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.

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!

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!