Friday, September 17, 2021

Writing Action

To write solid action scenes, start by understanding humans. Action is almost always the result of overwhelming emotion. If inertia is the strongest force in the universe, you need something that shatters it. That something becomes the scene’s (and your character’s) DRIVER. Example: Breaking Bad. The US healthcare system failed Walter. Rage and desperation drove him and the series. Maybe you can see how that emotion also drove the rising arc of increasingly brutal action as the series progressed.

Once you have a driver, you take human physiology into account. It should be familiar. Fight, flight, or freeze. You must know your character(s) well enough to know what prompts would make them fight, which would make them run, and which would make them freeze. Characters can progress from one stage to another. For example, you hear a noise in the house at 2AM. You freeze. It’s in your bedroom! You throw off the freeze and run for your life. It’s a bat fluttering around the room. Now you slip into fight mode – not that you’re going to start swinging at the bat (unless you are – in that case, get on with your bad self) – you’re going to shift into action. You close the bedroom door to keep the bat contained, and you open your window so the bat can escape. Maybe you switch on a light to encourage the bat to land so you can grab it in a towel and yeet it from the window. The process can go in reverse, too. Fight first, run when fighting isn’t working, then freezing and playing dead when even running fails.

Finally, it helps to consider which kind of action scene you need.

  1. Active
  2. Reactive

An active scene is self-initiated. Action results from internal stimuli (emotion, desire, longing, etc.) Key identifier: A decision or choice is made.

A reactive scene is externally initiated. Action results from external stimuli or events (being pursued, being caught, someone throws a punch.) Key identifier: Surprise.

Active scenes tend to follow a galvanizing moment. Think of Star Wars: A New Hope. The Millennium Falcon gets tractored into the Death Star. Luke finds out Leia is on the station. She’s the reason he’s in this mess in the first place. His family was killed because of her droids. He makes the decision to rescue her. (It’s common for Active scenes to follow Reactive scenes – someone comes for you – now you’re going to decide your next action.)

Reactive scenes follow a shock or a surprise. Someone jumps out of a dark alley with a gun. At its purest, most primitive, this is the leopard chasing you across the savannah because it wants to invite you to lunch the hard way.

Driver. Fight, flight, or freeze. Active or Reactive Scene.

Next: Chemistry. The primitive portion of the human brain produces chemicals when it perceives danger. Those chemicals are primal – they are old – they are bound up in survival – they can be brutal. These chemicals shut down executive function. Thinking stops. Reaction and instinct take the wheel. For the most part, emotion – except for fear – stops. Time enough for that after you survive. This is especially true for reactive scenes. Active scenes offer more leeway around thinking and feeling because the character may never tip over into fight, flight, or freeze – even if they end up actually fighting. Because it was a decision, characters can retain executive function longer and may only lose it if their plans fail.

Now you need to know the purpose of the scene. You need to know what the protagonist and the antagonist stand to win and lose in the scene. How does the action serve the character arc and the story arc?

Next, sketch out the skeleton of the action beats in the scene. (Example: Vlad jumps out of the dark into Jenny’s path. She runs. Struggle at the doorway knocks free splinter of wood. When he hits her and she falls, she grabs the wood. He picks her up by the throat. She stabs him through the heart.) Now sketch in the dialogue if it’s necessary for the scene. Go back and fill in the POV character’s sensory and emotional detail. Use a light touch in a reactive scene (in the event that Jenny wasn’t looking for Vlad and this is a huge shocker.) Layer in more sensory and emotional detail if it’s an active scene (Jenny decided to go hunting Vlad, cause this girl is done.)  Finally, flesh out the action. Focus on crisp, clear stage directions. Pierce Jenny’s hand with the sharp wood and let the blood run so you can lead up to driving that stake into Vlad’s heart. You don’t need every single move. You do need to plug any ‘how did they get there’, ‘where did that wolf come from’ holes in the scene.

Your action scenes need to result in emotion and thought after the action dies down. They should change the character(s), drive the story arc, and the character arc. Also, once you've done this layer technique a time or two, you'll just write an action scene without having to block it out so technically. And wow, hasn’t this turned into a whole-ass treatise?

Which means it’s time for the standard disclaimer: This is only ONE way to write action. It’s a tool I find useful. Pick it up. See if it fits your hand. If it doesn’t, toss it like a hot rock. It’s only as good as the help it provides.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Move the Story Forward—With Action!

Ullr the Husky Pup, black and white Siberian husky, running—ears back, fluffy tail up—through tall, golden grass beneath a blue sky
Ullr in Action

 Putting Action into Action Scenes

Our topic of the week sounds simple, doesn’t it? If you’re writing action scenes…write action! But, is it that simple?

Watching an action scene on the screen is different than reading one. On tv you can see grimaces and evil-eye looks as well as hear the air being knocked from lungs. Visual action, unless you’re in the Matrix, follows the laws of physics. 

When you’re writing the boom pows, you have to show enough detail of what’s swinging where and who’s hitting what along with physical cues so the reader can see the real impact: the repercussions that will change their character trajectory. 

I believe in action scenes, sex scenes too, that have purpose. I’ve been known to indulge in some sword and sorcery that’s chock full of battles for battle’s sake. But as a reader I’m more invested in the action scenes when it changes the character or alters the stakes of the storyline. 

That’s the part that’s tricky. As writers I think we’ve all acted out a fight scene, alone or with the assistance of a reluctant family member. Getting the choreography down is important—you don’t want your hero to end up with three arms all of a sudden—but don’t skimp on the emotions that your characters are feeling and that lead the reader to the altered character self/plot. 

Does any of that make sense? I don’t know, it’s late and my head hurts. Let me know if you purposely write action scenes to move the story forward!

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Actions Scenes and the Balance of Emotions


I'm a big, big fan of writing action scenes. They do require more concentration than other scenes because of the level of detail (which makes my analytical brain excited). And, there's a fair bit of pantomime, which makes it a good thing I don't write in public spaces. Action scenes play in my head like a movie with slo-mos, multiple cameras, and alternating close-ups and long shots. Yeah, yeah, I limit the long shots to only what the POV character can see/sense since I don't write 3rd omniscient.  

