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.

The garden in spring…

This week totally got away from me. Like, today is not Thursday. Did you know that?

Sigh.

Anywhoodle, I haven’t posted about my garden in a while, and since it’s feeding my soul in a very real way, I thought I’d share some of what’s blooming. Keep in mind I’m a better writer than I am a photographer…

The view from my front door, about a month ago.
Looking at my front door, last week, with a guest appearance by Ed-the-dog. My tulip game has been strong this spring.
Tequila Sunrise Rhodedendron, 10 days ago, just starting to bloom.
My new favorite tulip, Antoinette, about 2 weeks ago.
Antoinette turns pinker as she goes
Tulipa Antoinette today, along with a pretty perennial geranium (blue flower).
Veggie bed – peas and lettuce and herbs…
Chives just starting to bloom.
Burnsie “helping” with the apple tree.
The front bed, a week or so ago.

The back yard hasn’t seen as much love as the front, but I do love my back porch, and the little Enkianthus Red Bells is so pretty when it’s in bloom. Those are perennial geraniums blooming under the Japanese maple. They’re hardy as hell and so lovely when they bloom…

Earlier this spring, the husband and I consulted with a garden designer, who made some fantastic recommendations for how we could better utilize our outdoor spaces. We loved her ideas, but figure we’ll have to take it on the five (eight? ten?) year plan. I’m looking forward to what we come up with, though.

I hope you’re all hanging in there and washing your hands and staying safe. Oh, and if you like my garden pix, follow me on Instagram, because that’s where they hit first. Thanks….

Here’s a close-up of the daffodils that bloomed along the front walkway. They look like a bunch of ladies in their Sunday best, chatting after church.

COVID-19 Through the Eyes of an Author and Health Care Communicator

As some of you know, my day job is in health care communications, mainly on the internal side. It’s a job I’ve been doing for nearly 17 years. In that time, we’ve dealt with H1N1 and SARS, had hurricanes damage our outreach ministries, and even had a tornado directly hit and completely destroy one of our hospitals. But we’ve never experienced anything like COVID-19.

My boss started being involved in meetings about it in late February/early March. But at that point no one expected what it turned into. By March 18, all non-essential co-workers were asked to work from home and my department went into crisis mode. (There is nothing I hate more than crisis communications, I will be honest.) We were pretty much on 24/7 for the first few weeks as we tried to keep up with changes and relay them to the people who work in our hospitals and doctors’ offices. Then things slowed a little so that we could rotate weekends on call and start keeping something similar to normal hours as we got into a kind of routine.

Now, as we get ready to start reopening some services, we’re preparing for a busy time again as policies change and we wait to see what Federal and local officials are going to do. There are very real fears that opening back up too soon will lead to a relapse in cases and another wave of illness in fall/winter. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the future holds.

Several weeks ago, Taleflick, the company I use to manage my film/TV rights for my books, put out a call for authors to share what health care is like during COVID-19. My job gives me a unique perspective on both the clinical and non-clinical aspects of health care, so I submitted the following essay, which is based on real people’s experiences. They ended up featuring it on their blog. I wanted to share it with you to help you understand what a whole industry of people are doing to keep the country, and really the world, safe. And in case you’ve been wondering why I’ve been so quiet…now you know.

Stay safe everyone. Stay home (or six feet apart if you have to go out) wear your mask, and wash your hands. Those things really do save lives.

In the Trenches and Behind the Scenes: The Reality of Health Care During COVID-19

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” – Mr. Rogers

There are those who run away from disaster and those who run toward it. Most of us, myself included, are staying as far away from the COVID-19 pandemic as possible. However, others are voluntarily in the thick of it—doctors, nurses, respiratory techs, and caregivers of every specialty. If, as many have said, this is a war, they are its heroes. They work not only because it is their job, but because they are called to serve. Yes, some choose a career in health care for the salary, but by and large, if you ask a health care professional why they picked their profession, they will tell you it was because they wanted to help others. And good thing, too. Because now our future is very much in their compassionate, gloved hands.

