Diwa & Kaffi, believe it or not, originally came from my attempt to revive a long-trunked story idea set at a college campus that featured nightmares and monsters. This new idea came about in August of 2017 in which I thought about reviving this weird idea by taking away the scary elements and turning it into a world where monsters and humans lived peacefully together. The college campus idea — inspired by my long-lasting love and obsession with college radio and alternative rock, of course — morphed into a multi-character, multi-story setting about flying dragonlike creatures with confidence issues, humans figuring out who they are, ghostlike characters trying to get equal acceptance in society, and so on. I’d been reading a lot of Becky Chambers and other hopepunk authors at the time and I thought that particular style would be perfect for this project. I wrote a lot of outtakes on the 750words site to figure out what their stories might be, and how I could thread them together.
It was a really fun if slightly unwieldy idea that I still have on the backburner, but out of all that came the decision that perhaps I should start smaller, more compact: what about two of those characters, a young human and his dragonlike best buddy with a shared plan to inherit their fathers’ positions at their apartment complex? I could do that.
Writing Diwa & Kaffi came at a time when I was doing some really serious and heavy rethinking about my life. I had a lot of Old Ghosts that, while they were no longer pushing me in directions I didn’t want to go in, I really needed to purge them out of my system once and for all. And I did not want to do that with my writing again. This was a personal change that I wanted to keep mostly personal. So instead of using yet another novel project as therapy, I used it as a guiding light instead: Diwa & Kaffi was the story about being true to myself — without outside influence or baked-in guilt, focusing only on what my heart longed for. The story of these two best friends is about working past those fears and obstacles. It’s about knowing and understanding what your desires are, and trusting and believing in yourself to reach for them. Even Anna-Nassi and Cole are part of this story: self-trust, self-belief, and learning to accept what you truly want.
I finished the first draft in early 2018, right about the time I was prepping Meet the Lidwells for self-publication, writing In My Blue World, and questioning why I was still at my then-current Day Job, not to mention working out some personal and emotional things I’d long ignored in my life to date. I felt a bit blown away, a bit empty and lost. Not entirely scared, just…unsure where to go next.
Writing Diwa & Kaffi affected me a hell of a lot more than I’d expected precisely because I’d chosen to use it to realign my own heart and mind. Unlike the many times in the past, I knew which direction I wanted to go in, I just had to start taking those steps. These two best friends were my way of saying to myself: Hey, it’s okay. You can be afraid and uncertain, but as long as you know exactly what you want and how you need to get to that point, then all you need is confidence to see it through.
Each of the major characters has a bit of me in them. Diwa is my younger self, bright-eyed and full of optimistic hope even despite my fears and self-doubt. Kaffi is my younger self’s ideal, more self-confident and more willing to take chances. Samuel is the adult me, having latched onto the past for a little too long to the point that I’d ensnared myself in it. Graymar is the other adult me, too stubborn in my self-comfort to really want to change when change is needed. Anna-Nassi is the nonconformist me who, in my mind, doesn’t give a shit about others think, but in my heart really does worry about that, far more than I was willing to admit. Cole is the self-conscious me, constantly worried about what others expect and think of me. These were all parts of me that I wanted to fix, that I wanted to change for the better.
I remember when I finished it and gave it a reread, I was absolutely shocked by how perfectly I’d nailed it. I could always see the imperfections of my previous novels (what author doesn’t feel this?), but this one turned out exactly how I’d wanted it. I’d leveled up in my work, which meant that I was now in uncharted territory once more, and that kind of threw me for a loop for a while.
Then came the pandemic. It came just as I’d sent out Diwa & Kaffi to the first of a list of agents — I believed in this one to the point that I thought it could work at a commercial publisher — and very quietly derailed my plans. And then came my leaving the then-current Day Job after fourteen years, for the most idiotic of reasons. Life upended. Not entirely out of my hands, but I was definitely in new territory here.
I put the novel aside and started working on newer projects, but I never put it out of my mind. I spent two unemployed years writing but also working on the other half of that self-improvement equation: making good on what I’d learned so far and refusing to be sidetracked or delayed this time.
I put Diwa & Kaffi aside as an ace in my pocket to be used later. When the publishing world somewhat realigned itself a while later, I sent it out again…but at that point I realized that didn’t quite feel right to me either. I mean, I’d love to be published by one of the major genre houses, but I don’t have to take that route, do I…?
I mean, I loved the experience of self-publishing with my last five released novels. I’ve always loved the DIY aspect; like I always say, it’s like I’m that punk band releasing that self-made single, doing it my own way. My books are not perfect but I still get the occasional e-book download for In My Blue World and A Division of Souls, so I must be doing something right, yeah? I can do this. I can see Diwa & Kaffi as the next step in my self-publishing career. I’m more confident in my writing, and in myself.
All I need to do is follow that desire. Pushing against the boundaries of life and winning.