Concussive Puppy Trouble

DSC_0019This is the longest I have gone without making a new post since I started this blog, and it might be a while before I get back to my regular posts, so I figured I’d hop on for a few minutes and let you all know what is going on.

Late January was the start of a new semester, once where I was teaching 12 credits instead of the nine I’d done the previous fall and spring. That included a six-credit section of Reading, Writing and Reasoning, a course I have only taught once before.

The extra prep work was making it harder to keep up with my writing, and the amount of WIP’s in need to editing or revising resulted in me hopping from project to project in the time I could steal away to write.

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The dog next door.

Neighbors, both friendly and stupid, weren’t helping. The woman who moved in next door to me in the fall is amazing, and I love having someone I can connect with in my neighborhood. However, socializing while our dogs play is time I am not writing.

 

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My pup, Tavi.

Another, less friendly neighbor that I don’t really know, made the doggie play dates with the nice neighbor even more time consuming. He has this outdoor fish pond is filled with large, orange fish. Which was fine, until the water heater broke during a cold spell. When the fish died and froze, the dogs discovered them, and no matter how much I practiced recall with Tavi, he and his partner-in-crime couldn’t resist sneaking over to munch of frozen fish.

 

Then came a messy Nor’Easter. Alternating layers of ice and snow coated the ground. The community college I teach at closed early, and when I got home I let Tavi out to play in the snow. We played fetch and worked on commands like sit, stay, and come, giving me a chance to decompress from the stressful drive before diving into my backlog of grading.

Just as I was getting ready to head inside, Tavi bolted for the fish. I knew that when he put his nose down and ran full speed, his little mind only had room for one thought: get the fish.

I did the one thing trainers say not to do when a dog runs away. I chased after him. Determined to catch him before he reached the fish, I didn’t realize I had crossed from the beach to the lake.

At a full sprint, my feet flew out from under me. My head smacked solid lake ice. I yelled a few bad words. Everything went black. Tavi was standing over me, staring with his amber eyes. I grabbed his leash, stormed in the house, and with only a few breaks, one that involved yelling at someone who was driving a truck on the ice, I graded until 10 p.m.

I didn’t know anything was wrong until it was time to go to bed and I didn’t know where my phone was. After tearing the house apart, I realized couldn’t remember what order anything happened in. I literally had to message people to find out when I talked to them and make a timeline. ‘

The next morning, I had a killer migraine. I called out of work and before lunch time, I was at the doctors, and they were telling me I needed to rest my brain, and to avoid reading and screens so my brain heal. I even had to limit handwriting.

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There are plenty of first graders who draw better than me, but it was the only way I could focus on audio books.

Two weeks without doing things that seem as necessary as breathing was hell. Thanks to sensory processing disorder, audio are usually more of a struggle than they are worth, but I was so desperate for stories that I found a way to focus on them: drawing. However, audio books and me are a completely different post.

 

Let’s just say that after being out of work for two weeks (I had subs cover my classes) I had a boatload of grading to catch up on, and it was mid-march by the time I really got back to the amount of writing I am used to. I’ve had to put a few projects on the back burner, but I’m still hopeful that novel #4 will be ready to pitch when #DVpit comes along.

My life finally seems to be getting back on track, so hopefully, I’ll be back to my usual writing related posts, book reviews, and even a few teaching-related pieces.

 

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Beta Readers & Remembering my Characters are NOT me.

Good beta readers and critique partners are essential for writers, not just because they make individual manuscripts stronger, but also because they can make writers aware of problematic patterns.

My beta readers often comment that my characters don’t react or show emotion to big things – like finding out demons exits, losing a loved one, seeing someone get shot, or having some slightly mundane but life changing news delivered.

Despite the validity of these comments, I often get very defensive about them. It’s not that my characters don’t feel or show emotion; they just don’t do it right away.

There is a reason I write them like that.

I almost never have instant reactions to things unless that reaction is rage or something completely irrational.

I may have immediately dissolved into screaming and swearing that one time there were cars on a hiking (I may have had a staring contest with the car)but when my grandmother died, and when I got offer a contract for my book, I just kind of stared and went through the motions before I truly reacted.

