How to boost your creativity even when you’re exhausted

Pixabay -- http://thedabbler.ca/3-great-dystopian-novels/Most people go through at least one bout of insomnia in their lifetime, and for us writer folk, these bouts seem pretty common. I personally struggle with frequent bouts of insomnia followed by brief periods of oversleeping, and have for most of my life. It’s a lot better now than it used to be, but I still struggle to fall asleep before 2AM most nights.

Of course, insomnia isn’t the only thing that can cause exhaustion. Working too much, spending your free time with toxic people, job hunting, apartment hunting, these things tax your mind and soul. Mental illness and a variety of other disabilities also bring frequent exhaustion.

When we’re exhausted, sometimes we have to admit that we’ve been pushing ourselves way too hard and take a few days off. But I find that more often I only need to take an hour or two out of my day, and I can refill the creative well enough to make at least a little bit of progress on my current writing projects.  When I’m able to fully control my own schedule–which, as a freelancer, is most of the time–I even build a full hour of recharge time into my day. This time is separate from my meal time, and I use it for several different things, all designed to boost my creativity in different ways.

Everyone’s different, so you might find that none of these activities help you, but they’re all worth trying.

Why reviewing books you love is so important

One of the most recent books I loved
One of the most recent books I loved

I’ve written about why it’s so important to review books you love in the past, but I thought I’d revisit the subject now that I’ve released my first book, Keeper of the Dawn. This is a slightly altered version of my original article, which you can read here.

Why you should review books you love

When it comes right down to it, the thing that drew most of you to this blog, the thing that convinced you to start writing, was most likely a love of books.

We all have books we’re passionate, both well known and almost unknown. I have at some point been touched deeply by books from every genre, but the genres that have impacted me most deeply are fantasy, YA and science fiction, particularly dystopian fiction.

Some of the books I love are immensely popular: The GiverHarry Potter, The Chrysalids, The Hunger Games, several books by Terry Pratchett.

Other books I love have been written by little known authors, like Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine or Timeless by Crystal CollierHow popular a book is has nothing to do with how much I enjoyed it. I can list quite a few popular books I didn’t enjoy much, but I won’t bother. That’s not what I’d like to talk about today.

I’d like to talk to you about those little known authors whose books you love. 

A great many of them are struggling. Struggling to make a name for themselves, struggling to make a living–or even enough to go out for dinner a couple times a month–from their writing. They might write the most amazing novel you’ve ever read, but making a living as a writer is nigh on impossible even with good reviews. It’s much harder when you don’t have those reviews.

Which means it’s your duty to review the books you truly love, especially when they’re written by an unknown author. 

You don’t have to start a book review blog. You can do a quick review on Amazon and Goodreads and go on your merry way, but the more reviews a book has, and the higher its rating, the more likely it is that the author will make real money from the books you love.

With the sheer number of small presses and self published authors flooding the market with new books every day, book bloggers are always pressed for time. Even the best authors struggle to get reviews, because there are so many different authors competing for each spot on every book blog.

Most people who enjoy a book won’t take the time to review it, but every person who does contributes to an author’s career.

As a writer, you have a vested interest in the success of other authors and the publishing industry as a whole. You should be more eager than anyone to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads–or both–when you really love a book for two reasons:

1. Supporting small presses and lesser known authors helps ensure that you’ll have many different publishing options in the future 

There are hundreds of small presses, which means that there are hundreds of opportunities for you to get published, but it also means there are hundreds of voices to compete with. Small presses rarely have even a fraction of the marketing budget big presses do, which means they’re even more reliant on word of mouth marketing and the reviews they get on Amazon and Goodreads.

We might all daydream about getting published by Random House or one of the other massive publishers, but realistically, the vast majority of us will get published by small presses or eventually choose to self publish. That means we should be eager to support small presses and self published authors so the people who make those things possible continue making a living.

