Writing on Artichoke Days

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.

You can find Carillon’s Curse on Amazon here

Do Your Characters Pee or Brush Their Teeth?

Little boy brushing his teeth.

If you’re a writer, do your characters pee?

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.

Thomas never bathes, but, no matter what he does, he always smells like violet water.

Don’t Let Other Writers Get You Down

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.

Writing While Swimming with Sharks

Pantsers must love these. I find them terrifying.

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.

That outline that I thought was such a strong skeleton. Thanks again, Thomas.
Thomas also talks to ghosts. His cat, Gracie, senses them. To discover more about how shy Thomas meets the love of his life and solves a series of murders in 1888 Texas, you can buy Carillon’s Curse on Amazon or read it for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Giving Gifts to Characters

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.

Writing an Ongoing Relationship

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.

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

Do You Know Your Genre?

Apparently, I write dark romance.

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!

You can get my dark paranormal mm romance, Carillon’s Curse, here. Due to its graphic nature, it is intended for adults only.

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.