Can I retire now?

Retirement: that far-off event that’ll change my whole life...

Let’s poke at that subtitle a little.

The change my whole life part is accurate – I mean, I’ll go from spending some 30 hours per week in a NICU to…not. No more NICU. Weird.

Still, it’s the far-off bit where I really need to adjust my thinking. Because honestly, I’m looking at three years before I can reasonably retire.

Three years!

I’ll only be 62, but I started my first retirement account theirty-four years ago, when I was twenty-five. I’ve literally been preparing myself for this most of my life.

Preparing for what, you might ask.

Well, it’s the “what” part that makes me nervous. I’ve always been a fairly goal-directed person. I mean, yeah it took me five years to earn an associates degree (lol!) but it was the ’80s. And I was in Honolulu. There were a lot (!) of distractions.

And I subsequently went on to earn a bachelors and then a masters, so things worked out okay.

Still, I’ve always sorta wondered what people do when they’re retired. I mean, shuffleboard’s not my bag, ya know? I guess I vaguely thought I’d travel some, and work in my garden, and just sorta go from one day to the next.

But golly that sounds pretty aimless. And kinda boring, if I’m honest.

On the other hand, after thirty-four years in the NICU, I’m ready for something new. Don’t get me wrong, I love working with babies and I take great pride in my work. It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I can start an IV in just about anyone, any time, anywhere, and for me n’ my superpowered grey hair to be able to calm down a fractious family situation just by showing up.

But.

But…

Last spring my employer merged with another hospital and my group of Neonatal Nurse Practitioners found ourselves responsible for covering another unit. (Which is an extreme simplification, but it gets to the gist.) I ended up working a lot. Like 120 hours in a two-week pay period kind of A LOT. Those hours went on all through the summer and into the fall, so the point where I started joking that I was going to need a whole month off to recover.

And also to bring down my vacation hours so I wouldn’t lose any because I was over the limit.

Apparently I made the Month Off joke often enough that our lead and our scheduler gave me the green light. I’ve been on vacation since 4/2/21 and I don’t work again until the first weekend in May. (Okay, I covered 8 hours last weekend for a no-show but that won’t be repeated.)

Once I saw the official schedule with me officially not on it, I started calling April my Dress Rehearsal for Retirement Month. If I can’t handle a whole month off, what the hell am I going to do with the rest of my damn life?

(This is where the goal-directed piece comes in.)

I didn’t just walk out of the hospital on April 2nd without a plan. I committed to writing the first draft of the sequel to Soulmates, my m/m/m paranormal romance. My word count goal for the month is 80,000, and I’m at about 35k now with a couple thousand more in me today. Not exactly where I meant to be, but not bad, either.

I’ve also had time to sort through a particularly cluttered area of our basement and work in the garden and do yoga and walk the dogs and read for fun. It’s been pretty effing fantastic, to be honest. If this is what the rest of my life’s going to look like, sign me up.

I’ve reached this stage in life through a combination of luck, priviledge, talent, and hard work, and I don’t take one minute for granted. When it’s time for me to leave the NICU for good, I’ll do so with a lifetime of memories and a heart full of gratitude. Babies made me grow up and turned me into the person I am today.

Still, going forward, there’ll be books to write and veggies to grow and dogs to walk.

I’ll be okay.

Do All The Things!

Image from http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/. I think I found my spirit animal.

I had a hard time trying come up with something to write about today, so I’m just going with what is on my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether it is better to be a specialist in your writing or a generalist. There are some writers who only write in one or two closely related genres. In the realm of historical fiction, there are many writers who specialize in a certain time period or location.

I don’t do any of those things. While I write primarily in historical fiction (and historical fantasy), I also write non-fiction and contemporary women’s fiction/romance. Within historical, I don’t have just one time period, but will write in any period/location where I find a story of a strong woman that needs to be told.

I’m currently editing my first chapter for an academic book. I’ve recently branched out into poetry and am considering giving essay a whirl as well. I also run several blogs for various interests that I don’t have time to tend to as well as I want.

What is wrong with trying new things, you ask? Nothing. But…okay…did any of you watch the TV show JAG? The captain’s girlfriend/wife (I don’t remember) was one of those people who thought she could do anything and everything, but in reality was terrible at a lot the things she thought she was good at (I specifically recall her thinking she was this great singer and she was actually terrible). That is who I fear becoming.

