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!
I hate negative reviews. I suppose no writer likes them. My latest book, Carillon’s Curse, doesn’t have many (so far) but the one it has on GoodReads has proven more of a blessing than a curse. Not only does it do a great job at warning people like this reader to avoid my book, something in it has ignited a spark of creativity for the next book in the series. (Yeah! I’m making it a series!)
The reviewer accuses Hadrian of being bipolar. At first, this was deeply hurtful. One, I have bipolar disorder. It sucks the way people throw this word around, usually with little understanding about what bipolar disorder actually is. Two, I wrote Hadrian as having PTSD. I didn’t spell it out because I couldn’t find exactly what it was called back in 1888, but I thought I wrote the symptoms well enough that people could recognize it.
I have PTSD, and forget that most people don’t know the things I know. Somehow, I thought PTSD symptoms had become common knowledge. I didn’t even intend it as an Easter egg. (I had a similar experience with Frank’s ADHD in the Love Songs for Lost Worlds series. No one ever mentions it, so I’m not sure if readers see it.)
Before I read this unflattering review, I had already decided I was writing a series and was stumbling around in the dark trying to figure out what Thomas’s and Hadrian’s wants and misbeliefs (or Lies, as K.M. Weiland calls them) would be. And then came this wonderful, horrible review! After I got over being butt hurt (that took a day or so), I realized that the reviewer had unwittingly given me a gift of writer’s gold.
I’m going to full on embrace Hadrian’s PTSD, name it, have the characters talk about it, and involve some of the (probably horrendous) treatments of the day. There will still be a gruesome murder—or several—to solve, but Hadrian’s internal struggle is going to be with his PTSD and how it affects his and Thomas’s relationship.
Thomas, my beloved, oft troublesome Thomas, has clubfoot. His disability is physical and visible. Hadrian’s disability, being mental, is invisible—and possibly even less understood during the time period in which they live. The whole thing really pleases me, and my fingers can’t type my thoughts fast enough. I’m no longer struggling with the gears of this plot, I’m heating the pavement.
So, if you get a negative review of your work, look for anything valuable in it. Not necessarily, as some people say, constructive criticism. I’ve rarely found anything constructive in a negative review. Those people aren’t your beta readers, they’re often people simply bent on being nasty. But see if there’s anything that sparks an idea. When something is painful, the best, most productive thing a writer—or any artist—can do is use that pain to fuel your next creative endeavor.
There are many phases to writing and publishing a book. I’m in my least favorite phase. The part right before the book releases. I’m trying to use this time to work on my next project, but it’s difficult. I feel sick and excited and scared all at once. I’m too emotional to get lost in the new story.
I never look for huge market success. I’m not Stephen King. I don’t sell millions of books and make fat wads of cash. What I live on are reviews. Every good review means I did my job—I connected with a reader. Every negative review makes me die inside.
I’m supposed to have a thick skin by now. I’ve been at this for a few years. I shouldn’t be bothered by negative reviews. One author friend advises against even reading them.
But the whole reason I write is to communicate with people. I’m shy. I don’t see many people. Being asthmatic and at high risk during the pandemic, I see even fewer of them these days. I talk to people through characters and stories. I hope they have a good time, that they were lifted from their normal day for a while. My only window into that are reader reviews.
It’s not simply fear of negative reviews that makes this time difficult, for something awful happens at this time with the characters. They leave me. Thomas and Hadrian have been my friends for months. Thomas, especially, has held my hand through some terrible things that happened while I was writing it.
Now, because the book is going to be published soon, he’s gone. I’m not sure why this happens, but I like to imagine it’s because they’re getting ready to visit the readers. It’s not exactly that they’re abandoning me, it’s just that they have other places to go.
I’m toying with the idea of writing another book with them, so they will have to visit me again at some point, but for now, they’re getting ready for a big adventure. I hate it. I’m afraid for them. I’m worried they’re headed into a bloodbath, and I exposed them to it. True, they had some harrowing adventures in this story, but I controlled everything. I was the monster pulling the strings. Now, anything could happen. I can’t protect them. I can’t even feel them.
So, if you see Hadrian and Thomas, tell them I miss them.
I’ve finished Carillon’s Curse. It’s due to release Dec.10th, 2021. I should be happy about that. This is the time that always makes me sad, though. By the end of a book, I really know those characters. They’re my friends, and I hate telling them goodbye.
I left Thomas and Hadrian in a good place, as good a place as I could within the confines of their time period. But I already miss them. Acutely. I would love to write a sequel—or even a series with them—but I can’t tell yet if anyone would read it. If the book does well, I might play with them again, but, for now, I’ve had to abandon them.
