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“Which One?”

Recently, I had a conversation with someone I hadn’t heard from in three or four months. He asked whether I’d finished my book.

My immediate response was, “Which one?”

It isn’t that I’m working on a lot of books at this point, though that used to be the case. From 2009-2015 or so, I was always working on a book or short story, and during a lot of that time, I worked on more than one project simultaneously. If someone asked whether I’d finished my book, I genuinely had no way to know which one they were talking about, unless I remembered the last conversation I’d had with them. Even if I did remember it, though, it might not help me figure out which book  they meant, because I might have talked to them about more than one.

hard cover books in attractive colors
hard cover books in attractive colors

Nowadays, I work on one book at a time, and sometimes I’m not working on any books or stories. But as I rebuild my career in the direction it used to be–though hopefully less stressful and better organized–I’m nearly always working on something, even if it’s just a brainstorm.

In the few months since the last time I spoke to this person, I worked on, and then temporarily set aside, a young adult novel. I’ve written several short stories, and completed a novel I’d been working on for nearly a year and a half; the stories and this novel are adult fiction and under a new pen name which I haven’t officially launched yet. My memory is wonkier than it used to be, so I legitimately can’t even remember for sure when I last talked to this person, let alone which project I’d talked to him about. And I didn’t want to ask, because that would have looked a little foolish. Some people don’t understand why I don’t remember every word of every book I’ve written; most people definitely wouldn’t understand why I can’t remember what I was working on this past summer.

Since I had recently finished the adult novel, I told him that yes, I’d finished my book. I just hope that was the book he was asking about…

Completion Euphoria

There’s a certain feeling I get when I finish the first draft of a manuscript. I feel it when I finish editing rounds and when the book is released, too, but it’s strongest when I mentally type “the end” on a first draft.

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I don’t actually type “the end.” Publishers sometimes don’t like that. But in my mind, those words appear on the bottom of the final page.

The feeling is hard to describe. Euphoria is pretty close. It’s the jump-for-joy, happy, shout-from-the-rooftops sensation that fills every part of my body. I’ve been working on this book for however long. I might have had to delete half of it and start over; that happens sometimes. I’ve agonized over how to word things just right, and whether I’m repeating myself or contradicting something from earlier in the story. I’ve wondered if the bleeping thing is ever going to be finished.

And now it’s finished.

But alongside the excitement and joy of being able to say I’ve written another book, there’s a sort of let-down feeling. I’ve been working on the book for however long, and the characters have become my constant companions. During the waking moments when I’m not sitting at the computer actively typing, part of my brain has been occupied with thoughts of plot points and plot holes, and how to get the characters from A to B. Sometimes I’ve even dreamed about the story and the characters.

And now it’s finished.

Finishing the first draft of a book is definitely a time for mixed emotions. I’m never sure what emotion I’ll feel the most strongly, though I know I’ll at least be proud of myself for getting it done. But while sometimes I celebrate and literally do jump for joy, other times I cry. I know I’ll see the characters and story again, because there’s editing to do once the manuscript has set for a while, but for now they’re not going to be part of my life, and sometimes that causes me to feel sad even as I’m feeling happy.

Creating Worlds

The exciting thing about writing books is the ability to create my own worlds. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing, even when I was very young. When I was a little kid, I didn’t just have *an* imaginary friend. I had forty or fifty of them! They lived in a place called “Invisoland,” and I was the only non-invisible person who was allowed to visit that place. I created this when I was about three or four. By the time I was in school, Invisoland had cities and towns, an orphanage, and a pretty large population.

This ability to create was the catalyst for me starting to write. I had a huge imagination. I had to do something with it! So I kept inventing worlds where people had magical or psychic powers, where someone could control the weather with their thoughts, or become an accidental secret agent, or conquer evil. Finding out where the stories in my head would lead, and who would become part of them, was exciting to me. I literally didn’t know what would happen in my stories until it happened, and that was a big part of the joy of writing.

As I got older, I didn’t always have the easiest time with my peers, or with other people, but in my stories, and therefore in the world I created, the  main characters had friends. They could do whatever they wanted. I didn’t write the stories about myself, but there was at least a bit of me in every main character I created, and so the things my characters did, and the friends they had, kept me going. Things are a lot better for me now than they were then, but I still love creating new worlds and characters to populate them.