I have this terrible fear that my poetry sucks and everyone is afraid to tell me. I’m scared that I’ll try to write essays only to find I have nothing to say or that I’m too scared of being attacked if I do take a stand on something.

Yet the same time, I’m curious about so much: different forms of writing, different genres (I have a gothic historical and several contemporary books I want to write, in addition to all the historical and non-fiction ones on my list), all kinds of subjects.

I understand the appeal of sticking to one thing and being an expert in that, but I’m the kind of person who wants to be an expert in whatever story I choose to tell. So, instead of being one on 19th century America or post-Roman Britain, I’m one on Victoria Woodhull, Virginia Minor and modern versions of Guinevere. (I don’t claim expertise back past 1980 with her character, though I have written about it.)

I guess that goes along with an unending desire to learn. I’m one recommendation letter away from finishing my application to get a certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies from Loyola University in Chicago (online program). Those credits will carry over when I can move and get my MA in the same program, along with an MA/PhD in American History. When that is done my credentials will be ridiculous alphabet soup: BA, BS, MA (that is today), MA, MA, PhD.

So why does it surprise me that I want to go from novelist and biographer to add on poet and essayist and whatever else comes along in the future?

I guess some people are meant to find their niche and stay there, while others do many things. I do know that strong women will always be a connective tissue in everything I do. That’s my passion, my jam and what I believe I am meant to share with the world, in whatever format the message takes. That’s why it is also my brand.

What about you? As fellow writers/readers do you think it is wiser to develop a specialty or dabble in whatever you want and see what sticks?

Adapting as a Writer

When I first started writing books I never outlined. I tried to outline my first book and found that, once it was outlined, I couldn’t get into the rhythm of writing the actual narration of the story.

It was incredibly frustrating and I felt like I couldn’t write. My lifelong dream of being a writer, going to college to learn how to be a writer, all my lofty goals would never be achieved because I couldn’t understand how to write.

Then I read a blog post by an author I loved at the time, she was a very prolific writer so I figured she knew what she was doing, and she said she wasn’t an outliner. She explained that she was a “pantser,” or “pantster” if you prefer, which meant she had an idea for the book and then just wrote freely, or “by the seat of her pants.” As she explained it, once she outlined a book it was as if her brain decided she’d already written the story and lost all sense of urgency to get the story down on paper. That was a lightbulb moment for me.

Maybe I wasn’t an outliner either. So I tried it her way. I was able to write my first three and half books that way. I wrote so much so fast, it was incredible. It really was like I was flying/writing by the seat of my pants. I’d found a key that fit my writer lock and I was so happy and relieved.

Then my hard drive became corrupted and ate tens of thousands of words from my fourth book. I was devastated to say the least. A magical IT guy recovered some of the lost work but I did have to rewrite a lot of what was lost and I had to try to remember what I’d written (I have multiple redundancies of back ups now–a hard lesson learned) and I started making notes, which turned into a very loose outline. And, thanks to those bullet point notes, I finished that book in record time.

So, when I started book five, I tried to outline again. And I found I was a new kind of writer. I started outlining books, long-form, by hand. But the incredible thing was, I didn’t lose my need to tell the story again. Instead I found it easier to leave off for a couple of days and come back and pick up where I left off. I didn’t need to remember all my cool ideas because they were all written down, waiting for me. And I learned I didn’t have to hold exactly to the outline, I could spin out and come back to it. Like an anchor in a storm.

Then, if you’ve been reading our blogs for a while, you know I burned out and took a break from writing. Then the pandemic happened and my life blew up, and I only started writing again very recently. And this book has been entirely different than all my other books.

I’ve worked with an outline with it and then, when I ran out of outline, I’ve pantsed some of it, and then inspiration struck and I got all these incredible plot twist ideas that made me realize I needed to change the whole book. That last bit meant that I needed to add whole scenes and characters to the book. Personally I’m the kind of writer who starts at the start and moves forward, in one document, until I reach the end, then I’ll go back and add/edit later. I never work backwards. But not with this book. Because I’ve had such a paradigm shift with the story of this book. I knew I needed to work through those missing scenes. I tried to just go forward, telling myself I’d fix the first half of the book later, but as soon as I wrote a line referencing the change in the story I knew I needed the ground work.

So I started opening new docs. As you can see I’ve written a few scenes like this.

