On Trying a New Genre

I do so love the feeling of coming up with a completely new story out of nowhere.

That happened to me last March when a half-coherent waking dream grew into a surge of ideas, which in turn grew into a complete outline later that morning, which eventually grew into Queen Ophelia. It happened yet again Sunday morning when I woke up with an idea for a meet-cute romcom. I’m not entirely sure when I’ll write it, but I’ll at least give myself time to write an outline to see if it’s a workable story.

I suppose it might surprise you to read that I’ve taken a turn into romance, but hell, why not? It’s the same thing I did in ’93 when I pivoted into science fiction. It’s a genre I’ve been fascinated by but rarely gotten around to reading, writing or even understanding until much later in my years. And as it happens, the genre is in a really good place right now, even as it continues to be one of the strongest selling genres ever. Head to that section of your local book store and you’ll see quite a lot of different styles within the genre. In particular there’s been a fresh wave of romcoms with fun titles and colorful cartoony covers. As a self-publisher that does their own covers, I really love the looks of those; they’re eye-catching and they’re great at letting you know they’re going to be an enjoyable and funny read.

I also suppose one might be worried that I have no idea what I’m getting into. I mean, that’s par for the course for most writers anyway, but that’s part of the fun of being a writer. There’s a lot of resonance going on; I’ve always taken notice when a story just hits me the right way and inspires me to write something similar. And with the books that I’ve been reading lately, I can definitely feel that. Again, writing Diwa & Kaffi is partly to blame when I learned that not every conflict in my stories need to be high stakes. And I do love to write different kinds of relationships…it’s one thing I realize I can do really well, especially if it’s important to the overall plot.

You could probably say I’m writing out of my depth here, but I’m willing to take the challenge. After all, Theadia is a space opera and I’ve never written one of those before, either. All of these new projects are telling me one thing: writing in a new genre isn’t just an exercise for me, it’s something I need to do to break out of my safety net. I’m always willing to challenge myself on a story, especially if it resonates with me as much as these have. Part of the adventure here is figuring out how to work past the obstacles and make it work.

The other part is proving to myself that I can do it in the first place. That’s always been a major part of my writing career, and I’m not about to rest on my laurels now.

On Expansion

Image courtesy of K-On!

The other day while I was working on Theadia, it occurred to me that though this novel has already hit 130k words, it’s still missing numerous important parts. While it’s strong in some respects, I’d completely ignored other characters and events that need to be there in order to make this work. I kind of did that on purpose, as I’d started this in a very just run with it and see where it goes style, albeit with a vague-ish fourteen-page rough outline. I wanted to focus on just getting the words down instead of fretting about making them perfect right away. Besides, this is my first space opera, and I’ve got a bit of a steep learning curve going on.

But now that I’ve gotten this far — almost to the important climactic moments of the entire story — I feel like I left a hell of a lot out. Passages where I’d just written a three-paragraph ‘this is what happens in the ensuing three months’ to get to another scene…or worse, scenes of character conflict where I barely touched on the antagonist’s reasons for their actions. Again, I did that on purpose in a ‘we’ll fix it in post’ sort of way.

And then there are the multiple minor characters I introduced, had them stick around for a few moments, and then kind of disappear. There’s one I’d created a few days ago — I’d completely forgotten to give a major character a co-pilot, which is important — which made me realize two things. One, that major character hardly has any scenes except a few supporting parts and one important front-stage scene. Two, I hardly gave her that much character development other than being related to one of the primary titular characters, Claudia.

Which made me think: am I stretching this story out far too long and stuffing it with inconsequential chaff…or is this another case of story expansion?

I’ve told you before about how I’d expanded a story in the past, when I started revising The Phoenix Effect and ended up writing a trilogy instead. And though I can’t say for sure just yet, I think the same thing is happening for Theadia. I love the story, but there’s so much missing. And furthermore, it’s the same exact feeling I felt when I started writing A Division of Souls oh so long ago. I knew I had a good story, but I wasn’t giving it nearly as much breathing room as it desperately needed. It needed expansion.

