Book Reviews

12 Queer Authors to Read Now (Part 1)

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

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

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

Monthly Review

May 2022 Wrap-Up Post

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

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

Let’s see how it went.


Books

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

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

Admin/Behind the Scenes Author Stuff

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

Blogs Posted


Writing

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

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

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

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


Hopes for June

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

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

When You Don’t Recognize Your Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing

Fighting the Process

I love writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I must trust the process.

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

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

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

Personal Life · Writing

When a Happy Ending is an Act of Defiance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monthly Review

April 2022 Wrap-Up

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

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

Reading

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

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

Admin/Behind the Scenes Author Stuff

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

Blogs Posted


Writing

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

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

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


Hopes for May

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

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

Writing

Keeping Characters Consistent

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

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

My Character Development Process

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

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

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

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

Well, you don’t. Not exactly.

Consistency, Not Uniformity, is Key

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confirming Consistency in a Story or Series

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

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

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

The Reanimator's Heart

Writing Update TRH #1

I promise the next blog will contain some helpful info about writing, but between allergies kicking my butt, stepping up my writing, and other random life goings-on, my brain is not working. Instead, I wanted to talk a little about The Reanimator’s Heart, which is my current work-in-progress.

Since we last spoke about The Reanimator’s Heart, several exciting things have happened. The first being that I finally finished the synopsis/blurb!

A reluctant necromancer, a man killed before his time, and the crime that brings them together.

Felipe Galvan’s life as an investigator for the Paranormal Society has been spent running into danger. Returning home from his latest case, Felipe struggles with the sudden quiet of his life until a mysterious death puts him in the path of enigmatic Oliver Barlow.

Oliver Barlow has two secrets. The first, he has been in love with the charming Felipe Galvan for years. The second, he is a necromancer, but to keep the sensible life he’s built as a coroner, he must hide his powers. That is until Oliver finds Felipe murdered and accidentally brings him back from the dead.

But Felipe refuses to die again until he and Oliver catch his killer. Together, Felipe and Oliver embark on an investigation that will take them to the darkest corners of New York to uncover a plot centuries in the making. As they close in on his killer, one thing is certain: if they don’t stop them, Felipe won’t be the last to die.

If you are a writer, you understand the head-on-desk weeping that is involved in writing a blurb. Shockingly, this one came together after only about three drafts, which makes me incredibly happy. I highly recommend How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis by Bryan Cohen if you’re struggling to write your blurb. Right now there isn’t a preorder link for The Reanimator’s Heart as I am waiting on the cover from my cover designer first before I set it up, but you can add it on Goodreads if you’re so inclined.

Speaking of the cover, I have been talking to my cover designer for this book and I am super excited to see what he comes up with for this story. His artwork fits the aesthetic perfectly, and he’s done the covers for one of my favorite authors, so I am very excited.

In the meantime, I’ve been writing, playing catch up, and writing some more. Everything around my house is in full bloom, so I am in allergy hell. My body likes to overreact to things I’m allergic too, even with the medicine I’m on that is supposed to tamp that down, so my brain is swimming through the fog most days. April has been frustrating to say the least. I set my word count goal at a very manageable 500 words a day since I’m still restretching my writing muscles, and I managed to fall behind within a few days of the month starting. It took until last Friday to finally hit my current target word count, so now all I have to do is stay on track. Cue the panicked laughter. Truthfully, all I want to do is watch Our Flag Means Death (hooray for the gay pirate romcom we all deserved) and play video games, and if I get a day ahead in terms of word count, I’m taking a day off to rest my brain. During my procrastination time, I also made these character mood boards for Felipe and Oliver, respectively, and commissioned character art from @bloodwrit on Twitter (thank you, Vic!)

Art by Bloodwrit/Vic

I know I’m biased, but I really love Oliver and Felipe. Oliver is brilliant but reserved and sort of sheltered. Felipe is worldly but deeply unsettled about what his life has become though he won’t admit it. Together they’re a fantastic team with enough knowledge to take on almost anything, but can they manage to help each other find a way forward toward the life they want is the question. What I’m also loving about writing this is where future books in the series will go. Oliver’s necromancy really only starts to bloom in book 1, so there are so many places it can go while the specter of past necromancers looms large over him. The Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow meets Pushing Up Daisies feels are ever present in this story, and my hope is that the strange mix of gruesomeness and tenderness are something you all are into.

