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

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

Madness to the Methods (On Editing)

In lieu of blogging last week, I instead worked on the first round for editing on “Bones and Bourbon” before it releases. However, this was technically an optional round; my editor isn’t actually starting his work until February. I had a couple reasons why, so I figured I would share the most important ones with you dear readers. Even if you aren’t an author in the midst of the writing/editing process, I hope it still provides an informative look at what goes on backstage before a book goes live.

1. How Do These Work Again?

As I was originally querying for “Bones and Bourbon,” I was also working on the other books in the series. The second book was finished and sent to my beta reader and I began work on book three. Amongst other things, the third book prominently features the furaribi, Japanese fire-spirits first seen in “Bones and Bourbon.” When I started working on that, I decided to brush up on furaribi facts for ideas…and realized that more information had been dug up about these obscure supernaturals, which I had missed out on while writing the later “Bones and Bourbon” drafts because I’d lived in The Middle of Nowhere with all its dial-up internet glory.

I’d fixed most of these details before sending the novel to NineStar Press. However, now that I’ve written about half of the third book and settled on a few other worldbuilding details, I wanted to make sure that all the details for the furaribi worked between the two books. A minor example of one such detail was that originally, Aimi mentioned being only sixteen, and furaribi lifespans were implied to be much like human ones. After the research and edits, furaribi are much longer lived—Aimi still looks like a teenager, but there are hints that she’s far older than her looks suggest…

Other supernatural details also had to be doublechecked for logic and consistency, such as how huldra bodies operate (could/would a hollow body still be able to produce sweat and tears?), whether the details of the occasionally-used alchemy made sense, and so on. After seeing how other authors have changed the rules of their magic mid-story and thus created plotholes (unless Harry Potter’s Hagrid is MEANT to secretly be the most powerful wizard who taught himself wordless magic), I’ve decided to err far on the side of caution when it comes to making my universe work.

2. Wait, That’s Offensive!

Not only do I hail from the Middle of Nowhere, without access to much media, and also in a predominantly small town of predominantly average white folks. Most of what I learned from diversity was learned from my time at Mills College down in California, and then by actively seeking diverse voices in literature and social media since then. Much as I try, I’ll be the first to admit that I still have a lot to learn about being a good ally.

As I discussed earlier in a twitter thread, I didn’t realize that albinos were often portrayed as villains or enigmatic, otherworldly beings, and how damaging that stereotype is. It makes complete sense when thought about, but not knowing any albinos personally, I simply didn’t think about it until someone brought that up. Problem was, “Bones and Bourbon” originally implied that main antagonist Nalem’s original body and thus true form…was albino. Erk.

Thus, during this edit of “Bones and Bourbon,” I removed all references of Nalem being albino and even changed a couple scenes and concepts around to fit this. I could’ve chosen to ignore the stereotype, clung to how long the character had been this way (I even had commissioned art of that particular design), and simply resolved to make it up in a later story while maybe subverting the stereotype somehow in this one. But if I did that, I still would’ve added to that damaging stereotype now, and potentially hurt my readers in the process. I’d rather spend a few hours changing details in my novel than spread harmful stereotypes for however long my book is read.

Another note I should add is to doublecheck words that refer to a minority group—be it race, sexuality, disability, or any other group—and make sure that the group that word is referring to doesn’t find it offensive. Some words used to be in common use and are now considered offensive (I know I caught one that had somehow snuck its way into my book). Others are words we’re told are offensive, but the minority group actually prefers it (such as discussions I’ve seen about those who are disabled preferring that term instead of “differently abled” or other such tip-toeing phrases). We creators don’t get to decide what is and isn’t offensive to people outside our experiences, so make sure to defer to the experts who’ve lived it.

