#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop: Letters to explore character

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2 This week I’m participating in a new monthly blog hop run by the wonderful Raimey Gallant, the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop, a monthly event quite similar to the #Inkripples challenge I’ve been doing for the past few months. The big difference is that #InkRipples has a different theme every month, whereas this new blog hop’s theme is always the same, delightfully broad topic: resources for writers. And this month I’ve decided to share an exercise I’m using right now to develop the world and characters of my Big Insane Fantasy Series (which you’ll learn more about soon, I promise):

Letters Between Characters

When you think of character development the first thing that comes to mind is probably a massive character profile. There are thousands of templates for these profiles online, all asking for a dry list of facts. What is your character’s hair colour? What is their eye colour? How tall are they? How many siblings do they have? Where do they live? Where do they go to school or work?

These character sheets have a use, but for me they’re something to fill in after building a character, not before. I learn the most about a character by walking them through actual writing exercises. And one of the biggest things I do is let the character describe their daily life and most important memories to me.

Around the time I first started blogging I did a personal “Dear Diary” challenge, with the goal of intense character development. I wrote a diary entry from the viewpoint of a character–in this case the goddess of death, Astarael–every day for a month. I actually started each entry with the words “Dear Diary”, because it helped me conquer my fear of the blank page. So, essentially, I wrote a bunch of letters from one character to herself. I also posted a bunch of them on my blog, and if you look hard enough you may even still be able to find them.

This year I’ve decided to write a series of actual letters between multiple characters. If you’ve ever read some of the many published historical letters, you’ll know that letters can tell you an incredible amount about a person. Every word written speaks volumes about their personality, their relationship with the other person, their view of the world around them.

If your characters are really interesting and you know what you’re doing, letters between characters can also become saleable short stories. Hell, you can write an entire novel in letters. I’ve never liked books written entirely in letter format (I honestly can’t think of one I’ve ever finished), but I love novels that incorporate some letter writing. I love one-off shorts in letter format even more.

Long story short, letter writing as a character development exercise is a win win scenario. I’ve already started, and so far it’s proven itself as both a powerful writing exercise and a great way to trick my brain into writing short stories.

That said, I’ve got about a million more projects now than I did when I created the “Dear Diary” challenge for myself, so I’m definitely not committing to a letter every day. Or even every weekday. This time I’m not focusing on the quantity, I’m focusing on the quality. My goal is to write one letter from each main character in my current novel. This will help me quickly develop my semi-large cast, especially if I focus them all on major life events. And I already know it will be a lot of fun.

Have you ever written a letter between two of your characters? Do you think this would be an interesting exercise? Let me know in the comments section below!

The art of productive procrastination

The Art of Productive ProcrastinationLast week I signed up for one on one mentoring with Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA to help me build a stronger author platform. She sent me an author questionnaire and gave me a whole week to work on it, but I told her she would likely have it sooner–I was procrastinating pretty hard on some administration stuff for my freelance business. She mentioned that she loves the tactic of productive procrastination, which got me thinking. Productive procrastination is one of the core principles of my life, and since I know we all struggle with the un-productive kind of procrastination, I’ve decided to share it with you.

So what is productive procrastination?

Productive procrastination is the act of procrastinating on something you really don’t want to do by doing something else on your to do list, ideally something equally important or at least close to it. In fact, you probably already do productive procrastination. If you’ve ever found yourself washing dishes because you’re avoiding a tough scene, that’s productive procrastination. Our minds are programmed to be active, so your subconscious has found another productive way to use your energy.

The trick is to be intentional about it. If you really don’t want to do something–and you don’t have a pressing deadline–ask yourself what the next most important task is. Cleaning your house is great, but is there something else you can do that will push you closer to your dream life? Make a deliberate decision to do that thing instead. Your house can likely wait another day, but the days you procrastinate on your career add up fast.

Creating a productive procrastination system

As with most things in life, it’s easiest to maximize the benefits of productive procrastination if you create a system. The way I’ve created my system is by building a kind of table/27chart with a variety of productive activities, each one given a ranking based on importance and the amount of time/energy required to complete the task:



This system makes it easy for me to decide what to do when I feel like procrastinating. Typically I try to do either the next most important thing on my list or something that serves as a warm up for the thing I’m avoiding. If I’m avoiding the next chapter of my book, I’ll write a character exercise or a blog post. If I’m avoiding my blog, I’ll work on fiction or social media. If I don’t even want to look at my computer I’ll clean the house or read. My chart is a road map reminding me that there’s always something I can be doing to improve my career.

I’ve used this system for so long I don’t need to look at it, but you might want to create your own chart and keep it somewhere visible. The wall above your writing space is a great place.

Using productive procrastination to eliminate guilt

Living with a mental illness means that sometimes I’m procrastinating because I don’t feel well enough to complete the tasks on my to do list. I’m also incredibly stubborn, so I insist on doing something no matter how awful I feel. Sometimes I refuse to even admit that I feel awful, although I know that’s the real reason I’ve spent two hours finding interesting people to follow on Twitter.