At this point I’m still debating how to handle this. I have a few options here:

–Continue with the story as is and complete it, then reshape it during revision. Pare down any extraneous subplots and tighten up any weak spots.
–Continue with the story as is, just to finish it so I have something to work on when I expand it. Or…
–Start the major revision now with the plan of turning it into a duology or a trilogy.

Option 1 is not what I want to do, however. I don’t want it to be a single self-contained volume because the story would be too cramped and incomplete. Option 2 makes sense to me, but it also feels like I’d be wasting much-needed time, knowing full well that I’d be rewriting it anyway. (And besides, I know exactly how it’s going to end.)

Option 3, to start the major rewrite/revision now, makes the most sense. Just like the trilogy, this process would give me an even deeper immersion in the world, to further understand all of its weblike connections, and give the characters and events the breathing space they truly need.

I mean, sure, part of this is my brain thinking hey, this is a year ending in 2, which means there’s gonna be some awesome writing music coming out, and I’ve always wanted to relive the best parts of writing a trilogy…it’s gonna be great! [Granted, the more sedate adult part of my brain, while it does have those high hopes, knows that it won’t be exactly the same.] I knew I’d be returning to writing plus-sized stories again, sooner or later. I love writing them, and I love everything about the process of writing them.

I had a good run of writing four publishable standalones after the trilogy, just to prove to myself that I could write in that size and style…but I really want to return to the Big Stuff again. The physical world of Theadia is vast, as is its cast. Like the Bridgetown trilogy, it starts of with a single person’s focus and grows to become something affecting everyone. It’s a story about connections, community, and responsibility. Its recurring theme is about the often mundane yet absolutely critical points in any event that need to happen in order for everything else to go right. [I admit there may be a bit of influence from my Former Day Job in there.]

So if this unfolds the way I think it is, this is going to keep me busy for the next several months, no doubt. Not that I’m complaining, just good to know ahead of time.

More as this unfolds, dear reader. And yes, there will most likely be more writing soundtracks involved.

(Image courtesy of Gall Force 2: Destruction)

Back to Self-Publishing…?

Image courtesy of Green Apple Books, our local bookstore

I really do miss self-publishing.

There, I said it. Back when I self-released A Division of Souls, I had the vaguest of ideas of what I was doing and mostly trusting my own instincts and relying on my own interpretations of how self-publishing works. I loved the idea of releasing my own books like I was selling my new punk single in Maximumrocknroll. I loved the idea of self-producing it — the editing, the cover art selection and layout — and trusting that I was doing a pretty good job of it. I loved creating and ordering those freebie cards that I could give out during local conventions. I may not have made any significant amounts of money, but I’m okay with that.

Why did it fall by the wayside? Well, a lot of personal stuff happened. The Former Day Job’s killing off of working remotely severely damaged whatever writing time I had. There was the idea of sending Diwa & Kaffi out to agents and publishers that got put on hold because of the pandemic that went on for far too long. Then I took a lot of time off to make some seriously overdue personal changes in my life.

I kept writing, though.

And because of that, I have multiple books waiting to see the light of day: Diwa & Kaffi is completed and ready to be seen by the big bad world. Queen Ophelia and Theadia are almost done. And I’m already thinking of what to work on next.

Which is all fine, but how to re-approach that avenue? I could keep up with what I’m doing, but there’s only so far I can go by just putting it out there. I need to relearn how to promote myself, what I can afford and what I can do on my own. I need to find more avenues to get my stories out there. I still want to aim for the goal of at least one title released per year, so that’s not the problem I need to focus on most. It’s bringing attention to the title. And I’ve read so many different things about how to do it that I’ve come to a temporary conclusion: no one really knows the One True Way towards self-publishing success, because there isn’t one. It’s not so much about following someone else’s directions as it is finding the version that works for you. I’m yet to find that version myself, but I’m still willing to take the time to search for it. Eventually I’ll find that version that fits me best.

