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!!

Creating Outside of Writing

We maintain this blog to talk about the art and craft and work of writing. You, presumably, come here to read about that. But today I’m going to talk to you about when you’re not writing.

A lot of time, no matter how far you may be into your writing career, we often feel guilty when we take time off of writing. And no matter how often we tell each other that taking time off is not only okay, it’s necessary, we struggle to take that to heart when it applies to us. I can tell my writing friends they deserve time off, that we all need to decompress, go get yourself a little water for that well, but when I’m taking time off I have to keep saying, “It’s okay. You deserve this.”

But I don’t always feel like that’s true.

It is true. It’s as true for me as it is for you. But my guilt doesn’t care about true and fairness.

So, if you struggle with that as much as I do, when you do take time off from writing, make it worth it. Have it fill your well. Your well is that source of creativity inside of you–your well of inspiration. Think of it as a literal well from which you drink, but it doesn’t have a natural source refilling it–you have to refill it from time to time.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have been struggling to work on my new project and I finally accepted the fact that I needed to step away from it and reconsider what I’m going to do. But I needed to do something creative to fill the space not writing has left.

So, over the last 3-4 weeks, I’ve been working with my hands. My husband and I have been doing a major (for us) landscaping project. We have limited outdoor space and we’ve been trying over the years to make it into something that we can really enjoy but, because of the odd placement, the way the sun hits it, a bunch of other factors, everything we’ve tried has eventually failed. It’s succumbed to poor planning, weeds, the drought, etc.

We decided this time we were going to do it right. I knew the reason we hadn’t done it “right” before was because it was going to be so hard. Like, physically hard. Hard, back breaking work. And I was right; it has been painfully hard.

We’ve torn down the termite damaged wooden structure. Shoveled at least a dozen wheel-barrels full of dirt. Dug out massive, hidden chunks of cement. Built garden boxes. Dug a 3.5 foot post hole and cemented a new post in. Spent long hours into last Saturday night laying out 35 sixty pound pavers. And we’re still not done. The good news is, we’re done with the heavy labor. The stuff that made my back and hands ache for days, it’s all done. We’re down to small things, like making it pretty, and building a bench to finish it. Not easy, necessarily, but not 35 sixty pound pavers either.

I made it a point to pull equal weight to my husband–not leaving all the hard, heavy things for him to do. Yes, he definitely lifted more pavers than I did, but I made sure I shoveled more dirt than he did. I wanted this to be an even division of labor. When I sit out there with a cup of coffee and my outline, I want to feel the same amount of accomplishment as he will.

And, Sunday morning, when we woke up and walked outside to get a good look at what we’d finished the night before in the light of day, I finally felt relief. We’d done something and we could actually see the progress finally. It was the same feeling I get when I get hit the 3/4 mark in a manuscript. It’s not quite done, but damn, I have made it through the difficult parts and the end is in sight. And, if I focus, I know I can finish the last couple of chapters fast and furiously.

We did hit a roadblock and an idea we had to make it pretty completely crashed and burned. And I was really upset about it. It wasn’t an expensive letdown but it was something we’d put a lot of time into and it just didn’t workout and all I could think about was all that time and energy wasted. But that’s something we face in writing all the time. Sometimes you write a whole book only to realize at the end, that book isn’t going to be published. It wasn’t right or good or something. But we have to put it in a drawer and let it go and start something new. So I let that frustration go, tossed the ruined materials and marched back down to the hardware store today and got new supplies. And you know what? This is going to be 100% better than that scrapped idea and now I know that. In all actuality, I couldn’t have known our first idea wasn’t going to work until we tried it. Which, again, is a lot like figuring out a book. All you can do is try and fail and try again until you figure it out and get it right.

I don’t know for sure, but something in my gut is telling me, when this project is done, I might be able to get back to the book. I’ve been thinking about it more and more and with less dread and disappointment. Maybe doing something creative and difficult that wasn’t writing was just the thing I needed to unblock my water source. Maybe my well is filling back up. Or maybe I needed to be reminded that I can create things from scratch so I can do it again.

So if you’re stuck, maybe do something else with your creativity. Create something else, watch it form from your hands, and remember you’re an amazing artist who deserves time away from the pages and keys and voices. Quell that guilt.