My productive procrastination list serves as a handy reminder of what I can and can’t do on these days. It’s very similar to the way other people with mental illnesses create lists of what they can do based on how many spoons they have. With the chart imprinted on my brain, I can always find something productive to do, no matter how small. I can also use it to remind myself that the things I haven’t accomplished that day simply required more energy than I had. Another day I will have that energy. This allows me to feel proud of what I did accomplish instead of guilty about what didn’t get done.

A quick note about social media and productive procrastination

You might have noticed that in the last point, I mentioned spending two hours on Twitter. This probably sounds counter productive, because the way most people surf Twitter is counter productive. I do sometimes fall into that trap, but for the most part I keep my social media usage highly focused. If I’m on Twitter for two hours at a time it’s usually because I’m hunting for reviewers and other writers to connect with. Sometimes it’s because I’m participating in Twitter chats, which are a great way to form deeper connections with people. I’ve even met beta readers this way.

Social media only counts as productive procrastination if you do it with focus. Aimlessly wandering around the different social media sites all day might be fun, but it’s not going to further your creative career. You need to build a social media strategy before you can add it to your productive procrastination list. Figure out who you want to connect with, why you want to connect with them, and where you’re going to do it.

Final advice

Productive procrastination is one of the most powerful tools in my creative toolkit. It helps me accept and work with the boundaries created by my mental illness. It also helps me ensure that everything does eventually get done, even if not in the timeline I originally intended. Most importantly, it works for me and my creative process. It might not work for yours, but it’s certainly worth a shot, don’t you think?

Have you ever attempted productive procrastination? Let me know about it in the comments section below!

#Ownvoices Author Interview: Kaelan Rhywiol

Mothmen Final Cover WHITE TEXTI ordinarily don’t invite erotica authors onto the blog because I rarely read erotica (I used to read an incredible amount of erotic fanfiction, but that’s a story for another day… or never) but I was extremely excited when Kaelan Rhywiol offered to come over and chat about her work, which features accurate BDSM. Most of you don’t know this, and I’m willing to bet a couple of you don’t want to, but I’m sort of involved with the kink community here in Toronto and I have a couple friends who actually teach rope play. So I’m thrilled to be chatting with Kaelan today about her work and representation of BDSM/kink in literature in general.Today we’ll be chatting mostly about her novella, Mothmen. 

The Blurb

Dr. Shealyn MacConnelly, PH.D buried her father on her birthday, and getting drunk to mourn both her father and brother seemed the thing to do.

Rian, Shea’s long lost beloved recently moved back to town with his lover, Jai. Returning from a project, he finds out her father has died.

Jai and Rian have a secret, one that Shea needs to know. They’ll have to convince the stubborn scientist before it’s too late and she learns it for herself, the hard way.

A kinky, erotic romance novella with R.A.C.K style BDSM and a m/m/f polyamorous Ménage.

The Interview

Can you tell us a bit about your book, Mothmen?

MOTHMEN is a contemporary paranormal romance novella. It came in at about eighty pages so it’s a quick(ish) read. In it, I tell the story of Shea, a girl on the verge of losing what little she has left, and how she and her high school boyfriend, Rian, get a second chance at love.

Of course, I twist it, because Rian is bisexual, he found love with a man while he was away at university and only came back to Georgia when his parents died.

It’s the first in a planned series of novellas featuring the three main characters, Shea, Rian and Rian’s lover Jai.

It has accurate kink, as I’m a practitioner of BDSM and have been for twenty years, everything is factual, and if it isn’t something I’ve done myself, I’ve researched the hell out of it, as well as spoken to those who have done it.

The second in the series will be released sometime this spring.

Mothmen is ownvoices for a few things other than kink as well. It’s ownvoices for death of a sibling, the book is dedicated to my brother Kyle, who died three years ago, and Shea’s brother Darren is based, heavily, on Kyle.

It’s also ownvoices in that Shea is asperger’s, like me. Her stims are my stims, and the way she thinks is the way I do.

What was the hardest part of writing Mothmen and how did you get through it?

Reliving my brothers death to get the details right. Yeah, that was definitely the hardest part of writing Mothmen for me. I cried through writing any scene where Dare is mentioned (which is like… a lot of the book.) I just sat with it and did it, (I may have gone through a box of wine during the writing of it), but oddly enough, writing Mothmen worked as a catharsis for me. I’ll never stop missing Kyle, but he’d kick my ass up over my shoulder to know I weren’t getting on with my life. Writing Mothmen helped me realize that.

Why did you start writing erotica?

Here I’m going to point out that I don’t write ‘just’ erotica (which is specifically, a snapshot into a sexual act) Most of my published work is exactly that, erotica. Mothmen, however, classifies as Erotic Romance, because though there are my classic hot and heavy open-door scenes, it’s the relationship that matters most in this book.

I do have erotica published, and I’m internationally known as excellent an erotica writer, but I’ve been writing erotic romance for much longer, and it’s my true love. As far as why I started publishing my erotica, I let a friend of mine read some of it, wondering what I could do to make some money. She loved it so much she pushed me into polishing my stories up and even, into trying again for a career in writing.

As to why I write erotica and erotic romance, I think it’s because I’m gray asexual but I have a very prurient mind. All that sexual energy has to go somewhere, for me, it’s usually into my words rather than real life.

How would you like to see representation within erotica change over the next five years? How does this differ from issues you see in other genres?

