Sometimes the world intrudes on my writing. I have problems with intrusive thoughts as it is, but current events often affect what happens in my stories. In this case, I’m not talking about the themes or the outline for the plot. It’s nothing as on the nose as that. (Although I certainly draw from the world’s problems when I create.)
I mean when I’m angry, characters tend to die or get beaten up. I’m writing the sequel to my dark m/m paranormal romance, Carillon’s Curse, right now and my irascible lawman main character, Hadrian, is pretty much punching all of the side characters. I realized today that I have three scenes where he’s punching people.
I’ll have to cut some of this when I do the initial edit. It’s repetitious. I know why I’m doing it, though. He’s a tough guy, and I’m using him as my righteous instrument to release my anger and frustration.
Meanwhile, Thomas isn’t doing well. He’s my sensitive main character in this book. I think of him as the soul of it. He, I guess, is representing my pain. Hadrian is defending him. It’s how I’m feeling right now. Guarded. An artichoke. The thorny outer layer protecting the soft core.
Writing is a strange thing. A blessing and a curse. It eases my anxiety and vexes me at the same time. It’s a balm, yet it creates its own wounds. On the artichoke days, however, it’s the thing that keeps me going and saves me from punching people. I have Hadrian for that.
Something I haven’t talked about on this blog is my ongoing transition. I wrote a post a few years ago about being genderqueer. While being genderqueer or non-binary are perfectly wonderful identities, I realized during the height of the pandemic in 2020 that I had merely used genderqueer as a means to hide my cowardice. It wasn’t entirely me.
In dreams, I tend to be either a man or an animal. Although I felt more masculine when I came out as genderqueer, I didn’t think transitioning to a man was possible. I was insecure about how I would look, how others would perceive me, and, most importantly, what my family would think.
And then 2020 roared in. I spent the first few weeks of the year in a mental hospital recovering from an intense depressive episode where I no longer felt like life was worth living. Then, just as I was getting back on my feet, the pandemic hit. Amid all of the chaos and all of the fear, I realized two things: one, that I absolutely wanted to live, and two, that I wanted to do it as a man—whatever that meant, whatever that looked like, whatever the fallout might be.
I’m at high-risk for hospitalization with Covid, so I waited until I’d had my first round of vaccinations to seek out a gender-affirming clinic in Austin. I started taking testosterone this time last year. I started on a gel form, initially, because I have essential tremor and my hands tremble. I’m not good with needles! There were some problems with the absorption, so I basically missed a few months. Since then, I’ve started on injections, and my husband is administering them!
He has been an absolute jewel during this whole process. He said he’s always known I was really a man. When I asked him if he would still be attracted to me if I transitioned, he told me he was attracted to me—not some shape, not a physical being. Just me.
I’m middle-aged and a couch potato. I’m never going to look like one of the beautiful young men I see in the waiting room at my gender-affirming clinic. I’m going to come out the other side of this as me—an older, heavy man. But I’ll be me. The real me. And my husband loves me. I don’t need the approval of anyone else.
I had a funny interaction with a fantasy writer today who said that his characters don’t do a lot of normal, day to day things on the page. I don’t do that, either, unless I think it might be interesting. I write M/M romance now, so, unless my characters are going to do something interesting in the shower, they never take showers. They don’t bathe, brush their teeth, comb their hair, or trim their toenails. They are a bunch of unkempt, reeking men with failing organs because they never use the bathroom or fart. Flies swirl around them and no one can get near them without gagging.
Erm. No. They do all of their grooming and pooping off page. Actually, since it’s romance, they are ethereal beings who simply don’t poop. They’re like the angels. Unless angels poop. Do angels poop?
Thomas, oh, yes—that Thomas—Mr. Carillon, my troublesome medium—peed in the woods once. He also vomits when he imbibes too much absinthe. Frank Hope vomited a few times. I was pretty tough on poor Frank. Let’s face it, he had it coming, nasty Necromancer. I don’t know if those things upset any of my readers since no one has ever mentioned it—yet. Someday, someone will and I’ll regret upsetting them. Whatever anyone might think, I don’t enjoy upsetting my readers. That’s for writers like G.R.R.M. I’m an idealist. I love a happy ending.
