From the Secret Diaries of Evil…

It’s almost here!

“Bones and Bourbon” releases this coming Monday…except for those who pre-ordered the ebook through NineStar Press, who can download their copies tomorrow. For everyone else, Amazon currently has print and ebook copies ready to preorder, as does Barnes & Noble, and ebooks can also be acquired through Kobo and Smashwords. I’ll update you here as more options, such as Barnes & Noble, become available.

As expected, I’m both excited and low-key freaking out. It’s a good kind of freakout, but still. This is actually happening. I can’t thank you all enough for helping this happen, because even your presence alone has been an invaluable support to me.

Now let me tell you about last Saturday, when I participated in an Author Takeover on Facebook for NineStar Press authors. There were a lot of entertaining presentations and conversations, and for my part, I shared some artwork and information for the creatures set to appear in “Bones and Bourbon,” complete with some commentary from my antagonist Nalem’s secret notebook. However, I recognize that not everyone has a Facebook page, or wants to scroll through all the discussions to find my posts, which is why I’ve decided to re-post them all here! Without further ado…


ATN Retz

Retz, with Nalem as a laughing skull.

“There are those who call me an evil necromancer. Regardless of their morality, they are wrong, if only because I do not RAISE THE DEAD, just their bones. What use have I for flesh? It is weak, fallible, and…smelly. Eugh. I also refuse to be called a lich, a witch, sorcerer, or any other inane titles. I am but a self-made god.” —Nalem

Fantasy is rife with the undead and those who raise them. Flip through any generic fantasy tale, be it a Tolkien rip-off or a modern horror tale, and you’ll find necromancers and zombie hordes galore. Sometimes, there are also just skeletons running around, with no flesh and no cares in the world, and they’re goofy to watch.

At least, it is until Retz and Nalem get involved.

Nalem was created by taking many of my favorite antagonist tropes—formless spirit that can possess people, “raising” the dead, a penchant for snark and inflicting horrific bodily harm—mashing them together into one evil bastard, and then sticking said bastard into a protagonist’s head. I also decided that instead of raising zombies, he would only have powers over their bones, either animating them as their skeletons were or completely warping them to suit his whims. Swords out of ribs? Check. Fusing your enemy’s teeth together? Also check. The result is a “hero” with decidedly un-heroic powers, and a deep connection between a man and the world’s greatest evil…who also happens to be his worst enemy, mentor, and confidante all rolled into one arrogant package.

ATN Huldra

Jarrod (left), Retz from the back (upper right), and their parents (lower right)

“I have never been a fan of huldras. They have always flaunted their emptiness, as if that makes them immune to my powers. They also keep claiming I’m “wicked” and “beyond redemption,” as if I care about their opinions. However, I suppose I should thank them for their foolish ways; they have inadvertently created the perfect vessel, with which I may finally complete my plans…
…If that troublesome brother of his doesn’t decide to “rescue him” first.” —Nalem

Traditionally, huldras are creatures in Norse and Scandinavian lore, though there have been mentions of them in other cultures. They are known for their ethereal beauty, complicated by a cow tail (or a fox tail, in certain variations) and a gaping hole across their back that reveals their bodies to be hollow inside. They are known to assist those who are polite, but those who cross them are reminded of their strength when the huldra straightens an iron horseshoe with their bare hands…or just uses their immense strength to batter the offender senseless.

In “Bones and Bourbon,” our sibling protagonists have a huldra mother who fits the lore, but since the Gallows brothers are also half human, they are known as hulderkind. Jarrod inherited his mother’s incredible strength—and a cow tail—but Retz’s biology is far stranger. He has the hole in his back and his hollow inside, save that unlike a traditional huldra, he still has a human skeleton. This led to him being the perfect vessel for Nalem, whose powers can warp Retz’s bones to suit his whims without worrying about puncturing any vital organs.

I also gave the huldras sped-up healing, so the Gallows brothers don’t have to visit a hospital after every fight. Plus, it seems huldras have developed an instinct for judging whether someone is good or evil…and while Retz’s morals are warped by his necromantic mental roommate, Jarrod’s instincts are clearer than he’d care to admit.