While the history books will someday debate the response of the government and theorize over what could have or should have been done differently, these people will fade into oblivion, just like they have after every other major event in history. Who but their family members and friends can recall the names of the first responders on and immediately following 9/11? And that is still within living memory.

We can’t allow that to happen this time. It is important to remember those who are saving lives through their everyday work. We must understand and support those who toil away in hospitals and clinics in every city and town across the world, caring for the sick, trying to educate the public to stop the spread of COVID-19, and putting their very lives at risk so the rest of us don’t have to.

The People Behind the Masks
When you imagine a doctor during this pandemic, what comes to mind? If you’ve paid attention to the news, you might see in your mind’s eye a person dressed in a white hazmat suit or a urine-colored protective gown, face covered by a plastic shield and goggles or blue N95 mask. These people are very much in action in our Emergency Departments, Intensive Care Units and isolation wards, working long hours with inadequate supplies and equipment to save lives and keep this deadly virus from spreading. But so is your family doctor. He or she is likely still seeing patients who need ongoing care and testing people with symptoms. Or they might be analyzing the results of online risk assessments or conducting phone or video/online visits with patients who think they might be ill with COVID-19.

What you don’t see in the media is what takes place behind the scenes: the intensivist storing away her face shield for re-use, praying it will be enough to keep her from getting infected and thus be unable to continue working. Or the physician carefully peeling off an N95 mask by its straps and wondering how long it will be before he runs out of these valuable resources and has to make due with lower quality masks that don’t offer enough protection.

Picture the person next to that doctor in the locker room, a nurse on her third 12-hour shift in a row, head bent low and gritty eyes closed, trying to catch a moment’s rest before attending to another coughing patient or one delirious with fever. It wasn’t enough that earlier she sat with a dying woman so she wouldn’t be alone in her final moments or that just before going on break she had to calm an outraged visitor who insisted on being allowed to see his hospitalized father, despite the no-visitor policy in place for everyone’s protection. There truly is no rest for the weary; soon she will be called back into battle.

Imagine the respiratory therapist who trudges home at night not to his warm bed, but to a tent in his backyard so he doesn’t unwittingly expose his wife and child to the virus he’s spent all day battling. As he climbs into his sleeping bag and tries to get comfortable on an air mattress, he says a prayer for the little girl on oxygen who is scared and alone in the pediatric ICU. He knows he will dream of the elderly man who just a few hours ago held what could be his final conversation with his wife before being intubated and breathing with the aid of a ventilator.

Envision, too, the ethicist called in to consult with a doctor in an overcrowded hospital. Each room is filled to capacity and beds line the hallways leading to her office. Their hospital is officially in crisis containment status, meaning they don’t have enough manpower or supplies to meet demand.

That’s why the doctor has come to her for advice. He took an oath to never willingly harm a patient, but the protocol they are bound to follow states they must ration their supplies according to the ability of a patient to benefit from them. That means some, such as the elderly or those with conditions that make healing more difficult, may have to continue their treatment without potentially life-saving equipment and be given palliative care in hopes they can survive on their own.

He rubs his temples and asks her the impossible question, “How does one begin to make that decision?”

Powering a Pandemic Response
Behind all those troops in the trenches are people whose work is rarely seen by the public and isn’t nearly as dramatic but is needed all the same. These leaders and tactical specialists provide vital background support that enables caregivers to do their jobs.

Think of a health care executive like a general in a war. Exempt from the isolation that keeps many people safe, she attends meetings with her counterparts, just like military in their war councils, to study trends and predictive models in an effort to understand when the surge of cases will hit her area so her people don’t face the worse-case scenario that other hospitals have experienced. In between meetings, she is glued to her phone, consulting with local and national experts to understand constantly evolving best practices for treating the virus and conserving and sanitizing protective equipment for reuse in the face of a national shortage. She yawns and yearns for the days when she was able to sleep a full eight hours; but if her troops can do without personal time and rest for the greater good, so can she.

