a declaration of our existence, our struggles, our love for each other. The stories don’t have to be happy. Their lives don’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) perfect. But writing queer characters into existence as complex, real people is hammering home that we cannot be stamped out. We will not disappear.

I’ve been trying to remind myself of this as I work on my writing. My projects matter even when the world feels like it’s pressing in. There’s always the hope that someone will see themselves in my characters and feel better for a time or lose themselves in whatever drama is playing out. The Reanimator’s Heart has a society of paranormals where people are more likely to be queer than not, and there’s also a lavender marriage where each participant has a partner of their own (one of which is a sapphic trans woman and the other is an autistic gay man). Even if it’s the mid 1890s, everyone manages to live a fulfilling life and eventually find happiness, and that matters.

If you’re writing queer books right now, no matter how bleak it feels, it still matters. Someone out there is clinging to your work in this storm.

Monthly Review

April 2022 Wrap-Up

And now we have reached the end of April. I don’t know about all of you, but April felt short yet incredibly long at the same time. That may be because I’m teaching and it’s the end of the semester, though. Here are the goals I laid out for myself last month:

  • Read 8 books
  • Start work on fixing my room/office (this is a giant project)
  • Writing Goals
    • Minimum goal: 12k to reach
    • True goal: 15k to reach
    • Stretch goal: 18k to reach
  • Blog weekly
  • Monthly newsletter released
  • Make blurb for The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Brainstorm the newsletter freebie (since that didn’t happen in March)

Reading

I set out to read 8 books, and in April I read exactly 8 books, lol.

  1. Proper Scoundrels (#1) by Allie Therin- 4 stars, I really enjoyed her first series (Magic in Manhattan), and this continuation didn’t disappoint. Grumpy x sunshine is always a favorite
  2. How to Read a Dress by Lydia Edwards- 4 stars, really fantastic resource for period costumes. While not comprehensive, it provides good info about the shifting trends and repurposing of fashion.
  3. How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis by Brian Cohen- 5 stars, if you are a writer, I cannot recommend this book enough.
  4. Saga Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples- 4 stars, I have read it so many times (since I teach it in two classes) but I’m rereading the series in preparation for volume 10’s release this fall
  5. Saga Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples- 5 stars, it just gets better. The world is expansive and the characters richly human (and awful)
  6. A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee- 4 stars, really great dark academia, psychological horror(ish) type story, but I feel like this would have been better as New Adult instead of Young Adult as it would have been more believable
  7. Heartless by Marissa Meyer- 4 stars, an interesting and clever retelling using Louis Carroll’s body of work, also made me sad
  8. The Forgotten Dead (#1) by Jordan L. Hawk- 4 stars, a contemporary paranormal mystery with romance between a ghost hunter and an academic studying paranormal phenomena, also yay for trans rep

Admin/Behind the Scenes Author Stuff

  • Reached the midpoint of The Reanimator’s Heart (and then some)
  • Sent the book so far off to my cover designer, so we can get to work on that
  • Created a blurb for The Reanimator’s Heart, which you can read in one of the blog posts listed below
  • Worked on the idea/outline for the free newsletter short story that will come out later this year (you can join my newsletter by clicking Newsletter in the top menu)
  • Finished the vast majority of grading for my class this semester
  • Made a significant dent in my room/office revamping (mostly cleaning, sorting, tossing, but it’s LONG OVERDUE)
  • Researched marketing my book on TikTok, but I’m not sure if I want to wade into that cesspool
  • Edited the first half of The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Commissioned couple art of Oliver and Felipe (thank you @Bloodwrit on Twitter)
  • Was significantly less anxious than usual this month, so I’m putting that here as a win. It’s something I have been struggling with, but I think I finally found some things that actually help.

Blogs Posted


Writing

In total this month, I wrote 15,000 words, and I am really happy with that, especially since I tend to write fairly clean drafts. Secretly, I had hoped I could hit 17,000 words by the end of the month, and I was on track to do so until I sort of burnt/spun out at the very end of the month. I have officially hit and gone past the midpoint in The Reanimator’s Heart, so we are on the downward swing, tying up lose ends and such. Aka watch Kara get stuck on and off til it’s over, lol. I’ll definitely update you all during the month about how it’s going.

  • Week 1- 1,505 words and 0 missed days, 502 words/writing day (3 day week)
  • Week 2- 2,855 words and 2 missed days, 571 words/writing day
  • Week 3- 3,955 words and 1 missed day, 659 words/writing day
  • Week 4- 4,685 words and 1 missed day, 781 words/writing day
  • Week 5- 2,000 words and 3 missed day(s), 667 words/writing day (6 day week)

I did so well in the middle of the month, and then I just faceplanted week 5. I fried myself a little bit trying to edit the first half of the book and then write profusely after. That worked for like a week before I tanked myself. I feel better now, but I need to remind myself to not knock myself out by overdoing it daily. Exponential monthly writing group isn’t really possible, and that’s fine.


Hopes for May

  • Read 8 books
  • Word count goals
    • Minimum goal: 15k
    • True goal: 17k
    • Stretch goal 19k
  • Blog Weekly
  • Monthly Newsletter
  • Finish majority of room/office clean up
  • Play video games and craft more to unwind
  • Do a craft for fun (I’ve been slacking)

Now that the semester/teaching is nearly over, my hope is that I can devote more free time to more crafty, artistic pursuits than I have been lately.
Let me know in the comments what you have planned for May!

Writing

Keeping Characters Consistent

This past week as I was knee-deep in working on The Reanimator’s Heart, I put out a call for blog post ideas because I was tapped. Someone asked how I keep my characters consistent. I’m not sure if this is from book-to-book or from beginning to end of the same book, but today’s post will cover both.