I will also admit that for all the "fancy" (I'm giving myself way too much credit) choreography, I often neglect the emotion. Fortunately, I have an awesome dev editor whose second-most frequent comment is "Insert Emo Here." It is really, really, really important to not neglect the feeeeeeels. I know in a real-world brawl/battle that's the last thing the brain is thinking--it's mostly instinct and ingrained training allowing the body to act/react with near-automatic movements--but in a story, we need to take the beat to bring the reader's emotions along with the character's. It's not that every punch or slash of a weapon has to have an associated emotion, we don't want to drag down the pacing. However, action scenes are used to thrust the protag from one emotional state to another or to reaffirm through a trial an emotional commitment. True for sex scenes (yep, thems action scenes); true for fisticuffs; true for car chases. 

There is a sweet spot of balance between action and emotion, and the authors who write it well leave a reader feeling breathless and emotionally in sync with the protagonist. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Putting Action into Action Scenes

How to put action in action scenes. I'm making up for the post I didn't write yesterday and talking about this week's topic on my podcast today instead. Also how some authors like to write sex scenes and others action scenes, but rarely both and why. I'm also offering advice on how to get past writing the thing you don't like to write.

  The Ursula Le Guin essay I mention is here (


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Saturday, September 11, 2021

This Week's Topic Made Me Laugh

That's a sucky title, but it's all that I've got in me today. I say that with a smile, though. I've been working really hard on copy edits while living in a house that's mid-remodel, so I'm just glad that I'm still holding it all together. 

But, yes. When I saw this week's topic, I literally laughed out loud. Should you speak your mind on social media regarding politics or keep your tongue? 

First--I have never kept my tongue when it comes to political injustices, and I never will.

That's what made me laugh.

Second--Silence is often a privilege. Being able to live in a mental and physical state where you don't have to speak out about politics or injustices is something that's not afforded to many. A little backlash about our political and social views is nothing compared to what marginalized people face daily. If we--the privileged--don't speak up, that puts the onus on those who are affected most by certain political agendas.

Do you know how hard that is?

I don't let my friends fight alone, and when old white men try to take away anyone's rights, yes, I'm going to be vocal as hell.

Third--Authors are real people. We have opinions. We hungrily seek out facts. And, we mirror the world around us, creating a reflection called Fiction. Literature is political, y'all. It always has been. And if readers follow me, they're going to know where I stand and therefore won't be surprised when they read my books. 

So that's that. I'm not silent, and I never will be.

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. ~ Elie Wiesel



Friday, September 10, 2021

Talking too Much

This may come as a shock, but there’s a whole-ass human being behind this screen. A human with messy thoughts, ideas, beliefs, ideologies, ethics, and a whole bunch of flaws. This human also has wisely or unwisely decided that story telling is their method of making sense of the world and this life. That means putting waaaaay too much stuff in writing and then lobbing it out into the world. The open question this week is whether we as authors believe we should tone down our individual thoughts and opinions in pursuit of offending fewer potential readers and thus securing more robust book sales. 

For my part, Imma talk. I’m going to talk about everything and anything that crosses my mind or that matters to me. Politics. Cats. Religion. Cats. Beliefs. More cats. Thoughts. Feelings. Holy cats, ALL the emo. Will I lose sales over this? Probably. Do I care? Not in the least. Because I AM a whole-ass human being with that long list of stuff packed inside. AND IT ALL ENDS UP IN MY BOOKS, ANYWAY. I’m going to talk about all the things on socials because it’s truth in advertising. If you hate what I say on social media, you are not my audience. If I can’t be a sterling example, I aim to be a terrible, stern warning. I am perfectly okay with waving people off.

Every single one of my books is political. Every single one. Social justice is a major theme throughout every story I tell. If those things chap your hide, I am not your author. Straight up. I do no one any favors by staying silent to hide these facts. So, I leave money on the table. I’m foolishly comfortable with that because I do not want someone to buy one of my books and be subsequently enraged by the viewpoints and content. Those sales would lead to poor reviews. Poor reviews drag an author’s store.

Maybe I’m too enmeshed in the romance community because I’m all in for enthusiastic consent. I want readers who ache to read about all kinds and shapes of humans, aliens, love, adventure, danger, and good triumphing in the end. Mostly. I’d rather have ten people grinning over my socially awkward humor and occasionally macabre posts rushing out to buy my books than have 100 people blindly picking me up. Those 10 people are going to be much, much happier readers and that will leave me a much happier author.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Where'd our common ground go?


Ullr the husky pup sitting on wood slab porch looking out at meadow and pine trees.
Ullr the husky pup on a front porch

How does that go…if the world had a front porch? 

My fellow SFF Seveners have posted some great takes on this week’s topic and they’re all different. Isn’t that fabulous! Each of us have our own backgrounds and experiences—differences are what makes the human race interesting…and keeps us from the robotic monotony portrayed in so many sci-fi novels. 

But with the rise of social media we’ve lost our ability to discuss respectfully and continue to be courteous afterwards. There is no longer the ability to agree to disagree. There’s no more front porch. 

I believe there’s enough politics on the socials and not enough compassion. It’s too easy to shout opinions and accusations at a computer screen and too easily forget that there’s another human being on the other side. We’ve lost our ability to sit down next to one another over a cup of coffee or plate of food. 

On Netflix there’s a show called Somebody Feed Phil. In Season 4, episode The Mississippi Delta, Phil goes to Jim’s Cafe, it’s been open since 1909. In this episode Phil joins a table of elderly gentlemen who sit at the same table every day and to hold their place they set a paper placard that states: Table of Knowledge.

This group of men are friends, despite having different political stances. Phil asks them about this and they tell him they “agree to disagree and be agreeable about it”…and because of that, they're able to talk about their opinions and continue to enjoy their egg sandwiches at the same time! 

It’s a great show if you’re up for binging. Phil is funny and the people he meets, as well as the food he gets to eat, are fantastic!

But it’s the Mississippi Delta episode that encompasses why I believe we all need a front porch to meet on. If all of our countries leaders were to sit down to eat and visit over some cocktails we might reach more of a middle ground, maybe things would happen faster and help those who really need it. 

No, I don’t think everything can be fixed on the front porch. But I do know food and drink help us find common ground and with common ground comes respect. 

