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Crazy Comes in Threes: Chapter 1

Quinn wrapped her arms around Tara’s small body and held her breath. Even from inside the small closet, she could hear glass shattering as their mother threw dishes around their kitchen. Nancy Parker screamed obscenity after obscenity, and Tara trembled in Quinn’s arms.

“Is Mom going to . . . ?” Her eleven-year-old sister let the question hang in the air. She didn’t have to finish it. Quinn knew exactly what she meant.

“I don’t know,” Quinn said softly.

Their mother’s next words carried all the way up the stairs: “I’m going to kill you both!”

Tara broke into heavy sobs, her tears soaking Quinn’s shirt. Quinn clutched her phone in her hand, her finger prepared to press the emergency services button on the screen. Enough was enough, she decided. She loved her mother, but Nancy obviously needed help. Tears pricked at Quinn’s own eyes, and she blinked them away. She needed to stay calm and cool, if not for Tara’s sake, then to keep their mother away from them.

“She doesn’t know where we are,” she told her little sister. She didn’t say “yet,” but both the girls knew it was only a matter of time. Quinn exhaled softly and strained to listen. Downstairs, her mother was oddly silent. Quinn shifted, meaning to extract Tara from her arms, but her little sister only clung tighter. “Let go,” she whispered.

“I don’t want you to go down there,” Tara pleaded.

Quinn bit down on her lip. She didn’t really want to go downstairs, either, but Nancy was surrounded by broken glass, and in one of her moods. She didn’t have to try very hard to imagine her mother laying in a pool of her own blood, her wrists slit courtesy of a handy shard of champagne flute. She could wait it out. Nancy’s moods sometimes changed so quickly, they reminded Quinn of the Connecticut weather she had known her whole life.

She nodded to herself, relaxing. She hugged Tara and smoothed the younger girl’s hair. “It’ll be over soon,” she promised, but didn’t really know, and she knew Tara knew that. Still, she had nothing else to say. If she said “I’ll protect you,” it would only frighten Tara more.

“Why is she so quiet?” Tara whispered.

Quinn again thought of all the things their mother could do to herself. There were knives in the kitchen, and there was a bottle of bleach in the downstairs bathroom. Quiet and unattended, Nancy was more of a threat to herself than to them. She had read somewhere that something like fifty percent of bipolar people tried to kill themselves. Quinn had defended herself and Tara from their mother more times than she could count. Something felt different that morning, though, and Quinn worried that someone might get hurt.

She slowly began to unwrap Tara’s arms from her body.

“What are you doing?” Tara tensed.

“Going to check on her.”

“No,” her little sister begged. “She’ll stab you.”

“Stay here.” She pressed her phone into Tara’s hand. “If anything goes wrong, I’ll scream. Call 911 right away, give them our address, and stay in the closet.”

Tara whimpered. “Okay,” she said, and loosened her grip.

“Okay,” Quinn repeated. She slowly opened the closet door. The house sat in silence. She could not even hear the tick of the grandfather clock in the hall downstairs. She crawled out of the closet, pushed through a pile of shoes, and stood. As her eyes adjusted to the light, she stitched together a plan. She would go down the stairs, but not all the way. She just needed to get a glimpse of Nancy, and see what her mother was doing. For all she knew, Nancy had curled up on the couch and, in a state of exhaustion from her episode, fallen asleep.

Quinn wedged the closet door shut, shoved the shoes over, and took a deep breath. Then, she left Tara’s bedroom.

The stairs creaked under her feet, and she winced with each step. If Nancy was awake, she already knew Quinn was coming. She held her breath as she neared the landing. The stairs were embedded between two sections of wall. One side of the wall was cut out, so that as she got closer to the first floor, she could see into the living room. No one occupied the couch and, aside from a few framed photos and throw pillows strewn around, the room looked normal. Her heart thudding in her chest, Quinn descended the last four or so steps, glad her feet were bare, preventing any sound from her footfalls.

She stood in the living room and gazed into the kitchen. She could only see the kitchen table. Overturned chairs and shattered glass littered the floor. Where the living room rug met the cool linoleum, Quinn saw a few small splatters of blood. The red stood out on the white tile. She padded toward the kitchen, ears alert for any sound indicating an attack from her mother.

