I made a thing.

Bower of Blood and Thorns

This is what I’ve been working on the past few days. It’s my first complete Twine (a hypertext interaction fiction tool) project. I wrote it for Porpentine’s LocusJam. It features fallen angels because I have a schtick, oh yes.

If you read and liked the story in Etiquette of Exiles called “The Endless Silence of Forgotten Things” you’ll probably like this. Or if you like Dark Souls storytelling, maybe.

It is less than 6000 words all told, and any one playthrough should take less than five minutes. It’s a flash-fiction generator! And there are 9 ending points.

I am kind of embarrassed by it, but I had a lot of fun putting it together. So I guess that’s okay?

Writing About Problematic Relationships

Hi there and welcome to my extremely intermittent series on writing techniques! Today I’d like to talk about Problematic Relationships. Specifically, Problematic Love Stories. It’s Valentines Day and 50 Shades of Grey has been released in theaters everywhere so it’s the perfect time!

Ok, so you’ve decided to buck the critics and write a desperate love story about a cynical hired killer falling in love with the woman he’s been paid to murder.

Wait, no, back up. That side is the easy side. You’ve decided to write a story about a woman falling in love with a stalker who hasn’t decided whether or not they wants to kill her.


a story about an innocent girl convincing her kidnapper to abandon the side of evil because she loves him


a story about a young person falling in love with the body-stealing alien who stabbed them when they first met

etc. You’ve got a story and you’re feeling kind of worried because stories with other troubled relationships have gotten a lot of bad press recently and you just want to write the kind of story that makes your heart flutter, you don’t want to be scorned everywhere as promoting domestic abuse.

Fear not! You can write about Problematic Relationships in a responsible way and I’m here to help.

(The easiest approach is to Not Have A Happy Ending, but that isn’t what you want to do. I know it isn’t what I want to do, at least. So we’ll just put that option aside. But do be aware it’s out there.)

First: be aware of what you’re writing. Be aware of who you’re writing about. Don’t try to make your heroine an Everygirl; she’s in a problematic relationship and she’s going to thrive there because she’s got exactly what’s required to thrive.  (Almost) Everygirl can appreciate a well-done problematic relationship, but Everygirl will not find said relationship personally healthy.

So know your heroine. And know what your hero is offering her, other than the thrill of danger. Is she always responsible at home and thus welcomes the chance to be bossed around by somebody she trusts? Does she feel isolated and appreciate somebody who sees the world the same way she does? Does she wear a mask and bond to the first person to notice that?

Figure that out, figure out the places where they fit together like puzzle pieces and please have those NOT just be their physical tabs and slots. If you’re going to have a happy ending, make the characters emotionally compatible as well as sexually compatible. This is going to make their decision to put up with something everybody else might consider awful a lot more comprehensible and even sympathetic!

(Bonus: figuring out those emotional cues will make the whole story better, too.)

Second: If at all possible, have your character acknowledge the relationship is problematic. It’s bizarre to be attracted to somebody after they hold a knife to your throat! Probably you need to see a doctor to make sure everything’s okay up there.  Maybe your fear and attraction signals are really confused by that bump on the head? (And maybe that’s the case! Maybe that’s where it starts. Explore, have fun.) But even if it turns out that fear and attraction are just upsettingly mingled, let your character be aware that this is probably not going to be good for them.

Sometimes that’s not reasonable because you’re writing about somebody who honestly doesn’t realize that it’s a bad relationship (for whatever reasons). But that’s what friends are for. Supporting characters are great at kibitzing on other people’s relationships. Maybe they can wake your heroine up to her danger. Maybe they can point out other stories that didn’t have a happy ending. That can be a buzzkill, definitely, so I prefer to go with the self-aware characters myself. But it’s an option!

Third: Have your characters respect each other. This is really important! Maybe they don’t like each other.  Maybe they do like each other but they have extremely different goals. Maybe they’re on opposite sides of a war. It doesn’t matter. They can still respect each other.