2. In the book world, karma is real 

Small press and self published authors tend to be among the friendliest people on the planet. Over the years I’ve interviewed dozens of small press and self published authors, and they’ve all been a pleasure to work with. When my own novella, Keeper of the Dawn, came out, many of those authors hosted me on their blogs. Many more have shared my social media posts about the book. A couple have even left me reviews. This was never the primary goal of my interviews, but I always knew it would be one of the benefits.

If you write a glowing review for a book you love and the author isn’t particularly popular, chances are you can make a friend by sending them the review and telling them how much you adore their work. Now you’ve made a connection, and someday when you also have a book to publish, you can do cross promotions.

3. A single review CAN have a big impact

If the book you’re currently enjoying was published by a small press, you can bet that author doesn’t have many reviews. Most small press authors are lucky to get more than 10 reviews, especially on a first book. Many self published authors have trouble even getting that many.

When a book only has a few reviews, your review really matters. Your rating has weight. You might even be able to bump an author you love up a star. Nobody’s sure exactly how much of an impact this has on your sales, but it definitely helps. Even if the sales don’t go up, the author feels encouraged to keep writing. And isn’t that what you want? More stories from authors you love?

Final Thoughts

Support authors and small presses you love and they’re a lot more likely to stay around long enough for you to enjoy the publishing and networking opportunities they provide. And if you’ve already read Keeper of the Dawn and loved it, this is me officially asking you to leave a review and let me know!

Do you review books you love? Why or why not?

#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: Using the internet to find beta readers & critique partners

One site where I've found critique partners in the past
One site where I’ve found critique partners in the past
Last month for the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop I talked about how to receive feedback on your work. In the past couple of weeks it’s come to my attention that many writers I know are still struggling with a completely different problem: how to get beta readers and critique partners so they can actually receive feedback. So today I’m going to share a few things that have worked for me, and a couple things other people have suggested.

The power of paper

DSC_0313_editMillions of businesses around the world have paper free offices, and more are making the switch every day. And it makes a lot of sense, especially when you consider how deforestation contributes to climate change. Most of us also type a lot faster than we write by hand–I know I certainly do. So we write on our computers, we work on our computers, we socialize on our computers. We do virtually everything with our computers, and while they do have limitations, scientists are pushing against those limitations every day.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with this. Computers are a tool. They are one of the most useful tools humanity’s ever invented. We can do thousands of things with them. Most of those things can be done in a matter of minutes. And there are tools for almost every task you can imagine, especially creative tasks. Want to brainstorm? You can use Scrivener, or you can get a dedicated brainstorming app. Want to write a book? There are dozens of software options. Want to write a BETTER book? There are tools that will assess your manuscript for overused words, misspelled words, and poor grammar.

But there is also power in paper. It forces us to think differently, to take our time. Not only do most of us write slower by hand, but we also don’t want to cross things out and “ruin” our paper. Nor do we want to take up more space than absolutely necessary. Paper might be affordable, but most of us still don’t like wasting it.

I use a lot of paper for my own writing, and I use it for many different things. Today I’d like to share what those things are–and why I prefer paper for each one.

Accomplishments of 2016 + Creative Goals 2017

The world in 2016 has been a bit of a shit show(yes, I know I’m being generous here), but I’ve made massive leaps and strides in my writing career, and as much as I am concerned about where the world is headed from here(into fire and brimstone?) on a personal level, I’m extremely excited for the new year to begin. But first I’d like to take a moment to honour all the things I’ve accomplished this year, because acknowledging our past accomplishments is as important as creating goals for the future.

So here goes, my 2017 creative accomplishments:

1. Edited Good Bye & Submitted It

Spoiler Alert: I got the contract! Good Bye, a YA fantasy novella I’ve put many years of love into, is set to release in April 2017.

2. Edited Moonshadow’s Guardian & started working with a professional editor

I ended up only getting half of Moonshadow’s Guardian, one of my fantasy novels, edited professionally because I had an epiphany that requires somewhat major changes, but this was a big step for me and I’m confident I’ll be able to self publish Moonshadow’s Guardian in early 2018.