As with all writing, this is covering my process and what works for me. If my way of doing things doesn’t jive with you, luckily the world is full of resources that will hopefully work better. *shrugs* It happens.

My Character Development Process

I want to cover this [briefly] because I do think the way I create characters affects how I deal with consistency later. I am not a planner, at all, when I write, so the thing my stories really start with is the characters. Usually, I have a vague idea of who these people are and what issues they might have.

For instance, Eilian Sorrell from The Earl of Brass began as archaeologist who loses arm and gets a new one that is steampunk in some way. From there, it was an easy jump to say what if the other character/love interest was the person who made the prosthesis. That’s where Hadley came in. I stewed over Eilian for a while. Who in the Victorian Era could afford to be an archaeologist and travel all over? Well, someone who is wealthy, so maybe he’s titled. But would he like being titled? His family probably wouldn’t like him being a globe-trotting archaeologist, so he might not have the best relationship with his societal status or family. These attributes set the core issues the character has, and from there, I can usually see a personality starting to develop. He’s the eldest son but the black sheep of the family. He loves archaeology not for the prizes or accolades (he already has wealth and status) but because he finds learning about the past to be a giant puzzle. It also takes him far away from familial expectations, which is an added bonus.

Now that I have some of the core features of this character, I pick what they look like (sometimes I have that before I get too deep into their personality), but the minutiae of them as a character comes from writing them. Often I just start writing the story and see where the characters take me, and if someone is being particularly stubborn or not forthcoming (*cough* Adam *cough*), I’ll do some free-writing or use scene prompts to see how they would react or what might be lurking underneath. I don’t use DnD character sheets or those 100 question sheets about characters before I start writing them. This is partly because I tend to think of my characters as real people, so I don’t necessarily know everything about them and that’s okay with me. I’d rather give them the room to let me find out more as I work with them. It also keeps you from writing yourself into a corner later.

I can already hear someone say, “But if you don’t know everything about them, how do you keep them consistent?”

Well, you don’t. Not exactly.

Consistency, Not Uniformity, is Key

From the beginning to the end of a story or the beginning to the end of a series, a main character should change**. They shouldn’t be wildly out of character, but there should be a difference in them between the beginning and end, that’s why they’re the main character.

**If you’re writing detective fiction or a thriller or something pulpy with the same main character, this might be less true as they tend to be more static or change far slower than typical 2-5 book series.

When we talk about consistency, we have to be careful that we don’t mean the character must be uniform throughout a story or series. Their experiences in the story should and would change them. They should be affected by what happens to them and their friends, for better or worse. If your character is exactly the same from the beginning to the end, there is a problem. Sometimes this is because your story is following the wrong character, and you need to reorient the story to follow someone else’s journey. Other times, this is because you haven’t looked far enough into the psychological and emotional changes that would befall a character making this journey.

The question you should have is what change is consistent with who they are? Let’s continue to use Eilian from The Earl of Brass.

When Eilian finds out his father has died suddenly and he is now the earl, his reaction is shock. He’s shocked and terribly upset because he and his father never got along, never made up, and he’s grieving for the closure and support he’ll never have while also grappling with the fact that the life of traveling he loves may be over forever due to familial duty. He isn’t a fighter, but his flight reaction is hampered by the fact that he does love his mother and doesn’t want to make things harder for her. Instead, he agrees to go home and deal with it. He’s doesn’t like being the black sheep of the family, so while he won’t conform outright, he won’t make things worse either. Eilian returning home is consistent with who he is. Eilian marrying whomever he pleases (his middle class, independent, capable, masc-ish partner, Hadley) is also very on brand for him, but him standing up for himself to his family is his major change by the end of the story. It’s his experiences in the desert and see what he could lose that gives him more of a backbone. Even having this new title/position adds to that strength in the moment, turning a hindrance into an asset.

Is he still consistently the antithesis of what his family wants? Yes. Does he still do what he wants? Yes. But does his willingness to now face his family instead of fleeing judgment make sense after what happens in the story? Yes.

Confirming Consistency in a Story or Series

  1. Read the entire book over again once you finish. Pay attention to how the character is at the beginning, how they act after the first point of no return, at the midpoint, at the climax, and at the end.
  2. Looking at those points in the story, does the character’s emotional/psychological journey make sense? Do we see a logical behavioral progression? They should be becoming better people or overcoming their issues or even becoming more horrid, but we should see change.
  3. This does not mean we can’t have some backsliding in the middle. Often, there’s a 50-80% plot point where the characters panic and revert to hold habits, which makes sense because progress tends to be 2 steps forward, 1 step back.
  4. If there are moments where your character acts wildly out of character, reel them in. At the same time, make sure all your characters are not reacting the same way. For instance, a quiet character may have a high threshold before they start yelling while a more extroverted or short-tempered character might react more swiftly.
  5. Remember that every major plot point should have some reaction or impact. Some will be long lasting, others temporary, but there should be a ripple effect all the same (some may take longer to come out depending on the character, trauma, etc.).
  6. In terms of a series, all of the above applies, but you need to pay attention to the progression from book to book while still maintaining the core of who this person is. If you have a trilogy or five book series in mind, you might want to think ahead of time where you want this character to ultimately end up. Each book should be incremental change toward that. After each book, see where they came from to get a better idea of where they’re heading in the next installment. I read my entire series/books with those characters before I start working on the next book. It helps to reacquaint me with the characters.

The key takeaways are: reread your work from start to end. Reread it often (with each new book or even when halfway through your current project). Make sure the progression is logical and that there are reactions to actions. And finally, don’t force your characters in a direction they wouldn’t go because it doesn’t make sense for them.

I hope this helps as you all write your characters and work on your series! If there is any topic you would like me to talk about, please leave a comment below.