I’ll continue to spread happiness and compassion wherever I can, as well as protect my mental health by abstaining from getting into politics online with strangers that tend to treat others as less than.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Yee haw politics

There have been some really reasonable and measured responses here this week on the topic of whether writers ought to express our political views on social media. You should read those. For me, I'm beyond reasonable and measured.

See, I live in Texas.

I've lived here all my life, I write about people who live in Texas, I am a woman, and I vote. I cannot separate these parts of myself, so I won't apologize for saying that I am right now incandescent with rage over the crud my state leaders have been up to lately. I'm not out to offend anyone, but also, my state is making breathing more and more dangerous for some of its citizens, and I can't sit back and pretend that's okay.

Yes, I'm donating and writing letters and volunteering and doing everything I can behind the scenes, but also, this is my life. And it's also, very incidentally, my brand. The way to get to the future dystopia I've written about is to continue right on as we are. Lord help us.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Is Shouting into Void Worth Your Personal Safety

There's a luxury to being politically vocal, and it's seated in your perception of your personal safety.  It's one big reason why men dominate the discourse and feel entitled to highjack, derail, and weaponize it. They're not worried about what they say online following them offline. Those who do not identify as male do have to worry about that in the same way we have to worry about where and how we park in a public garage, how we have to have our keys in hand before we reach our destination, how we continually monitor the number, distance, and sobriety of men in our immediate surrounds. 

Because social media is intertwined with our offline lives, we expose too much personally-identifying information to the masses. Often without realizing it because we're being social. As authors, we're being social because we need to increase our visibility, because the more people who know about us, the more people who know about our books, the more books we'll sell. It's the closest we can get to a "sure thing" for sales.  

So what does that have to do with us being politically outspoken online? These days, political activism lights a beacon for those of nefarious intent. They suddenly have a reason to take a closer look at you and what you've posted. Do you live alone? Do you have a pet that might defend you or that might make you more accessible? Do you have routine days? A regular coffee shop habit? Do you reside in a small community where strangers might be noticed? What about a city where everyone is a stranger? Are you in the frequent company of others or are you a loner? Spouse? Children? What school do they attend? What do they look like? What are their social accounts? You didn't file for copyright of your works with your real name and address, did you? What about that required mailing address in the footer of your newsletter? Used a PO Box, but still in the same city? What about your property tax records, they wouldn't happen to be under your name or a family member's, would they?  

As states resume using vigilantes to police their neighbors and reestablish witchhunts in the 21 century with cash bounties, the threat to personal safety is going to get worse. Worrying about whether your political opinions will negatively impact your author brand is pointless if your life's been destroyed because you made a stand online. 

Now, you may scoff and think, "Wow, Debby Downer, way to go with the doomsday hysteria." That's fine. That's also a testament to your perception of your personal safety as well as your privilege. Good for you. That means you have a plan for dealing with online harassment, right? You're one of those authors whose day isn't ruined because of one bad review, let alone dozens, or hundreds, right? You're ready to invest in remedying the crashing of your online store/website? You're ready to be dropped by your agent/publisher based on manufactured drama (truthful or not)? You're solid on the steps you'll have to take if the harassment moves offline, right? You've brushed up on stalker laws...and what they don't protect against, right?

This isn't to say you ought to sit down, shut up, and take what's dealt to you. It's a reminder that as an author, you've put yourself in the public space--whether you've written one book that's sold ten copies, or written ten books that sell a few hundred thousand copies each--which makes you a more "interesting" target to those who want to make trouble. It only takes one asshat with a modicum of skills to rock you back on your heels. Are you emotionally, physically, and financially prepared for it? 

If, however, you are comfortable with your safety and feel you're at low risk for harassment, then by all means, drag the fools as politely or brazenly as suits you. Be a voice for those who cannot.  

Regardless of whether you get political online or not, ask yourself, is there a better, more effective way to advance your cause(s)? Does volunteering an hour a week offline do more good than tweeting an opinion? Sure, the former is more inconvenient for you, but it's also more impactful, isn't it?

While it's great and noble to organize and fight for a more perfect union, take a beat to figure out if shouting into the void is worth the risk to your safety...and the safety of those around you. The answer might be yes. Then again if it's no, there is no shame in holding back.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Hold thy tongue?

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Social Media and politics: Should you speak your mind or keep your tongue?"

The simple nswer: Words have consequences. I have lost sales becuse of ky opinion.

(f it means a lot to yu, by all means, but know that you WILL impact potential sales.

Thzt szid, I loathe Donald Trump and slzmmed h im regulalry while he was in chzrge of this nation. no regrets.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Social Media, Politics, and the New Etiquette

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Social Media and politics: Should you speak your mind or keep your tongue?"

So, once upon a time, friends and neighbors, this used to be a subject for actual debate. Social media was new, the internet itself was new, and we had a lot of conversations that involved determining the etiquette of this new, virtual world. Especially where social media was concerned, there was a lot of advice-giving around establishing a persona/brand. Many of us first adopted social media as a way to gain viewers/readers. I joined Facebook and Twitter originally to funnel people into reading my newly created blog. So we treated social media as a kind of moving billboard for ourselves. 

Accordingly, we focused on creating a non-controversial, attractive persona/brand. We also took the longstanding holiday dinner etiquette of staying away from money, religion, and politics. It was the approach of someone who wanted to maintain family connection enough to hold their tongue for a few hours - and then depart to go live an unedited life after.

Well, a funny thing happened as the internet grew and more people adopted social media: it became a globally connected form of communication. News could be transmitted immediately, from people directly involved. Grassroots efforts became more effective than ever. It became more difficult to hide or suppress injustices. 

In ecology, we talk about the predator-prey cycle. If there are too many coyotes, they eat all the rabbits. Because there are no more rabbits, the coyotes die off and the population diminishes. With fewer coyotes around, the rabbit population bounces back - and so follows the coyote population. 

Well, those interested in perpetuating injustice, feeling thwarted by the power of the internet to drag their nasty business into the scorching light of social disapproval, countered by developing an elaborate misinformation effort. The internet and social media shared damaging information? Well, they would kill it by flooding social media with so much false and misleading information that people wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

And so the cycle continues.