I’d really like to see both erotica and erotic romance respected more within the writing community. I’d like to see romance and erotica readers deal with less judgment for enjoying a good read about a relationship. It’s the top selling genre for a reason. People love to feel sexy, and both of these genres do that for them. So many people poo-poo romance and erotica as not being ‘real’ writing, but having written several theses in my time, I’ll tell you this, it’s MUCH harder to write erotica and erotic romance (especially if it’s LGBTQUIA+) than it is to regurgitate facts on a page in your own words.

In Sci-fi, for instance, you can have a ‘literary sci-fi’ tacking literary onto it only means you use language a certain way and your writing sends a message. Romance could do that too, and I’d love to see ‘literary romance’ as a thing.

What resources would you suggest to other authors who want to include accurate kink, poly or LGBTQ+ relationships in their work?

I host a Write Kink Right twitter chat once a month, right now I’m going through some of the basics and mythbusting some things that people think they know about kink.

There are a lot of good resources on the web for these things as well, my own website has a page with links on kink, and a reading list of accurately polyamorous writing as well.

Who is your favourite ownvoices author right now and why?

Probably Tiffany Reisz, she’s a lifestyle kinkster and you can totally see it in her writing. She’s written what is THE best flogging scene I’ve ever read in my life.

What are you working on right now that readers can look forward to?

I just finished Blood-Bound, which is book one in the Ace Assassin series. It’s a contemporary paranormal romance with Welsh folklore and pagan origin story. It’s dark, delicious and may make you want to eat it up with a spoon. It’s out for reading to my critique partners and first stage beta-readers. When they get back to me, I’ll make whatever changes it needs, send it out to second stage beta readers and then start querying it. If traditional pub doesn’t pick it up, I’ll indie it sooner rather than later.

I’m working on an LGBTQUIA+ fairy tale retelling, it’s likely to end up at novella length, because there’s only so much plot you can put into a retelling and keep it true to form. This one is one of my favorite fairy tales and I’m not telling which one it is! I’m not sure if this one is going indie or if I’ll try to submit it to one of the smaller presses that accept novellas. I think it depends on how it comes out.

Once I’m finished with the fairy-tale, I’ll be working on Mothmen 2 and edits or rewrites (whichever my mentor deems necessary) on Dreaming, which is the first book in my Science fantasy series, Ilavani.

About the author

KaelanKaelan was born and raised in upstate NY, in the Adirondack mountains. She started writing when she turned 11 and hasn’t ever stopped as evidenced by the massive amount of notebooks and digital files of her writing she has hanging around. Her hobbies include reading, spinning wool with a spinning wheel, cooking, knitting, sewing and making jewelry.

She currently lives in Southern Ontario, Canada with her husband of 19 years, their two kids, a foot fetishist of a cat and a grumpy chinchilla.
The best place to connect with Kaelan is on twitter, where she spends way too much time.

You can find her at https://kaelanrhywiol.com/ or @KaelanRhy. Or you can go buy a copy of Mothmen right away.

Re-evaluating (my) yearly goals

My 2016 goal list
My 2016 goal list
Somehow or other it appears we’ve arrived at the end of February. The past two months have vanished in a blur of work, personal writing projects, and turmoil on both a personal scale and a global one. Soon enough it will be spring.

And I have accomplished exactly one of the goals I set for myself.

Now, there are two things I can do from here. I can keep the list of goals I created in December and up the number of hours I’m working each week in an attempt to meet those goals, or I can shift gears now and make my goals more achievable.

At this point of the year, most people go for the first option. After all, it’s only February. Nobody wants to admit that they’ve already given up on their goals for the year.  They would rather repeatedly bash their heads against a metaphorical wall than admit that they were wrong about how much they can accomplish–even if they know that humans have a natural tendency to overestimate our own intelligence. Other humans have it, sure, but we don’t want to admit that we’re flawed too.

Personally, I would rather admit my mistakes right away, so I can change my goals now and maybe have something different to tell you come May first. So it’s time to ask a big question:

Why didn’t I accomplish my goals for January and February?

The answer to this question is both simple and complicated. I can sum it all up by saying I overestimated what I would be able to do in the past  two months, but I want to show you how to re-evaluate your own writing goals, so let’s take a look at each goal individually(remembering that these are my quarterly goals):

  • Submit at least one short story — This is the one I actually did accomplish. One short story is out with a magazine, another is with beta readers, and I’ve just finished writing a third.
  • Finish The First Dragon Rider — I started the first draft of this novel at the end of 2016, and as of this morning I’ve only added about a thousand words to this manuscript.
  • Edit MG — MG stands for Moonshadow’s Guardian, a fantasy novel that’s been through about ten million drafts. I already know exactly what I want to do for this edit, but I haven’t even looked at this book since last summer.
  • Add subplots to MG2 — Last year I wrote a sequel to Moonshadow’s Guardian. Right now it’s the most bare bones manuscript I’ve ever written, and it needs around 20,000 words of subplot.

As you can see, not only have I failed to meet any of my goals so far, I haven’t even made much progress on most of them. But why?