Respect, by the way, is a deed, not just a word. Respecting somebody means giving them room to take care of their own business. It means listening when they say no.  It means listening, period.

Maybe they hide it. Maybe their entire deal is being disrespectful. That’s definitely problematic! But a love interest who respects his counterpart will a.) show that respect when it’s important and b.) fundamentally respect the role and person of the counterpart even while disrespecting smaller elements of his or her lifestyle. (This calls for an example: As a fashion expert, he may disparage her personal style but he’s well aware that she’s the best editor in all of the western seaboard. If he ever steps on her toes as an editor, he apologizes.)

Yes! Apologies! Apologies are often cheap, especially in Problematic Relationships. But as part of a consistent diet of respect, self-awareness and repressed passion, apologies can offset character quirks as long as that character quirk never, ever hurts the partner again.

Fourth: As a writer, own that you’re writing about a relationship that nobody should go out looking for. Maybe it works out for your characters, maybe everybody enjoys cheering for the happy ending– but your characters are one in a million, not Everygirl. Make sure that when it comes up in interviews when you’re rich and famous, you make it clear that the girls who walk away? They find love with somebody else. Because it’s okay to blow up that investment of time and love and walk away to take care of yourself. You’ll find somebody else. I promise.

Optionally: Attraction doesn’t mean a relationship has to follow. It might be a challenge pacing-wise but even if the attraction starts when a relationship would be incredibly unhealthy, have your smart, self-aware heroine hold off on letting it progress until the dangerous character in question has gotten his shit together.

(But don’t make her decide she has to stay with him until he has his shit together. She shouldn’t change him. But he can change himself after seeing himself reflected in her eyes….)

Or maybe he doesn’t change. Maybe he’s a dangerous killer, barely more than a savage animal, soothed only by your heroine’s gentle touch and YOU LIKE IT THAT WAY. Okay. Keep First, Second, Third and Fourth in mind.

Finally: (maybe? there’s probably more. This is what I’ve got today though) No matter what you do, some people are going to hate the Problematic Relationship. If you’re doing your best to make sure nobody goes out looking for that same wild one in a million happy ending, don’t worry about it. Write your romance. Enjoy yourself. Keep reading!

Some Bits Make A Post

I’ll be at Norwescon this year, as a member. No table or pamphlets or panels or anything. I should be spending part of the time in the bar and part of the time attending panels and part of the time huddled over my laptop trying to get some pages of GREEN WILD revised. And I’ll be paying attention to my phone so, hey, let me know if you’re around and want to say hi!

The Renton community garden opened on Saturday and I spent about five hours there this past weekend. It turns out I really don’t like dirt. Compost & potting soil? Those things are fine. Sunbaked tractor-plowed clod-filled dirt? Ergh. I flailed at my plot for a while and put out all of the spring starts I’ve been cultivating at home. I was so overwhelmed by the hard clods of dirt that that I was really lazy on how I set out the seeds and plants. We’ll see if any of them survive. I hope it rains today, and I should probably check in tomorrow to see if anything has withered already.

I also up-potted my tomato seedlings, putting them in their third container so far. I handled them kind of roughly but I think that’s the point: stress them so they grow up strong. They look really good; far better than the seedlings I’ve been getting from Territorial Seed the past couple of years. I’m still planning on buying some grafted tomatoes from Costco if they show up again but I have (hopefully) 10 seedlings already, far more tomatoes than I’ve ever tried growing before.

GREEN WILD, sequel to CITADEL OF THE SKY, which is due from Harlequin Digital First…. someday… goes along well. I was convinced a month ago it was the worst thing I’ve ever written. I’m no longer as certain. But I’m looking forward to getting it into submission-shape because then I’m going to move on to more SENYAZA short stories. I’ve been working on a long list of ideas about events that occur post INFINITY KEY. I should maybe make a dedicated post about this, but I’ve found that the keystone of turning an ‘idea’ into a ‘story’ is figuring out the point of view– not first or third or whatever but simply who the story is happening to and what their relationship is with the events. Once I have that, I still have to do the work of creating a story but I’m no longer flailing in the dark.

