Music Makes Me Write

We’ve all talked in the past about what kind of writing rituals we have, ones that we just enjoy to give ambiance to the experience and others that we have trained ourselves to use to make writing easier.

For me, I have my preference of when and where to write (mornings, in my office), but if I have to make adjustments to that (my office gets unbearably hot in the summer), I can adapt and write at different locations and times if I need to get my words in.

But my trained ritual is music. For every book, I take time to curate the start of a playlist–a soundtrack–for the book. I do try to get at least forty minutes of a playlist before I start so that it doesn’t start repeating on me too soon. But repeating is part of the magic of the right playlist too. Like the chanting refrain of a spell, hearing the same key songs again and again will help me get the story on the page.

If you get the music just right, it will conjure the characters and/or location of the book in you mind when you hear specific songs even outside of writing. Sometimes I even put one song on repeat for an hour because it has the magical words that are working when no others are.

I like to keep building on a list if a book is a series, so I can hear the different voices of the different characters in the cast. I also like to throw in some instrumental tracks to help when I’m building tension in different parts of the book.

I managed to get my Ash and Ruin Soundtrack up to two hours and forty-five minutes.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4TUKR4rCv8Av2k2rRqhxkd?si=Pj9bw5frSJmOi-s6WPE1aA

I can open that and am instantly transported back to my post-apocalyptic world teeming with black-cloaked monsters.

Surprisingly, my Wytchcraft playlist is shorter than my A&R soundtrack. I say surprising because that series is much longer, but that world is much smaller in a way as it’s not a journey story like A&R. And, while there is a cast of characters even bigger in this series, it really is mostly about my MC, Mattie, so the music is mostly for her and to be in her head.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3epr0YSBEjn7ccUvQgOfTA?si=CUIvy8fZQAq1BSUfNoX5hQ

I have shared that I also have a pen name, Leila Bryce Sin, and under that name I write completely different stories (coughcoughveryadultthemescoughcough). So I definitely make sure that music is different, but one theme you’ll find throughout my playlist is strong female voices. I love a good power ballad sung by a woman that I want to be for five minutes. It’s a special kind of storytelling and I fucking love it.

My Brimstone War Trilogy was set in Las Vegas so it needed music to evoke that special city for me and it featured a war between heaven and hell, so it needed a lot of angry music. It’s quite the hodgepodge, I know, but it worked for me through three intense books.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/142r4gSfvwqPwS0z7jeVGm?si=KxYY45UeSjWnloq64F2oRA

Now, I have two playlists that aren’t tied to any one book; they’re soundtracks I can go to no matter what book I’m writing and it’ll help unlock a door in my mind like no other playlist can. Sometimes you  just need intense emotions and music, pushing you forward as your characters run for their lives or fight to the death. Or the right creeping melody to help you curl your spine and sink into  the cushions, hoping to drag  your reader into the tense, scary darkness  you’re weaving.

Soundtracks: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5F26qJIXsZ87hIx2q62shz?si=ruUaORORRnKMJfjU6VwC2A

Instrumental: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/24uUYnObN6uUBZR4suO8Ig?si=EiL6GDS8Qmy6UX_RnrcoYA

You probably notice there are the same artists on the different lists, even some of the same songs, and that’s because those artists really speak to me. I do tend to write slightly damaged, a little bit angry women as my main characters, so a lot of the same songs work for all of them. Or for me. Whatever. The Pretty Reckless, Kaleo, Ellie Goulding, Halsey, and Florence and the Machine are some of my touchstones no matter what I’m writing. Finding those voices for yourself could really help you if you find yourself stuck in getting through tough scenes.

Personally I love to find new music. It’s something I’ve always loved since I started figuring out what music I like. I can spend whole days getting that playlist started before I put fingers to keys, creating the vibe and ambiance I want to portray in a story. Ritual really is the only word for it. So, I hope sharing some of these lists with you, helps you find new sounds and voices that help you with writing.

(P.S. I did have this all set up super cool where you could see the playlist in the post but for whatever reason, WordPress is being a complete butt. So if you can’t see the playlists, I’ve included links. Not nearly as cool, but what are you gonna do?)

What kind of reader are you?

It seems to me there are two kinds of readers. Those who MUST FINISH EVERY BOOK they start, and those who will drop a book like a hot tomato if they’re not impressed.

