Rainbow Connections: OryCon and Rainbow Awards

Greetings, dear readers!

A lot has happened in the past month! First was OryCon up in Portland, and then came the Rainbow Awards last week. My head is still spinning from all of it, so it’s high time I sort everything out with a blog post.

First up, OryCon and my thoughts on it. I hadn’t actually planned on attending OryCon this year; I thought I’d missed my window to affordably sign up earlier in the year, so I planned to stay home and focus on writing. But a couple weeks before the event, I received a message from J.S. Fields: one of their tablemates had withdrawn, and they needed someone to take the place as the fourth table member. I crunched numbers and found I could squeeze it in. Two weeks later, with a fresh box of books and bookmarks in my car, I drove up to Portland after work and prepared for a new convention.

OryCon took place from November 8th through 10th, at the Red Lion Hotel on Jantzen Beach right at the border between Oregon and Washington. I was at the Queer Science Fiction table with three other authors: J.S. Fields, wood scientist and author of the Ardulum series; L.M. Pierce, author of the Trans Liberty Riot Brigade; and Ziggy, writer of the Crossing Wires podcast and various short stories. We were fairly close to the opening of the Dealer’s Room, with a jeweler on one side, another author on the other, and a table for selling Filk music across from us. There were quite a few authors at the convention, including friend of the table Ross Winkler, author of A Warrior’s Sacrifice a couple tables down, and multiple tables for groups of authors, like NIWA.

So, how was it all?

First off, when I was still agreeing to the convention, I was informed that OryCon a far slower convention than others in terms of sales, but high in other sorts of connections. I found this to be pretty accurate. For sales, I only sold about 11 books; it was apparently an even slower sales year than usual, and I also witnessed a lot of sales sniping from other vendors. However, those who did buy our books often came back to tell us that they’d started reading and loved what they’d read so far, and those who’d attended before received a lot of interest for the newest books in the other authors’ series.

I wasn’t on any panels myself due to my late addition, but the rest of the authors at my table got to join some, and I did attend the live podcast episode of The Overcast. Panels seemed to run smooth and have strong attendance, and they were spaced apart well enough that those attending multiple panels had ample downtime between them. There were a couple hiccups with programming (a couple panels were incredibly similar, or had descriptions altered to be different than what those who pitched the panels intended), but the actual panels themselves went off well. I also heard that the convention took a lot of feedback between last year and this one, which was good to hear.

As mentioned above, the only panel I made it to was a live recording of The Overcast podcast, run by J.S. Arquin. This was a treat to attend, not only because it was fun to be part of a live show, but because The Overcast produced one of my short stories, Hell is for Children, way back in episode 3. It was amazing to hear how far the show had come, and to get a chance to thank Arquin for taking a chance on me when we were both first starting out.

What made OryCon stand out, however, was the camaraderie. I’d never tabled with other authors before, and it was so inspiring to work with other authors, all of us in small press (with stories published by NineStar Press) but in different places of our journeys. We learned from each other, swapped publishing tips and elevator pitches, and just had a good time chatting in the moments between. Plus, there were plenty of other authors to connect with at other tables, such as talking DnD over at the NIWA table, or even hearing about the WIPs of other con attendees and volunteers.

I returned home from OryCon invigorated in a way I haven’t been from an event before. I’ve reworked parts of my overarching publishing plan, brewed new outlines and plot hooks, and even have some exciting new projects coming down the pipeline. I’ve been writing like mad and scribbling notes in a way that I haven’t been able to for months. I’m inspired. I’m excited. I feel like myself again, bubbling with ideas and ready to roll.

And yet, doubt still creeps in. It always does for authors, no matter where we are in our publishing journeys. So many plans, so much inspiration, and yet I found myself stuck working long hours at the day job (itself busy with the holiday rush), trying to balance family time during the Thanksgiving holiday with completing chores, and where was there time to write? When would I get time to make all these wonderful stories I had planned, if the dishes couldn’t just do themselves?

Then the Rainbow Awards results hit. I’d submitted Bones and Bourbon a whole year ago, but had heard dead silence on the honorable mentions front, so I assumed that it hadn’t quite hit home with the judges. I was ready to take a couple mediocre reviews with grace and congratulate the winners. Then, just before the awards started to roll out late Saturday night on the 7th, two honorable mentions arrived. Sweet, I thought! A couple good reviews, that I could be happy with.

