Writing

Fighting the Process

I love writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I must trust the process.

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

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

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

Personal Life · Writing

When a Happy Ending is an Act of Defiance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing

Keeping Characters Consistent

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

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

My Character Development Process

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

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

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

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

Well, you don’t. Not exactly.

Consistency, Not Uniformity, is Key

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confirming Consistency in a Story or Series

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

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

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

organization · Writing

Adding a Works In Progress Page

So you may have noticed something new in the upper menu of my website. It’s a “Works in Progress” page!

What is it?

I’ve been talking about potentially adding a works in progress page for a while but was hemming and hawing because I didn’t know if people would actually care. When I posted about it on Twitter, my friends and readers seemed enthusiastic, so here you go.

I also wanted to make this because it holds me accountable in my writing, and I think it adds a little more excitement surrounding my forthcoming projects. It’s basically a catch-all for the projects I am working on or intend to work on. And it’s a place where readers can keep an eye on what I’m doing and where the books they’re excited for are in their production.

If you want to, now may be a good time to check out the WIP page before I talk about it (I’d suggest opening it in another tab if you’re interested).

How does it work?

This page is broken down into currently in production, on deck, and backburner.

Currently in production is pretty self-explanatory. It’s the projects that I have started or am actively working on. Right now, I’m actively working on The Reanimator’s Heart and I have some words on Trousers and Trouble. In that section, I’ve also included a progress bar, and a slated release date. Since I’m not that close to being done yet, I do not have a specific date, so seasons/years will do. Right now, I plan to update the progress bars once or twice a month. I’d like to say twice a month, but I may forget (my apologies in advance). There will be a date for when the progress was last updated.

On deck is comprised of works that I know for certain I am working on soon. Typically I have plot ideas for these or know at least somewhat where they are going. I also want to specify that if there’s a series and there’s only a finite number of books listed, that is subject to change. I mention book 4 of the Paranormal Society Romances with a “the end?” because that’s the last book I have in mind now. That doesn’t mean that some character won’t steal my attention and become book 5. So don’t get sad if you see less books in a series you like. These books are also not in any sort of production order. Now that I have more than one series going, I don’t know which series’s book will grab my attention next, so I make no promises as to the order of completion (if only I could be so regimented).

Backburner projects are not shelved,they’re projects that are still marinating. I would like to work on them, but they’re still underdeveloped in my head. I don’t like to work on stories until I have a decent idea of where I want to go with them and who the characters are, so I make note of them and let them sit until they start to gel. I’m super excited about everything on this list, but I have to segregate them from my on-deck projects because I get overeager and scattered if I don’t have a semi-regimented to-do list. Having 10 series going at once is fun but not the best business decision.

How Often Will This Be Updated?

I’m aiming for twice a month. I would like to update it every two weeks or so because there should be a substantial change for my current project by then. As mentioned above, I may forget, but I promise I will update it at least once a month. If you’re very interested in this new page, do not check it every day, it will not change that often, lol. You also get to see how slowly I write.

Slowly but cleanly! Don’t panic when I don’t drop 50k words in a month because I tend to not need to do major edits on books, which is a perk of writing like a snail. Once I finish a draft, the updates will change from word count to editing progress.

Going Forward

Going forward, I will add more details as projects are fleshed out and come into themselves. So as I have titles and blurbs and links, those will appear on the “Work in Progress” page as well. Of course, I will still post about these things in regular posts, but that page will be a nice catch-all for things you may have missed on the blog.

Let me know what you think of the new WIP page!

organization · Writing

What I’d Do Differently as a New Author

Hindsight is always 20/20 as they say, and there are plenty of mistakes I made early in my career that I would not suggest new authors repeat. We also must consider that I published my first book back in 2014 when there really wasn’t a whole lot about indie publishing online and nothing as organized as we have now. Since 2014, I’ve published 7 books, 2 boxed sets, and 2 short stories, and have learned quite a bit about what not to do. My hope is that some brand new authors or authors early in their indie author careers will learn from my mistakes.