When big things happen, I don’t react to them right away. I go blank and stare until my brain figures out how it wants to react, considers how people expect me to react and finds a compromise between the two. Therefore, in my first drafts, my characters seldom react the way readers expect.

I need to stop mentally fighting readers about this.

My characters are not me.

Maybe if I am writing a character that has the same not completely diagnosed flavor of mental illness that I have, the readers would have to deal with it. However, if I am writing a neurotypical character and/or one that is mentally healthy, then they need to react like one of those people would.

Without beta readers, it would be almost impossible for me to see this. Even with them, it has taken me far to long to figure it out. Even being aware of it, I’m sure it will still happen in all my first drafts, but I am going to work harder to catch it early revisions so that my readers can focus on other things.

 

IWSG December Post: Writers Remorse ?

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeDecember 6 question – As you look back on 2017, with all its successes/failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

There isn’t much I would do differently. To be honest, 2017 was filled with more success than failures. Sure, I got about 120 rejections for one of my novels, but in the end, I landed a contract with a great publisher.

If anything, I wish I had gotten brave enough to share my queries in Absolute Write’s query letter hell forum sooner, and had been a little more careful about proof reading some of my queries and samples. I do worry that the 20 or so queries I sent out for one of my projects, Like Birds Under the  City Sky, were a waste because the project is currently shelved until I get into the right mindset to make the necessary revisions. Of course, there is a bright side to this. The editor who sent the R & R requesting the revision works for the publisher I signed Power Surge with.

My only other biggish regret has to do with the Publishizer crowd publishing campaign that I botched this summer and that wasn’t a total waste becuase it got me to complete manuscript #4, Earth Reclaimed, which one of my old friends who doubles as a CP claims is one of the best things I’ve written so far. Of course, the sample chapter shared in the publishizer page was an info dump filled with forced dialogue. I’ve composted and rewritten it several times now, and it is much better. I’m not sure if I will ever try crowd publishing again since I am not very social, but if I do, it will be with a complete and polished ms, not a WIP.

As far as writing goes, 2017 was a good year. However, if were to go into politics, identity, and mental health issues, well, then I would be telling a different story, but I doubt any of you want to hear about all the tiny little regrets I have about awkward things I said in conversations or snarky comments I shouldn’t have made on student papers.

The most important thing to do now is to learn from my mistakes and keep moving forward.

IWSG November: I will win NaNoWriMo!

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeNovember 1 question – Win or not, do you usually finish your NaNo project? Have any of them gone on to be published?

Because I was so into national novel writing month, I completely forgot to blog on the first of the month with the Insecure Writers Support Group Question. Half way through the month and about 27,000 words into a newish novel, I am slowing down.

I wouldn’t say I’ve hit a wall so much as a swamp or a mucky stretch of road. This has happened before. I get my characters past their inciting incident and on their adventure. They are getting somewhere. They are growing, and then I slow down. What was going to write next? What obstacles can I throw in their way? How will those obstacles affect them?

When I should just be writing and letting the characters talk to me, I start overthinking my first draft. As if that isn’t bad enough, I start peeking at works that are supposed to be resting, more polished works that are just a couple rounds of revision away from being sent out to agents, and I start thinking about how rough the writing in my WIP is. It slows me down. I know its bad, and in theory, I know how to get past it, but it never happens right away.

Thankfully, I’ve done NaNoWriMo (and the camp version) a few times before. I’ve completed four novels. When I finish my WIP, I’ll have five under my belt. I’m starting to get a good sense of my process. One way or another, I will finish the book.

In 2015, I didn’t sign up on the site, but I wrote the bulk of a novel in November. I didn’t call it NaNoWriMo officially because I started in Oct and finished in Dec, but since that first draft was nearly 200,000 words long, I am pretty sure I wrote at least 50,00 words in November. Several revisions later, Song of the Forest is 83,000 words and being queried. If you’ve paid attention to any of my twitter pitches, the ones about telepaths, trees and serial killers are for this book.

In 2016, I took a short story that a bunch of editors and cp’s had been telling should be a novel and turned it into a 54,000 word novel. In the end, I was really happy with the way it came out. I got some feedback, didn’t listen as closely as I should, revised a couple times, got more feedback, did some editing and started querying. After a lot of rejections, I got some honest feedback from an editor about the structure of the story, which prompted rewrite I have not yet finished since I was too excited about other projects. My plan is to revisit it in January when I am on break.