Remember that doctor with the N95 mask? He is also an administrator. So, when he finishes his shift he doesn’t return home, or if he does, it is to do more work online or on a conference call. He spends his nights and weekends working with others like himself to establish the most streamlined and effective courses of care for treating COVID-19. When he’s not thinking about his patients, he’s trying to figure out the best ways to change traditional triage and care practices to adapt to the needs of this unprecedented time. Then he catches a few hours of sleep, only to get up and do it all over again.

Across town, a supply chain manager lies awake in the middle of the night mentally mapping routes from one facility to another and calculating inventory. If a surge of patients maxes out ventilator capacity in one hospital, what other locations can spare a few to help? And what is the fastest way to get them from the places they are to the place they are needed? She grabs her phone and dictates a quick reminder to call the CDC and her list of private suppliers again; her health system is desperate for more COVID-19 tests. Their lab partner said they can manufacture the tests themselves, but she can’t find the correct type of nasal swab anywhere—that hunt is another to-do for the next day.

The next morning a communicator is on a conference call with hospital administration; she’s going to have to find a way to tell doctors and nurses that they are running dangerously low on one size of N95 mask and try to provide them with safe alternatives. When the call ends, she flips on the television to see how well the hospital representative took her coaching for the press conference to assure the community they have the capacity to handle a surge in cases. She breathes a sigh of relief. He did well. But her calm is short-lived. Her phone pings with a Facebook notification she needs to respond to before she writes the communication about the masks; there is no end to the misinformation spread online.

Enabling all these people to do their work—whether they are at a hospital or working from home—is the information technology co-worker holed up at a data center, and a team of others like him. He just restored an outage that was affecting caregivers’ ability to document patient progress in their electronic medical record. Now he needs to figure out why one of their video visit connections isn’t providing sound. Then he will return the call from a co-worker working remotely who is having problems accessing her files. The aphorism “technology is great when it works” is certainly true, but in an age when hospitals are reliant on it to power all aspects of care from programming Smart IV Pumps to helping providers follow proper care protocols, disaster can result when it doesn’t. There’s a reason he’s always on call.

Unsung Service
All of the people described above are real, as are the situations they are facing. So please, before you post on social media that you are bored during the quarantine, say a prayer for those who don’t have that luxury. Whether in patient care or in support roles behind the scenes, they are working 24-hours a day, seven days a week to keep you informed and ensure that should you contract COVID-19, you’ll have the best care possible. And they will continue doing so until this strange period of history is over and we can all return to whatever the “new normal” is. If that isn’t the definition of a hero, I don’t know what is.

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.

It’s Okay…to Not Be Okay

“May you live in interesting times.” –ancient Chinese curse (likely apocryphal)

Honestly, I didn’t really want to write about COVID-19 today. It’s hard enough being bombarded with constant news articles and opinion pieces and press releases and tweets (however humorous). But the more outlandish blog post ideas I tossed around in my head the more it seemed the inevitable was probably going to happen. I was going to talk about coronavirus.

But I don’t want to talk about staying home or flattening the curve or how our leadership has botched their response to this crisis, although these are all important things (and I encourage you to read about them if you haven’t already). I want to talk about you. And I want to tell you that it’s okay if you’re not okay. Because I’m pretty sure most of us aren’t.

I was reading about a woman who was diagnosed with the virus and was strongly advised to self-quarantine by officials. Instead, she went to a local bookstore, where she complained to the staff about her diagnosis while browsing books. The staff understandably asked her to leave immediately. She grew enraged, intentionally touching as many books as possible before being dragged out by security. The entire bookstore staff had to be quarantined because of this woman’s selfish actions.

Obviously, this woman’s behavior is reprehensible. But the more I thought about her actions, the more they seemed familiar. First, she reacted to her diagnosis with denial: “I don’t feel sick and I won’t stay home.” Then, those feelings transformed into anger: “If you’re going to treat me like I’m sick then you’ll be sorry!” If you’ve ever taken Psych 101 or dealt with a loss you may be familiar with these terms. Denial and anger are the first two stages of grief, followed by bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.

