I Want to Be the Kind of Person Who…

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I’ve been in reactive mode for as long as I can remember; things keep happening, and I do things in response. For years I’ve felt like I’ve only just been keeping my head above water. Now, I know shit happens in life and I can’t necessarily control everything, but I’d really like to break out of that cycle.

Yesterday Sandy and I were looking for a laugh and searched for “how to adult” videos on YouTube, when we came across this.

What I thought was going to be funny ended up really opening my eyes. I don’t think I’ve been victimizing myself, per se, but considering all the trauma I’ve been through, it’s really easy to fall into a trap where I feel like bad things just keep happening to me.

It’s time for good things.

I keep seeing all of these indie authors making it and thinking things like “When is it going to be my turn?” and “What am I doing wrong?” I see friends buying houses and going on vacations, and I wonder if those things will ever happen for me. It’s not my fault that I got sick or that my pain is so debilitating I can’t hold down a “normal” job, but there are things I can control.

In December I got a new phone and one of its features is a bedtime and wakeup time. It’s been a game changer for me. All I had to do was tell it how many hours of sleep I wanted per night, then fiddled around a bit with a dial until I found times that I could live with. Since then, I’ve been going to bed around 11 p.m. and waking up at 8 a.m. almost religiously. I say “almost” because I have it set for weekdays and let myself stay up and sleep in a bit later on weekends. Aside from a few exceptions—painsomnia, events, Stardew Valley or Netflix rabbit holes—I’ve been sticking to this for months. And you know what?

I’ve been much more productive. I sleep better. I have more energy. I’m in a better mood.

I still have pain, I still have fatigue, I’m still sick, but combined with my new meds, I’m in a much better place. And all I did was change one small thing.

Kalyn’s video got me thinking: What if I took things a step further? Rather than stumbling upon and playing with an iPhone feature, I can make some conscious tweaks and improve my life even more. I sat down and thought about the kind of life I want, and I came up with this list:

  • I want to be the kind of person who will write every day.
  • I want to be the kind of person who is able to comfortably pay my bills and buy necessities.
  • I want to be the kind of person who has my own car.
  • I want to be the kind of person who can buy a house.
  • I want to be the kind of person who will regularly treat myself to a manicure and pedicure.

 

This week I wrote every day. I didn’t set a daily word count goal (though I do like to write at least 1K words). I was just happy with myself as long as I wrote. Usually, even if I didn’t feel up to it, the words started flowing after I pecked away at the keyboard for a bit. It didn’t hurt that I’m really enjoying writing Any Other Love. Even though I’d like to write much more, much faster, I’m still making progress. I’m making my way to 25K, then 30K, then 40K… all the way to my projected 70K.

I don’t work on weekends, so I don’t usually write then (but sometimes if I’m really fiending, I “sneak” in some writing). Saturdays and Sundays are mine to do with as I please. Netflix and chilling on my couch in the old fashioned sense of the word? Yep. Playing an obscene amount of Stardew Valley? Yes. Spending time with friends and family? Oh yeah.

Those are two more simple rules that I follow, and it works.

I’m still figuring out a plan for the other things—after all, one doesn’t simply buy a house out of thin air—but they feel achievable using these principles.

What kind of person do you want to be? Let me know in the comments!

#FridayReads: Bad Boy, by Elliot Wake

This past week I devoured Elliot Wake’s latest, Bad Boy. As usual, I stayed up late just so I could finish and man was it worth it.

I’ve been on a queer #OwnVoices fic kick lately. Not really on purpose—aside from the lesfic—but reading books featuring queer characters by queer authors feels like coming home, to me. There’s a big part of me that worries about losing my queerness because I married a dude. And I know, I need to shake that shit—especially because I’m the one always telling my lady bi friends that being with a guy doesn’t make them any less queer. Plus… I’m kind of a little rainbow-lonely in IRL. I live in a small town. Most of my LGBTQIA+ friends live in the city or have long moved on to bigger and better places. Not that you need queer friends in your immediate area to be queer. It’s just that I feel the hole in my life where my high school rainbow gang used to be when conversations like “What is pan?” and “You’re married; you can’t be queer!” come up with my straight cis friends and family.

Sometimes I just wanna be around people who get it. Who get me.

Anyway.

Bad Boy.

I highlighted a lot in this book. I nodded so many times while reading. I also learned much about how men process emotions, thanks to Ren. Even without the plot, Bad Boy is a good read. It explores what it means to be a feminist man, and what it means to be a man in general. It’s not about which “bits”—as my favorite robot Mr. Pendulum would say—you’ve got.

I also loved the line about how every touch from a woman is a communication, a question. As usual, Elliot Wake knocks it out of the park with his prose. Each sentence is a true delicacy.

The plot is fast-paced, though, so I took lots of breaks to just let things sink in. Especially because the main character Ren is a survivor of rape, and he must confront the “man” who raped him. I don’t think there are any triggering scenes, per se, but every time the subject comes up I’m going to be automatically thinking about my own experiences. Bad Boy truly highlights how completely it can shatter a person.

Bad Boy also carries a common thread through Black Iris and Cam Girl.

Vlog star Renard Grant has nothing to prove: he’s got a pretty face, chiseled body, and two million adoring video subscribers. Plus the scars on his chest and a prescription for testosterone. Because Ren is transgender: assigned female at birth, living now as male. He films his transition and shares it bravely with the world; his fans love his honesty and positivity.

But Ren has been living a double life.

Off-camera, he’s Cane, the muscle-bound enforcer for social justice vigilante group Black Iris. As Cane, he lets his dark side loose. Hurts those who prey on the disempowered. Indulges in the ugly side of masculinity. And his new partner, Tamsin Baylor, is a girl as rough and relentless as him. Together, they terrorize the trolls into silence.

But when a routine Black Iris job goes south, Ren is put in the crosshairs. Someone is out to ruin his life. He’s a bad boy, they say, guilty of what he punishes others for.

Just like every other guy: at heart, he’s a monster, too.

Now Ren’s got everything to prove. He has to clear his name, and show the world he’s a good man. But that requires facing demons he’s locked away for years. And it might mean discovering he’s not such a good guy after all.

This is one of those books that will stay with me, that I’ll keep thinking about long after I’ve finished.

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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.