#TeaserTuesday: Kissing Char

Kissing Char was like being enveloped in the clouds during sunset. Her lips were soft, commanding explosions of pastel orange and red behind Amarie’s eyes as they moved against hers. She melted into her, her hands finding Char’s hips, tugging her closer. She needed more, all of her, all at once.

Here’s another teaser for you from my work in progress, Any Other Love. I wrote this first kiss scene, believe it or not, after dreaming it. I hadn’t yet reached that part in my draft, but I created a separate doc and got it all down before it faded completely.

I’m over 21K into it now, so we’re way past the first kiss. I still don’t have a release date, but if you sign up for my email list you’ll be the first to know (and I’ll be sending an exclusive excerpt soon). Click here to join.

Side note: I’m having a lot of trouble finding stock photos of two women kissing, never mind a white woman with teal hair kissing a Latina with curly hair. If you can recommend any stock photo sites, please let me know in the comments!

Behind the Scenes of ANY OTHER LOVE: The Distancer and the Pursuer

via Unsplash

These two have been giving me a run for my money. When I first started all my pre-writing for Any Other Love—character profiles, plot structure, etc—I thought I had the whole who’s chasing who part down. It seemed pretty cut and dry: my shy little Amarie would be the distancer, and my animated Char would totally be the pursuer. Apparently these two had other plans, because Am was the one to make the first move and now Char is the one who’s hesitating.

Which is why Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain” is so perfect for these two.

And I run for miles just to get a taste
Must be love on the brain

According to some psychologists, in every relationship there is a distancer and a pursuer. You can even flip roles from time to time, depending on the circumstances. I’m trying to find a balance between the two, because I don’t want Char and Am flip-flopping throughout the book, driving you crazy. I think I’ve found a rhythm, though, with Am the full-time pursuer and Char very uncertain but also very into her.

On Friday I crossed 20K for this book, which is a huge deal! My wrists haven’t exactly been cooperating—I’m seeing a neurologist soon to be evaluated for carpal tunnel—and I’ve also had a lot on my plate lately. But I managed to check off all of my To Do list for this month, so all of this week will be dedicated to writing.

That first 20K was fueled by A.G. Ferrari coffee, Stash Breakfast in Paris tea, and Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice chai. I typically have one cup of coffee in the morning, then Breakfast in Paris after lunch and my chai in the evening. So far I’ve been mostly listening to SZA, The Pretty Reckless, and Phildel while writing.

Originally I’d hoped to finish the first draft by the end of this month, but I’m only about a third of the way done. It is what it is; all that matters is I’m putting the words down, one day at a time.


Are you on my email list? Join now—I’ll be sending out an exclusive excerpt from Any Other Love in another week or so! Click here.

#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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#TeaserTuesday: Maybe She Needed to Let Go

It wasn’t like she really could ever have her own restaurant.

Maybe that was what she was supposed to do, though.

Maybe she needed to let go of the familiar and jump into the unknown.

In more ways than one.

This week I’m hoping to cross the 15-20K line for Any Other Love. I’ve had a lot going on lately: the passing of my Aunt Gayle, several family get togethers, my godson’s surgery… I’ve been exhausted, and laying it all out like this, it’s no wonder why. So maybe I won’t finish this book by the end of April like I’d hoped, but I’m still plugging away.

Also, I’ve decided I need to work a steamy shower scene into this book. I haven’t seen a single one in all of the f/f romance I’ve been reading. It’s a tragedy, truly.

In the meantime, join my email list for updates. You’ll be the first to know when I have a release date.

#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!

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!