3. Drafted Moonshadow’s Guardian 2

Once upon a time I wrote a sequel to Moonshadow’s Guardian. It then got abandoned for several years. This year, I wrote a completely different sequel to Moonshadow’s Guardian, full of exciting things like civil war. It’s a pretty bare bones draft but I’m quite proud of the story, and I’ve got a bunch of ideas bouncing around for a third book.

4. Embarked on some co-writing projects

I can’t say anything about these other than that they exist and none of them are novels, which is exciting. I’ve learned a lot by experimenting with different forms.

5. Wrote a few short stories

One of them has even been edited multiple times and is currently sitting with beta readers for a second read through. I’m hoping to submit it to an anthology with a December 31st deadline, which at this point is rather ambitious, but doable.

6. Started a new but not new series

2016 has been full of creative epiphanies for me, including a big one about a book I had abandoned for several years. Which involved rewriting an entire mythology and deciding to write an entirely different series of books in the same world first. And probably a collection of short stories. Or three. It’s kind of a big, awesome world.

7. Contributed to an RPG

My first official publishing credit for short fiction came in this year, a setting for Tiny Frontiers: Mecha and MonstersI had an incredible amount of fun writing this setting and I hope to write for more games next year.

2017 Creative Goals

In 2017 one big shift I want to make is to expand my creativity beyond writing. Writing will obviously continue to be my focus and career path, but I want to expand my horizons.

1. Edit Moonshadow’s Guardian into publishable shape & crowdfund publication

Most of the editing that needs to be done is around the final conflict, so I’m confident I can pull this off–and I’ve acquired an amazing team of beta readers who are going to help me do it. My goal is to get all the story edits done by October, run a Kickstarter in October to raise funds for copy editing and officially release the book in February 2018.

2. Rewrite Moonshadow’s Guardian 2 & get to beta readers

I’m hoping to release this book in 2019, so this is my other big editing goal for 2017. The first draft of this book was one of the most difficult I’ve ever written, but it resulted in one of my best drafts, and I can’t wait to see how my beta readers will react.

3. Write first book in the new series

This one I’ve already started, and I’m about a thousand words(and fifty pages of notes) into it. Right now the working title is Navelme’s Story, since the main character is named Navelme and titles always take me a really long time. I’d love to be able to publish this book in October or November 2018.

4. Write, edit, and submit six short stories

It might not sound like a lot, but this is one short story every two months on top of all my other projects. And these are entirely new short stories. A short story generally takes me a few days to write and a month to edit, so this gives me some breathing room and seems reasonable on top of my book projects.

5. Edit old short stories

There are also four short stories sitting on my hard drive that I’m hoping to edit and release as freebies for subscribers to my newsletter. Two of these are in the world of Moonshadow’s Guardian and two are in the world of my new series.

6. Finish at least one of my coworking projects

Obviously coworking projects take a back burner to my own personal career, but I’d like to continue working on them and finish at least one.

7. Make at least one prop per month

One of those coworking projects happens to be a script that we’re planning to film ourselves, and this is the perfect creative endeavor for me. I’m going to start with simple things and move on to more complicated projects as the year goes on.

8. Become more consistent with my newsletter & blog

As I mentioned, this year has been a bit of a shit show, and I’ve been mostly good about keeping the blog together but pretty awful at consistently releasing the newsletter. I’m planning to restructure this blog to focus on shorter posts so it’s easier to maintain.

How I chose these goals

There are dozens of things I want to do creatively. I have half a dozen other novels completely outside either series I mentioned that I’d love to rewrite someday, and there are dozens of other creative skills I’d love to learn. But I ask myself one question about every goal on my list: how will this impact my writing career? 

My career as an author is only beginning. Now is the most important time to focus on big impact goals. This is why I’m focusing on books that are part of series–readers prefer series, especially in the fantasy genre. The projects I’ve chosen are also the ones I believe are closest to the possibility of publication. Yes, I’ve only just started the first draft of Navelme’s Story, but I’ve poured endless hours of love into this world and the characters, and I’m confident this first draft will be my best yet. Also, I edit much faster than I used to, so I believe it’s actually possible for me to get Navelme’s Story into publishable shape by the end of 2018.