It’s kind of strange. I feel a little like I’m making a quilt or puzzle pieces that I’m going to fit together later. I’m not even sure where these scenes will go, but I knew I needed them written so, as I write the second half of the book, I have memories of these scenes to build upon. I don’t even know what to call this style of writing.

I will say, I am not a huge fan of it. I like to watch my word counts jump when I’m done for the day and this makes it feel like I’m not doing as much work. But I am. I know I am. One pro is that I can see I’ve hit my daily count much easier than doing the math . Another pro is that it does fee like I’m hitting small milestones so I can feel al sense of accomplishment that way. And I know, once I’m satisfied I’ve written all the missing scenes to pull the book together, when I got to copy and paste those scenes into the main document I’ll feel a huge amount of gratification when I watch my wordcount jump over 5 figures.

It’s just different.

And this far into the game it’s kinda weird to realize you can change your writing style again. So, if you’re new to writing, or old hat but finding you’re struggling to figure out how to do this thing called writing, maybe you just haven’t found your style yet. Sometimes a book is first person, sometimes it’s better in third. Sometimes you need an in-depth, thorough outline, sometimes you just need to write a scene that’s burst into your mind without knowing where it’s going.

Just like a story can evolve as the characters move through the plot, you as a writer can evolve as you get further into your career. You just have to figure out what is going to work for you at this point in your career and learn to adapt if one way of doing things isn’t working for you. All that matters is figuring out what gets the story written. Outline or pantsing. Morning sessions or nighttime. Small goals every day, or big wordcounts once or twice a week. There is no one way to write a book and you can learn from other writers so you don’t lose hope.

What to Do After Finishing a Book

You worked so hard to finish your draft. Maybe you stayed up late, or you woke up early (you weird early bird you). Maybe you struggled to stick to your outline, or had to rewrite a hard scene eight times, or realized you introduced a character in the first half who just…disappeared (we’ve all been there). But you finally did it. You finished your book.

And…now what?

Sometimes, after spending months and months creating a book’s world, its characters, and its plot, I feel almost at sea. I never know quite what to do with myself. Do I keep tinkering at the chapters I know aren’t perfect? Do I let my friends read it? Do I print it out, put it in a shoebox, and bury it out back in the dead of night, never to be unearthed?

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be wondering what to do after finishing a book too. Well, I’m here to help. Here are my pro tips for what to do after you finish a book, plus a few suggestions of what not to do.

DO let yourself be done. I realize how tempting it is to keep fussing with your draft even after you’ve written The End. There’s so much work still to be done! So many imperfections to correct! But it’s actually really important to hang a bell on the amazing thing you’ve just accomplished. Whether it’s your first or your fortieth, finishing a book is a big deal. And even if you know you’re going to return to it at some point, for this moment, it’s time to step away. Which leads me to my second point…

DO let your book rest. Not only do you need a break after writing your book, your book needs one too. Chances are, after spending so long focused on your draft, you’ve lost all perspective on it. When I finish a book, you can often hear me say, “This is either the best thing I’ve ever written or the worst.” But usually, after taking two weeks or a month away from it, I realize it’s neither. It’s usually half-way decent, but needs work. And that time away is necessary for me to see my work with fresh eyes.

DON’T send it to agents/editors/publishers right away. Don’t send a first draft to anyone in the publishing industry. Ever. I know it’s tempting to immediately share the thing you worked so hard on, but sending it out before it’s ready could damage its chances of being published, or even burn a bridge in the publishing industry. There’s still work to be done.

DO focus on yourself. Writing a book can be mentally and physically taxing. When I finally surface after finishing a draft, I’m usually a bit dazed, a bit burnt out, and often my wrists or my back are aching. Self-care is a necessity. Instead of jumping right into revisions, or starting a new project, try to take a little time to refill the well by reading, watching TV/movies, listening to music, or doing an art project that has nothing to do with writing. And remember that the healthier your body is, the healthier your mind is. Try going for a long walk, doing some yoga, or visiting your chiropractor.

DON’T come back to it until you’re ready. Avoid setting yourself a hard deadline for when you’re going to start edits (unless you’re actually on deadline, of course), like two weeks, or a month. Listen to your muse, who’ll let you know when your well is refilled and you’re ready to work again. I know I’m ready to come back to a draft when I start dreaming about it again. When the characters voices start chiming in my ears, and my fingers itch to pick up a pen. Sometimes that’s a few days. Sometimes it’s months. Some stories I never return to.

