novels

Win LT3 December releases

Tuning in from Nanowrimo-land to report that yesterday I broke 100,000 words. My goal is 125,000, so I’m on track and happy to report I’m still enjoying the story. Always a good thing.

Once I’m done with the month I’ll have a rough, very rough draft of Dragonspire. Like all rough drafts it’s going to need to sit in a drawer for a month before I revisit it and start the hard work, but I’m pleased with how things are going and I haven’t hit any bad patches this year so I consider myself lucky.

If you haven’t pre-ordered The Fall Guide yet–or even if you have–Less Than Three Press is offering an amazing giveaway: a copy of all their December releases!

Visit the giveaway thread on Goodreads and leave a comment to sign up for your chance to win. Don’t miss this amazing chance! I’ve never seen such a massive giveaway from a publisher…early Merry Christmas, eh?

Later this week I’m going to post my Queer Romance Blog Hop post, talk about my ever-expanding slate of writing projects, and give thanks by hosting a giveaway of my own. 🙂 Have a great week!

Making 50k

Can’t talk; noveling!

Like most writers short on sanity and long on ambition, I started Nanowrimo today. I’ve got the first 3,407 words of my novel off to a decent start but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve set reasonable goals based on when I’m working and my typical writing rate in years past, but I’ll be satisfied if I fall a little short of that.

This year I’m only working on one project, Dragonspire. My goal is to get a significant chunk of writing toward the first draft banged out, but as usual, I probably won’t finish the entire novel in November. And that’s totally normal–a usable first draft of a novel typically takes more than a month anyhow.

I have my own tips and tricks, but for tonight, check out Chuck Wendig’s 25 Things You Should Know About Nanowrimo. His tips strike a pretty good balance of practicality and motivation, in this veteran Nano-er’s opinion.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve put you all on notice. I won’t be blogging this month unless I’m procrastinating from my writing. Have a great month, everyone!

Five things I wish I could tell my pre-published self

I had grand intentions to write this earlier in the day, and post in a timely fashion even, but it got busy (a good thing!) and I found myself with no time. And of course, in my off time, I was doing important adulty things like adjusting my budget and looking at emails. Back to night blogging.

Though not very far in the process myself, I feel like I’ve already come a long way and there are a lot of things I’ve learned since I first started. First a disclaimer: this is all from my process, things that have happened to me, things I’ve learned and taken away. They may not be the same for you, and your own experience may vary–but these are the kinds of things people ask me, and you may find them helpful. And so, a listicle!

Five things I wish I could tell my pre-published self:

1. Getting a submission rejected isn’t the hardest part

For years, and years, and years, the one thing holding me back from submitting anything, anywhere, was fear of rejection. I saw very talented friends submitting their fiction through the process best known to be tried and true successful, querying an agent, and getting rejection after rejection. From this, I held up rejection as the absolute worst, and figured it was better to keep writing fanfic forever than it would be to risk my original fiction and have it turned down. I already knew that being turned down that way would be like having my own self rejected, so I was pretty much willing to avoid that prospect indefinitely.

It took a real kick in the pants to get me to the point of ever submitting anything, and a direct invitation from an awesome person.

And when I got past the amazingness of getting accepted, I came to realize there were worse things than the prospect of rejection. Which, in the end, is really the process of finding the best fit for author and publisher and nothing more. And that “worse” brings me to my next item, which is…

2. The first pro edit will rip your soul to shreds

I’m exaggerating. Slightly.

The day I got my first pro edit back, I wanted to hide in a hole, never write again, take my manuscript back from the publisher and light it on fire, cry (I definitely did that), yell, drink a lot (I probably did some of that), and wondered just what the hell I had gotten into.

It was, bar none, the most difficult edit of my life, not only because it had a lot of issues to fix, being my oldest manuscript (from 2003) but a lot of rewrites were involved, and I finished with a different editor from the one that I started with.