ATN Furaribi

Isamu (left) and Aimi (right), Furaribi siblings

“Fools more superstitious than I would consider spotting a furaribi to be an ill omen, much less two of them so far from home. I, of course, will not be waylaid by such opinions; all I have to do is track these creatures without my vessel betraying me, and I will be one step closer to the fruition of my plans.
…And yet, I swear that girl is familiar. Have I somehow encountered her and forgotten? Or does her boundless optimism and love of scathing pop music simply remind me of my vessel?” —Nalem

Furaribi aren’t particularly common as far as yokai (spirits and other creatures from Japan) go. They’re said to take the form of fiery birds with dog-like faces as they float along riverbanks. They supposedly form from lost souls unable to pass on to the next life, and while most are content to float in peace, some can be goaded into a vengeful fury if reminded of their past lives…

Since not much is known about furaribi, I’ve given them a couple twists for “Bones and Bourbon.” For one, I made them more humanoid, though their talons and fiery wings are still reminiscent of birds. I also gave them the ability to disguise themselves in a human form, so they may travel past their riverbanks to mingle with mortal society. Their origins are unclear in this story; their only concern is escaping their wicked lamia captors. However, it may be significant that Aimi is the first furaribi to be born outside of Japan, and a few key powers seem interested in her…

ATN Lamia

Lady Delight

“A letter from Lady Delight arrived today. Of course the damnable snake refused to state what she needed help with—she has to lure me over first before she can bribe me, after all. Or betray me, seeing how she loves to mimic my own tactics.
I should burn the letter and send back the ashes as my reply. Then again, if the rumors are true, she may finally have the connections I need to make her useful. I may as well investigate the veracity of these claims…but first, I’ll have to find a goat.” —Nalem

The lamia seen in “Bones and Bourbon” are a composite of multiple snake-women hybrids found in mythology. The most notable is Lamia, a lover of Zeus who was cursed by Hera into a monstrous form often described as serpentine; most art depicts her with the upper half of a woman and the lower half of a snake, similar to Gorgons who also feature in Greek Mythology. However, the lamia in “Bones and Bourbon” also have a completely nonhuman form, where they resemble giant snakes such as the Hindu Naga…except they also grow multiple heads as they age, reminiscent the multi-headed Hydra. Plus, their fangs contain deadly poison, just like…actual venomous snakes!

Lamia are also known to live for centuries, which gives them time to indulge in their common hobby as collectors. Unfortunately for the Gallows brothers, the lamia they have to face is Lady Delight, owner of a fantastical menagerie of monsters. Sentient, rare monsters she’s planning on selling at an otherworldly fair. And the highlights of her collection, a pair of furaribi, have just escaped her lair…

ATN Unicorns

Two rude, bloody unicorns

“I hate when unicorn heads escape and bleed all over my notebook. I still neither know nor care why it was following me, but Lady Delight should appreciate the gift. For now, I think I’ll leave it in the passenger seat; I want to see how my vessel reacts when he wakes up.” —Nalem

Ah, unicorns. Pure champions of love, light, justice and…wait, is that blood?

Yes, unicorns are one of the few common creatures you’ll see in “Bones and Bourbon,” but these aren’t the mild-mannered sweethearts you find statues of at the kitschy fantasy stores. These unicorns are warriors, carnivores who purify the blood spilling from their kills. As long as a unicorn’s horn is intact, they cannot be stopped, even as a disembodied head. For reasons unknown, they also seem to have a vendetta against Retz, even though he doesn’t actually have any blood in him to purify. Perhaps they just don’t like him and his decrepit car?

ATN Alexander

Alexander Gallows as a Fae

Good news: Alexander Gallows is dead!
Bad news: I wasn’t the one to kill him.
Worst news: Whoever DID kill him botched the job, and now he’s an undead Faerie, complete with powers he really didn’t need. I should have murdered him myself while I had the chance!” —Nalem

The word Faerie brings a variety of beings to mind. Some think of Tinkerbell and other diminutive beings with glittery wings, flowery homes, and pint-sized attitude. Others imagine grand courts full of magic and deceit. And then there are those who imagine the “kindly ones” waiting just off the path, luring travelers to follow them to the lands of the dead or other strange worlds…

All these and more count as Fae in “Bones and Bourbon,” though the most commonly seen are the latter. A world known as Arcadia waits just past our world, twisting the familiar into visages where chrome trees leak oil and castles of fire and light await on brimstone clouds. Those who die in Arcadia find they do not stay dead, but fuse with the environment to become bizarre creatures. Such a fate has befallen Alexander Gallows, father to our protagonists…though in his case, his transformation may not entirely be a curse.

ATN Farris

Farris O’Reilly

I love when mortals bring me toys to break. Jarrod, you make it all to easy to ruin your day. Wait, he’s able to see the supernatural AND has no memory to speak of? Could I be so lucky? It seems that Fate has decided to smile upon me after all…!” —Nalem

Of course there are humans in “Bones and Bourbon,” even if they don’t make up much of the cast because…well, almost every story has humans, but how many have snake-ladies and carnivorous unicorns? But I may as well mention how humans play into this supernatural mess, if only so I can showcase a picture of the novel’s main human, Farris.