3. A Season of Consistency

When I first wrote “Bones and Bourbon,” the story was set in Autumn, right around protagonist Retz’s birthday. It was full of pure Oregon atmosphere, full of pouring rain, falling leaves, drowning rain, apple harvests, early frosts, and even more all-consuming rain. For a variety of reasons, I decided that atmosphere was better suited for the second book, and thus I booted “Bones and Bourbon” back a couple months, to the end of July and beginning of August. Contrary to popular belief, Oregon does mostly take a break from the rain during the summer, especially during the last couple years where it’s instead been on fire.

I thought I’d edited out all the rain, save for one scene where I planned to keep it in (because what’s Oregon without at least a little rain?) Readers, I had to rearrange whole fight scenes to remove mentions of splattering mud and blood intermingling with the rain. I even found other consistency issues I’d somehow glossed over, including a reference to an encounter that was no longer in the book. Glad I caught that before readers could ask what that fight was about and how a taser got involved.

4. Making a Career of Evil

Villains are fun to write. Villains are also hard to write, because it’s so easy for them to seem funny instead of scary. Dracula may sound scary, but how terrifying can an elder vampire be when he’s seen bashing himself against a window in bat-form because there’s too much garlic in the way?

Many great villains get a chance to monologue about their evil plans, and Nalem gets his chance to shine in the middle of the book. When I read through this speech during my edits, however, I found it to be all style and no substance. His rivals were right to mock him, and I almost joined in! You can’t take a villain seriously if even the author thinks he’s all bark and no bite. I’d also developed a bit more about his past schemes and modus operandi while writing the later books, so I rewrote his speech both to sound more sensible to his audience and to better fit his plans later in the series.

These are by no means the only edits I did, and I’m sure the editing process is far from over, but at least I got these four main issues out of the way. Now more than ever, I’m excited that I’m actually in the process of publishing my first novel, and in a few short months, it will be available for the world to read. I must admit that it’s a little scary too, mostly because once this book is published, so many details for the rest of the series will be set in stone, and that means no more last-minute edits to fiddle with details like this. As an author, that’s just something I’ll have to learn to contend with: to finally let the story just be.

Hope you’re as ready for the final form of this story as I am.

~Dorian

Star Studded Settings

I don’t usually give much thought to celebrities (I only recognize a handful, if we’re being honest), but today marks the second year David Bowie’s been gone, and just a little over a year since Carrie Fisher’s passing, so I’ve been mulling over the concept a bit. It’s an impressive concept, to be so well-known and loved (or hated, in some cases) that your mere existence affects the social landscape, that people who’ve never met you have had their lives changed by your work. I know I cried when Bowie passed, and nearly did again during a certain scene with Fisher in The Last Jedi.

Naturally, I got to thinking: how does the role of a celebrity affect fictional worlds? Of course, there’s the celebrity as a character in their own right, from royalty in need of rescuing, or the childhood hero who doesn’t quite stack up to the legends. Instead, I began thinking of the celebrity as a part of setting; we create the specific royalties and pantheons for the worlds we create, but what about those folks the populace looks up to? Perhaps more importantly, what do your characters think about such celebrities, even if they never chance to meet?

Consider a couple ideas…

  • First off, what kind of celebrities might exist in your setting? Are they similar to those in our world, such as musicians and actors? Is it a fantasy world where adventurers are praised? A paranormal romance where werewolf wrestling is a key sport in the occult underground? Fans arguing over which of their favorite space diplomats have initiated more successful first contacts? Consider your setting’s culture and values, and use that to determine what its people would be fans of.

  • Need to showcase the passage of time and its effects? Use news about your celebrity. Say a tyrannical government is cracking down on free speech, so suddenly the concerts of everyone’s favorite musician is being canceled, but those in the gossip chain heard that he can now be found at a hidden speakeasy. Or a politician fell from grace during book one, but a calamity struck in book two and she helped with the reconstruction efforts, so she’s now back in the people’s good graces by book three.

  • Social events follow celebrities like felines to catnip, and these can be great scenes to showcase a different side of your character. What would force them to end up at a dance, a playwright’s newest show, a high-stakes competition crowded with onlookers—or are these events your characters would visit willingly? A celebrity’s influence can also cause such events to show up suddenly. Imagine a team of crackshot thieves are prepared to hijack a vehicle full of money when it hits a planned route; how do they react when a celebrity suddenly passes, and now the route’s been changed to make way for the funeral procession?