Rain pattered against the windows. The door to the back porch stood ajar. Ignoring it for the moment, Quinn turned to the rest of the kitchen. Shards of ceramic plates and glass cups glittered in the gray gloom. The set of knives her father bought years before he died was strewn across the floor. She counted them. One was missing. She closed her eyes for a moment and clasped a hand to her chest. She needed to find Nancy.

She left the kitchen and checked the back porch. Only drying laundry on the line greeted her. A railing wrapped around the porch, which stood twenty feet above their yard. She did not see her mother’s broken body below, so Quinn turned around and went back into the house. She surveyed the kitchen for a moment, thinking. Then her eyes went to the basement door, and she swallowed a knot of fear.

Quinn returned to the mess on the floor, carefully avoiding the glass, and picked up a small paring knife. She did not want to hurt her mother, but she couldn’t be sure that Nancy didn’t want to hurt her. She tiptoed to the basement door, put her hand on the knob, and slowly opened it.

Darkness swam up at her. The basement smelled of fresh laundry with a hint of stale cardboard. She said a silent prayer, then descended.

She dared not turn the light on, so she took the stairs slowly, feeling for each step with the toes of one foot. All it would take was one slip, and she would tumble into the void. She gripped the railing with one hand and continued until she arrived at the bottom.

Pale gray light shone in from the small rectangular window. Her mother stood motionless next to the washer and dryer, the knife clutched in her hand, her back to Quinn. The blade pressed into Nancy’s palm, and blood dripped onto the floor.

“Mom?” Quinn called softly. “What are you—?”

Nancy turned, a sneer breaking out across her face. She lunged toward Quinn, the knife raised.

Quinn blocked with her elbow, using her free arm to push her mother away. Nancy stumbled back but recovered quickly, and darted at her again. Quinn moved to the side. The knife slashed the air by her face. She held her hands up. “Mommy,” she said. “It’s me. It’s Quinn.”

“You,” Nancy snarled, and came at her again.

Quinn backed into a rickety old shelf. Several canned goods fell to the floor. Her feet tripped over them and she went down, instinctively blocking her face with her arms even as her tailbone smacked into the concrete. “Stop,” she screamed, but the knife sliced into the flesh of her forearm, and she felt warm blood dribbling down.

She looked up in wide-eyed terror at Nancy, who stared back at her, the knife poised. Her mother staggered back and fell to her knees, sobbing. “I’m sorry,” she wailed.

Quinn could only see the cut and the blood oozing out of it. Tears filled her eyes but did not fall. The world around her spun, went gray, tilted, and for a moment she almost fainted. She barely noticed. Only the crisp red made any sense, pulling her in until everything was the same hue. A moan escaped from her lips, and slowly it turned into a growl of frustration, until she was screaming. She threw words she never thought she would call her mother at full blast. Nancy flinched with each one, but did not move. Tears streamed down Quinn’s face, and she dropped the paring knife she had brought with her, her hands shaking.

Soon her whole body shook, and her screams died down, her throat aching. A wintery chill overtook her. The little hairs on her arms stood straight up. She tried to see through the icy fog that enveloped her. There was something she was supposed to do. She groped through her terror, but the fog thickened.

“Police! Come out of the basement, hands up,” a rough female voice shouted from the top of the stairs.

Quinn continued shaking. Goosebumps popped out along her skin, and her eyes darted to the blood pouring out of the tender flesh of her arm.

“I’m coming down. Weapons down, arms up,” the police officer called. A flashlight beam hit the wall opposite the stairs. Distantly, Quinn heard Nancy scrambling back into a corner, but the room began to gray again.

A female cop with brown hair pulled back into a ponytail emerged from the stairs, her male partner at her heels. Both pointed weapons and flashlights around the room.

“Stay right where you are,” the male cop told Nancy.

Quinn’s eyes focused on the female cop, who knelt in front of her.

“Are you with me?” the woman asked. To her partner, she said, “Get the EMTs.”

Quinn felt herself nod.

The police officer, whose badge read Trisha Barton, pressed white gauze to the cut on Quinn’s arm.

“Tara,” Quinn croaked. “Closet.”

“She’s the one who called,” Officer Barton said. “She’s upstairs with another officer. She’s fine.” Trisha smiled, but Quinn did not return it.

Instead, she watched as the other police officer put handcuffs on her mother and marched her up the stairs. “Where is he taking her?” she asked.