Most humans can’t see the supernatural. Well, they can, they just…can’t comprehend the supernatural for long, so their memories warp so that events make sense to them. They’re quite skilled at accidentally ruining paranormal plans without realizing it, particularly because a mysterious being known as “The Harvester” seems to be protecting them from supernatural backlash.

Once in a while, for a myriad of reasons, a human comes along that can see man and monster both, often becoming mediators between them. One of these was Alexander Gallows, father to our protagonists Retz and Jarrod. Another is Farris, daredevil amnesiac and Jarrod’s devoted boyfriend. Where did he come from, how does he know how to use a sword, and what makes him think trying to rodeo a unicorn’s in any way a good idea?

Oh dear, Nalem found me with his notebook. I was going to tell you all about two mysterious beings, The Harvester and Bloody Mary, but Nalem just…ripped the corresponding page out of his notebook, tore it up, and ate the pieces. Guess you’ll have to read “Bones and Bourbon” to find out what that’s about, now won’t you?

Hope you’re ready for the 23rd, dear readers.

~Dorian

Now Getting It Ready For You: Upcoming Release Announcements!

It’s almost here! We’re now less than two weeks away from the release of my debut novel, “Bones and Bourbon.” This will be a short blog post as I prepare for the release, including some ~secret projects~ that will be revealed soon.

For now, marvel at this glorious book cover!

BonesandBourbon-f500

Cover art for “Bones and Bourbon” created by Natasha Snow.

Shout-out to Natasha Snow for her hard work in creating this gorgeous cover~

Doesn’t it make you want to start reading right away? What a coincidence, because not only can you now read up about the book on NineStar Press’s website, but you can also preorder an ebook copy through them–which you can then download and start reading three days early! There will be an excerpt forthcoming, along with preorders for print releases on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other major print retailers.

Also, for those of you who frequent Facebook, there will be a Ninestar Author Takeover party this Saturday, where I and other authors will discuss our upcoming releases, complete with raffles and prizes! I’ll be presenting at 3 PM EST (which for those on the West Coast like me, that’ll be at Noon), so stop by and say hi!

Now, back to work I go; there are events to plan, promotional projects to prepare, and many, many emails to type up.

I think I’m going to need more coffee.

~Dorian

ADDENDUM: You can now add “Bones and Bourbon” on Goodreads!

A Recipe for Deadly Drinks

So this is what daylight looks outside of the dreaded Editing Mines! It’s a different kind of bright from a computer screen, isn’t it? Unlike the east coast, we’re getting some sun in between the bouts of rain, so it actually feels like spring, as April should.

Speaking of April, know what releases in less than three weeks? That’s right, “Bones and Bourbon” releases April 23rd, available in both print and ebook formats wherever books can be acquired online (and, if all works out, at certain bookstores and conventions)! Right now, we’re busy with copyediting, finalizing the cover art (it is GORGEOUS and I cannot wait to share it with you), and preparing to promote the book with everything from events like the Author Facebook Takeover to some top-secret projects.

It’s been a long, strange journey to get “Bones and Bourbon” to where it is now. Ever wonder how a novel comes to be? Here’s the story on how this one happened.

The journey started one Xmas morning when I was still in high school. Though I had been writing fanfiction for years at that point (some stories with enough “fan characters” and alternate settings that they were almost completely original works), it had never occurred to me to become an author; my goal was actually to write for video games, inspired by JRPGs such as Final Fantasy X and Chrono Cross. Then I opened one particular book: the writer’s digest Plot and Structure by J. Scott Campbell.

I had a revelation: instead of being beholden to the constraints of graphics and commercial deadlines in video games, I could just write the stories on my own! I could be an author! I read this book on writing as if it were the holy grail of inspiration, and as soon as I shut the cover, I closed my eyes to brainstorm a novel (as if it were so easy). What popped into my head was a man standing aloft on a ship made entirely of bones as it bore him over a churning ocean in a storm. I decided the man’s name was Retz Gallows.

He was not the protagonist.

Originally, Retz was a straight-up necromancer who used his powers to keep his deceased girlfriend alive, and was the call to action for a mild-mannered metal-bender named Samson. That story wasn’t developed enough to last beyond the first chapter, and I soon moved on to an X-Man-esque story called “Arcanum,” where certain individuals developed superpowers as a reaction to traumatic incidents. This was where Retz’s powers shifted into controlling just bones instead of the undead in general, though he was also a cowardly romantic, as much comic relief as he was a friendly rival to the protagonist. I kept adding characters into the story as I designed it; my plan was to make a long webcomic with a diverse ensemble cast, with Retz just being one cog in a complicated machine.