I’d hazard a guess that it’s impossible for one group to understand the other’s point a view. (lol)

I’m definitely in Camp Drop-it-if-it-sucks. Ouch. That sounds kinda harsh, but Camp Drop-it-if-it’s-not-working-for-you doesn’t have the same rhythm. And you know how I am about rhythm.

(Jump HERE if you want to read my post about rhythm in writing.)

This post was prompted by a chat I had recently. My friend Sheryl messaged me about a book she was reading, a contemporary romance where the author seriously misjudged how real life works. I don’t want to point fingers at any particular author, so let’s just say that most bands don’t make enough money for each member to have their own touring bus.

Even Mick & Keith have to share, y’all.

That’s the kind of error that would make me doubt every other word the author put on the page. It turns on my inner editor, and once she starts, there’s no way I’m going to be able to relax and enjoy the rest of the book.

Factual errors might be the biggest bump for me – like the book where the heroes went home to Canada in late November to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Um….Canadian Thanksgiving is in October.

Then there was the book where a character was supposed to be in a hospital on a ventilator and he had a conversation with another character. Can’t be done, but for some reason I kept reading that one and mostly enjoyed it.

I could come up with other examples, though to be honest, I’m guilty of a mistake or two myself. One of the reviews for my book Aqua Follies pointed out that Skip could not have worked at the Everett Boeing plant in 1955, because that site didn’t open until the late ’60s.

Oops.

My friend Sheryl says she’s going to finish the book that prompted our chat, because it’s one of a series and she wants to see it through. Others might say they want to finish out of respect for the author’s work, which I can’t really argue with.

Still, I pretty much adhere to Nancy Pearl’s Rule of Fifty. For those of you who haven’t heard of Nancy, she’s a librarian and best-selling author, and her book reviews on NPR have guided many readers for years. (Jump HERE to see all her books.)

Nancy’s Rule of Fifty goes something like this…

Give a book 50 pages. When you get to the bottom of Page 50, ask yourself if you’re really liking the book. If you are, of course, then great, keep on reading. But if you’re not, then put it down and look for another….And if, at the bottom of Page 50, all you’re really interested in is who marries whom, or who the murderer is, then turn to the last page and find out. If it’s not on the last page, turn to the penultimate page, or the antepenultimate page, or however far back you have to go to discover what you want to know.

The Globe & Mail, 2/4/11

Even better, she’s modified her rule for those of us over the age of 50. It’s a variation of “So many books, so little time” (Which is apparently a Frank Zappa quote. The things you learn on google!) If you’re over 50, subtract your age from 100 and that’s the number of pages you get to read before deciding whether or not to put the book down.

By adhering to this rule, I mean no disrespect to authors. If you start one of my books and it’s not working for you, you have my permission to put it down and pick up something else. Scan the Amazon or Goodreads reviews for any book, and you’ll see a range of opinions. The same book might get 5-star reviews from some and 1-star reviews from others.

Reading should be fun and moving, and it should feed your soul. I mean, it motivated Sheryl to message me because she cared enough about the book to want to talk about it.

Life’s too short to read past page 42 if the book’s a clunker. One person’s clunker is another’s lifetime top ten.

Which type of reader are you?

How Young is Too Young?

Where I had my second poem published at age 13.

Most of us hear stories about authors getting their first publishing deal in their 20s (and even a handful in their teens) and are green with envy. I know I have been. But today is a first, at least for me: Nadim, a 4-old English boy got a publishing deal for his poetry.

Have you read the article? If not, please do. I’ll wait.

I can’t really remember being four, but I know I wasn’t writing poetry. I think I was taking my first dance classes and learning my ABCs. I know I couldn’t read or write at that age. My parents didn’t push me; they let me learn in school in first and second grade like everyone else at the time.

On one hand, I have to admit to being a little suspicious of this whole thing. How do we know Nadim really wrote these poems and it wasn’t his parents? I mean, his mom is a poetry instructor. This isn’t the first time parents have taken advantage of their kids to make money (remember the kid who had a bestseller on a near-death experience that ended up being faked by his dad?) and it won’t be the last. And if he did write them, how much pressure was put on him to learn how from a scarily young age?

On the other, child prodigies have existed throughout history. Look at Mozart. The difference there is that you could witness his talent, whereas with poetry, you have to take it on faith that Nadim really wrote the poems. Even if they had him recite in public, you can’t tell how much is coached. Perhaps his mom, being a poetry lover, just taught him how to rhyme as soon as he could speak.

