Sunday, October 30, 2022

Word Processor Who?

This week's topic at the SFF Seven is Writing Programs! And software/apps we can't live without.

I hate Word. I really do. I've lost too many documents to that program and wanted to burn my laptop too many times over it. It's the industry standard, so I use it as the last step in my writing process before I send my MS to my editor. But other than that, I avoid it. For a long time, I preferred Google Docs, and I still do. I like the easy and instant collaboration with critique partners, and I've never lost words or entire documents. That said, it's still not my favorite writing software. My fave isn't even meant to be used as a word processor.

It's Vellum. Vellum is actually formatting software. I found myself randomly drafting a novella in it, and my writing process changed forever. Suddenly, I was writing so much faster.



I'm such a visual person, and seeing my structure on the left, what I'm typing in the middle, and the final product on the right has changed the game for me. I tried setting Scrivener up this way, but that didn't work for some reason. I even tried a newer software called Living Writer that's set up similarly, but it had too many beta issues. Nothing has beat Vellum for me for getting words down quickly. I even have a Freewrite Traveler, but it's Vellum that works magic with my brain, and I can't imagine ever writing a book without it. Maybe I like it because I'm a control freak? And I need to see the finished product? I dunno. But it's my go-to, and you'd have to pry it from my cold hands to get me to stop using it.

As for other things... I don't really use much else. Etymonline is a website I frequent to check dates of word origin and usage, but apps aren't my thing. 

What about you? What writerly program can you not live without??

~ Charissa



Friday, October 28, 2022

Collaboration Station

How many of us have group project trauma from school? I know I do. I was ready to come in here, shrug, and say 'of course I don't do collaboration'. Then I got to thinking. Of course I DO collaboration.

Collab Lite:
I have a critique group. I talk with other authors. We just naturally toss ideas around. We consult with one another or with the group when we're stuck on a plot point. I realize this amounts to talking out sticking points in our work. I submit, however, that it is a form of collaboration. None of us is working in an idea vacuum. That author's idea over there sparks three more in me which hopefully spark five more in someone else. It's a positive feedback loop and I'll claim it as a form of collaboration.

Collaboration fer realz:
Okay. The kind of collaboration you really came for today is the kind with coauthor credits. Again, I was ready to come in today, laugh uproariously at the notion that I'd ever consent to do any such thing. And then. And then I realized I had done a coauthored thing.

That aforementioned critique group. Four of the members came up with an idea for a cozy mystery series involving past lives in ancient Rome colliding with present day lives in Seattle. The notion was that each of us in the group came up with a character in the story. In ancient Rome, we'd all been together until a murder got us all charged and executed. In present day Seattle, the group are scattered and have no memory, of course, of that shared past until one of the present day women is suspected of murdering her husband. We all come together to solve that murder while resolving the murder in the past at the same time through a slow reveal series of flashbacks. The construct was that each of us would write a chapter and the others would edit for character voice and such. The grand vision was a 9 book series.

We hit the ground running with a plot map and a plan. We got six or seven chapters into the story. Then everything fell apart. The thing about any group project is that it is only as strong as its weakest link and in this case, our weakest link was a lymphoma diagnosis for one of our members. She's fine. Finally. But the project was mortally wounded and never recovered.

I'm not sad. Y'all, it was HARD. No joke. Everyone comes to the page with different strengths and different ways of executing story. This was never more evident when trying to corral five very different writers into some kind of homogeneity. It pressed every old group project button I have. Having that project slip quietly in the rear view, especially given the reason, was sad, but freeing. Writing to a story that isn't solely yours and where you need to tone match someone else feels (to me) a bit confining. I wanted to go dark with parts of the story because I felt like it called for that. My coauthors vehemently disagreed. So yeah. GROUP PROJECTS. O_o

 

Who would I write with if I could? Andre Norton. That would have been fun. She might have hired assassins to come for me, but I would have enjoyed the shared world and writing as long as I could. As to why - I guess because her stories were the first ones when I was a kid that lit me up and made me want to do exactly what she had done with a set of characters. I suppose I started learning how to construct a tall tale from her books. There have been many, many more worthy teachers along the way, but I've heard you never forget your first. I don't care if this isn't supposed to mean that, quite. It works.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Hiking, unlike writing, is Always a Collaboration


a black and white Siberian husky standing on a dry needle strewn path hemmed in by tall pine trees
Hiking, unlike writing, is always a collaboration...

If a writer’s work is solitary, can you call it collaborating when there are two or more in the room?


I’ve never written with anyone. I think it would be a fun experience, but it would have to be someone whose style meshed with mine so that it wouldn’t be glaringly obvious there were two voices at work.


A great example of two authors who make magic when they write together is Kit Rocha. Read Mercenary Librarians and you’d never guess that it came from the brains of two people. 


An anthology would be a blast, but I haven’t been part of one. Early on I was invited, but the stories needed a touch of horror. I had an idea I loved, started writing my short story…and suddenly I had a fleshed out idea for a novel with a solid start! But. I was too new, I had no idea how to write anything shorter than a 300 page book, and I regretfully bowed out. 


Since then I’ve written some shorts and have a better grasp of novella story structure. It amazes me how different my writing processes are for various lengths of work, and it also surprised me at how working at both helped improve my skills. 