I don't know if I'm a rabbit or a coyote - it could depend on the day - but I do know that the way I combat the flood of misinformation is by being authentic. I don't feel we have the luxury of presenting a bland persona to the online world. If we don't speak up, then we create a silence that allows other voices to dominate. We're not talking about a family dinner that lasts a few hours. This IS our lives, day in and day out. If we choose to hold our tongues in the name of seducing readers with a blandly non-offensive position, then we're choosing to live edited lives - and to allow the blowhards to dominate the conversation. We can't afford to hold our tongues, even for a few hours. 

Turns out, family dinners have gotten a lot more contentious, too. Frankly, I think that's a good thing. Harmony that comes from voices being silenced is no harmony at all. 

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Go Forth and Write

This week's topic has the SFF Seven questioning a writing adage: 'If you're bored writing it, the reader will be bored reading it.'

Is this true, though?

No. I can tell you that I was bored out of my mind at times while writing the love scene for The Witch Collector. For me, sex scenes and fight scenes are HARD. So hard that they make me nap and I don't nap. There's so much choreography, and I have to not only make both types of scenes easy to read but there's certain pacing for each, along with certain genre expectations. When I'm writing love and fight scenes, my brain is ALL IN. It's tedious, time-consuming work that I will revise several times before it feels right. In both types of scenes, there's an emotional layer as well, so there are times when I have to sit and dig deep into the heart of the story and unearth the deeper meaning. In my stories, love scenes change the dynamic between the main characters and fight/battle scenes tend to end up with them losing something they treasured, needed, or hoped for. Nothing is gratuitous. Everything I write has a purpose for what's ahead. 

So, the question is, are these scenes boring just because I wasn't bouncing in my seat while writing them? Absolutely not. If I've done my job, they're kick-ass. The battle scenes are intense, fast paced, gritty, a little gruesome, and they deal my main characters a load of change to face. As for my love scene/s, they're sensual and provide the reader with the climax (pun intended) to the romance arc they've been hoping for, as well as...change. 

Change can be key to preventing a story from falling into a boring flow. One technique is to try turning a scene on a dime. This is something I've been working on, and I try to make the ends of many of my chapters change the whole game the characters are playing. It's fun for me, and as a reader, I know I respond to books that do this. This is just one way to avoid the novel doldrums.

But, no. Just because YOU might write a scene or chapter with little zeal in your fingertips, doesn't necessarily mean that the writing is dull. Writing is work, and it isn't always a thrill to sit down and craft a scene. The thrill often comes later, when you've had a little distance and you read it and think...Wow. I did that? Or for me, when my kid calls me and says, " did my mother who doesn't even watch violence on TV manage to write THIS?" OR, even better, when a reader writes a review and is so affected by your work that they want to tell the world. 

Sometimes writing is work. Sometimes you have to force yourself to sit at the computer and try to get words down, and while that might not be boring, it might also not be exciting. Sometimes it's a tedious writing session that makes a scene tick. Sometimes the words flow like water and we writers grin the entire time. The goal is to write something you love and something you're proud of. How that happens will differ many times over the course of a novel's creation. Writing is a craft, and though there are some rules, few are universal, and most hold different meaning for different writers.

So, go forth and write. Don't let an old writing adage make you feel like you're doing something wrong. 


Friday, September 3, 2021

You're not bored, I'm bored

Y'all. Authors are like seagulls. We like to bite off more than we can chew. Most of the time, we're scrappy enough that getting what we wants excites us and we scream after it with abandon. When we're like this, we're writing great guns and while we might not be at our most coherent, we're probably not boring ourselves or anyone else.

Sometimes, though, we're wounded seagulls limping, pathetic, and begging for scrapes. Getting words may or may not be akin to squeezing blood from a stone, but I guarantee we're bored and burned out and neurotic and second guessing every last thing we say, think, or do. We're bored. Bored. Bored. BORED.

But. Because neither seagulls nor authors are entirely rational animals, our boredom has no bearing on whether readers will be bored. It's because while maybe we aren't feeling a story, we're still authors. We still know how to do the job. We know how to structure a story. Also, it's because it's super likely that it isn't the story we're bored with.

We're bored with ourselves. We're bored with our neuroses, and we know on a deep, subconscious level that something may be wrong with the story. That's what kicks us in the self-confidence. We'll sit and struggle with the problems in our stories, trying to choke them down and keep making progress. Remember. We're pathetic, emotionally stunted, injured seabirds here. We're already a neurotic mess - especially about our writing. Problems arise when someone comes along with the well-meaning advice that when we're bored our readers will be bored. 

It's a fast-track to a complete freeze. Frozen seagulls poop (a lot) in terror. Frozen authors -- yeah, who knows? I'm afraid to look. I only know that when I'm bored with a story, it's because my neuroses are lying to me. Yes, there might also be something wrong with the story. But I cannot let that stop me. I need to keep writing. That's how I finally figure out where and how the book is broken. During it, though, I'm already second guessing myself into oblivion. Being told I'm probably boring my readers just buggers up the works even more.

So. "If you're bored, your readers will be too." It's pithy. It might be cute on a tee shirt. But the quote needs to be yeeted into deep space cause that cute little one liner t'ain't necessarily so. 

My job as a writer is to let a story be what it needs to be. Initially. If your draft is boring, who cares?? No one sees that. It's yours. Besides, there's an excellent chance that your assessment is dead wrong and you're just sick of the story. Either way, the proof and power is in the rewrite.And that's where your power lies. Mine, too. 

I'm a hopeless, pathetic seagull when I draft. I'm a seagull with a switchblade when I edit, though, so boring better watch out. I'm coming to carve up a manuscript.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Don't let Rules of Thumb give you Writer's Block

Audiobook The Mars Strain on iPhone resting on glass panel above NASA control board on space shuttle.
The Mars Strain - getting technical

 If you’re bored writing, the reader will be bored reading - 

true or false?

Hmm, false? 

