Hey, this microphone was turned on all along


I never found a story like that. I tried, or at least I tried not to write the sort of stuff I’d been writing for the last several years. That approach felt pretty terrible. Of course, “I wanted to” is not the only reason to make a decision — but at the end of the day, I had to conclude that I wanted to write in this universe more than I wanted to do the right thing. Not a great thing to realize about oneself. But here we are.

I continue to grapple with my own Stuff, but that’s what therapy is for. We’re here to talk about stories. And this story isn’t dead yet. I’m kind of scared of it. I don’t know the right way to write it. It’s been very slow going. But I work on it. Should work on it more! November is coming; maybe I’ll harness that habit to get back into the groove.

Anyway, if I may get into the weeds further, the scary conundrums in Book 3 include:

(books 1 and 2 spoilers follow, if anyone cares?)

– The eternal shipper question. It is, paradoxically, kind of nice that the beta reader who was the most outspoken anti-shipper is no longer reading. Mwahahaha! Of the two remaining, one is a fervent A/K shipper (and Marco’s biggest hater <3) and the other is in the “sure, I can see it now” camp.

– Corollary to the above: the specter of bisexual erasure and the Scylla-and-Charybdis of terrible stereotypes. To mix metaphors even further, Kei’s orientation is not a waveform that can collapse. If he ends up with a woman, that doesn’t make him “cured,” and the setting is built so that that attitude would never even come up, in-universe.

However, I worry what that looks like, out-of-character. The “whew, ended up in a nice tidy traditional relationship after all!” “happy” ending is a trope with an ugly history. I’d hate to travel all this way just to fall into an old, awful homophobic pattern accidentally.

On the other hand, as written so far, he’s a character with a fairly strong (though not universal) tendency toward monogamy; if he ends up with someone at all, we have this problem, and if he doesn’t, we have the “queer people don’t get happy endings” problem, where  “happy” is “the goal the character has been pursuing.” (And if he didn’t have a monogamous tendency, we land in another stereotype. Ughhhh, stereotypes!)

Write queer characters, people — this isn’t a reason not to — but I worry about these kinds of things. Clearly, the answer is to write more queer characters, so we have more than one data point to understand the patterns or the lack thereof. And to that I can only say, I’m sorry I write so slowly.

While I’m angsting about bad queer stereotypes, I’d just like to say for the record that I regret missing the opportunity to write Agna as demisexual back in book 1. I think it fits her really well — with the exception of the Laris subplot. We’d had to have accomplished that break in the tone of the story in some other way, but I think it would have made a stronger throughline in her character’s personal history. I didn’t even think of it at the time. Ah well.

– Corollary II: as I’ve written about before, I think that stories about friendship are worthwhile. I’m just not entirely sure this is the story where I want to go that route.

So all of that worry about shipping (or not) stacks up against my very pronounced penchant for writing cute/awkward romance plots.

– I have some concerns about the larger chronology — I’m aiming to write a book about Agna’s sister next, which will have to fit into the chronology of Agna’s story. Continuity makes me nervous, especially since I’m still too poor to hire an editor or pay beta readers. Still, can’t be helped. Gotta forge on ahead.

Those are some reasons why I keep moving slowly. I also had to pause and do a little research on medical history and diseases — fun! But mostly it’s this mental block, worrying that I’m not going to do it right. Of course, as they say, you can’t fix it if it doesn’t exist.

I’m working on making it exist.

[Edit to add: And as for the reader side — which I kind of miss blogging about — we finally rejoined our local library! Overdrive / Libby is my new BFF! That was probably the most exciting thing to happen to me in the last 6 months, I’m not even kidding. FREE BOOKS, people. I’m also focusing on reading down my TBR pile, as always. It’s in the 60s now, not counting my library holds/wishlist.]

Belated #ownvoices and, perhaps, switching gears

The last two years, I summed things up on the anniversary of my first book’s release — how the last year had gone, breaking down numbers, things like that. This anniversary came and went about a month ago. This year was too painful to reckon with. And I don’t mean to whine about it at length. Basically: Nothing. No sales. Book 2 sank like a rock; something like 6 sales over its lifespan. No additional finished books, let alone series. I am struggling with a draft of Book 3. That’s all. Which, in the larger scheme of things, is okay. I don’t live off the writing gig. It’s not a crisis. Just a bummer.