How about you? Have you written shorts as well as novel length pieces? Do you have a favorite? 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Jeffe's Collaborations - Real and Imagined


 I'm just loving these autumn/Halloween collages of the Czech translation of the Chronicles of Dasnaria books!

This week at the SFF Seven, we're discussing collaborations - if we've done them and what our dream collabs would be. 

I've never (quite) collaborated with another writer on actually composing a story. I added in that "quite" because my friend, Jim Sorenson, and I did start writing a book together. However, even though we wrote several chapters, our mutual agent (Sarah Younger at Nancy Yost Literary Agency) didn't ever love what we came up with. Getting our voices to gel together was a challenge. We've talked about going back to the project, which I'd love to do someday. It's definitely a different way of working though!

The collaborations I do regularly are anthologies! My bestie Grace Draven and I love to put together anthologies, either of stories from just the two of us, or with more writers. Our next project is THE WATERS AND THE WILD, an anthology that will include fae novellas from Grace, Dana Marton, Maria Vale, and myself. It will be out in late April, with a special print edition available for Apollycon attendees, and then available in ebook and regular print form after that. I'm very much looking forward to what everyone comes up with!

If I could collaborate with any writer, living or dead, it would've been Anne McCaffrey. I was too late to meet her and too slow in coming to writing fantasy to be one of the several writers privileged to write in her worlds. I would've LOVED to do that and, in one of the sliding doors versions of my life, I believe it totally happened. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

3 Questions: Collaboration

This Week's Topic: Do I ever collaborate with other authors or do I work alone? In a perfect world, with which writer would I most like to collaborate, living or dead? 

Q: Do, Have, Will I ever collaborate(d) with other authors?
A: Not yet. 

Q: Do I work strictly alone?
A: Ayup, so far. 

Q: With whom would I most like to collaborate?
A: Ya know, there are plenty of authors whose works I love, but I don't know that our creative processes would be compatible. Every author has their own weird, so it's less about end-product styles and more about the stuff that happens before/during/after the finished product. I've been a fan of Poe's works since I was wee, but I don't think my liver nor my sanity could support his process of genius. I'm a slow writer, and that's not a typically desirable trait in a collaborative relationship. Also, I have a low threshold for drama that's not part of the plot. OTOH, yes, I'm a recluse, but that doesn't mean I'm opposed to finding the Steven Tyler to my Joe Perry, or the Björn Ulvaeus to my Benny Andersson. I'm in awe of partnerships like Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (aka James Corey of The Expanse) and Illona Gordon and Andrew Gordon (aka Ilona Andrews of Kate Daniels and the Innkeeper Chronicles). 

So, uh, the short answer is dunno, haven't found them yet. 

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Death of the Team Project

Happy Sunday!! This week's topic at the SFF Seven is Do you ever collaborate with other writers or do you work alone? In a perfect world, which writer would you most like to collaborate with, living or dead?

I haven't had the best of luck with writerly collaborations. I'm a pretty determined individual, and when someone says LET'S DO THIS THING, I'm in 200% and ready to DO THE THING NOW. Not everyone is like that, and that's fine. I'm fully aware that my mode of LET'S GET SHIT DONE isn't for everyone. But, I'm the person who--when assigned to a team project in school/college--ended up doing the entire project because no one else showed up with their part of the work on time. I'm the nice team member who says "It's okay! I got this!" It's a horrible response from some part of my childhood, I'm sure, but I'm that person. For people like me, team projects are a heap of work, and that's what co-writing has felt like.

Brainstorming with other authors is fun, but writing a novel or series with someone hasn't proven to work for me. I've tried twice and only ended up with half-written stories I can't use because they aren't solely mine, even if most of the words are mine. I can't say that I'd ever try a co-writing project again for that reason. When it's just me, I know the level of effort I can expect. I know that the only person who can let me down is me. That isn't to say that co-writing projects don't work. They totally can. I have authorly friends who've done it. It just isn't my jam, but perhaps I haven't met the right person to collaborate with.

For the second part of this week's topic, if I could sit down and talk with someone who has made writing their career and collaborate with them?? It's actually two people, and they write screenplays, not books. Christopher and Johnathan Nolan. Years ago, I watched The Prestige, a film by these two brilliant brothers, and it changed my way of thinking when it comes to planning novels. They've written and directed some mind-bending movies, so I would LOVE to see how that process unfolds.

What about you? Do you work better in duos/groups or alone?

~ Charissa

Friday, October 21, 2022

Preexisting Writing Conditions

 

Julia Cameron defines divas as those artists/creators who have to have everything JUST RIGHT before they can create. She notes that there's power in being able to create anywhere under any condition. I used to be that nimble, adaptable artist. Now, I'm not. I never wanted to be a diva, but I'm a diva.

I have a list of things that must be true before I can write.
1. I must be migraine free, or at least moving in that direction. Migraine directly and adversely impacts the language center in my brain. Words cannot escape the electrical storm inside my head to reach the external world. Some days, I lose speech. So really. To get words on virtual paper, not writhing in pain is strongly preferred.

