What Matters Most

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So, a funny thing happened on the way to this post. I was all geared up to go into some serious ranting. So much ranting. All the ranting. I had a whole list of people who needed to be eviscerated in print and I was ready to rip into them.

From the guy who got pissed at me because I couldn’t tell him why another business across town wasn’t answering their phones (Seriously? Am I fucking omniscient?) to the SJW morons who don’t know a thing about economics (Hello? Supply and Demand is called a law for a reason, and do you know what happens when you mess with natural laws? That’s right. Bad stuff.), from the woman who let her children run rampant around my office while I was trying to answer the phones and couldn’t hear a damned thing (Discipline, anyone?) to images.duckduckgo.comthe people who get pissed at me for not wanting to work late or on the weekend even after I’ve told them I’ve already been stuck in the office over 60 hours this week and I’m exhausted and can no longer think straight (Apparently I’m supposed to be a robot just because I work in customer service?), from the guy who threw a fit because we charged him for a service he agreed to, signed for, and we performed while he proceeded to tell us we were thieves and must be raking in the dough (What part of “We actually lose money on this service” did he honestly not understand?) to the guy at the parts store who had no fucking clue how to do his job and I wound up doing it for him over the phone (Seriously, what are they teaching kids these days? Nothing?), from the people who assume I’m a Democrat just because I’m trans to the people who assume I’m a Republican just because I shootback gadsend flagpractically run a small business in a conservative town (Actually, if you want to know, I’m neither. I’m anarcho-capitalist, the best of both worlds. I’m more economically conservative than the conservatives and more socially liberal than the liberals.), from…

Well, you get the idea.

Lots of people. So many people. I had a whole list of people who were two second away from getting punched in the dick. Possibly even myself (even though I don’t have one…yet) because all the noise and stupidity of the day had gone well beyond the limits of my high sensitivity (yes, apparently, it’s a thing – complete mental overload, and boy have I got it) and I was quickly turning into an asshole. Hence, the desire to punch dicks.

So violent, right? Like, so much violence. All the violence. There was going to be blood. So much blood. All the blood.

Alright, so maybe I’ve been reading a bit too much TJ Klune lately…

Anyway, moving along.

So I was in a fully misanthropic state of mind, ready to go on a rage-blind rant, because my life, when I got a phone call.

Let me back up a bit, first.

A few months ago, the outside sales rep for one of our suppliers came in for one of his usual visits. He brought along a representative from one of their manufacturers. This representative (read: Completely Stereotypical Salesman) proceeded to give his little presentation, all the while spewing obligatory compliments and flashing cheesy grins like any Completely Stereotypical Salesman would do. Since I have a little ad propped up on the counter for my first book, BookCoverImageThe Prisoner, he of course had to filter into his sales pitch some gushing remarks about how wonderful it was that I was a writer and self-published and how proud I ought to be of myself. I’ve had lots of salesmen behave exactly like this when they come into the shop, and it always falls flat. No matter how much they gush, it’s obvious they don’t mean a word of it. So I did the polite smile-and-nod thing like I always do in this situation, just knowing he was spewing bullshit (shows what I know), and the conversation went on.

At the end, just as he’s about to walk out the door, he turns back and pulls out his wallet, saying he wants to support a budding author and buy my book.

Now, I was pretty sure he wasn’t actually going to read it, but…hells, a sale is a sale, so I sold him a book and he left.

Then, yesterday, completely out of the blue, I get a phone call.

You probably don’t remember me, but I was in there with Larry…bought your book…finally got a chance to read it…”

I was just starting to get a vague memory of who the guy was when he completely bowled me over.

I just…wow. This book … It’s absolutely amazing. Like, I couldn’t put it down. I just totally got all the relationships between the characters and the tragedy of the guy feeling like he failed his son and how the woman died and it all just worked and…”

Jaw, meet floor.

Please tell me there’s another book out because I have to have more.”

Jaw now permanently married to floor.

The phone call left me giddy and grinning and, quite frankly, a little bit stunned.

And it made me realize a few things.

One, I did exactly what I accuse so many other people of doing: categorizing a person into a particular box just because of a particular trait. I should have known better, and I was wrong.

Two, all that ranting stuff, in the long run, doesn’t really matter. Yeah, stupidity and ignorance and rudeness pisses me off, but life is too damned short to be angry. Why let myself get sucked into those moments when I’ve got moments like this to revel in? Why let myself get mired in despair over the fact that this country is never going to be free and people as a whole are never going to understand how things work (though I keep trying to educate them even when I know better), when I could be enjoying what life I have while I have it? Why dwell on all the negative when I’ve got so much beauty in my life because of fiction?