Cue a friend telling me about a tabletop game known as Changeling: the Lost and asking me to make a character for it. Without knowing much about the setting, I created Jarrod, a gun-wielding, hard-drinking investigator trying to clear the name of his disgraced father. When I drew him, he looked vaguely like Retz—more a testament to my art style at the time than anything—but I decided that they could be brothers. Jarrod joined the “Arcanum” cast and became the serious, non-supernatural counterpoint to Retz. As I built the plot, I decided he was a spy against his will for one antagonist, due to cursed roses planted in his skin—and if he didn’t comply, he’d turn into a plant completely, a fate his father had already suffered.

They were still not the protagonists. With how much screentime they stole in the story before they were even introduced, however, they might as well have been the stars. Individually, they each had more artwork than even the protagonist of the series! So instead of burying them in a giant ensemble cast, I decided to give them their own story to run amok in. I wrote about them in my college writing workshops and played them in tabletop RPG campaigns, which led to me spending my school breaks trying to write the first books in the “Deadly Drinks” series. Which were…only around 50k words each, the same length as a NaNoWriMo entry, and read more like bizarre episodes of Supernatural with the serial codes filed off. Eww.

Even though these early attempts will never see the light of day, they did serve the purpose of sharpening my skills and helping me figure out what I wanted “Deadly Drinks” to be about. I brainstormed a new start to the Gallows brothers’s adventures, pulling in concepts from my college classes and characters I hadn’t used in years. Giving Jarrod a steady romantic relationship from the start was inspired by my medieval romance professor’s comment on the rarity of such things in romances, though it took time before I settled on Farris, who was a surprisingly popular non-player character I’d made for a Changeling: the Lost game I’d run. Nalem was originally a god I’d created for a fantasy series in high school, and making him share Retz’s body stemmed from wanting to explore a deeper connection between protagonist and antagonist that I hadn’t seen much in fiction. Orphaned heroes too common? I made sure the Gallows brothers had BOTH parents alive…or at least undead and sentient enough to influence their lives.

Along came November 6th of 2012, a date I can only concretely recall because it was also the night Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term. During my science fiction analysis class in college, I was struck by a flash of inspiration, and a scene in the back of my mind’s eye: Retz and Jarrod fighting a multi-headed snake, leaping across gilded cages suspended from chains in a castle as they tried not to be devoured. There were creatures in these cages, including two fire spirits that the brothers had to rescue. I had to know why.

I could not tell you what that day’s class was about; I instead wrote the entire initial outline of what is now “Bones and Bourbon” in that class period. I fleshed out the opening chapters, one for each brother, during my writing workshops over the next few terms, while I wrote the novel in whatever spare time I had. I had to rewrite it as I went and the story continued to change, particularly as I realized that the brothers weren’t entirely human—instead being half huldra, which explained how they could survive in their dangerous urban fantasy world—and that Jarrod was transgender like some of my close friends. I wrangled the story together, finished the first draft on a friend’s couch at the start of my senior year of college, and immediately wrangled a few of my constant classmates to beta-read for me so I could prepare draft two.

Flash forward to last year. “Bones and Bourbon” was polished enough to send to agents and publishing presses, with the first draft of its sequel finished and the third book in the series underway. No surprise, it garnered a few rejections at first—I even rewrote most of Retz’s introduction to make it more engaging, since most submission requirements only reached partway through his first chapter. Between querying agents and participating in Twitter pitchfests, all I’d hoped for was a bite of interest. #SFFPit rolled around in June, and after crafting a slew of pitches (a different one for each hour, some of them crafted on the spot during breaks at work), I sent off this tweet:

 

It wasn’t the most popular or exciting of the pitches…but it did garner the attention of NineStar Press. I ran to my computer after work to research this publishing press. Deciding it sounded like a legitimate press that would respect my work and wasn’t in danger of folding, I submitted my manuscript—almost five years old if its ‘birth’ was the creation of its outline—and kept writing while I waited. The website FAQ told me to expect a 12 week response time. I heard back in 2—and it was a resounding YES.

Now, here we are. Less than three weeks until release date, when this story that was once scribbled on in-class notebook paper is unleashed upon the world, and those boys I imagined on a whim will finally get to share their adventures with all of you.

Dear readers, I hope you’re as excited as I am.

~Dorian

Liebster Award Nomination!