(And yes, I have been taking progress pictures, I just haven’t posted them. I want the whole thing done before I post anything so you really get the full effect of the transformation.)

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/

Writing outside my lane

Image from Unsplash.

So I did something sneaky. In this year’s New Years Resolution post, I only listed ONE action item:

I hereby resolve to use my planner.

When it comes to the planner, so far so good. The “sneaky” part comes from what I didn’t say, the one or two other ideas I didn’t share.

For instance, I vowed to take a writing class, something I’d have to commit to and that I’d learn from. I kept that resolution secret, a little something just between me and my laptop because I didn’t have a firm plan at New Years. In early January, however, I stumbled over something good.

I found Writing the Other: Deep Dive into Diverse Characters, which is a month-long class given by Nisi Shawl, Tempest Bradford, and Piper J. Drake.

The foundation for this course is the book Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl. (I’ve linked to Amazon but it’s available from B&N and the publisher as well.) The course teaches character development through a framework that strives to avoid stereotypes and offensive characterizations when working with characters of different gender, race, &/or orientation.

Here’s a bit from the course description:

Representation is fundamental to writing great fiction. Creating characters that reflect of the diversity of the world we all live in is important for all writers and creators of fictional narratives. But writers often find it difficult to represent people whose gender, sexual orientation, racial heritage, or other aspect of identity is very different from their own. This can lead to fear of getting it wrong–horribly, offensively wrong–and, in the face of that, some think it’s better to not even try.

But representation is too important to ignore. And it is possible to write characters who represent the “Other” sensitively and convincingly. This four week course will provide authors  with a solid foundation in how to craft characters from any background, no matter how different they are from you.

I’m sharing all of this both because I’ve learned a lot so far and because growing my skill at writing outside my own experience is a crucial part of my development. I’ve published nine novels/novellas with gay or queer protagonists, so I’m working outside my lane all the damned time. I need to make sure I’m not stepping on people’s toes – or damaging their sense of self – when I do.

We’re only halfway through the class, and so far I have a couple of take-homes. First, I think some – possibly younger – people are a lot more comfortable with labels than I am. In the course introduction, we were asked to share how we fit the dominant paradigm and where we differed from it.

All my intro said was “I am the dominant paradigm.”

I’m a cis-het white woman with no chronic health or emotional issues. I’m neurotypical and I’ve never I experimented with alternative lifestyles or genders. Compared with most of the other intros, mine was SHORT.

Having the language to identify yourself as queer or neurodivergent and the comfort level to share ongoing mental health challenges is a truly beautiful change in our culture. I grew up with a much more limited vocabulary:

You were straight or (whispers) gay, a boy or a girl, and if you felt bad you went to a therapist but you damned well didn’t talk about it.

My theory – based on observation alone – is that it’s a generational thing, but I could be wrong. Either way, I count it as progress.

The other take-home from the course has to do with the how of it. How does an author avoid creating hurtful characters?

Do your homework.
Ask yourself honestly if you’re the best person to write this story.
Diversity is important, but I’d be very careful of writing a PoC character where the story was about their experience as a PoC. You’re not here to save anyone.
Get to know people who belong to the group you’re drawing from.
Read and research, looking specifically for works created by group members, not by others writing “authoritatively” about them.

Hire a sensitivity reader.
Although it’s not one person’s job to speak for the many, a good sensitivity reader can help you avoid the most obvious pitfalls.

Respond to feedback with an apology and a promise to change.
Because you’ll make mistakes. I sure as hell have. In one of her comments, Tempest said their goal is harm reduction, and that’s about all I can hope for.

Taking this course has slowed down my word-count, but it’s time well spent. I choose to write outside my lane for a complex mix of reasons, but since I’ve made this choice, I want to do the very best job I can.

I don’t want people hurt by the stories that come from my heart.

Here’s another link to the Writing the Other website. In addition to the Deep Dive course, they have a number of different offerings that I encourage you to check out.

Silence Hurts

As a rule, I stay out of the comments. You know, the chunks of opinion that follow most on-line articles, left by concerned and thoughtful citizens.

Or by trolls.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference.

