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

organization · Writing

On Doing Things Wrong as an Author

Let me preface this by saying this is not a how-to on how to fix your screw ups. This is a post about things I screwed up that I didn’t realize were even a problem until I did them [repeatedly].

There is no right or wrong way to do most things as an author, especially in regards to writing. There will always be people who are really into your niche genre or dying for this very specific type of character you’re writing, but on the business end of things, there are, let’s say, less desirable ways of doing things. Things that don’t benefit you/the writer or the reader/your audience.

How I F-ed Up My Newsletter

I am incredibly guilty of doing those less desirable things because I’m either a) tired or burnout b) didn’t know better c) didn’t want to bother anyone. I bolded and italicized the last one because not wanting to bother anyone has been a lifelong mode of operation that I probably need therapy for, but we will not get into that. The problem with that mindset is that you treat everything you do as a chore for others. I only send emails to my newsletter occasionally because I don’t want to bother them. Or I don’t want to advertise my book because I don’t want to bother people. This means I am treating the books that I love and spent hours and hours of my life working on as something unworthy of attention, and in the long-run, I am setting myself up for failure because people don’t know I have books or think I’m only reaching out to sell them something, which is not a great look.

So what I’ve been working on is creating a monthly newsletter that will cover the following things:

Join my monthly newsletter for: sneak peeks, freebies/deals, book recommendations, life updates, pet pics, and book research
The background is grey with teal writing and there are 2 bats flying behind the words.

If you join my monthly newsletter, I’ll share things I’m working on, some cool research (and let me tell you, writing historically set books, there is a lot and it is weird), pics of my dogs, and books that I’ve read and loved and think you’ll love, too. When you sign-up, you’ll also get a free prequel short story, and over the next few months, I plan to send out another free short to subscribers. After the initial thank you emails, you will get monthly emails, which will be sent out at the end of every month.

I decided to change this to a beefier, monthly email because I was doing a disservice to my readers/subscribers by “not bothering them” except when I had book updates, and when I thought harder about that, it felt wrong to only send messages when I published. You could just follow me on Amazon or Bookbub if you wanted that kind of bare bones update.

How I F-ed Up my Back Matter

The next giant thing I screwed up is not keeping up with fixing my back matter. Back matter is the about the author, also by the author, newsletter/social media links, etc. that are found at the back of your book. Between changing laptops several times since 2014, switching writing programs, and just being overwhelmed at the prospect of going through like 10 Word docs, I put off updating all of these things for YEARS. This means that my first book had an “also by” list that only went up to like book four of the series. I facepalmed hard when I realized I hadn’t updated my back matter since 2017.

Something I would also recommend other authors doing is going back and formatting their docs, so the chapter headers are in a heading style and the body text is one uniform style. This makes it easier for the Kindle and eReader software to convert your book to something that makes sense. Guess who went back and properly formatted all 10 documents? And I was shocked to find that once I got going, it took significantly less time than I expected. I was able to do all of them over the course of a week and reuploaded the new files to my distributors. Amazon/KDP also has a new bit of free software called Kindle Create that is a lot like Vellum or, if you’ve used D2D, their autogenerated software, which will break your book into chapters and add pretty flourishes if you’re so inclined. Once again, very easy, highly recommend to make your books look spiffy.

If you’re an author, this is your sign to fix your back matter and formatting as it won’t take you nearly as long as you think once you finish the first book.

How I Forgot to Publish an Entire Box Set

The last thing I did to get my work back into shape is to add a new box set for the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series. A while ago, I made a box set for books 1-3, which is 20% off the cost of buying the books individually, but I thought I’d wait until a year after book 6 came out before I made the next box set. Well, then I got overwhelmed with life and then enough time passed that I forgot. A couple weeks ago, I reached out to my cover designer (Lou Harper at Cover Affairs), made the file, and got it all listed, so if you’re interested in getting a box set of books 4-6 for 25% off buying the books individually, now you can. Both sets are available on all major retailers, BUT I had a little hiccup with Apple Books and Kobo. They have the set as a preorder that releases January 29th. I’ve reached out to fix it with no answer, but the 29th isn’t that far away, so if it doesn’t get fixed immediately, you will get your books by the end of the month.