This week in Exciting Author Things, I was nominated for the Liebster Award by Alice Gristle, a fellow author and artist whose witty observations and dedication to her work are as admirable as they are entertaining. As stated here, the Liebster Award is a way to spread the word about the small-scale blogs that we enjoy to those who might not hear about them otherwise. Thank you again for the nomination, Alice!

Liebster Award Image

On that note, I’m glad that readers are enjoying this blog so far. It’s nice having a place where I can ramble about writing theories, creators and works I enjoy, pop culture, and whatever else happens to catch my eye each week. The fact that it’s giving others something to think about is icing on the cake, so thank you all for reading so far (and if this is your first time here, thanks for checking it out)!

Now for the fun part: I get to answer Alice’s three questions, then ask my own nominees three questions of my own. Without further ado…

The Casual: What’s going on at the moment? What are you working on, writing-wise?

Right now, my main focus is on editing; “Bones and Bourbon” is about to release (currently slated for April 23rd) and needs its final rounds of editing, and I’m simultaneously working on my unnamed space novella for NineStar’s “Lost” collection, which is due April 30th. Once those are done, I’ll get back to work on writing the first draft of the third “Deadly Drinks” book, and then start the second draft of book two. Plus brainstorming for all the other projects I have on the backburner, such as the space setting that the novella is technically a prequel to, plus the tentatively titled “Chimera,” “Nightmare Twin,” and “Fracture” projects. My mind’s a busy place to be.

As for what’s otherwise going on, my birthday is this Friday (when good food shall be devoured and much Magic the Gathering will be played), and I get to catch up with family a week afterwards as I bring my brother home from college for Spring Break. I have a Changeling: the Lost campaign I’m preparing to run, and I’m hoping my day job stabilizes and stops being on metaphorical fire for a bit.

The Conan: What is best in life? But we’ll make this harder – you’re not allowed to say “writing”, which would be a cheap cop-out, nor are you allowed to mention the lamentation of women!

Perhaps this stems from being a mountain hermit in my youth, but I’ve realized there’s nothing quite like getting out and experiencing the world. Have you ever stopped to think about how impressive it all is? There are so many lives and intricate ecosystems going on around us all the time, from the animals running around in the woods to the civilians passing through the city. There are so many stories and experiences waiting to be born from the girl who climbed a tree outside the downtown restaurant you were eating at, the time you went on a hike and a coyote pup followed you home, from weird facts about how your favorite fruit evolved or the odd customer you had during the holidays.

Our world inspires so many stories because it is truly stranger than any fiction could ever be. And in the end, isn’t that what’s wonderful about it?

The Conniving Communist: What is most unjust in life? Again, Alice denies cop-outs! “Not having enough time to write” is not acceptable.

Time to get serious for a moment. The way I see things, most of the problems in this world are connected with a lack of empathy and respect. The rich slashing the budgets of necessary programs for the underprivileged in order to save a buck, the gunmen who want to hurt others as much as they can on their way out, the newest fad diet ingredients leading to the destruction of habitats and backbreaking labor in order to farm them…none of these things would happen if the perpetrators could bring themselves to care about the pain they cause others. The fact that such greed and selfishness can run rampant in our world is…disheartening, to say the least.

As for the questions I will ask, they are:

The Deep Thought: What story has made you think the most? Doesn’t have to be your favorite or least favorite, but a story that stuck with you and dwelled in your thoughts long after it was over.

The Empty Space: What is something from your youth that you don’t encounter nowadays? Do you miss it?

The Starman: What’s a hobby you once had that you’ve since left behind, and would you ever consider picking it up again?

And while I’m not the sort to tag people in things, I do have a number of blogs I enjoy enough to nominate, and if they choose to accept, most excellent! I nominate the blogs of the following awesome individuals:

M.D. Neu

Holly Evans

Audrey Driscoll

Ellen Meny

Jess Moore

Thank you five (and all the other blogs I follow, of course!) for making my days brighter with your witty words.

Speaking of words, time to bury myself in editing again. Until next time, dear readers~

~Dorian

To First Drafts and Beyond!

First, a victory announcement: I just finished the first draft of my novella for NineStar Press’ “Lost” collection! It has polyamorous alien space pirates versus mad scientists and totally-not-dinosaurs! During at least the last five thousand words of the book, I listened to nothing but Meat Loaf’s discography, and everything is glorious!

The novella also ended up clocking in at almost 35,000 words; the collection requires between 30k and 120k, but I erred on the shorter side so I’ll have plenty of time to edit before the April 30th deadline. This was a new challenge for me, since I usually either write novels that are over a hundred thousand words, or short stories that tend to be under ten thousand. Thus, today I’m going to discuss the process of creating this novella, and how it differed from my usual methods (and what tended to be par for the course.)