How do you choose your goals? What are your goals for 2017? Let me know in the comments section below!

What are you going to accomplish in the last four months of the year?

DSC_0615_editSomehow the first eight months of 2016 have already passed us by, and if you’re anything like me you’ve created a list of everything you’ve accomplished this year and you can’t decide if it’s an incredible amount of work or not quite enough(the real answer, I suspect, is a little bit of both). But one thing’s for sure: there are only a precious few months left to reach as many of our goals for the year as possible. Now is the time to start working towards these goals with ferocious determination.

And one of the best ways to motivate yourself is to announce your goals to the world, so please share your goals for the rest of the year in the comments section — but first let me tell you about a couple of my own writing goals:

  • September — Write 30,000+ words of the draft I’m currently working on(it’s a second draft but a complete rewrite), which will bring me almost to the end
  • October — Finish the draft I’m currently working on and write a short story. The second part of this will actually be a way bigger challenge.
  • November — Do final edits on a couple short things I’ve written and start editing the sequel to Moonshadow’s Guardian, the fantasy novel I plan to self publish.
  • December — Finish editing the sequel to Moonshadow’s Guardian(which will hopefully have a better name by then) and write a related short story.

I’m also working on a really intense series of blog posts about developing a diverse cast of characters to go with the interviews I’ve been doing, which will start next Tuesday. This month I’ll actually be attending multiple workshops on creating diverse characters, which I plan to write about in detail — but enough about me, I want to hear about your goals! Let me know what you’re getting up to this fall in the comments.

Making immortal characters feel real to your readers

My little Sauron sitting next to his eye... Yes I do own these!Many of the most fascinating characters in fantasy are immortal–the vampires Lestat and Armand immediately pop into my mind–but so are many of the most shallow characters, especially villains(I’m looking at you Sauron). I myself struggled for years to find the true voice of Riana, the cursed demigod who is the main character of Moonshadow’s Guardian, the fantasy novel I’m currently preparing to self publish.

There are countless examples of immortal characters who have all the feelings of a cardboard cutout or who mindlessly serve a single purpose even when it’s doomed but it is possible to write an immortal character your readers will like, even love. You just have to be prepared to put in some extra work. This article will explain how to develop immortal characters who have lived several hundred(or thousand) years.

The Challenges of Writing Immortal Characters

Writing a truly believable character is difficult even when your character isn’t immortal but immortality brings its own set of challenges:

1. A longer history means more world development

If your character has been alive for one hundred years you need to know what life was like in their world one hundred years ago–and something about how they lived during all the years in between. If your character has lived a thousand years or even ten thousand years the same thing holds true.

This means you need to do either extensive historical research(if your novel is based on a historical period and especially if it’s in a real place) or extensive worldbuilding(if you’re creating your own world). You probably won’t add a huge portion of it to the backstory even if the immortal character is your main character but you need to know it. What your character knows and remembers will have a huge impact on their personality. The more time you spend getting to know them, the more you will understand them and how they would think/speak.

2. It’s way more tempting to make them Mary Sues/Gary Stus

Most immortal characters also have some kind of special powers, usually related to the reason why they’re immortal. It’s always tempting to overdo these powers, to have the characters quickly win every battle, but that ruins the tension of the book.

Another thing you might be tempted to do is create an immortal character who has lived for eons and spent literally their entire life devoted to one thing. Unless your character is forced to do this one thing or was created specifically for that purpose(and designed to enjoy it) they will eventually want to do something new. Your immortal characters should have spent at least some time doing other things. Or had doubts about the one purpose they’ve always served.

It is true that we form most of our personality and long term beliefs in our first 10-20 years of life but almost every person goes through periods of doubt and upheaval. If your character has been alive for two or more human lifetimes they’re likely to have experienced at least twice as many periods of upheaval. Immortal characters who are supposed to be similar to humans in almost every other way but who never even doubted their purpose are kind of hard to believe.

