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.
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:
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.