2. I must be alone. Buckle up. This is a long one. Maybe you've noticed the long fallow period writing and I have been mired in. I sure have. Part of it is having four adults in the house at all times, thanks to a pandemic (and Dad's health issues.) I've always known I need a lot of space. A Lot. Prior to Covid, I got all of my alone time while people were still commuting to offices for work and the parents were out in the world going on adventures. When that shut down, pressure and heat and terrible stuff began building inside me. It drowned out the voices of my characters. After a while, it drowned out me altogether. It was at that point that my headache specialist noted I am suffering far more sensory issues than can be attributed to migraine. I mentioned it to a friend. This person reached through the internet, shook me and said, "You're autistic AF, and you're in autistic burn out." Uhm. WHAT? Found a therapist who broke it to me that my friend is right and it's time to learn what that means for me and how I cope with it. It's a great big rock dropped into the still pond of the life I thought I had. Lots of ripples, lots of reframing my past, lots of 'Oh. THAT'S why that happened that way.' With help and resources, I've learned what masking is and, in part, how and when to stop doing it. I've figured out what my stims are, and I'm allowing myself to use them. Most importantly, the reason I need to be alone is so I can drop all the masks and not have to worry about what someone else sees or feels as a result. It seems to be working and actively helping. Words are flowing again. Characters are talking to me and volunteering scenes. I'm hopeful.

3. A locking door. This goes back to being alone. Fortunately or unfortunately, my cats are clever enough to open a latched door. There's something about me writing that makes me popular to ALL the felines. Never am I so loved as when I dare to pay attention to something without fur for two hours a day. How dare my every waking thought not be about the felines? They tag team surfing the desk and my keyboard. They headbutt me in the chin. Hard. They flop into my arms and deploy the weaponized cute. They shake their tails in my face while blocking my computer screen. When the weather is reasonable, I can go out front into the enclosed porch. A bunch of accusing eyes glare at me through the sidelights. If they see me look their way, they add in their mournful wails of anguish that I don't love them anymore - alas, Mother! Why do you hate us so that you have shut us away from your loving embrace?? And maybe the lizards out front. It's very dramatic. When the weather is messy for one reason or another, I lock myself in my bedroom where I have a desk set up beside the window. I can chase cats out and close and lock the door - yes, I have an actual office, but there's no door on it. It's out there in the middle of the house with no means of shutting out the TV or attaining any kind of privacy. Not to mention the attention of every last cat in the house. It's a no go. Shutting myself in the bedroom results in Corvid rattling the door knob, body slams against the door in forlorn protest, and the occasional hissy scuffle while someone jockeys for the best position.  


4. Quiet - as part of the autism discovery process, it's clear I have auditory processing issues. Competing sound (TV on, someone talking to me at the same time) sends me right over the edge. If I'm trying to listen to voices in my head, I really need to not hear other voices. The closed doors help with this a lot. Ear plugs and/or noise canceling headphones playing ambient music drowns out the stray bits that leak through. I'm on a Wardruna kick at the moment. Yeah. I know there are voices, but I don't speak the language they're speaking. It works and I don't question.

I'm  going through a process of giving myself permission to need what I need. Even if it makes me a diva. I've had to give up any notion that I should be able to write the way other people write - either in word count or in when and where I *should* be able to write. Rather than trying to guilt myself into 'write anywhere, any time' I've tried making space for being weird. Embracing that has finally fixed the long-standing impression that I'm broken somehow. And hey. Words are happening again.

I'll take it.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Writing Rituals


Writing is a ritual—after you’ve set the space, lit the candles, and checked the star charts you’re ready to begin.


Snoopy always tried to write on top of his doghouse. Right out there in the wind and the rain with that pesky Woodstock looking over his shoulder. No wonder he tore out so many pages and started over! 


There’s only so much distraction I can handle too. 


Over the years I’ve figured out what works for my writing routine. My brain is the most creative and productive in the morning. The kitchen must be clean—there’s likely some wise parallel there, but I can’t make it out. And a quick, deep-breathing meditation to set my intentions and I’m off! 


No, my writing routine doesn’t guarantee a high word count or even high quality words. But having it puts me in the appropriate mindset for the best possible writing session I’m capable of that day. 


Have you worked out a writing routine? 


If you have’t, and you want to start one, I suggest tracking your writing time. Like Jeffe, I like spreadsheets. When I started I tracked time of day, word count, type of writing (1st draft vs editing, etc.), and number and length of breaks. That data helped me narrow down my most productive hours and writing stint length, so I know when I need to stand up and stretch or get some water.  


Understanding how your brain works is another tool you can add to your writing tool-kit. And we can all use helpful tools. Happy writing!

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

What Jeffe Has to Have in Order to Write


Greetings from a gorgeous autumn in New Mexico!

This week at the SFF Seven we're talking about preconditions - what must be true before you go to write.

I changed it from "sit to write" because I don't sit - I work at a walking desk. So, that's one thing for me, is that I'm happiest standing or walking to write. I've gotten so sitting to write doesn't work very well. In fact, I'm super happy to have hit on a solution of a portable tripod and desktop to make a standing desk for a retreat I'm going on after Thanksgiving. I can stand to write! Perfect solution.

Otherwise... 