Three, it made me remember just how great a story The Prisoner is. Not trying to be an egomaniac when I say that, but just reflecting the reactions to it that I’ve gotten over the past year since its release. The response to it, though small so far, has been overwhelming in its intensity. People who read the story call me at work to tell me how much the book meant to them, how great the story was, how much they want more. And it reminds me just how much I loved that story, how much I enjoyed writing it, how many emotions it invoked as I wrote it. The Prisoner is a great story, and I’d forgotten that.

I think I’ve pushed myself so intently on always getting to the next step, the next book, that I’ve lost track of the depth of feeling I originally experienced when I started the series. I got that back somewhat with the Matchmakers trilogy, even if those books did get me completely off-track, but when I try to think of continuing the Shifting Isles series, I get bored, to be honest. I’d lost my love of the series because I’d lost track of the beauty of the stories that I first clung to when the series started.

MatchmakersThat probably has a lot to do with why I got so far off my writing schedule when the idea for Matchmakers came along. The stories in Matchmakers just called to me in a way that the main Shifting Isles series no longer was, because I’d lost touch with the feeling that The Prisoner gave me, the feeling that carried me through to S.P.I.R.I.T. Division (S.I. Book 2) and Return to Tanas (S.I. Book 3), but started to slip away with Broken (S.I. Book 4) and The Five-Hour Wife (S.I. Book 5).

Clearly, I need to dive back into The Prisoner, reconnect with it, and get that feeling back. No wonder I didn’t feel as excited about books 4 and 5 as I did with the first three, nor as excited as I felt about Matchmakers (hells, those three novels went from Idea to Published in just about five months, so if that doesn’t scream passion and excitement, I don’t know what does). Outside of Matchmakers, I lost track of the emotion, the story, the experience. I need to reacquaint myself with those stories and those characters, or the next books are going to suffer, and neither I nor my readers will be happy.

So the next book, Betrayal (Shifting Isles, Book 6) will probably be even later coming out than planned, even though I’ve already pushed back the release date, but I’m not going to rush it. I’m going to dive back into the world, and instead of rushed and forced, it’s going to be good. It’s going to get to people the way The Prisoner does.

Because The Prisoner is a great fucking story. And I need to remember that.

Authoring: You’re Doing It Wrong (Or: Happy Birthday to Me!)

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MatchmakersToday, I turn 33 (finally an adult! … in hobbit years, that is), and I’m celebrating by launching my first m/m romances. Seems a bit strange and backwards to be voluntarily working on my birthday. Then again, writing isn’t really work. At least, certainly not like the day job.

Even through the frustrations and hassles of editing, formatting, writer’s block, and the emotional ups and downs, writing ultimately is all love and no work. I love it. It’s my passion. It’s the only thing I want to do with my life.

And so, I’m celebrating. My birthday present to myself this year is the release of the Matchmakers Trilogy: three gay romances set in the world of the Shifting Isles.

Am I qualified to write m/m romance? Debatable. I read a lot in that genre (almost exclusively in that genre, truth be told), but that may or may not mean much. Will the books go over well? I have no idea. I’ve already sold more books this morning than I have over the entire last year, but that may change over time. I suck at marketing, and I know that. I know I could be selling a hell of a lot more books if I sat down and put in the time to properly promote them, but it’s not what I want to do. Would I like to sell more books? Of course. Who wouldn’t? But is that what I’m in it for? Yes, and no. I’d love to make a career out of writing, but I don’t do it for the money. I do it for the love. So I’m authoring wrong. I could be authoring much better. But marketing just hasn’t ever been a priority for me.

Will people like these books? I don’t know, and I honestly don’t care all that much.

Alright, yes, I do care, but not to the point that it will make or break my day. I do write for my readers, of course, but mostly I write for myself. I write because I have to. I write because I love it. I write because it’s the only thing that gets me truly excited every day. After spending all my school years wondering what the hells was wrong with me, since I had no goals in mind, while all my classmates were off pursuing their future career studies, I’m just grateful to have something about which I’m passionate. That’s all that matters. Instead of wondering what the hells I’m alive for, I’ve got my stories, and that means everything.

I still can’t believe these books didn’t even exist in concept until six months ago. Six months. Just six months from concept to completion. Three whole novels from start to finish in six months. Good gods, I must have been out of my mind to even consider such a thing, but the Muse commanded and I obeyed.

And I will readily admit I love these stories. I love these characters. Even if these books don’t go over well with an audience, I have never been so excited or so proud of something I’ve written. These even surpass my love of Return to Tanas (Shifting Isles, Book 3), and I thought there was no way anything was going to top that writing experience.

