Sionnach Wintergreen

author of fantasy and romance


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I’m Done With Epic Fantasy

I write in basically two genres, epic fantasy and erotic romance. I’m going to finish the last book in my current epic fantasy series, and then I’m done with epic fantasy. To be honest, it’s hard to finish that last story at this point, but I know a few people (literally, a few) want to see the series resolved, so I’ll finish it for them.

It just takes too much time and effort to write epic fantasy, and the rewards are minimal. Monetarily, my erotic romances do much better. People seem to like them. My epic fantasy most be very, very niche. Only a few people (and I am so thankful for and love those people!) seem to get it. I’m participating in a review group and Under the Shadow seems to blow peoples’ minds. They don’t understand it, it has too many characters, on and on. One reviewer loved my voice, but thought the characters drifted and had no concrete goals. (It’s a character-driven story–not a plot-driven story. Grr.) The new reviewer is just lost. I’ve told him it’s okay to stop reading it. Apparently, I’m torturing people with my fantasy books.

The erotic romance crowd doesn’t seem to be having any problems with my romances. Those stories are, in fairness, much simpler than the epic fantasy series. I focus on two main characters; the goal is simply starting a relationship; there are no maps. (There are glossaries sometimes because I can’t help myself; I love fantasy and I suck.) Because of their inherent simplicity, my romances only take a few months to write. I actually spent years putting together my epic fantasy series. Years. But the romances sale and no one complains about them.

So, I’ll be retooling the website and shifting my focus to romances. I already have an m/m historical mystery romance planned as well as a paranormal romance in the works. It’s a painful decision, but I wanted to be a writer to communicate with people, to connect with readers, to have strangers read and enjoy my stories. Torturing people with my works was never one of my goals. So, onward and upward. Hello, world of romance!


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Word Counts Aren’t Everything

I don’t know if it’s because of NaNoWriMo or just that everyone likes quantifiable markers of progress, but writers–especially new writers–seem to place an extraordinary amount of emphasis on word count. This seems very wrong-headed to me for several reasons, but I’m only going to discuss one in this post.

It’s easy to let numbers get in the way of progress or become a false marker of it. I hate seeing writers (usually on Twitter) feel deflated because they didn’t reach their daily word count. Writing is a complex art. It’s hard enough without piling some arbitrary goal like the number of words one can click out on top of it. I don’t have a daily word count. I try to write a little every day, but sometimes “writing” means daydreaming about my characters while I do dishes or wash my hair, plotting scenes on a spreadsheet, or reading about writing. I’ve released two novels, a novella, and a short story this year and didn’t fret about the word count a single day.

Sometimes life gets in the way of writing. It just does. This is okay. Sometimes the words flow. Sometimes they don’t. To me, obsessing about word count can interfere with this natural rhythm, stressing out writers who need to relax so they can write more. I often see people setting their daily writing goals too high. So many people want to knock out 3,000 or more words a day. I often don’t write more than 1,500 words on “paper” per day. I write, however, in some form or another, every day.

Writing is too beautiful, too meaningful, to turn into some sort of drudgery. It should be something that is difficult at times, but mostly fun–like a thrilling, high-maintenance lover. It should never be like working at a factory turning out widgets. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your word count requirements, please take a deep breath and remember to ENJOY writing. If you have to back off and read about it, that’s time well-spent. Learning how to craft a story is far more important than banging out some arbitrary number of words.

And here’s the fun part–a good story will naturally result in a good word count. If you have interesting characters, a fleshed out plot with a satisfying resolution, a world of specific details, and stimulating dialogue–I can guarantee that story has a good word count.

Happy writing!

 


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Yesterday I watched Trump adviser Stephen Miller, with his cruel, lifeless eyes, discount the worth of the poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. The poem is “The New Colossus,” a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus. It was added later, he said, and insinuated that it didn’t have anything to do with the meaning of the Statue of Liberty. I don’t understand the conservative preoccupation with the way something originally occurred. Every writer knows the first pass at something is rarely complete and almost always inadequate.

