organization · Writing

How I’m Getting Back into Writing

As you may have gleaned from my posts since I started blogging again in the latter half of 2021, I have had a lot of trouble writing since the pandemic started. It was difficult before that, but it really worsened during the pandemic due to stress, worsening of my OCD symptoms, and what I now realize may have been covid brain fog (this seemed to greatly lessen after getting vaccinated). At this point, I’m in a much better place mentally than I was a year (or more) ago. Not 100% but at least 80% of the way there.

Since 2022 started, I have tried to really get back into the groove of writing like I did in 2019, so I’ve been trying to figure out how to optimize my writing routine and do things that make it easier to get work done. Before we get into this, I want to make it clear that I am not into the hustle grind, write a million words a day mentality. I’m literally just trying to get words on the page in a way that doesn’t feel like absolute torture.

Sprints

Something I started doing at the end of 2021 is using sprints. Sprints are setting a timer and writing for that amount of time. This is a branch off of the Pomodoro Method, which uses 25 minutes of work followed by a few minutes of time, followed by another “pomodoro” or 25 minute sprint. I found several authors on Youtube who do live sprints online, and I started joining those to help get started. Even if I found the videos too chatty at times, the synergy of writing at the same time as other people helped a lot. It took me a bit of trial and error to figure out what sprint length works best for me. 20 minutes seems to be my sweet spot. I can do two 20 minute sprints pretty easily and clock in a couple hundred words each time. I’m slowly trying to strengthen my creative muscles and do a bit more writing, so increasing from two sprints to three or even four in the future. I’m not there yet, but it’s a hope of mine.

Tracking Progress

With sprints, I’ve also started tracking my sprints with a printable chart that I got off Sarra Cannon’s website. You can see them in the picture below. Using these sheets and making note of the minutes long the sprint was helped me to find my sweet spot with sprint length. I also liked to see how much I got done each day and how the word count was increasing. Seeing progress makes me believe that it’s happening because adding words feels rather amorphous.

I also use a spreadsheet to track my daily word count. I take the total from the sprints and add it to an excel sheet. These spreadsheets also track my overall monthly goal (which we’ll get to in a bit). The monthly spreadsheets add everything up for me, let me track my progress, and the one I bought can track more than just my WIP. That way I can see that if I have a low word count on my WIP it may be because I wrote a 1,000 word blog post instead. If you’ve ever done NaNoWriMo, the word count trackers are a lot like what they have on their website, but this one covers more than one project at a time.

While tracking my progress has been good for me because I have the visual pay-off, something I struggled with greatly in January was not punishing myself for not writing on a certain day. I originally colored in the days where I didn’t write. That ended up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy where one writing-less day perpetuated more writing-less days. The colored bands stacked up, and my positive feelings surrounding my work plummeted. In February, I stopped coloring in the days I missed. I tried to treat the new month like a clean slate, and with each successive week, I tried to have less writing-less days if possible.

Realistic Goals

Let’s put a big neon, bolded sign around REALISTIC.

I somehow managed to be under the delusion that in the past, I could write like 30k a month despite logically knowing I didn’t write more 1,000 words a day. I actually went back through my blog and found my old monthly check-ins, which had my word count totals for the month. Most were 10k-20k depending on the month and where I was in the story.

This is also something I had to calibrate within myself. The beginnings of new books are a SLOG for me. I tend to have false starts, have a lot more pauses, and I can’t power through the beginnings when I don’t know where I’m going like I can in the middle of a work. What I am having to remind myself is that if I’m working on the beginning of the story (first 10k-15k), I need to be mindful that it’ll take me a lot longer than months where I’m in the middle or end of a book. I may only write 5k a month when I’m starting a brand new story and still feeling out where I’m going.

In January, I wrote 2,800 words, and in February I wrote 10k with the word count increasing each week. This leads me to my March goal. I decided that I’m going to have a good, better, best goal for my March word count goal. My good goal is 10,000 words, which is fairly modest and very doable if things continue as is. My better goal is 15k, and the best goal is 20k. I don’t think I’ll hit the 20k, but it would be amazing if I could. Instead of shooting for the fences and saying 20k for March, I have the lower goals which are more realistic and very doable. Basically, this is positive reinforcement as I stretch and rebuild my writing muscles. I have these goals written down on my sprint sheets and my word count spreadsheet along with how many words per day I need to reach each.

I’m a very visual person who likes data, so having all these spreadsheets and sprint sheets help me manage my goals while tempering my expectations (aka not being totally unrealistic because I can’t remember my past creative thresholds). Not everyone will like this, and I know some will actively hate that everything involves tracking because it has the opposite effect on them. But if you’re like me and need that sort of regimented, goal-oriented, piece-by-piece breakdown, some of what I’ve done these past two months may be helpful to you.

Monthly Review

February 2022 Wrap-Up

So last month in January’s monthly wrap-up post, I made a few goals for myself, which I promptly forgot. Let’s go over what those goals for February were:

  • Read 8 books
  • Write 20k words with a stretch goal of 30k
  • Finish a syllabus for a future class
  • Finish a proposal for that same class
  • blog weekly and send out my monthly newsletter
  • crochet more because I haven’t since before Christmas

So let’s see how that went.