DO reread it. Once you feel ready to get back to it, the first step is reading what you’ve written. Now that you’ve gained some distance and perspective, a read-through will help you identify what’s good, what’s meh, and what definitely needs to be changed. Rather than diving in willy nilly, reading your work from start to finish should help you plan out your revision.

DO make big picture changes first. It may be tempting to obsess over grammar and word choice. And those are important! But chances are there are big, structural changes that need your attention first. And it sucks to spend hours perfecting a scene’s word choice only to realize you need to delete it or vastly rewrite it. Identify which scenes need to be moved, changed, or deleted entirely before nit-picking. Same goes for character arcs, world-building, and plot.

DO get some help. Finding people who can read your work and give you useful, honest feedback is invaluable. It’s not too hard to find beta-readers and/or critique partners, once you know where to look. Anyone whose opinion you trust is a good start, but I’d avoid parents, siblings, or good friends, since they probably love you too much to be particularly honest. Do you have a local writer’s group? Author acquaintances on the internet? Look for like-minded folks who are eager to read your work!

That’s it! Congratulations on finishing your book, and remember to pat yourself on the back–what a huge accomplishment!

Art Can and Should Be an Escape

As artists we like to think our work is important. It doesn’t matter what your media is, you want your art to reach people, bring them some joy, provide some entertainment, no matter what that might mean for the consumer. I like to think of art as an escape and I do try to provide that when I’m writing. Probably why I like to write Fantasy novels.

As I’ve mentioned, my family went through some tough times in the last few months, beyond the pandemic. But even before that happened to us, we were dealing with the pandemic just like all of you. Trapped at home, feeling weird doing normal things like going to the grocery store or getting take-away, letting the days run into each other. And of course, a small bummer was that all of our shows were out of production for months, so we didn’t even have that as an escape.

Then the shows came back! Places were able to let production companies get back to work and we were all promised new content! Huzzah!

But, oof. What a disappointment so many shows were! What I couldn’t understand was how so many–SO MANY–shows decided to lean into pandemic and incorporate it into their stories. Like. WHY?

I know at the beginning of the pandemic it was still kind of novel; plenty of us were relatively untouched by it and sales of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic books spiked. People were watching those kinds of shows and movies. It was like hair of the dog, right? Let’s see how much worse it could be instead of just realizing you’ve been wearing the same pair of pajama pants for three days and have probably downloaded one too many food delivery apps for that free first delivery fee. I understood it. Hell, I even did a live-stream story time of World of Ash for my followers.

But after eight months of it, I was definitely past that point and ready for a real escape. I wanted some levity, some feel-good, some normalcy in my entertainment. But every show had the damn pandemic in it. Or fucked up politics (I mean, we definitely had plenty of that too, right?) Even sitcoms, which should be a completely safe space for some stupid, predictable humor, had the pandemic in them. I mean. Shows that never mention real current events or who the real-life president still had the pandemic in their storylines. WHY? (I will make an allowance for Prodigal Son–they mention it, but skipped it. Like, the characters went through “quarantine” but we didn’t have to go through it with them. That wasn’t so bad.)

Then my world blew up personally and, when I had some precious time here and there to sit for a minute and check out, I was desperate for real, light, easy escape. I didn’t want to be reminded how ugly the world was. I didn’t want to watch someone have their world taken away from them. I didn’t want to see what I could see out my window on my screen. That’s not an escape. That’s rubbing salt in the wound.

I don’t actually remember a time where I needed something like books or TV to distract me from actual disaster. The last few months of 2020 were the hardest months of my life, so it was the first time where I looked at my sources of entertainment for some help checking out, even if just for an hour here or there. When I say I want my books to provide readers a little escape, I’m thinking of escape from every-day life. Something different. Something fun and dangerous but safe.

I’ve never thought about how someone might be going through the darkest part of their life and my books helping them escape, even if just for an hour or two. Now. I have had readers reach out to me with notes about how my books did just that for them and it really touched me. I don’t think about that when I’m writing because, let’s face it, that’s a lot of fucking pressure to put on yourself. So I just write the story I’m gonna write and hope someone enjoys it. If it turns out it helps them through a dark or terrible time, I am so grateful.