Truth time: this often mentioned rule-of-thumb paralyzed me while I was writing The Mars Strain. I was deep in the cinematic climax with Jules racing the clock to find the right phage, but I kept fizzling out because I needed to keep the science grounded and I felt like I was doing a lot of technical writing—which translated to me being bored!!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love science, it’s part of me and always will be. But trying to bring enough technical aspects to keep it real for the reader without overwhelming them is soooo difficult. It’s a balancing act and my mind kept fast forwarding to the emotional arc which was the only thing I wanted to write at that time! That, and the phrase “if you’re bored writing, the reader will be bored reading” kept looping through my mind…putting up writers block after writers block.


If I knew then what I know now… Well, then I’d have written that section a lot faster! Yes, I was bored and wanting to move onto more exciting parts, but I’ve had readers tell me they loved the amount of technical aspects that brought Juliet’s lab work to life. So for this instance, FALSE!

To my future writing self, I now know not to let myself be derailed by nailing down details. I also know that if I pick a story that doesn’t excite me and is just blah, I can expect that anyone I have to pitch the book to will pick up my vibe and be less inclined to get excited about it. So I’ll stick to my rule of thumb to only write the stories that I can’t get out of my head for months on end, which rings TRUE to our question of the week! Don't pick a premise that bores you.

How about you, dear readers? When you get bored reading and either skip ahead or DNF the book, do you ever wonder if the author was born writing it? 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Here, Let Me Bore You

That writing advice about if you bore yourself writing something, you're probably also going to bore the reader? Could have a point. I mean, as a reader, I get bored a lot. I'm a really picky reader, and if a story hasn't captured me from the get-go, it's probably not getting a lot more from these eyeballs (unless I am being forced to read it, like for a contest or a class or something). This is a horrible habit on my part, I know. Yes, yes, I know that particular book gets better at the midpoint or has this really great 3/4 twist or the third book is when the series really starts to shine or .... you know what? Don't care. I've already noped right past that book.

Now, having read all that, answer me honestly, does my snootpicky opinion really make you want to change your book? Are you worried about my opinion of your opus-in-process?

Of course not. You're a writer.

You want to write a book that opens with a seventeen-page description of some fancy vegetable garden at sunset? Do it.

Or open a book with someone waking from a dream or observing themselves in a mirror or picking herbs by the river or talking to a handsome stranger who is offering to change their flat. If that's the book that's speaking to you, don't you dare sit there and wonder if reader-me is gonna be bored. 

Because who are you even writing for? A rando reader you'll never meet?

Or are you writing for you?

If you're writing for you, do the thing that entertains your own brain. You'll know if you're boring yourself. So stop that. Entertain yourself. Make yourself cry, make yourself crack up, give yourself all the feels.

Readers will agree, or not, and there's nothing that you can do about them. Readers are wildly unpredictable. The only thing you have control over, writer-you, is the story and everything in it. Make it something you are proud of, something you want to re-read over and over and tell everybody about. Then and only then should you share your creation with the world. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

When the Adage Doesn't Apply

"If you're bored writing it, the reader will be bored reading it."

~blink, blink~
~rolls on the floor laughing and groaning~

Here's the thing about writing advice (okay, okay there are many "things" but this ONE thing is...), it spans the humungous pool of all types of writing. From journalism, to academia, to tech writing, to memoir, to screenplays, to speculative fiction, to romance, and all the niches and crevices therein.

Methinks the boredom adage, along with its cousin "Write What You Know," is bleed over from the non-fic world. There's a lot of advice from that sector that simply doesn't apply to fiction. Think about it. Unless we're being paid heaps to ghostwrite something tedious, why, oh why would we waste our time writing something boring? Why, when most of us have hundreds of story ideas clamoring for the sustained attention required to write a novel, would we punish ourselves with the dull and uninteresting?

That's not to say that every word, scene, chapter, and revision is on-the-edge-of-our-seats exciting. It is work. Sometimes we have to force ourselves to get through a scene, but it's not because of boredom. We've got a long list of better excuses for those moments. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

While the Iron is Hot.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week takes a look at the oft-quoted advice for writers: “If you’re bored writing, the reader will be bored reading.” And we're asking is this true or false?

Well, that's not exactly the easiest question to give an answer, now is it?

So we will answer yes. And thenwe will answer no.

If you are bored writing the first draft of your story,or novel, then the answer is yes. For me at least, the first draft is almost pure exploration and fun. I write as a pantser. I don't often outline anything except in yhead, and that outline is discarded usualluy within the first ten minutes. it simply does not do the job any longer, as the story often takes chrge and pushes said outline to the side while it moves in a very different direction. The frist draft is often written at a furious pace, though as I get oldef that pace slows a bit. I am deicdedly NOT boreed when writing the firt draft.

^=The second and third drafts re very different stories.

The best example I can give is BOOMTOWN, my weird western novel starring recurring character Jonathan Crowley. Listen I knew the book was going to go all over the place. Most of my stories have multiple POVs and characters that range from mostly decent to absolutely reprehensible. I'm okay with that. As far as I'm concerned, that reflects the real world pretty darned well. There are few people who are all good, and few who are all bad, because what I've seen n the real world runs a wide spectrum and I try to reflect as much of the real world as I safely can in my tales.

But BOOMTOWN was different for another reason. It was the first time I ever started a novel and then put that novel on hold for years before finishing it. when I was originally working on BOOMTOWN my wife was in the final stages of kidney faiure. Most of my writing took place on a laptop cpmputer while I sat in the waiting room of the clinic where she had dialysis. Beeive me, it was a very different experience. I was worried about my wife constanty. I was tworking a full time job, writing full time, tking care of my beloved and sleeping rougly half as much as I needed to. I was living on coffee a lot of the time.

When my wife passed away, I dropped BOOMTOWN like a hot potato. i couldnt even look at the manuscript, becuse all I coud think of when I did was my wife, and her pain, and her hopes for the future before those hopes were dashed and crushed by reality. I moved on and srote different things. I had enjoyed what I'd written of the novel, loved iit, in fact, but there was no place in my life for those thoughts and memories, not right then. I moved on and pushed BOOMTOWN into the corner of my mind where I was least likely to look.

And a few year later, I stumbled across that partial manuscroipt and I gave it a read, considered whan I had planned to write and decided enough time had passed for me to safely continue the book. I went back to the simple joy of writing a weird western.. The manuscript was bleak and b=dark, exacty as I had remembered, onoy m0re so, because it brought to mind mmories that I did no0t want to consider.