It used to be that I had fairly elaborate rituals for getting into writing. I had LOTS of preconditions. I had to be sitting at a certain desk (not my work-from-home desk) at a specific time of day (morning) listening to a particular soundtrack (The Mission). I even had a favorite blue jersey dress I had to be wearing. When my husband, with considerable exasperation, pointed out that the dress had more holes than fabric, he countered my plaintive argument that I needed it, by saying "the writing comes from you, not the dress."

That's really stuck with me. I remind myself of that truth often. 

(And I put the dress in the rag pile.)

All of those rituals helped me in the beginning, when I really needed help establishing a writing habit. But now I know they were just things to help me along. Because the writing comes from me. 

The only precondition I have? Myself, present and accounted for.

 

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Before I Sit (to Write)


 This Week's Topic: Preconditions: What must be true before I sit to write?

The stars must be in alignment. The muse must be chatty. The universe must be in serene balance...

Naaaaah.

Heature of Crabit reporting in! My morning routine: 

  • Get Up.
  • Get dressed in "you won't get arrested for indecency (but the fashion police will strongly object)" attire.
  • I potty.
  • Dog potties. 
  • Dog gets drugs.
  • I get drugs. 
  • Dog gets fed. 
  • I get coffee.
  • Dog gets porch time.
  • I get to work.

Yeah,  yeah, yeah, there should be a line about "exercise" and I swear there used to be. Maybe one day there will be again; hopefully, before the weight of my ever-expanding slothfulness breaks my recliner. 

Now, what has to be true before I start drafting? As in what prep work do I need to have done before I take a stab at the opening line? Before I tackle the grabby hook?

  • Skeletal outline
  • Characters and locations named and briefly described (like a 2-sentence "brief" description). 
  • Inspirational images/photos saved to appropriate WiP folder for easy reference.
A mere three things, yet it's the outline that takes time, especially if the plot hasn't matured in my head. You don't want to know how many iterations of the outline happen before the drafting begins in earnest. Oh, you do want to know? Uhm, well, usually between three to sixteen versions of the opening arc (first ~10ish chapters). Once I lock down the opening, then the rest flows pretty easily. But, man, beginnings are the freakin' hardest for me. 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Is This House Clean Yet?

Happy Sunday all! This week's topic at the SFF Seven is Preconditions: What must be true before you can sit down to write?

I'm a person who operates by routine and ritual. My brain likes order and completely goes on the fritz if anything feels like chaos around me. For this reason, I can't write in a busy place. I can't even write with music in the background. Some days, if my dogs are a big distraction, I struggle too. That being said, the usual preconditions for me, since I write at home, are that my morning routine is done, the house is calm, and I have a clean space to work. 

Over the years, things have certainly changed. I used to need every possible thing you can imagine to be in alignment in order to focus. I've improved drastically in that department, and I've gotten better about not having to clean the ENTIRE house before I can write too. My kids are now grown as well, and that makes my writing routine easier--there's less noise, less distraction, and less mess (I miss them, though!). Now, it's mostly just me and the bulldogs throughout the day. 

I have my usual morning routine which means I've turned on the Roomba, had my breakfast, completed my email checking/social media posts, done some laundry, changed into my 'writer clothes,' tended my Etsy store, cleaned up the kitchen and whichever room I feel like writing in that day, fed and watered the dogs, lit a candle, gotten my water ready for the day, and THEN I'm good to go. If I'm in hardcore writing mode--trying to complete a draft or revisions--I can force myself to ignore some of the above like laundry and cleaning and social media, but I'm not a fan of doing that. I need the structure of my typical morning.

Now, any other time of day? Like, if I don't wake up and act like I'm going to a day job that just so happens to be in my office on my daybed? Not much has to be true at all. I've been known to write short stories in the Notes app on my cell phone in the bath. I've written scenes on a notepad in the grocery store. Dialogue often hits me at night as I try to go to sleep. When something strikes my brain, I get it down. 

So I suppose you can say that sometimes I have preconditions and sometimes I don't. 

What about you? What must be true before you can sit down to write?

~ Charissa


Saturday, October 15, 2022

Writing through the Senses: Creating Depth through Sensory Detail

 

Photo by Michael Dam on Unsplash


World building is one of the cornerstones of truly immersive fantasy and science fiction. When transporting a reader, the author relies on an immersive narrative to help with suspending disbelief. More than just describing what exists in a world, it can be beneficial for a writer to pull from the five senses to help better engage a reader’s imagination. 

Sights to See

No writer can deny the importance of describing the visual delights, or horrors, their world has to offer. A churning ocean is most easily described by vision; rolling waves, swirling vortexes, and white froth all conjure the kind of imagery that describes rough seas.

But, there can be more to describing this scene than just focusing on the water. Drawing on past experience, or imagination, an author can easily provide even more visual cues to help keep the reader immersed in the scene. Mentioning violently bobbing buoys, massive clumps of kelp lashing against a boat’s side, or a wall of ominous storm clouds on a dark grey horizon, can also help set a compelling and immersive stage.

Music to My Ears

Keeping with our storm analogy, the scene wouldn’t be nearly as robust without sound to accompany our thrashing, heaving, sea. We would want to hear the waves crashing of course but we might also want to go a bit deeper than that. Is the wind roaring? Can the narrator hear ship’s bells clanging in the distance? Have the birds gone quiet?