3. It’s also really tempting to just fill their past with torture

Our goal as authors is to make our readers feel with the characters and frankly the easiest way to do this is to give them some past suffering to think about. And writing an extensive backstory is hard, which makes it really tempting to kill off all the people your character cares about quickly and have them spend the rest of their lives as sad hermits until your story starts.

This does work once in a while but as a general rule of thumb all of your characters should have periods of happiness they can remember–and an immortal character should probably remember at least a few more happy moments than your average mortal.

A good character feels the full spectrum of emotions(unless the story is about them not feeling the full range of emotions) and always has.

How to thoroughly develop your immortal characters

Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who is lucky enough to get a well rounded character arc.
Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who is lucky enough to get a well rounded character arc.

Properly developing an immortal character is very similar to developing a regular character but it will take you longer. I like to start by building an overall timeline noting only the ten or fifteen most important events in the character’s lifetime. Often the events will slide into place as soon as I’ve written the first one down but sometimes I have to ask the characters questions, usually things like “what was your worst memory”.

Once I’ve figured out these fifteen defining events and where they sit on the character’s timeline I can dive deeper. I write scenes about most of these events, always working in the first person POV(point of view) of the character I’m trying to develop. Sometimes I’ll write two scenes about a specific event, one from the POV of another character, to see how it affected different people or how other people see the immortal character.

As you research the history of the setting you’ve chosen or develop the history of your own created world you should also tie these into your character’s life. By this I don’t mean have them directly involved–your immortal character shouldn’t be involved in every single historical event during their lifetime–but they should have an opinion on at least the biggest events both local and worldwide. Even antisocial people who never go out except to shop hear the occasional rumour and develop an opinion on it.

Your character’s age will probably also impact the way they use language. Immortal characters will obviously have to keep up with changes in language to be able to communicate with people around them on a daily basis but they might adjust slowly, always speaking like an old fashioned person. Or they might adopt new slang immediately to avoid attention, especially if they’re the type of immortal who doesn’t age. Developing some slang for them to use–whether it’s old fashioned or extremely new to your world–will give your character more depth. Of course, you can overdo this pretty easily, so be conservative about where you sprinkle that slang.

Final Tips

16 Quick CharacterDevelopmentExercisesThe best thing you can do to properly develop an immortal character is take your time. You should develop more details about your character and your world before, during and after every draft of every story they’re in. Be willing to spend countless hours wandering through your world with your characters–both the immortal ones and the regular mortals.

If you’re still not sure where to start(or you’ve worked through the aspects of character discussed here) you should do the 16 quick character exercises I posted last week.

16 Quick character exercises

16 Quick CharacterDevelopmentExercisesI(and many of the writers I follow) subscribe to the theory that character is the most important part of your novel. The most memorable part of a good book is almost always the characters, but it’s more than that. Your characters, their emotions, actions and reactions are the driving force behind the story, even in story with a highly external plot. It’s why our books so often change dramatically from the outline during the first or second draft–because we’ve gotten to know our characters and realized they wouldn’t act the way we originally imagined.

So how do you get to know your characters? There are almost as many different methods as there are writers. Hell, I’d go so far as to say there are as many ways to develop characters as there are characters in our fiction–I’ve developed almost all my main characters in very different ways. Sure, the starting exercises are the same, but there are a whole fleet of other exercises I’ve used to get to know my characters(and occasionally other people’s) over the years.

Today I’d like to give you the tools to develop your own characters. I’m pretty confident you already know what a good character looks like, so we’re going to jump straight into a collection of the best character exercises I’ve tried(some are linked to the articles where I found them, some no longer exist):

1. Describe your character in three words.

2. Write an internal monologue from the POV of your main character about their first big crush or first love.

3. Write one page or paragraph about your character’s worst memory, using their first person perspective.

4. Follow a supporting character after they leave the protagonist’s presence.

5. Interview your character about a specific part of their past.

6. Write a diary entry about your character having an ordinary day.

7. Write a letter from one supporting character to another.

8. Get your character to confess their most shameful secret.

9. Ask your character to describe their favourite place. 

10. Send your character(s) to Disney World and watch their reactions.

11. Get them to tell you about their education in one paragraph, then expand it to a page.

12. Write a description of your character from the POV of the person they’ve hurt the most.

13. Write one page describing your character’s family from their POV.

14. List what’s in your characters pockets/purse/briefcase/car on an ordinary day. 

15. Write a scene from a support character’s POV about them meeting your character for the first time. Pay close attention to how they describe your character at first glimpse.

