Music Makes Me Write

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Perfect First Line

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

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

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

Use vivid imagery

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

“A screaming comes across the sky.”

Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon

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

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

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

The Gunslinger, by Stephen King

Introduce a theme that begs further explanation

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

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

The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Introduce a character’s unique voice

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

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

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

Play with time

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

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

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Make your reader laugh

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

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

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

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

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

I Have An Idea

If you’ve been following along with my writing saga for the past year, you know I’ve been struggling to figure out a new book idea or even just to get inspired to start writing again after writing so much so fast for so long.

I’m a big believer in refilling your well and rewarding yourself for milestones so it doesn’t just feel like an endless trudge through the words, from one book to the next. It’s really hard to be a writer, especially a self-published writer, because you really are the only thing that keeps you go. Yes, if you have a contract with a publishing company, you have agreements to meet, but sometimes that’s not enough to inspire someone.

For me, I’ve been struggling to find that spark again. I started working on a new book last NaNo, and I won NaNo with it, but that’s been it. I’ve only gotten to the 50k word mark. I had to walk away from it and when I came back, I had to re-read the whole thing and make some notes, but no new words have happened. And the weird thing is, I like this book idea. But I do think, maybe I have too much going on in the book? I may be trying to make a salad out of it and I need to pull back. I dunno. But, like I said, I like the book, but I haven’t been able to figure out why I can’t finish it.

So I took a break. I’ve blogged about this. And, of course, the end of the world happened and, while that should have given me plenty of time to write, being inspired when you’re stressed the fuck out, isn’t easy. So I haven’t finish it.

And every time I think things are getting back to normal and maybe I can start working again, things in our state change and I’m back to no spare bandwidth to write.

But then, last week, I got an idea.

A new character walked into my mind and glared at me.

I don’t know her name yet. But I do know what she is. I do know what she is doing. I do know she’s interesting.

And I want to write her story.

The idea is super new and fragile right now. I have no idea what the point of the book is, other than following this character around and writing down what she’s doing, but it has sparked something inside of me. I haven’t tried to figure out her name yet. I think I actually already have her playlist built (maybe she’s been forming for a while). I don’t know what the Big Bad is, or if she’s the Big Bad (!). But I know that the idea is really cool and different than what I’ve done so far.

So, what is the point of this post? Maybe it’s to inspire you if you’ve been beating your head against a block wall because you haven’t been able to write or even think of an idea to write about. Maybe it’s to remind me that, when I thought maybe I’d run out of ideas, there is still some water in the well to draw from. I don’t know. But I’m excited.

This idea is both dark and shiny. Like a glittering, black diamond. It’s precious and formed over a long time and under great pressure and I’m clutching it close and going over every pane trying to figure it out as it mesmerizes me.

But I’m not going to rush it. I know, based on my past experiences, I can’t go too slow–once I have an idea, I need to keep up with the urgency to tell the story or I’ll lose it–but I’m not going to kill myself trying to get the outline written in a few days and then start pumping out thousands of words a day. I’m going to sit with this idea until I know where it’s going, what’s at the climax of the story, then I’m going to start working on it.

I don’t know if that means I’ll start writing soon or sometime next month. But if you’re struggling, I’m here to tell you to breathe and let the ideas come to you when they’re ready. Or when you’re ready. I was really trying to force it and it just wasn’t working. That’s how I got to my first series, now that I think about it. I was trying for a long time to force one story out of me, but I couldn’t get it to take off. When I finally let it go, I was able to write almost 10k words of my first book in one sitting. No, I don’t recommend doing that. But it was one of my first self-lessons in writing and I’ve clearly forgotten that.

The right idea will come to you if you let.

It is so hard to let go of stories we’ve started. Trunk novels hurt too (I’ve got one of those during this time too). Time not writing sucks. But sometimes we gotta go through all of this to finally be able to say, “I have an idea.”

Using current events in fiction.

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

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

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

And it’s….awkward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good questions.

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

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

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

And wash your hands.

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

What’s In A Name?