So I’m not exaggerating when I say the first edit is hard. It’s not like working with a beta reader (or maybe it is, depending on how intensely you work with a beta). They will catch things you never could have thought would still be in there, no matter how many passes you’ve already made. They will point out things you may disagree with, and it will be difficult to decide how to incorporate those edits. It might be hard to see the line where the edit is optional, versus highly recommended, versus required. Edits like publishing house style, of course, are always required.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it–I’m not sure if anyone has a good first pro edit experience. Maybe I’m wrong and someone will comment to prove that to me! The important takeaway is that it gets better, and easier. You get stronger and more confident, provided you learn from the experience and take that into each subsequent draft.

I’ve said before, Hemingway said write drunk, edit sober. I say read your edits drunk, incorporate them sober. It’s medicinal.

3. Be an author the editors WANT to work with

From the very first, uphill battle, though, my goal was to be an author that my editors would want to work with. After I was thoroughly tenderized from my first edit, I started to see the importance and merit in a lot of what I’ve begun to call their “tough love.”

It’s the editor’s job to see the forest for the trees. They have a bigger perspective, they have industry experience, and in many cases, they can spot the flaws and problems that are invisible to you and whatever friends have helped you get the manuscript to its second draft.

In order to be an author that people want to work with, there are some mandatory baseline items. You have to pay attention to your publisher’s house style. If they go by the Chicago Manual of Style, invest in a copy. Make sure your manuscript conforms. If they use emdashes, make sure to use emdashes–like so–instead of other formatting styles – like the space, dash, space, that I used to use – see what I did there?

Here’s the thing: your editor should not have to spend extra time on things that should already be done. Such as a single space between sentences, instead of the two spaces a lot of us grew up with. I think I just dated myself there. Microsoft Word’s find-replace can even fix that for you, so there’s no excuse.

Their job is to make your manuscript better. But first, don’t you want it to be the absolute best it can be before they ever lay eyes on it? Not only does it make their job easier, but they’ll see you’ve mastered the basics and they’ll turn their attention to places where your manuscript really needs work, content as well as line edits.

Conventional wisdom says never turn in your first draft. Conventional wisdom is absolutely correct. No one’s first draft is perfect. There are always things to find. If you don’t have people who can do a good, hard edit for you, there are writer’s groups you can join, or you can even approach pro editors and ask if they’ll do a sample pro edit for you, to see what you’re getting into. Many of them will do that, all you have to do is shop around. And this is also important, I think, to see whether you can work with a pro edit, or whether your reaction is just “No!!!!” But there’s a major reason it is so important to listen to your editor and work well with them.

4. The things your editor says are the things the reviewers will say if you don’t do diligence with your edits

I learned this the hard way with one of my own novels. Many of some negative elements in reviews for From the Inside Out mentioned things that were an initial concern of one of my editors, or things where I had made a half-hearted stab at things she’d asked me to do, but hadn’t taken that as far as I should have. And I kind of wince at all of the reviews that say “needed more editing,” because, well, that’s my fault. It wasn’t that the editor didn’t point out those things–it was that I didn’t incorporate them, or didn’t do them as fully as I ought to have.

Every edit for any manuscript I’ve had since then, I have paid scrupulous attention to my edits, asked more questions if I didn’t understand an edit, and made sure the editor and I were both happy with the final draft before it goes for its line edit. And I stand behind every manuscript I’ve had since then. And in my own opinion, working with my editors has gotten better and better. I hope they feel the same way!

When the editor asks for changes, it’s not because they hate your manuscript, think you’re terrible, or are trying to make your life difficult. It’s because the changes will almost certainly make your novel better. And if you’re not sure about that and feel very strongly about your original draft, the head editor is usually available for questions if a tie-breaker is needed. You’ve (typically) got the option to override suggested changes, as the author it’s your novel, but don’t forget the editor’s name is on that book too, as the editor. They’re invested in the edits because it’s their job to make you look good.

And when you look good, the reviews are good … usually.