In the meantime, I’ve started a new book. It’s a paranormal romcom. I’m not attached to the characters yet. I’m still trying to figure out the rules of the world, the setting, and what exactly makes these guys tick. We just met each other. One hugged me and cried on my shoulder. The other hugged me and stole my wallet. It’s going to be that sort of story. Everything is relaxed right now. I’m gathering ingredients, heating the water. It’s a quiet business. It’s very different from the frenetic insanity I was in last month.
Last month was a bubbling, splattering mess. It was all Thomas’s fault. (I’m kidding, of course. Thomas was lovely to write.)
If all goes well, in a few months this romcom will be in full boil, and I’ll be able to release it at some point. For now, I’m trying to enjoy the process of getting to know this new world and these new characters.
Romance, whether it’s male/female or male/male, is full of tropes. Opposites attract, friends to lovers, insta love, grumpy/sunshine, etc. In other forms of fiction, these might be things to buck against. (Looking at you George R. R. Martin, you dirty, rotten fiend!) In romance, however, authors ignore or change these tropes at their peril. Romance tropes are like that cozy sweatshirt—the one with the pills and possibly stains—that feels oh so good when you put it on to watch your favorite movie or YouTube channel. If it was different it…well, it wouldn’t be the same.
With that in mind, I’ve coined a new trope—Insta Book Boyfriend. This is where a character, or in the case of m/m romance, possibly both characters, start off wonderful from the beginning of the book. They’re instant boyfriend material. They’re the perfect guy, and the reader automatically wants to snuggle with them. They start off great and end up… great.
I don’t write stories with two Insta Book Boyfriends. At least one of my guys is usually a jerk. He’s going to have to change and prove himself in order to get his HEA (happily ever after). That’s because I like to write what author and mentor K.M. Weiland calls the Positive Change Character Arc. This means the character starts off not so great and ends up wonderful. He might even save the world. At the very least, the story will have changed him, for the better, by the time the book ends.
If he doesn’t change (internally) at all, that’s a Flat Arc. There’s nothing wrong with a Flat Arc. Harry Potter is a good example of this. He starts off as a good guy and ends up a good guy. That’s the kind of character arc an Insta Book Boyfriend has. He starts off as a sweetheart you want to date and ends the book exactly the same way. That’s not to say he didn’t have some adventures and tribulations along the way. It just means the story didn’t fundamentally change him. He’s basically the same person from beginning to end.
Personally, I don’t like to write Flat Character Arcs. I don’t find them as exciting as Positive Change Character Arcs. I’ll often write one main character with a Flat Arc. He acts as both foil and mentor for the other main character. That other main character starts off kind of screwed up. He might be surly and emotionally stunted like Frank Hope, in Know Thy Demons, or conceited and elitist like Pox in Because Faery Godmonster (or the duology, Chainmail and Velvet). They don’t start out as someone you want to date. In fact, you might want to punch them in the nose.
However, by the time the story ends, usually with the help of the other, sweeter protagonist, he ends up a hero deserving of a beautiful happily ever after. I like this formula because at least one of the main characters has to really struggle to win that HEA. He has to change, on some fundamental level, to earn it. Often, he needs to discover what love really means, and grow up to find it.
That’s just what I enjoy writing about. Growing. That’s what makes me happy. It embodies my philosophy that people can change and that love is something we choose. These are the beliefs I cling to in times of strife, as the US is experiencing now, that give me hope people will eventually come together and work for a brighter tomorrow. That might be the kind of fantasy only fiction can birth, but I’m an idealist, and I need to believe bad things can get better.
Raise your hand if you’re a writer who wants to smell like your characters! Or a reader who enjoys imagining what characters smell like.
This might not always be a good idea. I’m not sure I would want to smell like an orc or something with tentacles. I’m sure Frank Hope, the protagonist from my Love Songs for Lost Worlds trilogy sometimes smelled like BO and/or vomit. I kind of put Frank through the wringer. Poor guy. He was, however, the villain of the first book, so he kind of deserved some payback.
In the novel I’m currently writing, Carillon’s Curse, my Victorian gentleman (who happens to be a medium), Thomas, washes with lavender soap and wears violet water. I know what lavender smells like. My husband and I have used Jason’s Lavender Body Wash for years. (We had a cat who really loved it. He would be all over us whenever we were freshly showered.) But I had no idea what violet water smelled like. I have never even smelled a violet, let alone violet water.
The first time I ever heard of violet water was in Paul’s Case by Willa Cather. When I was researching Victorian colognes, I ran across an article that said respectable Victorian gentlemen could wear violet water. Since another popular scent, ambergris, is basically whale diarrhea, I decided Thomas would wear violet water.