For simplicity’s sake, I have decided to number these:

  1. Start a newsletter before I published– A lot of authors resist having a newsletter because it’s more work or they don’t know what to say, but just keeping a very basic release update newsletter will help you down the line. Building a newsletter can be a slow-go, so having people involved from the beginning and funneling them to your newsletter in case your social media goes bust is a fantastic idea. I know this from personal experience after having my FB and IG hacked, locked, and eventually deleted. Any social media account can disappear at any moment, but a newsletter list can be downloaded regularly just in case.
  2. Know what constitutes a good audiobook narrator before producing one– This goes for any part of the publishing process you don’t understand. Ask others who do like that thing and see if they think it sounds good. I don’t think my first audiobook narrator was necessarily the best because I didn’t listen to audiobooks and didn’t understand what people like in an audiobook narrator. My narrator was more suited to nonfiction than fiction. I’ve since learned.
  3. Ask people involved in a program, promo, etc. about their honest experiences- sometimes a program sounds fantastic on paper when in reality it has a a lot of problems or limitations. For instance, Kindle Unlimited sounds like a great idea (exclusivity as a trade off for voracious readers). If you’re in the right genre, it can be great, but if you aren’t in a genre where people read voraciously, you may not gain the same traction and your exclusivity may not be the pay off you think it is. There’s also the trade-off of losing traction or not gaining it as fast when you go wide because you don’t have the same preorders and release push that you would if you published your books there for the first time.
  4. Invest in good covers that fit the genre from the start– I was lucky enough that my partner is an artist, and he was able to make me a halfway decent cover for my first few books. While this was great for my budget, they were not the best in terms of marketing since they didn’t fit the genre at all. If I was doing it over again, I would definitely invest in a professional cover that fit the genre conventions (aka look at Amazon best seller listings and comp titles ahead of time instead of making something I liked).
  5. Not publish a large series as a first project/publication– When I first wrote The Earl of Brass, I had no idea how long the series would be, especially since I started branching off into other couples. I don’t think I ever anticipated it being 6+ books long. The problem is that people need to read book 1 to read the rest of the series, and by the time you hit book 6, you’re writing is A LOT better and readers are still judging your series based on book 1’s writing. I definitely wouldn’t suggest going beyond a trilogy for your first/early major project because you will improve a lot and the difference will be stark from the beginning to the end of the series.
  6. If you were in an MFA program, you may need to do some re/de-programming– I graduated from an MFA program where some professors were very supportive of me writing genre fiction because, to them, good writing was good writing, but there were others who were vocal about how they thought it was garbage and that literary fiction was the pinnacle of art. Despite writing and publishing genre fiction out of spite during my time in grad school, I definitely picked up some bad habits and self-loathing. If look back at old blog posts from 2015/2016, I definitely got hung up on “upmarket” fiction and speculative fiction, which are nice ways that lit fic authors/publishers relabel what should be genre fiction. I came out of grad school ready to start fights over genre fiction’s merits only to find most people were totally cool with it and loved it. The difference was stark, so I wasted a lot of time trying to make my writing (as a product) sound good to lit fic people when they were not my audience at all. I think no matter the program, there will always be bad habits or bad thoughts you will need to un-learn as you grow.
  7. Learn that other writers are your coworkers, not your competitors– What I mean by that is, don’t treat other writers like people you have to one-up or beat. It just sets you up to feel like shit and to potentially treat others like shit. Early in my career, I felt jealousy keenly when other writers who started around the same time I did got traditional publishing deals or appears at cons or had opportunities I couldn’t get. When I started to have some success and felt people do the same to me (being bitter and suddenly treating me differently) as I did to others who got ahead of me, it was a wake up call to knock off the behavior. It was ugly and unnecessary, and I shouldn’t have had to feel it turned back on me to stop. It’s perfectly normal to feel pangs of jealousy, but you have to remind yourself that they may be ahead in their career overall, they may have different connections, or what they have looks good but wouldn’t be good for you. You have to feel that jealousy but still be happy for them. Trust me, you don’t want to be that person who alienates their writing friends when they get a whiff of success.
  8. Have a plan before publishing– This one seems like it should be obvious, but oh, dear reader, it is not. As someone who struggles to plan things because I have zero chill, I have launched books early or with little preamble because I was so excited for other people to read it. That was not a solid business plan. If you’re just publishing as a hobby, that’s fine, but if you’re trying to grow your readership and make some money off of it, publishing on a schedule or launching a series x amount of months apart is a much smarter idea than releasing a book because you cannot contain yourself. A lot of indie authors now have made videos and resources about creating a pre-launch plan and how to best utilize the push from pre-orders and pre-marketing. I wish there was more of that when I was a baby indie back in 2014. It would have been a major help to me.

There are plenty of other f-ups I have made along the way, but these are the ones that I think have had the biggest impact, whether I realized it or not at the time. I hope these help you if you’re a newbie or just starting on your indie publishing journey.

If you’re already an indie author, what are some things you would tell new indies to do differently? Drop your suggestions in the comments.

