How I Was Prompted to Completion

My first professionally published book, “A Welded Wave,” was the result of seeing a writing prompt on Less Than Three Press’s site (LT3). It was a prompt for the “My Dearest Friend” collection that asked for stories about friends making the transition to lovers.

A collection is a bunch of stories with the same theme at their core. The theme of friends to lovers wasn’t all that specific, but a whole story popped into my head that I could write before the deadline, which was one month away! I used note cards in Scrivener to plot out each scene in my 100 page novella.

What’s surprising about this is that I had never succeeded in writing an outline for a story before. I had always gotten stuck trying to make one of those itemized outlines that calls out all the little details and has numbers then letters then i, ii, iii, etc. I am terrible at those! Using notecards (writing a paragraph or two about what would be in each scene) had never occurred to me before and it worked so well that I am still astonished I had never tried it before.

Having notecards did three things:

  1. It caused me to think about plot and characterization problems early on.
  2. It gave me a clear direction throughout my writing of the story.
  3. It helped to constrain my tendency to go on tangents.

This notecard outline wasn’t set in stone and I did diverge from it a bit in writing the story. It actually made it easier to change the plot because I could see how the new plot differed from my original idea and edit successive plot elements accordingly.

For me, these notecards were a map. When I made a change in my route, I didn’t get lost and still knew how to get to my destination. In some of my earlier projects, I would change something and the story would sometimes get lost in the weeds.

The most typical source of this was one of my characters blowing up my plot by deciding to do something I hadn’t even considered when I started the story. The way I write is so character driven that my characters can sometimes take the reigns of a story and go to nowhere chaos tangent land.

As much as I adore nowhere chaos tangent land, it isn’t the place where I want most of my stories to go because it’s like playing slots with the reader’s investment in the story. A character could end up describing how news network consolidation has affected human society or start playing a D&D campaign with the other characters where all of them are taking on the roles of sentient famous kitchen appliances. It’s like cosmic rays. They can give you cancer or superpowers, mostly cancer.

In addition to creating a notecard-based outline having a prompt for my first novella helped immensely.

My muse is very active and gives me too many ideas most of the time. Filtering them can be tough and writing for a prompt was a great way of focusing myself. I had spent years trying to decide which of my many ideas I wanted to write all the way to the end. A new story that was more contained and focused was what I needed to finally get something finished and out to a publisher.

I believe prompts from publishers are a great way to get that first book done if you’re someone who, like me, is trying to decide what book should be finished first. There is a base idea and a deadline. Two things that help constrain the writing process and make sure the project doesn’t grow too big for its container.

With all this going for me, the book started out well and I had 10,000 words by the end of the first week. Then, I slowed down because I couldn’t figure out how to get the story arc of the relationship to work the way I had originally planned and I had some traveling I had to do. I only got 5,000 words done in that time. It wasn’t till just before the third week that I got going again and a week and a day later I had over 20,000 more words that finished the story.

I was so worried that I would miss the deadline that last week that I asked Less Than Three Press for an extension. I still had to hear back from sensitivity readers, my boyfriend (a continuity guru) and my wife (a very talented editor). They happily agreed to give me a bit of extra time, but I heard back from everyone quickly enough to get it in the day before the due date.

About three weeks later, I found out my book, “A Welded Wave,” had been accepted and I was bouncing off the walls with excitement. My first publishing contract, my first published book, my debut novella! I couldn’t stop thinking about how awesome it was that people were going to be able to buy something I wrote and I was going to get royalties!

If I hadn’t seen that prompt on Less Than Three Press’s site, I might have remained unpublished for a long time. I am so thankful that I saw it and had the motivation and confidence to try to make the deadline.

Before I saw that prompt, I wrote tons of stuff that I put up online and paid attention to the critiques I got from all the wonderful energetic people that read it. I had a multitude of different projects, many of which I never finished. Sometimes something didn’t get finished because I found another story I was working on to be more interesting and sometimes it was because I had too many ideas about how the story should go or how it should be told.

Now that I have a book coming out, I am less anxious and more confident in choosing which story to work on next. I also have tried so many things that I have a clearer sense of how I want to tell a story and where I want things to go.

If you’re curious how the book turned out, you can preorder it!

Have you ever written for a prompt? Have thoughts about writing prompts? Leave a comment!

My Thoughts on Pronouns, Linguistically and Personally

Pronouns are part of a class of words called function words.

Function word examples: will, the, under, however, a, and, has, do, beside, etc.

Out of all the words that we use, function words are the hardest to change because they are more deeply ingrained in our brains. Efforts to change the use of function words often are fraught with problems and the use of pronouns surrounding different gender identities is caught up in this.

Imagine trying to pick up and use “y’all” in everyday conversation vs using “birb” instead of “bird” or “adorbs” instead of “adorable.” “Birb” follows the basic rule for pluralization and possession (birbs, birb’s). Is the possessive form of “y’all” “y’all’s?” The internet seems to think so. What about possessive “y’all” at the end of a sentence?

“This house is y’all’s’s.” (I have no idea)

Pronouns end up in all sorts of places and have more complex rules surrounding them. When someone decides to go by ze/zir/zirs, there’s a lot of learning going on on the part of the person who is being introduced to this new pronoun.

