A Change of Plans

For the last year, I’ve been pretty much silent.

I was picked up by Cliffhanger Press, and I was pushing my limits to get the nine novellas of my series written before my publisher’s patience dried up and I outstayed my welcome. As it turns out, the people of CP are incredibly supportive, but outside circumstances struck. Now Cliffhanger Press is no more,  but I’ll be self-publishing the serial with their blessing.

You’ll be seeing more of my progress in these blog posts, but I’ll be largely restructuring my blog and my general online presence to match my new goal. Pardon the mess, but there’ll be some trial and error as I figure out the best way to move forward.


Major Announcement

Let me tell you a story:

I got engaged to my husband Boxy when I was in my senior year of high school. We’d been discussing the idea for a while before then– as mild hypotheticals at first, which slowly crystallized into certainty. We went to the jewelry store together to pick out an engagement ring before he officially proposed to me.

After I got home, I called my best friend to tell her about it, because she had more or less promised to defenestrate me if she heard that kind of news second-hand.

I got engaged on a Friday. I wore my ring to church that Sunday, and to school every day that week.

The following Friday, while I was eating breakfast with my seminary class, somebody finally noticed that there was a very large, very sparkly ring on the third finger of my left hand.


“Hm?” I put down my bagel. “Oh. Yeah.”


“About a week now, actually.”

I now leave you to imagine a room full of twenty or so teenage boys and girls freaking out while decidedly not swearing, because this was a church function, after all.

This is how announcements happen for me. I call the people closest to me on the day of, and after that the news percolates to the rest of the world while I get used to the idea.

So if by now you’ve noticed several posts talking about suspicious activity, now you know why. This is me calm, because I’ve already paced myself dizzy and danced in circles and laughed like a hyena at the dentist’s office. I have dedicated the last ten years of my life to this moment, and it’s actually happening.

So. Ahem.

At the beginning of February, I signed on with Cliffhanger Press to publish Urban Dragon, an eight-piece series of urban fantasy novellas.

The final release date has not yet been announced, but expect to see the series launch later this year on the Kindle Unlimited, and shortly after that for various digital distributors. I’ll be posting updates on developments as they happen. From this point on, you’ll also be seeing snippets of my writing and research, character profiles, and so forth. Because now that the word’s out, I can’t help but to gush.

Thank you all so much for sticking with me for so long. Now it’s time to buckle up and hold on tight, because it’s gonna be one hell of a ride.

Shifting the scales on gender bias

Just now I was working on a minor transition scene: our heroes were sitting in a diner and unwittingly witnessed the villain making a deal.

In order to more subtly plant the villain in the diner, I listed off the restaurant’s other patrons: a boy in a college hoodie, a homeless man, the villain’s henchman, and the villain himself.

It took me a moment to realize what felt off about that: even though I’d gone for a variety of people, I’d made all four of them men. Aside from my protagonists, the only woman in the building was the waitress– and this is in a book that’s intended to be female-focused and female-driven.

Diversity is an element that needs to be actively considered when you’re writing, or else it becomes easy to backslide.

Why worry about it at all?

Remember, even though women comprise roughly 51% of the population, but they don’t get nearly that much representation in media.

In 2013, only

  • 15% of protagonists
  • 29% of major characters
  • 30% of all speaking characters

in movies were female (Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D.). And that’s an actual step up from 2012, when those numbers hit a five-year low.

You tell 'em, Bill Nye! (gif not mine)
You tell ’em, Bill Nye! (gif not mine)

It’s not just in movies, either, even in the classroom, guys consistently get more time and opportunities to speak than girls, even when the teachers make a conscious effort to give fair opportunities to the sexes. Even in daily conversations, women are often crowded out of conversations with men— and when female voices start to inch toward a more even ratio, they’re often seen as dominating conversations.

This isn’t meant to shame anybody– like I mentioned above, this sort of thing is insidious. It’s so ingrained into our society that we don’t see that we’re doing it. After all, it only took a momentary lapse of attention to turn a regular diner into a sausage fest.

How do I fix it?

More authors writing more balanced stories will help to normalize the idea that women are, you know, half of all human beings. There are a lot of systemic issues that need to be addressed before common perceptions really do change, but it’s a start.

Within your stories, I recommend actually listing off all your named characters according to the gender they identify as. Try doing the same for individual scenes. The nice thing about lists is that they’re hard to argue against. Perception can be fogged by unintentional bias; numbers are far more concrete.