First, I had to settle on an idea and an overarching plot in the first place. Other than the length, the only requirements were that characters were somehow lost, and that LGBTQIA+ romance be incorporated into the story. As I mentioned in the Valentine’s blog post, I’m not as inclined toward writing romance outside of pre-established relationships, so I bounced around a couple different ideas; a superhero and supervillain who get lost together and team up to escape while falling for each other, a demon trying to help a failed cultist after a ritual goes wrong, etc. But the idea I kept coming back to was an old sci-fi staple; getting lost on an alien planet. I already had a story in mind for a space fantasy setting, but with a long plot and an entire spaceship crew’s worth of characters, I figured it’d be too bloated to cram into a novella.

What I COULD do, however, was write a prequel in the same universe. And I already had a relationship set up to explore; one protagonist’s parents, a polyamourous quartet of space sirens (the Psyrens discussed over here) who were feared and revered pirates before being scattered across the galaxy. Of course I could have these pirates crash onto a bizarre alien planet, and what could be more romantic than four alien pirates who are all in love with each other? I busied myself with plans for what alien planets would be most interesting for these pirates to get lost in—and how to make sure my plots didn’t replicate pre-existing Star Trek episodes (thanks Mom!)

Next came the outline, a process I rigidly cling to even though I always deviate from the outline halfway through like a swiftly-derailing train. I’d already settled on having two protagonists, separating the pirates so they had to find each other and a way to escape, so I had to create two storylines that would meet at the beginning and end, and figure out how to have them mirror each other. It sounds like a complicated juggling act, but thankfully writing the “Deadly Drinks” series, which alternates between the Gallows brothers’ POVs, prepared me for doing it on a smaller scale. The main difference between outlining the two was that I didn’t mark when I would switch protagonists; I rigidly stick to chapter length and alternating in “Deadly Drinks,” but I elected to be looser about scene length and when POV switches happen in this piece.

Then comes perhaps the most necessary part of my process: writing and deleting a series of false starts. I’m not the sort who can actually write scenes out of order, and it often takes me a bit to set my train of plot on the outline track, so to speak. For this novella, the false starts led to an entirely new outline; where I’d originally planned to touch on the quartet early in their pirate days, I decided to go earlier and strengthen the romance aspect by having the story be about how three of the pirates find the fourth member of their spacefaring quartet. All I had to do was answer all the questions this brought up—why wasn’t their fourth member on their alien homeworld, how do the pirates reunite, how can they escape afterwards—and the plot practically wrote itself from there.

I had also originally planned to maroon my dear pirates on a frozen planet with a blood red sun (requiring characters to snuggle for warmth, which is the height of romance in the elements, right?) and hidden underground tunnels where most of the fauna actually survived to avoid all the snow. But between images of classic sci-fi art and a few hours of wandering through “No Man’s Sky,” I decided I wanted to explore the terrors of an alien jungle instead. I decided to keep the expansive network of underground tunnels, but what would the tunnel-dwellers be hiding from? Giant, hungry megafauna, of course. (Perhaps I’ve been playing too much Magic the Gathering, with the recent cards involving Pirates versus Dinosaurs…) And then what if there was intelligent life hiding in those tunnels, unnoticed by spacefarers overhead because the signals were blocked by being underground? That means a chance to introduce *more weird aliens!*

See, that’s perhaps the most important part of writing: there has to be something enjoyable about it. We authors joke about how much writing and editing equals suffering, but if you don’t enjoy the story or its purpose, then what’s the point? Even if they don’t all make it into the final draft, I always make sure I have a few key concepts or scenes in my stories that I want to explore, like a cool fight or examining the details of a magic system. Or, in this case, designing weird aliens who are relatable and “human”, even if they grow mouths instead of scar tissue and can control others with their singing. Yes folks, Psyrens are bizarre, even when they aren’t pirates.

While I had challenges writing my first novella, figuring out issues like pacing and how much information to include or discard, it was also a lot of fun. More room than a short story to add plots, sub-plots, and extra character development, but without the time investment needed for a full novel. Plus, I’m literally writing a classic sci-fi adventure and all the ridiculous twists that entails, but with polyamorous alien pirates. What’s not to love?

I’m taking a few days off from it to celebrate its completion (returning to a for-fun project instead to keep my writing chops up), and then I’ll go back into editing with a clear head. Should all go well, it’ll be ready by the April 30th deadline, and will hopefully release with the rest of the “Lost” collection. We’ll see soon enough~

~Dorian

Soul Love, Slow Burn

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’ve got a long shift at the day job, while my darling dearest waits through jury duty; how romantic! Okay, we’ll actually just be celebrating later in the week, since to us it’s just another day to celebrate our relationship, which is something we do quite often. Yes, we’re one of those ridiculously sappy couples even after years of dating. It’s romantic no matter what day it is.