And I needed that myself. I couldn’t really read. That seemed to ask too much of my brain. I was lucky and fellow Scribe, Lyra, had a WIP that she wanted beta’d and it turned out to be a light-hearted escape with drama I could mentally manage. It was a nice escape into a part of the country I’d never seen and there were no pandemics or politics. But TV? Movies? Nope. So, at the suggestion of my dear mom, I tried Psych.

So light-hearted. So funny. So vanilla but entertaining. A buddy comedy that’s not really about cops. It’s even set in the next county over from me. Yes, there’s plenty of murder in it, but it’s cozy murder mysteries, not blood and gore and terror. It was exactly what we needed–true escapism. Even the drama aspects weren’t too much to manage. We could watch an episode or two and feel our anxiety levels evening out. We could turn our brains off and unwind from terrible days so we could go to bed relaxed.

Realizing how little in the way we have of these kinds of shows anymore, Psych, The Librarians, Veronica Mars, Buffy, is disappointing. I don’t mean you can’t stream these older shows, I mean we don’t have anything like it now and these shows keep getting cancelled, even if they’re popular–good sitcoms are also axed left and right while trite and annoying ones are allowed to be renewed again and again. There is a glut of drama out there, for sure. But we also need shows that don’t ask too much of us. Light romance, extremely light drama, enough gentle comedy, all neatly tied up in a 44-48 minute bow.

There were times where I worried my Matilda Kavanagh Novels were too basic witch, too light, too quick. But I wrote them because they were fun for me. I enjoyed the episodic nature of the series–each book can be read on its own but there are over-arching stories tying them together as a series. I liked that the characters didn’t ask too much of me. Yes, there are some darker themes and Big Bads, but there’s a lot of fun and silliness in them too. I needed that and maybe, sometimes, you do too.

Art as escapism is as important, I think, as art as a statement. I hope, when we get on the other side of this, we get back to some fun escapism again. Not everything has to be high brow drama or slap-stick comedy. There’s some middle ground and I hope more TV and Movie writers and producers remember that.

I will say, since we’ve gotten to the other side of our ordeal, we have been able to give other, newer shows a chance. If you haven’t watched Bridgerton, I don’t know why. And I’m giving big kudos to Resident Alien because Allan Tyduk never disappoints and it is really, really funny.

And just one last comment. Can the new trope of the dead wife as the set up for the widower’s story please stop? Legit, there are at least 3 “sitcoms” with that plot on right now.

Anyway. What shows, movies, or books are your go-tos when you need an escape? Are there any out there that got you through a tough time?

Poetry and Power

Hey readers, did you miss me? I missed all of you. I can catch you up on the last six months pretty quickly. I’ve been working (a lot. this is an interesting time to work in health care marketing) and writing (a lot. two books at once actually).

I’ve been thinking about getting back into writing poetry for a few months now. It all started when I was doing research for a future book and reading Lana del Rey’s poetry book “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass.” (My book will be a modern adaptation of a classic with a soundtrack entirely of Lana’s music. She is the PERFECT muse for this story.) Her poetry hit me so hard that I was like “Dude, I want to do that!” (I say “Dude” a lot.)

Now, I wrote poetry as a kid (which you may remember from a previous post) and also as an angsty teen. But then for some reason I stopped. I went through a period where I was like “Who reads poetry anymore?” which I’ve come to find out was my brain’s way of saying “I’m intimidated by it and am afraid I can’t understand it.” This despite the fact that I was an English major.

Enter Amanda Gorman on Inauguration Day. Lord, that woman is a genius. That is all there is to it. I want to bow down to her Wayne’s World style. (I am so a child of the 80s and 90s.) USA Today is even speculating that because of her we may be in a renaissance of poetry and I hope they are right.

So, lots of motivation to start writing. But my problem was I felt paralyzed. I would pick up a pen and try to write (for some reason I feel like poetry needs to be hand-written first) and my mind would freeze, go totally blank. I think I was putting too much pressure on myself to produce something publishable. I asked my Facebook friends for advice and they said to just let go and write for myself, something private that expresses my emotions or opinions about something.

After a while, I loosened up. I finally wrote my first poem in 24 years the other day. I’m not ready to share it because it’s pretty personal, but I want to share them eventually. Right now I seem to be using poetry to work through some unresolved issues from my past, but then again, so did Rupi Kaur and look what it did for her. (I was not expecting Milk & Honey to be so dark!) I think that may be what gives poetry it’s power to touch readers and it’s staying power as well. It, to me at least, is so much more personal than prose, though I know that can be as well.