The awards started proper. Fellow author friends hit high notes in their categories. I made a note of books to read. Then I saw the “LGBTA – Contemporary General Fiction, Fantasy & Sci-Fi / Futuristic” category. What was that in second place? Was it somehow….Bones and Bourbon?

It was. And then when the awards resumed rolling out in the morning, it also hit second in the overall “Transgender Book,” and first in the “LGBTA Debut Book” category. For once in my life, I found myself speechless.

All my ideas weren’t for nothing. All the snatched moments of writing between work shifts, all the convention rushes, all the plotting and rewriting…all of it paid off. And it’s all thanks to you, dear readers and judges.

Thank you for taking a chance on my weird and queer debut, full of monsters and broken families all trying to hold themselves together. Thank you to those who found kinship in Jarrod’s struggle to be his true self, in Retz discovering how to be his own person, and all the other journeys within. Thank you to all who laughed at the idea of carnivorous unicorns, who oohed and aahed at the cover, and let it all draw them in. And for every review posted, every time you suggested it to a friend or asked for it in your bookstores and libraries, every time you gave Bones and Bourbon a chance…

I can never thank you enough. But I can release more books I hope you’ll love, shake your hand and dedicate a signed book to you when we meet at a convention (perchance at OryCon next year?), and maybe I can start to show you a fraction of this gratitude that’s filling up my heart.

Dear readers, you’re the best.

~Dorian

Bones and Bourbon – 1 Year Celebration!

It’s hard to believe, but Bones and Bourbon has been out in the book world officially for a year! And what a year it’s been; there have been conventions, a slew of reviews (mostly good ones!), e-pirates, Rainbow Awards, and most importantly, the reviews and support of readers and fans like you!

As thanks, I wanted to do something special for the 1 Year Anniversary of my first full-length novel. So I asked on Facebook and Twitter both what I should do to celebrate, which seemed like a good idea until Facebook votes for special artwork, and Twitter voted on a new short story. What was I to do?

Both, of course.

First off, feast your eyes on some celebratory artwork!

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From left: Isamu, Aimi, Retz (holding a Nalem skull), Jarrod, and Farris

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From left: Lady Delight, the Harvester, Vairi, and Alexander (w/ a Unicorn head)

While I originally planned on illustrating a scene from the book, I wanted something that would appeal to both new readers and those who’ve already enjoyed Bones and Bourbon. Hence why I created two celebration scenes; one with our protagonists, and one with the more…complicated characters. I also included the colors of a pride flag fitting each character in their artwork! Can YOU figure out each flag?

Now, I’m also all for writing new content for our favorite drunk and deadly brothers, and since “Corpses and Cognac” doesn’t have a release date yet, I ended up writing a new tale to get everyone excited. You can read On the Rocks here on this website, but here’s a small excerpt below:

I had expected Jarrod to reveal some taped-together contraption, like the scanners on all the late-night ghost hunting shows I loved to laugh at. Maybe some alchemical concoction to smear over our eyes to see things with. A pair of binoculars, at the very least.

Instead, as we stepped onto a beach more clay than sand, strewn with driftwood with a rickety canoe tied to an even dingier pier, Jarrod pulled a collapsible fishing pole out of his coat. Keep in mind that my brother was short to begin with, and his stupid leather coat reached down to his ankles and was weighed down with about five-billion pounds of supplies, including two pistols and a shotgun he’d left in the car.

“Are you hiding an entire tackle box in there too?” I asked as I eyed the canoe. It was red, relatively clean despite its surroundings, and even had two oars slotted in and ready to go. It totally had to be a kelpie in disguise. They loved disguising themselves as vehicles for people to ride.

“Don’t need one.” This time, Jarrod fished out a lure made from a wine cork and some old bottle caps. “Works great for bass.”

“We’re not here to catch bass, bro.” I side-eyed the canoe before leaning in and whispering, “…We’re not, right? Tell me this wasn’t some huge ploy to trick me into going fishing.”

Taking place right after Bones and Bourbon but requiring no prior knowledge of it, On the Rocks follows Retz and Jarrod (and Nalem, whether he wants to or not) as they investigate some mysterious disappearances along the Columbia river. Par for the course, mishaps and complicated feelings about family ensue. It’s a more lighthearted romp, because hey, I think we all figure the boys could use a break.