In 2017, I attempted two Camp NaNoWriMos. April’s got me some progress on a WIP, but I didn’t finish it. I tried again in July but ended up switching projects halfway through. I hit the 50,000 word mark, but it wasn’t all for one book. By the end of August, I had finished the book I switched to, but not the one I started. I haven’t returned that incomplete WIP, but will sooner or later.

Right now, I’m working on getting out of the muck for the WIP I’m working on. I will win this month, but I know this YA space adventure is going to need more than 50,000 words. I could get to an ending my 50,000 words then go back and beef up the middle later, or I could keep writing beyond the end of the month until I reach an end of the book. I’m open to either, but I know that if I over think it and don’t just do it, I won’t do either.

One thing I have learned from writing multiple novels is to trust the process. No matter how bad the first draft comes out, revision can make it better. To get through the first draft, I need to just write and let the characters have a will of their own. The rest, the careful plotting, focusing on how the characters change, and careful editing comes in later drafts.

Book Review: Walking on Water is a gorgeous and validating read.

Walking on WaterWalking on Water by Matthew J. Metzger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up an ARC of Walking on Water. I asked to review it because I love merfolk stories as long as they are not Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and have been hungry for own voices fantasy featuring trans and non-binary characters.

I admit, I was skeptical of the first two chapters because the book was set in the past, in societies that were even more binary than the modern world, especially for princes like the two mc’s.

It’s too easy, when writing women in a misogynistic society, to make women want to be men simply because a society treats them like crap. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case in Walking on Water.

Yes, Calla was oppressed by her controlling father and foiled by her girly sisters. She didn’t fit with other mermaids or accept the role women were supposed to play in her society, but it wasn’t until she found herself in the body of a human male that she fully realized she wasn’t a she, but a he. That moment was raw, beautiful and true. It was uplifting and validating to read about someone discovering their gender as an adult.

From that moment forward, I could not put the book the down. The tension was beautiful, and so was the depiction of two people communicating without words better than many people communicate with them. I kept hoping for a happy ending, and with every twist and turn, I wondered how the characters were going to overcome the obstacles that stood in front of them. As soon as I thought I knew how it would happen, something would change to make me second guess where the story was going. I suspected – hoped – it would have a happy ending. I just didn’t know how the heck the characters were going to get there. I won’t say anything else about the end, other than that it worked.

The prose were as gorgeous as the story, and the voices of the different narrators were so distinct that I never second guessed whose POV I was reading. Each narrator saw the world a little differently because in some ways, they were each from different worlds, and the author stayed consistent with this throughout. It included some stunning nautical imagery. Of course, I won’t deny my bias towards that. The ocean is in my blood. If merpeople and past lives exist, I was probable in a merman in one of my lives…

If you are looking for a good fantasy, a beach read, a romance, a just good rep of a trans character, and/or just something good to read, then you will enjoy this book.

View all my reviews

Book Deal = Happier than a Puppy Off- Leash

Power Surge Aesthetic pitch

A visual pitch I made for Power Surge during the last #kidpit. 

This blog post should’ve been up a few days ago, but with storms, a family member’s health issues, and the start of NaNoWriMo, I neglected to write it. However, if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then you probably already know the information I am going to announce.

I signed a contract with NineStar Press to publish my young adult, urban fantasy novel, Power Surge.

Power Surge was the first novel I began writing with any amount of seriousness, but it was the second one I finished. It’s been revised at least about a dozen times, and if you put the first and final draft side by side, I’m not sure the two would have a complete sentence in common.

I started querying Power Surge to agents on Oct. 31, 2016. A little over 100 of them rejected it. I made a ton of mistakes, got some requests, but they all turned into rejections one way or another. Later, I switched my efforts to publishers with a fresh query and freshly edited manuscript. I got more requests, and eventually, I received to offers. On Oct. 30 2017, I signed a contract with NineStar Press.

I have not figured out my exact stats yet, but I had 72 outright rejections, 45 agents or editors whose lack of a reply was equivalent to a rejection, and 3 instances where I withdrew my manuscript because the deadline I set to respond had passed. Of all my submissions, I only had 6 full requests and two partials if I am counting right. However, many publishers, including the one I signed with, have authors submit the whole manuscript up front.