Today I’m going to start posting some poems on Instagram, so I’d like to share the first one here with you. I don’t want to bias your reading, but it has deeper meaning than its surface value.

I am finding that I have no idea how to judge whether a poem that I write is good or bad. Anyone have any tips for that?

P.S. – In case you are wondering about the title of this post, it’s based on a song by Gary Numan. But I know the cover by Gravity Kills.

Farewell For Now, Not Forever

It seems like everyone has something difficult they’re going through right now, even if it’s “just” the pandemic. Everyone has something that’s happened or happening and it’s going on at the absolute wrong time. And we’re not immune here at the Scribes.

Even just living through this time is a drain on the creativity, inspiration, and life energy.

Each week we’ve striven to bring you helpful, inspiring, and new content to help you on your writing journey or creative outlets. But for the last few months that’s become harder and harder on all of us. That, coupled with some personal issues a few of us are going through right now, has finally come to a head for us.

So, for now, we’re taking a break from the blog. I was dreading this for a while, feeling it coming, hoping the tides would change in our favor, but it’s just not. This isn’t forever, at least, we don’t think it is, but it is for now.

We plan to regroup at the new year and see where everyone’s headspace is and if we feel better and ready to bring you renewed content and, if we do, we’ll be back!

Thank you all for reading with us over the years, every like and comment and share has been a gold star on our days and I’m sad to see it end. But remember, you can find each and every one of us on your virtual bookshelves if you miss us and want to show your support.

How Old is Too Old for YA?

As I was casually lurking on Twitter the other day, I came across this Tweet which, to be honest, took me aback a bit.

Now, YA–otherwise known as Young Adult Fiction–is a genre that’s near and dear to my heart, as a writer but especially as a reader. I’ve been reading young adult books since about the time I was able to choose my own reading material, which was whenever my parents gave their avid reader middle child (me) free run of our local library. With a few exceptions, my parents really didn’t police my reading choices, which meant I was drawing from a pretty broad pool of books from a pretty young age. But my favorite section was always the YA shelves, stocked with books the grown-ups in my life had never heard of before, books that felt like they were just for me, books full of magic and adventure. Garth Nix, Lloyd Alexander, Sherwood Smith, Tamora Pierce–I devoured these old-school YA novels like they were going out of style.

In middle school, things changed. A little book called Harry Potter started getting popular, and suddenly, everyone knew about my genre. Don’t get me wrong–I did and do love the Harry Potter books, and loved that soon after they became popular, the bookstore and library bookshelves were packed with new and more varied YA options. Throughout high school, I continued to read everything I could get my hands on, but YA remained my staple. I remember one douche-canoe who sat near me on the bus used to make fun of my reading choices, sneering at the YA covers and flashing his copies of Dostoyevsky at me (eye-roll). But that didn’t stop me from reading.

By the time the next mega-YA-phenomenon rolled around (Twilight) I was in early college. I actually picked the book up off my little sister’s library stack just months before everyone else lost their mind’s over it. Not too longer after that, The Hunger Games trilogy hit the stratosphere, and I was hooked on those too. Around this time in my early twenties, I had technically “aged out” of the target YA demographic. But honestly, the YA genre as a whole was just getting interesting! New ideas, new books, new authors. And I’d started noodling around with the idea of writing my own YA novel. I wasn’t going to stop reading YA just because I was “too old” for it.

All of which is to say, it’s honestly never occurred to me that there could be a designated age when a person ought to “stop reading YA fiction,” as the original tweet suggests. But as I started to read all the replies to the original tweet, I really started to think about it.

Here’s the thing–I think people should read what they want, when they want. Comic books, pulp fiction, Dostoyevsky, YA fantasy, milk cartons. But that said, I do think as readers we have to cultivate an awareness of who the books we read are intended for, especially when those books are intended for children or young adults. Those frames of reference must inform how we interact with the media we consume. When I was nine, I knew that even though I enjoyed reading about the adventures of teenage heroes, some of their conflicts and interactions were more mature than the ones I dealt with in my own life. Similarly, although I read YA throughout my twenties and now into my thirties, I got to a point where I couldn’t personally relate anymore to all the things the sixteen- and seventeen-year-old characters were going through–been there, done that. That didn’t mean I couldn’t still enjoy those books or those narratives.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure everyone has this awareness. Speaking from experience, many of the reviews for my own YA fantasy novel included a sentence that went something like this: “I would have liked the book better if the main character was more mature and made better decisions.” Ummm, she’s seventeen. Do you know many seventeen year olds capable of acting maturely in every circumstance and making all the right decisions in a high-stress environment? *face palm*