Speaking of SENYAZA, I hope to have news soon regarding WOLF INTERVAL, the third book in that series… I will say that if GREEN WILD felt like my worst book for a while, WOLF INTERVAL currently feels like my best. I may be calling in every connection I have to get it noticed by a broader audience.

That’s enough for now, I guess 🙂

Outlining Insight

I often chat about the writing process with a particular fellow writer who is also fascinated by the topic. I am an outliner; she is not. But unlike most of the non-outliners I see, who defiantly declare that outlining would suck all the joy and discovery from the writing process, she wishes she could outline. She’s tried and it produced one of her most negative writing experiences. That gave us a starting point for a very interesting conversation.

I’m always very bewildered by the anti-outliners, because as documented elsewhere on this site, there’s still a lot of discovery in my writing process, no matter how detailed my outline is. A metaphor I like is that I start with a small square of paper, upon which is my basic premise. I then unfold that, and have a few squares, and that’s my big plot events and major characters. I unfold again, and I get more events and minor characters. Again, and I start detailing chapters. And again, and I have this big sheet of paper with dozens of squares on it– but I still have to fill in each square to create the story. There’s a lot of discovery that goes on in those squares. And if things don’t go quite the way I expect, I usually go with it. It rarely derails the whole story, though it might have ramifications that change the story’s theme or mood significantly.

For example, today I was writing a Big Scene. I expected the protagonist to have a discussion with a semi-antagonistic supporting character, which ended with the supporting character volunteering to accompany her on a journey. As I wrote the scene, I realized that I couldn’t make that conversation happen. Instead, they had a fight in a dark warehouse, and when the protagonist won (or they had a draw, depending on your perspective) she then invited him to come along. Same end result: the two go on a journey together. But the dynamic has shifted, for the better. And the scene has a tension I was worried it would lack. I don’t have any qualms about departing from the outline, because I can tell what I’m doing is better. It’s very much like writing a second draft; it’s an iterative, improving process that relies heavily on an intuitive understanding of both the characters and the plot.

My wise friend then suggested that the big difference between me and people who consider outlines book- or joykillers is that I’m willing and able to trust my intuition when it leads me off-outline. She, on the other hand, can’t help but view an outline as The Rules. The Book, to be adhered to. Which, yes, WOULD destroy joy, especially if you found yourself writing something that sucked and feeling like you had to do it because it was right there written down already.

So, anti-outliners: I now understand, I think, and am properly sympathetic. Carry on with whatever works best for you.




Honor and Self Publishing

Hey! I’m posting again!

My personal swear word, Chuck Wendig*, has a new blog post up about dealing with the impact self-publishing has on discoverability. It’s a long post. My takeaway is that discoverability is hard in the age of self-publishing, it’s only going to get harder, and people celebrating the lack of gatekeepers are actually celebrating their own gruesome literary deaths in the cesspool below Respectability. He also suggests some guidelines that, if adopted by self-publishing culture, he believes might help.

I know about how discoverability is hard. Oh, I know. It’s hard even if you’re not self-published (my Senyaza books are small-published rather than self-published). My mapmaker likes to talk about the ‘discoverability gap’, which is the Grand Canyon you have to jump between sinking in the cesspool and acquiring actual readers. Is that too many metaphors? Maybe. But I think my mapmaker likes it because it implies that once you jump the gap (these days) it stays jumped. Possibly true. I hope it’s true!

Anyhow. Chuck’s been posting a lot about self-publishing and how to control the onslaught. It’s a quest, maybe. A life quest. He’s not going to get much traction on his own. He’s gotta know that. I believe he’s trying to kick off a revolution, which will sweep across self-publishing like a cleansing fire as more and more voices pick up the cry.

Or maybe he’s just tilting at windmills? I can’t tell. But I’ve watched self-publishing since before it was a Thing, and I am chock-full of thoughts about, oh, all sorts of things and my wacky weird brain, it draws connections between them, and I like to share them.