For once I actually didn’t overestimate the amount of work I could accomplish, I underestimated how much time other obligations would take out of my schedule. Specifically, I assumed I could plough through edits of Keeper of the Dawn(coming out this spring!) in a week or two. Well, it took about a month, and required WAY more energy than expected. Being the only book I’ve written that isn’t part of a series, Keeper of the Dawn has the least developed world, and I’ve had to figure out many little details. My book is stronger and I’m a better writer for the experience, but it’s been exhausting and I haven’t wanted to do much else.

I also underestimated how much the current political climate would affect my mental health. I knew it meant more worrying about my American friends, but I had no idea how much of a toll that would take on me–or how much I would need to worry. The onslaught of unpleasant news hasn’t made me suicidal, but it has leeched out most of my motivation. Everything I do seems a lot more difficult than it did a few months ago.

Finally, I must admit that my new series has filled my head completely. The real reason I haven’t even looked at either Moonshadow’s Guardian novel is that I’ve been busy working on the world of The Road to War.  I built this world a decade ago for a very different book, one I abandoned for most of those years. In November I had a breakthrough that brought me back to this world and spawned a series. The series grows every time I look at it. Two of the three short stories I’ve written this year are set in this world.  I suspect the series will be well over ten books long by the time I’m done.

So what am I going to do about it?

First I have to assess my situation going forward. Keeper of the Dawn is in its final edit. This edit should actually be done in under two weeks, giving me more time and energy going forward. I should be working more in the next couple of months, but that means less time hunting for clients so it should all even out. For the rest of 2017, my biggest concern will be maintaining the energy to work on my goals every single day.

With that in mind, here are my altered goals for the next quarter:

March — June Goals

  • Finish editing Keeper of the Dawn and send it back to my publisher
  • Write all blog posts for Keeper of the Dawn blog tour
  • Finish The Road to War draft one
  • Write, edit and submit two short stories
  • Edit Fall of the Falhoran (a novella I wrote at the end of 2016) twice
  • Begin editing Moonshadow’s Guardian

How much progress have you made on your 2017 goals? Based on what you’ve done, do you think your goals for this year are reasonable? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!



#Ownvoices Author Interview: J. S. Fields

Ardulum-FirstDon-f500Today’s author, J.S. Fields, has written a science fiction series that plays with gender and sexuality in some very interesting ways. I’m thrilled to have her here today to discuss the first novel in that series, Ardulum, First Don.

Blurb for Ardulum, First Don:

Ardulum. The planet that vanishes. The planet that sleeps.

Neek makes a living piloting the dilapidated tramp transport, Mercy’s Pledge, and smuggling questionable goods across systems blessed with peace and prosperity. She gets by—but only just. In her dreams, she is still haunted by thoughts of Ardulum, the traveling planet that, long ago, visited her homeworld. The Ardulans brought with them agriculture, art, interstellar technology…and then disappeared without a trace, leaving Neek’s people to worship them as gods.

Neek does not believe—and has paid dearly for it with an exile from her home for her heretical views.

Yet, when the crew stumbles into an armed confrontation between the sheriffs of the Charted Systems and an unknown species, fate deals Neek an unexpected hand in the form of a slave girl—a child whose ability to telepathically manipulate cellulose is reminiscent of that of an Ardulan god. Forced to reconcile her beliefs, Neek chooses to protect her, but is the child the key to her salvation, or will she lead them all to their deaths?

Can you tell us a bit about your novel, Ardulum, The First Don?

The planet that vanishes. The planet that sleeps. When Ardulum first appeared, the inhabitants brought agriculture, art and interstellar technology to the Neek people before vanishing back into space. Two hundred years later Neek has joined the Charted Systems, a group of planets bound together through commerce and wormhole routes, where violence is nonexistent and technology has been built around the malleability of cellulose.

When the tramp transport Mercy’s Pledge accidentally stumbles into an armed confrontation between the Charted System sheriffs and an unknown species, the crew learns the high cost of peace – the enslavement and genetic manipulation of the Ardulan people. Now a young Neek, outcast from her world for refusal to worship ancient Ardulans as gods, must reconcile her planet’s religion with the slave child whom she has chosen to protect – a child whose ability to manipulate cellulose is reminiscent of the ancient myths of Ardulum. But protecting the child comes at a cost – the cultural destruction of her world and the deaths of billions of Charted System inhabitants.

That was the actual snippet from my query for the first book in the series. Ardulum, the first don, is the first in a three book arc that explores the hard science of cellulose with some unusual telekinetics thrown in. At the heart of the series is the relationship between two women, one a religious outcast and the other a genetic relative of the gods the outcast has tried so hard to ignore.

What part of the story came to you first?

I wanted to explore a world where cellulose is the primary polymer of interest. In my field, I get to see a lot of technological advancements before they ever hit market, as well as discuss cool technology that is right around the corner. In the past five years or so, cellulose has really dominated these conversations, from cellulosic food printers (soon, people, sooner than you think), to computers that are simple cellulose weave screens that can roll up and slide into your pocket. If technology carries on like this, we might soon be living in a world where we rely on cellulose for every electronic ‘thing’, and possibly even for space travel.

So I built this world, imagined it, fleshed it out, and then realized that, like planting tree monocultures, having only one polymer control all tech was a recipe for disaster if something could manipulate it. In reality that something would probably be wood-rotting fungi. In fiction, it’s more fun if it’s a humanoid. The series was born.

At what point did you realize you were writing a series?