In the meantime, I’m going to stick with what’s worked with me so far as a stable platform, and what I’ve enjoyed the most about it: writing the novels, doing the post-production, and putting it out there in the world for everyone to enjoy.

Year’s End View VI: Fin

Image courtesy of Weathering with You

So. With all that talk about the past year, I suppose it’s only fitting that I finish out the year (and this series of posts) looking ahead, yes?

I’m writing this just as yet another wave of COVID is making its way across the world, and this time out A and I know a few people who have been struck by it. They’re all okay from what I’ve been told, but this time it’s definitely cutting a bit close to home, and I do sometimes wonder how long this pandemic will continue to go on. Still…A and I are also taking the best steps we can to avoid it, masks and all. And I’m refusing to feel cynical or afraid or angry about it. [If anything, I am angry to the extent that there are those going out of their way to refuse to take any responsibility in helping stop this pandemic.] Whatever else is going on out there in the world that crashes into us — the strange weather patterns and destructive wildfires, the hateful words of bigots and the Ponzi schemes of cryptobros, and everything else — I continue to be well aware of it, but I choose not to let it bury me. I survive how I can.

I’m also writing this on the cusp of wondering what the next year will be like.

What will happen in my writing career? It’ll be what I make of it, of course. Whether I continue with my small band of readers or if by some chance one of my novels is a success I won’t know unless I try, anyway. And then there’s new projects to think about: I’m always fascinated at how they pop up unbidden. At this point last year, I hadn’t even come up with Queen Ophelia — I’d come up with that in March. My writing career has never been about reaching a certain point and surfing from there on in. One, it’s not productive, and Two, I’d get bored easily. Writing taught me to look at life and realize that I can stay safe, or I can say sure, why the hell not?

And what of my personal life? Well, as they say, it’s a work in progress. Making peace with issues I’d long ignored. Learning more about what makes me tick. Embracing new phases of my life. Finding and starting a new day job. It’s been a while since I left that last place, and the me of late 2019 and the me of New Year’s Eve 2021 are very different people indeed. I think I was getting to this point, but I had to clear a hell of a lot of detritus that was in my way first. Most of that is now gone and I am surely glad of that. Whatever I do next, I can do so with a lot more determination and self-trust.

I don’t have many particular resolutions other than to make my life better in certain ways. Whether it’s health-related, mind-related or otherwise, as long as I’m going in the right direction. There will always be some form of obstacle that’ll present itself in one way or another, but with a bit of patience and knowledge and a lot more self-confidence that I’ve had in the past, I should be able to overcome them.

I can do this, one way or another.

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I’m hoping all of you have a safe New Year’s Eve, and a safe and healthier 2022. We still have a ways to go, but we can do it together.

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(PS – I’ll be taking the first week of the new year off just to relax, and maybe kick off a few new things in my life. See ya on the flip side!)

Year’s End View V

First things first: END OF YEAR BOOK SALE!

Want some free e-books? My novels are currently available for free over at Smashwords until the end of the year! That’s all three books in the Bridgetown TrilogyMeet the Lidwells!, and In My Blue World, available in all formats. Go on, you know you want them!

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I’ve been thinking, along with everything else, about where I want my writing career to go in 2022. I haven’t self-published anything new since In My Blue World in 2019, and I need to catch up on my plan of (at least) one self-pubbed project a year. I’ll give myself a break, though, considering what the pandemic has done to the publishing arena over the last couple of years. My initial plan of submitting Diwa & Kaffi to agents and publishers was put on the sidelines because of it, so I chose to use the ensuing wait time wisely by writing Queen Ophelia and Theadia. One (or both? or all three?) may be released in e-book form sometime next year, depending on where we are in revision and cover art.

Meanwhile, back in November I joked to A that maybe for next year’s NaNoWriMo I should write a Christmas romcom. (A did kind of give me an ‘oookay, where did this come from?’ look, but come on, romances are often a guaranteed seller no matter how much nonbelievers want to make fun of them.) I’ve actually been meaning to read more romances anyway to expand my reading and writing horizons. This in turn kicked off an immersive reading binge of romances and romance/mysteries, and I’m thinking this is indeed a viable avenue for me, not to mention another genre for me to read so I’m not stuck in the same reading groove. We both found Sarah Morganthaler’s Moose Springs, Alaska series really good fun, and it also has excellent doggo content. This kind of setup seems to resonate with my style of humor and plot, so I’m thinking this might be a good start.