I am no prodigy, far from it, but I did have my first poem published at an early age. I know I was no younger than six because I remember hand-writing it at my grandma’s house. I wish I knew what was going on in my mind at the time, but I can’t remember.

I may even still have the original my basement somewhere. I think I was more like eight, though, because I entered a contest advertised in the back of YM magazine (so that now tells me it may not have been as legit as I thought at the time), so I know I could read and write. My parents had nothing to do with this; I had to beg them to let me enter.

Anyway, I’ve never shared it before, but here it is. (Needless to say, this copyrighted.)

Aloneness

Aloneness is the feeling when your mind is empty/and your heart is full./Aloneness is the sadness of pain and hunger around the world.

Short, but I do have to say, profound for a young mind. So it is entirely possible this little 4-year-old is some kind of genius or at least thinks deep thoughts.

My second published poem. Last name is blurred because it is my legal name.

But is a book deal for someone that age really necessary? Why, other than shock value, would anyone do this? Why not keep the poetry and include it in a collection when he is older? It would be cool to see the evolution of a poet over the years in a single volume. All I can do is shake my head. Why can’t we just let kids be kids anymore?

I really do hope this is the beginning of great things for Nadim and that someday we can all look back and remember the day we read the announcement. But I also worry what kind of pressure this puts on a boy whose mom admits he’s still learning to read and write. When you have your first book deal at so young an age, how do you follow it up? Will this just turn into a funny story on a college application or will he feel the weight of it for the next 20 years?

I don’t even like most children, and yet I worry about this one I’ve never met. My first gut instinct is that this is an example of parents pushing their children into their own dreams (much like most beauty pageant/dance/cheer moms), rather than nurturing a budding talent. I think that is it; I’m seeing the commercial side of this and not the warm parental side. And that is the problem with having only one source for an issue.

In the end, it’s none of my business, but it is also something to think about. And if nothing else, it has reminded me that I used to be a poet – which I had completely forgotten. Maybe I’ll pick up a pen for the first time since I was in high school and write a few poems from time to time. Thanks for the inspiration, Nadim!

The Perfect First Line

I consider myself something of a first line connoisseur. What do you mean, that’s not a thing?

Seriously, though, I have a pretty intense fascination with opening lines. I like reading them (I actually have a list in my Notes app with all my favorite opening lines), and I’m borderline obsessed with writing them. I love them in poems and novels and short stories. I’ve heard it said that perfect first lines contain the entirety of the work they represent, and while I’m not sure that’s entirely or always true, it certainly highlights how significant a first line can be. To boil it down: great first lines have the power to entice a reader enough that they wouldn’t dream of putting down your book/short story/poem.

So how on earth do you write a compelling first line? Here are a few methods to make your first line sing!

Use vivid imagery

Invite your reader into the world of your story with an image or feeling that cannot be ignored. It doesn’t have to be long or complex–in fact, with this method I tend to think shorter is better. Pick a specific image or sensation and make it as visceral, punchy, and vivid as possible.

“A screaming comes across the sky.”

Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon

Make the reader ask questions they can only answer by continuing to read

Many great first lines introduce elements of world-building without explanation as a way to entice readers into the meat of the story. This can be incredibly effective as long as it’s not too confusing. Keep the language clear and simple to balance the unknown elements.

“The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.”

The Gunslinger, by Stephen King

Introduce a theme that begs further explanation

Rather than opening in media res, or in the middle of the action, some great opening lines choose instead to posit a theme or a motif that will continue to be explored throughout the story. This can be risky, as the reader may not immediately identify or connect to the theme, but it can also be done very well.

“A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story…a writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.”

The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Introduce a character’s unique voice

If your story is very character driven, or told from a unique point of view, this may be the best way to draw your readers in to their particular voice, tone, or cadence.

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Play with time

Perhaps you want to hint at an event that takes place further along in your story than you’re starting the narrative. Or perhaps you want to tease something that happened in the past that led up to the moment your story begins. Either way, referring to something that happened in a time other than where your story is happening can be a compelling way to draw your reader in.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Make your reader laugh

If your book is funny…why not make the first line funny as well? This is not my forte, so I don’t have any more salient tips than “be funny,” but who doesn’t love a hilarious opening line?

“In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, by Douglas Adams

And that’s all I got! First lines aren’t always easy to write, but when you finally get it right it can be like a path opening up in the woods. Be patient with your craft, listen to how your story wants to be told, and good luck writing your own perfect first line!

