Queering Up Your Bookshelf: Dawn R. Schuldenfrei

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

Today I welcome Dawn R. Schuldenfrei to Queering Up Your Bookshelf to talk about how fellow queer romance writers KJ Charles and Jordan L. Hawk inspired her to keep writing, favorite tropes, and her upcoming release, LIMINAL HEARTS.

Welcome, Dawn!


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Dawn R. Schuldenfrei (she/her) writes primarily fantasy. She happily fulfills the role of “the quiet one everyone used to think was normal,” surprising family and innocent bystanders with her dark and twisted sense of humor at the perfectly inopportune moment.

She hopes to one day meet all her characters, and those of her favorite authors, since she knows they're out there somewhere.  Until then, she'll continue to have conversations with them in her head, and occasionally out loud (but she'll pretend she's talking to the dog).

 Find Dawn online:

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.1. What is your writing origin story?

I’ve enjoyed writing for almost as long as I can remember. It was a hobby at first; I planned to be a microbiologist at the time! Then I realized I didn’t like living in the lab, and I’d rather live in my head.

I had a little luck early on with publishing some poetry and nonfiction pieces. Then I got distracted by kids and marriage problems, and took a break for about a dozen years. I wasn’t reading fiction during that time either. But a couple years ago I was in a really rough relationship patch, and looked for an outlet via books. I stumbled onto Jordan L. Hawk and KJ Charles, and it was like the whole world opened up again. They really motivated me to get back into my own writing.

2. What inspires your writing and how do you keep that inspiration alive?

I love excitement and adventure, and I can’t find that in the real world, so I want to create it, for myself and for other people. I get inspiration from reading good books (fiction and nonfiction). Everything goes into my brain and crashes around until fun things pop out.

3. What does representation mean to you and how does it feature in your writing?

I think it’s important to show as many different people living their unique lives as possible. I’m panromantic ace, but I didn’t even know asexuality was a thing until I was in my mid-30’s. It would have been immensely helpful to understand that part of myself when I was younger.

Also, seeing depictions of queer people bonding and loving each other, platonically as well as romantically, can give a better sense that there’s community out there for everyone, and if you don’t have that community in your life yet, there’s still hope of finding it someday.

4. How do you balance your writing life with everything else life throws at you?

My balancing act is more like teetering violently from one side to the other while desperately hanging on by my toes. I’m ADD, so my brain likes to leap all over the place and jump on whatever catches its attention at the moment. Plus, I have kids that need me to varying degrees, so my schedule can be erratic. I’ve found putting deadlines on myself and then using other people to enforce them (scheduling with my editor so I know I have to send her my WIP by a certain date, telling everyone what my publication date will be, etc.) helps me get things done, even if it means pulling some late nights.

5. What has your publishing journey been like?

I attended the Odyssey Fantasy Writers Workshop in the late 90’s, and started submitting stories for publication after that. I got a lot of nice rejection letters: “I really like this story, but we don’t have a place for it at this time.” I had some small successes, but when I came back to writing recently, I realized I didn’t want to deal with the gatekeeping and turnaround times of the mainstream publishing world. I want to follow my own schedule, find my own cover art, all of that. So this time around I’m going independent.

6. What are some of your favorite tropes and how do you subvert them?

I really like chosen one and hidden heir type stories. Sometimes I mix things up by adding some weird humor to it (one of my planned series involves a farmer-turned-detective and his psychic chicken). Sometimes by just changing up where the story goes versus where readers expect it to: the chosen one fails, the rediscovered heir walks away, those kinds of things.

7. What advice do you have for new authors?

Write what you like; there are readers for it out there somewhere. Don’t listen to people who tell you there’s only one way to do something, or even worse, that thing can’t/shouldn’t be done. Usually that just means they don’t know as much as they think they do. Over the years they’ve declared horror dead, fantasy done, and so on. And they’re always wrong.

8. What is one thing that surprised you about your current project?

When I started LIMINAL HEARTS, I wanted to write a unicorn story for adults. Where the unicorn was there to rescue a middle-aged woman, instead of some virginal kid. Then it turned out my unicorn needed more rescuing than the human woman did. Maybe now it’s a human story for unicorns?

9. What is one of your favorite scenes or characters that you have written recently?

I have a critter based on a hellbender salamander in my current book. His name is Sal, and he’s pretty adorable. One of my favorite scenes is when the main characters realize the hard way that he likes to get wet whenever he can. Even if he’s inside the house, and the only water around is in the toilet

10. What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?

My current work is called LIMINAL HEARTS, and it’s book one in my RULES OF CHAOS series. I have a prequel short story out already, and five books total planned. LIMINAL HEARTS follows Anaya, a unicorn who can take human form, and Tara, a panromantic asexual human, as they try to save the Lake Champlain monster from an evil unicorn. It’ll be out at the end of June.

Next will be book two, which doesn’t have a title yet. It’ll follow half-fae/half-gnome Elsee, the protagonist from STRINGS ATTACHED, the prequel short. She’ll have to figure out what has the Appalachian Fae Court all stirred up and how to stop her aunt, the queen, from ruining Elsee’s life, and possibly the whole area.


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Battle musical chairs!

Half-fae/half-gnome Elsee has avoided the games and power plays of the Appalachian Faerie Court so far. She prefers hanging out with her grandfather in the stony caverns around Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and making music with the local humans.

But then her aunt, Queen Aoife, comes to claim Elsee’s most prized possession. When she can no longer avoid fae rules, Elsee must find her own way around them.

Because even family needs boundaries, and nobody touches this girl’s banjo.

Magic is moving. Things are stirring. Let the games begin…

Book 0 of the Rules of Chaos series.

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COMING SOON: LIMINAL HEARTS (Rules of Chaos, Book 1 )

Fall in Vermont is lovely: beautiful leaves, cool days, slimy lake monsters, an evil unicorn…

Tara wasn’t expecting to meet the woman of her dreams at her little library in Starksburgh, Vermont. She’s asexual for starters, which makes finding someone compatible a bit hard. She’s okay with that: she has friends and a decent life.

But this woman really stands out. Tara knows she’s found a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and she’s not about to let that get away. Even if it means following a human-looking unicorn into the stranger depths of the backwoods.

Anaya came to Vermont tracking a supernatural killer, one who’s a little too familiar. The human she meets is a pleasant distraction, but could she be more than that? How much can Anaya trust herself? Does she have the strength to save herself, let alone everyone else?

The Loch Ness Monster has been devoured…can Anaya and Tara keep the Lake Champlain Monster from being next?

Queering Up Your Bookshelf: Taylor Brooke

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

Today I welcome Taylor Brooke to Queering Up Your Bookshelf to talk about authentic representation, juggling multiple projects—and genres—at once, and their experience co-writing their upcoming m/m second chances romance, Shadows You Left, out May 20 from Entangled.

Welcome, Taylor!


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Taylor Brooke (they/she) writes Queer books filled with magic and attitude. After an exciting career in Special Effects Makeup, she moved to Oregon and settled in the mountains with her plants and one-toothed cat. Connect with her on Twitter @taysalion. 


Pre-order SHADOWS YOU LEFT

Taylor's backlist titles including her critically acclaimed debut FORTITUDE SMASHED

FIND TAYLOR ONLINE:


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What is your writing origin story?

I started writing when I was young, but I didn’t get serious until I was in high school. I started creating original stories, roleplaying with friends, establishing rules for worlds and narratives we played in regularly. I probably did most of my writing in the fanfiction space, though. That’s where I built a name for myself and really worked to hone my craft. Without Archive of Our Own, I probably wouldn’t be a published author today.

 

What inspires your writing and how do you keep that inspiration alive?

That’s a tough question. I’m constantly working on something which both feeds and starves my inspiration, to be honest. If I’m not working, I feel like I’m falling behind, and when I am working, I’m constantly wishing I had less on my plate. It’s this weird game I play with myself where I see how far my creative limits can be pushed before something breaks - usually a scene I’m working on or my sleep schedule. Then I’ll take a step back and slow down. Really though, I think the most important part of my writing regiment when it comes to keeping inspiration alive is having something I’m unapologetically passionate about hanging around in the wings. Right now, that passion project is a book about a sheltered evangelical boy who gets roped into joining a satanic fraternity. It’s different than anything else I’ve got in the pipeline - written in first person, intimate voice structure, personal themes being explored. I know that book will be there if I need a break from something else, and I know I can always put what I’m working on down and go re-read what I’ve written of that manuscript for a self-hype moment. Sometimes just reminding yourself that you’re capable can refill the creative well.

 

What does representation mean to you and how does it feature in your writing?

Representation means authenticity. That’s a complicated thing I just said and I’m going to do my best to explain it. Representation, like a lot of things in publishing, is marketable to a point. As long as representation is palatable to a certain readership then it is allowed to exist in our industry. Unfortunately, that representation is rarely authentic. So, to me, when we talk about representation as something universal we do a disservice to the authors and creators doing their best to write from their bones. We’re setting them up for failure. Because authenticity is not a one-size-fits-all publishing trend, it’s not something we all experience the same way or twice over. It’s a deliberate, personalized, realized experience of self, culture, sexuality, ethnicity, gender and emotion in a way that only that specific person can express. Does that mean their particular authenticity won’t speak to someone else? Of course not. I relate to a lot of authentic representation out there today, but that doesn’t mean it’s in the same vein of something I’d write. Relating to a story doesn’t always mean significance can only be found in telling stories in its likeness. To me, representation is the effort to diversify the industry by allowing the same story to be written by six different people, from six different backgrounds, in six different ways, and not to call it a dead trend like vampires or werewolves or heist YA books. It’s allowing more voices to tell stories we have heard again in different ways while also being allowed to tell new stories as well. It’s a re-balancing of power. An effort to be inclusive. It’s looking at a bookshelf and knowing there is something for you or me or them or us waiting to be read.

 

What is your writing process and does it differ between your YA and NA/adult projects?