TL;DR

If you’re an author, research best practices instead of assuming you’re being annoying because you could be in a totally different way than you though.

You may also want to join my monthly newsletter as it starts up in earnest this month.

If you’re an author, fix your back matter and formatting.

Check out my latest release, which is a box set of books 4-6 in the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series for 25% off the cost of the books individually.


Let me know in the comments what kinds of things you like to see in author newsletters!

organization · Personal Life

How I’m Getting My Sh*t Together

If you saw my post on “Life’s a Mess but There’s Hope,” you know that I have been having a rather rough time. Earlier in the year, due to life/emotional stress (or from a potential asymptomatic covid leftover), I was struggling with brain fog, checking OCD, and general anxiety. This combined with work stuff and writing malaise had wreaked havoc on my self-esteem and self-worth, so while I was mainlining YouTube videos, as one does when they feel shitty, I came across Sarra Cannon’s videos about her quarterly planning.

I already am a big proponent of using planners and have used a bullet journal every year since 2016, but when my downhill mental spiral started in earnest in 2020, I stopped setting concrete goals and my organization devolved from there to the bare minimum. So when I saw Sarra’s planning videos, I was excited, especially since she is a writer and entrepreneur, and it turns out her HB90 system is centered around exactly that. Before I go on, I’d like to say that I am in no way affiliated with Sarra’s classes. I just took the HB90 course and felt that I benefited from it.

What is the HB90 system?

The HB90 system was created by author Sarra Cannon (YouTube channel is Heart Breathings) as a way to help others stay organized and move toward the ideal life they want. Instead of focusing on a year at a time, she breaks things down by quarter. Some of you might shrug and say it sounds like every other planner, but there were certain aspects that greatly appealed to me.

The first one was that this system focused on quarterly goals instead of yearly goals. A problem I often faced was getting off track due to life and my yearly goals would rapidly spiral into why bother land. I wouldn’t be able to right that ship and would give up. By having quarterly goals, they are smaller chunks, and after each quarter/90 days, you do a review and figure out what worked, what didn’t work, and what you need to do. That way, if you know you were doing something self-sabotaging, you can sort of check yourself and figure out how to move forward. Also, you can decide if you want to continue a half-finished/unfinished goal or shelve it next quarter.

The other thing that appealed to me was the visualization/ideal life aspect. At the beginning of the course (and each quarter), you fill out questions regarding what you truly want your life to look like. The idea is that if you have a specific direction/vision, you know that your goals should aim you toward that vision and you can eliminate or minimize things that won’t move you toward that life. It wasn’t done in a “you should be rich in the future with a mansion and a convertible” or girlboss kind of way. She’s simply asking you to find an ideal in order to make sure your choices make sense. Something I struggle with is “spaghetti flinging,” so if I don’t know what I need to do, I will do all the things instead. This means, I do a lot of random stuff that doesn’t amount to much. This is meant to eliminate that because I can say, “Yes, this idea is great, but this isn’t what I’m focusing on right now.”

I don’t want to go over every aspect of this course (this is what taking the course is for), but something I appreciated was that Sarra Cannon is mindful of reality and different realities. She asks you to be realistic but also kind to yourself. Don’t set yourself up for failure by being like “New Year New Me!” while still having old you’s habits and abilities. You have to work on that gradually, and I was so relieved to hear her talk about if you have chronic health problems and budgeting your time based on how often you know those things take you out of commission. This really isn’t a hustle culture kind of thing, so that work til you drop and hustle harder wasn’t there. It was about knowing what you are currently capable of and potentially working toward different habits in the future or scheduling yourself better right now. As someone who has inflammation problems, migraines, and anxiety, I can’t live up to the ableist standard of hustle culture, so this took some of that pressure off me while I was working on my goals/schedule.