I realized this was a series after the third chapter. I originally conceived of the book with Neek (our primary protagonist, named after her planet…it’s complicated) and Emn (the telekinetic god/slave) being around the same age, and having romance be a central theme. That did not work from the beginning. Neek had too much baggage from being kicked off her homeworld, losing contact with her family, and being known throughout the galaxy as THE heretic. She wouldn’t trust adults, certainly not ones that looked like these mythological gods she’d sworn for the past ten years didn’t exist. That meant I had to backtrack. Who would Neek listen to? Who would she trust? Probably no one, but a kid could get under her skin.

Having Emn start as a child destroyed any option for romance, but did get Neek to interact with her. There was so much story to tell, however, and having to backtrack meant I needed more time, both in terms of storytelling and in terms of Emn growing up, so I could get to the areas I really wanted to explore. Completely unplanned, Emn’s lifecycle (for her species, the Ardulans), is broken up into three ‘dons’, and that coincides nicely with a trilogy. It seemed a good place to cut each book, once I realized I needed more than one.

How much planning/research did you do before starting the first book?

I had zero outline. In terms of research, I’m a scientist and I work with cellulose, so I guess you could say I have my undergrad, master, PhD, and post doc, plus all my time as a professor invested in it so…fifteen years?

What is the hardest part of the writing process and how do you make it easier for yourself?

The hardest part of the writing process for me is strong emotional development in characters. I can be a guarded person, and that often comes out in my characters, especially in first drafts. I use an extensive system of beta readers to help me pull the character emotions forward. It often takes five to six rounds of edits before I can drag them out and onto paper.

Your series has several alien species, most of which have three sexes. How did you create these species?

I’m nonbinary, and it always frustrated me in fiction, especially science fiction, that all the species seemed to be straight up female/male. Humans aren’t even just female/male, so really this concept is more alien than not. In the first book I wanted a gentle introduction to different sexes and genders. The cellulose part is hard enough for people, so I figured adding neopronouns to that might be a bit much.

Book one has an agender species, which was easy to create as there are plenty of examples even here on Earth of asexual reproduction. The trinary gender structure of the Neek people from book one was actually based heavily from my time living in Thailand. The Thai people have three established genders (you could argue for a fourth, the ’tom’, but I saw far fewer instances of this one so am less familiar with it), and the history and culture surrounding the kathoeys is fascinating. I did not want to copy this gender, but the dynamics of a three gender system have stuck with me over the years, and I wanted to explore how something like that might develop in other species.

The quad genders that are introduced in book two and carry through the rest of the series are my attempts to address parts of my own non-binary status. These four genders stem from the same two sexes, ‘male’ and ‘female’, but differentiate based upon preference. I wanted species with more fluidity to their sexes and genders, and while I don’t spend a great deal of time discussing the intricacies of sexual and asexual reproduction amongst species, they are there, and visible to the reader. Most importantly, a gender binary is never assumed, nor the norm, in any of the three books.

You also have a bisexual main character. Did you decide to make her bisexual at the outset or is this simply how the character developed?

Neek was most certainly always bisexual. Her character was clear from the beginning, as was a great deal of her backstory. She is a woman who knows what she wants, has strong opinions (and strong language), and fights for her views, often to her own detriment. Her sexuality is actually never really discussed in book one, but does come into play in book two.

Should I ever write a prequel to the series, I would love to explore Neek’s early interests across the spectrum. There is no taboo for sex between consenting adults in any of the alien species encountered in the books, which allows for a real freedom of exploration with characters.

How would you like to see representation change in the next five years?

Honestly, if we could just see more QUILTBAG characters in general, I’d be happy. I understand straight authors may feel uncomfortable writing them, and I get that. I’d be uncomfortable writing a m/f sex scene. That doesn’t mean, however, that these characters shouldn’t be a part of every narrative. It isn’t hard to make a secondary character have a same sex partner, to be androgynous, to have no romantic inclinations, etc. QUITLBAG characters don’t have to be all the protags all the time, but they SHOULD be represented, especially in space-themed science fiction where aliens are involved. To assume that the female/male dynamic is the only option is completely ridiculous, and only further isolates QUILTBAG youth and adults.

If you could give an aspiring writer only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Finish that first draft! You can’t do anything until draft zero happens!

What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?

Ardulum, The First Don is being edited and will release February 27th, 2017. Second don will release August 7th, 2017. My project for right now is Third don, which is still going through beta reading. I have another series outlined which utilizes mushrooms, my other passion, within a fantasy setting. It might be a while for those books, however. I still have to live my life as a scientist and professor, and manage all those pesky science publications and books as well.


JSFieldsJ.S. Fields (@Galactoglucoman) is a scientist who has perhaps spent too much time around organic solvents. She enjoys roller derby, woodturning, making chain mail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans. Nonbinary, but prefers female pronouns. Always up for a Twitter chat.

You can pre-order a copy of Ardulum, the First Don here.


Learning to be honest about (my) mental illness

Even the darkest night can be beautifulI’ve been struggling to write this post for most of this week, and it’s not because I don’t have anything to say. It’s because I have everything to say, and I believe every part of this conversation is so important.

It’s because right now, I know many are struggling with depression brought on or exacerbated by current events. I would be lying if I said recent politics didn’t have a negative impact on my own depression.