Worldbuilding is one of the most important parts of writing. Even in contemporary fiction, things have to be consistent. Fortunately, for me, it’s also one of the most fun.

First Drafts

Every story begins with an idea. Then sometimes a brainstorm or outline, or not, depending on how and whether the author likes to plan their books.

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And then the first draft comes along. Sometimes, that’s when the problems start.

For me, the first draft is a time to get the ideas onto the page, but it’s also a time when I constantly catch myself trying to write perfectly. Which isn’t even possible in the most carefully edited and revised draft, let alone the first one.

The thing is, the first draft isn’t meant to be perfect. It’s meant to be where the ideas go from the author’s head onto the paper or screen. The writing technique doesn’t matter nearly as much as just having the stuff visible. As a friend of mine used to tell me, you can’t edit what’s in your head. Get it out, and then worry about how good or bad it is. You can’t fix your brain, you can only fix what’s on the page.

I get hung up on that a lot. One thing reviewers often ding me for is the pacing of my books. It’s either uneven or too slow. So when I’m writing the first draft, I keep stressing about getting the pacing right, and then the pace of my actual *writing* slows way down, to the point where sometimes I get discouraged and stop working on the thing altogether.

That isn’t useful, and it isn’t going to get the book done. It’s a hard habit to break, though. I have to completely shift my thinking from “My publisher won’t accept this if I don’t do it right” to “I’ll have plenty of chances to do it right, so for now, let’s just get it done.”

Just getting it done is the reason first drafts exist. Everything can be fixed later, once the story is written.

Teaser- A Perfectly Nice Guy

From a work in progress. Susurrus: Season of Tides (C)2017 Evil Overlord Games. Used by permission.

I went upstairs to my room. The house only had three bedrooms, but Mom and Dad had converted the attic into a room for me when Kendrick was born. I was eleven then and didn’t want to share with a baby, and my parents didn’t want Kendrick sharing with Donovan even though she was only three and he was a baby. So I’d ended up in the attic, which was fine with me even though in the summer it could be a furnace. I had privacy, and that mattered more than staying cool. At least Dad had put in an air conditioner.

My laptop was on my bed where I’d left it. I opened it and refreshed the browser, which was already on the game forums. I’d been playing before school, even though I wasn’t supposed to be online in the mornings. What my parents didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.

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Susurrus wasn’t one of the usual types of online RPGs. Instead of choosing a character and running around bashing things, players chose a character and read things, and clicked on links that led to more things. It was kind of like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books the town library had, which I’d read as a kid, except in the game, other people were making choices that might affect yours.

No one knew I was a gamer. Like acting in community theater, it was a way-too-geeky thing that wouldn’t have gone over well in Dayfield. Some of my friends did Dungeons and Dragons, and a couple even did ren faires and that kind of thing, and they got hassled for it on a regular basis. They got hassled for being theater nerds too, which was why I’d never joined the school drama club. I liked keeping some things in my life separate.

The little envelope icon near the top of the page had a “1” beside it. Someone had messaged me, and that someone was almost definitely Corriman. No one else would have.

I clicked the envelope and read his message. Liked what you said about the mage alphabet. They should use your idea.

I couldn’t help smiling. He liked something I’d said. My idea about using the mage alphabet for graffiti to keep the city under control was probably a crappy one, and probably something the game writers had already considered. If the city was under control, there wouldn’t be much point to the game anyway. But it didn’t matter whether it was a good idea or not. Corriman liked it.

We’d been talking back and forth on forum posts since March, and after a couple weeks he’d also started messaging me privately. I felt like I knew him as well as my real-life friends. I didn’t, of course. All I really knew about him was his screen name and that his primary character in the game was a werewolf. Which meant having a crush on him was probably pretty stupid, but I felt how I felt. I just wished I had the guts to ask if he felt the same.

They probably wouldn’t use a player’s ideas, I typed. But thanks. Maybe I’ll just write a fan fic or something with the idea.

I read that a couple of times. I had never written a fan fic in my life. I didn’t write anything if I could help it. But Corriman didn’t know that, and he didn’t have to. I sent the message.

A new one from him showed up within minutes. This takes too long. Can I text you? Or message you on Facebook or something?