Surely, this reflects when I write romance in my stories, right? Well…

It’s no secret that romance isn’t my genre of choice. I’ve found a few I’ve enjoyed of late, but it’s a thing I’m picky about. Why? Emotionally, I try to be a practical person, and this applies doubly so to romance. My partner and I’s romance was a long one, years of friendship that later blossomed, and when people express surprise with how long we’ve dated, I just shrug and say “my parent’s dated for thirteen years before getting married.” I’m also the sort that made a checklist of things that would need to happen before even considering marriage (dearest, if you’re reading this, thanks for your patience with all that.)

Needless to say, love at first sight tropes and whirlwind romances make me gag. “You barely know each other!” I cry as I slam the book shut or shut off the movie. And forced romances in other genres, like a fantasy book where the protagonist and obvious love interest A fall into a contrived romance over a story that takes only a few days? Ugh. There are exceptions, but overall, it makes me roll my eyes so hard that I’m surprised I haven’t spent more time staring at the inside of my own skull. Give me a romance that slowly builds across a series, the kind where I cheer when the lovers have already gone through hell together when they finally kiss. That kind of love’s my cup of cocoa.

Furthermore, when I was in college, a discussion in my medieval romance class mentioned that at least in medieval literature, all romance was about the pursuit; there were only a handful of stories that actually touched upon a relationship in-progress. That struck a chord in me, because even as a child I’d noticed this in modern stories too. Just look at the Disney flicks we grew up with; do we ever see the princesses with their princes after their kisses or marriages in the denouement? Even in those shoddy direct-to-video sequels, half the time that relationship doesn’t even factor into the plot. What happens to that happily ever after once the credits have rolled?

Surprising no one, these points affect how I write romance in a couple of ways. Mainly, I like to write a lot of pre-established relationships, where the lovers are at least close friends if not already dating by the time the story starts. Instead of focusing on the pursuit of romance, I find tension in how the couple navigates their issues. Are they strong enough to survive complications? Will their love make them stronger, or does it blind them to darker issues arising in each other?

Valentine-Jarris

Jarrod (L) and Farris (R) sharing a drink for Valentine’s Day

No surprise, you’ll see these points and more come up in the Deadly Drinks series, seeing as protagonist Jarrod Gallows and his boyfriend Farris are already dating when “Bones and Bourbon” starts—and Jarrod hasn’t been entirely open about his past when his possessed brother starts reappearing in his life. There will be other relationships seen later in the series, but even those that start in one book are going to get a chance to breathe and grow throughout the series if I get any say about it.

 

Now, I am slowly starting to branch out and try my hand at showing a romance as it starts. I have a for-fun practice project (which is…totally not a self-indulgent fanfic, nope) that involves romance blooming between characters from literally two different worlds, which will give me some interesting complications to work with as I figure out how to actually write a first kiss. I’m also preparing a novella for NineStar Press’s upcoming “Lost” collection, whose requirements only asked for characters to be lost and for some sort of LGBT+ romance to occur. The result is what I’ve been calling “polyamorous, alien space pirates,” which has a runaway pirate threesome crash on an alien planet and, during their escape, discovering a fourth member of their relationship. I manage to partially avoid my distaste of a whirlwind romance by having them be soulmates, so a sudden connection makes sense because it’s destiny and they’re made for each other…but it’s a step in the right direction. And it has pirates in space! Everything’s better if you chuck it into space.

So happy Valentine’s Day, whether or not you’re in a relationship of your own or just romancing vicariously through fiction. I’ll be working, figuring out how to write the final romantic scene for my space pirates, and looking forward to many more years with my slowburn sweetheart.

~Dorian

Time After Timing

Before I begin this week’s blog, I must quickly apologize for how sporadic the blog’s been recently. Still trying to figure out how to balance deadlines, i.e. making sure my novella’s making timely process before its ultimate due date of April 30th while remembering to come up with blog topics. I’ll hopefully be better about this once the first draft is done and I’m onto the editing stage, but we all have things to learn as content creators, now don’t we?

In a similar vein is the topic of this week’s blog, which is one of the first things I had to learn as a writer: timing.

Back when I got my start writing fanfiction, I was notoriously bad at timing. Part of this was because I was so excited to just be writing cool ideas that I wrote whatever came to mind and let the story guide me—the ultimate pantser, so to speak. Which would’ve been fine if I didn’t write “hot off the presses” and posted updates as soon as they were written (which the posting guidelines for fanfiction.net explicitly warned us not to do back in the day). I was notorious for scenes dragging on too long, only to suddenly crash into the ending with no foreshadowing because that’s what I happened to write that afternoon. Perhaps that’s why I’m such a vicious plotter and self-editor now?