In other genres, like fantasy or sci-fi, it seems like the way to add some grit is to make your characters do a few things (like poop). A few mundane touches can add a bit of realism that gives the fantastic elements authenticity. We believe them more because they occur in a world that shares enough in common with ours that the other stuff seems real, too.
It doesn’t have to be that way, of course, fantasy and sci-fi characters can be as pristine as my romance men. I’ve written fantasy stories where people were immaculate. I have to confess, however, I loved writing a story where I made the lead character, a mage, get a bad case of the runs. I never described anything about the actual sickness, just the fact that he was slowing down his prince’s band of warriors. The warriors kept having to take turns to stay behind with him, and no one really wanted to. It was a bit of comic relief in a story that leaned toward somber. It also allowed one of the warriors to have mercy on the lad and take him under his wing. They built a brotherly relationship that impacted the overall arc of the story.
In any case, the amount of reality one allows in a story depends heavily on why it’s there. If it doesn’t move the story forward, add something to the flavor of the story, or build characterization, it can probably just be skipped. Not everything needs to happen on the page. In the case of my romantic leads, some of it doesn’t need to happen at all.
I think my latest book, Carillon’s Corpus, is up and on its feet again. It’s still wobbly, but at least it isn’t a dead heap in the mud.
Some people in the writing community look down on romance books as if they are fluffy and easy to write. (Some romance books probably are, but I think there’s a touch of misogyny with that thinking, as well, since it tends to be a women’s genre with an audience primarily consisting of women.) I had a friend, a female, who said romance was fluffy and not serious to my face. I kept wondering if she forgot what genre I wrote, but I think she did it because she was a jerk.
Carillon’s Corpus, like Carillon’s Curse, is a M/M paranormal romance with a Western setting and a mystery. In both novels, disabled gentleman Thomas Carillon, a medium, helps lawman Hadrian Burton track down a killer with the help of the victims’ ghosts. I’m basically weaving together two parallel stories—a romance and a mystery. I’ve written a couple of epic fantasy books with several subplots, but I find romances like this more challenging. Neither storyline is a subplot. They are dual plots. You can’t throw one out and still have a story.
To make matters more fun, it’s told in two points of view, and each POV (point of view) character sees the events differently. Since both of these novels are written in third person—close, that means each character’s scenes are written to reflect the POV character’s language as well as perspective.
So I have a lot of things to keep my eye on as well as all of the aspects of story structure, setting, and dialogue a writer has with any book. Since I also do extensive research with all of my romance books (except for the Chainmail and Velvet, a M/M romance fantasy D&D parody series—that was pure fun), I’m also trying to be careful about what words I use, what items furnish the scenes, where the events take place, etc. Oh, yeah, and I also have to write well.
But sure, it’s all a bunch of meaningless fluff. (I wouldn’t spend so much of my time writing this stuff if I thought, even for a minute, that that was true.)
Whatever genres are your favorite to read or write, don’t let anyone put you down for enjoying them. Sometimes other people just don’t get it. And sometimes they’re jerks.
Writers will tell you there are three types of writers:
Pantsers, those who write extemporaneously (by the seat of their pants.)
Planners, those who write using outlines and by planning ahead.
Plantsers, those who utilize a combination of the two.
I’m a plantser…but not by choice.
Although a lot of my character development happens when the characters start talking to each other, I begin by planning them, and I like creating a skeletal outline for the plot that I fill in as I go along. I also answer a set of questions before writing each scene.
But with every book, all of that planning falls apart at some point.
Maybe instead of a skeleton, I’m creating outline spider webs. It’s frustrating and frightening. Sometimes, it’s a characters fault. (Thomas Carillon, don’t look away. You know who I’m talking about.)
Often, however, it’s simply because I forgot to look at my notes and got carried away. It’s like swimming in the ocean, looking back, and realizing you’re a lot further out than you intended. You’re out with the sharks now. Land looks faraway and your blanket and cooler are barely visible.