So, to be honest, my writing process doesn’t differ between my YA and NA projects. But my my writing process does change depending on each and every project. Right now, I’m working through my passion project (a college YA which is what I think the industry is calling NA now, don’t quote me) from beginning to end. But when I wrote FORTITUDE SMASHED, I jumped between chapters depending on what I was feeling like writing that day. With my 2020 book, which I wish I could talk about but I can’t just yet, I wrote it from beginning to end, did a change from first person to third person in a re-write, and also went through four large-scale revisions to change the pacing of the book. It always depends. It’s always a surprise.

 

What was your experience like, co-writing SHADOWS YOU LEFT with Jude Sierra?

It was a wonderful experience. It was fast. A little messy. Very emotional. I feel like me and Jude were both working through personal things as we wrote what would turn out to be an extremely personal book for us both. We for the characters, I wrote all of Erik’s chapters and Jude wrote all of River’s, but we were both hands on in the editing process which helped smooth out any inconsistencies in our overall voice. We had a rough outline that we built off of as we went, and we were in constant communication about what worked and what didn’t as the story built itself. Overall, I think it was a strange, month-long writing workshop where I learned how to speed write, self-edit and critique all in one go.

 

What are some of your favorite tropes in YA and NA and how do you subvert them?

If I don’t say Soulmates one of my readers might bite me. I do truly love the soulmate trope. Fate. Destiny. True love. It’s something I’m extremely fond of and I enjoy looking at the trope through the lens or why rather than how. Why do we believe in fate? What does fate mean to us? Why do we react to it so strongly when it’s presented to us in creative outlets? All those questions are powerful driving forces in how I subvert the trope. Instead of looking at soulmates as a way to create a romantic arc, I look at soulmates as a way to unpack our own complex relationship with relationships.

I’m also a big sucker for enemies to lovers and friends to lovers.

 

Do you have any advice for authors who are writing for different audiences like YA and NA/adult?

Make sure you have an agent on your side who knows the industry well. Also, make sure you advocate for yourself. Look for different publishing avenues and opportunities. Never count yourself out for something unless you truly don’t want to do it. If you can write for different audiences and you enjoy writing for different audiences then do your best to create work that will stand apart from each catalog. YA should feel YA. NA should feel NA. Adult should feel Adult. Granted, sometimes these categories can overlap, but you want to make sure the voice of your books and your brand is strong for each pen name or category/genre you write in. You want people to be able to find you no matter where you go.

 

Who is your favorite character you have written and what do you love about them? (Yes, this is like picking your favorite child, sorry.)

Aiden Marr is and always will be my favorite character. It’s selfish of me to say he’s my favorite because he’s an autobiographical character, but the journey I went on as I wrote about him in FORTITUDE SMASHED and CURVED HORIZON will stay with me for the rest of my life. We changed, me and him. We grew and healed and lived. That’s something I can’t say I did with any other character - not like I did with him.

 

You are one of those authors who always seems to have a lot of projects going on. How do you schedule out your day and what do you do for self-care?

I do always have something going on. Truthfully, I’m not the best person to ask because my advice isn’t great. My self-care is having a thick skin and knowing that hard work is what’s getting me to where I want to be. I also like bath bombs, but that isn’t really self-care for my writing. I’d like bath bombs even if I wasn’t busy. I think the best thing you can do for yourself as a writer is to find what works for you. Twitter is full of hot takes and lots of drama at all times, but honestly? You don’t need to be anxious to be a writer. You don’t need to have self-doubt. You don’t need to constantly question your work. You are allowed to exist and be happy about it. You’re allowed to write and be happy about it. Granted, talking about mental illness is important, but I’ve seen a lot of writers online relating the industry to mental illness as if the two are related, and in some cases they might be, but a lot of the time they aren’t. My self-care is knowing that this industry owes me nothing and that I am happy to be writing stories people love. I eat a lot of Thai takeout when I’m on deadline. I also take the weekends off (unless I’m behind). But my mentality, the way I approach what is owed to me and what I can take for myself, is truly the best self-care I give myself.

 

What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?

Right now I’m working on a few different things, but unfortunately I can’t tell you much about any of them. I will tell you that I’m working on a YA about cats and fate and the complexity of changing love, another YA with a non-binary protagonist, and a NA/College YA about family, faith and new beginnings.


ERIK

The white picket fence.
The happily-ever-after.
That life was never meant for him.
For years he’s been bouncing from city to city—from one cage fight to another.
That’s his outlet. That’s pain Erik can control.
But in Seattle, everything changed.
River’s an artist.
He’s a pretty boy.
He does yoga.
Someone so soft shouldn’t be intrigued by Erik’s rough edges.

RIVER

His life was quiet. He had a simple routine.
Designing tattoos, avoiding drama. Well, mostly.
Then Erik comes along—scarred and dangerous, shrouded in mystery.
A mystery River can’t resist trying to solve.
Maybe a secret as dark as his own.
Neither of them expected a relationship so complicated, so intense.
Neither of them expected…each other.
Erik and River are both trying to escape a shadowed past.
But the thing about shadows is: the faster you run, the faster they chase you.

Queering Up Your Bookshelf: Roberta Blablanski

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

Happy Wednesday!

Today I welcome Roberta Blablanski to Queering Up Your Bookshelf to talk about inspiration through positive feedback, spreading positivity on social media, and representing asexual characters in nuanced ways without a “cure” narrative.

Welcome, Roberta!


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Roberta Blablanski (she/her) hails from The Big Easy: New Orleans, Louisiana. She draws inspiration from her colorful hometown and her former life as a college radio DJ. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days searching for the world’s best Bloody Mary and avoiding people she went to high school with. Her normal habitat is curled up in bed with a good book and a cup of coffee.

Roberta developed a love of books at an early age, spending her summers at the library. Years later, after watching the American version of the television show Queer as Folk, she began searching for books featuring queer characters finding love. Most recently, she began writing queer love stories of her own, drawing from her own personal experiences and creating characters and story lines as vibrant as her ever-changing hair color.

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What is your writing origin story?

I never fancied myself as someone who could be a writer.  From the moment I could read, my nose was stuck in a book.  I was content being a reader and losing myself in the characters and worlds others created.  In February of 2018, I was on a search for a funny amnesia story with LGBTQ+ elements.  I kept coming up short, so I decided to try to write it myself for fun.  As I completed a chapter, I would send to a friend whom I met through the queer online writing community.  She encouraged me and provided amazing feedback.  The result is far from the initial goal and needs a lot of work, but it was a great experience.  The story has good bones and I’m hoping to tackle it and whip it into shape at some point.

 

What inspires your writing and how do you keep that inspiration alive?

For me, inspiration comes from all over.  It could be lyrics to a song, a commercial, a random person, a meme, a conversation…My mind is constantly thinking what if this happened instead?  

 

What does representation mean to you and how does it feature in your writing?

To me, representation means seeing the positive inclusion of characters and people across the sexuality and gender spectrum in books, mainstream media, and every day life.  People, especially young people, need to see themselves represented so they know they are not alone. 

In my writing, I include queer characters and show them experiencing the ups and downs of life.    Normalization is important.  Generally, no one bats an eye at MF pairings in books.  I want all other pairings to be as accepted.

 

How do asexual characters feature in your writing and how much of your own experience do you tend to write into your characters?

My project for NaNoWriMo last year was my first attempt at writing an asexual character.  It was also my first year participating in NaNo, and I was wholly unprepared…which is probably why I barely managed 10k words.  I do have plans to revisit this manuscript upon completion of my current project to flesh it out into a proper story.  The asexual character is based very closely to my own experiences, except this character gets a different HEA. 

The characters in my other stories, while may not share my sexuality, do have certain aspects of my personality, whether it be changing hair colors, or social anxiety, or a love for the tv show ALF.  I also tend to base the family members of my characters on my own family.

 

Any tips for authors who want to ensure they include positive representation of asexual characters?

There is no “magic cure” for asexuality.  Asexuality isn’t a condition or disease that needs curing.  To imply such is to equate asexual people with being defective, and we are not.  I think that’s the biggest point to keep in mind when writing an asexual character.  Asexual people need to be shown as regular people who have relationships just like everyone else.

 

What are some of your favorite tropes and how do you subvert them?

I love the fake relationship trope! I haven’t tried writing it because there are many other writers who have done a fantastic job.  I think it’s a trope I prefer to read rather than write.

 

What was your favorite part of writing RETURN TO SENDER?

I absolutely loved writing the scenes that take place in the 1980s.  It’s my favorite decade and I got to relive bits of my childhood.  A close runner up is the letters and journal entries written by one of the characters.

              

Tell us about #LovePirates and what inspired it?

The Love Pirates hashtag was created by Malini, another friend I met through the Twitter writing community.  It started off as random playful tweets and evolved into a movement of sorts to promote positivity (love), support, and respect.  There’s so much negativity in the world, and we want people to know that they can find a safe space with us.  Malini designed our Twitter banners, we do pirate-themed #FollowFriday, and we post random pirate memes and gifs.  We “recruit” new Love Pirates all the time, and anyone is welcome to “join”.

 

What is one of your favorite scenes or characters that you have written recently?

I wrote a scene based off the tv show The Dating Game, and I had a blast coming up with silly, innuendo-laced responses to questions such as “What is your idea of a perfect date?”. 

 

What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?

My latest project is titled is Addiction, and it’s the story of the effects of one MC’s drug addiction on his relationship with his fiancé.  It’s full of angst but does have lighter moments like The Dating Game scene.    I’m hoping to self-publish in August. 

Then next is my asexual F/F college romance that I am determined to finish.  Writing an own voices story is something I’m really looking forward to. 


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College professor and website designer Drew Hampton has had only one great love in his life. A loner as a teen, he found solace in art, his self-styled mullet, and the television show ALF. Then a new boy moved in next door, and he discovered love.

Mechanic Wes Harrison was thrown into adult responsibility at a young age. He’s managed to build a good life through hard work and determination; however, he hasn’t been in a relationship since high school.

Drew and Wes were deeply in love thirty years ago, but then they were torn apart. Unlucky at relationships after their separation, both men treasured memories of their one true love.

Fate intervenes and gives them a second chance. Will they rekindle their once great love and find happiness, or has too much time gone by?