I hope you all enjoy the new content! And once again, thank you for all your support. After years of working on this story, with these characters so near and dear to my heart, it’s amazing to be able to share these adventures with others. Your support means the world to me, and I’ll strive to do right by it by giving you all the best book series of brothers fighting monsters (and sometimes each other) that the world has ever seen.

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Here’s to our first year, and many more to come.

~Dorian

PS: If you happen to be around Cottage Grove, OR this Friday (April 26th) evening, find me at the Cottage Grove Art Walk to celebrate in-person! I’ll have books to sign, stories to tell, and perhaps can be convinced to do a reading…you can find me outside of Delight on Main St.

Preparations…

Hello, dear readers! Let me pop in for a quick update…

Things have been busy over in Graves’ world. New projects, upcoming events, and perhaps most importantly…

In two weeks, Bones and Bourbon will be a year old!

I’m working on some special new content to celebrate, both for fans of the book and new readers alike. I can’t say much more, but keep your eyes peeled on this website!

Until then, keep creating!
~Dorian

From the Ashes of Old Tales: on Recycling Characters

Sometimes, a story doesn’t work out. Not enough time, plot doesn’t make sense, the list goes on for reasons why a book idea might get scrapped. But does that mean all that plotting need to go waste? Not at all, which is why this post, I’m going to talk about about recycling…recycling old characters, that is.

I’ve been creating new worlds and stories for years, from fanfiction in my youth to college tabletop campaigns and my published original works nowadays. It’s no surprise that I’ve built up a steady stock of characters over this time…as in, enough to populate at least a small town. Some are newer; most of the characters in my short stories, for example, are made specifically for that story. But others, I’ve been writing and re-writing for years. In Bones and Bourbon alone, I’ve had Retz around since Christmas of 2009, Jarrod was created a few months later, and Nalem was created before either of them in 2007.

(Meaning Nalem’s been around as long as a pre-teen, which explains a lot about what it’s like writing him, now that I think about it.)

Of course, these long-time characters have changed quite a lot since their inception. Retz is ace instead of a cowardly womanizer, Nalem is no longer a benevolent demi-god of darkness (much as he may claim to be), and Jarrod…is still a monster-fighting alcoholic, but now with a boatload of identity issues and a steady boyfriend. Heck, said boyfriend Farris was meant to be a one-time character in my first-ever tabletop campaign, but the players attached to him so much that I kept him around and snuck him into a book, where the readers then attached to him, and now he’s one of the main characters.

So, how does one recycle and reinvent characters? If their details and storylines get changed so much, are they even the same person—and if the answer is no, does that matter?

To explain how this process works, I’m going to explain one of my more extreme examples. I’m going to talk about Nalem.

For those who haven’t read Bones and Bourbon yet—first, please do so if dark fantasy action with bad puns is your thing. Second, Nalem is the main antagonist of the story, an ancient spirit who controls bones and experiences the world through a vessel whose body he steals, that currently being protagonist Retz Gallows. Yet as I mentioned above, I first made him as a benevolent deity, despite him being a demi-god of darkness. What changed, and how much of the old Nalem has stuck around over the past eleven years?

We begin with college, when I’m first working on the Deadly Drinks series and trying to figure out how Retz’s powers work. He’d had the bizarre bone-controlling powers since the moment I made him, but I’d decided I wanted there to be a drawback. (I was super invested in magic having equivalently powerful drawbacks in those days; probably from watching too much Full Metal Alchemist.) I had just finished the first draft of Bones and Bourbon, a draft so early it holds no similarity to the finished product, and Retz spent it all alone in his head…save for a key moment in the climax when he was rescued from possession by a sinister voice in his head whispering “Mine” as the spell was broken.

I wanted to know who that voice belonged to. I tried to make a new antagonist, but all I found were stereotypical creepy necromancers. I wanted someone new. I turned to my roster of characters with no stories of their own, which held an already sizable lineup by the time I turned eighteen.

It didn’t take long to stumble upon Nalem. He already had the design in place; back when he was a character with a body, his trademarks were flowing pale hair, thick sunglasses, and a visible spine that descended into a tail with spiked vertebrae. Even without his body, Nalem was a smooth talking immortal who thought he was better at hiding his temper than he was, insisted he was a hero even when others called him a villain, and already had a history of meddling in the lives of other characters for reasons he believed benevolent.