Hearing, in my opinion, is one of the more underrated senses in writing, if only because our modern existence is so noisy it’s more common to document silences. 

Most of our lives contain a soundtrack; sounds of the city, summer nights on the coast, BBQs and birthday parties. Keep the “soundtrack” in mind when crafting a scene and the story gains another level of immersion to deepen the suspension of disbelief.

Follow Your Nose

It’s impossible to conjure a vision of the ocean without talking about the scents. Brine, hot sand, sun tan oil, raw and rotting fish. An old tugboat might smell like wood, wet rope, and lamp oil. The dive shop might smell like a sea spray air freshener and bathroom cleaner. 

Scenery can be enhanced by mentioning a scent in passing to create yet another link for the reader. A luscious garden that smells like ripe tea roses conjures up the imagery as much as describing said bushes. 

Memories can also be tied to scent. There are quite a few books where, due to the immersive quality of the world building and writing, I’ve been able to link books to scents on my own. It’s not intentional but the nose is just that good when it comes to recalling certain books and, by extension, their authors.

A Taste of Something New

For my own writing, I don’t scuttle taste off to the culinary corner of scene-craft and call it a day. Taste is intimately tied to smell. The senses are so linked that they’re considered almost inseparable when it comes to how delicious we find a dish.

This means taste can also play an excellent role in fleshing out the sensory detail of a scene. Sulfur wouldn’t only smell putrid, it might tickle the back of the throat. Tasting blood on the tip of the tongue could help demonstrate a character’s restraint. Cold can taste sharp when it passes the warm moist barrier created by our lips.

Anxious energy can lead to a dry mouth that tastes like sand.

If smell helps draw the memory into focus, taste can make that same scene become visceral and alive.

This Feels Real

What’s a steamy romance without the sense of touch? Stiffening nipples, heated cheeks, and bitten lips all reign supreme. For many, romance is meant to fulfil fantasies and crafting the sensations a character is experiencing is the foundation of any good sultry scene.

This isn’t to say that all romance needs to be erotic, especially since so much of the romantic tradition relies on denial as much as indulgence. Even our ocean scene can be improved by mentioning dry skin from salt spray, the way cold droplets can cause goosebumps, or the heat of the sun beating down on exposed skin. 

In our modern era of genre fiction, readers are looking to experience the setting with the same intensity that they experience the plot. And, by engaging all five senses where useful in our narratives, authors are able to weave fleshed out worlds with immersive writing that brings the reader into a full-fledged experience.

Dani Morrison writes steamy, adventure-packed, dark fantasy and sci-fantasy romance. Looking for banter, cheeky heroines, sexy heroes, and breathtaking romps through multiple worlds? Visit the rest of her catalog at https://danimorrison.home.blog. 


Friday, October 14, 2022

Changing of Seasons

Change is on my mind. I wish I could say it's just for this week, but that would be a lie. It's an ongoing theme this month. And sure. I get change is a constant. this isn't the gentle turning of the leaves from summer green to fall flame. I'm talking about the sharp lurches change sometimes takes - the tectonic jolt when the continent of the past slips reluctantly beneath the continent of the future.

This week, the day job asked me to go from being a full time, salaried employee with benefits to an on-call hourly with no bennies. Meaning I'll only work (and get paid) when the company has the work for someone with my skill set. I'd like to think it's a good thing for writing, even if it means a little belt tightening. However, it leads me to the next change.

The elderly parents are struggling more and more. Dad's really terrible anemia has been aided with a transfusion. A consult with a specialist has assured us it isn't a blood cancer. YAY! It does mean that he's bleeding internally somewhere and now begins the rapid fire, extensive search for that bleed. Glad the doctors are handling it, but it does mean I'm picking up all the work my mother has been helping with around the house so she can run my father all over Florida while this gets worked out.

Then the kicker. I watched a video that called into question what I write and how I write it. It has me thinking. Hard. About what I write. Why I write it. Where I put my energy and how much of that I'm willing and able to change. It has me thinking about how I want my future to look. And it has me thinking about how much change I am personally going to embrace to shape my future into a form that pleases me both now and in that future. No spoilers, but my favorite line from the video is this: You past need not be a predictor of your future.

 Change should always walk hand in hand with hope. Even if sometimes the adage is true that Autumn is about to show us how beautiful it can be to let go.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

FAMILIAR WINTER MAGIC Out Now!

 

FAMILIAR WINTER MAGIC is out in the world, available as a standalone! A print version is coming soon (hopefully today). This is the same novella that appeared in the FIRE OF THE FROST anthology, so if you've read that, you've read this. The novella takes place in the Bonds of Magic world and occurs concurrent with BRIGHT FAMILIAR and just before GREY MAGIC. If you've read the Bonds of Magic or Renegades of Magic books, this is Han and Iliana's origin story. 

That's what's on my mind today!

 

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Yay Autumn!

 On my mind this week: 

🍂YAY AUTUMN!!🍂

This is my favorite season. The cooler temperatures. The changing colors. Finally being able to turn on my porch lights without being bug-bombed. My husky can laze outside without dying of heat, whilst I can spend more than five minutes under the sun without blistering. (Remember, I am a delicate flower.) I've moved the young potted lilacs and lavenders into the ground in hopes that they'll still be alive come spring. I've given the 50-year-old hedges their last high-n-tight for the year and am a fixin' to give the older lavenders a hippy haircut. 