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Writing a Series: Featuring r.r. campbell, Author of the Empathy Series

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Happy Tuesday!

Since I’m working on book two of the Voyance series and am a definite binge-reader when it comes to series, I wanted to give the discourse of writing series and everything that goes into it, what to consider, dos and don’ts, and different authors’ processes a platform to talk about this, interweaving it with my own posts on the subject. The goal is to make this a bi-weekly series with different posts and perspectives on writing a series.

Today, I welcome r.r. campbell, author of the EMPATHY series to my blog to give us an in-depth look at his series-writing process and what inspired his EMPATHY series.


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r. r. campbell is an author, editor, and the founder of the Writescast Network, a podcast collective for writers, by writers. His published novels include Accounting for It All and Imminent Dawn, which debuted as the number one new release in LGBT science fiction on Amazon. Its sequel, Mourning Dove, is now available in print and ebook with most major retailers.

The author has been an invited speaker at conferences and seminars including the University of Wisconsin Writers’ Institute, WisCon, and AllWriter’s Workshop. His work has also been featured in Five:2:One Magazine’s #thesideshow, Erotic Review, and with National Journal Writing Month.

r. r. lives in Stoughton, Wisconsin with his wife, Lacey, and their cats, Hashtag and Rhaegar.

For more:

rrcampbellwrites.com | writescast.net empathyseries.com | accountingforitall.com

Twitter and Instagram: @iamrrcampbell

Facebook: facebook.com/iamrrcampbell

Goodreads: goodreads.com/iamrrcampbell

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1.     What is the most important thing to consider when writing a series?

I think one really has to have a firm understanding of what the central question of the series is going to be. In the EMPATHY series, for example, our series question is whether Chandra will ever be able to communicate with her wife, but every book within the series has a unique question that in some way ties back into our exploration of that series question.

Except that might not be entirely true. Why?

Because in the EMPATHY series we go from four perspective characters in Imminent Dawn to nine in Mourning Dove, and the third installment, Event Horizon was originally going to have twelve or thirteen. As that book ballooned, however, I realized I would need to separate the book into two concurrent installments, now known as Event Horizon and Rubicon.

The former will meet the criteria established above, namely that its central question will tie into the central question for the series, but Rubicon, since it won’t feature Chandra as a perspective character, will have a central question that is less immediately tied to answering the question hanging over the series as a whole. The events of Rubicon will still have an effect on Chandra’s ability to achieve her overall goal, but we’ll be seeing how matters in a more overworld plot are indirectly—and sometimes directly—affecting her ability to do so.

To tie all of this back into your original question, I still encourage writers to know what their central question for the series will be when they set out to write or outline it. That said, the EMPATHY series is a perfect example of how epic-length tales can require us to play with that advice when the story grows.

 

2.     What influenced your decision to create the EMPATHY series?

The series originally started as a short story, simply titled “EMPATHY.” It was meant to be a retelling of Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, but with more of a techie twist. After I finished what proved to be an almost novella-length short story, however, I had a hunch there was so much more potential in the internet-access brain implant technology and in the world Chandra inhabits.

With those inklings as my guide, I made Wyatt—our ruthless tech magnate—a perspective character before adding our relentless investigative journalist, Meredith, and the advancement-hungry administrative assistant, Ariel. It took me a couple of years to shape their storylines into the techno-thriller that Imminent Dawn became, but I remain really pleased with how it turned out—and readers seem to be of a similar opinion!

 

3.     How many books do you have planned for the EMPATHY series? Will there be any companion stories or spin-offs?

Right now it’s looking like we will end up with six or seven books in the main series. We have Imminent Dawn, Mourning Dove, and Event Horizon either published or drafted in full, and Rubicon is about a third of the way through its first draft. It’s possible the book following Rubicon will have to be split into two, but if it isn’t, we’ll end up with Conslunarity and Nightshade finishing off the series.

With Mourning Dove just having been released, I’m eager to see how readers feel about the direction the series will take going forward. It’s a bit of a departure from the techno-thriller feel of Imminent Dawn, but I think Mourning Dove is a much more emotionally-grounded adventure than its predecessor in the best way possible. As the series advances, though, we’ll get back to having some of the more in-your-face climaxes readers have come to expect in the forms of heists and high-stakes international techno-troubles.

I also do plan to write a handful of EMPATHY Origins spinoffs someday, which will focus on beloved characters from the main series who don’t get POV chapters in the series itself. I think it’ll be a nice way to continue to explore this world across time and distance in ways we can’t do to the same extent in the main series, however sprawling it might be.

 

4.     How do you handle complex world building and character arcs over the span of a series?

I’m an outliner for everything—except character arcs. I often go into a book with knowledge of a character’s motivation and the path those motivations will lead them down, but it isn’t until after I’ve written a full first draft that I can circle back and zoom out on that journey in a way that lets me see how I might sharpen their arc over the course of that particular book.

Where the series is concerned, I do have a better sense for whether a particular character is likely to be a changer, a stayer, or something in between. The shape that ultimately takes is served by the presentation of their arcs in those individual installments, however, so I imagine Nightshade will require a great deal of attention where it comes to ensuring every character winds up with a satisfying end, arc-wise.

World building is a tough one for me, mostly because I am miserable at maintaining a series encyclopedia. Though I did have a number of documents at one point that helped me keep track of character eye color and the specifications for a given technology, I found it far too cumbersome to keep up with while actually writing. This does mean that I have to break out the old Ctrl + F feature to double back and look for possible inconsistencies as I write the later books in the series, but I really don’t mind doing that. I’ve been living and breathing this series for so long now that it’s nice to swoop back and revisit words I’ve already written.

 

5.     What advice do you have for authors who want to write a series, but don’t have a contract for book one yet? Should they write the entire series first or make the first book a standalone with series potential?

I am a strong advocate for writing a first book that is an actual standalone before writing a full series, particularly if one wants to pursue traditional publishing. So often in trad pub your ability to write a sequel is tied to preorder or early sales volume, so if you do spend years writing an extended series but book one doesn’t do well (critically defined by your publisher and not you), then you’re out a number of years of work.

In my view, it’s best to write book one as a standalone, shop it around, and, while shopping it, start work on a unique project you can keep in your back pocket for later. This is precisely what I did with Imminent Dawn and Accounting for It All, with the latter ultimately getting picked up and published before Imminent Dawn. If I’d gone on to write Mourning Dove while shopping Imminent Dawn, neither of them might have ended up going anywhere since I needed to get my foot in the publishing door with Accounting for It All first.

Another bit of advice I can offer as it pertains to standalones is that if you’re going to pitch a book as a standalone with series potential, that first installment had better really be a standalone. Something I’ve seen come up a lot lately in my work as an editor is a number of manuscripts pitched as standalones that end with a number of newly introduced cliffhangers. When we leave threads dangling like that, we’re not presenting a standalone, but rather a standalone that then runs for five to fifty pages longer than it needs to in order to try to prove to agents and editors that we have series potential.

I’d suggest writers in this position pare back all of those cliffhangers to ensure their manuscript doesn’t leave anything unresolved and, once they have the book on contract, mention to their agent or editor that they do have a version of the book that could set up the series in more detail than the current version.

Again, I’m speaking from experience here, as the version of Imminent Dawn that was originally picked up by NineStar Press was a true standalone. Once it was under contract, though, I approached my editor about shaping the ending a bit differently to set us up for the whole series. Once I had their approval, I just made those changes near the end and some subtle tweaks throughout before—voila!—we had a true book one in a multi-book series.

 

6.     How is your writing process different when writing a series than it is when writing a standalone novel?

With a standalone, I have a pretty straightforward, go-to process—start with an elevator pitch consisting of “[character] must [act] before [deadline] or [consequences],” which I then stretch out onto one of a few different plot structure models. From there, I outline scene by scene to fill in the gaps, and then bam! I’ve got the bones of what I’ll need structurally. At that point, I’m in a better position to know who I’ll need to support that structure aside from my main character, and I can start developing a more clear idea of who they are, what they want, and why. Then it’s more or less off to the races unless I’m writing about something that will require a bunch of pre-write research, as was the case with Accounting for It All.

With a series, particularly EMPATHY, I have to keep much of the above in mind, but I take a slightly different approach for every perspective character and every timeline prior to writing. With Imminent Dawn, for example, I basically used the standalone method described above, but had to constantly be aware of who knows what and when in order to construct timelines that made sense and also heightened the tension as the story advanced.

This became all the more complicated for Mourning Dove, in which we go from four perspective characters to nine. The nice thing about Mourning Dove, however, is that unlike Imminent Dawn, not every perspective character gets full-length novel treatment. That is to say some characters, though they have complete arcs, don’t see those arcs stretched out over ten chapters, but rather four.

To keep track of how everyone’s story comes together, I use color-coded spreadsheets to monitor how often we are or aren’t seeing a given character, as well as to ensure the tension on the page is rising more or less in tandem for every character as the book advances. In this way, we get all of the individual characters’ climactic moments in chapters that are near one another, even if those events would have otherwise happened days or weeks apart on a strictly linear timeline.

Then, once my spreadsheets are ready to go, I can finally start writing a first draft! As I write, I’ll make notes in a Google Doc about questions that come up either about that particular perspective character’s story or what others might be doing at that same time, just so I have notes to double check later. Once a draft is complete, I circle back and focus on those notes first to ensure I’ve ironed out all of the wrinkles, so to speak, before I get into fine-tuning the scene’s presentations themselves.

 

7.     What to you is the hardest thing about writing a series?

Maintaining momentum is proving to be a bit of a challenge, but not for my characters so much as for myself. Once Event Horizon is out later this year, that will make for nearly 350,000 words of EMPATHY-series content released in a calendar year. That is, needless to say, a lot.

I love writing this series and have a clear trajectory for it with each installment, but writing at that pace has precluded me from starting some other projects in the writing world and beyond. Once the manuscript for Event Horizon is out of my hands in the next month or so, I’m looking forward to taking a break from writing this series to focus on promoting it at a number of events and revising or writing at least two other manuscripts before I return to work on EMPATHY book four, Rubicon.