Once you’ve got your lists (and, if you’re like me, you’re slapping yourself for letting things get so unbalanced), start thinking critically. Would my villain’s henchman be uncharacteristically different as a henchwoman? Would my villain be any less intimidating as a woman? Is there any reason why I can’t just swap pronouns and make that stoned college student a girl instead of a boy?

With some characters, their gender has a huge impact on their role in the story, but it’s not true nearly as often as you’d think. You can see it in the differences between Red Dragon and NBC’s Hannibal, where both Alan Bloom and Freddy Lounds were cast as women– and doing so opened the door for more interesting perspectives and subplots, without any noticeable cost.

Do you have any characters who could do to have their gender reassigned? Have you swapped a character’s gender in your stories? Tell us about it in the comments!

What is Demisexuality?

Let’s start with a vocabulary lesson:

A person who is Demisexual typically doesn’t experience sexual attraction to someone unless they have a strong bond with them first. On a similar note, a person who is Demiromantic typically won’t fall in love with a person without that same kind of strong bond. It’s on the same gradient as Asexuality.

We have a flag and everything. (image from Wikimedia commons)

Continue reading “What is Demisexuality?”

The tricky thing about relationships (and not the ones you’re thinking about)

I don’t know what your childhood was like, but when I was a kid, the world was divided into very few categories. The people I knew were either friends, family, that amorphous mass that comprises my extended family, and teachers.

That was it.

Fast forward twenty years.

Now I have online friends and local friends, I have my husband, my family, and my extended family. I have the small business owners whose services I use on a frequent basis. I have a boss, a business partner, an illustrator, and a whole bunch of clients.

With each of these comes a whole slew of behavioral codes.  Each group has its own hierarchies, its own set of taboos, its own set of social niceties to observe, its own set of rituals. Some of them are pretty universal: “Hey, how’s it going? Really? Cool. By the way, are you coming to the spoken word event on Friday? Awesome.”

Others are more personalized: random pictures of clouds at four in the morning, articles on serial killers sent to my inbox without further explanation, or hyper-focused questions out of the blue on pricing or contract work.

The more complicated a character’s life is, the more complicated his or her relationships will become. Soon you have to keep track of who knows who, who knows what, who sits where in each hierarchy, and what might be taboo in one circle or another.

This is how reality works. Unfortunately, it’s also tricky to pull off with writing. Every new character comes with their own list of things the reader will need to understand about that character and their relationship to the rest of the story, and it’s very easy to overload the reader on information. So here are some ideas for making that a little bit easier:

  • Combine characters. Especially the ones who only do one or two things, like getting the protagonist across town or delivering specific information– turn that handful of people into a single person who does all those jobs. Added bonus: that character becomes deeper and more interesting as you mash all the previous one-off characters together.
  • Introduce the characters slowly. Don’t front-load us with characters. Bring each person in as they become relevant. If you need to mention someone beforehand, consider referring to them by an identifier: “My boss called me in today,” or “My butcher got me a sweet deal on these deals.” You can properly introduce that person when they make their first significant appearance.
  • Prune your story. Does a given character assist the entire story, or only a single subplot? Subplots are fun, but at times they can suck attention and energy away from the big picture. Know when to whip out the garden shears and cut out inessential scenes, subplots, and characters.

Do you have other tricks for cutting down on extraneous characters? Do you have relationships now that you didn’t expect to have when you were a kid? Tell us about it in the comments!

A quick diatribe on dialogue

Real dialogue sounds something like this:

“By the way, did you know they’re making Pacific Rim 2? Oh, and dinner’s ready.”

Cue five minutes of shouting and vague TV noises while Boxy shoots at zombies while some cheesy horror flick is playing on the second monitor, followed by:



Seriously, that was last night’s pre-dinner conversation.

Real-life dialogue is… unique. It’s awkward, it’s choppy, it’s unfocused, it frequently meanders off-topic, it picks up on arbitrary unintelligible inside-jokes and half-finished conversations from earlier in the day/week/month/year, it’s full of filler words like ‘like’ and ‘um’.

In short, real dialogue is pretty much unintelligible.

In some cases, you get people who understand each other so well that their communication is might as well be another language to outside observers, full of codes and allusions and inside-jargon that’s unique to their in-group, even if it’s an in-group of two.

Linguistically and anthropologically, it’s absolutely fascinating.