Either way, I’d like to think that years of constructive criticism from readers and workshops have helped me turn timing into one of my strengths in my writing, instead of a glaring weakness. I put a lot of thought into how I pace my stories, and that’s weighing particularly heavy on my mind this week as I near the end of my novella’s first draft. Thus, I’m going to talk about a couple of tips and tricks I’ve picked up about timing, so I can get into the headspace of puzzling out how I’m writing this ending.

  • There’s a delicate balance between action and rest. No matter how much is happening in your story, characters still need a moment to breathe and process what’s going on. Without such respites, they won’t have time to reflect on what’s happening—and neither will your readers. How much time you need depends on what kind of story you’re writing. If the action scenes are few but really need to stand out, you can get away with having more time to reflect and build character. A film that’s actually a great example of this is the movie Redline; there are two big races, one at the beginning and one at the end, and the rest is building up characters and stakes while gearing up for the ultimate race. On the other hand, if you’re trying to keep the characters and readers on their toes, however, you can actually pull off interrupting a calmer scene with a sudden beat of action, something Cordelia Kingsbridge does well in Can’t Hide From Me.

  • From a technical standpoint, reading tends to drag on if the sentences and paragraphs end up the same length; the repetition becomes monotonous. Furthermore, structure can be used to convey mood and tension. Action tends to be clipped. Clipped sentences. Short paragraphs grab our attention. But if the sentence goes on longer, it usually signifies a calm in the action…or at least that things are slow enough that the protagonist can stop to notice and think about things. Changing things up in your sentence structure like this will actually help the flow, amongst other things.

    (On a related note: Sentence structure can also be used to differentiate character voices. When reading “Bones and Bourbon,” note how Jarrod is more curt and thus uses shorter sentences that are to-the-point, while Retz has a tendency toward longer but more casual sentences.)

  • I often work with multiple protagonists in my longer stories, so timing becomes important in order to maintain consistency in the story. It’s not a matter of rehashing the same timeframe or event with different characters; seeing the same thing on repeat bores readers unless there’s enough variance between the differing POVs. I tend to utilize switching between POVs to escape lulls in the story. In “Bones and Bourbon” for example, there’s a lot of travel that takes place, and the Gallows brothers aren’t always in the same location. Readers don’t need to see the entire journey, so I use that as a time to swap, such as when Jarrod gets hired by a client and is traveling to them for more details, so I let him travel while seeing what Retz is up to in the interim.

    Showcasing the same scene in different points of view can be a little trickier, especially if you’re trying to see the same moment for both of them. The trick here is that if you rewind or fast-forward time so one protagonist can catch up with the other, to do so in small increments. When Jarrod and Retz reunite, I reach the scene first in Jarrod’s POV, where he notices evidence that his brother’s shown up, but how and why is a mystery. When I return to Retz’s POV, I only go backwards by a scene, showing his lead-up to how he leaves the evidence behind, and then continue moving forward. If I had moved too far back—such as having Retz’s chnapter start an entire day before what just took place in Jarrod’s scene—it would be too much of a difference for the readers. (Unless, of course, Retz’s chapters were always a few days before Jarrod’s, but I would have to keep that consistent.)

  • I’ve always been fascinated by parallels, callbacks, and reprises, those spaces in a story that echo an earlier event in some way. Sometimes this is to repeat an emotional response, and other times to subvert it, but either way requires timing to pull off. A silly example I remember from my childhood (so you don’t have to) was the pilot movie for the short-lived TV Show Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. In one fight scene, Buzz Lightyear is training a robot companion and says “You’re good, but I’m better,” only for the robot to destroy a bunch of enemies and repeat the line back at him, echoing the sentiments of heroism and one-upmanship…only to get shot by the main bad guy, who then echoes the line again, still boasting but considerably more sinister. While it showcases both uses of a callback quite well, it all takes place over the course of about one minute—without time for the line and its implications to settle, the repeated line just becomes annoying at best.

I could go on, but blogs are bidden to timing too in order to keep readers’ attention, and letting your eyes glaze over at this rate would defeat my point. Timing is a delicate act, and to complicate it further, everyone has different preferences over it—just look at the debate over pacing in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In the end, like any writing technique, timing becomes a matter of not just skill, but preference, style, and what suits the story best.

Now dear readers, I believe it’s time for me to get this novella finished.

~Dorian