The #ownvoices movement rose more than a year ago, but I finally came to face it this year. I am trying to learn from my mistakes and do better. And since I chose a neutral pseudonym — to keep from slapping myself in the face with the femininity I don’t really like in the first place, every time I attempt to write — let’s break it down, once and for all. I touch on it in my bio at the back of Book 1, but I didn’t really spell it out. With the rise of #ownvoices, I feel I should own up to my lack of bona fides.

I’m a middle/lower-middle-class, middle-aged white lady in a bogstandard monogamous hetero marriage. Soooo, #ownvoices it… is… not.

When I set out to write, I only wanted to make my characters varied from one another, and use a range of character types and origins that I hadn’t seen much in the fantasy I’d read (from unathletic list-making art collectors to queer people, overall). Which is not an excuse, but a rationale from a time before I even knew to think about it. I acknowledge now that that is not legitimate. And so the right thing to do is to stop.

As for writing other stories, other series? I don’t really want to write about middle-aged white ladies in, like, suburbia I guess (their/our natural habitat). For one thing, plenty of people are already doing that. Eat, Pray, Love was a thing decades ago. Which isn’t to say nobody should write about my demographic; the thing is, people already are.

More problematically, it doesn’t interest me. If you want an ocean of straight white people, there are many, many options already extant.

I love writing. I have been writing since I was a child. I feel that in some form I am going to continue; I just have to find something I feel is legitimate for me to write, and interests me. The latter is often a problem, since depression is a harsh mistress even in its milder forms and it can be hard to get interested in things.

But who knows. Maybe there’s a boring straight white middle-aged lady that I’d actually like to write about. I’ll just have to search for her.

Pandas, learning about writing, and spite

We did, in fact, return from Origins. I enjoyed the Author panels I attended, though I only ended up attending one per day. While I was jazzed to actually try out the author track, I was still primarily there on vacation, to play board games.

In the end, I attended:

Edit Yourself
I love editing possibly too much. I can’t help it. I also like weeding my garden, which has certain similarities. And I am one of those odd readers who get distracted by bad punctuation / grammar. But I am, admittedly, weird. It’s like an allergy. I can’t help that either.

The focus here was pre-editing before you send it to a real editor, which is a helpful skill no matter how much experience you have — the more you can smooth things out beforehand, the more time editors have to dig into more complicated topics, right? Saying “ahh, they’ll fix it in post” is true, to a point, but it is in everyone’s best interest to put the work in.

Some good tips, including “read aloud” — which I’d heard before, but usually wimp out on — and not being tempted to pile on descriptions just because you know what things/characters look like in your head.
The latter was oddly gratifying, because I’ve always felt I was alone in that. My view is, “I don’t care whether your mental image is exactly the same as mine, as long as you have a mental image to go on.” If I have evoked something for you, and it isn’t so out of step with the tone of the scene that it breaks the scene for you, great. I do not care how wide you think my characters’ jaws are, or the exact tilt of their eyebrows. As far as I’m concerned, radio is not the only theater of the mind, and I like it that way.

I do hope you don’t whitewash everyone in my cast, but y’know, that’s partly on you and partly on me. Otherwise, mentally cast however you want. That’s not what’s important in the story.

We’re off track now. Editing. Yes. Do it.

Self Promotion Sells Books
Why yes, yes it does. Everybody can go home now.

Okay, okay, so this panel drilled down into various factors, including an author website, social media, and most importantly, not being a dick on social media.

I asked my husband to come with me to this panel, because I would literally rather go to the dentist than promote myself, and I figured he’d do a better job of lovingly nudging me to do these things if he heard the same talk. This is not the most professional move ever, but this is the reality of my life.

In other news, I will probably eventually drag myself to Twitter. ghhhhhhhghghghrrrrglll.

Finding Work as an Editor
Not for you, Grasshopper, not for you.

As previously noted, I love the editing process possibly more than writing itself. And it isn’t about nitpicking or finding errors, really, it’s about getting into the guts of what makes a story work and trying to make it work better. I think the process has a bad reputation, and caring about grammar and punctuation and things has a bad reputation too. Musicians aren’t called unflattering names if they try to play without wrong notes, but if I care where that comma goes, I’m a jerk. Fair?

Anyway, getting into plot structure or continuity or whatever, for me, is like a gearhead getting elbow-deep into an engine. It’s about understanding how it all works and making it work better. Plot structure is my weak point, and so I try to learn more about how to make it better, and try to bring that out in edits. I love learning about it, even if that means I don’t have it all down pat.