I still had a lot of work to do in turning him from benevolent demi-god to a wicked body-snatching spirit. The toughest thing about recycling characters is deciding what elements to keep and what to throw away; it’s far too easy to force details in just because it’s supposedly integral to the character. I scrapped a tragic love for a goddess of light, deciding there’d be no true deities appearing in the Deadly Drinks books, and set aside his right-hand soldier for a more high fantasy venture (though somehow, this character ended up in the scifi novella instead…) Nalem always had a musical focus for his powers, but his original castanets didn’t seem quite as fitting for Retz, hence the switch to a far more menacing viola. He lost his family, his backstory, and even his body—but that core identity remained.

Could this Nalem still be called the same character as the original demi-god? In terms of design and backstory, there’s almost no similarity past the skeletal theme. But personality wise? New Nalem was a twist on the old, a musing on what would’ve happened if a kind deity was accused of wickedness too many times, even by his own followers. To quote a certain Blue Öyster Cult song, “If he really thinks we’re the devil, then let’s send him to Hell.”

Thus, we had an antagonist, a counterpoint to Retz who stands in his way from within his own head. And from this twist in his original concept, I found a theme for the Deadly Drinks series in exploring what happens when one’s noble purpose becomes corrupted, plus some commentaries on the pitfalls of immortality. Readers loved to hate him so much that instead of making a one-word debut in the climax, he’s right there in Chapter 1 and keeps up his arrogant sarcasm for the whole book. Not bad for a character born from doodling edgy designs in my notebook during class.

And sometimes, characters are like notebooks. They acquire notes and scribbles and odd extra tidbits in the margins. Sometimes, all that paper gets recycled into a brand new notebook. It’s usually not 100% recycled material, says right there on the sticker; some bits are old, some are new, but all the paper’s still blank and waiting for you to spill ink upon.

~Dorian

Once More, With Feeling

Hello dear readers, I hope you are all well! Things are busy here in Gravesworld, so I figure I’d best give you all an update before starting this week’s blog post.

First off, events! For those near Cottage Grove, I’ll be selling and signing books at Books on Main during the Art Walk, starting at 6 PM. If enough people show up, I may even do a small reading!

Then, come August, you can find me at SpoCon up in Spokane, Washington! Not only will I have my books available, but I’ll also be appearing on a number of panels, discussing everything from fantasy creatures to tabletop games and colonization in sci-fi. If you’re in the area August 10th through 12th, I’d love to see you there.

In other news, not only has Bones and Bourbon continued to do well, but its sequel “Corpses and Cognac” is in the works. We have a tentative release month for it over at NineStar, so long as I am able to complete a workable draft by the end of summer. I’m currently three chapters (out of twenty-one) into Draft 2, and for various reasons, I’m rewriting most of the book.

Sound scary? On the surface, but in this part of the process for me, it’s business as usual. Now that I have a couple books (well, a novel and a novella) under my belt, I have a better idea of what to expect for the jump from Draft 1 to Draft 2. Thus, today’s blog is about the refining process of later book drafts, as we slowly lurch from writing to editing.

In reality, the draft numbers are arbitrary for me; when it comes to the Deadly Drinks books, I’ve actually written them numerous times before Draft 1 is completed. These “Draft 0” stories are the preliminary runs deemed unfinished or unsuitable for publication. Bones and Bourbon’s Draft 0 was only the same in title and protagonists; it didn’t even have Nalem or Farris, much less anything even resembling the same plot. Corpses and Cognac had much of the same characters, but its various early drafts kept wandering in strange directions, ending too early or getting lost in weird concepts that didn’t fit the rest of the book.

Draft 1 is what I call the completed draft I decide I want to refine into a book. The overall characters are in place, the plot hits most of the moments I want, and I have an idea of the book’s themes. If I already have so much in place, why am I still rewriting the entire book for Draft 2? Well, there are a number of reasons…

  • Updating the writing style. I finished Draft 1 back in early 2016, after a couple years of false starts and Draft 0’s. It wasn’t an easy book to develop, so after my beta reader gave it a look, I let it sit for awhile as I started the third book and edited Bones and Bourbon. As such, I’ve written quite a bit since then, and my skills have improved quite a bit. It’s time to bring “Corpses and Cognac” up to that level.