The Reanimator's Heart · Writing

Introducing The Reanimator’s Heart

You may have seen me talk about my current WIP, The Reanimator’s Heart, but I realized I really haven’t gone into what the story is truly about. Today, we’re going to change that, especially because this month’s author newsletter will include a never before seen snippet of The Reanimator’s Heart. If you’d like to join my monthly newsletter, you can do so by clicking here.

I started writing The Reanimator’s Heart, or at least toying with the idea, while I was struggling with my mental health getting worse during covid and losing my dad. At the time, I had been working on Trousers and Trouble, which is such a joyful book that I was struggling despite knowing where I was going. This book, on the other hand, is definitely a reflection on loss, autism/neurodivergence, chronic illness, grief, and the things left behind after death. At the same time, this book is actually coming out far funnier and lighter than I expected. Are there heavy themes and a high body count? Yes. Are these characters having a grand old time and incredibly charming? Also, yes.

First off, where does The Reanimator’s Heart fit in the Kara Jorgensen extended universe?

It is technically an off-shoot of The Paranormal Society Romance series. The story takes place in the New York Paranormal Society as mentioned in Kinship and Kindness where Bennett works. Originally, I debated including this book as part of the Paranormal Society Romance series since it runs concurrently with what I already have planned, but neither of the love interests are trans (and there’s a trans MC in each of those books) and the book is a bit more mystery than romance. Like a lot more of a mystery than romance. Then, as I was brainstorming The Reanimator’s Heart, I realized I had an idea for a second book with the same couple. It just made sense to split this book off into its own series, which will be titled, The Reanimator Mysteries.

What is The Reanimator’s Heart about?

The Reanimator’s Heart is like Penny Dreadful meets Vienna Blood with a healthy dose of Tim Burton’s style of levity (like Pushing Up Daisies). That sounds incredibly contradictory, but my work is generally on the Gothier side of dark complete with at least some of the campiness that makes the Gothic so much fun.

Here is the rough working blurb:

Oliver Barlow is the coroner for the New York Paranormal Society, and he has been harboring a secret from his coworkers: he’s a necromancer. He often solves cases by briefly reviving the dead, asking them a few pointed questions, and sending them back to the great beyond. Anything more and he could be treading into dangerous territory. His life working (and living) in the basement of the Paranormal Society has been going smoothly until Felipe Galvan returns to the Paranormal Society after a bounty hunting mission across the country. For years, Oliver has had a crush on Felipe, and they soon find themselves working on a case together involving a murdered nun. All is going well until the same person who murdered Sister Mary Agnes comes for Felipe. When Oliver finally musters up the courage to ask Felipe Galvan out, he finds him dead, and accidentally reanimates him. But Felipe will not go quietly. He refuses to die until they figure out who murdered him and solve the case. Things far worse than murder are afoot in Manhattan. Oliver and Felipe soon find themselves facing a cabal ready to unleash something horrific into their world.

As you can probably tell from the blurb, this is probably a little closer in tone to my Ingenious Mechanical Devices series with murders, monsters, and m/m romance.

Why am I so excited about this book?

Because I love Oliver and Felipe. Oliver is the science goth of my heart. He’s sweet yet awkward, and a lot of what he deals with comes directly from my experience as a neurodivergent person. If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be in an overactive, overthinking brain, you’ll definitely get it in his point of view. On the other hand, Felipe is dashing, courageous, but much like Oliver, he presents a mask to the world. He has plenty of his own issues that he’s running from. He grapples with what it means to be undead and to suddenly have one’s powers and life suddenly change (cough chronic illness analog cough).

Speaking of Felipe, his extended family has been one of my favorite parts of writing this book. Felipe is in a lavender marriage with his wife, Louisa, who is a relationship with a trans woman, Agatha Pfeiffer. Together they have a daughter, Teresa, who is in college studying art and design. Felipe, Louisa, and Agatha raised her together. I really enjoyed working in another trans character, especially one who would have been part of a growing trans culture back in Germany (if you’ve never heard of this, please look up Willi Pape or Magnus Hirschfield) and who has a child/family.

The details.

The Reanimator’s Heart will probably be out in the fall of 2022. I’m not setting a date or preorder until I completely finish the manuscript, but you can add it to your Goodreads TBR by clicking here.

At the end of the month, I will send out the first sneak peek of the story exclusively to my newsletter subscribers, so if you’re interested, you should sign up here or by clicking the button below. You may also want to sign up in order to get the first look at the cover in the future and to get some interesting weirdness packaged and emailed to you every month.

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.

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.

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.

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.