5. Take reviews with a grain of salt. Or a block. Keep writing.

Popular opinion of most authors you’ll survey is “DON’T LOOK AT YOUR REVIEWS.” But if you do, for the love of God, be prepared and fully braced for negative opinions. Maybe they have a point. Maybe it’s like they read a completely different manuscript from the one you wrote. But either way, they will have an opinion, they will express it, and it may not ping you the right way. It may sting, or it may outright hurt and make you want to throw your keyboard on the ground.

But, really, what’s a negative review (or ten) going to change? The manuscript is done, it’s published. Once it’s out there, it’s open to interpretation. Some people will like it, some people won’t. Reviews let other people know what that person thought. In a way, they’re not really for you, they’re for those other people, the ones who might read your book.

Take what you can from the reviews, hold the good close to you and cherish it, and shake off the bad. What else can you really do? Wait, let me answer that: for the love of little green apples, do not, DO NOT, do not ever engage with a reviewer if they’ve left you any slightest nuance of a negative review. You may be tempted to engage with them and correct them for something you think they’ve said that is “wrong” about your story. It is not worth the shitstorm that will rain down upon you from the masses. It’s not your job to tell a reviewer that they read your story wrong. The story needs to speak for itself. Once it’s out there, that’s it. You had your shot, now it’s their turn.

Some other authors have advised having a third party screen your reviews, and share the positive ones. This is not a bad idea, if you know yourself and what your reactions to criticism (you feel unwarranted) might be.

At the end of the day, no matter what, reviews shouldn’t stop you writing. An author is someone who basically has to write, after all. Or, rather, an author is like a shark. Keep swimming or something dies.

That’s what I’ve got to share this week! I hope it was helpful, or at least gave a few of you something to think about. This is all a work in progress for me. Next year, I’ll probably have five new things I would have told the me-of-now.

Next week: tackling effeminophobia. What the heck is that, why is it terribad, and where does it come from?

Maintaining Visibility: How Often to Publish?

Conventional wisdom from authors attending the Gay Romance Northwest meet-up covered the subject of how often an author should publish in order to stay on the readers’ radar. The answer surprised me: there’s a push to publish quarterly to stay on top.

I am a prolific writer myself, but the thought of putting out something every quarter seemed pretty exhausting. After all, the process involves brainstorming, turning out a first draft, going back for the first edit, submitting, doing another, potentially more extensive edit for pre-publication that might involve re-writes, and galley approval. All of that for one manuscript–then the prospect of juggling four (or more!) manuscripts a year can be overwhelming.

That led me to take a look at my own experiences over the past year and a half. I started out submitting three manuscripts right out the gate. By the end of the year I’d submitted two more and gotten them accepted. Fireborn came out last summer, Signal to Noise came out in autumn, From the Inside Out in December. This year, I’ve had the three volumes of Appetite staggered from March to May to July, and Courage Wolf Never Sings the Gorram Blues made its serial debut in May, and its anthology debut last week. Convergence comes out next week, and The Fall Guide will come out in December. In the meantime, I have Body Option, The More Plausible Evil, and Klaxon at the Core accepted and going through various parts of the editing process. And I’ll be starting Dragonspire next month! Not to mention, I have other short stories planned for anthologies or collections due at the end of the year and beyond.

No wonder it feels like writing is its own part-time job, on top of my already full time employment.

So, without intending to or planning for it, I seem to have positioned myself for that ideal “publish quarterly, or around that” philosophy. At least for the first couple of years!

Now I ask the question: is it really necessary? Are readers so fickle or easily distracted that an author needs to keep up with the demand and publish quarterly, or lose their readers?

When I was younger, I remember waiting years in between books for certain authors. Most notably, I think the longest I ever waited for an author was Melanie Rawn, and her next published title was a huge break from her previous work. It was more of a contemporary urban fantasy, where before she had been working on otherworldly epic fantasy, vast in worldbuilding and political scope and, I think, a trilogy that will remain forever unfinished. That aside, authors worked in the framework of years as opposed to the go, spend, buy consumer culture we have going on today, and I was accustomed to waiting at least two years between books for the “big name” authors.