He wants to message me? Awesome! I started to type my phone number, then deleted it. Texting or instant messaging with Corriman would be awesome, unless he turned out not to be who I thought he was. That was the downside of only knowing him in the game. He might be a seventeen-year-old guy like he claimed, or he might be some elderly creeper who liked flirting with boys. Or he might be a serial killer.

Okay, the last one was definitely my imagination running away with me. But it still didn’t hurt to be cautious. I’d like that, but how do I know you aren’t going to stalk me or something? LOL. I was serious, but maybe the “LOL” would make it sound less offensive.

I Don’t Write That

Since I’m a published author, occasionally I’m contacted by people who are writing books, or who know someone who’s writing a book. Usually they want advice on how to get that book published. Even though sometimes, the book isn’t even started yet, let alone ready for publication.

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The thing is… I’m published in young adult fiction. My publisher only takes LGBTA+ young adult fiction. I don’t have a mental database of knowledge about every publisher of everything ever. So when someone comes to me to ask about getting a memoir published, or a picture book, or a nonfiction book about magic, I’m not going to be much help. I don’t know how publishing those things works, nor do I necessarily know publishers who take those things.

When I tell people that, though, sometimes they don’t take it well. “What do you mean, you don’t know? It’s a book! You write books! How could you not know?”

Easy. All books are not the same. All *writing* is not the same. I write pretty darn good YA fiction, but I’ve tried writing picture books and can’t do it to save my life. Sometimes I can manage writing nonfiction, but if it’s something that involves research, it probably isn’t something I’ll do well with. And most nonfiction involves research of some kind.

All publishers are not the same. Many of them, especially smaller presses, specialize, the way Harmony Ink Press specializes in LGBTA+ young adult fiction. They aren’t going to look at a memoir, or a nonfiction book, or a picture book, because that isn’t the kind of thing they publish.

Sometimes my “I don’t know” response is met with, “Well, can you find out and let me know?”

Um…no. Because I’m not willing to do *your* research and *your* legwork to get *your* book published. I have enough to do with my own books. You have access to the same resources I do. Look at books similar to the one you’ve written or want to write, and see who publishes them. Find those publishers online and see how to submit books to them. Join an author community either online or in person, or both, where you can find out more about how the process works. If all else fails, Google is your friend.

Don’t get me wrong. I love hearing that someone is excited about something they’re writing, and if they get it published, I would love to know that. But generally, the most I can do, and the most I’m willing to do, is give general advice about writing and about avoiding publishing scams, and steer people in the direction of some of the resources I mention above.

Writing is work. And some of that work is finding out for yourself *how* it works.

Teaser- Fresh Meat

(Note: This is from a revision of a previously-published novel. The book is no longer available.)

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Shawn came back into the arcade right after Larry left. To my astonishment, he actually had a girl with him. She was scrawny, with barely enough boobs to fill her pink bikini top, and zits peppered her face and shoulders. Her hair hung down greasy and heavy, as if she hadn’t washed it in a few days. But she was definitely a girl, and judging from the way she hung on Shawn, I figured he might actually have a shot at fulfilling his mission.

I beat my high score a few times before the nerd who worked the change counter chased us away from the game. He claimed other customers wanted to play. I looked over my shoulder as we walked out of the place. No one was anywhere near our machine.

The four of us went out to the beach. Even with the sun pounding on us, being outside was better than having the arcade nerd chasing us around. Shawn’s chick, who Shawn didn’t bother introducing to us, bought us all snow cones. I heard him calling her Cherry a couple times and wondered if it was her name or just what he planned to lose with her.

Eddie and I tried not to look when some of her snow cone dripped down between her microboobs and Shawn licked it off. There was such a thing as too perverted for public.

After a while, the two lovebirds took off to do their thing. “Shawn’s going to spend the rest of the summer bragging,” Eddie said.

“The rest of the summer’s only like three weeks,” I pointed out. “Find your own girl and you can brag too.”

“Yeah, I want to screw someone random just so I can say I did.” Sarcasm dripped from his voice. “I’m as into girls as the next guy, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t want to pick up some chick from the beach who I’ll never see again, you know?”

“Yeah.”

“What about you?”

“Huh?” I knew what he meant. I just really didn’t want a conversation about picking up chicks.

He rolled his eyes. “Girls, man. Why aren’t you out there with Shawn trying to get laid?”