  • A celebrity’s opinions can have great effect on their fans, for good or ill. Say your characters are trying to enact social change, such as a good ol’ fashioned revolt and overthrow of the fantastical government. What will they do if the local celebrity disapproves and the public turns against them? Or if the celebrity approves, and now the rebellion’s ranks swell with more new members than they know what to do with?

  • Connected to that last point: consider how fervently devoted some fans are for their celebrities. Simultaneously consider events like pilgrimages made to the home of Elvis Presley, or the artwork of Carrie Fisher as a Saint (may she protect us and remind us to take our meds, amen). What if there is a celebrity who garners as much belief as a god in your setting…and if there are actual gods in this setting, what are their opinions on the matter?

  • If nothing else, there’s always the celebrity as good old-fashioned metaphor. Is your protagonist’s favorite dancer a beacon of hope, believing that no matter how dark things get, life still goes on so long as the dancer keeps moving? Perhaps the dancer represents a rogue’s lost dreams of what they could’ve been in another life—and if the rogue then realizes they’re still just as dexterous and nimble due to their lifestyle, or that their time adventuring has made them just as famous? Now you’ve got some growth and character development.

I’m sure there are plenty of other uses for famous folks in your fiction, and this isn’t even touching upon them as characters in their own right. That’s part of a celebrity’s allure, I think; the fact that their fame can say so much about a world without them speaking a single word.

Now if you’ll excuse me dearests, I’m going to bury myself in David Bowie’s discography for the rest of the day. Maybe watch The Blues Brothers again so I can see Carrie Fisher wielding a rocket launcher. It’ll be a good day.

~Dorian

Favorite Reads of 2017

Congratulations, dearest readers: you all made it to 2018! If your year was anything like mine, it was a roller coaster that was done before you even finished strapping yourself in. While most of it was a parade of bizarre news and awful weather, the year did have its bright spots. For me, one of the best perks of 2017 was all the books!

A quick confession: I’d actually taken a bit of a break from hardcore reading the past few years. Not to say I stopped reading entirely—an author that doesn’t read is like a scientist who doesn’t research, after all—but I had a hard time sticking with books that didn’t instantly grab me (or, if we’re being honest, fanfiction). I kept telling myself I was too busy to commit to a book, or that I was sick of over-analyzing stories after college.

Then “Bones and Bourbon” was accepted by Ninestar Press (and releases in three months, that’s so soon I can’t believe it), and in order to better get to know fellow readers and authors in my community, I volunteered to be a judge for the Rainbow Awards. Plus, I resumed social media and met all sorts of other authors on Twitter and Goodreads, ended up at the San Diego Comic Con and found more books, and so on. To make up for all the time lost, I threw myself headlong into reading, and now?

Now, I’m going to share with you my top ten favorite reads of 2017! There’s no particular order to this list; just a collection of books I enjoyed this year, from mainstream to indie, genre or otherwise.

  1. The Animal Man Omnibus, as written by Grant Morrison

    This whopper of a comic collection was what kicked off 2017 for me, being my 2016 Xmas gift from my partner. For those who don’t know what’s so special about Grant Morrison’s take on Animal Man, I won’t spoil the fun, but if you’re a fan of deconstructing superheroes, underutilized characters, and comic book metanarratives, Animal Man is a treat. I especially recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics (especially since they’re technically in the same universe…)

  2. Can’t Hide From Me by Cordelia Kingsbridge

    The first book I read for the 2017 Rainbow Awards, and one of my favorites to boot. This thriller has the perfect balance of conflict and romance, as its secret agent protagonists try to avoid both a killer and the threat of falling back in love with each other. All the characters are entertaining and well-developed (and diverse to boot!), the action is on point, and the use of tension is masterful.