My Ideal Life

When I was asked to imagine my ideal life, I struggled a bit. Academia has been going through a weird time of upheaval, especially in the humanities where I work, and that has made my own life more complicated. What I decided to do for my ideal life was to create a vision board on Pinterest, and I quickly realized it would make no sense to anyone but me. What I want is a life lived creatively. I want a rich, fulfilling life that is focused on things that make me feel good: my partner, my dogs, going to museums, doing creative writing, doing more art. There’s certainly room in there for a full-time academic position if one should ever come available, but I don’t feel like I can bank on that due to the current climate at US universities. I would like to model my life a little on Vincent Price’s. He was an actor, obviously, but he also loved art and cooking, and I want a life that is filled with creativity in various forms (he also wrote a book about his dog, The Book of Joe). I already crochet, but I’d like to do more traditional art, maybe even pottery, and I’d eventually like to live off my writing (especially if teaching full-time is ever off the table). This means my overall goals should be pointing me toward being able to rely on my writing more and giving myself the space to treat my writing seriously.

My Goals for 2022 Quarter 1

Goals in the HB90 system are a little different from what we normally think of as goals. The HB90 system asks you to pick things for goals that are slightly out of your control. That way you can see whether the tasks you put under them worked or not. So I’m not posting ALL of my projects under these goals, but the idea is that you have an overarching goal, then projects under it (larger scale stuff that you would normally consider goals) and those projects get broken into tasks that can be accomplished between a few hours or a week’s time. So here are my goals for Q1:

  1. To work on publishing new books while reworking my back list to increase my monthly income to $X/$Y/$Z a month (numbers have been hidden because I felt awkward talking about how much I make off my books).
  2. To create an energized community surrounding my works and increase my social media followers by 10%/15%/20% (Focus on newsletter, blog, Instagram, Twitter).
  3. Continue to work on my teaching materials and to maintain my mental health by maintaining a decent work-life balance.

To accomplish these goals, I will be writing more (please see my 2022 Projects post for specifics), reading some books on marketing, taking another course to keep my author knowledge up to date, hopefully sending out more newsletters, fixing the back matter in my books, and working on some departmental stuff for one of the universities I work at.

The Kanban Board

The top level of my Kanban board for quarter 1, aka the to-do section. The other sections aren’t shown since they’re empty.

To keep this post from being 8 miles long, I will not go into minute detail about the Kanban board (you can check out one of Sarra’s videos for detail), but the Kanban board is part of the HB90 setup as well. It is originally a Japanese form of organization where you get a dry erase board/paper/digital board and divide it into three parts. It goes to-do, currently working on, done. The idea is that you put everything in the to-do part, and as you work on it, you move it down until it ends up in the done section. Sarra uses sticky notes, and because my tasks aren’t super granular this quarter, I decided to use dry erase magnets as they are less likely to fall off.

The things written on each magnet are tasks that I need to do this quarter. I’m sure I’m missing some, but that’s what the extra magnets are for. What I like about this technique is that it is very visual. I am a tactile, visual person who needs lists in front of my face in order to remember to do things. If I can see progress (aka things moving down the board), I think I will feel better about myself and maintaining my mental health with be easier. Something I have struggled with is feeling like I’m doing so much but not getting anywhere. Something I’m still gauging is how much will fit in 90 days, but that should come with practice and will vary based on what classes on I’m teaching and such.

Final Thoughts

I’m excited to have some sort of framework in which to organize my writing and indie author stuff because these last few years have been a shit show for me. Sarra Cannon’s videos and course has helped to reignite my focus and zest for being an indie author. I’m cautiously hopeful that this will get me back on track.