The landscape of m/m fiction seems to come with different expectations. Regardless of what the big name authors say, I think it’s good advice for someone getting newly established, like myself, to make a push to get something published on a regular basis to get your name out there.

At the same time, in my opinion I think it’s also important to pace yourself, and make sure you and the people you’re working with are satisfied with the quality of the material you’re putting out there. When you rush something to an artificial deadline, no matter the reason whether it’s keeping your name out there or just a determination not to change dates, it’s all too easy to make mistakes in the process, whether re-writes are part of it or not.

When you feel rushed, stressed, or under the hammer to produce, that’s also when the quality starts to suffer. And that’s definitely when it’s time to take a break. Whether you’re getting yourself established or already at the top, telling the best story that you can is what really matters. Everything else falls into place from that.

Happy Release Day! And two new reviews.

First and foremost!

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Are you ready for a rocking good time? Rocking Hard: Volume One is ready for you! My novella, Courage Wolf Never Sings the Gorram Blues, is sandwiched in between four other tales of music and love, the rhythms that move the world.

Cannot wait to hear what you all think!

Speaking of feedback, this week has been fruitful for The Competitive Edge, which netted 4.5 pants off over at Pants Off Reviews, and 4 kisses and an avowal to check out the other books in the Appetite series from Top2Bottom reviews.

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At Pants Off Reviews, Darien Moya says, “If you are a cooking afficionado and like m/m romance this is a must read!” Check out the rest of the review here!

Over with Top2Bottom, Susan says, “A quite long read, this series is promising. The writing is captivating, and I was fully immersed into the story.” See what else she says here!

And in case you missed my Tweet, Top2Bottom also gave me a lovely spotlight review. Thanks to all the wonderful peeps at Less Than Three Press, too, for arranging the tour!

Guest Blog: Male pregnancy…but not.

Greetings everyone–today we have a guest blog from Lexi Ander, author of the intriguing new debut Alpha Trine. It’s sci-fi, with a twist:

I first wanted to say thank you for having me here. I’m going to try and not bore you today.

When I set out to write Alpha Trine I was following a story prompt that directed there be male pregnancy without the use of technology and one of the main characters must be alien. Even though Alpha Trine is set in the far future on the other side of the universe I decided didn’t want the men to become pregnant.

I know! I know! Male pregnancy means a man somehow becomes pregnant but I wanted something different. So I started looking around at what was currently possible in earth’s environment without the use of technology. Chances are if it exists here, if there is life somewhere else, it could be possible there as well.

There are frogs that switch gender if the opposite sex isn’t available. Male seahorses carry the developing eggs. There are asexual creatures who can procreate by themselves. There are other creatures who have huge territories, when they come across a male they collect the sperm, and hold it in their body in a type of stasis until the creature is ready to procreate. Really, the wild kingdom has so many variations that I could have a supply of alien pregnancy scenarios if I wanted.

In some science fiction stories you can read about a Third Sex. Neither male nor female the third sex is required in some science fiction societies in order for a race to procreate. The perfect example is Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series. (Loved that series)

What about humans? Is there no way for there to be that kind of scenario? I said yes. With a genetic twist, I could see the hermaphrodite identity equal to the sci-fi third sex concept. In today’s reality, it breaks my heart that doctors and parents make a sexual identity decision for children who are born as hermaphrodites, instead of waiting for the child to grow into which ever identity they choose. I have read too many heart breaking stories so I chose to create a central species called the Fal’Amorics where being born a hermaphrodite is celebrated.

Ah! But I didn’t stop there. Dargon is a marsupial lion who shares a symbiotic relationship with Alpha. An interplanetary war stripped two planets of one primary sex. One planet became the homeworld of the females and the other belonged to the males, and they couldn’t stand each other. The Alpha-Zetamites stepped in after the war and offered their assistance by playing middlemen, dare I say the Third Sex, between the males and females of the species. This allowed for Dar Massaga’s, regardless of sex, to be able to procreate since both sexes have the marsupial pouches.