I kept tract of everything in a table in Microsoft word and am now wishing I had just used power point. Eventually, I will organize my data better and get better numbers. I’m going to do this with my other manuscripts before the amount of submissions gets out of control.

If these numbers are right, that means I sent out 120 submissions with a 6.6% request rate for agents and publishers combined. That rate was much lower than the 10% I was told to aim for, but in the end, it didn’t matter. I received not one, but two offers of publication with no agent.

After researching both publishers, I decided to sign with NineStar. People said better things about them in the absolute write forums. They pay higher royalties. I’ve worked with them before on smaller projects. More importantly, I got the sense that the editor I am going to be working with really understood Power Surge and is the right person to help me make it shine.

I don’t have a release date yet, though I am assuming it will be close to a year before Power Surge is published. Even this early in the game, I am confident NineStar Press is the perfect home for Power Surge.

This is the first step on a long journey, and so far, it has taught me that without enough patience and persistence, anything is possible. Right now, I’m as happy as Tavi (my puppy) when he gets to run off leash.

Now, it’s time to get back to NaNoWriMo2017!

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National Novel Writing Month: 2017

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing color, the days are getting short, and it’s almost time to embark on an adventure: National Novel Writing Month.

Last year, I wrote a romantic sci-fi thriller about a hacker and a small town boy on the run from some government contractors. After a few revisions, I thought it was done, queried it too soon, and got a lot of rejections. One editor was kind enough to give me some feedback, and after sending the book out to a few more beta, who agreed that the book needed work, I started a revision, got stuck, and put it in the to be revised later folder.

This year I am going to be more patient. I’m really excited about my project, and want to make sure it’s really ready before I send it out. Luckily, I have plenty of other projects to keep me busy.

I haven’t written or outlined enough to know exactly where the plot’s going, but I know who my characters are, I know the world, and know that it is totally queer. It’s space opera, and that means there will be whispers of Star Wars, Firefly and Guardians of the Galaxy, but I’m also certain my cast of gender-fluid characters, teenage drama, and  retro flare will make it unique.

Yes, there are space ships, aliens, magic and a quest, but the characters are what will make this book shine.

For now, here is a working blurb and some images:

Dianny doesn’t want to take over Mom’s business dealing in sex and drugs, or wind up like one of the beings Mom employs. However, with ADHD, anxiety, sensitivity to Oomph, and a gender identity their peers don’t understand, Dianny isn’t doing so well at avoiding that path. Dianny isn’t sure if they are relieved or terrified when they find Mom’s club shut down and swarming with federal agents, but they don’t dare disobey the task given to them by one of Mom’s girls: find their father, who is in a prison half way across the galaxy, and give him the Oomph enhanced artifact that the authorities are after. 

 

 

 

Pronoun Problems

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Aesthetic of Earth Reclaimed

I’m in the midst of revising a novel (Earth Reclaimed) with a non-binary protagonist. Since this work blends high fantasy with solarpunk and has alternates points of view, I choose to write it in third person. However, several of my beta readers and critique partners have been having a hard time adjusting to me using “they/them” as a singular, gender neutral pronoun.

Readers have suggested I switch to first person, or use something like Xe or Ze. Not realizing it was own voices, one reader even questioned if it was necessary to write the character as non-binary. She meant well, but just because there is a non-binary character doesn’t mean the story has to be about being non-binary.

I knew I didn’t want to write this story in first person, and I couldn’t picture this character CIS, but I did briefly consider a different pronoun.

Before making any decisions, I wanted to see how other writers used neutral pronouns, so I read the first two books of the Ardulum series which used two variations of gender neutral pronouns for aliens who had a third gender. It worked great for those alien characters, but would not suit my protagonist or my writing style for two big reasons.

One:

Xe and Ze are not as neutral as they seem at first glance because they lose some of their neutrality when they become possessive. The writer has to make a choice: does Xe become Xer or Xis? In Ardulum, the author choose Zir as the possessive form of Xe, but when read out loud, it still sounds a lot like Xer or Her.