Oh, naming. You fickle beast. I want to cuddle you close yet curse you to the ends of time. For you have caused me many a sleepless night.

Naming people, places, and things in my writing is an interesting element of my work, in that it’s really important to me. Now, I happen to know this isn’t the case for all authors. Some writers name their main character Emma, name the love interest Jack, have them go to Ridgeview High, and get on with it. (There is, of course, nothing wrong with any of these names–they’re solid, straightforward names and I respect and envy them.) I know other authors who don’t bother naming their characters or places anything at all in their first drafts, simply using X, Y and Z and filling everything in later. (This is some chaotic evil energy, if you ask me, which no one did.)

Neither of these methods work for me. In my writing, a character’s name is integral to who they are–how they grew up, how they see themselves, how others see them, where they’re from, what they believe in, et cetera. To name them something offhand would be to deprive me of insight into their character, and to name them nothing at all would be chaotic evil. (I’m a true neutral, okay?) And although not quite as important as character names, naming places and things is also really important to me. As a fantasy author, I believe place names should evoke the story’s aesthetic, world-building, and possibly even give hints about the history and purpose of a place. Objects should be named in a similar vein. (For example, Excalibur has a real ring to it. That Sword Over There really doesn’t.)

The problem is, I’m kind of terrible at naming, well, anything. With character names, I usually have a sense of what kind of sound or feeling I’m trying to evoke–for a healer, I’d want something soft and lyrical, while for a warrior, I’d go for something stronger and sharper. But that’s usually all I have to go on. And not just any name will do–I need the right name. A name I’ll only know is right when I hear it. A name I need to know before I can even start writing.

Place and object names are even worse. For some reason, my creative brain leaves me totally in the lurch when it comes to these, and I go wayyyy too literal. If there’s a place where people gather, you know I want to call it the Gathering Place. A sword with a destiny? Sword of Destiny it is.

So, I’ve developed a process. Since character names are most important to me, I usually start with online baby name lists. (Nameberry is my go to, although it’s only one of many.) You can usually sort these lists by gender, style, popularity, and sometimes geography. This helps me narrow down what I’m looking for, and what I’m definitely not looking for. Sometimes I even find a few unicorn names here!

Then, I move on to random name generators. I quite like this Character Name Generator, which allows you to sort by Language, Gods, Archetype, et cetera. As a fantasy author, this really starts to get my gears turning, and even if I don’t find the exact name I’m looking for, it often inspires me.

But my favorite all-time naming tool is Fantasy Name Generators. Seriously, this site has everything! No matter what you’re trying to name–Dwarf, Motel, Motorcycle Gang–this site probably has a generator for that category. My only caveat for using this site, is that sometimes the names generated are quite silly! I’ve had more than a few good laughs while playing around here (no, I’m not going to name my fantasy character’s horse Malibu.) But that said, I’ve found it’s the absolute best at getting my own naming gears turning in the right direction. Even if I don’t use the precise suggestions from the generator, variations and similar names have definitely wound up in both my published and unpublished works!

In my opinion, that which we call a rose by any other name would not smell so sweet. So if anyone needs me, I’ll be over here naming the leaders of my Barbarian Horde Ulskath and Hirtmaurbes. Or, y’know, something along those lines.

Do you have trouble naming character, places, or things? What tools do you use for inspo? Share your thoughts below!

Covid Confinement Story Time — Part 2

Hello my friends. Last time we talked it was April 2, 2020 and we were fresh into the lock down–at least compared to where we are today. I don’t know about you, but twenty odd days later and this is starting to feel a little more normal for me.

Not a lot has changed, except just getting use to things, I suppose. Still go to the store all masked-up, still get excited to find things that I used to take for granted. Still debating about saving as many pennies as we can versus getting take-out from our favorite restaurants. Still watching all the shows, and yet, some how not. Still not sleeping as well as I should be, but the nightmares aren’t as often as they used to be. Still vacillating between rolling my eyes at thew news and screaming at the TV–or just shutting it off and taking it in small doses through articles online.