Officer Barton’s eyes hardened. “We’ll need a statement from you,” she said. “Your sister says your mother has become increasingly violent.”

“She’s sick,” Quinn said. “I need to—”

Two paramedics came down the stairs. One carried a medical kit and the other a gurney. They erupted into action, applying more gauze and pressure.

“She’s going to need stitches,” one of the paramedics said.

“I need a statement,” Officer Barton insisted.

“My mother,” Quinn reminded them. “I need to make sure my mother is okay.”

The paramedics and police officer shook their heads in unison.

“We’re going to take you to the hospital,” the other paramedic said. “Can you walk?”

“Absolutely not,” Officer Barton thundered. “We need to lock her up.” Her voice sounded choked. Red splotches decorated her otherwise unblemished face, and her eyebrows furrowed. “Child services have been called. This cannot be delayed.” Her voice was crisp but laced with urgency and distaste.

“Are you blind?” the first paramedic asked.

“Excuse me,” interrupted a new voice. Quinn, the paramedics, and Officer Barton turned to see a tall man wearing thick black glasses and a pink dress shirt. He extended a hand to the police officer. “I’m Christopher Ramsey. I’m with the Department of Children and Families.” Before anyone else could speak, he continued, looking directly at Quinn. “Let’s get Ms. Parker to the emergency room, and then we can sort the rest of this out.” He smiled, his brown eyes warm.

Quinn nodded, and allowed the two paramedics to help her up. They led her up the stairs slowly, Officer Barton clomping up behind them, muttering under her breath.

In the kitchen, Tara sat in a chair that someone had righted. When she saw Quinn, her eyes grew large and wide, and she stood. “What happened?” she asked, tears threatening.

Quinn hesitated, unsure of what she should tell her little sister.

Christopher spoke first. “Everyone is okay,” he told Tara in a soft, soothing voice. “We’re just going to go visit the hospital really quickly, and get your sister bandaged up. Would you like to ride in the ambulance?”

Tara eyed him suspiciously, one eyebrow raised. She put one of her hands on her hip. “I’m not a little kid,” she said.

“It’s okay,” Quinn said, and held out her hand. “Come on, Monkey.”

Her little sister brightened at the old nickname, and ran over to Quinn. She wrapped her arms around Quinn’s waist and squeezed.

Quinn smiled and put her uninjured arm around Tara’s shoulders. Whatever happened next, at least her little sister was safe.

* * *

Quinn watched in fascination as the plastic surgeon made tiny, precise stitches in her arm. The red of her blood and brown of the iodine they used to sanitize the area had mixed until she could no longer tell them apart. The surgeon, whose name was Oscar Torres, had insisted on doing her stitches.

“It’s either me or the interns tonight,” he said, laughing.

She watched as he made the final stitch, then tied a tiny knot that she couldn’t see. His thick fingers moved as nimbly as a ballet dancer’s legs.

“All done,” Dr. Torres said, rolling back on his stool. He stripped off his gloves with a an elastic snap.

Christopher Ramsey thanked the doctor, then led Quinn and Tara into a private room. “Here, have a seat,” he said, pointing to the comfortable chairs.

Quinn sat, cradling her arm and wondering whether this was the room doctors used to let people know their family members died. “Where’s my mother?” she asked.

“Right to business,” Christopher said. He sat opposite the girls and pulled a folder from his briefcase. “Your mother is currently at the Waterbury police station.” He scanned through the paperwork.

“What? Why?” Quinn slammed a fist down on the table. Next to her, Tara jumped. “Sorry, Monkey.” She put an arm around Tara’s shoulders.

The social worker lifted his eyes from the papers in the folder. “Because she assaulted you,” he said calmly, “and because there are several reports of violent outbursts from various people.”

Quinn frowned. “Who?”

Tara tapped her good arm. Quinn turned to her. “I told,” she whispered.

Quinn bit down on her lip. With every second, the situation spun further out of her control. She couldn’t exactly blame Tara, but she wished she had been able to stop her sister from incriminating their mother any more.

“Neighbors, some of your mother’s coworkers, and yes, Tara.” He smiled kindly. “I know you love your mother, Quinn, but she’s dangerous.”

“She needs help,” Quinn said. “She’s bipolar. She can’t go to jail.”

Christopher nodded. “I agree. Do you know what your other options are, Quinn?”