I did not approach the book the same way the second time around. Despir=te my desire to drive the tale forward in my usual fashion, the novel decided to make me pay a different kind of attention. I found myself reading and rereading every ppassage I'd written, contemplting why I had written what zi had written and debating whether or not I shuo lightnen the tone of the book. Ultimately I decided to trust my initial instincts, and eft the darkness that permeated the whole manuscript alone.

Let me be clear here: BOOMTOWN is one of the darkest things I've ever written. There is a lack of redeeming chracters here, but i can till say that I was never bored when writing the first draft.

Te second nd third drafts? Those got a bit boringl you can onoy look at the same words so many times before the desire to walkaway from the computer gets strong enough to distract.Unlike what I type here, I cleaned up the typos and misspellings to a level I seldom achieve. It was likely the cleanest manuscript I ever turned in, because I needed the extra time to move through my grief, ad to work through the darkness in that tale. Was it exciting work?no, but it was necessry to get that story told and that's what I did.

was it boring No0w and then. But not often. I am blessedly lucky in that I a seldom bored by my chosen career, even the stuff that shoud be boring is interesting to me. RThat doesn't mean it's always exciting. Just that the process is something akin to playing with cly. Not really sculpting anything, just makeing new shapes and seeing what comes of them. Words can be like that, Sometimes you write a perfect sentence the firt time around but mostly I thonk you rehape those sentences a fe times ntil they are at leat moderatey comfortable.

So, no. I do not get n=bored with wr=hat I am writing.

And yes, sometimes the words can bore me to tears, but happily not often.

Was that enough of a ramble? I certainoy hope so.

One last bit for you to consider: if you re never bored with your job, you are truly blessed. I am mostoy =lessed, though now and again I get so busy I don't have time to consider the ramifications of that thought. That's when I worry less baout boredom and more about getting words on papaer as quickly as i can. I love my chosen career. It doesn't always pay the bills as well as I'd like, but i always manage to ahve a good time with the process, even in the darket times.

keep miling,

Jom Moore

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Does Boring Writing Mean Boring Reading?

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week takes a look at the oft-quoted advice for writers: “If you’re bored writing, the reader will be bored reading.” And we're asking is this true or false?

Okay, I'll confess: it's me asking. This was totally my topic suggestion because this advice really irritates me - I think it's wrong, even dangerous - and I want to know what everyone else thinks about it.

So, I feel a little bad kicking off this topic, as I know I'll be setting the tone here.

But... whatever!

The reason I think this advice is flat wrong is threefold. 

First of all, the process of writing a book takes HUGELY longer than reading a book. Let's say it takes 5 hours to read a novel. (It seems like my Kindle often reports something in that neighborhood when I open a new book.) I'm a fairly fast writer, and I keep track of my numbers, so let's use my writing time for an example. It takes me, on average, 55 working days to draft and revise a novel. In general, I spend 3 hours/day actively writing to get that book finished. That's 165 hours of writing, at a conservative estimate. That means it takes a reader approximately 3% of the time to read what it takes me to write. And I'm a fast writer! The percentage will only go down from there. 

Put another way, a reader will read at least 33 times as fast as we write. Comparing the two experiences is ridiculous, particularly when it comes to a subjective quality of feeling bored, which is time-sensitive.

Secondly, the experience of boredom is entirely subjective. What I find boring is not what you may find boring. I get bored with fight scenes, in books and movies. I know that's a me thing, but they don't hold my attention. Lots of people love fight scenes, which is cool. But there is no objective qualifier of what is "boring."

Finally, writing is a job. It might be an awesome job - it is! - but it's also work, which means it can be a slog. Especially writing novels. Working incrementally for ~75 days (my total time to produce a novel, including days off) on one story can get dull. Some days I'm tired. Sometimes I'm writing stuff I already know, like backstory from previous books, or stuff that isn't particularly exciting, like transitions, but that I know the reader will need to understand the story. I don't know ANY writer who is 100% excited and invested in what they're writing every moment and every word. Sometimes, people, it's going to be boring - and that has nothing to do with how the reader perceives it.

I promise you this. Test it for yourself. Make note of some part of your work in progress that you found boring to write and find out later if any of your readers find it boring to read. I'm sure they won't.

That's why I find this advice dangerous. It implies that only the writing we find exciting in the moment is valid - perhaps even suggests that anything we find boring to write should be thrown out. This is bad for getting words written, which is our primary job. If a section of the story is boring to read when you revisit it? Sure, edit that puppy! That's what revision is for. But don't let feeling unenthused in the moment stop you from moving forward in the story. 

Neil Gaiman says that writing a novel is a process of laying bricks in a long road. Some days the sun will be hot, the work mind-numbing, the process slow and grueling. But the bricks have to be laid. Do the work and don't worry about how you feel. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

No Such Thing as Perfect


Raina Bloodgood ~ from The Witch Collector by Charissa Weaks

This week here at the SFF Seven, our topic is Characters Who Aren't Perfect Specimens: Do you make the conscious effort to include characters with physical limitations?

I do. Could I do better?? Absolutely. Always.

In The Witch Collector, Raina Bloodgood, my heroine, is a voiceless witch in a land where magick is created by song. And yet this doesn't stop her from creating magick. From the moment the book begins, she's dealt with this her entire life, so she's learned to translate the ancient language that others sing into a hand language that allows her to create magickal constructions. I also offer a novella on my website that includes a heroine who is blind. And yet again, I think it's important to show how people with disabilities adapt or have already adapted, and so blindness doesn't define her. I also do not make disability something to be cured via magick. 

There have been people with disabilities in my life since I was a very young child, especially girls and women. My mother also taught special education for 25 years--I still have one of her sign language books. Disability, in many forms, has always been a part of my life. It obviously impacted me, more than I think I realized until I found myself writing my second heroine with a physical disability.

HOWEVER, all that said, it's important to remember that being a person with a disability does not render someone imperfect because there's no such thing as perfect in the first place. Also, we should strive to reflect our world--even in fantasy--meaning that our character list should contain diversity of all forms. If you hold up a mirror to the world, the reflection you get is not all white and it is not all non-disabled people. I know people who have physical disabilities, mental disabilities, and intellectual disabilities--they deserve to be represented in fiction, too. 