How do you go about crafting first lines? Let me know your best tips or drop your favorite literary opening line in the comments section below!

Using current events in fiction.

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Pandemic. Lockdown. Quarantine. Protest.
#BlackLivesMatter. #DefundThePolice. #WearAMask.

Think back to the Before Times – you know, like last February. Did any of these terms and hashtags resonate? #BlackLivesMatter is the only one I’d heard of, but now we have this whole new vocabulary.

And it’s….awkward.

I know many authors are struggling to get words on the page, and others who are no longer struggling, because they’ve given up. It’s just too hard to tap into their creativity when it feels like the world is falling in around them. I’ve also seen debates on social media about the appropriateness of writing quickie quarantine romances to try to capitalize on our new reality.

Kinda gives the “forced proximity” trope a whole different spin.

For discussion’s sake, let’s say you do have the spoons to write, but you’re wondering how much of our current quagmire should make it on the page. As a first step, it might be worth considering what people want to read. Maybe they do want that quickie quarantine romance. Or maybe they want Shauna’s fantastic dystopian Ash & Ruin series or any of the books on this Goodreads list of Current Events Fiction.

Or maybe they want something as far from reality as possible. (How ’bout hot&naughty elves? Kasia Bacon‘s Order series – starting with The Mutt – is a whole lot of fun.)

But, some of you might say, if I write about current events, my book might soon feel dated or people will forget what happened. Those are valid points, but I like this rebuttal by Brandi Reissenweber in an article from The Writer Magazine:

Keep them (current events) fresh and meaningful long after they’ve passed in the same way you keep any events in your fiction fresh and meaningful: Lash them with urgency to the experience of one or more characters.

For example, I found one of the best descriptions of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in Royal Street, the first book in Suzanne Johnson‘s Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series. Not only did the author nail the details – she lived in NOLA during Katrina – but her characters had a life or death stake in the events, which made for a real page-turner.

One thing to consider, though, is that Royal Street was published in 2012, about seven years after Katrina. I’ve never asked, but I’d imagine it took Suzanne some time to organize her reactions to the disaster in a way that made sense. In a WaPo article that speculates on what post-pandemic fiction will look like, Chris Bohjalian makes a useful comparison with post-9/11 fiction. He points out that it was 2005 before the serious novels dealing with 9/11 began to be published.

….it took novelists a little more time to shape the nightmare into a story. After all, how do you make something up when the truth is so unspeakable? So wrenching?

Good questions.

The pandemic, with the horrific costs associated with it, is at least as profound an event as 9/11, with arguably greater consequences. The concurrent shifting social paradigms around race and racism are equally significant, though I’d caution all writers who want to explore those issues to make sure the story is theirs to tell. It’s going to take years for creatives to wrap their arms around this phase in our history, and there may be some who’ll never be able to revisit this time, even in fiction.

Is there territory between a quickie something-something that grabs the headlines and runs, and a deep and thoughtful examination of our lived experience? I’d argue that there is. One of the series I’m co-writing with Irene Preston features a character who used to be a cop but quit the force. In part because of that character, I’ve made an effort to read about the whole #DefundThePolice movement and those ideas are definitely influencing his backstory.

Times are hard, and I’ve got it better than most. The stress, the isolation, and the endless conflict have to color what we’re able to create, if not squash our creativity all together. Take care. Be gentle with yourself. Use the grist of these days in any way that makes sense to you.

And wash your hands.

(In his WaPo article, Chris Bohjalian mentions several books on 9/11 that he considered “important”. Here’s another link to the article in case you’re curious.)

New Release: Hate Jacket by M. Andrew Patterson

Hello my darlings, I hope you’re all staying safe, wearing your masks, and washing your hands. Please don’t end up an infamous internet sensation because you won’t use curbside service or wear a mask. But, if you’re here, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you. Moving on!

So, this week, we’re lending our blog to help boost the voice of a friend who has their debut novel coming out! So exciting!

We’ve got an awesome cover reveal, blurb, AND pre-order links to share with you today. Is it tacky to say the cover is awesome if I helped create it? Well, if it is, then I’m tacky af.

I gotta say, I’ve had quite the creative block for some time now and when I Kool-Aid-Man’d my way into helping Drew with his cover (no, he didn’t ask, yes, I just said “HEY LOOKIT I MAKE THINGS! DO YOU LIKE IT?”) it really shook something loose inside of me. I actually enjoyed making something again. So as much as I wanted to help a debut author, because goodness knows I’ve been there, I am grateful I got to do this for myself too.