This will likely mean a bit of a gap between the release of books three and four, but I think this will be in the series’ best interest and my own. My goal is to be sufficiently rested to take on books four and five in one fell swoop before taking another break prior to writing the final two installments of the series.

Simply put, there’s certainly a plan in place, but I need to make sure I pace myself along the way if we’re to really stick the landing in a series as sprawling as this one.

 

8.     How do you handle recapping events from previous books in later books in a series?

This is where I very much rely on help from beta readers, critique partners, and my editor. From where I sit as the writer, it’s hard to know which details have stuck with readers from one book to the next, as I’ve had to, at some point or another, really explore all of them in ways that will have more staying power with me as the author.

In Mourning Dove, for example, there’s a scene between Alistair and a new character. My intent in that scene is to demonstrate that he’s making an extremely high-stakes, unforced error due to his total ignorance of the value of what he plans on using as leverage in a negotiation. Based on the draft I circulated to early readers, only one reader really understood that, so I had to revise the scene to give readers a greater hint as to why this is such a big deal, particularly since the consequences for this scene don’t come back into play directly until book four.

That’s a huge gap in the number of pages and the amount of time readers will have in between seeing that scene and the scenes where the consequences really hit home, so setting it up to be a bit more memorable was important, and how I convey the consequences will have to be equally sharp.

Where touching on broader past events is concerned, I rely on brief reflections from a POV character that hopefully avoid becoming too on the nose. My goal is to present these recaps in a way that doesn’t have readers going, “Oh, the author is doing this to help me,” but rather, “Wow, this character continues to struggle with that trauma,” or “Ha! I’m so glad this character can still be happy about that.” By grounding it in character, I think all we need is a tip of the proverbial cap to get certain events, people, and places back on readers’ radars.

 

9.     How do you keep the tension building as your series goes on?

This is where stakes play a huge role. In Imminent Dawn, for example, we have a limited population affected by the book’s events. They’re affected very personally, yes, but most of the book takes place in an intimate, isolated setting that the rest of the world isn’t really privy to until the book’s final chapters.

In Mourning Dove, the tension escalates: we now have a slew of characters who are forced to, sometimes very publicly, confront the ramifications of their actions and inactions with their lives or freedom on the line.

Event Horizon takes this a step further and makes everything about survival—the survival of relationships to others and with one’s self. Rubicon will further play on this by taking survival stories in another direction, exploring the nature of survival as it pertains to legacy, one’s moral compass, and how far one is willing to go to preserve or compromise either in order to achieve one’s goals.

The later books in the series will center around heists, high-stakes personal and political drama, and disasters that will have continental and global impact. There’s a reason the series continues to expand geographically, and despite this expansion, my goal is to have everything collapse back in on itself once we get to Nightshade, the series’ final installment. I really want to build up an immaculate house of cards that can only support its own weight for so long before the inevitability of forces beyond anyone’s control bring it crashing down.  

 

10.  What are some of your favorite series that influenced you as a writer?

Where influence as a writer is concerned, Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam series and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire have played big roles in how the events of the EMPATHY series are presented. Hugh Howey’s Silo series and Malka Older’s Infomocracy also helped shape my approach to a handful of matters, but I feel like I’m finally converging on something that feels all my own.

As I put the finishing touches on Event Horizon, I am, for the first time, really accepting that this series can be whatever it needs to be in order to be the best story it can be for itself, and I actually feel well-equipped enough to see it through. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on how I approached or presented matters in Imminent Dawn and Mourning Dove and find myself thinking there’s so much I’d do or present differently now.

That’s not to say I feel I did a poor job with either installment; I still stand by them and their stories. What I mean is I think I had to get deep into book three before truly finding my footing and getting a sense for what this series really is. I’m sure that sense will continue to grow and evolve as the series continues, so perhaps it’s just a matter of accepting that, just like my characters, I, too, have much adventure before me. It’ll all just come down to how we meet the challenge together.


In the aftermath of the calamitous Human/Etech research study, Chandra and Kyra struggle to reclaim the life they shared in a pre-EMPATHY world, while Ty, armed with knowledge of EMPATHY's programming language, seeks revenge on the Halmans for the harm that's befallen his friends.

As a North American Union investigation into the happenings on the compound looms, a grief-stricken Peter works to resurrect the memory of his mother from a harvested nanochip, and Heather scrambles to keep her family--and their company--together. Alistair, having abandoned the family business, plots to save his hide and that of his wife while she strives to stay one step ahead of a husband she has no reason to trust.

Far to the north amid civil unrest, a recently retired Rénald Dupont investigates the disappearance of his friend and former colleague, Meredith, despite grave threats from an increasingly skittish North American Union government.

As old and new foes emerge, spouse is further pit against spouse, brother against sister, and governments against their people. In the end, all must choose between attempts to reclaim the past or surrender to the inevitable, an intractable world of their own creation.

Mourning Dove is an evocative, sweeping symphony of love, revenge, and desperation in cacophonous times. It is the second installment in r. r. campbell's epic EMPATHY sci-fi saga.

Queering Up Your Bookshelf: Brooklyn Ray

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

Happy Friday!

Today, I welcome Brooklyn Ray to Queering Up Your Bookshelf to talk about their writing process and their Port Lewis Witches series of novellas and novels, how they juggle many projects at once, and tips to write great, emotion-packed sex scenes.

Welcome, Brooklyn!


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Brooklyn started their career when they developed The Port Lewis Witches, a novella series about a group of Queer witches, necromancers and other magical creatures living and loving in a coastal Washington town. When they're not writing, Brooklyn can be found polishing crystals and offering tarot readings at a metaphysical shop in the Pacific Northwest. They also create ritual items, candles and other magical goods that can be found in their Etsy shop, and work as a developmental editor on various Queer stories. Follow them on Twitter @brookieraywrite for information about upcoming releases.

Find Brooklyn online:

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What is your writing origin story?

Much like most writers, I’ve been writing since I was very young. I didn’t actually start developing stories with substantial plots or movement until I was in high school, writing fan fiction and roleplaying with friends. I think that really started it - fan fiction. I was able to play in a world that wasn’t mine and develop established characters in ways I thought suited them. It was on my own terms. Storytelling within a set universe I loved enough to expand on my own. When it came to Brooklyn Ray, I started writing Paranormal stories that the traditional side of publishing had deemed unsellable. Which is hilariously out of touch, to be honest. I saw the submission call for INTO THE MYSTIC VOLUME ONE and tried to co-write a short story with an old friend of mine. Unfortunately, that friendship came to an end, so I decided to whip something up on my own. Thalia jumped into my head followed by Jordan, River and King. Then Port Lewis. It unraveled this gigantic universe I was desperate to play in. Then came Ryder, who lived like a splinter between my ribs for months and years before I had the courage to write him. He’s the wonderful writer faux-pas, you know? The autobiographical character we’re not supposed to give to readers. It’s too much of yourself, right? It’s too intimate. But if I didn’t write Ryder and his story then I’d be doing a disservice to myself and my gender and the right to explore my own identity freely. Writing him opened doors inside myself I hadn’t known how to unlock. Now I have… So much planned. Too much, if I’m being completely honest. All good, though. All fun. All things I’m ridiculously excited for.



What inspires your writing and how do you keep that inspiration alive?

I take inspiration from a few different places, but mostly it comes from my own practice as a witch. I study demonology, alchemy and kitchen witchcraft quite a bit, and I wanted to inject typical Paranormal Romance with actual realized magic. Obviously there are embellishments and exaggerations and straight up fantasy in my books. But the core of the magic--The Orders, the elemental spellcraft and ingredients--those are all based on real magic I’ve experienced and used in my life.

When it comes to keeping that inspiration alive I honestly just… keep practicing. I recently opened an Etsy shop where I offer Tarot readers, custom candle craft and wax melts. I plan on adding some Port Lewis inspired goods soon, a Christy inspired salt scrub, crystal kits inspired by the Port Lewis Witches, personalized crystal kits. I also try to practice in the kitchen as much as possible, utilizing ingredients based on metaphysical merit in my dishes. Energetically enhanced french fries? Perfect writing snack.

What does representation mean to you and how does it feature in your writing?

That’s an interesting question. Representation is broad, you know? It can be anything and everything, but to me, representation means seeing identities I align with penned with empathy and skill on the page. That doesn’t happen often. To pick one, gigantic area of representation, the Queer community, we have a lot of work to do. I want to see a variety of characters, relationships, character arcs and settings used in tandem with marginalized identities that don’t center marginalization. I also want to see people within the community back off on policing how we all explore our identities. There will ALWAYS be problematic writing, stories and characters, but putting a cork in character creation, especially if those characters are messy and human, because they’re marginalized creates a network of characters that lack depth. I’ve seen anthologies use purity policing tactics to gatekeep their own community. I’ve seen Queer readers and reviewers go after authors for creating characters they didn’t resonate with even though those characters were ownvoices. I’ve seen authors mine representation for diversity cookies instead of writing a good story. It’s a mess. We gotta clean it up.

What is your writing process and how do you balance working on so many projects at once?

This is a good questions, especially for me. I have two pen names. Right now I’m working on five projects under Brooklyn Ray and several other New Adult and Young Adults projects on my other pen name. As for the Brooklyn projects, I’m currently writing CYCLONE, editing BEHIND THE SUN, ABOVE THE MOON, waiting for a response on a contemporary proposal, drafting concept proposals and submission guidelines for an aromantic anthology and running my Patreon. It’s a lot. And to be honest, I don’t have a good answer for you, because my answer is: Hustle. This industry is booming with buzzy authors who are knocking things out of the park on the daily, and it can be super frustrating to watch success lean on everyone else but you. Keep to your hustle. Eyes on your own paper. Work hard. Create, edit, find critique partners and make sure you don’t allow yourself to slip into bad habits.

I say this with love: This industry waits for no one.

You get to set your own pace and you get to take as much time for self care as you need, but to do that and to juggle projects without getting overwhelmed, it’s best to work on yourself and only yourself. No need for comparison games. No need to entertain friendships that are one sided. Let yourself be your own guide. Hold yourself to high standards.