Let me know if you want to know anything else about the HB90 program or how I use planners in the future! I do plan to update you all on how this is going at the end of the quarter.

Book Reviews

My Favorite Books of 2021

I’d like to begin by saying this is in no way a comprehensive list of my favorite books. Throughout the year, I read roughly 120 books, so to narrow this down, I went through my reading log spreadsheet and picked through my top 5 star books. The following books are in no particular order, but I did group them together by semi related genres/feelings.


The Intensity!

Jade War by Fonda Lee– book 2 in the Green Bone Saga (see Jade City for book 1) did not disappoint. I actually had a hard time getting through parts of Jade War because I needed to put the book aside and calm down. This book of magic, family, political intrigue, and the brutality of street wars is incredibly intense but worth the heart palpitations.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse– a multi-POV fantasy set in an alternate version of Central America where colonialism didn’t destroy the Nahuatl/indigenous cultures. If you’re into soft but dark magic ridden boys, headstrong female captains who are a bit of a mess, and incredibly intriguing mysteries, Black Sun is one to pick up.
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark– What is the KKK were actual monsters? Ring Shout tells the story of a diverse group of resistance fighters who decide to take on the KKK and bring them down once and for all. What I absolutely loved about this was the way African root/folk magic was interwoven with historical events and eldritch abominations. All of Clark’s works are a must read for me.


Kissing Books

Tommy Cabot Was Here by Cat Sebastian– While narrowing down my list, there were 3 Cat Sebastian books with 5 stars that I read this year, so take it as a blanket statement that I love her work. Tommy Cabot Was Here is deliciously filled with hurt-comfort as Tommy deals with a divorce and making a new life with his son while grappling with feelings for his best friend (his son’s teacher at the boarding school they attended as boys). If you love queer historical fiction, Cat Sebastian is a fav of mine.
Seducing the Sorcerer by Lee Welch– Goofy magic horse? Check. Middle aged protagonists in a queer romance? Check. A Diana Wynne Jones magical vibe? Check. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially if you aren’t into BDSM (it was pretty light overall), but this just hit the spot for me. Charming, complex, yet easy to sink into.
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert– As soon as I see a book with neurodivergent love interests, I am sold. I love Eve and Jacob’s dynamic, both messes in their own way. Tornado of chaos meets stuffed shirt to create the perfect balance. All of the books in the Brown Sisters series are wonderful, but I think this one is my fav.


Into New Worlds

An Affair of Poisons by Addie Thorley– This is another one that I think hit all my sweet spots. It reminded me of Hocus Pocus in terms of the brother-sister would kill for you dynamic. I’m also a sucker for Louis XIV/Rococopunk type stories, and this doesn’t disappoint with a plot to kill Louis XIV while overthrowing the government and creating an even worse one featuring magic and poisons.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRou by V. E. Schwab– A girl in 17th century France sells her soul to have a different life and quickly finds herself in a Monkey’s Paw situation where no one remembers her. Until she meets Henry. This one is a slow start, but once it got going, I was hooked and finished it in like two days.
Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko– If this sounds good to you, make sure to read Raybearer first. Both books follow Tarisai as she joins the future emperor’s court, finds a new family, and discovers that she is so much more than she thought. I always worry a second book in a fantasy duology will be too samey-samey with the first one or go totally off the rails. Ifueko creates an interesting world filled with so much magic and how one deals with a legacy of pain to make a better future.