Reading

I set out to read 8 books in February since my goal for the year is 100, and I read 9.

  1. Leather and Lace (#1) by Magen Cubed (4 stars- monster hunter x vampire with a cute dog chase down monsters and accidentally fall in love)
  2. A Southern Gothic Summer Vacation and Other Stories by Magen Cubed (4 stars- see above)
  3. A Southern Gothic Holiday Special by Magen Cubed (4 stars- see above)
  4. A Bloody Little Valentine by Magen Cubed (4 stars- see above)
  5. Six Figure Author: Using Data to Sell Books by Chris Fox (3 stars- much more useful for people who are churning out books very fast and using Kindle Unlimited. For those that don’t, not very helpful)
  6. Newsletter Ninja 2 by Tammi Labrecque (4 stars- very helpful in regards to creating a reader magnet or cookie)
  7. We Free the Stars (#2) by Hafsah Faizal (4 stars- a lovely ending to an epic fantasy the duology)
  8. Rest in Pieces by Bess Lovejoy (4 stars- didn’t love it as much as Caitlin Doughty’s books on the same subject, little too sensationalized for my taste)
  9. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (4 stars- greatly enjoyed RR’s books as always)

Admin/Behind the Scenes Author Stuff

  • Finished the syllabus for the class on monsters (basically went through what I had, changed some books, tinkered with dates)
  • Finished the course proposal for the class on monsters (justifying why this class should exist beyond Kara wants to teach it)
  • Finished another hypothetical syllabus for a literary magazine class that I put off for months
  • Listened to and approved the first 15 minute sample of the audiobook for Kinship and Kindness as read by Jack RR Evans
  • Updated the keywords for all my books on Amazon, though I may still tinker with this in the future as I’m not sure if I actually did a good job or not
  • Completed 3 out of 5 weeks of Sarra Canon’s Publish and Thrive course (it runs through mid-March)
  • Added the proper Amazon categories to all my books in the US ebook store (I still need to do this for CA, UK, and all the paperbacks *quietly weeps*)
  • blogged weekly
  • sent out my February newsletter, you can read it here
  • Permanently set The Earl of Brass (book 1) to free and The Gentleman Devil (book 2) to $0.99 (make sure to grab them if you like queer historical-fantasy with a hefty dose of magic and the gothic)

Blogs Posted

If there is anything you ever want me to write/talk about, leave it in the comments! I will never complain about suggestions.


Writing

So if you read last month’s wrap-up post, you know January was a STRUGGLE when it comes to writing. By the end of the month, I had only written about 3,000 words. Luckily February was much better, and I ended up writing 10,000 words. For a lot of people, that really isn’t much, but between starting a new story (which is were I struggle most) and grief shit and current events, writing has not been easy for me. Here are my weekly stats (not including blog post word counts):

  • Week 1- 1,130 words and missed 3 days of writing, 377 words/writing day
  • Week 2- 1,160 words and missed 2 days of writing, 232 words/writing day
  • Week 3- 2,700 words and missed 2 days of writing, 540 words/writing day
  • Week 4- 3,615 words and missed 1 day of writing, 602 words/writing day

This doesn’t include Monday’s/February 28th’s word count since it runs into the new week for me, but I have reached 20k words in this draft *cue the flaming Elmo gif* and I’m feeling good about it. I’m also very happy to see the days off decrease and the word counts increase. I just hope I can keep this going in March.


Hopes for March

  • Read 8 books (to reach 25 total by the end of the quarter)
  • Finish Sarra Canon’s Publish and Thrive course
  • Brainstorm a short story for my newsletter subscribers (click on the newsletter tab at the top of the screen to join)
  • Writing goals
    • Minimum goal 10k to reach 30k words (323 words/day)
    • “True” goal 15k to reach 35k words (484 words/day)
    • Stretch goal 20k to reach 40k words (645 words/day)
  • Blog weekly and send out a monthly newsletter
  • Craft/Crochet something

Well, I never got around to crocheting really anything in February, so I will at that to March’s list. I do want to get into my craft projects again. It’s just been hard when I have a lot of writing to catch up on. I’m also trying to be realistic with my writing goals, so as not to overwhelm myself or set myself up to fail. I’ll do a post about writing goals in the near future.

So let’s see how March goes. What are some of your goals this month?

The Ingenious Mechanical Devices Series

Get Book 1 Free & Book 2 for 99c

This random post is brought to you by me putting The Earl of Brass for FREE and The Gentleman Devil at $0.99 at all major retailers (and countries/stores as far as the retailers will let me but I tried to go wide with this).

The Earl of Brass and The Gentleman Devil are the first two books in my queer historical fantasy series, The Ingenious Mechanical Devices. They can be read out of order if you prefer M/M romance (which is what book 2 is) as both are standalones/foundations for the rest of the series.

Grab a copy of each book below as the links will take you to your favorite retailer:

Writing

Adding Texture to Your Story

This something I talk a lot about when I teach my fiction writing classes, especially when we get to world-building, but I think it might be important to discuss what I consider to be the difference between texture and description before we get too deep into this.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Texture is description, but description is not always texture. That’s the very basic difference here. Texture goes beyond what something looks like to focus on what does it feel like.