She wanted to tell him that he didn’t have to keep using her name, but she pressed her lips together instead, and gave her head a shake. She felt off balance, as though she had fluid in her ears and a fever.

“We can go down to the police station and press charges. Not only will your mother get an assault charge, Quinn, but she’ll also get endangerment of a minor.” He straightened his glasses. “If we don’t press charges, you could file a restraining order, but that won’t help much, other than to keep you girls safe. The only alternative is to have your mother involuntarily hospitalized.”

Quinn frowned. Her little sister squeezed her hand. “Against her will? Is that even legal?”

Christopher took a deep breath. “Your mother would have to stay for fifteen days. She would be medicated, fed, and cared for. She would be safe, and so would you.”

“And what about after that?” Quinn asked. “I can’t just abandon her. She’s sick.”

“In the meantime, we would file a restraining order. We have to move quickly, though, Quinn. Right now, her assaulting you is the best chance we have. The mental health system doesn’t give us much room.” Christopher pushed his glasses up on his nose again.

Quinn’s head thudded. She rubbed her temples. “I don’t know. Where would she go? What would she do?”

“We can get her moved to a more long-term facility that can take care of her,” the social worker said. “I need your cooperation, though, Quinn. We need to keep you and Tara safe.”

At the mention of her little sister, Quinn’s shoulders sagged. “Do I have a choice?” she asked herself, more than anyone else. She thought of all the times Nancy had raged at her and Tara, threatening to kill them or herself. She looked at the tiny stitches on her arm, then at Tara’s unmarred arms.

“I know this isn’t easy,” Christopher said.

She wanted to tell him that he had no idea, that her mother had been completely normal. Nancy had made them breakfast, and then something snapped. It was as if something possessed her, and the episodes were getting more and more frequent, and longer. Quinn looked down at her stitched arm.

“It will be much worse next time,” Christopher said gently.

She swallowed and blinked away tears, then sucked in a ragged breath.

“You’re in control now,” he told her. “You just turned eighteen, right?”

“In February,” she said.

“You don’t have to deal with this alone anymore.” He tapped the papers in the folder. “Let me help you.”

She nodded, afraid to speak. Tara slid out of her seat and climbed into her lap. “You’re getting heavy, Monkey,” she told her, but did not push her off. She took another deep breath and hugged her sister with her good arm. “Okay, what’s next?” she asked Christopher.

* * *

Tara’s head rested on her shoulder. They sat in the back seat of a plush taxi cab that Christopher had called and paid for. He knew a judge who could speed things up for them. She was pretty sure that as she and Tara headed home from the emergency room, Nancy was on her way to the behavioral health section of the hospital. She closed her eyes, trying to imagine two weeks of peace. In two weeks, she would be packing to move into her dormitory at Southern Connecticut State University, putting all of this further behind her.

She jolted in her seat, heart thudding. If she went away to college, there would be no one to take care of Tara. They did not have any family. A hand flew to her mouth and her eyebrows wrinkled. Tara would have to go to a foster home.

She stared out the window as the taxi driver got onto the highway, her shoulders tensing once more. With her mother gone, and her father dead, Tara was all she had, and vice versa. No matter what happened, she could not allow them to lose each other.


Bad things always happen to Quinn in threes.

CONTINUE READING
Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5

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#FridayReads: If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo

I know, I know. I’m late to the party. (What else is new?) I’ve been dying to read this book. I recently got caught up on all the bills and adulting, and the first thing I did after breathing was buy a bunch of books. Last night I finished If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo.

What a book.

I have some critiques, but they pale next to how this book made me feel. I thought I had somewhat of an idea of what it’s like to be a trans person—I have several friends, each with different experiences—but being in Amanda’s head was another thing entirely. (And I’ll still never truly know.) This book had me sobbing a couple times, absolutely aching to reach in and pull Amanda out and into my arms. I heavily related to being bullied, physically assaulted, and sexually assaulted, and I’m also a suicide attempt survivor, so this book hit all of my heartstrings. If Russo was trying to tear my heart out, she did—in the best way possible. The way that she weaves hope into the story is what was most moving for me.

There’s no trigger warning for this book, so I was taken by surprise by some of the content, but instead of feeling panicked, I wanted to see how Amanda handled different things. Russo handles the difficult subject matter in a careful balance between being realistic and being graphic. It’s no easy feat, and I commend her for her skilled writing.