I wanted, nay—needed—to smell it, so I found a shop on Etsy that creates and sells all natural cosmetics based on historical compounds, LBCC Historical Apothecary. You can find them at http://www.littlebits.etsy.com. I highly recommend trying their products. I bought some violet water, hair pomade, and lip balm and love all of it.
Violet water has a light floral scent, but I found it surprisingly gender neutral. I bought it simply to smell Thomas, but I’m going to wear it myself. It’s perfect for transitioning and suitable for a man.
Hadrian, my co-protagonist, smells primarily of leather and horse sweat. I had horses in my youth, and miss them, so I don’t need to buy anything to see what he smells like. All I have to do is remember. (Horses, in case you don’t know, smell wonderful!)
So, those are the sexy scents of my sexy men. What about you, writers? What scents define your characters?
Don’t forget to look for Carillon’s Curse, coming to Amazon in December 2021!
If you’re a writer, you’ve probably run into this hideous monster—the bland scene. I woke up to that sucker this morning. You know the one I mean, right? That ho-hum scene you don’t feel like writing? The one that needs to be there because it conveys some information or does something that moves the protagonist forward but is just…blah. Have you been there? I struggle with at least one of those in every book.
The hard truth is, if you’re bored writing a scene, chances are high your readers will be bored reading it. There’s an easy remedy for this. Before I start writing a scene, especially one I’m anticipating will be boring, I ask myself two questions:
1. What does the protagonist (or POV character) want in this scene?
2. What is the problem? Or what is the obstacle standing in the way of the character getting what he wants?
These two questions help me develop the conflict in the scene (if I don’t already know it.) Friction is the fuel of writing. Without it, everything is easy and perfect, and there’s really no story.
Who cares if Mr. Perfect with his perfect life goes to his favorite cafe and gets a latte with a perfect foam panda in it? On Facebook or Instagram that might be fine. In a book, it’s horribly boring. What if Mr. Painfully Shy goes to the cafe he kind of hates because that’s where his ex dumped him, but he’s there because he has a crush on the cute but arrogant barista who works there? Or maybe he’s being chased by the mob and needs a place to hide, but the barista is giving him a hard time for not buying something before locking himself in the bathroom? Maybe the barista turns into a flame-breathing dragon and starts cooking everyone in the cafe?
Okay, so those are really stupid examples, but you get the idea, right? By declaring to myself what the character wants and identifying what is standing in his way in that particular scene, the scene becomes more fun to write.
In the scene I’m writing today, my protagonist (yes, that would be Thomas if you’ve been reading this blog) must help his lover question the victim of a crime. The protagonist’s scene objective is to get information on the criminal, so he and his lover can bring him to justice. That’s pretty straightforward. And boring. Hello, ho-hum scene. Why? Because I haven’t identified an obstacle. If the victim is cooperative, and everything goes smoothly, what’s the fun in that? Why should I expect a reader to care?
So, the problem is the victim is severely intellectually challenged. He’s traumatized and getting him to talk is difficult. To make matters worse, my protagonist’s lover is impatient and brusque. His bad cop style isn’t useful in this situation. Now, my protagonist has two problems: getting information from an especially vulnerable, traumatized victim while protecting him from his hot headed lover—and getting that lover to cool down. (Really, I guess, that’s three problems.) Another monkey wrench I threw in here is that Thomas, being physically disabled, identifies with the disabled victim more than the average person might. This makes his internal reaction to his lover’s insensitivity especially painful.
Not only is this scene much more interesting to write, it will be, hopefully, more interesting to read. Is Thomas up to the task? Of course he is! But making it difficult for him is what makes writing the scene and reading it interesting. Making Thomas solve problems and giving him difficult things to do makes him a better person. He becomes more real, both to me and, hopefully, to readers.
There’s a scene where the protagonist, Frank, tries to get back with his ex, Jovan and fails. Earlier in the day, Jovan offered to stop by the restaurant where Frank works to help him with a problem. (Frank understood the demon they summoned in class and is deeply confused.) This could be a simple scene where Frank asks Jovan out on a date, and Jovan declines. After all, getting back with Jovan is Frank’s scenic goal, and failing is what I need to happen. But that’s a big snorefest.
So, Jovan doesn’t show up at the restaurant alone. He’s there with his new girlfriend. And Frank is busier than normal because he offered to take a large, hopping section of the restaurant for his sick friend. Frank has ADHD (something I don’t reveal in the series, but is sort of an Easter egg) and doesn’t always deal well with high stress situations. Basically, I’ve set him up for failure and taken away his ability to meet his scenic goal. He accosts Jovan in the men’s room and ends up punching a wall and hurting his hand. Jovan takes care of him, but doesn’t simply tell him he doesn’t love him—he says he feels sorry for him. Ouch.