As a general rule, though, dialogue shouldn’t require an advanced degree in anthropology and linguistics to figure out. In novels, dialogue is meant to convey information to the reader, so there are certain goals you should probably aim for:

  • A smooth flow from one subject to the next, and from one mood to the next
  • Clear language: even when using slang and dialect, it shouldn’t be a complete puzzle to figure out what your character is trying to say
  • Everything said in the dialogue should serve a purpose, so avoid filler topics and filler language

Of course, like all things in writing, those are guidelines more than hard rules. But when you deviate from the guidelines, make sure you do it with an understanding of why they’re in place and what you’re specifically gaining by going off that track.


An honest Critique (Partner)

What is a Critique Partner?

If you’re like me and you cut your teeth writing for fandom, you might be more familiar with the term beta editor. I much prefer critique partner, because where beta editor implies a one-sided relationship (“you read my stuff and tell me what you think”) critique partner implies a more balanced relationship (“you read my stuff, I read yours”).

At its most basic, a critique partner is a peer who reads through your work to see if things work, and you do the same for theirs. Once in a while you’ll find a CP who’s great with grammar and can help you out, but that’s just icing on the cake. More often, they’re the ones who tell you that this part was a snorefest, that part made me laugh out loud, that line was glorious, that paragraph was confusing.

Why do I need a CP? 

Having a whole lot of different people looking at your material and looking at other people’s material is one of the single best ways of improving, aside from writing constantly. They can give you feedback about what works and what doesn’t, what sounds natural and what sounds melodramatic, and give you a whole new range of insights into new ways of approaching your story.

At the same time, editing other people’s work lets you learn from their mistakes. It requires that you think critically about what you’re reading as you’re reading it. Initially you might only be able to say that something feels off, that a passage is difficult to follow or doesn’t quite sound right, or that ‘this section over here’ started to lose your interest, and that can be invaluable on its own. But as you critique more and more often, it’ll start to become easier to identify exactly what it is that’s working or not working. The more you do this, the easier it becomes to look at your own work and recognize its strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll have a stronger understanding of how to fix the shortcomings.

Working on another person’s story is also a good way of avoiding burnout. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to take a break from looking at your own manuscript for the billionth time and look at someone else’s work for a change. At the same time, sometimes having another person’s perspective on a problem can completely change the way you see it.

A new perspective

Well-chosen CPs are also going to have completely different perspectives than you will. For example, I once handed off a story that dealt with firearms and military politics to a friend who had (to my surprise) been in the military; immediately he started pointing out little details that I didn’t even think to research, like the way the various ranks of soldiers spoke to each other, or what it’s like to stand close to an artillery cannon.

A good CP might also be able to point out moments where what you wrote was unintentionally offensive or stereotypical, or points where the story dips too heavily into overused tropes.

Becoming part of a community

Some bizarre outliers notwithstanding, the success of a book on the market is determined by the way it’s marketed. Critique Partners are often some of the first and strongest contacts you’re going to find in the writing world, and they’ll be some of your biggest fans. As you and your CPs publish and grow, you can learn from each other’s experiences and help each other build platforms, or help to spread the word that a fellow writer’s story is going to hit the shelves.  That can do wonders for building a readership and driving sales.

What makes a good Critique Partner?

They can’t be related to you.

Sorry. You might have a really brutally honest relative who is just great, but 99 times out of 100, a family member who’s willing to read your work has too much invested in your happiness to give it to you straight. They’re also more likely to share your perspective on a lot of matters, so you’re not going to get many of those advantages, either.

Aside from that, the most important thing is that they mesh well with you, so the rest of these are guidelines at best.

A good CP:

  • has read (and enjoyed reading) stories in the genre you’re working on
  • has a background that’s different from yours (worked in a different field, part of a different generation, has lived in different socio-economic sectors, etc)
  • is able to communicate with you effectively
  • is willing to point out the parts of a story that didn’t work for them
  • but isn’t going to be cruel about things that don’t work
  • isn’t going to take comments personally or get defensive (note: If you had to defend the work, then it didn’t speak for itself. That means something is wrong and needs to be fixed.)
  • is willing to ask ‘how do I fix it?’ and is willing to work with you on fixing problems of your own.

There are other qualities, but after that point, they get a whole lot more subjective.

I do recommend using more than one CP for any given story, because the second and third will inevitably catch things that the first one missed.

Where do I get one?

Some local writing groups exist, but I generally recommend looking on the internet first, where you can find dozens upon dozens of groups dedicated to the craft.