Not many people I personally know have been diagnosed with coronavirus yet. Hopefully, if we band together as a community and look out for each other, that will remain the case. But I think the fact of the matter is, we’re all grieving on some level as we move deeper into this global pandemic. While our responses are hopefully less negative than Bookstore Lady, I think we should all be giving ourselves time and space to explore these feelings instead of pushing them away or letting them fester. Grief isn’t a straightforward thing, and navigating novel feelings about a novel virus might not be straightforward either.

Personally, I’ve been grieving in small ways for many things. Grief for the little old lady at the grocery store who couldn’t buy toilet paper. Grief for the people who felt so overwhelmed by this situation the only way they knew how to cope was to hoard toilet paper. Grief for the high school students whose proms and graduations have been cancelled. Grief for the victims of domestic abuse for whom quarantine is a new nightmare. Grief for all those who will die from this disease. And ultimately, grief for a world that cannot help but be irrevocably changed by all this.

(If you aren’t feeling grief or aren’t sure what you’re supposed to be grieving, that’s okay too.)

So if you’re not okay, give yourself space to not be okay. My husband has been throwing himself into work. Personally, I’ve been finding it difficult to focus enough to work much. A friend confessed she’s rented two or three movies in the past week only to let the rental periods lapse without finishing the movies. Meanwhile I’ve actually been making a dent in my long-standing “movies-to-watch-someday” list because it’s one of the few things I can concentrate on.

Baking. Working out. Staring at the wall. Reading. Cleaning. Complaining online. Facetiming loved ones. Whatever makes you feel more okay, do that. Whatever makes you feel less okay? Skip it.

Obviously a lot of us still have responsibilities during this difficult time. Jobs, kids, pets, bills–the world is still turning. But in case you needed someone to tell you that being not okay is okay? Consider yourself told.

This will pass. We’ll be okay again. But until that happens, I hope you’ll give yourself the space to grieve what was while we try to make space for what is, and what someday will be. Stay strong out there!

When in doubt, read. (Or, ten+ free or $0.99 books to get you through.)

Authors are nothing if not accommodating. We see a need – in this case, the world-wide shut-down of most everything – and we strive to fill it. In the last week or so, a bunch of books have been put on sale for $0.99 or offered for free, so for today’s post, I’m sharing those goodies with you. Enjoy!!

#1 OMG KJ CHARLES HAS THE MAGPIE LORD FOR FREE!!!
If you haven’t read this book – or this series – damn, have you missed out. It’s SO good. It’s a Victorian paranormal m/m romance and if I could choose a world to live in, it would be this one. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that when I finished book 1, I immediately clicked over to book 2 and downloaded it. Thank you, Kindle.
UNIVERSAL LINK FOR THE MAGPIE LORD.

#2 Rainbow Place (Rainbow Shores #1) by Jay Northcote
Haven’t read this one, but Jay Northcote is consistently good, and I’m excited to dive into his new series. It’s set in Cornwall, one guy is out-&-proud and the other’s in the closet, and it all sounds like catnip to me. And it’s FREE!
LINK

#3 The Isolation Survival Plan Sale
There are over 50 authors in this promo! All of their books are either FREE or $0.99! Books by authors like Josh Lanyon, Nic Starr, Nyrae Dawn, CJane Elliot, Charlie Descotaux, Kelly Jensen, Karen Stivali, Eliot Grayson, and Elle Keaton!!! GET CLICKING!
LINK

#4 WIDDERSHINS IS FREE!!
This one gets an all-caps too, because Widdershins by Jordan L Hawk is the start of one of THE best Victorian paranormals in all of m/m romance. The series is done now – for those of you who won’t start something until you can glom them all the way to the end – and the way the relationship between Whyborne & Griffen evolves is truly lovely….and it all starts with Widdershins….
LINK

#5 Everything at Ninestar Press is 40% off!!
Ninestar publishes all subgenres of queer romance, all kinds of voices and pairings. Because the editor says it better than I could, I’m going to quote from the website’s blog:
LINK to NINESTAR PRESS

I want LGBTQIA+ people of color to be able to find their likenesses in characters. I want great Lit/Genre Fiction books out there to show that gay/lesbian/queer people have a voice. Trans people can be in hetero relationships, and Bi people are still bi, even if they end up with someone of the opposite gender. Ace people can have loving and fulfilling relationships without sex scenes, and characters can be gender fluid.