We writers have to do our best to be inclusive while doing no harm, being willing to listen, and striving to do better. 


Friday, August 27, 2021

Inclusion, Diversity, and Respect

Including disability in stories should be about helping everyone see themselves in fiction. I'm afraid that when I write, though, that's not usually top of mind. I'm far more interested in who people are. Why they are they way they are. As you delve into that kind of analysis, you run into the places and ways that people and bodies break -- or the way bodies have many ways of being in the world. 

Since I usually write around themes of alienation, otherness, and finding love and acceptance no matter who you are, it absolutely makes sense to write about differently-abled people. Not because I want to play ableist bingo at someone else's expense. When I wrote Edie, who was born deaf, I did not want her deafness to be her defining trait. This is not the source of her brokenness. Being deaf does not in any way equate to broken and I wanted that to remain true for Edie. Her wound had to do with her part in an old war. She's also an addict, and she's prejudiced. To heal herself, she has to put prejudice aside, kick her addiction, and come to terms with everything she'd ever done in the name of freeing her world. 

Deafness for Edie only mattered because it impacted how she experiences the world, the hero, and the conflict. Let me explain how many times I realized I had used hearing words in reference to her when she clearly and distinctly could not hear. 

Another character starts her story full of fears and unhappiness. She's still recovering from being nearly starved to death as well as from multiple broken bones. She has a raging and dangerous case of PTSD. 

So here I am saying what should be the quiet part out loud: I do not believe that love can cure anything. You might have to come burn my RWA card over it, but I don't. I firmly hold to the notion that love cures nothing. Ever. All it can do is make you want to be  a better version of yourself. That's mighty power, but it's not a panacea. 

In each of my characters, I insist that they be the ones to put themselves back together. Their partner can support or even inspire, but they cannot do the work. They cannot make the change for the character who needs to change. 

My goal is the literary equivalent of the Japanese practice of kintsugi - repairing what is broken by gluing it together with gold and creating something new in the process. Only my characters do that job themselves. Their hero or heroin may inspire them, but that's as good as it gets, and never ever do we disrespect who these characters are by 'fixing' something inherent to them. Certainly there's more work to do. And I'm going to get things wrong some times because while I live with disabling chronic illness, I can't presume to comprehend the lived experience of someone with a disability I don't suffer. But yes. Show me where a character is hurt and how. Then let's break out the gold dust and glue and knit some stuff back together again.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

I need to do better, like these examples.

I, um, need to do better regarding disabled representation in my books. There is some discussion on the ethics of using cybernetic implants to "fix" folks born with disabilities, and I suppose my AI character Chloe starts off with impairment to all her senses since she's a computer with no physical body, but both of those angles are reaching. The truth is that I've dropped the ball. 

As these books did not:

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle -- Main character Meg wears thick glasses, and her adventure is altered when she finds herself without them. One of the most poignant scenes features Meg and Aunt Beast, who is an alien creature without any visual sense but who is so incredibly beautiful despite. The disability representation here is deft, but my daughter who has eyesight similar to Meg was profoundly affected and appreciative.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo -- Kaz, the criminal mastermind and all-around badass, walks with a cane and has PTSD. Both of these conditions affect him differently but never stop him or slow him from protagging all over the place. As Alaina Leary wrote, "Kaz is a disabled character who is complex, badass, and decidedly attractive."

And one animation: Kanan Jarrus in Star Wars Rebels is in my top-three all-time favorite Jedi Knights, and he is so freaking amazing, not despite his blindness but because of who he becomes with it. He perceives the Force in a whole new way and brings fans along for that ride. 

Also, I'm really looking forward to Lillie Lainoff's One for All, "a gender-bent retelling of The Three Musketeers, in which a girl with a chronic illness trains a Musketeer and uncovers secrets, sisterhood, and self-love." It comes out next year, and as Lainoff is the founder of Disabled Kidlit Writers, my guess is the representation is going to be pretty awesome.

So, at least I have some models for how to do this right. Feel free to suggest others in the comments.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Not Every Character Is Physically Perfect

Do I make a conscious effort to include characters who aren't physically flawless in my novels? Yes. Dear readers, I will tell you why. Representation matters. Years ago, social media blew up with a plea from readers to include physical diversity in addition to cultural and racial diversity. I listened. So, yes, these days I make a conscious effort to include disabled characters, be their disability physical or mental. 

Do I do it well? Eh, I definitely have room to do it better. I do rely heavily on magic to skirt a lot of the day-to-day impediments and challenges. The male love interest in my Immortal Spy UF series has one arm amputated above the elbow. However, this character is a very old magical being with a keen scientific mind, so he uses magic to button his pants and lace his military boots. He applies a combo of science and magic to make his trove of prostheses that serve different functions from cooking to welding to combat, but they often melt or short-circuit when in conflict with higher magical powers. 

I have characters who suffer physical and mental consequences due to on-page conflicts who don't recover to a perfect state, but then again, I do have characters who recover to perfection. So, I'm far from a good example, but I am trying to do better. I'm not interested in tokenism but in having rich, multidimensional characters for whom any disability isn't the defining characteristic but an attribute. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Limited editions?

So this week the subject is whether or notg we incude charcters with physical limitations in our stories.

Of course I do. Where wouod the fun be if every character was nearly perfect?

But the less glib answe goes something like this: The characters, as in real life, are deg=fined not only by what they can do, but by what they can't do. Gooing all the way back to UNDER THE OVERTREE, my very first novel, I have always believed charcters should have flaws. Any in thius case, I mean physical flaws. Mark Howell, the main player in the story (I can really call hi the hero of the tale) was obese and obsessed wigth not being o erweight. He was obsessed witgh a lot of things, really, but he couldnpt stand being overweight because he thought that held him back from the girl of his dreams.

Tyler Wilson a scrawny kid with horriboe eyesight and a dangerousoy loud mouth, saw tghe world differently and refused to let the fact that he was blind as a bat without his glasses and didnt have a battgleship body to back uo his battleship mouth stop him from firing said mouth off at the drop of a hat. they had two very different approaches to their world, as well they should.