Over the last month, I’ve generalized that “no comments” standard to the active forums on the RWA website. (RWA = Romance Writers of America, one of the largest writer’s organizations in the country.)

See, exactly one month ago today, on 12/23/19, RWA censured & suspended author Courtney Milan, charging her with ethics violations and suspending her membership for a year. They also banned her from ever again holding a leadership position in the organization.

Now, some backstory…

Courtney has a long history with RWA. She’s a past board member, and at the time the ethics complaints against her were filed, she was the head of the ethics committee. She also received an award at last year’s national conference for the work she’d done promoting diversity in the organization.

She also has a huge social media following, and if the RWA board thought they could drop their little bombshell and sneak away for the holidays without anyone noticing, they were…um…wrong.

To say the shit hit the fan might be one of the biggest understatements of all time.

The board said that Courtney had violated RWAs standards by calling out a 20 year old book as a “fucking racist mess”. They said her critique caused the other author to lose a book contract, which simplifies things a great deal and is also simply wrong.

For a hit-by-hit look at how this last month has gone down, Claire Ryan has put together a timeline that is absolutely worth the read. For a nuanced look at why this has all happened, Kelly Faircloth’s article at Jezebel is a good source.

The underlying issue is racism, something RWA has been wrestling with for the last several years. (In April of 2018 I blogged about the #ritasowhite kerfufle involving the RITA Awards, RWA’s version of the Oscars. At the time, no black authors had ever won a RITA.) The RWA Board that took over in September ’19 was the most diverse in the organization’s history, which a lot of us took as a good sign. Progress made. Go us.

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Which brings me back to the forums. They’re a mechanism for discussion, a private place where RWA members can exchange views. Things can get pretty heated, and whether intentional or not, a number of my RWA colleagues have let their racist flags fly.

It’s a testament to my own privilege that I was able to say, “nope, not looking” when I started to hear how awful some of the comments were.

It’s also a testament to my privilege that I can say “yeah, don’t need ’em” and plan to let my membership lapse.

I’ve spent the last two years as treasurer for the Rainbow Romance Writers chapter of RWA, an on-line chapter that supports writers of diverse romance in learning their craft and in having a place to network. Our membership is predominately white, and while the board wanted to give queer authors of color a safe place, I’m not sure how close we came to accomplishing that goal.

Wrestling with my own internalized racism is difficult, whether in the context of a wider organization or in my daily life. I could have followed those forum conversations and added my voice to the chorus of people who were willing to take a stand and call out those who were being shitty.

Instead, I’m writing a blog post. Again. Encouraging you all to look for books by diverse authors to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. To speak out.

I’m listening.

(Here’s a link to the WOC Romance website book list to get you started.)

Writing with Anxiety

It has taken me over twenty five hours to finally write this post. The beginning of 2020 has been quite stressful for my household, especially after we thought this month, this new year, was going to be the start of a better year. We were confident that we were going to start this year feeling good, more secure, like the ground under our feet was going to stop shifting. Turns out, we were wrong. I think everything is going to be okay, but this past week has been particularly hard for us. Lots of surprises we weren’t prepared for and we had to make some difficult adjustments to make things work. Plans had to change. Things aren’t starting off how we wanted.

So yesterday, when I sat down to write this post, things hadn’t yet resolved themselves and I was actually shaking with anxiety. My body felt like I was vibrating. I was sitting through my own personal earthquake and the ground wouldn’t settle.

Monday I’d started the day off feeling pretty secure. Those surprises hadn’t hit yet. So I was feeling pretty good about getting back to the novel I’d started during NaNo. I’d taken the holidays off and given myself time to think about the book and where it was going. I’d written to the end of the outline I’d had done and knew I couldn’t move forward until I finished the outline or, at least, gotten a few more chapters outlined. I finished reading the first 50k words and felt a lot better about how the book was shaping up, realizing it wasn’t as meandering and stretched out as I thought. Tuesdays morning I outlined two chapters.

I know two chapters doesn’t sound like a lot, but I outline in long form, by hand.

See? That takes a toll on my hands nowadays. I don’t know how I used to outline five chapters in a day without my hand killing me. But anyway. I was really happy with my new progress. I thought, hell, if I can outline two chapters a day, in five days I’ll have ten chapters ready to write!