Texture is a subset of description that ties back to the greater world-building and adds vibrancy and life to your story that basic description does not. It’s also a sustained effort throughout a scene or work. We create texture by utilizing sensory detail strategically, especially by evoking a sensory triad. A sensory triad is when you pull in three out of the five senses in short succession, so within a sentence or two. What this does if done well is to activate different parts of your reader’s brain by evoking multiple senses at once, which creates a more immersive sensory experience.

Now, you can’t just mention a smell, a texture, and something you hear without using descriptions or adjectives that are specific or it won’t be evocative enough to do much. In my classes, I refer to these specific, evocative words as gourmet words because they’re often a little fancier than your run of the mill adjectives. Some examples are things like: briny, scaly, herbaceous, plunk (onomatopoeia is incredibly evocative), marbled, peppery, honeyed, etc. These don’t necessarily need to be complex words, just evocative or specific. An example of a sensory triad being used to set a scene might be something like this:

When he first arrived at the hibachi place, James had enjoyed the soothing pluck of the zither music they piped over the speakers, but as more diners came in, he could barely think over the clatter of plates and the excited whoops from the party at the grill behind him where an onion tower roared into a tiny volcano. Rubbing his temples and squinting at the menu in the near dark, he decided not to order anything with onions; the sharp, charred smell from the other table was churning his stomach.

So I whipped up this little paragraph on the fly, but let’s take a look at the evocative bits. Hibachi is specific, and if you’ve ever been, there’s an immediate image, but if there’s not we have further description of the feel of being in the restaurant. First, we have the “soothing pluck of the zither.” Even if you’ve never heard a zither, we can assume it’s a string instrument. “Excited whoops” is a specific type of exclamation, the use of “roar” with a small onion inferno is another good noise verb. Then, we get to rubbing his temples, which is, to me, a sensory thing. It’s a self-soothing pressure. “Squinting…in the near dark” gives us the action of seeing/holding your face in a specific way and how dim the restaurant is. And finally, we add in the “sharp, charred smell” of onions churning his stomach. I’d also argue that churning works as a sensory detail because it’s very visceral, and most of us know exactly what they feels like.

Now, what you might notice is the lack of specific visuals. I could have spent time on the dark wood tables or the koi motif on the scrolls hanging from the walls. More than likely, I would have included that at some point in my description, but visuals are often the least interesting but most relied upon sense. Do we need to describe a setting? Absolutely, but when adding texture, you need to make sure that you are branching out beyond just decor. I specifically refer to it in my classes as texture because it is something you should feel, not just see. In order to establish an important setting, you have to get the sensory experiences going. The other visuals can be peppered in later or throughout the scene instead of clumping them all together. Readers are more likely to skim a paragraph delineating the decor than a sensory experience worked into action or thoughts.

The best way to create texture is to work with the idea of unity of effect. Now, this goes back to Edgar Allan Poe writing about short stories, but I’m going to co-opt the idea of unity of effect because writing a novel or longer work still requires that unity in order to create texture. This extends to a unified world in your story through cohesive world-building. This shouldn’t be mistaken for homogeneity because you can have a unified world made of many different parts. Take New York City for example. I can stand on a street and smell pizza, chicken wings, and truffle butter all from the same spot. What would hammer home the unity of New York’s texture would be things like brief mentions of taxi yellow, screens playing ads, the jostle of crowds, the smell of halal or hot dog carts. If you keep touching base with these sensory experiences, your reader remains in that moment and reconnects with descriptions you have mentioned earlier.

You don’t need to be super heavy-handed with this either. A solid sensory foundation can be reawakened by brief touches in later descriptions, or they can be complicated and even thwarted, depending on the scene. An example of this might be describing New York City at winter time when it’s super crowded, then stepping into St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The soaring space within the cathedral and the quiet of being inside a church immediately changes the tone. That sensory experience whiplash as you establish this opposing texture can be really powerful in creating interesting, visceral detail.

There are also some less obvious ways of adding texture that rely more heavily on world-building than on individual sensory descriptions, such as focusing on:

  1. Fabrics/materials- what fabrics are being used in this world. Is it silk? Barkcloth? Brocade? Denim? All of these fabrics have very different textures, histories, uses, and connotations. Integrating fabrics in clothing and building materials or decorative arts is a great way to add vibrancy, and it also speaks to the world-building. At the same time, be careful that you aren’t choosing these as window dressing and that they make sense within the world itself.
  2. Colors/pigments- I feel like I’m rehashing Victoria Finlay’s wonderful book topics, but the use of color can be a fantastic unifying force in regards to texture. We see this a lot in movies (looking at you, Wes Anderson), so think of it in a similar manner with your stories. You may also want to delve into the meanings of colors to your characters’ society, how they represent (or don’t represent) class, and even within decorations or buildings, how does paint or color create mood?
  3. Food- I love a good food description. If your writing a fantasy food or something you think readers may not be super familiar with, remember that you don’t have to spoon-feed them what it is. Give them the general feel of the food’s taste (spicy, peppery, sweet, etc.), a hint as to what it’s made of (a flaky crust, tender meat, creamy corn), and you’re good. Food is a great way to add a bit of color, smell, and texture into a scene and to ground your reader in sensory detail (and make them hungry).
  4. The weather- If the Regency and Victorian periods did one thing right, it was creating a mood with weather. Think about how the weather can add texture to your story through sensory detail. The beating sun warming a character’s back, the spray of ice stabbing their cheeks like needles, a warm spring breeze as they sway in a hammock. Combining the spring breeze with the drone of bees in the garden beside them and the gentle sway of the hammock as their food skims the grass is a great combination of detail.
  5. Gross things- I didn’t really know what to call this category, but gross things felt appropriate. Nothing is more viscerally evocative than something that is disgusting or unpleasant. The slimy grip of algae catching your foot in the water or the sulfurous punch of opening a tupperware that has been in the refrigerator too long is not something one forgets, which means it is very easy to evoke those senses.

The worst thing when creating texture is that you don’t always know what something specific smells or tastes or feels like. If it’s a fantasy setting, I would say do your best to imagine it and try to compare it to things your audience would recognize. If it’s a real world thing, then do your homework. When writing Kinship and Kindness, I googled, “What does the bayou smell like?” I had smelled swamps in NJ, we have plenty of marshes, and they’re quite pungent in summer or after a heavy rain, but it does vary. Luckily, we have the internet and most people are very willing to describe things for you. Actual in person research is best but not always feasible, so do your best with what you have and don’t be afraid to ask people if a description makes sense. Also, keep in mind that we all experience smells, tastes, and textures differently, so what smells wonderful to one person is offensive to another. That experience can often be fun to play with.

I hope this helps you integrate texture more into your work in the future. And always remember that after your first draft is a great place to go back and flesh out your settings/experiences.

Happy writing, peeps, and let me know what you think in the comments.

Book Reviews

10 Nonfiction Books I Love

Since it is Valentine’s Day (or it will be when this post comes out), I thought I would share some nonfiction books I have greatly enjoyed.

First off, I will say, I am not the biggest consumer of nonfiction. I like it, depending on the topic, but I tend to have a 1:10 ration of nonfiction to fiction. But when I do read nonfiction, I tend to go science, weird, or very niche, so buckle up for my 10 favorite nonfiction books so far.


  1. From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty– Caitlin Doughty is the figure head of the Order of the Good Death, a death positivity group online. She is also an incredibly engaging writer. If you’re interested in death rituals, the American alternative funeral industry, and the morbid in general, definitely hit her works up. I also highly recommend her first book, Smoke Gets in your Eyes. What I especially love about her work is that she doesn’t sensationalize things that aren’t the norm. She treats death rituals with a great deal of respect and talks about the cultural reasons behind them.
  2. The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris– As a writer of Victorian stories that often have medical scenes, I greatly enjoy learning about antique medical science. Lindsey Fitzharris is a wealth of information regarding medical history. The Butchering Art talks about Joseph Lister’s journey to promoting germ theory and totally transforming the medical profession but especially surgery. There’s an incredible amount of depth to this story that interweaves Lister’s life with his professional contributions as well. Fitzharris has a new book coming out about plastic surgery during WWI that I am looking forward to as well, called The Facemaker, and she hosts the show The Curious Life and Death of… which is also fascinating.
  3. Fabric, Colors, or Jewels by Victoria Finlay– I will auto-buy anything Victoria Finlay comes out with. I absolutely love her books and hope she makes many more in the future. All three books are close looks into the cultural significance, history, and composition of fabric, jewels, and pigments. What I love about her books is that she goes all over the world to do deep research and talk with the people in the communities that create these things or are affected by their harvesting/creation. I’m a nerd who loves super deep, niche research, and Finlay’s books fill this void for me.
  4. Spirals in Time by Helen Scales– I have a thing for sea creatures, and spirals in time does a deep dive into the anatomy of molluscs, the way they were used in different cultures, how they can be used for drugs or food or poison, how they are being affected by climate change, etc. Basically anything you wanted to know about molluscs, Scales talks about. Once again, probably niche for some, but if you like to learn about a large part of ocean life that happens to be quite small and seemingly unimportant, this is for you.
  5. Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake– First off, the author’s name is amazing, especially in relation to a book on mushrooms. Second, fungi is the most fascinating of kingdoms. Much like Spirals in Time, it is a deep dive on the structure, life cycle, toxicity, promise, and even processing power of fungus. I know a nonfiction book is good when I want to read five more books on the same topic. Definitely leans more toward the creative nonfiction side than a try text, which I appreciated (other reviewers, not so much).
  6. The Dinosaur Artist by Paige Williams– This was one of those books where it just got wilder and wilder. The world of dinosaur hunting and selling, international trade regulations, fraud, Mongolian politics, and so much more. As a child who was obsessed with dinosaurs, I am still an adult who loves dinosaurs. This book is less about the dinosaurs themselves and more about the craze surrounding them. The magnetic appeal that leads to international smuggling rings and high profile arrests.
  7. An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage– an interesting look at food from pre-history to modernity with detours into the evolution of grains, how empires were built around them and transported them, as a tool to create ideologies, the spread of foods through empires, and how modern farming and consumption affects food. I didn’t love the more modern chapters, but the archaeology/anthropology-based bits were far better.
  8. When Brooklyn was Queer by Hugh Ryan– This is a book I’ve been referencing since starting the Paranormal Society Romance books. Ryan takes readers from Walt Whitman’s home in the 1850s to the sapphic women of the Brooklyn Navy Yard in WWII. The book is loaded with information but told in a way that feels almost like a story. It’s a comfortable pace without becoming too dry. I ran through When Brooklyn was Queer far faster than George Chauncey’s Gay New York (which I also recommend but it was drier). Ryan also provides a great works cited section at the end.
  9. A History of Ancient Egypt by John Romer– I will warn you, it is dense and large with tiny print. But if you are interested in Ancient Egypt, it is worth it. So far, there are two volumes, and I am DYING for the third which runs from the beginning of the New Kingdom to (I assume) the end of the Ptolemies. What I love about Romer is he only uses archaeological evidence for his theories, which takes away a lot of the “assumptions” we have about Ancient Egypt that reflect a British imperialist mindset.
  10. The ReVisioning American History series by Michael Bronski, Kim E. Nielsen, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Paul Ortiz, Daina Ramey Berry, and Kyle T. Mays (so far)- This series is really a starting point for further reading, but I like them because they talk about the history that often isn’t taught in schools. The books focus on queer history, disability history, Indigenous history, an African American and Latinx history, a history of Black women, and Afro-Indigenous History. The histories are often horrific at times, but they need to be told and read. As I said, they are not comprehensive, but they are a good starting point in order to delve deeper.
The Ingenious Mechanical Devices Series · Writing