I shrugged. “Why bother?”

“The old guy in the arcade seemed interested.” He made a face again. “It’s kind of nasty, you know? I mean, he kept looking at you the same way Shawn looks at girls.”

I tensed. Yeah, I would definitely never be able to tell my friends I might like guys.

Then Eddie went on. “I mean, I guess if a guy’s into guys, it’s his business. I don’t care, as long as he isn’t into me. It’s just that guy’s a lot older than us, too, and the way he looked at you gave me the creeps.”

I gave a little sigh of relief. Maybe Eddie wasn’t a prejudiced dickwad. He just had something against Larry’s age. “Can we change the subject now, please? I really don’t want to talk about creepy guys who might or might not be into me.”

He gave me a look. “Sure. What time is it?”

Everything Leads…

…to something else.

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Unfortunately, sometimes that interferes with getting stuff done.

Last weekend, I started out with great intentions. I was going to get some blog posts done, remove a few things from one of my other websites, do some shopping for the household, and, of course, write.

But then I got sidetracked by trying to find images for blog posts. And then I realized it’s going to be 2018 in a few months, and I needed a new calendar. (I don’t buy wall calendars; I print out calendar pages from a free calendar website. I have Google calendar as well, but sometimes it helps me to have something I can just glance at quickly instead of needing to open a new browser window or pick up my phone.) Then I forgot I was doing that because I checked my email while I waited for calendar pages to download.

The emails led to the realization that I hadn’t cleaned out my inboxes recently. So I did that, and read a few emails I hadn’t gotten to yet, which contained links I wanted to check out. Which led to me bookmarking the pages to which the links sent me, which led to me needing to delete some bookmarks. Meanwhile, I remembered I was downloading calendar pages, and realized I had too many things in my downloads folder, so I started clearing things out of that or moving them to my Dropbox files.

And so on, and so on…

And meanwhile I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t doing blog posts. Some of the things I *was* doing were useful and beneficial, and I counted them as productive, but some, like reorganizing Dropbox files, were just busy work that didn’t really *need* to be done.

Being a writer, or working for yourself in any way, takes a lot of self-discipline. And a lot of avoidance of “ooh, shiny!” I think I need to work harder on those…

Time Off

Wow… It’s been a while since I posted! As I said back in August, my husband and I moved to a new apartment. That took a lot of time and energy, and things hadn’t quite gotten settled yet when I got into a car accident. I wasn’t hurt, but my car needs quite a bit of work. I’ve also started a new part-time job that takes only a few hours a day…but then takes over two hours in commuting time.

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So I haven’t been keeping up with writing and blogging as much as I could have. And that’s okay. Sometimes life comes along, and if you read back through these posts, you’ll see that life comes along quite a bit for me.

To be honest, discouragement has also played a role. I’m not seeing the book sales I would like, and that’s hard, especially when I know my publisher is losing money because of it. Even though I’ve been getting things published for almost nine years now, I still haven’t gotten the hang of promoting myself and my books, and it seems like every time I start to get a handle on it, everything changes.

But more than that, the ideas dried up. I got caught in the trap, under both this pen name and my adult romance one, of writing what publishers wanted me to write, or what readers asked for, instead of following my heart. The resulting books were…well, frankly, they were bad. When a writer writes from the head instead of the heart, it shows. Of course, that didn’t help my sales either.

This year, I’ve had two books rejected. There were valid reasons for the rejections, and I don’t have a problem with that, but rejection is discouraging. And the publisher that rejected them has asked that I only send them contemporary fiction (the two books they rejected were urban fantasy). If you look at my currently available books, you’ll see that contemporary fiction isn’t a problem for me, but it isn’t the *only* thing I want to write. And naturally, because my brain is what it is, as soon as I was asked not to send any more urban fantasy, those were the ONLY plots showing up in my brain.writer-s-block-1239338-639x334

My priorities as an author have gotten skewed. Instead of putting the writing first, I’ve been putting publication and sales first, and that hasn’t done me any favors. So I’m revamping my priorities. I’m writing for myself first, and not even thinking about getting published. That means it might be a while before readers see anything new from me, other than short stories I might post on this blog or my Free Reads page. But it’s the right thing for me to do. I need, at least figuratively speaking, to go back to the days before I was published, when I wrote because I WANTED to, not because I HAD to.