This, of course, led to another semi-related conversation about pen names. I tend to think my given name is pretty plain and easy to pronounce (though I’ve heard my last name mangled many times over the years), but I’ve often thought about toying with a pen name anyway. I know of a few writers who’ve used them for one reason or another, whether it’s to revive a flagging career, kickstart a new one, or to keep different styles and genres separate. I do have a few thoughts about this that I may toy with in the new year. In a way I kind of like the idea, considering that I’ve put said career on pause over the last couple years. Starting off fresh across the board does have a certain appeal.

There’s something to be said about creating a new self-image, especially when you’ve been thinking about it over a long period of time and it’s something that’s long overdue. This is another one of the paradoxes in my life: while I might be a creature of comforting habits, there’s also this consistent undercurrent that I need to change things up now and again, especially when it’s desperately needed.

And in my writing career, while I’m happy that I’ve been coming up with these new stories, many that I’m proud of, I still get the feeling that I’m limiting myself somehow. Whether it’s by self-censoring or avoidance, I know when it happens because that’s when I get irritated with my work. Why am I writing all these non-action scenes? Why am I avoiding writing conflict? Why am I finding it so hard to face those scenes? It’s that paradox: I feel comfortable avoiding the conflict, but I know that does not make a good story.

I kind of blame writing Diwa & Kaffi for this, really. That project, while near and dear to my heart, was partly an exercise in writing conflict that specifically wasn’t based on protagonists and antagonists. The conflict in that story is within: learning to trust oneself and others, and learning how to believe in oneself. This in turn kind of skittered my own life into an unexpected direction: I realized these were conflicts I was avoiding in my own life. Writing that kind of story is one thing, but dealing it in reality is quite another. And it took me a while to realize just how badly I was limiting myself, not just as a writer but as a person.

While writing Theadia and Queen Ophelia this year, I chose to face that. I prepped myself by having a relatively strong outline I could work from, but I had to learn to trust myself with these stories. Let them go where they needed to go, even if they went in unexpected directions. This wasn’t just the “steadily increasing the volume” action style I used for the Bridgetown Trilogy…this was about immersing myself in these stories. Putting myself into them, but also letting the characters shine as much as possible. While they’re still a bit of a pre-revision mess, they’re probably the strongest stories and the most realistic characters I’ve written. I trust these stories implicitly enough that revision will only make them shine even brighter.

Which brings me back to the theme of this whole series of posts: I’ve been running in rough draft mode for far too long. Sure, there are moments in my life, professional and personal, where I’ll shine when my strengths are at their peak, but everything else definitely needed a fuckton of work. And that work is what I’d done over the last year and a half during this weird pandemic season. And I think, finally, I’m ready to emerge in a much better edition of myself.

Year’s End View IV

Image courtesy of K-On!

First things first: END OF YEAR BOOK SALE!

Want some free e-books? My novels are currently available for free over at Smashwords until the end of the year! That’s all three books in the Bridgetown TrilogyMeet the Lidwells!, and In My Blue World, available in all formats. Go on, you know you want them!

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I’ve been thinking about new year’s resolutions lately. I mean, I always think of them this time of year, as one usually does, and wonder about which ones I’ve reached with confidence, ones that fell by the wayside for one reason or another, ones I’d completely forgotten about before the year was up, and ones I’m still working on. Some years it’s on a personal and soulful level: getting out of an emotional, mental or professional rut I’d found myself in, training myself not to fall so easily into bitter moods, things like that. And some years it’s goal-oriented: finishing and self-publishing that novel, submitting that story, uploading those pictures, expanding my musical or writing knowledge.