Here’s a link to her whole post.

Ninestar also has A Dance of Water & Air by Antonia Aquilante for FREE.
If you’re into elegant fantasy stories about royalty, check this one out!
LINK

#6 Not Dead Yet (Not Dead Yet #1) by Jenn Burke
So this is the only one that’s a little more money. Not Dead Yet is on sale for $2.99, but I gotta tell you, it’s SO MUCH FUN! Worth the extra couple bucks. It’s basically a second chance at love with a snarky ghost-ish dude and a crabby vampire and oh just read it!
LINK

#7 Supernatural LGBT Love giveaway!
This is a Prolificworks giveaway with 20-some books for FREE, including books by Morgan Brice, Jordan Castillo Price, and Victoria Sue. Most – if not all – are newsletter optional, including two of my novellas. The Clockwork Monk is a gay steampunk novella that’ll eventually be part of a larger series, and Change of Heart is a f/trans-f romance set in the world of the Hours of the Night series I write with Irene Preston. This is the first time Heart has been offered for free…
LINK

#8 Rule Breaker (Mixed Messages #1) by Lily Morton
Okay so I haven’t read this one (yet) but my friend KimLicki swears it’s fantastic. I have read Lily Morton’s The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings, and it was quite good, so I’m comfortable recommending this one – in case you need more than just KimLicki’s word for it! If you like snarky romcoms with heart, this one will most definitely take you away from our new (virus-infested) reality.
LINK

#9 Catalysts (Scientific Method Universe #1) by Kris Ripper
This one’s a bit of a cheat, because it’s always FREE, but OMG the SMU books are SO GOOD! Ze calls it a “universe” because for reals, there are more than 15 official books in the series along with a bunch of freebies and spin-offs (and even more if you join zir Patreon!) If you’d like to trade reality for a kinky, hot, smart series that’ll take you a while to get through, this is your book!
LINK

#10 Perilous Trust by Barbara Freethy
This one is a bit of a departure – the only book that made the list that isn’t a gay romance. It’s a m/f romantic suspense, and while that isn’t my fave genre, this one is SO GOOD. There’s lots of action, a second-chance-at-romance plotline, and a heroine who saves the day because she’s SMART. Altogether it’s more than worth the $0.99!!
LINK

HONORABLE MENTION
Amy Jo Cousins has Off Campus (Bend or Break #1) for FREE!! This is a college-aged roommates enemies to lovers story with all the heat and a healthy helping of angst, too. Highly recommend!
LINK

HONORABLE MENTION #2
I WARNED YOU. Authors just wanna help!! To that end, Looking for Trouble by Misha Horne is FREE! This is a kinky historic slow burn and about as much of a page-turner as a 400+ page book can be!
LINK
Also, Misha made a blog post with all kinds of free/low cost ways to entertain you while you’re at home. Find it here.

There’s a little of everything in this post and I’m confident something on the list will work for you! Meanwhile, I hope you’re all well and safe and staying home and washing your hands….

Happy reading…

ALSO!! If you’re an author and have a book on sale, leave a link in the comments!!

Vive La Bibliographie!

For years now, nay decades, historians and historical fiction authors have had a tenuous relationship. Well, from my perspective, it’s the historians who have their noses out of joint; most historical fiction authors, myself included, just want to write our books.

You see, some (not all, mind you) historians see us fiction writers as encroaching on their territory and doing it a disservice. I think with the word “fiction” in our genre and “a novel” written on most of our book covers, that is just silliness. I also think the reader has to take some responsibility for understanding the difference, but perhaps I am giving people too much credit. Tudor historian John Guy found that after Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall series was published many of his current and prospective students took what they read as fact. His complaint? “The writing was so good that some people think it is true.”*

Because we are writing a (hopefully entertaining) story in addition to providing historical facts, historical novelists sometimes have to or choose to bend those facts or go outside of the historical record. One thing many of us do to make up for this is include an Author’s Note at the end of our books. In this section, which for some is only a few paragraphs, but for others can be quite lengthy and detailed, *cough*me*cough,* we explain what is true and what is not and why we changed things when we did. Other authors provide additional historical information on their websites or in their blogs. Some even include a bibliography or a brief list of sources at the back.