The Hadley Problem

If you’ve read The Earl of Brass or The Earl and the Artificer, you know Hadley Sorrell (formerly Hadley Fenice). If not, here’s a little biographical information: Hadley is an inventor and artisan who ends up creating a new prosthetic arm for Eilian Sorrell (her future husband). She’s described as having henna red hair, blue eyes, freckles, and prefers trousers to dresses as they are far more suitable for her purposes and overall, she just likes them more.

Nothing there sounds too out of the ordinary, but the “problem” arises when Hadley dresses as a man repeatedly in the story and seems totally fine being treated as such and enjoys it. So much so that she decides to keep her hair short in future books and wears a faux bun when in the company of people who might complain (consider the story is set in the early 1890s).

Now, back in 2013 when I was writing this book, I had just figured out I was queer. It should have been blatantly obvious by how much of a rainbow covered ally I was. I already knew I was asexual, but I was beginning to realize I was biromantic as well. At the time, I had never heard of being nonbinary. My only exposure to trans people was Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars and a vague knowledge of Christine Jorgensen, who was a famous trans woman who happened to share my last name. Every trans person I knew of was still a man or a woman. Despite not knowing there was such a thing as being nonbinary, I was still grappling with very complicated gender feelings.

I have never felt like a woman, ever. As a teen, I rejected purses, nail polish, getting my hair done, and the idea of putting on a dress and being done up for prom made me feel ill (what I recognize now as dysphoria). I ended up skipping all the fancy, “fun” stuff at the end of high school because dressing like that felt wrong. My body and brain didn’t mesh, and I constantly felt like I didn’t fit, especially when my family tried to foist it on to me. Eventually they gave up, but during college when I was writing The Earl of Brass, I poured my feelings about gender and not fitting in into Hadley.

Hadley is physically strong from years of helping her brother and working in the shop with heavy ceramics. She has a good grasp of what we’d consider mechanical engineering today, and she can create complex mechanisms and workings as well as the artistic flourishes that come with them. She cuts her hair short, adopts the name Henry, appears to be a young man (younger than her actually age and slightly effeminate), and goes on an adventure with Eilian Sorrell.

The “problem” now is that it’s blatantly obvious to me that she should be nonbinary, agender, or genderfluid. Those words didn’t exist back in the 1890s, so part of me thinks it’s a moot point to bother getting worked up over it. There were people we could consider transgender during that time period without using our modern terminology. Even in the second book Hadley’s in, we see her struggle with expectation and get anxious about not fitting in or being another. Still, there’s nothing said explicitly about it.

I once stumbled across someone on Twitter asking if Hadley was nonbinary or if the portrayal of her going in disguise was the usual transphobic, oh they automatically pass as a man, type deal, and it was hard to sit with that because she encapsulates so much of what I was feeling before I realized I was nonbinary. She was a stepping stone in me realizing there was something outside of the binary where I fit, and in her portrayal in The Earl of Brass while disguised, she is seen as a queer man by outsiders. A character outright says she’s a young gay man who is Eilian Sorrell’s boyfriend (his affection is pretty obvious), and she uses he/him pronouns in the book when acting as Henry, switching back and forth depending on who she is with. So does she pass as a cis straight man in the story? No. She’s inherently seen as queer when living as Henry, and it makes me laugh now because back in college, I used to tell people that I felt like a gay man in a woman’s body. What I really meant (now that I can parse it out better) is that I am very queer and mildly masc leaning. I will always be slightly effeminate even if outright femininity makes me squirm, so seeing men act feminine felt more akin to how I felt internally because I didn’t feel comfortably being wholly femme or masculine. I consider myself agender/genderless, but the definition above is one that I apply to myself only.