What is your advice on writing great sex scenes?

Emotion, emotion, emotion. There’s so much to explore when you’re writing sex scenes and it isn’t always about who’s doing what and what’s being tossed away or how something feels physically. It’s about how someone feels when they’re engaging in sex with another person or multiple people. Is this sexual encounter a transaction? How does that make your character feel and why? Is this sexual encounter going to influence or move your character to experience emotions they weren’t expecting? (Michael Gates from UNBROKEN can tell you all about this)

Because we all experience sex differently, I encourage writers to look outside their own box. Pleasure and arousal happen in different ways for different reasons with different partners. Positioning your characters to feel certain ways--sexy, vulnerable, uncomfortable, desirable, loving, experimental--is an important aspect to building a sex scene that adds texture to your story.

How do you approach individual character arcs mixed with series arcs in the Port Lewis series?

I kinda cheated. Each character gets their own novella in this series which made it easy for me to move through their arcs. However, this did make influencing other characters and building an overall arc really, really difficult. I have to look at what decisions will ripple into eight novellas with an outcome that might impact every single character I’ve touched on throughout the series. Tethering characters with individual conflicts that serve the overall conflict has helped move the story, that’s for sure. Also, I think it’ really important to allow your characters in a large cast to be selfish. When I’m working on an individual story inside the Port Lewis Witches I’m making sure the POV character at that moment is moving the story based on how they feel, what they want, and how those emotions impact the people they care about.

What made you decide to write The Port Lewis Witches as a series of novellas and add companion novels later?

Accident! I didn’t think DARKLING was going to be as loved as it was. I didn’t even plan to write UNDERTOW. But then I realized how many people wanted to see what happened to these characters and where they went, so I did. Since DARKLING was novella length I decided to stick to that format for the rest of the books in the series. What happened with UNBROKEN… Well, that was a serious, hilarious accident. If you ask my brother and cirlce-mate, he’ll tell you it was quite a humorous three months watching me argue with that manuscript. I intended to write it for Carina’s submission call for short, super sexy stories. It had to be under fifteen thousand words. Well, that didn’t happen. The sex scenes were too long. Michael’s character arc was too personal and too layered. I had to expand it. That’s really the only reason UNBROKEN became a novel, and weaving Victor and Michael into The Port Lewis Witches (Yes, y’all, it’s happening) was something I knew needed to happen. These characters came into existence at just the right time.

I will be expanding the series and doing spin-off books, but not for a while. Right now, everything I write is tethered in one way or another to the universe and rules I’ve established in Port Lewis. No matter where I got or what I write, you’ll be seeing or hearing about characters we’ve already met. This could change, of course. But everything I have planned as a solo author? One universe.

What are some themes in the Port Lewis Witches series? Did you decide on them before writing the series/each book or did they crystalize while you were working on each story?

Ah, yes, themes. I explore a lot of different stuff in the Port Lewis Witches. I didn’t really decide on any of true themes for the books. They happened naturally as I wrote. I knew there would be found family, exploration of identity, resistance to old world rules, healing themes, but I wasn’t expecting those same themes to develop the way they did. Michael’s arc in UNBROKEN was absolutely unexpected and extremely cathartic. I still get shaken up thinking about the work I did internally as I wrote that book. Anyway, each book in the series will push the characters to explore different themes or change the themes that were established in the previous book. In DARKLING the theme is self-acceptance and found family, but UNDERTOW pushes both those themes to explore new territory. It dissects them. Self-acceptance at what cost? How far will a found family go to stay together and what might break them apart? You’ll see these themes continue to stretch and morph as the story continues.

What is your favorite thing about writing a series like The Port Lewis Witches?

It’s pure, selfish, magical fun. I never intended The Port Lewis Witches to grow into what it is now and what it’ll hopefully become, but I’m so thankful I’m able to play in this universe with these characters. Traditional publishing would never make space for a Queer, bloody, sexy series about witches in the Pacific Northwest, and I’m so grateful the indie community has rallied for it.

What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?

Right now I’m working on CYCLONE, but I’m not churning out words on the daily for it. It’s a process and I know I need a bit of a break, so I’m focusing on edits for BEHIND THE SUN, ABOVE THE MOON, working on some additions for my Etsy and brainstorming some new content for the future--werewolves, maybe. Vampires, definitely. Angels? For sure happening. Hopefully I’ll be able to get CYCLONE done in time for a Spring 2020 release. Then I’ll get to work on Christy’s book.

Hustle, right? I just gotta keep working on what I love and hopefully the pieces will align how I want them to.


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DARKLING (Port Lewis Witches, #1)

Port Lewis, a coastal town perched on the Washington cliffs, is surrounded by dense woods, and is home to quaint coffee shops, a movie theater, a few bars, two churches, the local college, and witches, of course.

Ryder is a witch with two secrets--one about his blood and the other about his heart. Keeping the secrets hasn't been a problem, until a tarot reading with his best friend, Liam Montgomery, who happens to be one of his secrets, starts a chain of events that can't be undone.

Dark magic runs through Ryder's veins. The cards have prophesized a magical catastrophe that could shake the foundation of Ryder's life, and a vicious partnership with the one person he doesn't want to risk.

Magic and secrets both come at a cost, and Ryder must figure out what he's willing to pay to become who he truly is.

Also available as a starter to the series-- PORT LEWIS WITCHES VOLUME ONE (print edition) with the exclusive prequel REBORN and the bonus short story HONEY

BUY A COPY:

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Queering Up Your Bookshelf: Chace Verity

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

Happy Wednesday!

Today, I welcome Chace Verity to Queering Up Your Bookshelf to talk about the importance of explicit and specific queer representation in speculative fiction, inspiration from fanfic, and how an important part of the writing process is always to “think about the tiddies.”

Welcome, Chace!


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Chace Verity (she/they) is publishing queer as heck stories with a strong romantic focus, although friendships and found families are important too. Chace prefers to write fantasy but dabbles in contemporary and historical fiction as well. As an American citizen & Canadian permanent resident, Chace will probably never call a gallon of milk a “four-litre.”

Find Chace online:

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1. What is your writing origin story?

I don’t overly know. I know that I was in love with books before I could really read. I know the adults in my life couldn’t understand what I was non-stop babbling about. I know I was penning stories as soon as I could write.

In my memories, I can see the first “book” I wrote in preschool with a fifth grader at my side. I can see the first AOL chatroom I discovered filled with kids roleplaying. I can see my first website where I posted fanfiction. I can see the look of horror on a trusted adult’s face the first time I confessed I was writing a story about lesbians. I can see the first time I “finished” NaNoWriMo while sitting in the room where my grandfather would pass hours later. I can see the first award I got in college for a short story contest. I can see the first time a publisher accepted my submission. I can see the first tweet someone made about being excited for my debut novella.

Storytelling has always been a part of me. I often wonder when was the first time I decided to take writing seriously, but I think it’s always been serious. Just because I was a kid doesn’t mean I wasn’t crushed when people mocked my stories. Just because I was a kid doesn’t mean I lacked passion.

2. What inspires your writing and how do you keep that inspiration alive?

I like writing. It’s easy to keep doing something I genuinely like doing.

What I don’t like is trying to figure out which of my writer friends are real friends and which ones just think I’m a tool for their success, submitting stories that are my lived truth and being told it’s too unrealistic, promoting my books on social media and websites, coming up with back-of-cover copies/blurbs, trying to understand the new updates to programs I use for writing, and doing my taxes.

There are so many non-writing parts of writing that I didn’t cover up there. I think a lot of us get burned out by those instead of the actual act of writing itself. I get bogged down by the non-writing parts so often. Venting to my trusted friends helps. Taking a break helps. Reading my old stuff and remembering why I’m writing helps.

3. What does representation mean to you and how does it feature in your writing?

When I turned fourteen, I realized I was attracted to more than one gender. I started craving those kinds of stories with people like me. I started writing them.

I buy books now solely for the rep - both rep that aligns with my identities and rep for everyone with a marginalized background. I buy indie frequently since indie authors are more likely to tell me what kind of characters are in their books. I don’t know what the plot is sometimes. My hungry brain just sees “aromantic neurodiverse Thai unicorn tamer” and I’m like, “yes, thank u.” (Before I get anyone’s hopes up, I don’t know of any books with an aromantic neurodiverse Thai unicorn tamer. But if you have one, please send me your buy link.)

I make the representation in my books as clear as possible. I think it’s important for my readers to know there are queer folks, people of color, disabled people, and mentally ill characters in my SFF as well as in my historicals/contemporaries. I use modern queer terms in SFF to help signal who a character is for the reader. The first time I saw a reader excited to see the word “nonbinary” in My Heart Is Ready (which, incidentally, is now free forever), I knew I had found what worked best for me.

On the issue of queerness specifically, if I don’t explicitly state a character’s sexuality or gender, it’s usually because the character hasn’t told me. If a reader reads a character in a specific way, they probably saw something I didn’t see. I always hope that however a reader headcanons a character, it will help the reader feel validated.

4. What are some of your favorite tropes (or ways to subvert them)?

I love found families in books across all genres. Mentor/mentee relationships, people from broken homes finding a healing reflection in other people from broken homes, lifelong friends realizing they would commit sins for each other, big bad villain accidentally adopting a cute little homeless kid, etc. I can’t get enough of it.

In one of my upcoming books, the first love confession is not a romantic one. It is from one person to another as they realize they had found a family. It makes me cry when I think about it.

5. What is your writing process?

- Get a plot bunny

- Let the idea percolate forever

- Maybe outline? Maybe write a back-cover-copy?

- E-mail my CPs, asking if it’s a bad idea

- Think about the tiddies involved if there are any and get thirsty (there are always tiddies; I have sodium bicarbonate desires)

- Draft!!! Sometimes in a few weeks and sometimes in a few years

- Always Be Working On Multiple Projects. There Is Never Just One.