I remember Lyra once talking about getting past a creative block by doing something other than your normal art and you know? I think she’s on to something!

Now, without further ado, I give you, Hate Jacket by M. Andrew Patterson!

Coming August 11, 2020 — Pre-orders available now!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Seventeen-year-old Julius Monroe hates his life. He hides the truth of his father’s abuse with careful lies and a kick-ass jacket that keeps everyone at bay. But Julius’ careful facade crumbles after a run-in with the school administration puts him on a collision course with his best friend’s sister and her jealous boyfriend.

But escaping the school bully and his father’s abuse isn’t his only worry. The worst monster is Lela, whose manipulations threaten to expose every secret that Julius is so desperate to hide.

When his worlds collide, Julius must make a choice. Live with the monsters he knows, or take a chance on being free.

About the Author

Andrew didn’t realize he wanted to be an author until he wrote his first words on his step-father’s Apple IIe. Fast forward 30 years and that story still isn’t finished. He keeps claiming he’ll write it…just after he finishes the four hundred other ones in his head.

Born in California, on a now decommissioned army base, Andrew then spent the next four years in Germany before moving to Kansas where he has been ever since. Coming from a long line of librarians, Andrew didn’t expect to continue the family trend. Instead, he received his bachelor’s in Music Theory from the University of Kansas in 1997. It was during that time that he ended up working in the university library as a student. He found he liked being around the old books and has been hanging around dusty old tomes for the entirety of his adult life.

After 20 years, he decided that he wasn’t leaving the world of libraries and received his Masters in Library Science from Emporia State University in 2015. But life changes and Andrew took a leap into the real world and now works as a software developer for a digital marketing firm.

When he’s not working or writing, Andrew is an avid gamer, reader, and occasional maker. He currently lives in Olathe, KS with his wife, their combined six children, and a tortoiseshell cat named Lili. She’s a princess.

Support #BlackPublishingPower

As you may have heard if you’re plugged into the literary community, there’s currently a movement going on between the dates of June 14th and June 20th, 2020 to “black out” the bestseller lists with black authors. To do this, folks are encouraged to purchase any two books by black writers. Shauna wrote a great post last week about new releases by black authors; I thought I would follow that up with another post about some great books I’ve read and loved that may be less new but no less important.

Please note: this list is by no means exhaustive! These are simply a number of black-authored books that I personally have read and enjoyed. I hope you’ll do your own research to find authors you love, and continue to support black authors even after this week comes to a close.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston

I read this classic of the Harlem Renaissance for the first time as required reading in high school. I enjoyed it the first time, but as my paperback copy followed me from apartment to apartment, I’ve reread it several times and come to love it even more with each reread. Janie’s coming-of-age from beautiful but voiceless girl to powerful and vibrant woman feels as turbulent and powerful as the wild storm against which the latter part of the novel is set. Also, as a central Florida native, the potent descriptions of the South speak to me almost as much as Janie’s journey.

The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin

For lovers of speculative fiction, you need this immediately! Refreshing, original, dark, and ingenious, this book picked me up and swept me away into a dangerous, fragile world of near-constant natural disasters. The plot follows three different women as they navigate different aspects of this savage world, exploring how a catastrophic event happened, why it happened, and how it connected them all together. And if you don’t believe me, believe the three consecutive Hugo awards won by this amazing series.

Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid

This was not at all what I expected, but I’m so glad I picked it up. When twenty-something Emira is assumed to have kidnapped the white child she’s babysitting, things get messy between her and her employer, Alix. Incisive, piercing, and at times deeply uncomfortable, this novel deftly explores questions of race, prejudice, white guilt, and the complicated ways they intermingle in our modern world.

The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton

Stunning, imaginative, and eloquent, Clayton’s debut YA fantasy about a glittering society obsessed with beauty was right up my alley. Camellia Beauregard is one of the Belles, a select few known for their ability to magically manipulate Beauty in the city of Orleans. But as Camellia gets pulled deeper into this opulent world, the true ugliness of her surroundings is slowly revealed. A must-read!

Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds

Anything and everything by Reynolds just about kicks me in the gut, so if you haven’t explored his work before, I recommend you catch up. But this novel-in-verse about a boy on the way to avenge his brother’s killer is absolutely wrenching. The entire story takes place in the sixty-second period the young man rides the elevator toward the man who killed his brother, gun in tow, and grapples with whether or not to kill the man. It’s unflinching, troubling, heart-breaking, and will leave you changed.