In some cases, the person being introduced to the new pronoun, or usage of a pronoun they already know, may be learning about sex not being the same thing as gender or gender as a societal construct. In those cases that person may get overwhelmed by their worldview being tipped on its side.

I am not saying that it is alright for people to misgender other people or for people to not accommodate the pronoun wishes of others. I am saying that people learning new things benefit from the patience of others. I am saying that people overreact when they are overwhelmed.

It hurts when someone doesn’t have enough compassion to use the right pronoun. I have trans and non-binary friends (I myself am non-binary) who have to correct people over and over again on their pronoun usage. I understand how upset they get. I also know what it’s like to learn to use different pronouns.

What helps me stay sane is being apologetic and compassionate when I am learning and equally compassionate when I am teaching. Sometimes I teach my cis friends about the pronoun usage of one of my non-cis friends in advance of them meeting that person.

By taking on part of the burden of teaching and being in a situation where we use the pronouns a lot (talking about someone in third person since they’re not there), things go far more smoothly and the overall stress in my social circle is reduced. So, I believe using the right pronouns is best solved as a community.

When there isn’t a community present and it’s someone in a supermarket, there isn’t really time to teach them. In cases like this, I find that being kind and polite no matter how awful the person is works best.

The reason is that you look like the reasonable person to everyone watching and often get support from bystanders. Now, I’m not the best at being assertive about stuff like this, so there may be strategies that I do not have access too.

My #1 goal in a situation where my LGBT+ status is conflicting with cultural norms in a public setting is to be brief and polite. I want people to think back about how decent I was and I don’t want to get caught up in long draining conversations when I have stuff I need to get done.

Personally, I love new pronouns like ze/zir/zirs and I’m planning on using ne/nem/nir in an upcoming book. By playing with these pronouns, I gain more experience with them and also get the chance to try them out so I can see if I would like to use them to describe me.

For now, I am experimenting and tinkering trying to figure out:

  1. Do I want to go by different pronouns for every part of my life or just with close friends?
  2. Is there a pronoun that I feel reflects my non-binaryness/genderfluidity?
  3. Do I want to come out to non-close friends about my gender identity?

Some of this has been solved for myself as an author, but not all of it. What pronoun should you use when you refer to me? Anything you want to try out. Use referring to me as a testbed for pronoun forms you’ve always wanted to use in a sentence, a paragraph, etc. If you email me or talk to me, you’re going to be using “you,” so I won’t know what pronoun you’re using to refer to me.

Of course, you could write about me in third person or make up a little story about me and send it to me, but that is outside the realm of normal social interaction, so I do not expect it to happen (imagine how fun that would be).

Do you have any examples of stories that use interesting pronouns or that use one of the standard ones to great effect? I might do a future post about books that have cool pronoun usage and your comments will aid me in doing so. Also, please comment with your feedback/discussion about what I’ve posted above. Let me know in the comments!

First Time Getting Editor Feedback

The title of this post is slightly misleading, but not entirely misleading. Let me explain: My wife was born to be an editor and has been indispensable for the ten plus years I’ve been married to her. She’s basically the reason I started understanding the crazy prescriptive rules for written English and am now so serious about pursuing a career as an author.

Because she is married to me and loves me, she is not able to read my stuff as critically as an actual editor. There are two reasons for this:

She doesn’t just like me, she like likes me a lot (you could even say loves…) and that affects the perspective from which she reads my stuff. If I go off on a tangent about nuclear physics and it’s not too long of a tangent, she might let it pass even if it is out of place because she knows how much I love nuclear physics.

She knows how I think and what I think about. I can wake up and turn to her saying, “Do you want me to have you a morning?” and she will somehow know that I mean, “Do you want me to make breakfast for you?”

Point is, she already knows what I am getting at because she has observed me long enough to have a spruce goose-load of context. She knows what I think about, she knows what I’m obsessed with and she knows tons of the world-building on any given project because I talked to her about it while I was thinking it all up.

There was no false pretense about her conflict of interest from the very beginning and I knew I needed feedback from people I wasn’t fornicating with. The first feedback that I sought was from people online that read my amateur, but somehow enthralling, writing. I learned a lot from that, but it wasn’t until I sent in “A Welded Wave” that I got feedback from an actual editor at a publisher.

The editor Less Than Three Press assigned to my book was very thorough and caught many things that my wife, my friend, and my boyfriend had all missed. Not that I expected everything to be perfect—I doubt there is a book out there that doesn’t have at least one typo.

There were places where it wasn’t clear which character the story was talking about. I’m oddly sparse with commas; the editor added a plethora of commas. My wife says it made things more clear, and I could see that in some places, but in others I didn’t see the point. I’m sure that I’m not an expert when it comes to punctuation and there are editors called copy editors that know way more than I do. They specialize in sentence-level editing.

One awesome thing my editor did was make little comments about stuff in the book. If there was a detail that was very true to how humans act, for instance when there’s a fire alarm, she would make a little comment like, “I think we’d all do that.” It helped me feel like she was invested in the book and that she was taking care in her editing of it.