- Work with my CPs on revision plans, revise, revise, revise

- Take frequent breaks from writing, often because my other job needs me to “show up” and “actually earn the paycheck”

- Get a plot bunny and start the process over

6. What is your best piece of writing advice?

Don’t surround yourself with people who won’t let you shine. There are a lot of people who will never be impressed with you for writing 100 words, writing 50k, publishing a short story, hitting the NYT best-selling lists, getting a movie adaptation, etc. Those people are always going to be like “is that it?” or “well, I did this” or “you better enjoy it while it lasts” or...well, I think you know what I mean.

Each of your victories should be celebrated. It’s hard to outline a story, figure out why your villain isn’t villainous enough, send queries, ask people to buy your book, etc. This is a world that doesn’t reward writers for being writers, especially those with marginalizations.

If you did something today in the name of writing, you are amazing. You don’t need someone to tell you that you are less than anything less than a glowing ray of sun.

7. What is the hardest lesson you learned while writing?

The events that led to my response for the above question.

8. What do you hope readers will take away from your work?

Even if they don’t find a character exactly like them, I hope readers will see they are welcomed in the worlds I craft across all genres.

9. What is a great queer book you have read recently?

Shelby Eileen’s Goddess of the Hunt is a breathtaking collection of poems centered around an aromantic and asexual Artemis.

10. What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?

When this interview comes out, my 1920s historical m/m novelette, Lucky Charm, will have just been released! Deaf protagonist, swindling childhood best friend, petty heists… I love writing historical fiction from the first half of the 20th century, but I haven’t gotten much of a chance to publish them yet.

May is going to be a contemporary month for me with my m/m novella Team Phison Forever’s release and a cis m/trans f short romance called “The Blundering Billionaire” in the Rogue Ever After anthology.

Later this summer, I plan to release a taboo fantasy romance I wrote last year. The center romance is an enby/f/f triad with a m/m side couple and an aromantic allosexual trans deuteragonist. The villain is queer, too, which I don’t often write because we too often see the only queer rep in media being the bad person. But if everyone else in a book is queer, it’s okay to write queer villains, yes? I guess that’s a topic for a different day.

Once I get that amazing trashy story released, I plan to return to my Absolutes series. The Absolutes are taking a tiny break for now, but it’s the fantasy series I am most passionate about. The prequel novella, My Heart Is Ready, is free to read!

As always, I’ve got other projects going on. Some need more time than others. They’re all diverse and mean so much to me. I hope they will touch other people’s hearts too.


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The last thing Corsine ever expected to do was break into a vault and steal some rare seeds. Corsine has a secret magic known as Maje flowing through her veins, but she’s never committed a crime before, and she’s terrified of the other Majerian hoarding the seeds at Rosales. But the risk is worth it if she can successfully prove how far she’ll go for her girlfriend.

Self-proclaimed harpy king Lester loves chasing rumors, but it’s hard to fly around and gossip while molting. However, he doesn’t have time to shed quietly when his best friend Corsine is behaving suspiciously about her trip to Rosales. Plus he’s dying to impress Corsine’s (hot) fearless traveling companion.

For Corsine and Lester, uncovering truths is easy, but revealing secrets is hard when love and friendship are on the line.

---

My Heart Is Ready is a complete, standalone 30k novella in The Absolutes series.

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Queering Up Your Bookshelf: Sara Codair

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

Happy Wednesday!

Today, I welcome fellow NineStar Press author Sara Codair to Queering Up Your Bookshelf to talk about their writing process, tips for writing nonbinary characters, and how mental health factors into their writing and their debut novel Power Surge.

Welcome, Sara!


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Sara Codair is the author over fifty stories and a few poems. They love exploring “what-ifs?” in the fiction they read and write. Their debut novel, Power Surge, which features a non-binary main character, was published by NineStar Press on Oct. 1, 2018. They partially owe their success to their faithful feline writing partner, Goose the Meowditor-In-Chief, who likes to “edit” their work by deleting entire pages. If Sara isn’t writing, they’re probably commenting on student papers, in the lake, on a boat, or hiking a mountain with their spouse and dog.

Find Sara online

Website Instagram Twitter Facebook


1.     What is your writing origin story?

As a child, I was perpetually making up stories, but I seldom sat still long enough to write them down. My first attempt to actually write a story with real words happened in first grade. The teacher required students to journal. We were supposed to write about things that actually happened. I wrote about my best friend’s brother putting on a cape, climbing to the top of another neighbor's garage, jumping off, and flying. I don’t remember exactly what my teacher said, but she made me re-do the assignment.

I never stopped making up stories. Mostly, those stories were fan fiction. After watching an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, I would run and dance around the house, mentally acting out a new episode where a super version of myself showed up and turned out to be the real hero.

Overtime, the characters took on a life of their own so that they weren’t me but original creations. My head felt crowded. I started writing. I wrote a lot at the end of high school and through undergrad, but never really finished anything.

It wasn’t until I was an adult, barely coping with undiagnosed anxiety and bipolar disorder, that I found myself writing every single night, no matter what, until I had a 200,000+ word monster of a completed draft.

Since then, I’ve completed five novels and published one.

 

2.     What inspires your writing and how do you keep that inspiration alive?

 Fear, nature, my favorite stories, questions, concepts and problems I grapple with, and random word generators spur the ideas for most of my stories.

However, sometimes I think it is my anxiety, or my fear of what it does to me, that keeps me writing and seeking inspiration. If there is not a fictional narrative about fictional characters running through my mind, then there is a more realistic one about all the horrible things that could happen to me and people I care about. When I’m driving, if I’m not plotting out the next chapter of my book, I’m thinking about all the ways I could get in an accident and die or accidentally kill someone else. If I don’t have a story in my head when I am trying to sleep, I’m thinking about all the ways the house could burn down and replaying the most insignificant conversations over and over in my head, making them seem more awkward and hurtful each time.

Writing is my passion, but my therapist and I agree it is also my most successful tool for combatting my anxiety.

 

3.     What does representation mean to you and how does it feature in your writing?

Of all the questions you asked, this is the one I struggled the most with. I apologize if my answer seems rough or jarring in some places. 

When I hear and discuss representation, the idea of good representation and bad representation come up a lot. Even though I’ve labeled representation as “good,” I really don’t like looking at it as good and bad. 

To me, representation is about accuracy and truth. But sometimes, the truth isn’t “good.” Truth can be dark and ugly, and rather see the ugly truth than false positivity. I think this is especially true for representation of mental illness. 

Positive is a term better applied to representation of things identities and ethnicities. There are plenty of positive truths about being non-binary, but something like depression or anxiety? I feel like I would be doing harm if I tried to sanitize and make it positive, even if my intentions were good.

The world is a big, diverse place. All its inhabitants deserve to be represented in fiction, which to me, no matter how fantastical or far fetched, should still seek to explore or expose some kind of truth. The challenge to this is that what is true for one person might not be true for another.

 

4.              Power Surge has a nonbinary main character. What was your favorite part of writing Erin and did you incorporate any of your own experiences into writing them?

Erin is a character a long time in the making. When I first wrote Erin, I had never heard the term non-binary and had no idea how to really describe myself aside from saying that there were absolutely no labels that would ever fit me. 

Over ten years of stops and starts with the story I’d eventually call Power Surge, Erin evolved with me. They came out as non-binary when I did. They started using they/them instead of she/her when I did.

Erin isn’t me, but there is a lot of me in Erin. They are my flaws. They are things I fear most about myself. They cross lines I've Never crossed. But they also have strength and bravery and selflessness I’ve never quite achieved.

 Writing Erin has helped me develop a better understanding of who I am and who I am not.

 

5.     How does mental health feature in your writing?

More than half my characters have mental health issues similar to mine. It is a way to better understand my own mental health and fill gaps I see in representation.

Writing and doing research for Power Surge and another novel (which is currently shelved) helped me understand my own mental health and was actually one of the things that prompted me to seek a diagnosis and treatment

Each time I incorporate mental health into my writing, I do my best to portray it honestly. I hope my readers gain the same insight from it than I did. I tend to be optimistic about treatment (usually talk therapy and medication) since it has helped me a lot, but I don’t shy away from showing how much of a struggle it can be.

 

6.     What is your writing process?

My process is an inefficient mess, but it works.

I try to plan a little, but usually, the things I plan don’t stick once I start writing.

Mostly I just dump my ideas out during the first draft. As the characters develop, they take on a life of their own and I try to listen to them. I let the story go in whatever direction it wants.

The few times I tried to change this and stick to a more planned plot, I ended up with flat, boring characters. 

Once I get a complete draft, I let it rest for a few weeks. I print it and write all over it. Then I type up my changes, and send the draft off to get feedback. I repeat this as many times as I need to.

When I am happy with the content, I download the draft to my kindle and read it on that. I make the font big so I can only see a few sentences at a time. This forces me to actually focus on what is in front of me and is one of the most effective editing strategies I’ve tried.

People like to tell me to read aloud, but because of sensory and attention issues, that does not work for me like it does for other people.

 

7.     What is your best piece of writing advice?

Write what you want to write. Be selfish with your first drafts. Keep it real and true no matter how fantastical it may be. And when you revise? Don’t be afraid to take risks, especially when those risks involving cutting things and replacing them with new ones.

 

8.     What is the hardest lesson you learned while writing?

Characters are subjective. Some people might hate characters I love. I need to accept that and not try to make my characters be people they aren’t because of it.

 

9.     What do you hope readers will take away from your work?

With Power Surge?

Forgiveness. It doesn’t mean you have to like or be friends with people who hurt you, but carrying around a deep, strong hatred for them can turn toxic.

Medication is needed for many mental health problems and not having access to it has consequences. It can result in physical harm. It can fuck up relationships. 

Non-binary gender identities are real. And you can be non-binary and be with someone who is the opposite of your birth assigned gender and still be queer.

 

10.  What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?

I’m getting the sequel to Power Surge ready to send to my editor and as it gets closer to the date I said I’d finish it by, I am getting more and more nervous.

After that?

There is a 1940’s novella I’ve been writing random  scenes from.

There is a novel about an urban community college for magicians that has been sitting unfinished for years

I want to write a middle grade novel inspired by a childhood spend in Antique stores.

 I need to tackle the third and final book of the Evanstar Chronicles.