I’m treading those waters now. My throat is clenched with fear, and I’m worried about that thing that just bumped against my leg.
I hate feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing. Out of control. The bones all nothing but wispy fragments. I know I’ll work through it and find my way back to the story I had planned—to those scenes I was waiting eagerly to write and the Happily Ever After that has kept me going. By the time I finally get to that HEA and do a few revisions, I should have something a little different than I had planned, but better.
Sometimes being a writer means clutching spiderwebs in your hands and swimming with the sharks.
I enjoy giving my characters gifts to help them through the story. I don’t mean wings or magical abilities—although sometimes I give them those, too. I’m talking about in terms of backstory and friends. Other writers probably do this; they simply might not recognize it as a gift they give to their characters.
My mother died recently. She was an abusive narcissist, and our relationship was complicated. I suppose because of this, it comes naturally to me to write characters with abusive parents or guardians.
I consciously chose not to do that with Thomas Carillon of Carillon’s Curse, my Western gothic paranormal romance, and the sequel to it I’m writing. I had already made Thomas’s life difficult. I gave him clubfoot in the 1800s, when it wasn’t easily—or successfully treated, a sensitive nature, and the sometimes troublesome ability to talk to ghosts. He’s also gay at a time when this could have landed him in prison in Texas and could have possibly resulted in his death
How awful would it be to give him bad parents on top of all of that?
Thomas is a sweet character, and I love him. I gave him a gift I never had—two kind, loving parents who wanted only the best for him. I gave him wealth and privilege. I gave him, as an adult, a staff of servants who cared about him and Gracie, a cat who senses ghosts. (They didn’t have emotional support animals in the 19th century, but that’s basically what she is.)
In Lover, Destroyer, my m/m fantasy romance, I cursed Kite with a terrible, destructive power that separated him from other mages and made people fear him. When the book opens, he’s a child who has destroyed an entire city at the emperor’s behest. Nothing is left behind, not even a baby’s shoe. An army of mages takes him back to the emperor—all of them fear, even despise, the boy in their care. Kite is a sad, scared, lonely little boy.
So, I gave him a gift. Cinder from my only m/f fantasy romance, The Inquisitor’s Gift. It’s the same universe, the same land. Cinder, at this time, is about to become a teacher at a prestigious magic school in the capitol. He’s good-hearted and fearless with a silly sense of humor. He takes Kite under his wing, and does what he can to help him through a frightening period.
This doesn’t mean that Kite grows up to be a healthy adult. He’s twisted and dark. Sadistic. Mercurial. A secretive, haunted man who thinks love isn’t meant for him.
Although I enjoy plunging characters into the depths of despair, I always like to give them special things that I wish I’d had when I felt alone or desperate. For me, it’s one of the joys of writing.
I’m writing about Thomas and Hadrian again. They’re on a new case, searching for a new killer and running into a number of ghosts. What I’m having the most fun with is their relationship. It’s fun to write about the first bloom of love, but what I really enjoy is writing about how couples make a partnership work.
Falling in love is easy. For me, anyway. I always laugh when reviewers say a couple seemed to get together too soon. When I was single, I could fall head over heels for someone after knowing them a few hours. I love being in love. I guess I’m a free spirit. And I don’t make small talk. Even now. I’m intense and like to get to the nuts and bolts of a person. People often tell me their darkest secrets. I’m not sure why, but I always fall in love with them a little when they do. If there’s any chemistry there, as well—
Staying together is the hard part. I’ve been with my husband longer than some of my readers have been alive. Every day, I make the decision to connect and understand. Loving another human and sharing your life with them isn’t easy—especially if you’re both passionate, damaged, and sensitive. We’ve never broken up, but there were a few times that were close.
In this book, Thomas is trying to assert his independence. He’s madly in love with Hadrian, but he doesn’t want to be smothered by him. He’s trying to figure out his boundaries so he can set them.