Ironically, it is Hilary Mantel herself, a historical fiction author who is NOT a historian, who rails loudest against this practice. She’s fine with including an Author’s Note (which she does in her own books), but draws the line at a bibliography. At the Oxford Literary Festival in 2017 she accused historical novelists of “try[ing] to burnish their credentials by affixing a bibliography.”**

[cue eye roll]

No, Dame Mantel, that is not what we are trying to do. We are trying to show that we’ve done our due diligence in making our books as historically accurate as we can. We’re trying to raise the respectability of our genre, which, not that long ago was conflated with period costume bodice-rippers that were rightfully called mere escapism. (Remind me to write a post on the history of historical fiction sometime.) But since that time, the genre has come a long way in building credibility with readers and critics and today’s authors are much more concerned with portraying time periods and places correctly, as our source lists show.

In addition, we’re providing a list of sources for those who wish to learn more or want to fact-check the book. As a reader, I LOVE the Author’s Note and am sorely disappointed if there isn’t one or little effort was put into it. As a writer, I have looked at the bibliographies of other historical fiction writers in my time period to get a sense if I am going in the right direction in my own research. These pages at the end of books serve very important purposes that cannot and should not be dismissed out of hand.

We are in no way pretending to be what we are not. Most historical novelists will freely admit to not having a PhD if that is the case. And there are a few who do have one (such as Alison Weir and Anne Fortier), so does that give them the right to include a bibliography in their books while the rest of us can’t? If that is the case, that is elitism, pure and simple. Many of us are self-taught researchers or may have been trained through courses of study besides history (English or law, perhaps) but that doesn’t mean our research is automatically of lower quality and undeserving of being documented.

It would be far worse if historical novelists a) didn’t bother to do proper research and/or b) left readers to their own devices to figure out what is true. Then you really would have historical confusion.

I could be completely wrong, but it feels like opinions like this stem from two things: an old-world us vs. them snobbery in which we novelists are seen as on a far lower plane than professors of history, and a feeling of being threatened because the average reader is more likely to read a historical fiction novel than an academic work of history.

As an author who has written both and plans to eventually get her PhD in history, I will say there is no reason for historians to feel threatened. They do what they do and we do what we do. Each has our own audience and when there is crossover, it benefits us both. But we cannot shoulder the responsibility for how our readers interpret our work alone. If they want to believe it is true all we can do is warn them it’s not and direct them to books by historians to find out what really happened–that is exactly what the bibliographies found in our books do!

I think the idea that historians somehow sit on a loftier pedestal than historical authors is a function of the insular nature of academia and will hopefully (eventually) burn itself out. It is this misguided attitude that makes it somehow okay for someone who started out as a historian to later go into historical fiction, but not for a historical novelist who lacks a PhD to ask to be taken seriously. Unless historical novelists start claiming that their books are the truth– rather than influenced by the truth–(as best that historians can interpret it; it can be argued that all of history is fiction as it is written by the victors and is often revised by memory, time and author prejudice) there is no need for us vs. them. We are both working toward the same purpose: educating a public that increasingly doesn’t give a fig about history. We just go about it in different ways.

And as for me, you can pry my bibliography (fiction or non-fiction) out of my cold, dead hands.

*Quoted in McQuin, Kristen “The Truth Is Better Than Fiction: Accuracy In Historical Fiction.“ Bookriot. March 19l 2018. https://bookriot.com/2018/03/19/accuracy-in-historical-fiction/

**Furness, Hannah. “Hilary Mantel: Women writers must stop falsely empowering female characters in history” The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/31/hilary-mantel-women-writers-must-stop-falsely-empowering-female/