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.

Book Review: Fisher’s Autism Trilogy

This is a review of the YA fantasy book: Fisher’s Autism Trilogy: Through Fisher’s Eyes, Dark Spectrum & A Problem With the Moon by Paul Nelson.

Every so often I come across a book I wish I could somehow send through time to a younger version of me. (Are you listening, Ninth Doctor?) This is one of those books. It’s not simply that it’s a fun read, it’s because the tween years were some of the darkest days of my life. Stories like this, full of funny, kind-spirited characters who are different from other people and suffer through some difficult times while remaining true to themselves, are the things that kept me hanging on when everything around me seemed full of ugliness and uncertainty.This is the kind of book you can snuggle up with and feel loved.

As the title suggests, this is a trilogy compiled into one book. The first story, Through Fisher’s Eyes, is told by a nonverbal autistic boy named Fisher. It’s an intimate narrative told in a style that lovingly mimics the cadence of an autistic speaker. Through a series of literary snapshots, Fisher reveals his world to us, and the story unfolds.

Fisher, wise beyond his years, is brave and resilient. He tells his story with an honesty that is sometimes poignant—and sometimes hilarious!

In the following excerpt, Fisher tells what he sees when he goes shopping with his dad on Saturdays:

The people we see do not seem to be as happy as we are. They look like they are sad, and in a hurry. They all look down at their phones and do not talk to each other. They seem to want only to buy things. My dad and I just like being together.

While the story starts deeply rooted in reality, it grows into a fantasy where “special ed. kids” like Fisher and his friends have special abilities such as telepathy and telekinesis. Soon, Fisher finds himself involved in an age old battle between the forces of good and evil. There are twists on old ideas and magical characters that are more than they seem. In the first book, we meet Fisher and his friends–a cast of diverse, lovable characters–and some not-so-lovable ones, like Jonah, an autistic boy who has chosen to follow the dark tribe.

The next two books increase the scope with a third person point of view that allows us to learn more about the troubled Jonah, Fisher’s friends–old and new, and explore a bigger magical world. The stories contain lots of magic and action while continuing to promote the idealism and kindhearted values of the first book.

Recommended for ages 12 to 18 or any adult who is interested in autism or just loves a good fantasy story.

Five stars!

New Features are Coming!

animal pet cute kitten
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m adding a few new features to this blog! Mixed in with my usual musings and news about writing and my books, you will soon find blog posts with these special markers:

  • Book Reviews—I’m going to start posting reviews of books that I think readers will enjoy. In the coming months, I’ll post reviews of books featuring characters with unique abilities and LGBTQ+ characters. The books will include an exciting mix of genres—romance, YA, fantasy, dystopian, BDSM, and more!
  • Represent!—I’ll highlight a book I have already read or plan to read soon. I’ll select these books to draw attention to important causes and subjects.
  • Prism—I’ll interview authors, take a closer look at their lives and writing practices, and explore their books.

grey and white long coated cat in middle of book son shelf
Photo by Flickr on Pexels.com

 

GDPR and Me

New regulations from the EU are going into effect May 25, 2018. These regulations are designed to protect the privacy of EU citizens on the internet. I wholeheartedly support the spirit of these regulations. I wish the U.S. would do more to protect the privacy of its citizens.

However, trying to make my website and newsletter compliant has been a big headache. I’m not a lawyer nor an IT professional. I’m an indie author. I’m a writer–and I’ve done very little of that lately because I’m so anxious about running afoul of these regulations. I have put up a privacy policy on this website. You can read it here. Apparently, somewhere behind the scenes of my website, WordPress has a database (that is supposedly mine) of the IP addresses and emails of people who comment on my blog posts. I can’t find ANY databases anywhere. Until I can find them and figure out how NOT to collect that information, I’m disabling comments.

I’m still trying to figure this out. I will probably disable the newsletter sign-up thingy until I’m certain it’s GDPR compliant. The main thing about all of this that I find so upsetting is that the big corporations, who probably present more of a threat to people’s privacy (I’m thinking of a big one right now whose CEO’s last name begins with Z) have teams of lawyers and tech gurus at their disposal. I only have me, a bunch of cats, a dog, and a husband whose reaction to all of this was, “You’re a writer. You don’t really need a website and all of that, do you?” (Um…yeah, I do.)  Unlike the big corporations, I do actually care about people’s privacy. I care about my readers. But I don’t know how to navigate any of this.

The more I try to figure all of this out, the more lost I feel. It’s enough to make me wonder if I should just stop everything. I toyed with that idea for a while. Seriously. But being a writer has been my dream since I was very small. I’m not ready to give up on it yet.

 

Negative Rating Survival 101

sad_dog

To be perfectly honest, as a writer, I sort of hate Goodreads. Why? Because readers can leave ratings without leaving a review explaining why they rated it that way. I also hate them because GR has no way of verifying that the reader actually bought and/or read the book. For example, there is a user who goes by Wendy on GR who rates something like four or five books a day (I’m not exaggerating) and rates them all one-star. “She” only “reads” LGBT books. To me, this looks like an obvious troll. However, after I and many others complained to GR, they responded that she isn’t violating their policies and there’s nothing they can do. She is one of GR’s highest rated reviewers. I’m not kidding. I truly wish I were.

However, there are many normal, honest, real readers on GR that also leave low ratings. This used to irk me. I wanted—no, desperately needed—to know why they didn’t like my book. This still bothers me, but not to the extent it once did. I have four strategies for dealing with this. No, they don’t involve wine or chocolate, but those do help.