  3. Haunting Muses, anthology curated by Doreen Perrine

    Four words: Lesbian Ghost Story Anthology. The premise alone is exciting, but all the stories within were so good! The definition of ghosts ranged wildly, from literal apparitions (some of who were the titular lesbians, but not always) to memories, ancestors, or even the faint reminders of a long-lost relationship. There are funny stories and dark ones, romances and tales of terrors, and even the sweetest zombie love story I’ve ever read.

  4. Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

    I’ve been meaning to read more Seanan books for awhile now, having only experienced her pseudonym Mira Grant (and some of her music, actually). Discount Armageddon was one of the most fun reads I had, where just the protagonist’s view on life is enough to lighten the narrative. I also loved how many less-common creatures were used (or invented, such as the cuckoos), and how the few familiar creatures we saw were given unique twists—and being the worldbuilding geek I am, I loved all the realistic biological details. Hail!

  5. Fire Sea by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

    The third book in the Death Gate Cycle, Fire Sea wasn’t a quick read, but definitely a worthwhile one. Each book takes place on a different world, and this one is a slowly dying planet whose inhabitants utilize necromancy and the strength of the dead in order to keep the living alive. The concept alone was fascinating, but add in two rival protagonists who must work together to survive, even with conflicting ideas on what should be done with the knowledge of necromancy in their inter-planetary war? Moral AND magical conundrums, a delicious combination.

  6. Sweet Blood by Dusk Peterson

    Sweet Blood is a special entry in this list, because while I didn’t like all of it, it gave me the most to think about out of all the books on this list. It’s the fifth book in a series, is technically five novellas strapped together into one book, and starts with a sadistic torturer punishing one of his own—but while it’s certainly not for everyone, there’s such wonderful craft past that opening! Inspired by historical prison reforms, this novel brings up important moral questions about redemption, sacrifice, how to balance tradition and revolution, and so much more. Even minor characters have intriguing developments, there’s worldbuilding even in minor details like the presence of hot cocoa in the dungeon, and that sadistic torturer I mentioned? He’s so multifaceted and developed that he became one of my favorite characters. Still trying to wrap my head around that one.

  7. The Ancient Magus Bride by Kore Yamazaki

    I jokingly call this my guilty pleasure manga, but I admit, I’m a sucker for anything with properly dark faeries and magic. Not only is this series well-researched in regards to British folklore and detailed with its unique brands of magic, but it’s a story of hope overcoming despair, be it saving endangered dragons or just learning new magics at home. Plus, who doesn’t want to smooch the powerful, naive eldritch wizard with a skull head?…Just me, huh?

  8. Hearts of Darkness by Andrea Speed

    Another book that, while not perfect, was flat-out fun to read. The protagonist is a master supervillain’s son who comes into his own as he doublecrosses other villains and heroes alike, with the help of overpowered gadgets and an adorable assassin sidekick. The evil plans don’t experience too many hiccups, but sometimes, it’s fun to just watch a protagonist be openly wicked as he crushes his competition throughout the city. Plus, one of the “good guys” that gets thwarted is basically Batman, which I found outright hilarious.

  9. Ardulum: First Don by J.S. Fields

    First off, bonus points for not only having prominent aliens in this sci-fi story, but having almost all of the POV characters be aliens. Especially when those aliens come from such vastly different worlds and backstories (and are all apparently inspired by different types of fungi to boot)! I also like that as the plot goes on, ripples and repercussions arise across the different POVs, especially across the radio transmissions heading many of the chapters. It’s such a cool technique to holistically tie all the storylines and settings together.

  10. Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson

    First off: that art. Just look at that art a long moment. Then go read the comic and see how much more of a gut-punch the plot is, its gorgeous art refusing to shy away from the visceral and terrifying. You would think that animals solving occult mysteries would be cute and quirky like a Scooby Doo knockoff? Read this comic and let your perceptions be ripped apart to shreds. Then give your pets a nice, long hug.