So let’s talk about honor.

To an outside observer (as much as a modern Western woman can be an outside observer on the subject of honor), ‘honor’ is a code of conduct artificially imposed on the dangerous, to regulate their behavior for the good of society. Traditionally ‘the dangerous’ comprises two broad categories: armed men and nubile women. (Man, those groups could totally destroy society if they weren’t indoctrinated young with a whole bunch of rules to stop them from running amuck with their guns/swords/sexuality.)

I read Chuck’s post, and what he was calling for, and I thought about codes of honor. Is self-publishing a threat to society, or at least the fragment of society that fiction readers comprise? Chuck thinks so; his posts have a lot to say about respecting and doing right by the reader. I… don’t know. I think self-publishing is mostly a threat to itself. I think it would benefit from a widespread adoption of a code of honor. It might, over time, help. So would standards organizations. Codes of honor didn’t just maintain themselves. Historically I know the most about Regency England, and while ‘honor’ was taught to ladies and gentlemen of quality from the cradle, organizations formed to informally enforce it. Clubs like Almack’s; gatekeepers like its patronesses.

But two things to consider in inventing a code of honor for self-publishers:

First: no code of honor is going to stop crap from being published. Opinions vary, and rules are, in the end, just rules. Many people have internalized the concept of honor deeply, and that’s useful. But the rules are bars on a prison and there are always going to be those who pay lip service without believing in the spirit of the code. Sometimes that kind of thing even becomes a standard kind of dodge: consider the idea of paying a debt of honor– but letting other debts, to those who aren’t on the same code of honor, slide.

Second: Scale is a problem. Scale is the problem, in so many situations. Scale is what we’re constantly relearning how to deal with. All sorts of systems that work perfectly with a certain number of participants absolutely collapse when the number of participants grows exponentially. With something like this, you can’t have clubs where everybody is involved, to a greater or lesser extent, in monitoring everybody else. You can’t have a club where members vote on new members, or members have to be referred by a large handful of other members. Or rather, you can but the club will remain extremely exclusive (and thus not have any impact on Chuck Wendig’s volcano). If membership is self-determined– well, a lot of people will do their best and more will just tell themselves they’re doing their best and again, it will have only a minor impact, if any, on the volcano.

I don’t actually have a solution right now, although you can bet I’m thinking about it. But I wanted to present this ‘honor’ paradigm for looking at the problem, in the hopes that it helps. And also to join my voice to Chuck’s, in encouraging other people to also think about what can be done to help that old saw become a truth: that literary cream floats to the top. Because right now, it doesn’t. It can’t, not without a whole bunch of luck or money.

(I’m always thinking about it. What about using a standards organization with lax standards to set up _extremely detailed_ book genres. Erotica, which is always a front-running in embracing new technology and certainly deals with massive churn, finds its audience with super-detailed genres but they usually have to put the category in the title somewhere… Often so does category romance… An idea for helping with discoverbility, maybe, but it’s not exactly a pretty one. But maybe a standards organization could come in there with indexing tools…)

*true story: he always either warns about using naughty language in his posts, or somebody complains in the comments. And I never notice the bad words when reading.

Load Your E-reader Giveaway

I had so much fun doing the previous giveaways that I’m doing another one! This time you can get both Senyaza Series ebooks (contemporary fantasy featuring angels and faeries, with excellent reviews. They’re DRM-free and giftable) AND a gift card to the ebook retailer of your choice. I will definitely be giving out at least one gift card. If I can swing it, there may be a second drawing as well.

You can read about Matchbox Girls and Infinity Key on Goodreads, if you’re looking for more information on them. You can get multiple entries through following me on Twitter and Facebook, tweeting, writing reviews and answering simple questions.

If you don’t do Facebook or Twitter, I’m sympathetic! Drop me a comment telling me how you DO keep up with acquaintances on the internet and you can get an entry for that!

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