The thing ofit is, we as people are defined not only by the world around us but by our perceptions if that world. I think you have to show that as much as possible in writing if you want to breathe life into your golems.

I ALWAYA want my golems to live as much as possible. how can i convince reader to care about the characters if they aren't able to understand their motivations I may as well as comic readers to accept stick figures (all I'm capabe of drawing these days). Theose flaws, those physical limitations can make all of the difference. In SEVEN FORGES Andover Lashk is maimed for life, His hands are utterly destroyed, and he faces a life as a cripple, assuming he survives the infection that set in on his damaged limbs. The challenges and miraculous cure he is offered shape the rest of his life from that moment on.

In the SEVEN FORGES series, it is important that one faction of the people see scars as a weakness and another sees scars as a sign or strength.

For me this us simple and effective way to show the differences in cultures. It is also a simple and effective way to show the strenhgths and weknesses of chracters who will elvolve and adapt, or fail to adapt, in a story.

Tead=ser time: Here's the back cover for a new anthology I'm editing. I'll posty more about that soon.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Cover Reveal! The Dragon's Daughter and the Winter Mage

I'm headed out of town so today I'm just sharing a cover reveal for my September release! The Dragon's Daughter and the Winter Mage comes out September 24 and isn't this cover stunning??

Preorder here!

Invisible Loner

Gendra—partblood daughter of an elite mossback soldier and the only shapeshifter to achieve the coveted dragon form—is anything but interesting. She’s actually plain and awkward and … invisible. Every guy she meets either looks right through her or—worse—thinks of her as just a friend. Fortunately Gen is far too practical to wallow in self pity. Much.

A Search for True Love

But as Gen accompanies her oldest friends on a quest for Her Majesty High Queen Ursula, she can’t help feeling bitter about her lonely fate as, two by two, they pair off with each other. As usual, everyone but odd-woman-out Gen seems to be finding the happiness in true love that has always eluded her. And Gen’s pathetic attempts to come out of her shell have only met with social disaster.

Dragon’s Daughter

Still, with magic rifts plaguing the Thirteen Kingdoms and a strange intelligence stalking them from an alter-realm, Gen has plenty to deal with—especially when she’s cut off from the group, isolated and facing a lethal danger. It just figures that Gen is on her own, once again. But with no one coming to save her, she has only herself to rely upon.

And, perhaps, the help of a mysterious, stranded magician… 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Dearest Reader...


This week we're talking about things we love loathe about publishing. What I love most is easy. The readers. I'm fairly new to publishing, though I've been in the writing world for a decade. Even still, readers have been such an encouragement for me. I've had people from around the world ask for signed copies of anthologies or track me down on Facebook to chat about The Witch Collector and how it changed from a novelette to a novel, or how Yeva and the Green Garden hooked them on my writing. I've watched a line form at a signing table in New York and readers smile and tell me how they couldn't wait to dig in. I just recently had a reader tell me how invested she is in the characters from Silver Heart, a novella I offer for free on my website. It gives me such joy to hear things like that. You don't have to please everyone--some people probably hate my work. But those who love it make it worth it. It makes my day to get messages from readers, and I cannot wait until the Witch Collector is out in the world. My little reader group--the Rebel Readers--are already such a wonderful support system. They're excited, and that makes ME excited. It makes me work harder.

As for things I don't like about publishing? Petty people and waiting. But these things feel minor in comparison to what I wrote above. I might be too new to answer this week's question with anything but naivety ;) But for now, I really love this gig, and I hope I get to do it for a very long time.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Writing: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

 Ah, the idealism of the new author. Everything is so shiny. All possibility lays before whatever debut book is about to hit the world. That pivotal moment is the very best part of writing. Anything could happen. Then the book is published and an author's fortunes fall as they may. This is my list of the best and worst part about the journey.

The Good

  • Finishing a book. There's nothing like that feeling. Nothing. I love solving story problems to the point that I wrap a story. 
  • Editing. Fixing what I've written plays to my strengths - which, in case you're wondering - are overthinking and paralysis by analysis.
  • Readers. 

The Bad

  • First drafts. OMG, y'all. I so want this to come easier, but see the above line about overthinking. Now you can add in second guessing and not trusting myself.
  • Finding/creating the time and space I need to do the deep work I need to do in order to write. Turns out moving your parents in with you during a pandemic isn't conducive to silence and contemplation.
  • Isolation. The pandemic nonsense has zapped a bunch of us who need to come together once in awhile in some kind of evil master mind convention and trade energy.
  • Daily chronic migraine. SO gets in the way. We're working on it. I swear.

The Ugly

  • Me. Drafting. Again. Drafting is my own Sisyphean task. WANT TO FIX. Help me fix me!
  • Having someone you need to be able to trust abuse that trust by withholding vital communication. This is a thing. Remember you own your own business. Don't be afraid to fire people. Somedays it's necessary. But it's definitely bad.
  • My marketing. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Alexia's Favorite Perk to being an Author!

 Publishing is a strange, strange occupation…at least from my POV coming from the medical field. It’s time tables are opaque and responses from people lag for months until suddenly something is needed yesterday. 

It’s easy to pick out the dislikes in the book making biz, as it is with everything. But I like to focus on the good stuff—the highlights! 

My number one fave of being an author:

Being blessed to be included in some wonderful groups of authors!

Group of women, the 2018 Golden Heart finalists, seated and standing together.

This picture are my 2018 Golden Heart sisters, the Persisters. Having a group of writers that, no matter which publishing path they were taking, were starting out at about the same place was invaluable. Having these fabulous women, and the women I met through my Golden Heart experience, is definitely the best part of being an author and I hope that each and every one of you find a like-minded group to feel at home with. 

My next fave is being able to work from home and have this guy around all the time. 

Ullr the husky pup standing in a kitchen wearing filtered eye glasses as he gives the camera a stern look.
Ullr the husky pup

Writing's a lonely gig! You're in your own head, you need no to minimal interruptions, quiet places rule, and all communication is done through email. It's easy to loose connections, which is maybe why authors are so fond of their pets. And I gotta say, I'm awfully fond of Ullr—even when he's a knucklehead and whining to go outside to chase squirrels. 

What are your best and worst aspects of being an author?