Oh! No, no, no. I'm not a gardener. I don't even play one on TV. This girl has two black thumbs and flower beds overrun with weeds that have root systems older than I am. Normally, if I get near green things I 'splode in rashes and allergies, so I have to wait for autumn to roll in so I can bedeck myself like some action hero going incognito. Yep, that's totally the reason I wait until the first freeze to try to salvage my "garden." I'm definitely not a complete sloth. Nah. No. Nuh-uh.

The other reason I love this season is that it's CIDER time! Oh ho ho, you thought I was going to say Pumpkin Spice lattes, right? Long before Starbucks co-opted the cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and allspice blend for their signature lattes, some of us used to call that mix mulling spices (give or take some cardamom, ginger, and peppercorns). Know what mulling spices go great in? Wine! Cider! Don't get me wrong, pumpkins are great...as yard decor that feeds the wild animals. The deer are really appreciative so are the opossums.

Also great about autumn:

It's VACCINATION time.
GET YOUR DAMN FLU SHOTS & COVID BIVALENT BOOSTERS!
(I adore you, my dear readers.
I don't want you spending your holidays hospitalized.)

🍂 Happy Fall Y'all! 🍂



Saturday, October 8, 2022

How Far is Too Far?

 


One of the biggest questions many authors face when writing is how far is too far. Should I put a taboo topic in my book? Should I limit myself and stick to something that is considered safer? My answer is, write what you want. It’s okay to push boundaries. One of my all-time favorite quotes is “Be courageous and try to write in a way that scares you a little.”- Holley Gerth.

To me, there is something freeing in writing our dark truths. In my stories, you will find characters that deal with what many consider taboo topics, such as mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, PTSD, self-harm, and addiction; along with other taboo topics, such as miscarriage and premature birth. 

Why do I put these topics into my writing? Because I have mental illnesses. I have depression, anxiety, and complex PTSD. I have also struggled with self-harm. I know many who have struggled with addiction and other mental illnesses. I’ve experienced the heartbreak of miscarriages and the fear of delivering my twins at twenty-nine weeks, wondering if they would survive. Thankfully, they did, and they are thriving almost four-year-olds. I have close friends who struggled and still struggle with infertility. 

My point is that the chances that one of your readers has experienced the topic that would be considered too far is highly likely. I’m a survivor of abuse, sexual assault, and attempted rape. Many would say that’s too far, but I still put it in my stories because I know the chances that someone in my readership has also experienced it. 
It adds reality to our characters when we give them complex and real issues that many of us deal with. Many of us are forced to suffer alone and in the dark with such taboo topics because it’s considered too far to put in fantasy and paranormal, or really any romance. The reality is those things happen. There is nothing wrong with adding a realistic situation for your character to overcome. Having something that’s considered bad happen to your character doesn’t make them less worthy of love. In fact, it’s empowering to see a character overcome tragedy and still find happiness. 
As a reader, I love reading when a character has experienced something I personally have. It adds a depth to the character that helps me feel a little less alone in my struggles. This is exactly why I put these so-called taboo and too-far topics into my books. Breaking the stigma and helping someone feel a little less alone is worth whatever backlash I might get. 

For me as a reader and author, I don’t find anything taboo or too far in writing. Can there be misrepresentations? Absolutely, but that goes for TV and movies as well. It happens, and my best advice is that if you want to write a taboo topic that you have not experienced, do your research. Educate yourself to the best of your ability. You don’t have to have experienced something taboo to write about it. 

Writing is my therapy, so being able to express my past, my experiences, and my feelings helps me. I know many authors write for therapeutic purposes. It’s a wonderful and healthy outlet—just like how many read to escape their reality. They want that temporary break from their day-to-day, so they escape in the pages of a book. 

Not everyone is going to love your book or what you write, so put the topics you want into your story. At the end of the day, it’s your book, your story, and you can make it whatever you want. There will be someone who will be touched by your story, and that is what makes it worth it. Even if I touch one person with my stories, that’s enough for me. If I can make someone feel a little less alone in their struggles, then it’s worth it. 

Don’t limit yourself. The beauty of being an author is the world is what we create it to be. We can create complex characters with real issues that people struggle with and put them in an epic fantasy world. We can write a paranormal romance and have a werewolf who deals with self-conscious issues. We can have a female in a contemporary romance struggle with her body image. Just because it’s romance doesn't mean everything about the story has to be rainbows and butterflies. Characters can go through struggles and still have happy endings. I’m all for writing happily ever afters. 

Don’t censor yourself because even if it’s considered too far, the chances are someone won’t think of it that way. Write what makes you happy. Write the story you want the world to see because it’s your story, your world, your characters, and it’s up to write a story you love. 


Birdy Rivers is an award-winning author. She was born in NJ and now resides in GA with her family. She has been writing since her teens and professionally writing since her mid-twenties. When she isn't writing she is raising her twin girls and spending time with family and friends. Before Birdy became a full time Author and an Editor she worked as a Medical Assistant. She enjoys reading, the outdoors, gaming with hubby, and music. Music and writing have served as therapeutic measures for her depression and anxiety. Birdy is a huge mental health advocate and often features the struggles of mental health in her stories.
 