I feel that if everyone experienced “living” in Amanda’s head, the world would be a much safer place for trans people. Maybe some people would still be awful, but those who are ignorant but good at heart would change. I truly do believe that most people are good; they just have certain views or misinformation that they have been carrying and need to unpack. If I Was Your Girl helps unpack those beliefs.

It’s also just a damned good story. I like reading YA because it’s so real. (That’s what I’d hoped for NA, but I digress.) Amanda is a girl you can easily root for. Russo made her a sympathetic character but not at all weak, considering everything she’s been through. You want her to get the guy, mend her relationship with her dad, and go to NYU. What I like most about this book is that it’s not yet another queer tragedy; Amanda rises and blossoms despite and in spite of the pain she’s endured. There is a HEA and it’s a nice warm one.

The other thing I love about this book is the author’s note at the end. Not only does it clarify some things for cis people, but it’s also extremely empowering for LGBTQIA+ people.

It’s okay to be genderqueer, or to change identities more than once in your life, or to feel you have no gender at all. […] There is no wrong way to express and embody your most authentic self! You are beautiful, and you deserve to have your body and identity and agency respected.

I may or may not have teared up while reading Russo’s note.

Coolest of all is that the model on the cover is a trans person, too. Russo mentions in her note that she had as many trans people involved with the book as possible. I love that her publisher respected that, because we authors don’t often get a lot of say when working with publishers. It’s just another shining example of progression toward a better world.

I hope Russo continues to write books, because if so, I’m a lifelong reader.

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What are you reading today? Let me know in the comments!

Writing the First Kiss Scene

It always amazes me that, no matter how many times I write a “first kiss” scene, it’s always different. I’m always worried that I’ve reached my limit, that I won’t be able to write another first kiss to save my life, but I still somehow pull it off. I still find myself getting sucked into the moment. And, to me, if I’m not feeling it while writing it, my readers sure aren’t gonna feel it.

Because I’m neurotic (or maybe dedicated to my craft), I was thinking about what makes a first kiss scene while making my coffee this morning. There are three elements:

  • The anticipation
  • The kiss itself
  • The aftershock

The anticipation is the buildup, the suspense. It’s every little thing that happens between the signal that there might be a kiss and the actual moment. When the POV character realizes that she wants to kiss the other character (or that they’re going to kiss her), it triggers the anticipation. You can approach this with that character’s reaction in a few different ways. Maybe she’s longing for that moment when their lips lock. Or maybe she’s completely flustered because she’s not even sure she wants the kiss. Attention to detail here is key. Which things does she notice about the other character? How quickly or slowly is time passing?

Then there’s the kiss itself. It’s a checkpoint, another affirmation that these two really do belong together. It’s got to be fireworks, baby. There can be adorable awkwardness, but this kiss cannot fall flat. After all, it’s one of the 12 stages of physical intimacy. (Of course, just like any other writing rule, once you know it, you can break it with good reason.)

Whenever I write a kissing scene, I think of my top three all-time favorite kisses from my actual life. Even though those kisses were with three very different people, I mentally highlight what made each of those kisses magical. I like to pick a couple of those elements, mix in my characters’ personalities, and bam! Whip up a first kiss.

Finally, there’s the aftershock—the physical and emotional reactions to the kiss that has transpired. This is a perfect opportunity to make sure that your readers are ‘shipping. I like to physically separate my couple and send them off to their own spaces where they can bathe in that afterglow. It’s also a good place to switch POV, to get a sense of how the other character is feeling.

If anyone has any doubts or if you want to ramp up the angst, this is a good time to weave that in, too. Or you can set up anticipation for the next encounter.

There are a million ways you can go about a first kiss. It really can be different every time, no matter how many of “those kissing books” you write.

What’s your all-time favorite fictional first kiss? Let me know in the comments!


Become one of my Patreon supporters and be the first to read snippets from my latest WIP—including Char and Amarie’s first kiss! Click here.

#FridayReads: The Gravity Between Us, by Kristen Zimmer

For the past few months, I’ve been stuck in a reading rut. Every time I tried to read for fun, I just couldn’t get into it. I forced myself to finish books or just stopped reading them altogether. And it broke my heart because, hi—I was the kid who used to get in trouble for reading inside her desk during class.

Mrs. Serra, if you’re reading this, I have no regrets, but thank you so much for trying to teach my mathematically challenged brain.