It’s also because so many of these people are fighting for progress, even in the face of tyranny. These people have made it clear that they will not be silenced, that they will stand together and do whatever it takes to create a better future.

But most importantly, I know many people who have put themselves through mental and emotional turmoil to be part of this fight. Over the past two days I’ve seen many incredible images of activism and solidarity, but I’ve also seen dozens of women talk about how exhausting and sometimes triggering the Women’s Marches were. Some of these women spent days or even weeks hyping themselves up for the event. Some of my friends still found the idea too daunting come the 21st.

In some ways, sharing how much the marches exhausted them is the bravest thing these women did. The stigma against mental illness is an incredibly powerful force. It shames us into silence, sometimes so much that we don’t even think about seeking treatment. Often we don’t get as far as admitting to ourselves that there’s a problem at all. We push ourselves to seem normal until we break, and we either find a way to get better or die.

Our stories have power. Talking openly about our struggles with mental illness and the ways we push through the pain, the ways we take care of ourselves and make ourselves better, this is an essential and radical act. It is the first step not only to ending the stigma against mental illness, but also to our own personal healing.

For most of us it is also one of the most difficult things we’ll ever do. When I first started blogging, I didn’t tell anyone I knew about the blog. Partially this was out of a stubborn need to have my first subscribers/commenters not be related to me, but it also allowed me to be open about my struggles.

Inevitably some of the people I wanted to hide the truth from found my work, and I clammed up. I stopped telling personal stories and focused entirely on the writing.

There are all sorts of reasons why people – and authors in particular – choose not to share their personal stories online, but if I’m honest with myself there’s only one reason why I stopped sharing my own stories: I was struggling, and I was afraid to be honest about it. Especially with my family.

I don’t know if there was a precise moment, but sometime in late 2015 or early 2016 I decided the fear couldn’t win anymore. I write fantasy novels I say are for young(ish) adults, and if there’s any message I want to leave my readers with, it’s that they are powerful because of who they are, not in spite of it. And they can change the world, if they are willing to push through the fear.

So here’s the truth: I’m still struggling with depression and suspect I always will be to some extent, but I am pushing through the fear and the pain every single day. The stories I’m working on now are some of the most powerful I’ve ever written, and I am incredibly proud of them, but it’s been slow going because I can sometimes get too immersed in the darkness of my characters.

I’ve also decided that it’s time to start sharing more of my own stories with the world, not just the stories of my characters. These stories may be the most painful of all – there’s a reason I write alternate world fiction – but they matter. Every story is an opportunity to help someone see mental illness in a new way, to see humanity in a new way.

And what more could I hope for than that?

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Soulless by Crystal Collier

soulless1Last month I reviewed Moonless by Crystal Collier and last week I finished the second novel in the Maiden of Time Trilogy, SoullessI don’t really trust myself to explain the story without unleashing massive spoilers, so I’ll start by sharing the blurb:

Alexia manipulated time to save the man of her dreams, and lost her best friend to red-eyed wraiths. Still grieving, she struggles to reconcile her loss with what was gained: her impending marriage. But when her wedding is destroyed by the Soulless—who then steal the only protection her people have—she’s forced to unleash her true power.

And risk losing everything.

Spoiler Free Review

The first thing I would like to say is that I liked this book a lot more than I liked the first book. You’re thrown immediately into a much more interesting conflict which includes one of my favourite characters from the series, and you delve much, much deeper into the world of the Passionate. The main character undergoes a tremendous amount of growth, both in her personality and in her abilities. And we’re introduced to some delightfully powerful characters on both sides.

Most of these differences exist because of the nature of a series. The first book has to do all the groundwork, introducing you to the characters and the world. And the main character usually has a lot of growing to do when a book starts. I never disliked Alexia, but I didn’t feel strongly for her one way or another until very close to the end of that book–it was questions about the world of the Passionate that pushed me through the story.

It’s also worth noting that I’m usually not as interested in stories about characters who get pulled into mysterious worlds; I read a lot of alternate world fantasy with characters whose lives are already shaped by those worlds.

By the beginning of Soulless Alexia has already grown a fair bit and she is deeply in the Passionate world. By the end of the book she is a much stronger character, a woman instead of a girl, and the Passionate world has become more complex and fascinating than I thought it would. There’s some really funky timeline stuff going on, but a lot of the confusing parts have already been explained and I believe it will all make sense by the end of Timeless, the final book in the trilogy.

I especially loved the last scene in this novel, and I would give it a 4 out of 5 stars. 

Sound good to you? Buy your copy of Soulless today!

Spoilerful Review

The one thing I want to talk about with massive spoilers involved is that Alexia’s relationship with her husband-to-be is at times deeply unsettling and I spent roughly two thirds of the book trying to decide if he was a creep or if the history/politics of the Passionate world justified his actions. He’s been watching over her since childhood, is much older, and is both overprotective and secretive. Yes, Alexia has been in mortal danger(which she was deliberately kept unaware of, and I’m not sure how I feel about that either) for most of that time, but it still felt really overbearing, especially in a world full of Edward Cullens and Christian Greys.