These three species allow for many different scenarios. Even as I wrap up Alpha’s, Dargon’s, and Zeus’s story in Striker, there can be several more different male pregnancy scenarios… but not.

Thank you for stopping by and a warm thank you to Tay for hosting me today. Before I leave with the blurb and an excerpt remember…

I’ll be giving away a paperback copy of Alpha at the end of this blog tour. Every comment on this and the other four posts will be another entry into the drawing. On September 28th I will email the winner at the end of the day, so remember to leave a comment with a way to contact you.

Blog tour schedule:
September 23rd – Babes In Boyland (http://www.babesinboyland.net/)
September 24th – Raining Men (http://rainingmenamen.blogspot.com/)
September 25th – Pants Off Reviews (http://pantsoffreviews.blogspot.com/)
September 26th – World of Diversity Fiction (http://sean-norris.com/)
September 27th – dreaminginfinity (https://dreaminginfinity.wordpress.com/)

Alpha Trine

Blurb:
The sole survivor on a science vessel adrift in deep space, Zeus was adopted by the Emperor and Empress of the Mar’Sani, though he is both human and blind, and seen by most as unfit to join the royal family. Though they were able to repair his vision, Zeus does not trust his eyes and the nobles of his parents’ court refuse to ever trust a frail human.

Dargon Kal-Turak, along with his symbiote and lover Alpha, command one of the most dangerous ships in the stars. Narrowly escaping a trap, they dock in a space port to make repairs, but find that the Psionics hunting them are closing in fast. In desperation they kidnap the port Master Mechanic, unaware that the man they’ve brought on board is more than he seems, and will bring far more upheaval to their ship, their lives, and the stars than any of them could have imagined.

Excerpt:

Prologue

Canry was lost—no—taken.

Empress Ashari ignored her attendants. She knew they would report back to her mate, Emperor Valdor Vondorian, and she cared not. She was hollow inside, the pain turning to a numbness that ate at her core until there was nothing left for her to feel. She refused to pretend everything was normal because it was not. Nothing would ever be normal again because he was gone—stolen. Her youngest son, Canry, had disappeared in the Waters of Poseidon only two short months ago, and yet it seemed like yesterday.

Ashari slipped a hand under the cream-colored pillow and pulled out Canry’s little nightshirt. She had made the weave herself from the finest spyder silk. Ashari handled the material carefully. Her claws were ragged from nervous chewing, and she did not wish for the fine thread to catch on them. Her eyes burned as she tenderly fingered the colorful clothing. Her heart might have been hollow but her tears were rivers that fed the sea.

She wondered what she could have done differently. All Mar’Sani younglings were introduced to the Waters of Poseidon when they turned six lunar months. She and Valdor had been delighted Canry had quickly taken to the waters, more so than the twins or his sister, Shaneva. The youngling had been swimming, diving perfectly at her side and then slithering through the water, his black scales glistening in the sunshine.

She noticed the tips of the barbs that ran along his spine and down his tail were beginning to turn red, a sign of his royal blood. Canry splashed Ashari with his tail and dived into the water—never to surface again. Within moments everyone began searching for the royal youngling. Those who lived in the waters combed the depths and found nothing. Canry was simply gone—disappeared—no trace or body had been found. He had vanished.

Never in Mar’Sani history had a youngling or adult been lost in the Waters of Poseidon. For days Ashari refused to leave the shoreline of the great sea in hopes her son would find his way back home. She spent hours diving and swimming until she was overcome by exhaustion and the attendants pulled her ashore.

Finally, she accepted the fact that Canry would not be coming home. She took to her sick bed and there she stayed.

Every day she ate a little less. Her mate, Valdor, tried his best to console her, but there was little he could do. Poseidon had, for some unknown reason, taken her son, and in a few short years, he would claim their daughter as well.