Facebook is always a good place to look for writing groups.

The Nanowrimo forums are also teeming with writers who need help polishing their new manuscripts.

Also check out WANA (We Are Not Alone) and Agent Query Connect.

Seriously, these groups are everywhere.

It’s important to be polite and respectful, and to express that you’d like to trade manuscripts. I know I’ve spoken of the skills you pick up from helping another person develop, but a lot more people are going to be willing to read your work if there’s a promise of getting something in return.

All things said, though, a CP is not a substitute for a paid editor. Rather, having multiple Critique Partners look at your manuscript is one of the things you should be doing to make it ready to show to an editor.

The perils and potentials of Cartesian madness

The Scenario

A while back I was working on a story with Kya, and I kept hitting a roadblock with one character in particular. She was an ordinary teenager tossed into a magical world. Unfortunately, she was also more grounded than she was practical. Looking at the magic, she started coming up with every possible explanation: that she’d been dosed with something and was hallucinating, or that she was dreaming.

No matter what she witnessed, nothing could disprove the idea that none of this was real. Now, this was a problem, because she was in a desperate situation… but wouldn’t necessarily react to it with desperation, because she firmly believed that it wasn’t real.

René Descartes (1596-1650)
René Descartes (1596-1650) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Philosophy

In the same way, absolutely nothing could possibly disprove the notion that you’re in the Matrix right now, aside from blind faith that The Matrix is just a movie. After all, any evidence we have could have been fabricated.

One of the first people who considered this idea (at least, the first who bothered writing it down) was a philosopher named René Descartes. He pointed out that everything he learned could be a lie, or a dream, or the influence of a “wicked demon” bent on tricking him.

Bringing a character down the rabbit hole

As far back as Through the Looking Glass, characters have been stepping out of the ordinary into worlds beyond their imagination. Part of the drama there is figuring out how they come to terms with that, if they do at all. For example:

  • In Inception (as well as an episode of Doctor Who), the only way of escaping the deepest levels of the dream world is to die. So how do you know if you’re about to wake up, or just about to off yourself for real?
  • If you’re in a dream, then the other people in the dream are merely figments of your imagination. Therefore, does it matter if they get hurt? On the other hand, should you let yourself get attached to somebody who will disappear when you wake up?
  • If the “dreamer” believes they’re asleep, does somebody else take care of them? How does that interaction play out?
  • Does the “dreamer” ever come to grips with this new reality? What makes them come to that conclusion?

There are countless ways of playing out this scenario, ranging anywhere from the philosophical to the purely practical.

What about you? Have you seen any works where a character has decided to check out and refused to acknowledge reality? How do you deal with a character in this sort of situation? Let us know in the comments!

Writing Exercise: Gender Bender

Marilyn’s traditional poses are given a whole new perspective. (Photo credit: bionicteaching)

I’ve heard a lot of people say gender doesn’t matter– that we are all equal in soul and under the skin– and I’m not arguing that, with or against. But it’s undeniable that society changes our expectations of how men and women look, think and behave, and how they should be portrayed– at least on some level. The Hawkeye Initiative plays with this concept a lot, pointing out that what we consider acceptable poses for female comic book characters are just plain ridiculous when you make a male character try to pull them off.

Even in my own writing, gender plays a big role in how my characters behave. My first finished manuscript began as an idea for a character, but without a sex to go with it. After consulting with my little sister, I decided the name was more feminine than masculine, and the rest of the story fell into place. I can guarantee that it wouldn’t be the same story if Chicago was a teenage boy being stalked by his childhood maybe-girlfriend. In another manuscript, I’ve got a very powerful and confident woman… who, when genderflipped, stops seeming powerful and starts looking like a sexual predator.


I’m not saying all traditional gender-based behaviors and actions are necessarily bad, but they do open the doors for us to gain some new perspective.

If you’re having trouble writing a scene, try flipping it– all the dudes are now chicks, all the chicks are now dudes, all the MtF are now FtM, etc– and write it from that perspective. What are they saying that they weren’t saying before? What are they suddenly hiding? Pay attention to the changes in their body language, changes in vocabulary.

Once you’ve written it gender-bent, go back and turn it right-side-up (or maybe you’ll find it works better that way, and change the rest of the story to match it). If you decide to keep your initial gender roles, rewrite that scene back in the old style, but still pay attention to the body language, the vocabulary, the taboos and secrets and posturing. You’ll be amazed what you find.