The poem and its message of sanctuary and openness, to me and to many other Americans, defines the statue–it explains its metaphor and purpose. It’s as important as the Statue of Liberty herself.  But what does any of this have to do with a blog about writing books? I write fantasy and erotic romances, those aren’t political. Except when they are. (And, honestly, they always are. Everything is political. Ursula LeGuin has said that fiction writers tell lies in order to tell the truth.)

My latest book, an erotic M/M romance set in a fantasy land, involves a young prince named Elarhe. Magic is forbidden in his land, but he has developed magical powers, so he steals away, disguised as a peasant and crosses the border to the neighboring kingdom where he hopes to explore his abilities. He is an unauthorized immigrant and finds himself doing “anything dirty and dangerous” in order to survive, including interring the bodies of victims of a tannery’s poisoned runoff. (Because I also like to sneak environmental themes into my books….)

He is treated badly in  his new land, but he never gives up and never stops trying to improve his life and make a difference. The idea to make Elarhe an immigrant arose from Trump’s stupid border wall and Muslim ban business. (I tend to react to things by writing about them. I think all writers do this whether their conscious of it or not.) When I was crafting Elarhe’s character, I very much wanted to imbue him with a confidence and optimism that I associate with immigrants. It takes a special courage to relocate to a new country. I’ve thought of doing it myself and have always felt too fearful to make the leap.

I admire people who search for their dreams. I find nothing admirable about dead-eyed, creepy little Nazis who bully reporters and think poems have no value.

 


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Making a New Ceiling

My wonderful, geeky friends are excited about the new woman Doctor in Doctor Who. They were thrilled to see Wonder Woman do so well at the box office and many are hoping that the Black Widow in the Marvel Universe will get her own movie. They’re excited that the new Bond might be female or black. Although I share in their excitement, as a biologically female, genderqueer writer, I find myself wishing we weren’t just rehashing characters written by cisgender, cissexual white men in the middle of the last century.

I wish we were celebrating new, original characters created by people living here and now. I want to hear from diverse voices. I want to know about the characters and worlds created whole cloth by women, people of color, and LGBTQIA people. Diverse writers in the here and now are brimming with stories and characters that are every bit as exciting as anything from some comfortable franchise.

Breaking the glass ceiling is fine, but I would rather create an entirely new ceiling. Something unique and profound. Something from this century. Something created by many points of view–prisms through which we might see ourselves in a new light.

 


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There’s Only One Way…

No. There isn’t. There are as many ways of doing something as there are people on the planet. I hate writing instructors (or reviewers) who act as if there is only one way of writing or one kind of book. (I know, I know. You’re not supposed to get upset with reviewers. They are entitled to their opinions, and I believe that wholeheartedly. That doesn’t mean I can’t feel butt hurt when one doesn’t understand the difference between a character-driven story and a plot-driven story.)

But back to writing tips. Years ago, I was in a writing group where one writer berated another for saying she couldn’t control her characters. I knew exactly what the ‘I can’t control them’ writer meant. To some extent, that’s how I write. My characters come to me in an organic fashion. Writing often feels more like an archeological dig than a creative process. I feel like I’m discovering the characters, discovering the story. There’s something profoundly Jungian about it.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to step in more. I’ll have a flash of inspiration for a plot point or an attitude shift and insert them and watch the story reorder itself. Or I’ll give the protagonist a nudge in the ribs. I can’t even fathom the sort of rational mind who views the characters as chess pieces and feels in control of everything. I’m not arrogant enough to think that person is wrong. I realize they are different. It’s okay for people to be different. Why do so many of us have a problem with that?

I was thinking about Kite from Lover, Destroyer today. I pick on him a lot, but I feel deeply sorry for him. As soon as I thought that, I wondered what the Vulcan from that writing group would have said. “You created his backstory! You created him–how can you feel sorry for him? That’s insane?”

Well, yeah. But I didn’t intentionally create him. He came to me that way. Damaged, possessing a frightening power, manipulated into doing something that preys on his conscience for the rest of his life. Technically, I created him. But I swear, he was broken when I found him.