Kingdom of Souls, by Rena Barron

So many fantasy books are set in worlds inspired by European history or mythology, so I always love a fantasy set in a non-Western milieu. In this epic West-African inspired fantasy, a young woman who is heir to two powerful lines of witchdoctors fails to summon any magic of her own. Desperate to prove her worth to her disapproving mother, Arrah turns to a forbidden ritual, with deadly consequences. Dark, exciting, addictive and wholly original, I loved this book from page one and can’t wait for the sequels.

What books are you reading/buying to support #BlackPublishingPower? Let me know in the comment section below!

Black Lives Matter and So Do Their Books

Black Lives Matter.

Every single one of us here at the Scribes’ blog thinks so. And if you plan to come at us with that all lives matter bullshit, you can unfollow right now. Have a nice life, but we’re not here for that. All lives don’t matter until Black Lives Matter. Full stop.

Now, to something a little more cheery. It is unfortunate that it takes hate and violence for that message to be screamed into the universe. And, while it is incredibly important for us to look at the ugliness of humanity, to watch and bear witness to the pain and destruction we cause others, we also need to uplift the good. Don’t look away when a systematically racist society oppresses and kills Black people, but let’s also put value on their contributions to society. Let’s amplify their beauty and art. Let’s hear their voices, not just crying out, but singing.

So, with that in mind, I have a few new release recommendations for you all. If you follow my writing you know I love writing YA and Fantasy and I hope to write an Epic, or Epic-adjacent book sooner rather than later. So all three of these books are right up my alley and they all released last Tuesday right in the middle of the upheaval of the BLM anti-police brutality protests. Which is not great timing. People are rightfully distracted and may not have been looking for entertainment. But, like I said, we need to celebrate the good even when recognizing the bad. So check these books out! And bask in the cover envy with me.

And, if you’re like me, you probably have some Audible credits just sitting around, racking up, not sure what to spend them on. Well, guess what? They are all on Audible!

Happy Pride! Top ten queer romances by POC authors

Here’s the deal. My two kids are college age, and they’re both the kind of bright, assertive young people who are gathering all over this country to demonstrate against police brutality and in support of #BlackLivesMatter. So far neither has been arrested or caught in any violence, but there have been some scary moments.

You know, I never did think to put, “Mom, I’m at a demonstration for farm workers rights and the Nazis are here and they have guns” on my short list of desired text messages.

So what do I do when the world is burning? I read romance. And how should we celebrate Pride in the year of our Lord 2020?

How about a list of novels featuring queer characters of all kinds by POC authors!

Some of these are old favorites, and some are new discoveries, and I hope you’ll find a story our two that you love, even as they draw you outside of your normal routine….

Jude LucensBehind these Doors

Behind These Doors: Radical Proposals Book 1

This books is AMAZING. It’s an award-winning polyamorous Edwardian romance that’s had incredible reviews and is just so, so good. Behind These Doors is grounded in both emotional truth and historical fact, where the harsh realities of the time period amplify the story’s sweetness and heart.

Buy Links for Behind These Doors


Holly TrentThe Plot Twist series

Holley Trent has created this fantastic trilogy of polyamorous romances that explore the ways men and women love each other. Each book features different characters and different romantic pairings, and if there’s a common theme, it’s that joy can be found in unexpected ways.


Atom YangThe Red Envelope

Cover of Red Envelope depicting a young, handsome Asian man in a suit, leaning against a wall and gazing toward to the viewer.

Red Envelope is short but lovely, and it proved to me how good own-voices stories can be. Atom Yang’s eye for detail elevated the story and made it one I remember.

Buy Link for Red Envelope
(It’s in KU!)

Cover of Tea at the End of the World depicting a handsome, young Asian man partially submerged in a white liquid with his eyes closed and face, neck, and chest above the liquid.
Haven’t read this one yet but OMG the cover!!!

Adriana HerreraDreamers Series

True confessions: I have three of these on my kindle but haven’t read them yet. I will, though! I’ve heard so many, many good things about them. Here’s a peak at the author’s blurb for the series:

The Dreamers series follows best friends— Nesto, Camilo, Patrice and Juan Pablo. Four Afro-Latinx men who came up together in the South Bronx, as they chase after their dreams and get unapologetic happy endings.