I plan to post one blog post a week. Sometimes it might be just a short excerpt from one of my books. And I plan to spend some time getting reacquainted with my imagination and seeing what happens.

Teaser Thursday- Work Boots and Tees

I wasn’t thrilled about going to group again. When I walked in, Dane didn’t look too impressed either. He covered it with a smile pretty fast, though. “Good morning, Jim. How are you today?”

I pretended not to notice he chanted it like my kindergarten teacher always had. “Good.”

“This morning, I’d like you to answer a couple of questions again.” He glanced at his clipboard. “You’ll be seeing Dr. Hernandez before break. After break, I’ll ask you to participate in the discussion. Is that okay?”

“Sure.” I didn’t exactly have a choice.

“Cool. Have a seat.”

I took the same chair as the day before and ignored everyone else in the room.

I only had to sit through about fifteen minutes of group before Dr. Hernandez came to get me. “How’s group going?” he asked as we walked to his office.

“Dane isn’t my biggest fan,” I said. “He decided to talk directly to me so I’d participate. He said he was only going to ask me one question, but after I answered, he kept asking me stuff.”

“He told me. He was hoping to have more of a discussion.” Dr. Hernandez glanced at me. “You don’t have to participate. We don’t force people to do things around here, for the most part, unless it’s a safety or health issue. But it’s going to help you if you are willing to speak up at least a little.”

“I did,” I said. “I answered him. He didn’t believe I don’t have any hobbies. That isn’t my problem.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“He said he’s going to ask more than one question today.” I rolled my eyes. “I feel like a little kid. Do what the teacher says or stand in the corner.”

Dr. Hernandez chuckled. “I understand. Unfortunately, around here, sometimes we have to do it that way.” He stopped in front of his door. “Delia called and said she’s running a few minutes late. Before she gets here, I have something to ask you.”

That didn’t sound good. “Okay.”

We went inside and sat down. “What do you want to know?” I asked.

“The man you told me about yesterday. Can you give me his name?”

My mouth went dry, and I started coughing. I hadn’t said his name in ten years, and I really didn’t want to start now. Dr. Hernandez didn’t need to know it.

It took me a few seconds to be able to speak. “Why? I said I don’t want to report him.”

“I’m not going to,” he said. “I’d like to check into something. Besides, names have power. That’s something you usually only hear in fantasy stories, but it can be true in real life. If you turn someone into a monster in your mind, sometimes saying their name makes them seem more human. When someone hurts you, they take away your power. If you see them as just another person, you can take your power back.”

I thought about it. My mother’s boyfriend had definitely taken away my power. And for ten years, he’d been a monster as far as I was concerned. Even though what Dr. Hernandez said sounded kind of stupid, maybe he had a point. It was worth a try.

“Pete Foster,” I said.

As soon as I said the name, the room spun. Something roared in my ears, and everything in front of me turned gray. I tried to breathe, but his face was right in front of mine, and the oxygen couldn’t get through.

“You’re safe. He isn’t here.”

Dr. Hernandez’s voice barely cut through the noise. I reached for the voice and tried to believe what the doctor said. I’m safe here. He isn’t here. He can’t hurt me.

“Try to breathe slowly,” Dr. Hernandez said. “In and out. Look around. Tell me what you see.”

I sucked in some air that actually made it to my lungs, then turned my head. “Your desk is messy.”

He laughed. “Yes, I’m not good about cleaning it. What else?”

“You don’t have a window.”

“Tell me what you do see.”

“Your chair. My chair.” I blinked a couple of times and focused on him. “You spilled something on your shirt.”

“When coffee attacks,” he said. “How do you feel?”

The room wasn’t gray anymore, and it was holding still. My lungs were working. Best of all, his face was gone. “Better.”

“Good. I’m sorry that was so difficult for you.” He scribbled something in my folder. “If you struggle like that again, the technique I just used is called grounding. You look at your surroundings and say what you see, smell, and so on. It’s best if you can say it out loud, because sometimes the sound of your own voice helps too, but thinking about it will work. I’m going to tell Delia about it as well, so she can help you if you need.”

“Thanks.” I definitely wouldn’t say anything out loud if I had to use the technique, but it had helped.