It’s complicated.

Being queer is complicated. Gender is aggravatingly complicated, and putting those feelings into words is messy because they can be interpreted a myriad of ways, some of which are nowhere near what you feel. I have been hesitant to write this post because so much of it is laying my own feelings regarding my gender on the table for others to pick over.

Hadley is my first character that explored gender expectations, norms, and ultimately found there were pieces of each side she knew that she wanted to use. By writing this, I was sort of hoping I could figure out what I wanted to do with Hadley in the future. I would like to write another book with her and Eilian, and I’ve put off doing so because I think her feelings regarding gender should be a part of that book but wasn’t sure how people would react. Just because you consider yourself cis at 24, doesn’t mean you won’t be nonbinary by 28. I didn’t adopt that label until about the same age despite those feeling brewing for years, and I think if Hadley comes out as something like agender or genderfluid, it isn’t retconning her character. The blueprint and evidence was there, it just takes years sometimes to figure out what those feelings mean and how you want to live your life going forward.

I have nothing particularly clever to end with, just that I hope people will still cheer for a character who figures out their identity a little later in life and that we will give them the same grace we give people who don’t come out as teenagers. Hadley is a huge part of how I figured out my own identity, and in the future, I’d like to see her figure out hers too.

Monthly Review

January 2022 Wrap-Up

So back in the day, like October 2016 back in the day, I used to do a monthly wrap-up post where I talked about what I accomplished that month and what I hoped to do in the next month. I have decided to start doing that again because

a) I think seeing my progress will be good for me (even if it’s a lack of progress sometimes)

b) it’s an easy place to put up book reviews without doing a book review

c) I can talk a bit about things I’ve been doing behind the scenes that are not interesting enough to warrant their own post


Reading

I set out to read about 8-9 books this month since my yearly goal is 100 books, and I ended up reading 10 books in January. (The numbers beside the titles are where they are in the series, if there is one)

  1. Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque (4 stars- helped a lot with shifting my feelings about my newsletter)
  2. How to Read a Suit by Lydia Edwards (4 stars- highly interesting if you want to learn more about period specific clothing as well as masculinity)
  3. Where the Drowned Girls Go (#7) by Seanan McGuire (5 stars- absolutely LOVE this series, YA portal fantasy)
  4. Heartstopper (#4) by Alice Oseman (5 stars- the focus of this one was heavily on mental health and I loved that love couldn’t solve/magically fix it)
  5. The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows (#2) by Olivia Waite (4 stars- this series is f/f historical romance, and this one features a beekeeper and has tons of queer side characters)
  6. Winter’s Dawn (#3) by Arden Powell (4 stars- every novella in this series has been magical and wonderful)
  7. The Missing Page (#2) by Cat Sebastian (5 stars- Page and Sommers team up to solve Sommers’ cousin’s disappearance from 20 years ago, fantastic)
  8. Boys Run the Riot (#4) by Keito Gaku (4 stars- a manga with a trans lead about fashion, mad it’s over)
  9. The Excalibur Curse (#3) by Kiersten White (4 stars- I am so upset this series is over but it was a fabulous King Arthur retelling filled with queer characters)
  10. Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron (5 stars- very useful as a I work on The Reanimator’s Heart)

Admin/Behind the Scenes Author Stuff

  • Updated the back matter and formatting for the ebook versions of all my books
  • Republished said books on Amazon and D2D
  • Published all of my books on the Google Play store
  • Fixed my website aesthetically to make it pretty again after I wrecked it last year
  • Updated every page of my website to be current
  • Created, uploaded, and published the second box set in the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series, which contains books 4-6 (Dead Magic, Selkie Cove, and The Wolf Witch)
  • Updated the covers/titles for the audiobooks for The Earl of Brass and The Gentleman Devil
  • Contacted/contracted a narrator for the audiobook of Kinship and Kindness (which will hopefully be out by summer. PS- my narrator is trans, and I’m super excited to have a trans narrator for a series that has a trans lead in each book)
  • Fixed/relaunched my monthly newsletter (You can read January’s here)
  • Read some author craft books (Newsletter Ninja and Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel)
  • blogged weekly and did weekly marketing

I did a lot of admin stuff this month, but I want to emphasize that I didn’t start teaching until over halfway through the month, so I got a lot of work done while on break. Please don’t judge my productivity against yours if you are working full-time. Due to pandemic mess, I’m teaching less classes and trying to make up for it by [theoretically] boosting my author income. Hence, all the admin stuff.


Blogs Posted

If there’s ever anything you want me to write about, feel free to let me know. I will never complain about blog suggestions.