Their now youngest child, Shaneva, had been showing signs of The Longing prior to Canry’s birth. One in every two thousand younglings born would return to the Waters of Poseidon. These children would eventually choose to reside in the waters over living on land. The reasons for The Longing were unknown, but neither were the children discouraged from the choice. As natural as The Longing was to the Mar’Sani people, Ashari could not help but wonder what she had done that Poseidon would lay claim to two of her four children.

A large Mar’Sani male filled the doorway. His black scales gleamed like polished rock. Dark yellow eyes narrowed at the sight of Ashari lying on the platform, his barbed tail swishing side to side. Resplendent in the imperial red and gold robes, the Emperor strode into the room. Ashari knew that look of determination on his handsome face and was unfazed. She tucked the outfit back under her pillow as Valdor sat on the edge of the low bed.

“Your attendants claim you are not hungry this morning.”

Valdor’s voice was deep, resonating throughout the room.

Ashari refrained from replying for there was nothing to say.

“They also relay you are too tired to rise.” Again, she responded with silence.

Without another world, Valdor unlaced his boots and set them aside before climbing onto the platform. He gently nudged her to rise up, and he slid under Ashari before pulling her down to his chest. He released a great sigh and stroked the smooth ridge of her forehead until her curiosity slowly surfaced.

“What are you doing?” Ashari softly inquired.

“He … Canry was my son too. I miss his laugh. I miss watching him sleep. I miss … Being the emperor requires that I put my personal sorrows aside to care for others, but I cannot keep doing so if I lose my mate as well. I, too, hurt and grieve. I am exhausted and food holds no appeal. So I will lie with my beloved for a time and keep her company in her sorrow.”

Ashari buried her face in the crook of Valdor’s neck, the scales pliant against her cheek. He needed her, Ashari reminded herself, and Valdor never gave up.

No Plot? No Problem!

My early days of productive writing took place during a proliferation of what people fondly referred to at the time as “PWPs,” short for “Plot? What Plot?” The stories were thinly-veiled excuses for the two characters to get together and do the deed.

And I was good at them! I’m not going to stand on false modesty, here. I had mastered the art of getting two characters together through a variety of creative means–one memorable instance involving a gun and a shot to the head–then delving into the erotica and leading out with a moment either poignant or humorous, hopeful or lascivious.

Over the years, the enforced regimen of Nanowrimo after Nanowrimo, and developing certain skills through project management work, I got better at adding in plot. My focus gradually shifted to telling a larger story where two people getting together were a part, rather than the driving mechanism of the whole. Conflict existed, deeds were done, tension flourished, and the fabric of the plot consisted of more than the relationship weaving two people inextricably together.

Casual fiction can be a great method for learning how to tell overarching story arcs. I wrote a five-part original series, After the Rising, over the span of several years where I started out fumbling through a relationship story focused on three brothers, and somehow by the time it was done, told an epic tale about demons versus humans, and the battle for a particular artifact that could shift the balance of power between warring factions. Looking back through those masses and masses of words I wrote, I can spot a lot of flaws. There’s a drag in certain installments–the middle child suffers that most horrible fate where a great deal of words were wasted to cover very little ground. And by the second or third book I finally realized not everyone can be gay men. At least I got in some good, strong females who were there to do their jobs, and diversity was a part of the story from the first installment.

Overall that casual fiction effort can’t be considered a complete loss. It was compelling enough that one of my friends asked me to send them the entire series, to see if they could help me work it over into a shape approaching publishable. (After having been through the editorial process with seven manuscripts now, and currently engaged in two more, I can say that particular original series needs a lot of hard work before I’d submit it.)

At the core of it all, however, no matter what deeds take place and however strong the world-building of the places I envision, one thing I’ve realized is I am still, at the heart of it, telling stories where two characters get together and do the deed. And that means I will probably always be considered a romance author, and I’m good with that.