However, due to several factors, I have no real chance of beta-reading or editing for anybody else. Like any other job-hunting, you need experience to get experience, and failing that, the right degree. “Trust me, I studied genetics and viruses but I’m just really good at grammar and love editing” holds no water with anyone, and rightfully so. I can check whether your science is reasonable, buuuuut I work in fantasy, where we all prefer to forget that winged dragons generally have six limbs and that isn’t a thing that happens in vertebrates really.

I don’t mean to whine, though. It was a very informational and interesting panel. I’m fascinated by how the field works and what people do in it. There was great information, down to the level of contracts and taxes, as well as approaches to editing (ex. realize what the author is trying to do, not what you’d do in that situation).

So those were the panels I attended. Recommended highly. I hope to see more next year.

Also related to writing: Bought two medieval recipe books from MedievalCookery.com, which I have already used as an idea source. I’m not one to cook these things in real life, but I try not to fall into the “all stew and ale, all the time” trap in my writing. (I am haunted by the fact that refrigeration does not exist. Do not count how many times the characters go grocery shopping in Book 2. That way lies madness.)

I also attended a roleplaying session at Origins for the first time, a demo session of Ryuutama. Unfortunately, this session was right around dinnertime, and I got punchy and laughed for several minutes at the spell list for no good reason (except that it contains spells like “create 1 cubic meter of dead leaves” and that’s too cute to stand). Otherwise it was quite fun. I’m looking forward to putting together a hybrid in-person/play-by-email game of Ryuutama.

I suppose I sort of played one of the Dread games too, in a friend’s beta testing round.

How’s that for range?

By and large, though, I tend to spend most of my time either faffing about the vendor room or in the board room. Board games tried out this time:
Survive: Escape from Atlantis  – my husband played this growing up; it was new to me.
Takenoko  – my favorite of this batch.
Gloom – I’d wanted to try Gloom in Space, but they didn’t have it; next time. This is the only one of these that I’d played before.
Kill Doctor Lucky – second favorite of this batch. SPITE POINTS. Just saying “spite points” makes me snicker.
Cottage Garden – ooh look, this technically isn’t out yet! Aren’t we fancy. Tetris + bingo, kind of. I’d recommend it.
The Networks – we didn’t have time to fully get into this one.
Tsuro – thanks to the CABS folks, who recommended this when we came up like “we are too tired to think and have 1 hour before our next thing, whaddya got”.
Veggie Garden – By Quick Simple Fun, an apt description as well.
Rampage / Terror in Meeple City  – it’s kind of astonishing how bad I am at this game.

On a more personal note, it’s interesting to compare this experience to past experiences through the lens of working on treating my social anxiety. It’s still easier for me to be an attendee than an exhibitor, but this was a more chill experience than I think I’ve ever had at a con. Even compared to other Origins-es. Of no particular interest, just noting something.

So, where are we?

Last time I said I was going to try to finish the first draft of Book 3 before Origins, which happens next week.  So…?

The answer is “no, BUT.” I have written a lot of material, and re-outlined most of the book — not a lot has changed, but a couple of events were shifted around to tweak the tension. Of what’s outlined, all but two scenes are finished.  The outline covers the beginning through the last turning point, right before the Victorious Resolution of All Problems and the denouement. In other words, everything but the ending.

Some further reading while we all wait:

How Fake Science Saved Lives in Victorian London (io9)

Without getting too far into the weeds of lore, the history of miasma theory was the basis of a lot of the “magic science” in this series. In short, if healing magic exists, why wouldn’t people think that magic causes diseases generally? It’s important for healing, so it must be important for other health-related situations too.

And so through trial and error and just-so stories and folklore, they wind up with a lot of bogus reasoning for useful practices. Such as: boiling lake water to make it drinkable. Obviously, boiling drives out the tainted magical energy that would otherwise make people sick. And when people start to discover microorganisms, the proverbial waters get muddied with ideas that people already had about magic.

Origins, though: I actually signed up for some writing lectures/workshops, which, you know, would be the first writing workshops I’ve been to since tenth grade. I KNOW RIGHT WHAT. Self-publishing is terrifying, who let this amateur write books??

Anyhow, the con has several authors as guests/speakers, and quite a robust lineup of fiction- and game-writing talks. I’ve pre-registered for three, and will consider more as social anxiety / spoons / blood sugar / inertia allow.  Also, well, working around shopping time, going out for food time, nap time, board game playing time, and attending workshops on things like terrain building and chainmail making. There are almost too many things to do at this con. It’s great.