Friday, October 7, 2022

I'll do anything for story, but I won't do that

 Taboo, you say?

I'm not against leveraging a good taboo now and then. Have done, in fact. Certain cultures have a taboo against writing anything into the skin. Tattoos are equated with magic spells etched into your body that have to pull their energy from somewhere. I definitely used that in the Nightmare Ink books. How could I not? It lends itself so well to 'what if' and to imagining the unintended consequences of flouting the taboo. That's tasty stuff and I did my best to respect the cultures that hold that taboo to this day. It's important to me that my characters face down whatever chaos results from the choices they make.

But.

I draw a personal line at taboos that hurt or exploit innocents. Want me to hurt animals? You can piss right off. You'll always be able to read my stuff with the assurance that the dog will not die. In my world, some taboos deserve to remain untouchable forever. I feel like the line between taboo and kink is informed consent. Taboo is about victimizing someone. Kink is about having a good time while playing with the edges of what's deemed acceptable by society. Based on that, I'm pretty dead set against breaking taboos in my stories unless doing so drives my point of view characters. My mains characters knew what they signed up for when they volunteered for a story. They get what they get. I'm going to do my best to push them past what they think of as their limits. I'm going to do damage that they have to either recover and grow from or wither and die from. But handing over some innocent bystander to a bad guy for some taboo breaking simply for shock value or to 'show' you how bad my bad guy is? No thanks. First, there are taboos that do not bear thinking about in any way, shape, or form. If I hate the whole notion of certain taboos, I'm not going to write them. There are too many other ways to get at what I need to motivate characters to change. Second, there are taboos that aren't a part of my experience and I do not have the authority to speak to them or represent them in fiction. I might not be able to get inside of those taboos to comprehend what purpose the taboos serve. By that I mean that most taboos are protective - they're meant to stave off harm to individuals, a clan, a culture, or a society. I had a boss who had immigrated from Iran explain that the prohibition against pork in his culture was a protective measure against trichinosis. That's understandable. An example of a taboo I can't understand is a current Tik Tok semi-comedic, semi-horror meme. It comes from Appalachia where the saying is "If you hear someone call your name from the woods, no you didn't."  I understand the intent - to protect you from vanishing into the wild never to be seen again. Whether it's bug or feature, though, I don't comprehend it because I lack the imagination to grasp not having a modicum of power over what happens to me when I walk into the woods to investigate something I heard. This taboo isn't my story to tell. I lack the mindset and experience of people who grew up with grandmothers who drilled the taboo into their heads.

Yes. I'd probably be one of the first to die in a horror movie, killed because I foolishly rolled my eyes at a taboo I couldn't wrap my brain around. 



Thursday, October 6, 2022

Where's Your Line?


TABOO

There are all levels of good and evil, sweet and nasty, lovely and horrible in creative works. And there are all kinds of taboo across the globe.


Which brings me to our topic of the week: how far is too far in your writing and is there anything you find taboo? 


Everyone will have something they find taboo because we all live in society. You can’t have something be taboo without society as a whole viewing the thing/action as unacceptable. Which means, put taboo into your characters lives! 


I’m not talking about using it to write lazily, KAK talked about it Tuesday. Whatever actions are enacted upon your characters or are done by your characters should have purpose and move the plot or their personal arc forward. Yes, there is a pool of people out there that enjoy gratuitousness for the sake of gratuitousness, but you’ll reach a wider audience if there is meaning behind actions. 


That said, of course there are things too taboo for me to write about, but there are also ones that toe the line. Murder, stealing, adultery, taking advantage of the old…kinda sounds like the ten commandments. Those taboos have become so commonplace in entertainment, and sadly in real life for many, that their unthinkableness is very thinkable—which translates to, very easy to write. 


I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write a character with a high level of profanity. It’s just not in me. And I still want to write about hope. As long as I know where my lines in the sand are, I’m good. 


How about you? How do you know how far is too far?

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

A Bridge Too Far: Taboos in Fiction

 

 

Thanks to all the wonderful readers for their enthusiastic reception of SHADOW WIZARD! Just because it's so squee-worthy, here's a fabulous Reddit Gush about the book. Made me very happy!

This week at the SFF Seven, we're asking about limits. How far is too far in your writing? Is there anything you find taboo?

I think these are two different questions. I mean, they're literally two different questions, but I think the consideration of what is "too far" for me vs. what I find taboo are not the same at all. 

George R.R. Martin once told me about one of his favorite writing exercises to assign when he teaches workshops. He'd ask the students to write about the worst thing they ever did. Some, he said, were clearly fictionalizing. And others couldn't seem to come up with anything that terrible - which he figured for another sort of denial. But the point of the exercise was to demonstrate that all people - and thus all characters - can do really awful things. I mulled this over, and the conversation has clearly stuck with me, and I'm pretty clear that I do have places I won't go in my writing.