 I have a very rainbow space opera that needs lots and lots of revising.

The list goes on. I’m not sure what order these things will happen it. Right now, I just to finish revising this sequel.


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Erin has just realized that for the entirety of their life, their family has lied to them. Their Sight has been masked for years, so Erin thought the Pixies and Mermaids were hallucinations. Not only are the supernatural creatures they see daily real, but their grandmother is an Elf, meaning Erin isn’t fully human. On top of that, the dreams Erin thought were nightmares are actually prophecies.

While dealing with the anger they have over all of the lies, they are getting used to their new boyfriend, their boyfriend's bullying ex, and the fact that they come from a family of Demon Hunters. As Erin struggles through everything weighing on them, they uncover a Demon plot to take over the world.

Erin just wants some time to work through it all on their own terms, but that's going to have to wait until after they help save the world.

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April Goals and Patreon Launch!

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Happy April, everyone!

Let me preface this with a quick note that this is NOT an April Fool’s Joke. I don’t do those and you’ll only get sincere queerness with a chance of explosions from me, so there’s that.

Anyway, a few things to start off this month, which happens to be my Birthday Month (my birthday is April 5), so double yay for that!

First off, I want to make sure to regularly check in with you all in from of monthly goal posts again. This is something I used to do, mainly to keep myself accountable, but also because I feel like it helps making these things public, both for my own accountability and to share more about the writing process and its accompanying struggles. So gear up for monthly goals and recaps on the first of each month.

That said, March has been terribly unproductive for me. I blame putting my all into releasing EMPIRE OF LIGHT in late February, so a lot of my time and energy (both physical and emotional) went into that for the past few months. Which for me basically meant three months of constant Deadline Panic and “Go, go, GO!”, followed by the inevitable crash. March was that crash, which resulted in pretty much zero writing. And yes, figuring out ways to maintain consistent and healthy productivity is definitely one of my priority goals fo the next quarter of 2019. (I’ll talk more about my quarter goals and how I set those up in a post later this week. Be prepared for all the calendaring and BuJo spreads, because this is how I roll.)

Anyway, for APRIL, here are my GOALS:

#1: Draft and edit Weaver of Ink and Stars, my Nonbinary Fullmetal Alchemist in Space story for BEHIND THE SUN, ABOVE THE MOON (early 2020) — Goal: 10,000 words by April 10

This is my priority this month, because I need this story to be on my editor’s desk by June 1st and have spent the past months extensively outlining and researching things, so it’s time to whip this into readable shape. April, and by extension, CampNaNoWriMo, is for that. My goal is to have a first draft done between April 10 and 15 and to have the first round of content edits done by April 30.

#2: Start drafting REPUBLIC OF SHADOWS, Book 2 in the Voyance series — Goal: 30,000 - 40,000 words by April 30

Yes, this is the sequel to EMPIRE OF LIGHT, and yes, this story has been living in my brain for YEARS and I’m beyond stoked to get it all out, so April is when it starts. My goal is to start officially writing this by April 15 or as soon as I finish rough drafting Weaver of Ink and Stars because I want to be in a space where I can draft one project while editing the other. Prepare for 4 a.m. mornings and lots of writing sprints on my part. Connect with me on Twitter or Google Hangouts if you need a sprint or accountability buddy!

#3: Write more flash and short fiction in the EMPIRE OF LIGHT universe and LAUNCH A PATREON to better support my writing habits by April 1

Okay, maybe this is cheating, but the first step in this goal JUST happened last night: you can now support me and my writing via Patreon here. I am going to use this platform to release monthly short stories and flash fiction in the Empire of Light universe, but also to share more targeted and in-depth essays on craft, gender, and all things queer speculative fiction. I’ve been planning to do this for a while now and my birthday month seemed as good as any to finally get that off the ground, so if you want more queerness with a chance of explosions, please consider supporting me on Patreon. Bonus: all new patrons who sign up during the month of April will get a swag packet with a signed bookmark, postcard, and a character art sticker of either Damian, Raeyn, or Aris (your choice).

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I’ve already posted the first part of an all-new prequel short story featuring your favorite crotchety space pirate, Iltis, called “All In.” Check out a snippet here and head over to Patreon to read the rest!

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Also, if you financially can’t support me right now, please still consider voting on what flash fiction prompt you want me to write for April. This is usually for patrons only, but because I’m just starting out, this post is available to vote for everyone, so get your vote in now.

Okay, one month, thirty days, three goals. LET’S DO THIS. I’m ready for April. Are you? What are your goals and projects you have in the works? Tell me about them in the comments!

Cheers and happy reading!

Alex

Queering Up Your Bookshelf: Dez Schwartz

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

Happy Wednesday!

Today, I welcome fellow NineStar Press author Dez Schwartz to Queering Up Your Bookshelf to talk about her next book in the ROAM series, HUNTER, out April 8 from NineStar Press, writing Dreampunk and Paranormal, and writing the beginning of the ROAM series totally without an outline!

Welcome, Dez!


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Vampire apologist and lifelong enthusiast of classic gothic horror, cryptids, and the occult; Dez Schwartz writes Dreampunk & Paranormal LGBTQ Fiction with a spellbinding balance of darkness and humor. When she’s not busy writing, she can most likely be found with a latte in hand, perusing antique shops for oddities and peculiar vintage books or wrangling her demonic (but adorable) cats.

Find Dez online:

Website Instagram Twitter


1. What is your writing origin story?

It's funny, considering the current pop culture climate. I actually got my start when I was in High School in 1999 and decided there was a desperate need for a female Ghostbuster. The first thing I ever wrote was a Ghostbusters fanfiction that introduced a woman to the team. People loved it which encouraged me to write more GB fanfics. I went on to write fanfiction for other fandoms such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, more recently, BBC Sherlock and The Magicians. In 2015, I finally decided to make the leap to original fiction and sat down to write the first ROAM book. I've been consistently putting out work ever since.

2. What inspires your writing and how do you keep that inspiration alive?

In terms of thematic elements, I'm heavily inspired by existentialism, Victorian Gothic literature, and folklore. As for what sparks my imagination and gets me in the mood to write, I love listening to Southern Gothic Rock and 80s music, reading Oscar Wilde, and looking at historical fashion and art (primarily Rococo & Victorian). I think in order to keep your inspiration alive, you have to make it a point to seek out new information. You can easily do this online but I also love to visit museums, libraries, antique shops, and to travel when I can. Taking time to relax and refuel is essential.

3. What does representation mean to you and how does it feature in your writing?

Contrary to what industries seemed to believe several years ago, you can't just shove a minor character with little-to-no arc into your story and then pat yourself on the back. Thankfully, a lot of books, shows, and movies have improved on this over the past few years. My desire to write ROAM was greatly propelled by the lack of LGBTQ characters that I saw in leading roles. You know all those fanfics that I mentioned earlier? Every one of them had LGBTQ rep and I came to a point where I felt that what I really needed to be doing was putting original LGBTQ content out into the world. Fast forward to today and I have met so many talented writers that are all working hard toward the same goal—giving our community a catalouge of entertainment choices as vast as the choices that have always been available for everyone else. It'll take a while but we'll get there and I'm glad that the writing community has really come together to support one another in this.

4. What are some of your favorite tropes (or ways to subvert them)?

I'm a sucker for anti-heroes, enemies-to-lovers, relatable monsters, and reluctant heroes. I don't really subvert these (since I do love them so much) but I try to find ways to make them feel fresh by creating new monsters or pushing boundaries in ways that I haven't seen others do often already.

5. What is your writing process?

I wrote ROAM without an outline. I didn't know what I was doing. I got little sleep and would stay up all night on some weekends to work on it. It was my first full length novel and I just dove in with reckless abandon and you know what? I love that I did. I learned a lot. HUNTER (ROAM: Book Two) definitely had an outline and I just finished the rough draft for DREAM WEAVER (ROAM: Book Three) which not only had an outline but also word count goals and deadlines that I set for myself. It was a much more streamlined process. I have a few other books outside of the ROAM series and those were outlined as well. I'm still evolving my writing process as I learn new tricks that work for me. Currently, I begin with a general outline to allow for flexibility, follow up with research, set daily goals to try and make whatever deadline I've set for myself, and then strive to write for about two hours a day when possible. I tend to write at home, either in my small office (Writer's Nook) or at the dining room table. I always have coffee on hand and I usually light a candle. I try to write when I have time alone, aside from my cats that narrow their eyes at me and flatten their ears when I randomly laugh at my own jokes while typing them. Behind every successful writing process is a feline critic. I'm sure you know this.

6. What is your best piece of writing advice?

Make mistakes. Don't be afraid to write anything that sparks your interest or to try new techniques. You'll learn to keep what works best for you and then you can toss out the rest. There's not one magical right way to do this job. In fact, that is what makes it magical.

7. What is the hardest lesson you learned while writing?

Writing is a lonely craft. It becomes so easy to be impassioned about your work to the point where you obsess over it constantly, seclude yourself, and lose sleep in order to get all of the words down. Why do you write like you're running out of time? becomes a mantra. Be sure to schedule time in for friends and life adventures. Even if you have to physically do that by jotting it down in a planner to hold yourself accountable. Having coffee with Mary isn't going to hurt your writing. I promise.

8. What do you hope readers will take away from your work?

The underlying theme in the majority of my stories is that you don't have to live up to society's expectations of perfection in order to have value. Hell, you don't even have to be a good person one-hundred percent of the time. You inherently have value because your energy, like all of ours, is part of the universe. All you have to do is decide what you want to do with that energy while you have it. Other than that, I write with a lot of humor so I hope readers leave the story having had a good laugh at some point.

9. What is a great queer book you have read recently?

It's a short story but I really enjoyed ROMANCING THE WEREWOLF by Gail Carriger. I love paranormal characters and humor so it was a great match for me. Like most everyone else, I'm still a mess over the beauty of CALL ME BY YOUR NAME by Andre' Aciman. I've met a lot of new LGBTQ writers that have books that have just released or are releasing later this year so I'm looking forward to really bulking up my collection.