The Dreamer Series on Goodreads


Courtney MilanMrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure

cover for Mrs. Martin's Incomparable Adventure, an elderly woman in a blue dress with the houses of Parliament in the background

This book! I’m not quite as old as Bertrice and Violetta, but oh did they resonate for me. I laughed and I cried and I fell a little bit in love with their story. Courtney’s known for writing m/f romance, but she has a couple of stories with queer characters that are definitely worth checking out.

Buy links for Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure


Cole McCade/XenShatterproof

SHATTERPROOF: Remastered Edition: The DISSONANT Universe: Countdown -3 by [Xen]

I gotta be honest. Xen/Cole McCade is an excellent wordsmith, whether he’s writing freaky dark stuff as Xen or contemporary romance as Cole. I haven’t yet dared Shatterproof, though my writing partner Irene loved it. She also really liked The Whites of their Eyes: A collection of queer horror, also by Xen. My taste runs closer to His Cocky Valet, book 1 in Cole’s Undue Arrogance series. See? There’s something for everyone!

His Cocky Valet (Undue Arrogance Book 1) by [Cole McCade]

Buy link for Shatterproof
Buy link for His Cocky Valet
They’re both in KU!


Alyssa ColeOnce Ghosted, Twice Shy

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy (Reluctant Royals, #2.5)

This book intrigues me. It’s the only f/f story in Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series, and the cover is just so very good. Alyssa’s known for her m/f contemporary romances and especially for her Loyal League series of historical romances, which, hey, I’m a history nerd, so they’re totally my thing.

Her award-winning Loyal League series – An Extraordinary Union, A Hope Divided, and An Unconditional Freedom – are set in the Civil War era South. The characters in these m/f romances are black, and they’re strong and they’re real, and they find love.

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy on Goodreads


Talia HibbertWork for It

Work for It by Talia Hibbert

Talia Hibbert’s another author who’s better known for writing m/f romance. She has such enthusiastic fans that I was jazzed when I heard she’d written an m/m romance. But see, I do this thing where I’ll catch the buzz when a book is coming out and I’ll get all excited and preorder it and then when it finally releases I won’t want to read it because I don’t want to spoil the anticipation. Or thereabouts. Anywhoodle, I’ve had Work for It on my kindle since its release day and between that gorgeous cover and all the great reviews, I really do need to bump it to the top of the pile.

Find Work for It on Goodreads


CL PolkWitchmark

Witchmark (The Kingston Cycle Book 1) by [C. L. Polk]

Witchmark is a historical fantasy, and while it’s not technically a romance- romance, there’s a queer love story in an amongst the magic. Here’s a snippet from an enthusiastic review:

“Polk has created an amazing new world with hints of Edwardian glamour, sizzling secrets, and forbidden love that crescendos to a cinematic finish. WITCHMARK is a can’t-miss debut that will enchant readers.” 
—Booklist, starred review

Find Witchmark on Goodreads


Rebekah WeatherspoonTreasure

Rebekah Weatherspoon writes romance and erotic romance and kink. She’s also something of a fireball on twitter (@RdotSpoon), and she organizes WOC in Romance, a website that’s dedicated to promoting books by authors of color. (You can also support WOCIR on Patreon to help them get the word out.) I’ve heard Rebekah speak at a couple of conferences, and while she’s written a number of f/f stories, for this post I wanted to highlight Treasure because her in-person enthusiasm for the book made me want to read it!

Find Treasure on Goodreads


Bonus

Tom & LorenzoLegendary Children

Legendary Children by Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez

This is not a romance (oops!). As the subtitle says, it’s an examination of the first decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the last century of queer life. Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez are two of my very favorite bloggers, and at Tom&Lorenzo.com they go about judging celebrity fashion, television, and life in general with a healthy mix of take-no-bullshit and give-credit-where-its-due. They’ve been writing about RuPaul since Drag Race started, and in Legendary Children they bring wit and insight and compassion to this serious look at queer history that manages to be both informative and very, very funny. Highly recommend!

