Writing the Unknowns Back into History

March is Women’s History Month. As longtime readers of this blog know, women’s history is my jam, so I felt like I couldn’t let this month’s post go by without talking about it. But I want to come at it from a slightly different angle than I have before. I apologize right now if this post sounds self-serving but this is my soapbox as of late.

I’ve set myself up on a hard path as an author because I write about people no one has ever heard of. People are naturally leery of what they don’t know or understand and thus less likely to take a chance on a book whose subject they don’t already recognize. And that can be a depressing prospect when you’re trying to write a book while balancing everything else in life. However, I am committed to sticking to my mission of shedding light on the stories of unknown women.

As we are all aware, history has been written, by and large, by white men. And it has been reduced to a handful of “marquee names,” leaving out even the influence of many important white men, not to mention women and people of color. That is a tremendous loss for us and for what we believe to be true about our nation. Yes, George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Harriet Tubman are important. But much like Hollywood and its never-ending love of sequels and reboots, if we don’t contribute something new to history (or in my case historical fiction), we won’t ever learn anything new, just keep hashing the same old points over and over. Without a variety of perspectives in our history, we are looking back on a false, or at best incomplete, record.

History is anything but homogeneous, so our books about it should reflect diversity. Where are the stories of the women who supported the great men we read so much about? Where are the overlooked and uncredited women? (Hidden Figures was a great start, but there are so many more.) What about the LGBTQIA women who risked their lives by being who they were in an intolerant nation? Where are the stories of the strong women who survived natural disasters, poor harvests and plague (1918 Spanish Flu, anyone?) to go on to either do great things or just lead quiet lives? I’ve learned through my research that there are so many amazing stories that we don’t learn about in school and readers deserve the chance to know about them, too.

Every now and then an untold story breaks out. As Hamilton has shown us, there were other key men fighting for America’s independence and shaping the new nation, just as there were other people fighting for abolition, women’s suffrage and conducting the Underground Railroad. It is wonderful that we have our idols to look up to, but we shouldn’t limit our learning to just their stories. When that happens, we miss out on the rich tapestry that made our history happen. Just as it hasn’t been one person or even a council of people who have helped us get to what I hope is the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, not a single person made any other event in history happen. Thousands of people, many of them women and people of color, contributed to abolition. But we only remember the loudest handful of voices. What about everyone who supported those four or five icons or those whose stories are tread over completely in favor of the well-known names?

I believe in widening our history, not narrowing it down. I want everyone to know about the 15-year-old girl named Claudette Colvin, who refused to move to the back of the bus, months before Rosa Parks got the glory for doing the exact same thing. I want people to be riveted by the story of Ida Tarbell, the journalist who created modern investigative journalism in the early 1900s with an expose on Standard Oil, even though Julius Chambers and Nellie Bly are often credited with that feat. (I love me some Nellie Bly, don’t get me wrong, but her methods were different than Ida’s, whose are much closer to the ones still used today.) And I want people to read the stories of women of color–Black, Asian, Native American– and the spouses (gay and straight) who contributed to the women’s suffrage movement. Those stories alone would go a long way toward giving us a more complete picture of our history, of who we can and should admire and what we can do in our own lives to change the course of history.

But it is difficult to make people change. It’s easier and less risk to reach for a book about a person or from an author you already know and love. I do it just as much as the next reader. As an author, the only thing I can tell myself is to just keep going. Flood the market with as many books about unknowns as I can. And should that mean I will have to keep self-publishing and accept that I won’t ever be rich from my writing, so be it. But I can also hope that, not unlike Hamilton, one of my unknowns will take off and change everything.

New Release and ALL the Giveaways!

That cat is me this morning. I’ve got the day-before-release-day spins. There’s *this* to do and *that* to do and omg I forgot something else!! Please may I have an extra few hours today….like maybe 24 extra….?

It’s clear that I haven’t figured out how to balance the writing with all the non-writing parts of being an author. I find it awfully easy to get caught up in the networking and blog posting and promo-joining and whatnot. There’s also the editing and the formatting and the cover arting and the teaser-making. It all sucks up so much time! This last couple weeks I’ve been spending just about every free moment on something to do with publishing – and some not-so-free moments, tbh – and I haven’t written a new word in all that time.

Yikes.