The few books I did manage to read during my rut just didn’t sweep me away like they normally do. It wasn’t because they were bad books, per se. They just weren’t what I needed.

Enter The Gravity Between Us, by Kristen Zimmer.

Since I’m writing f/f romance, I figured I should read some to see what works and what doesn’t. I mean, I know what I like—hello days of yuri slash fic—but in this gig, market research is super important. Fortunately for me, market research usually means reading.

There aren’t as many books in the lesbian or bisexual romance section as there are in the het romance section, but there does seem to be a hungry readership for it. Unfortunately, Amazon’s categories could use some organizing to better serve their readers—but I’ll talk about that in a future post.

Keeping myself within a budget narrowed down my selection, so I started scrolling through the remaining titles. I looked at lots of covers, read many blurbs, and tried a few excerpts, but nothing really grabbed me—until I came across The Gravity Between Us.

The cover, though pretty, isn’t what I expected; it could be anybody kissing, which I guess must’ve been the point. I almost passed it by, but I decided to give the blurb a shot.

Where does friendship stop and love begin?

At just 19, Kendall Bettencourt is Hollywood’s hottest young starlet, with the world at her feet—but behind the glamour and designer dresses is a girl who longs for normal.

Payton Taylor is Kendall’s best friend since childhood, and the one person who reminds her of who she really is—her refuge from the craziness of celebrity life.

With her career taking off, Kendall moves Payton to LA to help keep her sane. But Payton is hiding a secret that could make everything ten times worse. Because to her, Kendall is more than a best friend—she is the only girl that she has ever loved.

Just as they need each other more than ever, they’ll have to answer the question of where friendship stops and love begins? And find out whether the feelings they have can survive the mounting pressure of fame…

The Gravity Between Us is a daring, romantic, emotional story about friendshiplove, and finding the courage to be yourself in a crazy world.

It sounded fun and romantic with just the right touch of angst—and it is. I’m not much of a fan of the coming out trope anymore, because I feel like it’s been done to death. At least, it was in the fan fic community. But Zimmer balances each of Kendall and Payton’s troubles with humor and absolutely adorable moments. You also get to see these two just living their lives—which is really important to me in f/f fiction, because as much as readers need coming out stories, we also need stories that tackle other life problems. It was especially interesting to see how Kendall and Payton each handled their relationship being in the spotlight.

The sex scenes are emotional and evocative rather than descriptive, and while I wouldn’t have minded Zimmer turning up the heat even a little, they were beautifully done. It felt like it took forever for these two to have their first kiss—in a totally good way. I rooted so hard for them, I practically threw a party when they finally got there; the slow burn is one of my favorite tropes, and this one was so very sweet.

The Gravity Between Us is more like the NA I wish we could always have: young people figuring out adulthood while dealing with tough issues. I really enjoyed it, and I hope Zimmer writes more f/f romance soon.

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Give me your f/f recommendations! I honestly haven’t read very many. I’m pretty sure the last one I read was The Bermudez Triangle… and Maureen Johnson has since changed its title to On the Count of Three. That’s how behind I am. Please send help! Leave me a comment with your favorites.

Creating Characters for Any Other Love

Usually the first thing I do before I start writing a new book is sketch out the characters. Since Any Other Love is a companion novel, that part was mostly done for me. I just had to build upon the characters I’d already created for Just One More Minute.

Whenever I start a new book, I create a stylesheet for it. A stylesheet is something an editor will put together during their first pass of a book, making note of character features, style choices, and other things. I can’t remember where, but I once read a blog post suggesting that authors start a stylesheet from the very beginning to keep track of these things. Doing so has been a game changer for me. Because I love spreadsheets, I create my stylesheets in Numbers.

The stylesheet includes the characters’:

  • name, any nicknames
  • current age
  • date of birth
  • occupation
  • goal
  • fear

I took the Just One More Minute stylesheet and updated it for Any Other Love (which mostly involved aging everyone up by a year—tough work, I tell you).

I’ll often fully sketch characters in my dev doc—the document where I develop the plot structure, outline, and other important pre-writing elements. My dev docs range from a few to dozens of pages. While sketching characters, I list their physical features, typical outfit, any quirks, and other things. I also complete exercises I’ve picked up from different places over the years.