At the end of the book Alexia goes back in time. Like, reaaaalllly far back in time. I had actually started to wonder when real time travel happened–Crystal has talked about it in some of her interviews–and it starts partway through this book, with tiny jumps of ten seconds or ten minutes. But things she learns along the way convince her that she needs to go much further back.

The scene of her leaving is incredibly powerful, and it shows tremendous growth in both her and her lover. She is a long way from the girl whose curiosity got her in endless trouble in Moonless. He, on the other hand, actually lets her go.

For me, this was a defining moment for their relationship, the moment where I could definitively say yes, I was okay with it, the story did justify almost all his actions, and most importantly, the relationship is growing in a healthy direction. Alexia may have left him behind in the present, but if she ever gets back there I believe they’ll have a great future together, and that’s awesome. So once again, this book gets 4 out of 5 stars.

Pick up your copy of Soulless today! 

Don’t have the first book yet? Get the set!


Author Interview: Frank Martin

2017 is already off to an excellent start and today I’m thrilled to introduce my first interviewee of the year, Frank Martin of Burning Willow Press. His first book is actually two stand alone novellas published together and it sounds delightfully creepy–but don’t take my word for it, learn it from Frank!

The Blurb

What happens when an overbearing family drives a teenage girl into the arms of a mysterious, pale stranger? How can a high school junior explain having strange dreams of a Nazi concentration camp after being bitten by his neighbor’s monstrous dog? And who will win when two iconic creatures of the night clash on a desolate WWI battlefield? Dive into a world of werewolves and vampires with SKIN DEEP and ORDINARY MONSTERS, two standalone stories featured in a dual novella from author Frank Martin. And don’t forget to check out the bonus comic short HORRORS OF WAR found in both ends of this doubled-sided work of pulp and terror.

Can you tell us a bit more about Skin Deep/Ordinary Monsters

Frank: Both stories essentially revolve around young adult relationships. Skin Deep follows two sisters, Jessica and Laura, who are very different from one another. The older one, Jessica, is an artist while Laura is a track star. But they both held certain resentments towards their parents as teenagers. Jessica learned from her mistakes and grew past them, but she’s afraid Laura is going down a similar path. The question of the story is whether or not she can stop Laura before she does something she’ll regret. Ordinary Monsters follows Liam as he uncovers a familial secret his best friend Eric is hiding that dates all the way back to World War II. The two boys are close. Very close. But they aren’t family, and Liam is forced to decide whether or not Eric’s dark secret is worth embracing or running away from.

Me: It’s amazing how many of our fears stem from our relationships–both with ourselves and other people. I can’t wait to see how these relationships unfold in the book!

Which story did you write first?

I wrote Ordinary Monsters first after being inspired by a World War II documentary. It took me over ten years to write. Skin Deep, on the other hand, took me about ten weeks. Writing is funny sometimes, isn’t it?

Me: Every project is different–and sometimes we simply aren’t ready to write the ideas we have right away. Tackling big historical events like WWII can be especially tricky.

Why did you decide to publish these two novellas together?

I wanted to put together more than just a book. I wanted to put together a complete experience. I was inspired by the Grindhouse double feature from a few years ago. It had two movies and a series of 70’s inspired trailers. I wanted to do something similar, so I put together a double-sided print book with two stories and two short comics. And I figured what better monsters to pair up then the iconic two: werewolves and vampires.

Me: That’s awesome! I love double features and I can’t help the sudden urge to do something similar…

How did you find Burning Willow Press?

I was friends with Kindra from before. So when she and her husband started BWP I knew they would be open to such a wild and crazy project.

If you could give an aspiring author only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to take chances. You’ll never know when an opportunity will turn out to be a big one unless you follow through on it.

Me: All too true. We can’t know what will be a big deal until it already is. 

What are you working on next that readers can look forward to?

I’m currently working on a fantasy/sci-fi trilogy about floating cities. Tons of characters and action. I’m on book two now and it’s been a blast to write.

Me: Floating cities? Sounds badass. I can’t wait to read about them.

Thanks, Frank, for the insights into this awesome project!

Frank Martin is a prose and comic writer that always enjoys exploring new genres and mediums. He has an urban fantasy anthology series Modern Testament currently published by Insane Comics. His debut horror novel Skin Deep/Ordinary Monsters was also recently released with Burning Willow Press. Frank lives in New York with his wife and two kids.

Facebook: facebook.com/frankmartinwriter

Twitter: @frankthewriter

Amazon Author Page

My 2017 Writing Playlist

harp_attack_2_cd_iconAnyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I obsessively listen to music while I’m doing… Well, pretty much everything. I have mild tinnitus and it’s rather distracting, plus the right music gets me into the zone for whatever I’m working on.

Now, up until 2016, I listened to the same thing constantly while I wrote: the Lord of the Rings complete soundtrack by Howard Shore, which might be the best soundtrack ever created(except for maybe The Hobbit soundtracks, which are also godly). This was great and I still listen to it all the time, but something else happened in 2016: I transitioned to working entirely from home. And I spent an incredible amount of time writing and editing books.

I’ve always listened to other things while I did paid work–usually some kind of rock and roll or metal–but this year I found myself needing to increase the size of my fiction writing playlist or change it altogether. The soundtracks simply weren’t doing it for me anymore. So I set out on a grand journey of musical exploration.