So no, I don’t think there’s an age when a person should no longer read young adult books. I do, however, think that once someone passes the age of both the characters in the books and the intended audience for which the book was written, they have to take a step back and ask themselves, “was this written for me?” Because chances are, once they’re out of the 13-18 age range of most YA books, they may start to relate less to some of the problems, choices, and actions of the main characters. And that’s fine! We don’t have to agree with every choice a character makes to still find their stories compelling and worthwhile. But we do have to stop assuming that YA books will cater to adult tastes when they’re intended for teens.

There’s so much to love about YA fiction. These coming-of-age stories remind us of a time when our experiences were most likely to change us; a time when everything felt newly-minted and shiny; when all our firsts were still ahead of us. I think, ultimately, they are stories of hope. And that’s something I hope none of us ever grow out of.

Do you think there’s an “expiration date” for reading YA fiction? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

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

Maybe it’s going to be okay

It’s okay to not be okay. I think we’ve all seen that commercial lately. We’ve all heard it a lot lately. Maybe it makes you feel better, maybe it doesn’t. But the fact remains, it is okay to not be okay. And it is okay to not be writing right now.

I’m saying that for myself as much as I’m saying it for you.

Last NaNo I started working on a new book and I won NaNo with it, but that’s about it. It’s still sitting around 50k words, waiting for me. And that bitch will wait. I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to finish it or not, mostly because I’m not sure I actually like the direction I took it, but also because focusing on writing has been so difficult.

When I finished NaNo, I ended up taking some time off for the holidays, because, the holidays. But then the beginning of the year was very financially stressful for us so I just couldn’t focus. Then, the day after Valentine’s Day, we started working on a very labor-intensive landscape project, which took nearly a whole month for us to finish. We worked on it literally every day, even if it was just for a couple of hours after clients and all day each day of each weekend. So there was no way I was able to actually write because I was so physically exhausted I couldn’t even watch TV, let alone decipher what my characters were up to.

We finished working on that project on March 9th, muscles aching, bone weary, overly tired. Yep, ten days before our state shut down. So we had been, inadvertently, self-isolating except for going to Lowes to get supplies for a good 30 days before the stay at home orders went into effect.

At least we finally have a nice place to sit outside in our own little quarantine bubble, right?

Sure, but that didn’t help the panic attacks that happened when I realized what the shut down meant for us, being self-employed who saw clients, face-to-face on the daily.

Do you think I could even think about writing?

I mean. I did think about it. With extreme guilt that I hadn’t written since NaNo and now all those excuses of why I couldn’t muster the words seemed flimsy and weak.

I know, people are talking about all the work they were going to get done during the quarantine but, let me tell you, anyone who can be productive during times of trauma, they are special. Because this is a trauma that we’re going through and not everyone processes the same way.

In high school and college, I was the queen of productivity during hard times. Give me a good, long, dark depressive state and I would churn out some of the best poetry of my life. Give me a stress and anger and a looming deadline and I’d write three A-quality final essays in one night. But now?

No.

I don’t know if it’s maturity or just exhaustion that comes with age or if I didn’t have the proper anxiety that I have now, but in times of stress and anger, I do not produce well.  So I haven’t been. And you know what, maybe it’s okay, but it also sucks.

I miss writing. I was so damn burned out because I’d written too much too fast that I had to take time off, but now all the time and the reasons and the issues feel like dominoes that have no end. I miss writing. I miss weaving together characters and their adventures. I want to get back to it. June Summer Camp NaNo is coming up and, by now—before—I would have already been working on a outline to get myself ready to dive in. And maybe I can, still. Maybe I can actually use Summer Camp to help me finish that story I started, even if it’s just going to be a trunk novel. Maybe, if I finish it, I can move on and work on something else. Something that makes me excited again.

See? It’s okay not to be okay because maybe just talking about it, blogging about, journaling about it, you’ll come out the other side feeling a little bit better about where you are. I’m looking sideways at my WIP and wondering if I can’t hear the characters whispering now that I’ve gotten this out of my system.