I’ve also signed up for a demo/learn-to-play session for Ryuutama, the game book I bought last year and have yet to play at all. Four words, people: “Hayao Miyazaki’s Oregon Trail.” And “cute” can be an actual in-game descriptor for a piece of equipment. And the character classes include “farmer.” I mean. How could I not.

Deadlines! Sure!

A few days ago, I realized that it was 50 days until our departure for the Origins tabletop-gaming convention. (The con starts a day or two earlier, but we aren’t going for 100% of its run time.)

I know an arbitrary deadline when I see one, so I decided that I’d attempt to finish the first draft of Book 3 before we left. This is a pretty tall order, but not impossible. Even my minimum of 500 words a day would stack up to 25,000 words.

This is just the first draft, mind you; the comparable draft of Book 2 was missing about a quarter of the chapters that appear in the final draft, mostly in the first act. This is a raggedy sprint to the finish line, however incomplete.

It’s going pretty okay so far, though there are sections with weird gaps and rewrites, and I’m currently working on two different chapters at once thanks to my weird workflow/habits. Still, it’s progressing. And hey, if I don’t make the deadline, I will still have a lot more written than I would otherwise. That doesn’t unwrite itself just because I miss an arbitrary cutoff.

45 days to go. We’ll see.

Yeah, “enter title here” is oddly apropos

Despite the complete lack of any kind of marketing effort from me, a few people have picked up Book 2 recently. If you’re the sort who reads things shortly after buying them,

  1. Welcome! If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, enjoy the coincidental timing of both books starting in the spring.
  2. Also, HOW do you start reading things shortly after buying them??? Please teach me your secrets, because I think the book I’m on right now has been in my TBR pile for over 2 years.

After getting a new phone this weekend and getting logged out of everything on earth, I looked up my Big List of Logins Like You’re Not Supposed to Have and realized something. The reason I haven’t updated anything on my Goodreads page is that somewhere along the line, I lost my Goodreads-as-author login. There’s just a line like “Here’s the email address it’s associated with, I have no idea what the password is”

Thanks, me. How Not to Indie Author: +20 points. It would also help if I remembered the password to that email, which I do not. I think it’s on the list.

My husband — who actually checks things, and would be my publicist if I were big enough to need one — told me there was a question posted on Goodreads a while back, and I meant to answer it, but yeah. I will have to Restore Password first. The answer is disappointing, anyway; they had asked about pronunciations, and my answer is “anything that sounds good to you.” No maps yet, no dragons, and no pronunciation keys. YAY FANTASY 😀

Act 2 continues at the pace of about 500 words a day, which is my self-imposed minimum. Right now it’s in that “the narrators hate everything because they’ve made the mistakes, but have not yet figured out the answers” phase. It will hit some more interesting things within the next day or two, so that should help. Still can’t make any specific date promises, but progress is progress.

Mailing list is open!

Among the many things I have learned from trying to release indie books is that trying to have a mailing list when you use Gmail is A Very Bad Idea. Who knew that was important? Apparently it is! Really important! I tried to announce Book 2, got tossed out of my mailing list service iiiiiimmediately, and then kicked dirt for several months, feeling cruddy about it, because I had no idea what the what it’s all email isn’t it argh.

So now I have a real-enough? email through my web host, which with hopes will be sufficient to not get tossed from another mailing list provider. Fingers crossed. The form is over on the sidebar. If you’d like to hear by email when Book 3 is released, or Book 2 finally gets to print-on-demand, or whatever, sign up. I lack both the energy and the desire to send extraneous announcements and advertisements, so rest assured that it won’t result in avalanches of spam.


Meanwhile, I have rewritten the end of Act 1 of Book 3 about five times by last count. It feels like trying to stick the landing on a triple lutz, and every time it’s not quite right. …Bear in mind I have not attempted to figure skate since approx. age 9.

I think I have it now, though. I think. The few folks I’ve told about it IRL keep calling it “the pandemic book,” which I feel is vastly overselling the drama factor involved. Yeah OK there’s a pandemic, but it’s in the same manner that there’s a class uprising in book 2. Technically, wedged in among all the feels-ing.

I’m also embarking on a very overdue project of mapping out the cities of Wildern and Murio. Those two lead the pack because they’re still helpful for me in the writing process; after that I’ll make a nicer version of a Kavera / Golden Caravan map than the just-above-MSPaint version I used while writing The Healers’ Road.