Hadrian is dealing with a diagnosis of “soldier’s heart” (PTSD), which he sees as a threat to his strength and manhood. He’s worried about adequately protecting Thomas—and doesn’t really hear when Thomas rejects his protection.
I’m setting them up for a collision, but they’ll find their way out of the wreckage and be stronger for it. If two people are truly committed to making a relationship work, they find a way.
And that’s why I love writing romance—and love writing these “how they stay together” stories most of all.
If you want to read the first book in this series, a standalone, you can find it on Amazon and free with KU.
If you’re curious about another paranormal series I wrote where the characters’ relationship grew over a three book series, you can check out Love Songs for Lost Worlds, also on Amazon and free with KU.
I love when a character tells me something new about him. When I’m constructing a main character, I make notes about his physical features, emotional make-up, his past, his great “wound” or “ghost,” KM Weiland’s “Lie,” and various other things about his life and surroundings.
But I don’t know everything. I never know everything. Once I’m done with all of that construction, the character comes alive. He’s no longer completely under my control then. He’ll often surprise me in the middle of a scene that I painstakingly outlined, tossing his lines to the floor and ad libbing. Characters are horrible things sometimes. Maybe it’s because I don’t pay them. I can’t fire them, either. I suppose I could delete them, but that would be very rude.
I’m busy writing the sequel to Carillon’s Curse. In 1889, Thomas, a medium, and Marshal Hadrian are investigating a murder in Corpus Christi, Texas. They are about to talk to Father Bardales, the priest of a small Catholic church with a mostly Hispanic congregation. As Hadrian and Thomas enter the castle-like building of rustic, blonde stones, Thomas whispers to me, “I was raised Catholic. This is quite bittersweet for me. It reminds me of my parents. You know how much I loved my parents.”
“No. You’re an atheist. I already said so in the last book, Thomas. Don’t be difficult.”
“That boarding school you said I went to? It was a Catholic boarding school. I’m a lapsed Catholic.”
“I don’t think they say ‘lapsed Catholic’ in your time.”
“We’re talking in your time. I’m attempting to communicate with you. One would think you would be more gracious.”
“If that’s the backstory you want, then fine.”
He coughs, affronted. “It’s not the backstory I want. It’s what happened.”
Hadrian chimes in. “Why are you picking on Thomas?”
“He’s adding to his backstory without consulting me. He says he was raised Catholic. And I’m not ‘picking on’ him.”
“Oh,” says Hadrian, turning to Thomas. “I like that.”
Thomas beams. “Yes, it adds another layer to this scene. We’re here simply to see if Father Bardales knows Eduardo’s last name, but being in the church—the soft glow of the stained glass, the odor of waxed wood—it will make me feel sentimental. It will be yet another thing in this story that reminds me of my parents and that loss.”
“Is this scene in your POV?” asks Hadrian, tipping back his Stetson. “It should be. It’ll be more sentimental if it’s from your POV.”
“This was supposed to be from Hadrian’s POV,” I tell them.
“Given my backstory, it would be much more poignant from my POV,” says Thomas. “It will take a rather flat and boring police procedural sort of scene (why was that there in the first place—this is a romance!) and makes it more personal and emotional.”
“Firstly,” I say, “this is a dark paranormal romance with a murder mystery thrown in, and we need scenes where you actually investigate the murder. Don’t roll your eyes, Thomas. And stop it with the side-eye, Hadrian. Secondly, yeah, okay. We’ll do it from Thomas’s POV and let him be all emotional.”
Thomas sniffs. “I’m sensitive, and I have a touching backstory.”
“That’s right,” says Hadrian, crossing his arms over his chest. “Thomas is sensitive, and I’m rough. That’s why we compliment each other. So, he’s going to go in there and be all sentimental, and I’m going to be brooding. Then I’m going to lose my temper!”
“No!” Thomas and I say in unison.
“Father Bardales is proud but kind. You’re going to be respectful. He will have some news for you that will be critical to your investigation. It’s the First Plot Point. So, I need you two to listen to me and not screw this up.”