Some of the reactions to SHADOW WIZARD that I've seen remark on how awful some of the high houses in the Convocation are. In fact, some readers tap out on the world altogether, because it is so dark. I want to show in my work what absolute power does to people - it's a recurring theme for me - so perhaps I'm not so different from GRRM in that perspective. I have shown sexual abuse to the point of rape on the page, so that's clearly not too far for me. I won't show the death of a child or an animal-friend, however. That's just because it's too much sorrow for me. 

As far as taboos, however... I have a workshop I sometimes teach on writing sexual tension, and I delve heavily into taboos, especially as they apply to sex. In short, taboos exist in society for good reasons - they are instilled in us as children to protect our health (no dessert before dinner) and safety (don't touch the hot stove) and later they come from our larger communities to protect us all (murder is wrong). Because taboos are so deeply ingrained in us, breaking them releases a huge amount of emotional and spiritual energy. It's freeing to break taboos - which is why breaking sexual taboos (which often don't exist for very good reasons) can be so healthy.

The great thing about fiction is you can break all the taboos you want to! It's exhilarating for the writer and the reader. There's a reason we love kick-ass characters who kill with glee and ease. That releases the same energy in us as breaking the murder taboo, but without social or personal consequences. So... is there anything taboo for me in fiction? 

Probably not. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Go-To Taboo or Just Lazy Storytelling?

 What are the limits? How far is too far in my writing? Is there anything I find taboo?

Yanno, it depends on the subgenre. When I write high fantasy, there are no taboos. Anything can be interwoven into the story as long as it's part of the development of characters or plot. However, depravity in its many heinous facets for the sake of pandering to the prurient interest is lazy and trite. We really should strive to be better storytellers when we express the loss of personal agency, the stripping of power, the crumbling of independence, and the hollowness of defeat. Similarly, villainy needs more depth than dick-sticking.

When writing UF and Fantasy Romance, there are paths I won't tread. Primarily because these genres are about empowerment and building strong relationships--personal, familial, and community. Thus, the readers don't want to suffer through scenes of sexual violence. They're tired of misogyny. They want consent. Mutual respect. Healthy relationships. Flawed protagonists who aren't Too Dumb To Live nor Too Testosterone-Laden to Think. The age of the Alphahole faded with dial-up, so did the Helpless Heroine. It's not that certain topics or tropes are taboo, it's that the readers' expectations evolved. They expect our storytelling to evolve too. 

Sunday, October 2, 2022

How Far is Too Far?

This week's topic at the SFF Seven is how far is too far in your writing? Is there anything you find taboo?

First of all, let me say that this is a pretty complex topic if you sit down and really think about what taboo means across different cultures and how it can be used in fiction as a means to examine our own societal 'norms,' boundaries, and structures. When placed in the hands of a skilled and careful writer, taboo can be explored and provide an entirely different view of something we might otherwise never think about or understand.

Taboo by definition is: proscribed by society as improper or unacceptable.

The list for taboo subject matter could go on for ages, because everyone is different in what they find improper or unacceptable. For me, there are definitely lines that I don't think I will ever cross, like rape and incest. I can't make myself watch Game of Thrones, and those are some of the reasons why. For me as a viewer, it's just not something I want to see. I will also never watch Dahmer, no matter what anyone says, because that's too real for me. However, show me The Walking Dead with people getting eaten by zombies, and I'm just fine *shrugs.* 

One of the most recent taboo things I read was a scene in Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff, a book I will finish if it kills me. There's a newly emerging vampire-type situation for a character and his menstruating girlfriend. Menstruation isn't as taboo in the US as it is in some other countries, but it's still often viewed as an unclean part of a woman's life, especially in sexual situations. In Kristoff's hands, this scene read like poetry, you guys.

Salt and iron. Autumn and rust. Flooding over my tongue and answering every question I’d never known how to ask. Because the answer was the same. Always the same. Blood. Blood.

Kristoff, Jay. Empire of the Vampire (p. 37). St. Martin's Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
And then, then God help me, I sank my teeth into her, her back arching, her every muscle taut as she threw back her head and pulled me closer, trying not to scream. And I knew the color of want then. And its color was red.

Kristoff, Jay. Empire of the Vampire (pp. 37-38). St. Martin's Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
I think writing is about pushing limits. It's about exploring darknesses along with the light. It's about discussing what lives in the shadows and what we as a society force into the shadows. It's also about tearing down social constructs that don't fit us as individuals and illuminating hate that just so happens to wear the clothes of taboo. Sorry, but religion doesn't get to decide what's right and wrong for all. 

I could talk for days on this topic haha, but I won't. Instead, I'll leave you with an article by Vylar Kaftan that explains the importance of writing the taboo far better than I ever could.

Here's an excerpt:

Taboos fascinate many writers and artists because we are rebels at heart. We’re drawn to the forbidden, the denied, the unacceptable. In order to show the world in all its beauty and grossness, we portray both the sacred and the profane, sometimes in the same sentence (holy shit, it’s true!). Many speculative fiction readers also find taboos fascinating, because they show what is different or excluded in humanity. A good percent of science fiction fans already feel quirky or weird compared to the ordinary world; it’s hardly surprising that stories about taboos often appeal to these readers. In this article, I’ll discuss briefly the nature of taboos and why speculative fiction is uniquely well-suited to handle these topics.

What's the last taboo topic you read about?

~ Charissa