To me, that’s where a great deal of the interest, the joy of telling a story, lies. It’s not only the plot twists, or the clever mechanisms. The heart of the story, the part that I love reinventing with every new set of characters that I write, is taking these two people (or more, if there are multiple couples) and finding out who they are, and how they come together.

Two people meet, and there’s something in each of them that reacts to the other, whether that’s positive or negative. Subsequent encounters, or repeated exposure, bring out more tension, whether it’s personality or attraction-based. I love writing the unfolding relationship, and I’ve seen mixed reactions from authors on this next item, but I love to write the erotica. My sex scenes vary from light to detailed depending on the story and what’s happening with the plot, but I look forward to, and enjoy, writing that part of the story too. If I’ve made my characters (and the reader) wait for it, then everyone deserves the payoff for sure.

Stories, especially novels, can’t subsist on sex scenes alone, however. I did learn to plot my stories around the bones of the relationship, starting with my very first Nanowrimo back in 2002. Knowing that I was going into a thirty-day writing sprint, expected to come out of the other end with a 50,000+ word manuscript, and determined to succeed, I approached the project with my first-ever comprehensive outline. Prior to 2002, I’d completed novel-length works before, both fannish and casual original fiction endeavors, but my approach was completely laissez-faire, totally by the seat of my pants, and typically took months. I would start out writing with vague ideas, and found out more as I went along. I invented everything the story needed in terms of world-building or supporting characters on the spot.

That wasn’t going to work for an endeavor like Nanowrimo. I needed to have enough material planned so that I could write through each and every scene and get through the day having met my word count by the end of it. So I penned out my ideas for “Not Another Regency Romance,” roughing out a cast of characters and two romantic storylines unfolding side by side: May, the novel’s heroine, and her younger brother Tor, who incidentally fell for the older man who was intended to be May’s suitor.

It might not have been completely terrible? A good handful of people read it, and at least one person whose opinion I trust told me it was well-told and they enjoyed it. I never ended up editing or trying to submit it anywhere, because I didn’t think the story would have a market. Too gay for straight romance, too straight for gay romance, and I had no interest in editing out either of the romantic storylines. Those dual storylines were what really made the plot.

The important takeaway from that early effort was how to outline, and it gave me the confidence that I needed to continue with that format. 2002 was like a writing exercise in which I learned which parts of my outline to stick to, which to scrap for the sake of the story, and where I could improve upon it during the writing process, always allowing for inspiration or characters becoming so much more.

That’s how I write from my outlines, in the end. The outline is the framework that the story is built upon, but I’m free to change or tweak as needed, add extra characters when they’re called for, accommodate a dramatic twist when the opportunity presents itself, and let the story play out the way it wants to be written. Sometimes the characters surprise me, and I like it when that happens–if I can get caught up in writing it, hopefully others will get caught up reading it, too.

For Nanowrimo 2003, I dove into it with the same mindset, but started with an unfinished outline. Little did I know, once November was over and I’d turned out over 85,000 words, without an outline or a clear path to the end I would lose momentum. It took me nearly ten years to finish From the Inside Out. When it was accepted for publication, the epilogue got axed, and many of the storyline details changed during the editing process. I believe this is partly because my outline, penned back in 2003, was weak in plot and the relationship story I tried to tell wasn’t right for the characters I developed. Since then, in my meager opinion I think I’ve gotten better at those elements.