Hadrian huffs and transfers his hands to his hips. Thomas tilts his pretty head to one side as he stares at me. I set his ever-present, ghost-sensing cat, Gracie, on his shoulder. “You can trust us,” Thomas says with classic Thomas gentleness.
And I do. Most of the time, the characters are right. Part of writing is listening to them. The rest, really, is fighting to represent what they’ve told me in a way other people can understand.
One of the fun things about writing Carillon’s Curse, my gay paranormal western gothic romance, was researching Austin, Texas, in the late 1800s. I love doing research. For Carillon’s Curse, I spent a lot of time researching old Austin, the actual serial killer who terrorized the city in 1865, and how the Civil War continued to impact the lives of Texans in the late 1800s. I love learning about different periods in history. This period was called the Gilded Age in the United States. (We didn’t have a queen named Victoria.)
I’m back there again, writing the sequel, and rubbing elbows with Thomas and Hadrian. Although the clothes and furnishings, in my opinion, are elegant and beautiful, many of the attitudes and norms are not. The term “Gilded Age” was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley and refers to the process of gilding an object with a thin covering of gold so it looks gold. It’s not actually gold itself. It’s artifice. Instead of a golden, the era was fake—a mere pretense of the beauty and success it promised.
Online encyclopedia britannica.com describes the Gilded Age as a period of “gross materialism and blatant political corruption.” At the same time, in the South, Jim Crow laws were in effect. Many of them would remain in effect until 1965. They segregated Black people and made it difficult for them to vote. Some of these things remind me of current events. There’s a taste of racial inequality in Carillon’s Curse, but expect it to play a larger part in the sequel.
The way the US seems to be separating itself into two worlds upsets me deeply. That’s going in the book. It’s still going to be a hot love story, but the background will look, unfortunately, a lot like our own time.
On the bright side, Thomas and Hadrian are going to get to walk together on a beach and play in the warm, gray waves of the Gulf of Mexico. As with any time period, no matter how difficult, life is not without its pleasures. They will grow even closer and more deeply in love. Love is always beautiful—even when everything around it is ugly.
I’m delving into the past, but I’m spending a lot of time with Thomas and Hadrian on the beach.
I started 2022 working on the sequel to Carillon’s Curse and am enjoying being with Thomas and Hadrian again. I’ll get back to Jericho and Kincaid at a later date. Are you working on a book this year? If so, do you know what genre it is? Are you sure?
Something interesting that has come to my attention recently, is that sometimes writers don’t know the genre of the book they’re writing. That definitely happened to me with Carillon’s Curse. While I knew it was MM Romance, and a mystery with gothic and Western overtones, it’s also quite dark. It’s um…one might say…dark romance.
Bam! Did you know that’s actually a genre? I didn’t. I really think my Love Songs for Lost Worlds series might also be dark romance. In fact, that feels like my preferred genre these days. MM Paranormal Dark Romance.
I guess this is why reviewers keep saying my romances are dark. Makes sense. I didn’t know this, however, and was simply writing what I wanted to read. I love romance, but a lot of it seems sort of fluffy to me. Fluffy can be fun. It can be comforting. It can also be like cotton candy pink sequin booty shorts, however, and I’ve always been a little emo/goth creature.
Most of the music I love—like not just to bob around or clean the house to—but seriously want played while I’m dying kind of love—is dark. I love dark paintings, dark photography, dark series, dark movies, dark true crime, dark chocolate. I like things that seem realistic but are also beautiful. I love art films. I love grit. I love blood and gore if there’s a deep meaning behind it.
But I never knew there was such a thing as dark romance. I’m going to have to read some now.
Everyone makes a big deal of “writing to genre.” This always made me feel lost and hopeless. I don’t want to write traditional romance. There are already scads of people out there writing it much better than I ever could—mainly because it just isn’t my thing.
It turns out, I HAVE been writing to genre! I just haven’t been advertising to it. I didn’t name it or look for the right readers because I didn’t even know it existed.
So, if you’re feeling down because you aren’t writing to genre, look around. Maybe you just haven’t discovered your genre yet!