But enough about me. (LOL!) You’re here for the new release and ALL the giveaways, right? I’m pretty excited about this book. It’s different from our other Irene&Liv books, but it’s still us. In a good way. Frog is part of the Royal Powers series, a shared-world series about an imaginary country on the coast between France & Spain, with two mythical royal families who also happen to possess superpowers. When they invited us to contribute, we couldn’t say no to a premise like that, and it was a whole lotta fun to play in that world.

You can find Frog HERE! It’s $3.99 or FREE with KU!

Here’s the blurb...

Spy vs Spy

Jim Calhoun and his sister Lori are just two Americans in North Abarra exploring their roots. They are definitely not off-duty CIA agents.
Enzo da Silva is the head groundskeeper on Princess Odile’s country estate. He is definitely what he seems to be – the guy who trims the hedge maze and measures oxygen levels in the national forest.
The Princess’s birthday bash is a major celebration every year. As the big day approaches, a series of accidents plague the preparations. It’s almost like someone wants things to go wrong. But it’s not as though two commoners like Jim and Enzo – with absolutely no super powers – can stop a rogue supervillian.  And if Jim and Enzo keep showing up at the same crime scenes, it’s not because they can’t keep their eyes off each other.
Definitely not.

Did I mention you can find Frog on Amazon? It’s $2.99 or FREE with KU!


To celebrate the second season of the Royal Powers series, all of the authors got together for a SUPER BIG giveaway! The prize is a $75 gift card plus books from all the authors, and you can find the rafflecopter widget HERE. (Irene and I are also running our monthly giveaway for a $10 gift card. The rafflecopter widget for that one is conveniently located on the same page.)

Click HERE to get to the GIVEAWAY!

And finally, I joined another multi-author giveaway! One lucky winner will win a bundle of prizes including 2 x $5 gift cards, 8 x backlist ebooks, 1 x swag bundle, 1 x audiocode, & a signed paperback! Here’s a list of some of the participating authors:
RJ Scott, H.L Day, Clare London, Davidson King, Susan Scott Shelley, Liv Rancourt (that’s me!), A.D. Ellis, Elle Keaton, Anne Barwell, Avery Cockburn, Mel Gough, Jay Hogan, and Elizabeth Noble.

A bunch of the authors have freebies over on bookfunnel. You can find them here!
And go here to enter to win the grand prize!!

GROUP1 twitter.jpg

Thanks so much for reading along!!

On the pursuit of dreams…

I’ve been watching a ridiculous amount of tennis. Might be a strange opening line for a writing-related blog, but hang with me for a minute. It’s Australian Open season, which is a great tournament for someone who works night shift because ESPN and the Tennis Channel broadcast the matches live. Given the 17-ish hour time difference between Seattle and Melbourne, I’ve watched some fantastic tennis at three am.

In part, I consider it research, because some day I’m going to write a tennis romance. If for no other reason than because I find Stefano Tsitsipas (above) to be so very inspiring.

Following an entire tournament if fun, too, because of all the different storylines. Early on there are so many players and so many matches. I can root for favorites, see who’s playing well and who’s fighting injury and who’s mental game has gone to Mars. Over the two weeks of the Open, the numbers drop, the tennis gets better, and the matches more intense.

Are there any young players on the men’s tour who can beat one of the Big Three (Federer, Nadal, & Djokovic)? Will Serena win her 24th major? Four of the final 16 women in the Aussie Open are American. How did we end up with so many fantastic players?

And what about Aslan Karatsev, the 27-year-old Russian qualifier who’s the first man in the Open era to reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament in his debut? Wouldn’t it be cool if he made the finals?!

The thing that fascinates me – and the element I find most intimidating when it comes to setting a story in the world of pro tennis – is the amount of focus and self-discipline it takes to reach that level. I can play tennis; well, I know which end of the racket to grab anyway, but I don’t think I’ve ever dedicated myself to anything so completely.

When I was a kid, I was on swim team, and I dreamt of making the US Olympic team. I worked my butt off in practice, but somewhere along the way (ahem, high school) I got distracted. Never made the Olympics, but I did do the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, which was a 2.8 mile race off Waikiki Beach. Finished in the top fifty women, too, so some of my discipline paid off.

Later, once I found my feet as an adult, I decided I wanted to sing. I studied voice and sang in choirs and with bands, everything from the blues and rock to Mozart and Gregorian chant. When I brought my oldest kid to the pediatrician for the first time, I asked about bringing a baby to band practice. I did, too, both kids, protecting their ears with wax earplugs held in place by headbands. I’ve also known the unique pleasure of stepping onto the church altar to sing a little Renaissance Christmas ditty with a trio, only to see my then-three-year-old engage in some experimental dance between the altar and the first row of church pews.

