Going Back in Time

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.

You can catch Carillon’s Curse on Amazon: http://viewbook.at/CarillonsCurse

Waiting for a Book to Launch

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.

Goodbye, Hello

What saying “goodbye” to Thomas and Hadrian feels like.

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.

What saying “hello” to Jericho and Kincaid feels like.

New Trope: The Insta Book Boyfriend

Mmmm…yummy Book Boyfriend. Insta Book Boyfriend starts out here. My Book Boyfriends end up here.

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.

Another cutie with a dog. Yeah, I think guys who like animals are super hot.

Spicing Up a Bland Scene

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.

Here’s another example from my book, Know Thy Demons: Book One of the Love Songs for Lost Worlds Trilogy, in which a protagonist fails his scenic goal.

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!

Available on Amazon and free with Kindle Unlimited

Imagining Characters Through Time

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.

Writing While Evil

Sometimes writers feel like gods. At the moment, I feel like a fiend. My favorite character this time is Thomas, a shy gentleman who happens to see ghosts. He’s also a virgin when the story begins.

Plots are like roller coasters. With each scene I’ve been writing, I’m ramping up to a pivotal scene (the Midpoint) that will plunge my characters into a huge, stomach-flipping dip. It’s going to devastate Thomas. In the mean time, I’m watching him grow more in love, watching him venture farther out of his comfort zone and into a bigger, wider world than he has dared to imagine.

And I’m there, barely discernible in the shadows, whispering lines into his ear, telling him things that aren’t quite true. He’s such a gentle, good character. He has no idea I’m fattening him up for the kill.

It’s not, of course, an actual death—and I’ve already hurt him quite a bit—but this scene is going to wound him deeply. I’m not looking forward to it. I’m actually writing this blog to avoid it just a little longer. Unlike some writers, I don’t relish hurting characters—especially characters I love. And I love Thomas to bits. I hope readers love him at least half as much as I do.

I guess it’s time to slink away and break poor Thomas’s sweet heart. What’s worse, perhaps, is I give him the terrible advice afterward. Like some cruel, sabotaging friend, I’ll turn him in the wrong direction and give him a push. I feel sickened just thinking about it.

But I’m doing it because it wouldn’t be much of a story if everything was perfect. ( I suppose there are stories like that, but I don’t care for them.) If you, like me, enjoy riding an emotional roller coaster, check out some of my gay romances! None of my HEAs come easily.

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When a Story’s Theme is a Revelation

Metaphor for a sweet protagonist? (He does remind me a little of Thomas.)

When I write, I’ve noticed I’m often sifting through my baggage. Writing is fun, it’s my vocation, and it’s also therapy. I usually don’t realize how a work symbolizes some part of my life, either something I’m working on or something I need to work on, until I’m already into it. This time, I’m about midway through my current story, Carillon’s Curse, and starting to tease out its theme. (I start out with some vague idea of a novel’s theme, then zero in on it as I write.)

I’m still piecing it together, but a component of it slapped me right upside the head.

I’ve always been a people pleaser. I gush over strangers, have few boundaries, and put the wants of others ahead of my own. I shrink in unfamiliar—and sometimes in familiar environments—trying to take up as little room as possible. A friend once said, “Do you realize how many times you say you’re sorry? Why are you so sorry?”

Basically, I’m sorry I’m alive. I’m sorry for the space I take up on this planet. I think this stems from growing up with a physically and emotionally abusive parent. I always thought if I was good—if I could be oh, so very, very good—I wouldn’t be hurt. I guess I also internalized her anger and resentment toward me.

Three months ago I started transitioning from female to male. After saying I was genderqueer for a long time, I finally realized that I had been saying that because I didn’t think transitioning was a real option. The pandemic hit, and my shell cracked wide open. To my surprise, my husband was fully supportive. We’re closer now than ever before. (And we were pretty obnoxiously close before.)

I don’t know if it’s the testosterone, the pandemic, or my age, but I free and alive and valid. I’m not putting up with crap anymore. I’m not going back to that person who has to smile even when I’m feeling shitty. I don’t need to go out of my way to make everyone comfortable. I’m not sorry for being here. For the first time, when I celebrated Pride Month, I felt truly proud. I actually, maybe for the first time ever, really like myself.

Okay, so what does this have to do with a gay Western paranormal romance? Both of the main characters, in different ways and for different reasons, feel flawed and unworthy of love. These two good men, tied to their pasts and unable to attain true happiness, are chasing a serial killer who thinks he’s freaking awesome. This guy believes he’s helping his victims and society. He’s a narcissistic creep who, in his arrogance, is sure he has all of the answers.

My job, as the writer of this story, is to send these two good guys down the paths they need to stop this killer and find the love of their lives. Sometimes writers feel like gods. So often, as with this book, I feel more like a shepherd, guiding my heroes to a happily ever after.

Who knew shepherds sometimes learned from their lambs?

Why I Write

Recently, someone asked me, “Why do you write?”

I had to think about that longer than I would have guessed. I write because sometimes I need to hide from the stresses of the real world, the wolves at the door that howl for blood and bone. Writing allows me to sink into an imaginary world I can control with characters I create who are braver than I am. At the same time I’m hiding, I’m also processing things that are happening in my life, or things that happened in my past. So, it’s a different kind of hiding than covering my head with a blanket, although sometimes that’s good, too.

Recently, I released the last book in my Love Songs for Lost Worlds trilogy, Infernal Hope. (The whole trilogy is available on Amazon.) I had traveled through three books, a horrendous presidency, a global pandemic, and an insurrection with Frank and Kasimir. I watched them grow at my fingertips, watched their love blossom. I saw my sweet (okay Frank’s not always that sweet!) boys grow into young men. They were not only my friends, they became a part of me like few characters ever have. I finished their story and let them go.

And then I became quite depressed. I had a new book outlined and waiting for me, but, after writing furiously while the world seemed to collapse, I found myself unable to write now that things were calmer. I wondered for a while if I truly had any more books in me. And if I did, would anyone read them? None of my books are best sellers. They’re such odd little things, they’ll probably never be.

Once I thought about it, I realized that I did, in fact, need to write no matter how many people read my books. I need to write for me. Being able to share my works with the world is a bonus, and I’m grateful for all of the people who read my books and connect with my characters. At the end of the day, though, I need to write to calm that feeling of static that rises from my skin. Writing doesn’t simply keep the wolves from my door, it gives me the power to make them my friends.

And that is why I write.