And now, as a bonus entry:

  1. Utter Fabrication: A Historical Account of Unusual Buildings, curated by Dawn Vogel and Jeremy Zimmerman

    Okay, this one’s cheating a little, because I have a short story in it, “The Orpheus Well.” Of course I’m going to like it. But even if you completely ignore my story, all the other entries are so good and diverse! From haunted spaceships to disappearing bike racks and fantastical hideaways, this anthology explodes with cool ideas and nifty words. Little touches like the transition markers and the extra artwork show what a labor of love this was; I’m honored that I got to be a part of it.

There’s the verdict, dearest readers. Now, onto all the books of 2018—including mine!

~Dorian

Laugh it Up

Like many others, I rushed to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi in theaters this past weekend. Now, I’m not going to spoil any plot points, but one spoiler-free element of the film surprised me: it had a sense of humor. That isn’t to say that Star Wars is a series without humor, but instead of dry humor and droid jokes, there are conversations that were genuinely funny, and a few moments where a combination of timing and unexpected reactions caused the whole theater to erupt in astonished laughter.

Thanks to Star Wars and other pieces of media I’ve seen recently (such as Thor: Ragnarok, finally playing through last year’s Ratchet and Clank game, and so on), I’ve been thinking about the use of humor in stories and genres that aren’t necessarily comedies. When you’re fighting bad guys in space in order to save your home from destruction (which actually describes all three examples above, coincidentally), why should humor be included amidst the action and drama? Actually, when used correctly, humor can actually be used to enhance the mood and tension of the narrative!

Humor can help strengthen the narrative in a number of ways. It can be used to highlight what your universe defines as normal; if your character can crack jokes about killer robots that look like crabs, the audience learns that either crab-bots are normal in this universe, or at least fitting in with the rules this universe has set up. Funny moments can help give characters (and the audience) a chance to breathe and collect their thoughts between action beats. It can also be used to betray expectations, such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi mentioned above, or in reverse where something seems to be funny but turns out to have a shocking consequence.

For an example on how this can work, I’m going to discuss an eccentric video game, Disgaea 4. It’s a comedic tactics game where a fallen-from-power vampire decides to overthrow a corrupt regime in order to fulfill the promises of fair treatment he made to his disenfranchised employees. Such a premise could make for a gritty, supernatural political thriller, but the humor is what makes the story—such as the vampire getting upset at a newspaper, not for running a smear campaign against him, but because of its atrocious spelling mistakes. Or the fact that he thinks sardines are a proper source of food for himself and payment for the series’ trademark exploding penguins.

We're serious about sardines here.

Just like any other vampire…?

Part of this humor comes from the reactions of other characters, such as the vampire’s resigned werewolf butler, which helps explain which aspects are normal (the exploding penguins) and which are uniquely the vampire’s eccentricities (his commitment to eating sardines instead of drinking blood). Tough attacks on a demonic overlord’s regime gets broken up by a teenage girl teaching her adopted younger sister/world-destroying weapon in-training, a breather moment that also serves as a subplot about humanity and sisterhood. And when the humor takes a backseat to penguin-exploding vampire revenge schemes, the risk of that being lost to our protagonist forever helps us realize the stakes in place.

My stories tend to face dark concepts, such as a demon collecting her first soul or a paranormal mercenary trying to save his brother from 20+ years of possession. Dark can be fun, but if a story stays dark for too long, it can become an emotional drag for readers. The demon child may be all-powerful, but she can still be confused why Earth canines are so much smaller than her hellhound Huckleberry. The possessed brother may occasionally try to take over the world, but sometimes the spirit possessing him just really wants dibs on his favorite breakfast pastries.

In the end, humor works much like a good story, wherein the punchline is the plot twist. The unexpected answer to the audience’s question catches them off-guard, be it revealing the identity of the protagonist’s lost parents or why the chicken crossed the road. Laughter and joy can be as memorable as any other emotional reaction to a plot twist—and in today’s world, couldn’t we use just a little bit more laughter?

~Dorian