16. Create a factsheet listing everything you’ve learned about your character so far.

All of these character exercises were chosen because they can be completed within an hour(usually less for many of the exercises) but I’ve often found that once I get my characters talking about something one paragraph or even one page is rarely enough. If you have the time to keep going, let your characters ramble–it’s in these moments that you often learn the most.

What is your favourite character development exercise? Let me know in the comments section below!

Author Spotlight: James Stryker

Assimilation_coverIt recently came to my attention that I’ve read a disturbing lack of books about LGBTQ+ characters and that my recent reading list contained a total of 0 transgender characters so I reached out to Twitter looking for books with LGBTQ+ characters to review. James Stryker was the first author to respond to my call for LGBTQ+ characters with his novel, Assimilationa story about a person who is resurrected in a body with a different gender.

But don’t let me attempt to explain the book, here’s a blurb to do it for you:

She was far away, this woman he’d been. He knew her child’s and husband’s names. He could see their faces. But Natalie was a ghost.
Natalie Keller was a happy, attractive woman in the prime of her life: a mother and a wife. The kind of woman some people are jealous of. When a fatal car accident ends Natalie’s life, a new technology allows her husband to bring her back. Except it isn’t Natalie who wakes up over a year after the accident. It’s Andrew.
Andrew is not the only one who has returned from death profoundly changed, and he soon finds a group of misfits who share his fate. They include the brilliant and reckless Oz, who decides to make Andrew his project. The closer they become, the more Oz pushes Andrew into a carelessness that jeopardizes both of their lives.
Having paid for the procedure, Natalie’s husband Robert has control over Andrew’s body and legal identity. In order to get his life back, Andrew must play a dangerous game, keeping Robert in the dark and preserving his own sanity until he can legally revoke Natalie’s identity. But Robert is not the only threat. CryoLife, the company behind the new procedure, is eager to cover up any “mistakes.”
In a world where a new life is possible, there are still those who would tell Andrew and Oz how to live theirs. When the truth of who they are is on the line, what are they willing to sacrifice for their freedom?
A dystopian sci-fi thriller for fans of Ann Leckie, Lila Bowen and Kameron Hurley.

Now on to the interview:

1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, Assimilation

Assimilation takes place in a not-so-distant future where technology has developed to the point of being able to bring individuals back from the dead through cryonic preservation. The book is told from three points of view; however, it mainly focuses on Andrew after he has been reanimated following a fatal car accident. As Assimilation opens, an error in the medical procedure has impacted Andrew’s gender identity and he’s essentially a man waking up in the body and life of a woman. He then has to navigate his feelings of gender dysphoria in a struggle with the previous identity’s husband, and the cryonic corporation who’s looking to cover up any mistakes.

2. What part of Assimilation came to you first?

Cadaver preparation (embalming, cremation, plastination etc.) has always been interesting to me and I was researching cryonic preservation theories. In reading about current processes/challenges, an inherent part of such an invasive procedure would be significant impact on brain tissue – if/once cryonic reanimation becomes successful, there is a very real possibility that a person could return with different personality traits. While we still have a limited understanding of the exact structures that play a role, brain anatomy has more to do with gender identity, possibility, and expression than genitalia. I had the image of a young man paralyzed in a hospital bed opening his eyes to a man expecting his wife and a child waiting for his mother. The story built itself from there.

3. Your main character passes away as a woman and is revived as a man. Did you set out wanting to write a book that tackled trans issues or did it just sort of happen?