  • Strengthening story elements. All the prior drafts were about figuring out where I wanted the plot and character arcs to go. Now that I have an idea of what I want to keep, I can cut out the extraneous details and build up what works best. This is the draft where most of the foreshadowing comes into the story, new concepts are fine-tooled to fit the story (while making sure they remain consistent with the series as a whole), and the cool descriptions come in.

  • Reworking an antagonist. Because I realized, in the middle of writing Chapter 2 of this draft, that elements of one antagonist were perhaps a bit too similar to Lady Delight’s in the first book. Even if it was just me being paranoid, I still figured it better to change things now than hope no one notice later. Hence, changing how that antagonist works—and fiddling with my outline in the process.

  • Finding the humor. “Corpses and Cognac” began as a rather bleak story, all things considered. Then again, so did Bones and Bourbon. I have to know the story first before figuring what makes elements of it funny. Humor and the darker elements of a story are delicate to balance; they best work together when they ebb and flow, so readers are eased out of the deep stuff by a moment of light and brevity.

  • Letting the characters speak. Draft 1 is a journey in what needs to be said. Draft 2 concerns how that’s spoken. Retz and Jarrod alone sound quite different from each other, from their word choices to their sentence structure. Now that I’ve worked with both old characters and new, it’s time to make sure each of them sound distinct (and for the reoccurring characters, that they sound familiar too). By the end, the goal is that readers should be able to tell who’s who even if they ignore all dialogue tags.

In the end, is that a lot? Well…perhaps it is. As it turns out, that’s the nice thing about giving the draft time to sit while working on other parts of the series in the meantime. After months (er, years) of thinking on it, the words are flowing like a fine wine. Even if the words and some of the story elements are new to me, I’ve lived with this story so long that I know where it needs to go as I write it. Armed with the first draft and a rocking playlist, I’m ready to polish this draft into the novel it needs to be.

Right now, my main goal is to treat this like an extended NaNoWriMo; write every day that I can, and try to hit a higher word count when possible. However, it’s also important not to burn out, so I’m making a concentrated effort to take time to relax, be social, and plot out other projects. Through a balance of dedication and recharging, this draft of “Corpses and Cognac” should finish up by summer’s end, maybe even with time for a pass by my beta reader and some literary polish for Draft 3 before it hits my editor’s inbox.

I’m excited. Are you, dear readers?

~Dorian

All in the Family

First off, a near-last minute announcement: I will be attending BayCon in San Mateo this Memorial Day weekend! If you’re anywhere in the Bay Area during that time, feel free to stop by my table to say hi and get your copy of Bones and Bourbon signed! (And if you don’t already have a copy, don’t worry—I’m bringing plenty to sell~)

Before I busy myself with travel preparations though, it’s time I return to form around here and resume ranting about storytelling and worldbuilding! Considering that it was Mother’s Day last Sunday, I’d like to dwell to a favorite topic of mine: families. Specifically, how to NOT kill off your protagonist(s)’s families and leave them all to be sad little orphans.

By now, we all know the main appeal of making characters orphans. It removes an authority that would normally look out for them, so young characters can get into dangerous adventures and schemes without worrying about what their parents will think. Introducing a family and then killing them off establishes a call to action, signifying that our heroes can never fully return home. As a bonus, it means less characters to juggle, and we won’t be asked by our relatives if they’re the real-life counterparts to these fictional family members.

Except now it’s so common, it’s almost a joke. Doubly so if it’s a fantasy story, young adult characters are involved, or the protagonist is from an idyllic village. If the parents aren’t already ~mysteriously absent~ in the beginning, expect for either their tragic death to be the catalyst for the plot, or for the protagonist to chase after any clue that hints at where they’ve gone.

But what if…we don’t kill off the parents (or the adopted mentors/guardians who stand in for them)?

In Bones and Bourbon, I not only keep Retz and Jarrod’s parents alive (or at least conscious and not entirely dead), but our antagonist Nalem’s family also plays into the plot. In most of my other planned stories, I’ve also plotted to keep as many protagonist parents alive as possible. What started as a challenge in avoiding sad orphan characters has become an exercise in the different ways mothers and fathers (and other non-gendered parental figures) can influence a character’s story.