10. What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?

As mentioned, I just finished writing the rough draft for DREAM WEAVER (ROAM: Book Three) so I'll begin revisions and editing on that soon. After that, I have a YA M/M Paranormal series, THE DEAD OAKS, that I'm in the midst of so I'll begin writing the next book for that. While I'm known for Dreampunk & Paranormal stories, I've been toying with the idea of writing my first Contemporary Romantic Comedy. I'll just have to wait and see where my muse takes me when I get there.


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HUNTER is the second book in the ROAM series.

Dr. Grady Hunter has a vampire infestation on his hands in the town of Shady Pines, but he’s been deserted by those best suited to help. After enlisting Chris Reed, a techno-mage, they find the vampires might only be the tip of a deadly iceberg.

Returning home from his dream travels, Ethan Roam is eager to experiment with his newly discovered powers. But Ethan isn’t the only familiar arrival in Grady’s life. As more reminders of his dark past crop up, Grady and Ethan are swept up in a mystery of cosmic proportions.

Grady must fight to keep an ever-evolving Ethan on his side while being challenged by the ghosts of his past.

PRE-ORDER A COPY FROM NINESTAR PRESS


Queering Up Your Bookshelf: Andrew J. Peters

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

Happy Wednesday!

Today, I welcome fellow NineStar Press author Andrew J. Peters to Queering Up Your Bookshelf to chat about the importance of representation and #OwnVoices authors all across the queer spectrum, his writing process, and his upcoming short story collection out with NineStar Press later this year.

Welcome, Andrew!


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Author Andrew J. Peters is the third most famous Andrew J. Peters on the Internet after the disgraced former mayor of Boston and the very honorable concert organist of the same name.

He’s an award-winning author, an educator and an activist. His novel The City of Seven Gods won the Silver Falchion award for Best Horror/Fantasy and was a finalist for Sci Fi/Fantasy Book of the Year at the Foreword INDIES. His Werecat series was a Readers’ Choice finalist at The Romance Reviews. He has written two books for young adults (The Seventh Pleaide and Banished Sons of Poseidon), and he is the author of the adult novel Poseidon and Cleito. His latest title Irresistible is a gay rom-com based on the oldest extant romance novel in the world.

Andrew grew up in Buffalo, New York, studied psychology at Cornell University, and spent the early part of his career as a social worker and an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. He has been a contributing writer at Queer Sci Fi, The New York Journal of Books, The Good Men Project, Gay YA, YA Highway, and La Bloga.

While writing, Andrew works as an administrator and an adjunct faculty at Adelphi University. He lives in New York City with his husband Genaro and their cat Chloë.

Find Andrew online:

Website Facebook Twitter Goodreads Pinterest


What is your writing origin story?

Ha! What a great spin on a traditional question. Makes me feel like a superhero. :)

Well then, I was a shy, unathletic, pre-gay suburban boy in the early 1980s who withdrew socially and spent most of my time writing mysteries, plays, and musicals with coded homoeroticism. In sixth grade, I joined up with a friend to write a musical, which we very earnestly presented to the music teacher and the principal as a project we would direct our class to do.

The principal was a nice guy who probably didn’t know what to do with us. Naturally, the musical script was pretty awful. It was something of a rip-off of Annie called Lucy Mckay! and featured show-stopping numbers like “Just Me and My Pets.” Anyway, as a consolation, he told me I could read my mystery novel over the P.A. system during lunch period, which I proudly did as a serial. So I guess that was when I realized my storytelling magical powers. :)

Where do you usually write and what are the top three things you usually have around you when you write?

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My husband and I have a two bedroom apartment, and the second bedroom serves as my writing office, a guest bedroom, and--when we want to discourage overnight guests--we tell people it’s our cat Chloë’s room (she does like to sleep on the bed). It’s fairly cluttered but also pretty sunny, which I like, and it has an inspiration board that I made something like ten years ago when I started sending my work out for publication.

This is not at all a recommendation to the young ‘uns out there, but I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t tell you the three things I usually have around me when I write are coffee, cigarettes, and a pad of paper. I write primarily on a desktop, but while doing research, rather than starting a new doc, I take notes by hand.

What does representation mean to you and how does it feature in your writing?

That’s a huge-ish and important question. I think representation is always present. As writers, we’re representing the world, even those of us who write fantasy because our worldview consciously or unconsciously influences the kind of story and the people we write about. And I agree with feminist literary criticism, and queer literary criticism, and racial justice literary criticism that historically, and still today, stories about white, cis gender, heterosexual, typically middle class men dominate what we collectively call literature, and they don’t fairly or accurately represent the world we live in.

I see that connected to social justice in a broader sense because it’s about who controls the culture and the stories that teach us our position in the world as men or women or queer people or people of color, etc..

I’m also increasingly concerned about representation as it relates to authorship in terms of who gets to create stories about underrepresented groups. I’m often defending #Ownvoices in conversations with writers who say: “You’re taking away my creative freedom.” and “Why should author identity matter? If you’re a good writer, you can write about anything.”

My response to that is #Ownvoices is primarily about uplifting historically marginalized authors, not so much about portrayal, or simply expanding the number of books about marginalized people and communities.

I read about this topic a lot and have done some of my own research. #Ownvoices has focused mostly on children’s books and YA, so that’s where the most data is from. I’d love to see that effort expand to adult books. Anyway, somewhere between seven to 35 percent of children’s books published each year about people of color are actually written about people of color (from https://readingpartners.org/blog/12-diverse-childrens-books-written-ownvoices-authors/). I’d think people would agree there’s a problem there, and it’s institutional. Authors of color are writing stories about people of color, but their books aren’t getting published, or when they’re getting published they’re not getting supported and recognized in the same way books by white authors receive attention.

The same thing is happening in queer literature. It’s been a huge project to undertake, and my data was limited to looking at books ranked as popular or recommended by the ALA or short-lists for awards. But I’ve looked at gay authorship of gay SFF stories for instance and found, in 2017, that between zero and twenty-five percent of gay SFF titles that got voted popular, or recommended, or short-listed for awards were authored by gay men. The two biggest LGBTQIA+ identified presses had gay or M/M fantasy lists that included zero or as much as 14 percent of titles authored by gay men that year.

It’s important to contextualize that issue within a broader queer justice perspective, i.e. trans, non-binary, and queers authors of color are much less represented than gay, white, cis gender authors overall. But I use it as a starting point in the discussion. I mean, it’s wonderful we’re seeing more children’s and young adult books about trans kids, and lesbian mothers, and gay boys, but when you look at authorship, it’s still predominantly hetero, cis gender authors whose books are getting noticed.

I’ll be more succinct with my response to the second part of your question! I write stories primarily about gay men, largely drawn from classic myth and legend. It’s important to me to represent diverse perspectives within that niche, so for example, I have a short story anthology coming out later this year, and I wanted to use it as an opportunity to tell stories about gay men of all ages in addition to using some non-European inspiration points.

    

What are some of your favorite tropes (or ways to subvert them)?

Well, pretty hard for me to squirm out of using the fantasy trope of the reluctant, unlikely hero, but of course I love to cast the hero as gay and fairly un-hung-up about it. I like flipping the loyal sidekick character and making them a straight best buddy. Generally I approach evil villains with some nuance because I’m not a big fan of stories that are so declaratively good vs. evil. In my young adult fantasies (The Seventh Pleiade, Banished Sons of Poseidon), it was important to me to tell the bad guy, the High Priest Zazamoukh’s backstory, which shows how at one time, he wasn’t such a bad guy and how he became this terrible monster.

What is your writing process?

It’s hopefully become a lot better and efficient through trial and error. Good gods, my first novel (The Seventh Pleiade) took about ten years if I’m being honest, because I just started writing this story that was floating around in my head, and learned the very hard way, plotting doesn’t just happen magically! So I read all I could about writing craft, started using outlines, participated in critique groups and workshops, and I feel like the lessons learned have fairly well become embedded in my process. I’ll sometimes outline a story first, and sometimes, if I feel like I’ve clearly thought things out in my head, all the way through the end, I’ll just start writing and making some adjustments as I go along.

What is your best piece of writing advice?

Be humble and soak up all the knowledge you can. I do believe that writing is a talent some people are born with, and maybe this advice comes from the fact I realize I’m not the kind of fantasy author who’s a virtuoso of wordsmithery like Gregory Maguire or a genius of fluid, provocative prose like Samuel Delaney (they’re probably my favorite authors). So, to the extent there’s probably a lot of writers like me, I’d say: read, experiment, go to workshops, get feedback as much as you can. Talent can be learned.

What is the hardest lesson you learned while writing?

Ugh. The pain of crickets chirping a lot of the time. There’s something like a million books published each year, and that number is growing with the explosion of self-publishing. It’s hella hard getting your titles discovered.

What do you hope readers will take away from your work?

A smile. A laugh here and there. Maybe recognizing an emotional connection with one of the characters. That’s always my proudest moment when I hear that feedback from readers.

What was your favorite character or scene you’ve written recently?

This is quite an early preview since I’m just polishing up a YA adventure based on The Odyssey. It’s a pretty silly comedy adventure in which Telemachus goes looking for his father and teams up with Theseus and his hus-bull and the mischievous godling Nerites. Anyway, their search leads them to the nymph Calypso who is quite the over-the-top, evil seductress. She charms the hus-bull Asterion, and to get him back, Nerites convinces Telemachus to undergo a glamouring to disarm the nymph, outwitting her at her own game. It requires covering him in whale dung and reading an incantation, and things go terribly wrong.

What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?

Look for my short story anthology from NineStar Press later this year! Meanwhile, I’m starting to query the Telemachus novel while looking for a home to my epic fantasy series The Lost Histories.


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What if the gods created a man so beautiful, no one could resist falling in love with him?

Brendan thinks he’s won at life when he hooks a guy so gorgeous he parts crowds walking down the street. But he and Cal will have to overcome a jealous BFF, Romanian mobsters, hermit widowers, and a dictatorship on the brink of revolution. Their dream wedding in the Greek isles turns to madcap odyssey in this modern gay salute to Chariton’s Callirhoe, the oldest extant romance novel in the world.

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