This never was the end

I never truly gave up, but I set my tools down and walked away for a while. As I’d mentioned, I can be easily frustrated and discouraged, and after struggling for a long time to release Book 2, I didn’t weather its failure very well. I’ll own up to that.

The thing about failure, though, is that while it may exist, there’s no rule about how I have to feel about it. It’s only convention, a social contract, that says that I need to crawl away in disgrace if I fail. I’ve mentioned before that unlike conventional publishing, indie/self-publishing only really has one metric of success: money. Almost nobody in this horde gets critical acclaim (though some may be worthy of it); few awards are open to this field; there’s not really any such thing as a cult following. You prove your worth by making piles of money, and thereby Prove Everybody Wrong. There really isn’t any other option.

And I did not do that. Okay. Now what. Going back to my list of priorities, Priority 0 is “is this fun or at least gratifying?” Now let’s look at the options.

1) Change what I’m writing so that people want to buy it. Well, I could, but it would be a different, more tiring kind of fun, if at all.
2) Quit. What fun is that?
3) Fail, and do it anyway.

Here we are at option 3. I’m not so arrogant to say that I define what matters in indiepub. But I can say what matters to me. What matters to me is enjoying writing, and getting better at it whenever I can. After watching the sales numbers die on the vine, I reminded myself of where I “came from”: first writing just for myself or a friend, and then several years in fanfic. I did this for free. All the time. And it was fun. Yeah, more people read my fic in the end than read my books (understandably, familiar settings/characters blahblahblah), but I wasn’t even in it for attention or glory. It was just fun.

I won’t deny that Book 2 sank without a ripple. I won’t deny that there is no practical reason to write Book 3, or the others taking shape in this series. There’s no reason to write anything at all, except that I want to. Except that it makes me happy. And sure, I could write them and not release them, but that double-edged sword of a low barrier to entry says: why not? What’s it going to hurt? One more drop in the ocean.

I started writing Book 3 thirty-two days ago. Theoretically, it will cap off Agna and Keifon’s story. (Getting into what that story should be is another crisis of conscience entirely.) Unlike my last writing-every-day spree, I am not limiting myself to word count, and some days it’s slow going. And it isn’t always on that project; this post counts as today’s writing. But it’s something. Every day. That’s how I got to where I am now, after all.

Book 3 is underway, because it’s fun. At this rate, negative 250 people will read it. It will unread itself. But it’s still fun. I can’t explain why or how, but there it is. I’m also outlining and planning, and occasionally writing bits, for two others: one about Agna’s sister Lina, and one taking place a bit before The Healers’ Road, with some classmates of Rone’s. Who knows whether they’ll make any of that all-important money. I enjoy working on them anyway.

That’s the update. That there is an update. I’m glad of that.

On second, third and fourth thought…

Never mind on the book posts. I’m still reading, of course, but there’s not much point talking about it. My read-books list should be public over in the sidebar. I am happy to report that my TBR list is below 80 now, and I hope to keep whittling it down.

I had meant to set aside November to work on the next book, but it’s been extremely difficult to keep going in the wake of the second book’s failure. I tried to educate myself on plotting and tried to write a book that was better than the first, but it simply did not work. Maybe a little structure is worse than no structure, in the end. I’m not sure what exactly went wrong, but wrong it went, all the same.

It’s no mystery that my mild depressive tendencies make this more difficult, as well. Where others might have powered through and locked down what it takes to improve the third book, I floundered.  There’s so much I don’t understand — why the first book occasionally sells a copy despite its age, why the second was so much worse than the first (3%!), how to make the third book better than the second. There just aren’t answers, and so it isn’t clear how to make things better.

I’m working on an outline for book 3, slowly, sporadically, trying to impose as much structure as I can. My brain just doesn’t work in terms of plot points, beats, rising action, etc., so it’s like herding cats. Meanwhile, the numbers question why I’m doing any of this. 3% of 3% would equal less than one sale, if the drop-off in quality continues at this rate.

99% of the time, when I get home, I just retreat to reading other people’s books and playing other people’s games and running from the whole debacle. Maybe, in time, I’ll have the energy to pour into a wholly useless pursuit just for the sake of doing it. It’s difficult right now.

Two things:

  1. I’ve finished the September/October book roundup, but it still needs to be formatted, and I gotta sleep.
  2. Thanks to the encouragement of my Ultimate Beta Reader and spouse (who are the same person), I’m going to spend November finally outlining and beginning Book 3, working-titled The Healers’ Life. It is threatening to become 2 books, which makes me want to cry, but we’ll see what happens once the outline solidifies.