Parents can add a slew of exciting complications for our characters. They can bring years of experience that the protagonists lack, though conflict may arise if this experience clashes with what the protagonists discover (such as in Danny Phantom, where the titular character has to hide his ghostly powers from ghost-hunting parents). How they treat their children can reveal backstory without necessitating a break in the narrative for a flashback. They may have their own struggles that can factor nicely into a subplot; if your chosen one is still alive and trying to be a hero, what if we also see their parents trying to survive or stand tall against the encroaching threats? And this isn’t even going into parents who actively work against protagonists, or other such possible drama.

Plus, from a worldbuilding perspective, allowing parents to live in your unique speculative land also gives you room to examine how families exist in your setting. Does a household contain only immediate family such as children and parents, or does it include extended relatives as well? Who raises the children, and how do they interact when the child becomes an adult? How many parents even are there, in settings with normalized polyamory and/or additional genders?

This isn’t to say that every parental character has to occupy a major role. In Bones and Bourbon, Erika Gallows only features in a few phonecalls and flashbacks in her sons’ story, but her presence still shapes not only how they grew up, but ups the stakes for her sons. If they don’t survive to reunite with their mother, it’ll break her heart…or, since she’s a huldra, she’ll go on a vengeful rampage. Even that small influence has a huge impact on the story, to say nothing of the chaos of facing one’s father or realizing the wicked immortal’s parents have had an equally long time to look after him and scheme.

A number of novels I’ve read recently have utilized parents to wonderful effect in their plots. An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows includes multiple parents in its cast, including a family with three generations of matriarchs who help each other and ruin each others’ schemes in equal measure. Uprooted by Naomi Novak has a young woman whisked away from her family to assist a wizard—but it is her connection to her parents and hometown that allows her to grasp the implications of all the sorcery and conflicts around her. The various protagonists of Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series have their parents and their grandparents to contact for advice when their supernatural research and adventures goes pear-shaped—and those family members even get their own spin-off stories!

This isn’t to say that there are no stories for orphans, for characters who grow up with no one but themselves or the families they make for themselves. However, there are ways for heroes to be born despite—or even because of—having parents survive to rear them. It’s like the difference between Batman and Superman; one fights to avenge the parents he lost, and the other, to make his surviving parents proud. I’ve seen plenty of Batmen in my fiction; I’m yearning to find a few more stories starring Supermen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a trip to pack for. And when I’m done? I’m going to call my mother to make sure I didn’t forget anything.

~Dorian

New Release: Bones and Bourbon

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The cover art for Bones and Bourbon

(Before we begin: In all the release excitement, I wrote this post and then forgot to…actually post it. So the book’s been out for a week and a half, not just yesterday, and the space novella edits are done. But let’s rejoice and pretend this came out in a timely manner, yes?)

It’s finally here! As of yesterday, Bones and Bourbon has officially released! (Which also means I can now italicize it instead of marking it with quotations!…yes, I’m even excited by little things like this.)

Release day was busy, preparing for upcoming events (hopefully to be announced later this week) and spreading the word about the release. Not only has there been a lot of buzz already, but the book is currently sitting at over 4/5 stars on Goodreads, AND the paperback is already sold out on Amazon (though it seems to still be available through Barnes & Noble. I’d say that’s pretty good for an opening day!

On top of that, the bookmarks I ordered for Bones and Bourbon have arrived!

Bookmarks, front and back

I’d considered business cards, but decided on bookmarks because they’re more useful and memorable. I don’t know about you, but I tend to recycle business cards after a time unless it’s for someone I particularly want the contact information for. But bookmarks? Everyone needs bookmarks, seeing as they disappear all the time. I ordered plenty, so expect to see me handing them out at any events I attend.

Exciting as publication is, it’s just the first step in the exciting world of being an author. There are still events to set up, interviews to conduct, and of course more writing to be done. The rest of my free time this week will be spent polishing the space novella for submission; the content is ready, I’m just adjusting word usage and such due to what I’ve learned from the copyediting phase of Bones and Bourbon. After that?

It’ll be time to start the next draft of book two. You know, just in case Bones and Bourbon continues to do well and readers want the next book in the series.

I’m glad we’ve been able to start the next step in this journey together, dear readers.

~Dorian