Sometimes I’ll do some writing where I throw the characters into a short scene, just to play with them or get to know them better.

There are also some things that are just for me to know, referred to as author headcanon—official things about a book or series that only the author knows. Usually I’ll make a note of these things in the stylesheet or dev doc. These are often things that won’t make their way into the book, but help me flesh out the character—like their favorite movie, or something else minor.

Inevitably I’ll end up on Pinterest. Don’t judge me—Pinterest is a fantastic place for writing inspiration! I always create a board for each new project, pinning pretty things that remind me of my story and characters. This includes everything from celebrities that look like the characters I see in my head, to typical outfits that my characters would wear.

And if I get sucked down the Pinterest rabbit hole, I’m still technically working. 👀

Speaking of pinning, I’ve got to, um, get to work…

While I do that, check out basic character sketches of Charlotte and Amarie!

Playlist for Any Other Love

One thing I have to have while writing is music to match the tone of the scene I’m working on. Sometimes I’ll throw on an instrumental focus playlist on Spotify, but more often than not I’ll listen to a few specific albums over and over while writing the first draft. For example, while I wrote Just One More Minute, I basically listened to LIGHTS’s Midnight Machines on repeat.

Any Other Love is shaping up to be a The Spirit Room (Michelle Branch) book, with my usual Banks in between. (I’m obsessed with her latest album, The Altar, right now.) I have a feeling there will be a lot of Eisley, too.

Here’s the Spotify playlist I’m building of songs—so far—that remind me of Amarie and Char, and are inspiring certain scenes I’ll be writing.

What are some of your favorite “I don’t wanna fall in love” songs? Let me know and I’ll consider them for the playlist!

This Book Will Be the Death of Me

via Unsplash

I’ve scrapped and restarted Cruising with the Blues, the fourth and final book in the South of Forever series, more times than I can count now. I don’t even want to think about how many thousands of words I’ve thrown out and how many outlines I’ve crumpled up because this damned book just isn’t working.

Sometimes that happens.

It’s super frustrating, especially when you can’t figure out why. It was driving me absolutely bonkers, and I was thinking about it so hard that I swear smoke was coming out of my ears. Being a chronic over-thinker is simultaneously one of my worst and best traits. I can get in so deep that I think myself all the way into a state of woe, or I can think my way out of a complex problem in seconds.

This time things started to go the woe way—until I started talking things out with my friends J.C. Hannigan and Molli Moran. I’ve noticed that I’m much more productive if I start thinking out loud with someone who will listen and let me bounce ideas off them. Both of these ladies are super good at that, and it didn’t take long until it dawned on me.

The reason I’ve been having so much trouble with SOF4 is because I’d strayed from my brand.

I write stories starring strong belles who chose a different path.

That’s my brand whether I’m writing YA or NA, romance or suspense—women who do things they aren’t supposed to, who are strong in many different ways. In each draft so far, Krista wasn’t conflicted about her path. When I compared it to the other books I’ve published, each of my heroines did something she wasn’t supposed to. I couldn’t find any place where Krista railed against her expectations of herself or someone else’s expectations of her. So I grabbed my book of writing ideas and scribbled down some questions.

What does Krista think she should do or is supposed to do? Which path does she take instead?

I’m still trying to find the answers to these questions—especially since I also “have to” wrap up the series with this book. In the meantime I’ve decided to put it aside and work on something else, rather than make myself crazy. I might realize that there might not even be a fourth book. At the end of What Happens on Tour, the band has defeated their rival and strengthened their bonds. They’re planning on organizing their own tour and continuing recording and playing. That’s a pretty good happy-for-now ending; I might need to let go of the idea that I “should” write a fourth book.

That’s the not so exciting part of the writing process. Sometimes you have to let things simmer on the back burner. Sometimes you think you know something, but then everything changes because art. The creative mind is a beautiful but mysterious thing. It can also be kind of a jerk.

Plus, let’s face it: I tend to put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself, rather than going with the flow or letting my instincts guide me. I tell myself I “should” do something, even when I don’t necessarily have to, and stubbornly cling to the idea until it dawns on me that I can let it go.

So, for now, I’ve decided to let the South of Forever series be. Things are stable enough that there’s no cliffhanger to resolve but I can also come back and write more books later if need be. In the meantime, I’m going to focus on some other projects.