There are many ways to do the same thing. Mine just happens to be a bit insane. And I’m perfectly fine with that.


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Remembrance

I’m depressed. I’ve been trying to hide it. I’m still writing (a comedy of all things), but everything is kind of hard, my body feels heavy, and I want to sleep more than I want to be awake.

I know one of the reasons is that today is the birthday of someone I loved very much who is gone now. She died of an overdose, but I don’t know if it was intentional or not. She was beautiful, kind, and generous. There aren’t words that describe her well. This is an excerpt from an autobiographical short story I wrote when she was alive about a trip we took to Galveston. She was a heroin addict and had just been diagnosed with hepatitis C. This was about four years before she died. Names have been changed.

Alice and I puttered along the seawall and bought two hermit crabs and some waterguns at a souvenir shop. We shared a love of animals and trash—anything the rest of the world considered useless.  She was tired and wanted to go home, but I coaxed her onto the beach, telling her we needed sand and shells for the crabs, so they would feel at home in our apartment.

I loped along the beach, trying to entice her into the waves with me. She lagged behind, finally stopping to stand by herself.  I backtracked to stand with her, wondering if she was okay.  She stood at the water’s edge and took off her baseball cap, unleashing about two feet of blonde hair.  No emotion showed on her face. The wind swept up from the ocean, tossing her hair and unfurling it behind her. Her open white shirt billowed about her taut body like a waving flag, the thin camisole beneath it clinging to her skin.  I stopped a little behind her; she twisted her fragile neck to greet me as I approached.

“Do you want to get in the water?  Cool off?” I asked.

“No, I just want to go home,” she said listlessly. She turned her face skyward and squinted into the white sun. “The doctor told me I was lucky I didn’t have HIV.”

I dug my toe into the wet sand. “Yeah, she’s right. It could’ve been a lot worse. I mean, god, look at Geoff—that could have been you.”

She was very quiet.  In the bright sunlight, her face was yellow with greenish overtones; she looked like a faded bruise. “Yeah, everybody thinks I’m lucky—that it could’ve been worse.  That’s just what my mother said, too—look at Geoff.” She stared at the ocean with such longing that I thought she might dive into it.  “I never looked at him and thought he was unfortunate. We used to talk about it—about how it was better for his parents than if he had just hung himself.”

“I don’t see how—“

“Sure there’s a stigma, but it’s not as bad somehow as suicide. You know, your kid gets sick, and, yeah, that sucks, but there’s a safety there, like a buffer. It’s not their fault their kid was a junkie. They aren’t responsible. It’s society or music or friends or whatever.  It’s better that way, you know.  It’s kinder than suicide.” She stared out at the ocean, her voice a little wistful. “Much easier for everyone concerned.”

I nodded silently and felt cold in the ocean wind. Her suicide wishes were nothing new.  We had both been enamored with death since childhood. I could have told her that I loved her—that I would be devastated if she died, that I couldn’t imagine a world without her, that was she was my sunlight, my hope, my only and truest friend—but she already knew these things, and none of that really mattered. I possessed no tether that would hold her should she choose to go, but I would have chased her anywhere. My feelings were trivial, my desires were lurid, selfish.  I let them scatter like sand in the wind, let them rain down on the turgid waves to mix with the oil and mud, the plastic soda rings and dead fish.


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Compulsion

I love this J.K. Rowling quote:

“Writing for me is a kind of compulsion, so I don’t think anyone could have
made me do it, or prevented me from doing it.”

I can definitely relate. Yesterday I uploaded Lover, Destroyer to Amazon. It’s awaiting approval. Almost as soon as I uploaded it, I started working on the sequel to Because Faery Godmonster.

I did this because I need some comedy this month. I have two sad anniversaries coming up, and I need to work on something simple and fun. I also did it because I simply can’t help it. As long as I’m not depressed, I have to write. Have to–it’s not a choice. It’s a need like sleeping or eating.