One resolution I thought of recently was about facing personal fears and breaking myself out of the habit of the reactions they cause. Whether it’s about job searching or submitting my novels, or hell, even outwardly showing more emotions than I have in the past, I know a lot of these are what I call stupid fears. Things I could easily face and conquer, if only I break out of the lifelong habit of automatically sliding into them. Sure, some of it is due to patriarchal training (the ‘boys aren’t supposed to show weakness’ of yore) and self-destructive listlessness (the ‘why even bother’ response, in other words), but come on: these are things I could break myself out of if I tried. And kept at it.

I’d like to think that I’ve done a lot of that over the years and I’m not nearly as bad as I used to be, but yeah, those reactions are still there, partly out of passivity and partly because I’m so used to it that I slide into it before I can even stop myself. And yes, this is why one of my personal mantras has been just shut the fuck up and DO it already. It’s amazing what I can accomplish if I just tell that passive, negative, stoic and fearful side of me to zip it and take the plunge in the next breath.

I suppose I could say that will be one of my resolutions for 2022. I don’t really have an exact wording for it, but I don’t think it’s something that I need to give a name to. It’s something I know is there and it’s something I’m tired of leaning on, and it’s time for it to be gone. And there’s a secondary part to that equation as well: what takes its place? Confidence? Sure, but what kind? I think the kind I’m looking for is the one where I don’t need it to prove anything to anyone, or to get away with something, or any other kind like that. Just a simple and positive ‘yeah, let’s make this happen’ kind.

As long as it points me in the right direction.

Year’s End View III

First things first: END OF YEAR BOOK SALE!

Want some free e-books? My novels are currently available for free over at Smashwords until the end of the year! That’s all three books in the Bridgetown TrilogyMeet the Lidwells!, and In My Blue World, available in all formats. Go on, you know you want them!

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Some ends of the year have a feeling of finality, while others tend to feel more like transition points, at least for me, anyway. I was thinking about December of 2001 the other day of all things, still trying to process recent lifechanging events while still continuing my ongoing habit of stopping at Newbury Comics for cd purchases. The single for The Church’s “Numbers” pops into mind, the first cd I’d bought that actually said “(c) 2002” even though it had dropped a few weeks before New Year’s Eve. I suppose I thought of it because it signified a sign of something new.

I still embrace using New Year’s Eve and Day as a way to kick off personal change of some sort. I’m not about making Best Laid Plan resolutions, nor am I one to do the “maybe I’ll learn a new language/teach myself chess/climb Mount Everest/etc” bucket list sort of resolution, either. My resolutions are more about allowing myself the time, patience and headspace to start some kind of new process or project I’ve been wanting to start. They’re also about bettering myself on personal levels, usually working via my whiteboard calendar and daily schedule.

I’d say the end of 2021 has felt more like a transition point than a finality. I mean, my life’s always felt like that, really, but this time out it’s been much more like I know what journey I’m on right now instead of flailing my way in some vague direction. I spent a lot of 2021 knowing what I wanted to do, what I wanted to achieve. I didn’t finish any of it, at least in the sense that I’m still working on it. What’s important here is that they’re moving.

As long as I keep moving, I’m going in the right direction.

Year’s End View II

First things first: END OF YEAR BOOK SALE!

Want some free e-books? My novels are currently available for free over at Smashwords until the end of the year! That’s all three books in the Bridgetown Trilogy, Meet the Lidwells!, and In My Blue World, available in all formats. Go on, you know you want them!

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So. What else has been on my mind this year? Well, something dark and dreary. With sunlight at the end.

I have an extremely terrible and self-sabotaging habit of planning (and often overplanning, and overthinking) but not always following through. Most times I will, but when it truly counts it doesn’t always measure up to the hype I try to make myself believe. Whether it’s high standards, perfectly nailing the landing or realizing there’s a shit-ton more work I need to do before I get to where I’m happy with it, it rarely pans out the way I hope. I’ll get frustrated and wonder why I’m even trying. Or the opposite: I’ll think I’m at a really great level but get told that my standards need to be higher.