Life Is Complicated

Yolk by Mary H. K. Choi– Talk about complicated sibling relationships. June and Jayne are sisters who seem a world apart when in reality, they are both messes. Jayne is envious of her corporate, high-rise sister while she is struggling through college and clout-chasing friends in a crappy apartment. When June steals Jayne’s identity, the sisters are drawn together and deal with their new realities and futures. I’d also like to mention that I love Mary H. K. Choi’s books, and if you haven’t read Emergency Contact, you should.
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston– time traveling lesbian, need I say more? After spotting a leather jacket lesbian on the train (Jane), August takes the train to get to know her and quickly realizes Jane has been stuck on the same train since the 70s. It’s a story as much about NYC and queer history as it is a sapphic romance and begs the question, will August and Jane get to be together?
Little Thieves by Margaret Owen– Vanja has been impersonating Princess Gisele for over a year, but her deception comes crashing down after being cursed for her greed and discovering her horrid betrothed is plotting something horrific. Vanja has to team up with a motley crew, complete with a stuffy inspector, to save her country and maybe even save herself. Set in a German-like fantasy world, the folklore and magic was *chef kiss*


Let me know in the comments what are your best books of 2021!

Monthly Review · Writing

2022 Projects

Photo by Lisa on Pexels.com

As I mentioned in my recent post, I want 2022 to be a year of getting my shit together. I’ll talk more about this in a future post, but I have been taking a course on the HB90 method, which is a way to keep yourself organized, plan future goals, and get your life in order. The course was made by a fellow writer, so I’m hopeful it’ll help me to get back on track. While I’m doing the behind the scenes work, I wanted to give you a little preview of what I am working on and hope to publish in the coming year.

Now, a little disclaimer that I cannot control many factors, so I don’t have full release dates yet. Assume longer projects will come out in the second half of 2022.


Photo by Mitja Juraja on Pexels.com

The Reanimator’s Heart

The Reanimator’s Heart is an off-shoot of the Paranormal Society Romances, so it still takes place in the same time period as Kinship and Kindness and many scenes are at the New York Paranormal Society. The reason I chose to create a spin-off is because this will be sort of equal parts paranormal mystery and M/M romance.

The Reanimator’s Heart is like Pushing Up Daisys meets Penny Dreadful. There are definitely some darker, scarier moments in this story, so if you like Jordan L. Hawk’s Widdershins or KJ Charles’ Magpie Lord stories, this is probably up your alley.

Oliver Barlow is the Paranormal Society’s resident coroner and necromancer. Oliver does his best to keep his powers hidden, but when he finds the man he’s had a crush on for years dead, he accidentally revives the charming Felipe Galvan. But Felipe refuses to go back to being dead until they find out who murdered him. Oliver and Felipe soon find themselves entangled with a murderous cabal that wants to bring something horrid from the great beyond.


Photo by Brandon Nickerson on Pexels.com

TROUSERS AND TROUBLE (Paranormal Society Romance #2)

Trousers and Trouble is the sequel/prequel to Kinship and Kindness. This story follows Bennett from when he leaves his uncle’s home, arrives in Brooklyn, and meets his best friends, Ruth and Rory. I know the series title says, “romance,” but let’s stretch this to mean platonic friendships and self-love. This is really a story of Bennett discovering who he is and a community where he is accepted for who he is (on several levels).

As with Kinship and Kindness, there will be magic, shifters, but this story has three transgender main characters. Ruth and Rory will eventually each have their own books in the series.

Between drag balls, performances at the Stratford Theater, and days spent at the Paranormal Society, Rory and Ruth are living their best, bachelor lives in Brooklyn. That is until a teenager on the run from his old life stumbles into their path.
While parenting had never been in the cards, Ruth and Rory know what they need to do, and they soon become Bennett’s fairy godmothers as they help him become the person he was always meant to be. But sometimes the past sinks in its teeth and refuses to let go. When Bennett’s family comes knocking, Ruth and Rory will stop at nothing to keep their new friend safe.


Future WIPS

  • A short story freebie for my newsletter that will probably be in the K&K world (join my newsletter in advance and you will get another free short story, “The Errant Earl”)
  • Tempests and Temptation (PSR #3)
  • Book 2 of the unnamed necromancer series
  • More books in the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series- not sure how many, but there will be at least 2 more

Well, I think I have kept you all long enough. Let me know in the comments which of these projects you are most looking forward to!