This plunges Frank into the depths where I need him to be before something happens that changes his life forever. A setup scene that could have been pretty mundane ended up being an intense dramatic scene that I enjoyed writing.
With a little spice, bland scenes can become some of your favorites. So, spice it up and have fun!
So many sad, disturbing things are happening in the real world right now, so, of course, I have to go inside my imaginary writer’s world and make things weird there, too. I’m writing a paranormal romance novel set in 1888 in the Old West of the U.S. Today, because I’m living through such “interesting” times, I started thinking about what things would happen in the lives of my main characters.
In 1888, they’re in their early twenties. They’re Civil War babies. In some ways, they have just escaped it, but its effects and racism still loom over them in 1888. Thomas will be forty-nine when the Great War breaks out. U.S. servicemen in World War I ranged in age from eighteen to sixty. I don’t think Thomas would have been eligible to serve, since he is disabled, but Hadrian is fit and a police officer. I’m sure he would have been conscripted. He probably would even volunteer. What sort of adventures would he have? Would he make it home to Thomas?
And what would Thomas do while his lover is abroad, fighting on foreign soil? I’m sure he would do most of his typical Thomasy things. Talking to restless spirits. Going around town in his invalid carriage with his cat. Cars would be in fashion, so he would probably have a car by then. Would he drive it himself? The idea of my rather uptight Thomas driving a car makes me smile.
Thomas would be fifty-three in 1918, when the Spanish Flu pandemic hits. If Hadrian survived the Great War, what sort of condition would he be in? Would he survive the pandemic? What about sweet Thomas? He’s already in poor health. With his asthma, I’m not even sure how he made it to twenty-three. What would the pandemic be like for him? Would he make it? Would he hole up in his mansion with Hadrian? There was no Amazon, then. How would they get things they needed?
What will they think of World War II? They’ll be in their seventies then. It must seem terrible to see such a thing having lived through World War I. How cataclysmic it must seem. How frightening. They would have survived so much, but time keeps whirling by, a plow through hard earth throwing up weeds and dirt.
They’ll be long dead before they’re ever able to legally marry in the U.S. Would they even be buried together?
It’s not like I’m even planning a series or anything with these two. It’s simply that some weird part of me worries about them and almost needs to write more stories about them just to make sure they’re okay.
This is the kind of thing I don’t think many readers understand about writers. Our characters are real people to us. They live and breathe. We have coffee and tea with them. We worry about them going out into the wide world like a mother kissing her kindergartener goodbye on the first day of school.
We give them to you as an act of love, because they have been our friends on whatever journey we have taken, and we hope they will be yours.
This really should go without saying, but if you want to be a writer, don’t be a jerk—especially to people in the industry who are trying to help you.
I follow a popular writing blog by an author of some amazing fantasy works as well as a series of helpful writing books. For years, she has been helping writers and authors, trying to lift people up. When people comment on her posts, she answers them—even when the answer to the question should be obvious. She will even answer the old posts if they ask a direct question. She’s just a really helpful, nice person.
Some guy has been commenting on her latest post acting like he knows everything. I can almost guarantee you this dweeb has never published anything—either traditionally or independently. I’ve taken creative writing classes and been involved in writing groups and attended writing conferences for about thirty years. I’ve seen this type of writer before way too many times. The dilettante. The guy who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know—a walking illustration of the Dunning-Kruger effect. The bully who thinks he can elevate himself by dragging others down.
Don’t. Be. That. Guy.
Part of being a writer, part of being an artist, part of being a decent human creature, is humility. Yes, we often feel like gods when we’re constructing that perfect outline or are writing in that heady flow where words and images flash in our minds faster than our fingers can type. But it’s also important to remember that we are, at the end of the day, mere mortals—fallible beings reaching for stars we might never catch. If we’re smart, we’re always learning. Eternal students forever striving to perfect our craft.
You don’t know everything. Neither do I. That’s the beauty of the struggle. That’s part of the excitement. Part of the joy that should wake you up every morning and encourage you to write your heart out.
Don’t hurt people who want to help you. Don’t thumb your nose at mentors and teachers. Every one of them will tell you they don’t have all of the answers, either, but they may well have some that you don’t. Don’t write angry letters to editors and agents who reject your work. It only makes you look bad.
Be gracious. Be humble. Be kind. The world has enough prima donnas, enough jerks, enough Dunning-Kruger morons. What the world needs are your stories—maybe now more than ever. It doesn’t need egotistical posturing.
So don’t be a jerk, be a writer! Soak up every bit of knowledge you can! And write, write, write!