I also have an extremely terrible and self-sabotaging habit of deferring to the happiness of others, often to the detriment of my own. I know I’ve spoken of this before. It’s just the way I wired myself as a kid and I’ve spent most of my life ignoring it or working around it instead of trying to do a major rewiring job instead. Because, y’know, feeling guilty about changing myself might bother someone else’s image of me. Big words, coming from someone who’s been a big fan of nonconformity since they first discovered college radio as a teenager in the 80s, yeah? It’s one of my life’s biggest paradoxes.

So what does this have to do with 2021? I gave it a name this year: anxiety. I decided, why not call it what it is, instead of trying to paint it as something else less scary? It isn’t crippling, thankfully. At least not anymore. [There’s a reason I don’t talk or think about the details of my life in the early to mid 90s all that much other than when music is involved, or just to acknowledge that yeah, that was a dark time for me.] It’s a part of me I’ve always thought was a bit broken. Not dangerously so, and I’ve created healthy workarounds that keep me running at a decent speed. Not always at everyone else’s most of the time, but enough to keep up when needed. I don’t take anything for this, as I don’t feel I need to, though I do notice that my blood pressure meds did somewhat chill it out a bit, which helps.

My point being: I’ve played mental and emotional games with myself for years to remain functional. And in the last four or five years I’ve fixed a lot of those issues, and 2021 was the year in which a lot of those games finally came to a close. I don’t need to depend on them anymore. I can face whatever personal demons that might still linger, and I feel all the better for it when I’ve conquered them, or sent them packing. Or more often, just let them vanish like ash in the wind.

I still have a long way to go. I still have a few self-built barriers that need to be torn down. But the way keeps getting clearer as time goes on, and that makes it so much easier.

Year’s End View I

Image courtesy of Makoto Shinkai, of course

I’ve tried to avoid falling into the trap of ’20xx has been a shitshow’ over the years because, frankly, I’ve already played that cynical game for several years in the 90s and it didn’t do a damn thing to make my life any better at the time other than make me feel even worse. A lot of things have happened in the last couple of years, some it well within my control and some of it not, and the most I can do is keep going despite it all. Life around us has definitely changed in one way or another.

In a way it’s kind of felt like an enforced renewal, if that makes sense…like it was far past time to purge some of the poisons we’d fed ourselves over the last several decades, plucked us out of a race we’d been trying so hard to keep up with despite our exhaustion, recalibrated our speed to more acceptable and mentally healthier levels, and gave us a chance to start fresh. It’s changed our viewpoints somewhat.

I understand how terrifying that can be for some people, especially when you’ve been trained to run that pre-mapped race at corporate-enforced speeds. Believe me, I know…so many of my jobs in my life demanded that I stay in constant motion lest I be seen as not actually working, and that nearly always breeds a special brand of guilt when you slow down out of physical or mental exhaustion. When you’re given the ability to take that break guilt-free, it’s hard to accept. Somewhere in the back of your mind you feel guilty anyway, even if no one else cares. You get that itchy feeling that you need to do something every minute. And that feeling gets harder to purge the longer you’re kept from that downtime.

Now that we seem to be (hopefully) approaching the back end of a pandemic era with its lesser variants, rising vaccinations and healthier habits, it almost feels like things might actually get a bit sunnier in the near future. Not to ignore the terrible things that are still out there, of course…those are an unfortunate constant no matter what era. But I really want to feel as though we’ve been given the opportunity to rethink the way we approach those things, and I want to embrace that. Reacting to every negative event with a reactionary emotional drama has never been a healthy approach at all for me, and yet it’s all I’d known for years, and I felt it was time for me to change that. [Side note, come to find out lowering my blood pressure with medication helped here. Whodathunkit?]

So I’ve been spending most of 2021 recalibrating…emotionally, mentally, physically, and creatively. And apparently it paid off, as the last time I spoke with my parents, my mother told me I sounded a lot happier and healthier as of late. It weirdly felt like vindication, come to think of it…like I had to go against the grain to find that happiness, but taking the alternate journey was so worth it.