“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.

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…

Some Thoughts About Dreams

In this world, there are those who create, inspire, and live their dreams unafraid. We all need to be unafraid to live our dreams. All of us can at least try. You might not reach your goal, but if you never even try, you’ll never have the chance. Let go of the “can’t” and “shouldn’t” and fear. Start now. Dare to shake the world.

Sometimes we might feel like we’re nothing special. We haven’t done anything noteworthy, nothing that hundreds or millions of other people haven’t also done. We feel like we’re just one of a number, nobody that others would notice in a crowd or miss when we’re gone. But here’s the thing. Everything you’ve done is unique, because *you* are unique. Even if billions of others do it, no one does anything exactly the way anyone else does it, because no one is anyone else. Just as an example, no one phrases things confusingly in the same way I do.

Almost everyone has dreams and hopes for their life. When was the last time you made a list of your dreams? Have you done so recently, or did you decide the time has passed to accomplish them? For many things, there’s no such thing as “too late.” You might have to adjust your hopes and expectations, but you don’t have to give it up completely.

When we’re kids, we have dreams. We know what we want to be when we grow up, and that’s really cool. But sometimes those dreams are talked out of us. Our parents tell us we’re being unrealistic, or other kids make fun of us. It’s important to let kids hold onto their dreams. Even if it doesn’t seem probable, that doesn’t make it impossible.

Believe you know the things you know. Personally, I sometimes hold back from writing something because even though I know plenty about it, I’m afraid I’ll be wrong. Or that others won’t believe I know what I’m talking about. That makes it awfully hard to get things done. It doesn’t matter if they believe in me. It matters if *I* do.

Too many times, I’ve talked myself out of doing things I wanted because other people have told me I can’t. I’ve changed that in the past few years. There’s still a way to go, but I’m not holding back anymore.

Writing About Trauma

(Given the title, the content warning might be obvious…)

I really have to wonder about my choices of things to write about. Even when I try to write something happy, bad things end up happening to my characters.

It’s been that way for a lot of the time that I’ve been writing. Early on in my romance author career, which happened under a different pen name, a publisher told me to stop writing about abuse survivors, because they were present in every one of my books. I did try, but the books I wrote with “healthy” characters were flat and uninteresting, and they didn’t sell so well. I couldn’t connect to the characters.

I have unfortunate experience with abuse and trauma. I can relate to characters who have gone through it. I ended up going back to writing the type of character I was comfortable with, and those books, at least some of them, sold pretty well and got decent reviews.

That doesn’t mean I enjoy writing about those characters. Or at least, I don’t enjoy writing about the horrible things they’ve gone through. Sometimes it’s just painful. Other times, it’s triggering.

But I keep writing the stories because those are the characters who come to me asking that their stories be told. Which might sound weird if you aren’t a writer, but believe me, to writers their characters sometimes seem to have lives of their own.

Work in Progress

CONTENT WARNING: DATING ABUSE

Recently, I started a new project. It isn’t the easiest thing to write, but I think it’s important. My publisher suggested I stick with contemporary fiction, so that’s what this is, but in the real, contemporary world, sometimes things are not easy to deal with. And those are the kind of thing I seem to end up writing about much of the time.

This book is about a boy who is in a relationship with another boy. Doesn’t sound so unpleasant so far, right? Relationships can be good things.

But this one isn’t so good. The main character thought at first that his new boyfriend was just a little nervous about being in a relationship. Then he thought his boyfriend was insecure about his other friends. After all, there’s nothing unusual about being a little bit jealous when you’re in a relationship with someone, right?

It might not be unusual, but sometimes it becomes poisonous. When the “little bit” of jealousy becomes the boyfriend taking away his phone to read his texts, and listening in on phone calls, and following him around to make sure he isn’t cheating, it isn’t so good.

And when none of that reassures his boyfriend that their relationship is solid, and the jealousy becomes physical abuse…

That’s the part that’s tough to write about. I know too many people who have experienced that. And I’ve seen too many teens on social media saying things like “He doesn’t love you if he isn’t jealous,” and even implying or flat out saying there’s nothing wrong with physical abuse in a relationship. There IS something wrong with it. It’s never okay.

That’s why I’m writing about it, even though it isn’t easy. I want to make sure people know it isn’t okay. I want people to know they can find help getting out of that kind of relationship.

But first, I have to finish the book.