From its inception the idea of Assimilation centered around transgender issues. I thought the book’s concept would be a unique platform to explore a couple pieces of the transgender experience that I feel are often eclipsed in media sensationalism – managing the history of another gender identity and the struggle of a closet transgender youth.

For the first, essentially Andrew lived as a woman for 27 years – investing and building relationships as a woman. Coming back into the world as a man, that history doesn’t disappear. In choosing to pursue their true identity, a transgender individual has to manage and/or sacrifice the prior gender identity’s role. When gender is closely tied to our society and interactions, transition (even once complete) letting go of previously held images, expectations, and dreams is a painful, grief-filled process for family and friends.

Another twist in Assimilation is that while Andrew is 28, a guideline of the reanimation procedure has placed him under a conservatorship. He has limited rights and is under strict control of the woman’s husband, Robert. Leaking his struggle could result in being sent back to CryoLife, the organization responsible for the reanimation or worse punishment. As in the case of many transgender children and teens, Andrew is forced to deal with his gender dysphoria silently, with no options. He goes through a litany of emotions from trying to fit in as the woman to fighting thoughts of suicide.

4. Did you do much research into gender dysphoria and the trans experience before starting Assimilation

I’ve always been passionate about promoting a greater understanding of the transgender experience. I’ve attended TransCentralPA’s Keystone Conference, which hosts workshops, seminars, and other programs regarding gender identity (keystone-conference.org). Another great resource has also been Laura’s Playground, a support site for a variety of gender identities and expressions (www.lauras-playground.com). Laura’s Playground offers live chat, forums, and additional information. I’ve been friends with many of the moderators and site visitors for years.

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

For me, the hardest part of the writing process is finding adequate time to accomplish it. I write quickly, but I need dedicated time. To get through a first draft, I end up taking vacation time and barely leave my kitchen table for a week or so, writing continuously for upwards of 20 hours/day (can usually manage around 10K words/day). The result is usually a completed first draft, but it’s physically and emotionally taxing, so not something I can regularly do.

I try to make it easier by intermixing longer works with short pieces or editing. I still feel productive, but these smaller sprints aren’t as draining and are great creative exercises.

6. Do you believe in writer’s block? Why/why not?

I believe in writer’s block in the context of “what I’d currently like to write about isn’t coming easy for me,” but I’ve never seen it as a completely closed door to writing in general. While Assimilation was my first completed novel, my second novel, Boy, was in the works for about seven years due to periodic “writer’s block.” If a story is lacking expressional fluidity it’s not that there’s a bad story, a bad writer, or that the writer has “writer’s block” – it’s just an indication that additional development for that particular idea is needed. When I hit this feeling, I try to focus elsewhere and trust that the piece I’m stuck on will unravel itself when it’s ready.

7. What advice would you give to a writer setting out to write about their first transgender character?

Take the time to consider details. Elements of gender are woven into so many aspects of everyday life that often go unnoticed. For example, in Assimilation the idea of just getting a haircut is a huge ordeal for Andrew. What if the stylist refuses to give him a man’s haircut? What if it ends up botched and looking even more feminine? Even walking into a salon with an interior of mirrors reflecting an image he hates, is terrifying. If a writer is going to accurately portray a transgender character, they need to bring in the finer points, and the thousands of worries that accompany even seemingly small actions.

8. Can you recommend some other awesome books about transgender people?

Most of transgender books I read are biography or other non-fiction; I really enjoyed Dhillon Khosla’s account of his transition in Both Sides Now: One Man’s Journey Through Womanhood. On the fiction spectrum, there were several elements of gender explanation in Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex: A Novel that I found fascinating.

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

When you finish the first draft, remove yourself to edit ruthlessly. Editing is more than spell-check and comma placement. A writer has to be willing to detach, and treat the thing they’ve created as a body of work.

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

I have four other standalone books looking for homes – two of which have specific (though different) transgender themes:

In Boy, my second novel, after his father’s death a young man is shocked to discover that his father had a hidden past as a transgender man. To find out why this secret was kept from him, Luke must go through a journey of self-discovery which involves convincing his father’s terminally ill best friend that he can be trusted with the truth.

