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.
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 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 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.
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!