Writing

Oh boy. So this is where I find myself cringing because while I look very industrious in all the things I mentioned above, I did not get a whole lot of writing done. This month The Reanimator’s Heart reached about 11,000 words. This was due to multiple reasons. Part of it was that I had to tweak the beginning of my book to make it work, which then created a cascade of tweaking. Most of it was due to stress though. I had bad anxiety at the beginning of the month, which led to a horrible bout of writer resistance. I can’t even pinpoint why, but I was struggling. I also had car issues, a dog with diarrhea, and my classes started up again all within a two week period. As soon as I get stressed out, my ability to write plummets. It’s something I’m working on, but it still throws me. My hope is that, while I probably won’t catch up completely in February, I will make a dent in my word count goal and actually get close to where I hoped to be.

I also figured out that I do significantly better doing 20 minute writing sprints than 15 minute ones, so here’s hoping that I can use that new information to build momentum going forward.


Hopes for February

  • Read 8 books
  • Write 20k words (stretch goal is 30k to fully catch up)
  • finish a syllabus I need to write for a future class
  • finish a course proposal for a future class
  • blog weekly, February author newsletter
  • crochet more because I barely crocheted at all this month

That’s it for this month’s wrap-up. Let me know what goals you hope to achieve in February!

organization · Writing

How to Outline as a Pantser

I know the title looks like an oxymoron, but just bear with me for a moment.

Before I get into detail about what I do as a pantser, I want to talk about what I mean by a pantser, gardener, and plotter, which are terms I’m going to use throughout this post.

A pantser is someone who “flies by the seat of their pants” while they write. Meaning that they do no pre-writing or minimal pre-writing. Pantsers typically don’t use outlines, though they may have some idea of the direction of their stories when they start.

A plotter is someone who uses outlines, pre-writing, and various organizational methods to sort out the plot of their book before they start writing.

Gardeners, or plantsers as they are often known, fall somewhere between plotting and pansting, meaning that they may use some organizational techniques ahead of time but they may be scant or only used sometimes.

The problem a lot of pantsers and gardeners often run into is that they don’t like to outline because it sort of sucks the magic out of the creative process. Half the fun of writing is discovery, so when you get told everything in the outline, there’s no drive to discover. Then the next problem that arises is, if I have a beginning and end, how do I bridge those two pieces if I don’t have an outline?

What I would catch myself doing is constantly rereading what I had written in hopes that I would figure out how to get to the ending I imagined. As you can probably guess, I wasted A LOT of time rereading the same passages, and as the book got longer, I found myself skipping writing days to reread 100 pages, which then put me behind. A few times I tried to outline like a plotter when I got stuck and found myself staring into the void because I still didn’t know how to get to point B from where I was. I wasn’t a plotter and would probably never be, so this type of outlining didn’t work for me. Luckily I did find something that helped a lot: reverse outlining.

I highly doubt I am the first person to come up with reverse outlining, but I figured out this sort of retroactive outlining technique on my own after having reread the same draft every day for 3 days. What a reverse outline is, is writing out what happens in each chapter as you write them. So I make a bulleted list with Chapter # as a header, then put a bunch of bullets under it of the major things that happened. Sometimes I also include character descriptions, important objects or settings, etc. You can do this digitally on a Google/Word Doc or on Scrivener or you can make one by hand in a notebook or on index cards. Something I started to do as my story got longer is to color code the events. General main plot got one color, the romance arcs got a different color, subplots another. You could also do this if you shift point of view as well. That way, you see main points and how they work together at a glance. Here’s an example from my current project, THE REANIMATOR’S HEART:


Chapter One: Foolish Choices

  • Oliver Barlow introduction- he is the coroner at the Paranormal Society and is also a necromancer
  • He autopsies Mr. Hezekiah Henderson who was apparently killed by his own pet tigers (could talk to animals). He gets this info by reviving him briefly
  • His BFF Gwen comes in, she’s in the midst of an asthma attack. Oliver helps her, and she tells him that Felipe Galvan is looking for him. Oliver is flustered because he likes Felipe but begrudgingly agrees to go

This reverse outline can be as detailed or scant as you wish, but it should help to cut down on having to reread and reorient yourself constantly. For some chapters, these entries can be quite long, but it’s worth it. I tend to write these out after I’ve finished a chapter rather than after each writing session. This reverse outline should also help during the editing process as you can target where certain plot points/threads that need to be adjusted at a glance.

Something else you might consider after reverse outlining that helped me was micro-outlining. Half of the reason I use the reverse outline is because I’m not good at thinking too far in the future, but I often have scene ideas along the way with no means of connecting them. I tend to have a detailed reverse outline on a doc and another one of just major events written on index cards. Once I have the preexisting bits done, I make cards for future events I have in my head. As I work forward, the stepping stones to get to those events become clearer, so I start making notes (or note cards) for myself of what I need to do to get there. I think of this as micro outlining because it doesn’t take away from that discoverability aspect that I enjoy with being a pantser, but it keeps me moving forward more smoothly (as someone who forgets things, writing ideas down is key to actually using them later). It also helps me to figure out where to put things I want to include. If you’re someone who is very visual, I highly recommend using an index card based system for reverse outlining. It just makes it a lot easier to visualize what comes next. Plus, moving things around can sometimes jog ideas loose. If you are afraid of losing your index cards, Scrivener also has a digital index card feature.