During my search I focused on music that combined fantasy elements with the guitar I love so much, and I’ve found some incredible albums to get me through 2017. Note that most of this music isn’t actually new, but it’s new to me.

Check out these albums in 2017:

1. Who You Selling For by The Pretty Reckless

This one is actually the most recent–and the most surprising–addition to my list, having only come out in October 2016. I’ve liked The Pretty Reckless since I discovered them a year and a half ago, but this album is the only one I like enough to listen to while I’m writing. It’s got a rather eclectic song list with several different sounds but a common theme of powerful lyrics, and it really shows the range of Taylor Momsen’s voice.

2. Dreamtale — Literally all of their albums

Do you like metal? Do you like fantasy? Do you like songs that tell a story? Well then you’ll love every single album by this incredibly talented Swedish metal band. They have six albums and most of them are pretty long, and this is definitely the band I listen to most often while writing.

3. Life Screams by Lacey Sturm

Lacey Sturm is the former singer of Flyleaf, a Christian rock band I used to like, and now she’s doing solo stuff. This album has some really heavy lyrics and has proven to be excellent inspiration for certain heavy scenes.

4. Revenge by Iron Fire

I like a couple of Iron Fire’s albums(they have eight), but Revenge is definitely my favourite. It’s also one of their oldest albums, but that’s not really a concern for me. The most important thing is that this music tells a story and is gritty enough for even the darkest stories I tell.

5. The Harp Twins

These twins take all kinds of songs and turn them into amazing harp melodies. Also, they wear awesome costumes and make videos for many of their songs. They have an impressive four albums and show no signs of stopping any time soon.

Do any of these interest you? What will you be listening to in 2017? Let me know in the comments below or by Tweeting to @DiannaLGunn

Author Spotlight: Josh Matthews

book-hell-gateToday’s author, Josh Matthews, is here to share how he wrote his debut novel Hell Gatewhich came out this past October. I hope you’ll find his advice as useful as I have.

Here is the blurb for Hell Gate:

Sixteen-year-old Jason McCreary is living a nightmare within a nightmare. Not only is he trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by demons from Hell, he also shoulders the burden for humanity’s fate as it was his mother who opened the gates in a scientific experiment gone wrong.

In a last ditch effort to redeem his family name and erase his guilt, Jason joins a squad whose mission is to travel to Paris and close the Hell Gate. Once there, they discover an environment more frightening than anything they could imagine and demons more terrifying than they had ever encountered before.

Time is now against them.

Can Jason gain his redemption along with the respect of his peers, or will a new web of lies threaten to rip apart his world and jeopardize his team’s only chance for success?

  1. Can you tell me a bit about your book? 

It’s essentially a story about coming of age during the apocalypse. Jason is trying to figure out who he is as an individual while the world around him collapses. Yet he still must deal with normal teenage angst, the excitement and uncertainty of his first romance, and somehow manage the guilt he feels because his mother caused the end of the world. Jason is going to grow up quickly. Through the series he will learn about redemption, duty, and honor, and will be forced to make life-and-death decisions most adults will never have to face.

  1. What part of the story came to you first?

I developed the entire series around the character of Sasha after I had seen a photograph of a young woman brandishing a minigun. I was intrigued with the idea of a strong, independent female character battling monsters with heavy weaponry, and around that concept the rest of the series formed.

  1. How long did it take you to get from first draft to published book?

From the day I started writing Hell Gate in the summer of 2013 until its publication in October 2016 was three and a half years, however that’s misleading because there was considerable down time in between. It took approximately six months to draft the original manuscript and revise the final version after receiving the beta reads. I then took a year hiatus from Hell Gate as I concentrated on other projects. When I submitted the manuscript for review in late 2015, it was accepted within two months, but I had to wait a year before my turn came in the publication schedule. I spent a month reviewing the manuscript with my editor and working with the cover artist on the jacket.

  1. What was the hardest part of writing Hell Gate?

The hardest part was getting correct the mindset of young adults. Granted, it’s a post-apocalyptic scenario, and all the young adults in the story have to grow up fast if they want to survive. There’s a certain teenage way of thinking I needed to tap into so the story does not come across as an adult pretending to be sixteen. I hope I was successful.

  1. Who are some of your favourite authors?

If I’m in the mood for dark horror, I prefer Graham Masterton, Ed Lee, or Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series. If I’m in the mood for lighter fare, I read Jeff Strand. Other favorites are Brian Keene, J.F. Gonzalez, and Jonathon Maberry. I’m also an avid reader of history, especially if it pertains to World War II.

  1. What are you working on next?

I recently completed the sequel to Hell Gate and have submitted it to Burning Willow Press. At the moment, I’m finishing up the first draft of the third book in the series and am plotting out the fourth, which I hope to begin writing by the summer of 2017.

 joshmatthewsheadshotJosh Matthews is a former New Englander who now lives in north Florida with his wife, teenage daughter, and four lovable but exasperating pets. Josh used to work for the U.S. Government where he had the opportunity to travel around the world and be exposed to numerous cultures, many of which will appear in the Hell Gate saga. He has always been a fan of horror novels and monster movies, and sees the Hell Gate saga as his way to share that love with a new generation of fans.


Check out Josh’s blog or buy your copy of Hell Gate today!