So I hope you too are finding a new rhythm in this apocalypse. I realize it’s about time for me to go back to the store to replenish our food and I’m not exactly excited to do that. I sort of understand the bulk-buyers as much as I sneer at them. You don’t want to have to keep going back but you don’t want to be an asshole either.

Anyway. Last we talked I’d told you I was reading chapters of my apocalyptic book, WORLD OF ASH, and I still am. We’re on target to finish next Thursday so you have time to catch up and join in. I’m going to link the chapters below and the ways you can watch and listen.

Chapter 1 Facebook

Chapter 2 & 3 Facebook

Chapter 4 & 5 Facebook

Chapter 6 Facebook

Chapter 7 & 8 Facebook

Chapter 7 Instagram

Chapter 8 Instagram

Chapter 9 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 10 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 11 Facebook || Instagram part 1 || Instagram part 2

Chapter 12 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 13 Facebook || Instagram part 1 || Instagram part 2

Chapter 14 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 15 Facebook || Instagram Part 1 || Instagram Part 2

Chapter 16 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 17 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 18 Facebook || Instagram Part 1 || Instagram Part 2

Chapter 19 Facebook || Instagram Part 1 || Instagram Part 2

Chapter 20 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 21 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 22 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 23 Facebook || Instagram Part 1 || Instagram Part 2

Chapter 24 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 25 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 26 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 27 Facebook || Instagram Part 1 || Instagram Part 2

Chapter 28 Facebook || Instagram

And Now For Something Completely Different

In the spirit of my fellow Scribes eschewing too much discussion of the Virus-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, I thought today I’d talk a little about my work in progress! You can maybe guess from the title of this blog post that what I’m working on is wayyyy out of my wheelhouse, which has been challenging, but also, fun!

At the beginning of the year I was working on some spec pages for a dark, gritty, and seriously fantastical project involving witches and old gods and necromancy. I sent those pages off to my agent just a few short weeks before things started getting kind of dark and gritty in the real world. And then I sat around twiddling my thumbs for longer than I care to admit, not sure what to work on. I had a few new projects I was outlining, but most of them were very much in line with what I usually like to write–angst-ridden atmospheric fantasies with scary high stakes. And for whatever reason, none of them felt like the right story in the time of corona.

So I decided to take a chance on a whim of an idea I hadn’t given much thought to. It actually started as a joke–one lazy Sunday afternoon a few months ago, I was complaining to my husband about bad reviews. We started making up the worst reviews we could think of, and I jokingly said that one of these days–as a form of authorly catharsis–I was going to write a main character who loved writing bad reviews. You know the kind of reviewer I mean–one who just loves to hate on things.

I genuinely meant it in jest–I had no story, no plot, no world prepared for my mean-spirited reviewer! But like so many book ideas, that kernel of a notion had already wormed its way into the little corner of my brain that raises plot bunnies for a living. And one by one, those lacking elements started falling into place. It would be set in the present-ish day, in our world (my reviewer would need technology to spread her scathing gospel). It would be YA, and set at a posh prep school (any other Gossip Girl addicts out there?). And finally, it would OF COURSE be a hate-to-love romance, because character growth (and I love a good trope). Basically, I wanted wish-fulfillment

But then I got cold feet. I’ve written six full length novels and countless partials, and none of them–not a single one–could be considered even loosely contemporary. Okay, so one of them took place in our present, but only for the first two chapters until the main character discovered magic and got swept away into a fantasy adventure. And another thing–no book I’d ever written lacked magic. None of them. Was I even capable of writing a book without spells or illusions or monsters or powers?

And then I decided I didn’t care. I could either keep staring at outlines of books I wasn’t in the mood to write, or I could jump head-first into a totally different project that was demanding to be written. And honestly, it’s been fun. It hasn’t been easy–I won’t go that far–but getting out of my comfort zone and writing something a little light, a little fluffy, a little snarky, and a little romantic has been just what I needed to get me out of my slump.

What are you working on in these challenging times? Let me know in the comment section!

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.

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.)