Meet Amarie Locke

The first “vision” I ever had of Amarie was of her sitting by herself, chin in hands, tendrils of curly hair framing her face like a mane. In her eyes, though, danced pain and longing. I knew right away when I was writing Just One More Minute that Char and Amarie were going to get their own book, and that Amarie has Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD), like me.

Amarie, inspired by Angelic Zambrana

Age: 21

Occupation: Dunkin Donuts

High School: Kennedy High

College: Naugatuck Valley Community College

This is the college where I got my A.S. degree in web design. Amarie is in their Early Childhood Education (ECE) program. It’s convenient for her because NVCC has a childcare center for parents, meaning that she gets hands-on experience right on campus. She’s also been able to keep up with her classes… so far.

Car: blue 2015 Hyundai Accent hatchback

This car is freakin’ cute, and I feel like it fits Amarie perfectly. It’s royal blue and very compact, but quietly powerful. That thing can fly if you let it!

Wants: to be a pre-school teacher

Fears: her disease rending her completely bedridden

This book is #OwnVoices mostly because this is my fear. My UCTD can get pretty aggressive if untreated, and currently Amarie is still searching for a doctor who will listen to and treat her. Everything that I went through in the past decade was such a nightmare, and it’s important to me to share that experience. There are so many facets to being a chronic pain patient: living with the actual illness and its debilitating symptoms, trying to get a diagnosis and treatment from doctors who won’t listen, dealing with people’s looks when you’re using a cane but don’t “look” sick… I could go on but I plan on pouring all of that into this book.

It’s also #OwnVoices because Amarie is bisexual. In Just One More Minute, she’s dating Matt’s friend Lucas. Unlike me, she knows what her sexuality is but hasn’t had time to explore it; she’s been so sick that she hasn’t exactly had time for dating, never mind dealing with yet more looks and questions that she hasn’t really been able to answer for herself. It’s especially difficult being bisexual because society wants you to fit into a neat package and, well, you don’t when you’re bi—at least, according to their rules.

Despite the difficulties that Amarie and Char face, my goal is to keep the tone of Any Other Love just as light as Just One More Minute—with, of course, steamy sex. I’m so excited to write this book, I kind of want to drop my entire life in order to do it. These two have been chattering away in my head for over a year now, and I can’t wait to share their story with you.

What do you think of Amarie? Are you excited for Any Other Love? Let me know in the comments!

You can also go meet Char.

Meet Charlotte Butler

I’ll be starting my f/f contemporary romance Any Other Love pretty soon, and since I’m in the pre-writing stage, I thought I’d share some tidbits with you. You might remember teal-haired, bouncy Char from Just One More Minute. She and Rowan run into each other in the grocery store and it’s BFF love at first sight. Here are some fun facts about Char!

Char, inspired by Frances Bean Cobain

Age: 21

Occupation: short order cook at The 545

Fun fact, The 545 is based on a lounge in my own small town. It was creatively named The Lounge, and for years it was the place to go. I never actually set foot in there—mostly because my thing was karaoke—but my sister went a few times. It closed a couple years ago and it’s been empty ever since.

High School: Kaynor Tech

Since these books are set in the town I live in, I had to include my high school. It’s a technical school, meaning you get a dual education. When you graduate, you receive your high school diploma and usually certification in a trade. My trade—and Charlotte’s—was culinary arts. Out of high school, I could have worked at any restaurant or gone on to culinary school, but I decided it wasn’t for me. Charlotte, however, loves cooking and found her place at The 545… for now.

College: N/A

Car: green 1998 Pontiac Sunfire

Oh, how I miss my Sunfire. It bit the dust several years ago, suddenly and painfully. It lives on in these books. 😥

Wants: to open her own restaurant in NYC

Fears: being stuck in intolerant Greater Waterbury for the rest of her life

She also has a major crush on Amarie, who she met during a camping trip with Rowan and Matt in Just One More Minute. There’s just a teeny problem: Amarie is dating Matt’s friend Lucas, and doesn’t seem to be into girls.

Char is always dying her hair in “crazy” colors, and is usually pretty upbeat and bouncy. It’s interesting, because when I was in high school it wasn’t considered cool to dye your hair unnatural colors. You were automatically labeled goth or punk, and were considered weird. Now everyone dyes their hair all kinds of colors. Man, how things have changed!

What do you think of Char? Are you excited for Any Other Love? Let me know in the comments!