I might never have made the finals of American Idol, but over the years I learned a lot about myself, and a lot about music.

And for my next trick...

I always knew I wanted to be an author, and about ten years ago I decided I better get my act together or it was never gonna happen. You might have heard this story already, so I won’t go into too much detail. I started writing, studying how to write, going to conferences, taking classes, and connecting with other authors. I published my first book just about nine years ago and my next release – a novella I co-wrote with Irene Preston – will be number eighteen.

I might not have the level of dedication required to play tennis on an international stage, but making the New York Times bestseller list isn’t completely out of reach. Honestly, though, I seem to have put together a pretty decent life without actually getting what I think I want.

There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere...


This is my first blog post since August, and I’m SO happy to be back with the Scribes!! I’ve had two recent releases and Irene and I have a new one coming in early March, so I thought I’d share the pretty covers. Well, two pretty covers and a teaser.

So much paranormal fun…

There’s nothing scarier than the truth…

Find HARROWED here!

Fusing copper, gold, and moonlight creates the strongest bond.

Find SOULMATES here!

Me n’ Irene are still keeping secrets. Join our readers group, After Hours with Liv & Irene, for more details!

Annnd We’re Back!

Blessed Imbolc, friends. And welcome back!

It’s been a minute since we at the Spellbound Scribes’ Blog have crept into your web history, but all of us are happy to be back and are so grateful if you’ve come back to join us.

We each had reasons we needed the break when we closed the blog at the beginning of September and, when I wrote that post, I was in a very dark place, myself. Things in mine and my partner’s lives had been turned upside down and we were kind of drowning at the time. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I could see into the different timelines, depending on which way things went, and so many of them were very scary and stressful. Sadly and not sadly, I was right and we went through some of the toughest months of our lives.

We lost our home, nearly lost our business, lost family members, all while trying to avoid the actual plague our world is fighting.

But. Five months to the day that we got the news our world was turned upside down, we landed on our feet. Or we swam up out of the abyss. Broke through the rubble and climbed to the top. Take whatever imagery you like, we made it to the other side. And, if I’m being honest, there’s a very good chance that this might have been one of the best things to happen to us. Check back with me in a year and we’ll see if that prediction comes true.

Imbolc is a time of renewal, the celebration of making it through the darkness and the light returning back to the world. It is so appropriate for our situation to finally be settled right as this moment turns on the wheel.

I know this is supposed to be a writing blog and me talking about my life and our world finally finding some normalcy doesn’t seem appropriate, but we’re all people first and I think it’s important to know that we all go through troubles. When we’re seeing people’s lives or careers online, it can look like their world is perfect and we have no idea what’s going on behind the screen. And it makes us question our own lives, comparing ourselves to what we see and feeling like a failure. I had to completely shut down my online presence to get through the last couple of months and it wasn’t because I didn’t want people to not know things aren’t always perfect for me and mine. It was a survival tactic. But I was so touched to have friends reach out to me to find out where I’d gone and wanting to know if I was okay.

And now I really am doing okay. In fact, I’ve even opened up the manuscript I started working on for NaNo ’19 that I’d shelved when the pandemic started and you know what? I don’t hate it. I might actually start writing again and finish the damn thing. I cannot tell you what a monumental moment that was for me to realize I might want to start writing again so soon. But I do.

If you’ve been around for a while you know that I’ve posted about how many words I’ve written over the course of my writing career. So maybe you thought I was able to write through all the turmoil. Maybe you thought I could just push through the chaos and keep working. I mean, that’s what it probably looked like. You saw people posting like their lives and quarantines were going great, right? All sourdough starters and puppy adoptions. But there you are in your tattered sweatpants not getting a damn thing done. Because you were depressed. Because you were tired. Because you were scared. Because you were uninspired. Because. Because. Because. Whatever it was. And how many times did you see that meme about what Shakespeare got done during his apocalypse?

You know what?

Fuck all that noise.

Maybe you wrote your life-changing project. Maybe you did jack all like most some of us. Either way, you did exactly what you were supposed to.

I didn’t get anything written and I’m okay with that. I’m going to start again. I’ve done it before so I know I can do it again. And so can you. If you’re not ready yet, that’s okay too. The words will always be waiting.

And I’m so glad you were waiting for us. We’re here for you once again.

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