  • Look at the reader’s profile.

This is done simply by clicking on her portrait. You can (usually, sometimes profiles are private) see what other books the reader has read and how she rated them. If you recognize some of the books and/or authors, this might give you some insight as to what she didn’t like it. Maybe she mostly reads YA and your book is definitely not YA. Maybe she prefers plot-driven books and yours is character-driven. Maybe she’s just rather harsh and gives most books a low rating. (This is different from our troll, Wendy, who only gives one-stars and “reads” unrealistic quantities of books.) My new release received a two-star rating from a guy yesterday and I was momentarily devastated. When I looked at his profile, I saw that he also recently gave two stars to a book by an author I admire. An award-winning author. Obviously, this guy just has bad taste in books. Heehee.

  • Realize that the reader isn’t you.

Okay, that sounds elementary to some of you, but it was a revelation for me. I don’t rate/review books the way most people (apparently) do. I see books as works of art. I love and respect them—even if I don’t enjoy them. Because I view them as works of art, I see them as having inherent value—some artistic merit apart from whatever my experience is with the book. (And yes, I adored literature classes.) I don’t know if this is a writer-thing or just how I was raised. I’ve never left a negative rating or review of a book. I will give it three stars and say some things I liked (there are always things I liked), things I didn’t like (without dwelling), and who I think might actually like it. Or I don’t review it at all. I leave negative reviews of hospitals if they overcharge me and restaurants if they’re dirty or a business if their customer service is horrible, but books get a pass.

Most readers DO NOT think this way. For them, books are entertainment. If a book fails to entertain, it’s crap. I was sneaking about on a reader message board the other day and someone said if a book contained a certain element she didn’t like, she’d dropkick it off a cliff. This horrified me. If someone talked about kicking kittens off a cliff, I would have had a similar visceral reaction. Most readers aren’t literary scholars who will examine a book from different perspectives. They’re people looking to escape the daily grind of their lives. They want something that meets their needs, whatever those happen to be at the time, and if your book doesn’t meet them, well, off the cliff it goes.

For me, this was an ah-ha moment. It gave me a better understanding of my audience and even some empathy for them that I didn’t quite have before. Sometimes, if they dislike something, they just…didn’t like it. They may not even be able to articulate it. So, they leave a rating. However much I dislike ratings, I have to respect that.

  • Revel in the good ratings and reviews.

sad_cats

I guess I tend to be a negative person. When I first started publishing, someone could write a beautiful review and I would be on Cloud Nine for a of couple of hours. One low rating and I was in the dumps for days. Now, I try to fully appreciate good ratings and reviews. I roll around in them, reading them several times. I try to imagine the people who left them (okay, I snoop around in their profiles) and send them good wishes and good vibes. I’m not just grateful to them, I love them.

  • Keep writing.

Don’t let a negative anything affect your love of writing. If you find yourself unable to focus on writing because you’re hung up on a negative rating or review, block it out. You might want to take a break and do something nice for yourself—take a hot bath, go for a run, visit with a good friend—whatever makes you happy and puts you in a positive headspace. And then dive back into your work. Don’t let anything get between you and your art. Ever.

Indie Editing for Indie Authors

Recently, a professional editor told me I didn’t need her editing services. I was extremely flattered! Editing can be hard work, particularly when you’re editing your own material. I’m sharing my method in case it might help other self-published writers on tight budgets.

  • Edit while you work. Before I start writing a scene (I typically write in scenes), I scan the previous day’s efforts for typos, unintentional repeated words, etc. This serves the dual purpose of getting me into the world and voices.
  • Do a rough edit. After I finish the rough draft, I do a rough edit. I search for typos, adverbs, missing or misplaced commas, and inconsistencies. I look for things like hair and eye color that changes for no reason, voice changes, and weak verbs. Because I’m an indie author, I tend to stick to old-fasioned usage and grammar rules. Lay people don’t trust new authors and won’t realize you’re trying something new. They’ll probably just think you don’t know what you’re doing. Choose a style manual and try to be consistent.
  • Have beta readers. Good beta readers are invaluable. Betas will not only help you by asking questions about character motives and ferreting out plot holes, they will also notice typos and missing words. I submit my manuscript to betas after the rough edit.
  • Enter beta edits. This is often where I do some rewriting. Theoretically, you shouldn’t have to do anything too extensive. Your story should have been ready to go when you sent it to your betas. If you have to do significant rewriting, consider running the story by at least one more beta before continuing.
  • Do a final read through. I can’t stress the importance of this step enough. It’s so easy to mess things up by cutting and pasting, adding new phrases, etc. Use the final read through to correct the small errors still in the manuscript.
  • Stop picking at it. If you’ve done your rewrites, edits, had your manuscript read by betas, polished your piece, and gave it a final read–you’re done. Publish it, send it away, give it as a present to your fifth grade Engish teacher–whatever. Just don’t mess with it any more. Move onto your next project. Call your book finished and let it go.

That’s it! Oh, and have fun. Use different fonts and colors to mix things up and change the way your eyes see the text. Currently, I’m editing the sequel to my M/M romance, Because Faery Godmonster, and did the rough edit on a blue background with white New Times Roman text. (I wrote it on a white background in Arial.) I’ll probably do the final read on my tablet. The different format seems to expose typos.

Happy editing!