Then new surprises exploded in our email and what we thought was going to be a calm month turned into panic and uncertainty. My stomach knotted up and I couldn’t focus on work anymore. I’d have to be okay with those two chapters while I tried to deal with new issues. My anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t really focus on anything. I couldn’t calm down. I looked calm. Oh, I can look calm like the best of them. But inside? My heart is palpating. My breath isn’t smooth. My arms feel like they’re shaking. It’s like I’m really fucking cold and can’t stop shivering. But you wouldn’t know it to look at me. I can go through the motions like a champ.

I knew things wouldn’t be settled until late morning Wednesday. And, until that happened, my anxiety brain would not calm down. Anxiety is like having nervous cat living inside you. You can try to calm it, give it warmth, sustenance, a place to curl up and relax, but any small movement, any unfamiliar noise, and you set it off and its claws are in the curtains and it is spitting and hissing without warning.

I had work to do though, work I couldn’t ignore. I had a client in the morning and I needed to get this post written. Having someone face-to-face was helpful because I had to deal with them and couldn’t dwell, waiting for news that the ground wasn’t moving anymore. But as soon as they were gone, I was left in the quiet and that cat was shaking and growling low.

Write my post. That’ll help. But no. I sat at my desk and stared, my arms still trembling and feeling like I was sitting in a freezer. Just waiting for a phone call that would tell me if things were gonna be semi okay and not just all out terrible. We were hoping the month was going to be good and now I was praying for semi okay.

I couldn’t write my post. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I actually wanted to post about NaNo and what to do now, but I couldn’t think of what I wanted to say. I looked at my outline and wanted to get the next chapter done. I couldn’t. The characters couldn’t be heard over the growling cat. I was stuck in an anxiety trap. My mind wasn’t racing like it will when I try to go to sleep. I wasn’t thinking of all the disastrous things that could and might happen—though any time something showed up in my email I assumed the worst. I wasn’t crying or balled into a corner. I was just sitting here, right where I am now, and trembling. Waiting.

Anxiety is a monster that can do many things. It can steal your energy. It can steal your happiness. It can make you angry or sad or panicked. Anxiety demands attention like a bank robber with a gun. And even if your rational brain is telling you things are going to be okay and you work things out in your head, anxiety can hold on, claws sunk so deep there’s no pulling them out until the cat is ready to retract.

But now, here I am, nearly 1000 words into this post, and no longer shaking. Things are different than what I hoped and expected in the beginning of the month, but we’re semi okay and I can suddenly move my fingers on the keys and think about this post. And my outline is waiting for me and my characters are still there, ready when I am.

I used to be a write every day kind of person, only taking one or two days off on the weekends. I was terrified of losing momentum once I started writing a book. If I took too much time off, I was scared I’d struggle to start again. And you know what? I was right. It is very, very hard to start back up. And shit like this week happens that totally derails me and I think, if only I’d been working I’d be further along than where I am and wouldn’t feel so shitty about being derailed. But it’s okay. The words will always be there when you’re ready and able to come back. It took me a long, long time to reconcile that in my head. The write like you’re afraid you’ll die before you finish served me really well these last few years, but now, things have changed and so have I. My anxiety is actually a lot worse than it used to be and I’m having to always learn how to listen to it, deal with it, and adjust for it.

If you need the break because you don’t have a choice because that cat’s claws are sunk so deep you’ll just shred yourself trying to remove them, just wait. Let the cat calm down and retract the claws. Your characters, your words, your abilities will still be there when you come back. Not everyone can work in chaos and despair, not everyone’s art flourishes in the dark, and that’s okay. Wait for the sun.

And, if you suffer from anxiety, and reading this post triggered you, let me leave with you a picture of adorable sleeping pups, using the same pillow to try to calm you back down. I highly recommend a cuddly pet if you have anxiety, btw.

On Curse Words and Book Covers

I read an article a few weeks ago–I think it was in Publisher’s Weekly, but of course now I can’t find it–bemoaning the use of curse words on book covers as a new trend. Here’s a similar one. That got me to thinking of the use of curse words in our society in general. Language, for all its shared value for its speakers, is a very personal and subjective thing. Fair warning: I will likely contradict myself a few times in this post because I have mixed feelings on the subject.