My third novel, The Simplicity of Being Normal, follows Sam, a transgender teenager stuck in an environment of religiously justified bullying at school and abuse at home. After confiding his gender identity to his only ally, a teacher hiding secrets of his own, Sam tries to survive the increasing violence at school in order to graduate and begin transition.

James Stryker lives in small-town Pennsylvania, though he grew up in Ogden, Utah. He relocated 2,000 miles to be with the love of his life, and he also shares a residence with a pack of pugs. James enjoys writing both short and novel-length pieces of speculative and literary fiction. Themes in his work focus toward diversity in the LGBTQ spectrum and the voice of underrepresented or misunderstood points of view. When not writing, James can be found reading, listening to opera at obscene decibels, wearing pedantic vests/sweaters with large buttons, and trying to figure out who in his neighborhood has fabric softener that smells like Dr. Pepper.

Purchase your copy of Assimilation now! 

Did you find this interview helpful? Want to see more like it? Let me know in the comments section below!

 

Attitudes towards LGB characters in your fantasy land

Image free from PixabayFantasy is a genre full of tropes, many of which I love: castles, dragons and magic are just a few of my favourites. Some of the tropes, however, aren’t so pleasant. Many fantasy societies closely resemble the medieval English culture they are modeled after, including not just the castles but the strict class structure and the oppressive laws. Main characters tend to rebel against these structures(even when it makes no sense for them to do so) but they are almost always there.

But… Why? Why can’t our fantasy societies have different morals? They can still have castles, can still have kings and courts of nobles, without needing the entire moral code. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t make sense for most of these societies to have such identical morals. Most fantasy societies are already so radically different from our own histories that it only makes sense for them to have completely different morals. There’s one huge difference:

Magic

Magic is found to some extent in pretty much every fantasy story, but few people really explore its full implications. The implications of healing magic are simultaneously the most profound and the most under explored. You see, advanced healing magic probably means a lot less infant and child mortality. Things like compulsory heterosexual marriages made a lot more sense when you’re dealing with a 30%(or higher) infant mortality rate. Survival of the species takes precedence. At that point sex is 95% about creating the next generation and 5% about pleasure if you’re lucky.

A world where magic has allowed your civilization to flourish much the way science has allowed ours to flourish–and to do so much earlier in their development–will likely have totally different attitudes about things like work, relationships and sexuality. If they’ve figured out how to heal your character’s mortal wounds with magic they’ve definitely figured out how to save children from common yet deadly illnesses and extend the human lifespan at least a little bit. This makes the need to have children less desperate, making sex more about pleasure the same way it happened in our world.

Maybe I’m just an optimist but I believe cultures become more progressive as their lives get easier. It’s why we’re seeing a huge swing back to conservatism in so many places right now: one country after another has been thrown into financial turmoil and we’re all so screwed we can barely help ourselves, let alone each other.

And hey, if your fantasy culture has different attitudes about sex it actually makes sense for your main character to have even more progressive views. What doesn’t make sense is how every woman living in a near copy of medieval Europe seems to be obsessed with the idea of marrying for love when they have literally lived their entire lives under the assumption that they will have an arranged marriage. These women have often also been taught love is a learned thing, something achieved through marriage rather than a reason to marry, so why the hell does every single one turn away from their entire upbringing?

You don’t even have to change the morals completely. With the histories of many fantasy worlds it doesn’t make sense for them to be totally accepting of everything. There will still be taboos. People who are different may simply be tolerated rather than actively accepted. No culture is perfect and I’m not saying yours should be either–that would probably take most of the fun out of it.

What I’m suggesting is that our fantasy worlds don’t have to match our own history so closely. The possibilities of our genre are literally endless. Yes, many fantasy tropes are wonderful, but we need to move beyond them and expand the genre into new territory. The world is changing and so should our stories, because the world changes faster when we change the stories we put into it.

Have you ever read a fantasy novel about a culture where they’re more open about sexuality? Have you written one yourself? Tell me all about it in the comments section below!