I think this is where I will leave you all today. If you want a little more of The Reanimator’s Heart to tide you over, you can check out its Pinterest Board and playlist.

Personal Life

Rediscovering Your Weird

Growing up, I was always a weird kid. If you’re neurodivergent, you won’t find this nearly as odd, but for those of you without autism or ADHD rewriting the brain script, you know the kids. I loved Ancient Egypt as a tiny child. I was obsessed and would pour over the pictures in my uncle’s books and prattle back the names of gods and pharaohs. Then the obsession switched to dinosaurs, and little Kara dreamed of being an archaeologist or a paleontologist. Since then, I’ve had many obsessions/passions, some weirder than others. For a while, I was very into Sherlock Holmes (the original books and the Basil Rathbone movies from the early 40s), anatomy and diseases (with a brief foray into poisons), Phantom of the Opera, Vincent Price, and I’m sure there have been many micro-obsessions along the way. When I get into something, I get into it hard.

At some point, adults assume you will grow out of the weird shit you like or you become a closeted weirdo. I’ve never exactly been good at hiding things or being subtle, so as much as I tried to hold the weirdness inside of me, it always trickled out. When you’re a weird person, it can be hard because you know you are one bout of public weirdness away from people thinking you’re a total pariah, so there’s a constant pressure to perform normalcy. As a queer, nonbinary person, normalcy is already a very flimsy word, but there is the eventual expectation that you will put away your black hoodie with skull print and don a blouse and slacks and let your weirdness die in an unmarked beige grave.

In graduate school when I was in my early to mid-twenties, I tried to be more normal. I wanted to be taken seriously, to be seen as professional, and on some level I was. At the same time, normal people still seemed to sense the underlying not and I was growing more miserable. By the time I graduated and started teaching, I was sailing into burnout. Trying to maintain my job, my writing, and my mask of normality was exhausting and something had to give. Writing caved first, but writing is how I maintain my sanity on a more regular basis. So I needed to get that back and employment is necessary, so I let normalcy finally slip from my fingers.

After roughly three years of letting that mask slip, I can safely say that I highly recommend it. In that time, I have embraced the fact that I am nonbinary and feel better about my body, my clothes, my persona, etc. I enjoy teaching more because I don’t feel the need to project something stiff and lofty. I can just be Professor Jorgensen who is a bit strange and quirky, but that’s what makes a good creative writing professor. I feel like a warmer person, a happier person, and a person who is, generally, more fun to be around because I’m not sitting there like a shaken soda bottle ready to explode. And the people who are put off by the real me are people I don’t particularly want to be around. If you see me referring to people are “normies” on Twitter, I mean people who are enforcers of normality who give you the wtf face for deviating at all. The normies can stuff it because I’m having a grand time and creatively, mentally, and emotionally profiting from my newfound enjoyment of life.

On top of all that, I feel like my creativity has flourished, especially once I started finding more Gothic/weird artists and authors on social media. It had been drilled into me that I would grow out of my love of black and bright colors, and that skulls and anatomical hearts are icky and to be ignored. But that’s what I love. At heart, I am a little autistic science Goth who loves learning about diseases and anatomy and how that all fits into the larger picture of humanity (those degrees in English and biology still come in handy). Now that I’ve started embracing my favorite things and consuming them in larger quantities, I can see a change in my art. I’m more excited about my stories, I connect better with my characters, and I know there’s an audience for it because I have found equally strange people online.

That’s probably the best part, finding others who seem to like me even more now that I’ve stopped hiding the strangeness. People who like my pics of bejeweled skeletons from German catacombs or are eagerly anticipating The Reanimator’s Heart because Oliver sounds adorable. People who like me for me is really all I’ve ever wanted, and in the past, I thought muting who I am would do that when instead it put me in the path of people who wanted to mute that side even more or would absolutely hate the real me. By showing who I really am online and in real life, it scares off the weak and lures in those who find my eccentricities charming. My partner always has, even if he doesn’t fully understand them, but it’s nice to have people who also like those things as I do.

The point of this really is, if you’ve been hiding your strangeness or a fondness for something out of the ordinary, this is your sign to let it out and enjoy it. Holding it in will hurt you in the end, and you might be cutting yourself off from some great friends or even art that can’t happen until you embrace who you are.