Legendary Children on Penguin/Random House


If you want to keep going, look for books by Avril Ashton, Riley Hart, Robin Covington, Ada Maria Soto, or Jude Sierra. You can find even more rec’s on this master list from the POC Queer Romance Authors Community

And….if you’re around and about, here’s a list of black-owned bookstores for you to support, compiled by Brain Mill Press:
Brain Lair Books, South Bend, IN
Cafe Con Libros, Brooklyn, NY
A Different Booklist, Toronto, ON
The Dock Bookshop, Fort Worth, TX
EsoWon Books, Los Angeles, CA
EyeSeeMe, University City, MO – children’s books
Frugal Bookstore, Boston, MA
Harriet’s Bookshop, Philadelphia, PA
The Lit. Bar, Bronx, NY
Loyalty Bookstore, Washington, DC
Pyramid Books, Little Rock, AK
Semicolon, Chicago, IL
Sister’s Uptown Bookstore, New York, NY
Source Booksellers, Detroit, MI – nonfiction
Uncle Bobbies Coffee & Books, Philadelphia, PA

What the book is really about.

I don’t know about you, but I’m so, so tired of a certain virus that is apparently hell-bent on ending civilization as we know it. In the spirit of Shauna’s last post, I want to focus on writing, because I have a helluva lot more control of my imaginary worlds than I do over the real one.

This is aspirational. My real-life looks nothing like this.

I’m an avid (overly enthusiastic?) fan of author KJ Charles. Her books are funny and sexy and scary and they make you think. Her plots are a master class in how-to-do-it-right. And this week, in the run-up to her newest release Slippery Creatures (Will Darling #1), I noticed something else.

She’s got a knack for describing her books in a way that makes them sound like they’re the most fun ever.

I’m not talking about her book’s blurbs, the back-jacket copy that supposedly sells the book, although her blurbs are very well done – check out the Goodreads link for Slippery Creatures to see what I mean. The thing that really grabs me, though, are the one- or two-line descriptions she uses on social media that summarize what the stories are about.

For example, on her Facebook fan page (KJ Charles Chat) she posted a sign-up for Slippery Creatures ARCs, giving readers the chance to review her book prior to it’s May 13th release, and I promise you, that sign-up post is golden.

She compares her Will Darling series to Golden Age adventure stories with spies and secrets and country houses and social change. (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t want to give too much away.) I don’t even need to see the book’s blurb; she had me at nightclubs and shady conspiracies.

The blurb is awesome, but the one-line description on the ARC sign-up bumped the book to the top of my to-be-read pile.

Having made this observation – that KJ makes her books sound fun! – I wondered if I could do the same with my own books. I turned to my current WIP, the book I started last November for NaNoWriMo, but couldn’t come up with anything coherent. (More about that later.)

Instead, I shifted gears and went digging through my back list. Here are a few examples:

Vespers mixes a 100-year-old vampire monk with a 22 year old college grad and a bunch of demons (both physical and psychological) and gives Liv the chance to work out her ideas about religion.

Here’s another example:

Change of Heart throws a country girl who talks like Dorothy Gale into the Big Easy and gives Liv a chance to explore how trans people might have survived in the days before hormones and surgery and also gives Vespers fans an Easter egg.

Or:

Lost and Found takes a very sad story (the life of the Russian dancer Najinksy) and finds him a happy ending (because romance) and also gives Liv a chance to brush up on her high school French.

Hmm…I’m sensing a theme. In these one-liners, I focus on my intention when writing the books, rather than picking out elements that make the story sound fun!

And that, my friends, might explain why I had trouble coming up with a one-liner for my current WIP. I mean, I know what it’s about – in the days when the city of Seattle was struggling to establish itself as the top dog in the Northwest, a necromancer tried to run all other magic workers out of town but he is challenged by a ne’er do well night patrolman, a pretty piano player, and their friends – but I haven’t yet figured out the why.

Why am I writing this story? What overarching theme grabbed me and made me spend however many hours it took to hit the 85k word mark? (I’m just about there, with a couple scenes left to draft.) I’m pretty sure my motivation went deeper than “well hell, I managed to write 50k words in November, let’s see where this bad boy goes”.

I mean, I’m pretty sure I have a deeper motivation. I hope.

I’d argue that while KJ’s one-liner for Slippery Things hits on a number of elements that focus on fun! (Spies! Nightclubs! Shady conspiracies!) she slips in a note about social change, hinting that she’s worked in a deeper theme or two. That grounds the story, making it even more compelling.

So if you need me, I’ll be pondering the theme(s) for my current WIP, which I’m hoping will be more obvious after I finish the draft and give the story some time to breath. I’ll also be working on a one-liner that includes the kind of fun! elements that make KJs books sound so good.

Because it’s smart to learn from the best.