Some non-binary folks, including me, use gendered pronouns. I use she/her because it’s what I grew up using, and I get overwhelmed when I think about telling friends and family I prefer they/them. I don’t think I’ve ever even bothered announcing to most people that I’m non-binary or gender fluid because it’s a conversation that could turn awkward too quickly. Plus, I don’t like labels and boxes. No matter which one you stick on me, what matters is that I know who I am.

Even though Earth Reclaimed is an own voices story, the main character isn’t me. Serena lives in a future and region where gender is fluid and people are not boxed into identifying as men or women. They are also braver and bolder than I am. I wrote my first draft using she/her, and it just didn’t feel right. Serena needed a gender neutral pronoun, and at least to me, they is more neutral than the others.

Two:

Neutrality is not the only reason to choose they. Xe and Ze do not come to me as natural as they does. Growing up, if I didn’t know whether a person was male or female, I would automatically use they/them until I knew whether they were a she or a he.

Back then, I hadn’t heard of words like non-binary or gender fluid. Those terms may have existed, but they weren’t part of my vocabulary.  I was in my later twenties when I discovered those words and thought “that sounds just like me.”

Identifying with the label didn’t lead me to change the pronouns I use, but that doesn’t mean all the non-binary characters I write have to use the same pronouns, especially of the conditions that keep me using she/her don’t exist for them.

When I write a third person, own voices narrative with a non-binary character, I am going to use they/them as a pronoun. Will there confusion in the early drafts? Yes. However, with careful editing, I hope I will be able to write third person, gender neutral they/them without confusing my readers.

Happy Book Birthday Half Breeds!

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Kicked out of private school, Allen has to brave a public high school where most of the kids don’t know supernatural creatures exist. He expects to be miserable, but he finds himself romantically pursued by two people: a shy, but fascinating boy named Jeremy and a spunky girl named Chloe. The demon in Allen wants to feed off Chloe, but the human part of him is falling for Jeremy. Which will win?

Today, my first stand alone story, a novelette called Half Breeds is released to the wild. The ebook is for sale and ready to download on Amazon and on Nine Star Press’ website.

Of all the short stories that I’ve written, Half Breeds is one of my favorites. Sometimes I struggle portraying emotion and sexual tension without being corny, but in this story more so than others, I feel like I managed to balance emotion, tension and humor.

Half Breeds may be a paranormal tale featuring teens who are half demon and half angel, but in it, I explore very human concepts, like sexuality, consent, self-image and the feeling of being a monster. These are topics I love to write about because they are always snaking around in my mind, but sometimes, they make people uncomfortable.

Since consent and sexual harassment are largely discussed, public issues, I was a little worried how readers would react to a particular scene where Allen, the main character, doesn’t respect another characters revoked consent while they are making out. It’s an important scene because it’s a realistic situation in Allen makes the wrong choice, and has to face the consequences of it.

One review said “The bathroom scene made me a little uncomfortable to be honest but I think if you truly read it in the context of the story it’s tolerable…… kind of” while another said “Codair handles these issues with grace and humor.” The point, at least to a certain extent, was to make the readers uncomfortable, to make sure they saw how the character made the wrong decisions, and how it affected him after.  I don’t want to alienate readers, but on occasion, I write things people shouldn’t be comfortable with because in some ways, it forces people to think about the issues more than hash tags  or vague posts.

Serious issues aside, I hope you find that Half Breeds a spooky and funny Halloween story that makes you think.

 

ISWSP October Question: #ownvoices?

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeOctober 4 question – Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

My answer:

Yes, but sometimes it is more intentional than others

While none of my characters are directly based off of my self, many of them share my non-binary gender identity. They struggle with similar mental health issues, like anxiety triggered by crowds or touch. Occasionally, they even like the same things as me, like Star Wars and vegetable gardens.

Of course, there are instances where I write characters that are opposite of me and have almost nothing in common. Sometimes I need to escape my world and truely become someone else while I am writing.

Yet more often than not, it’s hard to fully filter myself from my creations, and when the ones with bits and pieces of me sewn through are more authentic, why bother filtering?

Authenticity is important. Representation is important. My experience with mental health and gender may not quite be like someone else’s, but that is kind of the point, isn’t it?

People do read for entertainment, but they also read for education. Ideally, both happen at the same time. If my book can keep people entertained, make them feel things, keep them turning pages and teach them a little something at the same time, then it was success.