Weird has a second definition besides strange. Weird’s archaic definition is destiny or fate (wyrd in Old Saxon, Old German, etc.). I like to think of it as embracing my destiny. I am destined to be a strange person who likes strange things. I am destined to be a queer, nonbinary person. Some of us are fated to be weirdos, and that’s a good thing because we appreciate and see what others don’t.

If you’re someone out there who feels out of place or that you have always been a bit different from everyone else, embrace your weird. Embrace who you are and hold tight to it. Doing that gives you that special spark, that bit of green fire that will help you attract those who will love you for you and scare away those who would seek to change you. I, for one, plan to be hella weird from now on.

Monthly Review

March 2022 Wrap-Up

Back in February, I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish in March. Let’s take a look at that before moving forward:

  • Read 8 books
  • Finish Sarra Canon’s Publish and Thrive Course
  • Brainstorm a short story for my newsletter
  • Writing Goals
    • Minimum 10k to reach 30k words
    • True goal 15k to reach 35k words
    • Stretch Goal 20k to reach 40k words
  • Blog weekly and send out a monthly newsletter
  • Crochet something

Let’s see how March went.


Reading

I set out to read 8 books in February, and I read 9.

  1. Where There’s a Kilt, There’s a Way (#2) by Ella Stainton- 4 stars, greatly enjoyed seeing their paranormal adventures continue in Sweeden with even more queer characters
  2. Gallant by V. E. Schwab- 4 stars, sort of a Secret Garden meets Crimson Peak
  3. Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody- 5 stars, super helpful, would definitely teach creative writing from this in the future
  4. Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore- 5 stars, connected with me as a neurodivergent, queer, nonbinary person. Might be a little biased as A. M. is an auto-buy author for me.
  5. A Spindle Splintered (#1) by Alix E. Harrow- 4 stars for a Sleeping Beauty, multiverse story featuring a chronically ill character (closer to 3.5 stars but it was different and enjoyable)
  6. A Thousand Beginnings and Endings collected by Ellen Oh- 4 stars, as with most anthologies, it’s a mixed bag, but I found quite a few authors I definitely want to read more of
  7. Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee- 4 stars (more like 3.5 but the ending saved it), a trans teen realizes the realities of relationships and figures out how to be a better friend and partner
  8. Lamb to the Slaughter by Joanna Chambers- 3 stars, a interesting but fairly generic short paranormal fantasy story with a minor twist
  9. Her Favorite Rebound (#4) by Jackie Lau- 4 stars, Jackie’s books are always an auto-buy for me, billionaire boyfriend is the villain this time and the main character finds someone better and more self-worth

Admin/Behind the Scenes Author Stuff

  • Finished all 5 weeks of Sarra Canon’s Publish and Thrive course (highly recommend it, btw)
  • Created a series page for the series associated with The Reanimator’s Heart (not live yet)
  • Created the Works in Progress page on my website
  • Worked on my goals for the second quarter and prepped my kanban board
  • Made some spreadsheets for my author business stuff, like books sold per month organized by book, rolling monthly ebook royalties, and royalties in general
  • Outlined more of The Reanimator’s Heart

March was more of a writing month than an admin month, and I am totally fine with that. At some point, you get really sick of doing annoying little time-consuming tasks. My allergies are also starting to kick my ass, which is killing my productivity right now.


Blogs Posted


Writing

I’m actually really proud of how much writing I’ve done in March. In February, I was still struggling to get into the groove of writing consistently, but by the beginning of March, I had gotten far enough into the story that I got on a roll and was able to write most days without issue. I struggled with some fatigue due to allergy season starting, but I wrote 16,000 words total this month. My minimum goal was 10k, which I hit a little over halfway through the month, and I ended up exceeding my true goal of 15k.

Here are my weekly writing stats:

  • Week 1- 3,675 words and missed 2 days of writing, 735 words/writing day
  • Week 2- 3,455 words and missed 3 days of writing, 864 words/writing day
  • Week 3- 3,755 words and missed 2 days of writing, 751 words/writing day
  • Week 4- 4,145 words and missed 1 day of writing, 690 words/writing day
  • Week 5- 1,485 words and I missed 1 day of writing, 495 words/writing day (this week was 4 days only)

Can you tell which week my allergies were the worst? Looking at you week 5! We also had family events earlier in the month, which totally threw me off, but I’m very happy with 16k words. I feel like my allergies are going to be a problem at the beginning of April since everything is blooming. Let’s see how long I can manage not looking totally ill and bedraggled.


Hopes for April

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

What are your goals for April? Let me know in the comments!