If you’re a pantser or gardener who is constantly rereading your work or forgetting what you’ve done, I hope you’ll try using a reverse outline to mark out where you’ve been and figure out where you’re going.

Writing

Why Authors Need Other Hobbies

I can already hear some of you saying, “But, Kara, writing is my hobby! It’s my one passion, my true love,” etc.

And, yeah, same, but that’s also part of the problem. For those of us who would eventually like to write full-time or think of writing as more than a hobby, writing can become an all-consuming activity. We spend hours upon hours of our lives staring at the screen, working on plots or outlines, posting on social media about our work, and of course, editing said work. Often, we clock in more time with our writing than we do with our day jobs.

But what happens when the words stop flowing for a while or we write something that isn’t well received? In the past when this happened, I caught myself falling into a mental health spiral because so much of my self-worth is tied closely to my ability to write and my productivity in relation to my writing. Part of this is certainly tied to the capitalistic notion of hustle culture and productivity = self-worth. Author and writer also become part of our identity, and when that part isn’t being stoked, we lose our sense of who we are, our self-confidence, and that leads to a lot of the mental health slipping.

What I found helped me to feel less mentally chaotic when stress or life made writing difficult was learning to crochet.

Parts 1 and 2 of the Letitia’s Garden CAL blanket I am working on for my mom. (Pattern by Rosina Plane on Ravelry)

What I love about crochet is that when I’m done with a project, there is an immediate pay off. I learn stitches, I follow a pattern, and I get a hat/scarf/blanket/produce bag/stuffed squid. Unlike writing where it takes months or years for a pay off, crocheting smaller projects can be done in an hour or two. It’s something I do to wind down if I’m feeling stressed by working on something simple or repetitive or to challenge myself by choosing something with an intricate pattern like the blanket in the picture. It helps keep me centered, especially when my writing isn’t going well.

Part of the reason this works is because I am a goal-oriented person who mentally gets off to ticking things off a to-do list, and a crochet pattern is basically a to-do list that ends in a product magically appearing. I can see the pay-off happening as I work the pattern, and that gives me the brain boost I need to counterbalance what’s going wrong with my writing. Does it help all the time? Absolutely not, and sometimes, I can’t bear the thought of picking up my crochet project and working on it.

But having a hobby that isn’t writing to give your brain that boost it needs to keep out of a downward spiral is really what is key here. If you’re athletic, maybe going to the gym and doing reps or having a pick-up game with your friends will do the trick. If you’re a crafter like me, maybe try crochet, needlepoint, knitting, plastic canvas, or even needle felting. Nothing like stabbing something a million times to get the frustration out. The good thing is, most of these hobbies don’t cost very much. You can get cheap yarn and a serviceable set of hooks/needles for $10 and there are tons of tutorials on YouTube, which is where I learned to crochet (I highly recommend HookedByRobin or JaydaInStitches).

If you are not crafty, then try video games. Much like crafts, quests give that bite size chunk pay off and seeing progression through a story or quest helps to refill the wells with serotonin. I greatly enjoy low stress games like Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, and Ooblets, so if you aren’t a big gamer, those might be a good place to start to unwind.

The other thing I might suggest if you don’t feel like getting into a new hobby or playing a game is reading. I think most authors also tend to be readers, but I get frustrated when I hear authors say they don’t have time to read. You can probably make time for anything you truly want to do, even if it’s squeezing in a few minutes reading an ebook on your phone while in the bathroom. It still helps to refill those creative reservoirs.

Truthfully, I think doing something non-book related is the better option when you need to counterbalance writing angst. Doing something with your hands or playing video games, which helps to engage that hand-eye coordination and decision making anyway, are rife with pay-offs that might make you feel better if things are going wrong. Those small pay-offs that a hobby can bring add up and will ultimately lower your stress even if a pattern or project is frustrating in the moment. A side benefit is that I’ve often had plot epiphanies while my brain was busy chugging away a crochet project or plantings crops in Stardew Valley. It’s the repetitive, meditative nature of it that allows for your brain to run in the background and unpick the knots you’ve made.

If you’re feeling frustrated or stuck with your writing, I highly recommend trying a new hobby or picking up an old one.

Writing

All of My Books are Now Available on Google Play

The title pretty much gives it away, but yes! All of my books are available on the Google Play store. I will be uploading the short stories there soon, but for now, every novel is available in every country Google Play supports, including the box sets.

The links are active, but I’m still trickling through the system (aka they’re not showing up in searches yet). All of the content warnings and blurbs are available by clicking the books page at the top of the menu on my website.


If you’re someone who uses Google Play, you can grab your copies below:

Kinship and Kindness (Paranormal Society Romance #1, latest book)

The Earl of Brass (Ingenious Mechanical Devices #1, only 99c, oldest book)

The Gentleman Devil (Ingenious Mechanical Devices #2)

The Earl and the Artificer (Ingenious Mechanical Devices #3)

Dead Magic (Ingenious Mechanical Devices #4)

Selkie Cove (Ingenious Mechanical Devices #5)

The Wolf Witch (Ingenious Mechanical Devices #6)

Box set IMD 1-3

Box set IMD 4-6