My editor was also good at explaining corrections that I might not understand without context or reference to what used to be there. This is essential when editing books. Communication between the author and the editor allows for a open discussion about the book and how it is being changed. Otherwise, the story may retain more errors and hard-to-decipher sections.

Sometimes the editor pointed out things for me to fix because it was too big for a simple sentence edit or something. One time I mentioned a character putting some clothes in a laundry bag twice. The editor pointed it out for me to fix. I liked having some things left to me because I could decide how I wanted the story to flow.

I loved it when the editor gave me choices about what word to use or whether to take out a sentence or how to describe something that was unclear. All of this helped make me a better writer for the next story I write. More learning happened when I was engaged in the editing in this way. It was a majority of the more complex changes that were handled this way.

I learned more and I grew as a writer because of this approach. If the editor had just changed everything without giving me a choice or pointing things out for me to fix myself, I wouldn’t have been as engaged in her feedback. This way, I got to think about the changes and my own writing.

The same goes for all her comments. Without so many comments about various changes, I may have misinterpreted the changes or been unsure as to what made the change necessary. The more I was engaged, the more I was able to get out of the process.

Out of all of the edits she did, two of the most helpful things I learned were:

#1 When there’s a sentence that has something like, “He grabbed his toothbrush and centered the bathroom carpet and jumped in the bathtub,” it can be changed to: “He grabbed his toothbrush, centered the bathroom carpet, and jumped in the bathtub,” because I don’t need to put “and” between each action.

This may seem basic, but when I’m writing I often forget about using commas to list actions even though I use them for other sorts of lists. I think it reads better with the commas and I am going to try and get in the habit of doing that.

#2 The word “pretty” used to lessen the intensity of something is one of my favorite words or a bad habit. I used it over and over and this editor is the first person to notice.

The editor did a good job of changing my uses of “pretty” into different words or deleting them when it was unnecessary, and I want to learn to do the same. I’m going to start searching for the word “pretty” and replacing many of its instances whenever I finish a project.

There were a couple things that I didn’t change fully or changed differently from the way the editor suggested. I explained my reasoning in every case and the editor didn’t see any problem with what I suggested. The result was only one round of edits.

One thing that helped me through all this is that I thought about how both the editor and I wanted my book to be great. So, when I didn’t understand something the editor did or said, I gave myself some time to think about it and was patient with myself. This greatly reduced the stress of going over the corrections.

I know there are times when editors and authors don’t match, when their goals are not aligned or they have two very different writing styles, but I always give people that are correcting my writing the benefit of the doubt unless proven otherwise.

If I start out angry or nervous, it colors the way I look at everything. This is why I am always patient with myself and the person who is correcting my writing. It is only when I am centered that I see the truth.

My first experience getting feedback from a professional editor was extremely positive and I learned a lot from it. In addition to growing as a writer, I learned that I like getting editorial feedback and that I very much like working with Less Than Three Press. It is so important for publishers to have good editors who give informative and constructive feedback. It not only makes the books better, but the writers as well!

What was your first editing experience like as an editor or an author? Do you have other thoughts to share? I want to hear about them in the comments!

Curious about my first book? Click here to check it out on the publisher’s site!

“A Welded Wave” is Available for Preorder!

My first book comes out on February 14th! The title is “A Welded Wave” and it’s being published by Less Than Three Press. It’s a contemporary romance featuring a trans man artist and his gay best friend. The story is set in Minneapolis Minnesota. The blurb for the book is below:

 For Mark, choosing to transition was one of the best decisions he ever made. And life has been looking up recently because he’s got his MFA and landed a huge commission to build one of his welded bike chain sculptures. He’s even got Enis, the most amazing best friend anyone could ask for. The only thing he’d really like to add is a lover, but so far his romantic relationships have been nothing more than learning experiences.

Then a breakup leaves Enis available, and Mark starts to see possibilities he hadn’t before—but intimacy could ruin the friendship he values more than anything, and that’s assuming Enis would want him at all once the clothes come off.

Both Mark and Enis are total unabashed nerds. They know their internet memes, they actively follow comic book movies, and they could argue about which Star Trek captain was the best at their job. There is a strong undercurrent of “nerds in love” in this book. I too am an unabashed nerd, so I could not resist.

What I like most about this book is that I feel I succeeded at creating whole characters that are introspective about themselves and their relationship. My experience with relationships is that sometimes conflict comes from the way people think a relationship should be not matching up with what the relationship is.

Other than introspective characters navigating the road to becoming lovers, I have a body and sex-positive narrative that is playful and very down-to-earth. The story is told from Mark’s perspective and I had great fun writing the way he thinks. The sex in this story doesn’t leave much out, so be prepared for much hotness (or be ready to skip over some of it if you’d rather not know the specifics).

I’ll get the cover up as soon as it’s finished. An amazing artist named Aisha Akeju is the cover artist and I can’t wait to see how the cover turns out.

If you’re looking forward to having this book to read on Valentine’s Day, you can preorder it!

Have questions about this book or other commentary? I’d love to hear what you have to say below.