In terms of the outline process itself, I always start with the characters first. I have a general idea for a story, which I may or may not write down right away. I form an idea of the main characters in my head: what they look like, their personalities, what they do. I’ll often use actors as character bases, but not always. Sometimes their names come to me easily; other times, I do research based on ethnicity/nationality, personality traits, when they were born and what names were popular at the time, and personal preference. Once I have their names down, I commit that to paper or electronic file and start jotting down ideas about them. At this point of the brainstorming process, I may or may not rough out a general idea of the storyline itself. “Convergence” started out as “Indiana Jones with vampires,” so you can see I had a long way to go from there. In fact, my original short story idea for the Proud to be a Vampire call was going to be something else entirely, then instead of shifting the scene I’d mapped in my head to the end of the story, I realized as the characters developed that the scene in my head wasn’t the right part of the story to tell, at all. I developed an entirely new story from there–and it’s one I like a lot better. “Appetite,” which ended up a sprawling three-part tome, began its life as the teaser sentence “competitive chefs with a passion for cooking…and each other.” I start with building blocks, and the idea grows until I have to write it all down. Usually the story name comes in at some point during my outlining process. Sometimes, the name is a placeholder and I change it at the end. “Body Option” and “Fireborn” both had different working titles; I can’t even remember what the original titles were anymore.

Right now, I’m at the beginning stages of outlining two new manuscripts, and the process is so different for each of them! “My Sexual Superhero” is a short story I’ll be submitting for a fiction call. All I know about it, at this point, is the two characters get together at a club, and one brief encounter ends up turning into something more when they actually open up and start learning about one another. One of the main characters is tentatively named Jaden, but I might change it. His best friend is Marina. The other guy would be Chris if I hadn’t already named another character Chris, in Convergence. I have a snippet of dialogue already written, but that’s it! Oh, and I know what they look like.

…and I came back from lunch and “Not Chris” became “Felipe” and all my nascent ideas about him have changed, and I like him even better than my original concept for him. I have more ideas about where the story is going, but not how it ends.

The other manuscript I’m plotting is going to be my 2013 Nanowrimo, and I’m trying out “Dragonspire” and “Dragon’s Nexus” for WIP titles. After searching for novels titled the same or similarly, I’m sure I’ll scrap those and come up with something else. The three characters I’ve got so far are Gideon Stahl, intrepid photographer engaged in a major life change; Chrysania Vallorum, high priestess and princess of Callar-dune; and Echo Glaive, a powerful dragon whose actions threaten the livelihood of Callar-dune’s citizens. Tagline for the story is “Gideon went to save the maiden. He pledged himself to the dragon.” At this point, I’m concentrating on the world-building details while the general storyline comes together in my head. When I start outlining things scene by scene, that’s usually when a lot of things start to shake out into specific form and structure. For longer stories, I tend to decide early if there will be different “parts,” or story arcs, divide the outline into those sections, and work on those. I think that Dragonspire will be two parts, possibly three, but I don’t want it to be much longer than 100k altogether, because I want this to be a standalone fantasy work. That’s going to help dictate the complexity of the outline.

Once I have all the general pieces, I start writing scene by scene. This varies from extremely general–“Jaden goes clubbing with his friend Marina”–to very specific, with some scene-setting or world-building details that may get incorporated into the manuscript. I outline in a relatively linear fashion, but jot down bursts of inspiration as they come. Often, I know how the story will end before I have the middle nailed down, for example. Or I’ll get a scene in my head that takes place in the story, and I write it all down and figure out a place for it when I’m going through the linear plotting.

Ultimately, most stories can be deconstructed to a single element: conflict, and resolution of the conflict. Whether that takes place as relationship conflict, or external conflict through opposing forces, it’s all up to the author and what they want to achieve, and how they want to get there. Some people work best when they jump right in with those vague ideas, and work their way through it during the writing process. For me, the story works better when I start with those vague ideas, and work their way through it during the writing process. For me, the story works better when I start with the ideas and give them greater substance with the structure of the outline, however loose or detailed. We tell the stories we want to tell–the ones that want to be told. If you don’t have a plot at first, it’s not a problem. Put your characters down on paper, maneuver them into the same space together, and figure out what makes the sparks fly from there. Above all, don’t be afraid to experiment and find out what methods work best on an individual basis. I used to think that I had to have every single world-building detail figured out, and I was failing some criteria of being an author if I didn’t–then I discovered not everyone works that way! The great, fun, endlessly inventive thing about writing is that everyone does it differently. And we all find our best way.