First of all – yes, I am a frequent user of curse words in real life. I have a mouth like a sailor. My good friend Lee finally helped me embrace the F word a few years ago. And thanks to Chuck Wendig (a damn fine writer, I must say – he has a book Called Damn Fine Book, so it’s a joke, see what I did there?) I am a much more creative cusser. (If you can handle profanity, check out his blog. He is awesome – and his books really are great.)

To me, at this point in my life, curse words are words like any other, not good or bad, right or wrong, just with a little more color and emphasis than others — like an adjective or other modifier. I don’t think it has anything to do with a lack of creativity or vocabulary; I have both in spades. For me, some of it is habit and some of it might be laziness, but other times it is spice. Like I want to add a little extra emphasis to what I am saying. But also I curse without really thinking. I can, however, hold myself back at work, in professional writer settings, and when there are kids present (if I realize they are there, of course).

Funny thing is, I try not to curse online. (Except for the occasional FFS, which I don’t spell out. If you know what it means, that’s fine. If you don’t, you wouldn’t even know I was cussing.) It’s just not part of my brand. (It is for Chuck and he incorporates it well.) I don’t want to alienate people or look unprofessional, either. I guess my brand might be a little more straight-laced than I really am outside of book world.

But yet, there is cussing in my one contemporary book, and sometimes historical curse words in my historicals. Go figure. Why? It feels more authentic to me, to my experience of life. Obviously if I was writing a Christian or clean book/romance I wouldn’t use it because it’s not what the reader expects to see. But outside of those markets, I think people are pretty immune to it in daily conversation, especially since you see it on TV now. (I will admit that even I had to get used to the number of F bombs when I was watching Entourage. About those contradictions?)

Do I think it belongs on book covers? In rare instances, yes. I mean Go the F*** to Sleep is a perfect title. I’m not even a parent and I know that–because it’s how you feel. But I don’t suddenly want to start seeing it all over the place. For one, it’s mostly done for shock value and to get people talking, which is disingenuous. It’s like being a Shock Jock was in the 80s and 90s. Do it to get attention and seem cool.

For another, you don’t know who is seeing that title and as I mentioned, some people get offended by cussing and/or don’t want their little ones exposed to it. Sometimes it seems like being yelled at, and God knows we have enough of that in our world already.

And there are levels to swearing, too. In general, a D or S word is less offensive than an F word, which is still better than calling a woman the C word. But that is my system. What if yours isn’t the same? Who says what is acceptable and what isn’t? How far is too far?

But I also think society in general isn’t ready for it. A lot of people still have a Victorian mindset to cussing and would find it rude at best and downright vulgar at worst. I bought a book on feminism in the 90s a while back called 90s Bitch and I was a little uncomfortable with the title, even though I know it is a nod to third wave feminism, which took place in the 90s/early 2000s and partially focused on reclaiming words like “bitch” and “slut.” So the title had meaning, but it still wasn’t necessary to me.

Maybe that’s my point. When the word is necessary–like in Go the F*** to Sleep, somehow Go the Hell/Heck to Sleep just doesn’t have the same punch–then I think it is fine. But when it is just there because they can (like many examples in the article I linked to above), it still feels crass.

I know, I know, why is it okay for me to cuss with impunity, but yet I get offended by it in a book title? I told you I would contradict myself.

I think some of it is also a matter of choice. I have made the choice to cuss. But I will try not to do it around you if I know you don’t like it. However, when it is in a book title, I have no choice in the matter; it is just there. And often THERE because the publisher/author is trying to make a point, even if it is only “look how subversive I am.” And that is just stupid.

Quite frankly, most cussing isn’t used in a very nice way either. Here I am differentiating between when you cuss out of emphasis–like when you stub your toe or  say “s***, man” to something bad someone just revealed–and when you cuss to call someone a name or really to be mean. Our world has so much negativity already (which is behind a lot of the aforementioned yelling) why would you needlessly put more out there, much less broadcast it on the cover of a book?

I know, you could say I contribute to the negativity in the world by choosing to cuss in my daily life, and maybe I do. I never said I was f***ing perfect or that I have all the answers.