Releasing the Matchmakers books is also part of a simple matter of self-validation. After having spent so much of my life hiding and pretending and trying to be what I thought I was supposed to be, this year I’ve finally come to the conclusion that life is too damned short to be miserable. Life is too short to wear a mask. Just the simple matter of being able to say “I read nothing but gay romance” and of being able to write what I want regardless of the reception and to be true to myself in every small way I possibly can, to own my identity and to not be ashamed…what better gift could I possibly give myself than that? What better gift could anyone give himself than the freedom to be himself? Such a seemingly small mental switch, but it makes a world of difference.

To stand up and say, “I am.”

So, today I am 33. Today, I’m not ashamed to be trans. Today, I’m releasing three gay romance novels, just because I can. Just because it’s what I want to do. Just because it’s what I love.

And if even one reader enjoys them, even better.

The Matchmakers Trilogy is now live on CreateSpace and Amazon, in both print and Kindle formats. They are also listed on Goodreads, and I’ve got a small Pinterest board started for the trilogy. The books can be purchased separately, or in one combined volume at a discounted price.

Introducing: Matchmakers (A Shifting Isles Trilogy)

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So begins a (slightly) new venture for myself, one on which I had ultimately planned, albeit not quite so soon.

I’m about to release my first m/m romance novels, set in the world of the Shifting Isles. I had planned to jump into m/m romance with the J.A. Wood series, planned for a few years down the road, but these new books pretty much just jumped up and took over my life for a few months, throwing my writing schedule completely off-track, but I simply had to run with it.

41f+T193FWL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_The Matchmakers Trilogy all started when I was writing Broken (Shifting Isles, Book 4). In that story, there is a minor character, Remy, who appears in all of two scenes and has a mere handful of lines, but somehow he grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go.

In Broken, the MC, Daivid, is working as a stripper at a gay club in order to pay off a debt he owes the club owner. One night, due to a shortage of staff, the boss has Daivid participate in a live pornography stage show instead of his usual stripper act. Daivid, being the Kinsey Zero that he is, freaks out about this, but ultimately gives in, since it’s either that or lose his job, and wind up even more in debt than he already is, and his criminal record is so long that no one else will hire him.

He winds up performing the stage show with Remy, a flamboyant kid who popped out of my imagination on a moment’s notice just to make Daivid’s situation harder (*ahem* Sorry…more difficult). Remy is about as gay as they come, so his flirtatiousness only makes things worse for Daivid when he’s already having a miserable night.

After the show, Remy pops off with the following comment:

Hey! Maybe next time I’ll get you all out on display like that again, and I’ll ride you. What do you say?” Daivid choked and took a step back, but Remy pressed right up against him and dropped his voice to a husky murmur. “My boyfriend just loves to watch me bottom. Makes him so friggin’ hot. Mmmph. Yeah. Next time. Totally.

Now, what kind of guy would have a boyfriend who actually enjoys watching him have sex with other men? This question teased me for the longest time. I mean, it felt like such a Remy thing to say when I wrote it, but as a strict monogamist myself, I was having a hard time wrapping my head around that as a real situation.

So that got me thinking: Who was Remy’s boyfriend? And why was he so easy-going about Remy’s job? Why wasn’t he jealous? Was he always like that, or did they have a hard road to get to that point?

Second ChancesBam! There you have it. The makings of a new story: Second Chances. Once those questions started popping up, I couldn’t stop. A minor character who appears in two scenes suddenly had his very own novel.

And Remy … *sigh* Remy, Remy, Remy …

The more I wrote him, the more I absolutely adored him. Remy is the kind of character you want to just wrap up in your pocket and keep safe. By night, he’s a porn star and a stripper who absolutely loves his job. But by day, Remy is an intelligent, sophisticated, responsible young man who likes to wear nothing but suits and ties, and all he really wants in life is to settle down and be loved, to have someone for himself.

So along comes Chance Whitaker. And yeah, alright, spoiler alert, they get their HEA, of course, since they’re still together during the events of Broken, but it’s not an easy road. (And, as it turns out, Chance really does like to watch Remy bottom on stage…)

While I was working through this story, I was also discovering Queer as Folk. I know, I know. I’m only about 15 years too late. That’s apparently how I operate when it comes to TV shows. But I got sucked into the show and completely fell in love with it…

Until the finale. I mean, come on: BRIAN AND JUSTIN DON’T WIND UP TOGETHER?!?! WHAT?!?! HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?!?!

*sigh* Alright, fine. Yes, I agree, that is exactly how the show should have ended, considering their characters. It totally made sense, but a part of me hated that it made sense, because I was so rooting for that big, romantic HEA.

So, of course, I had to fix it.

I needed a story where the guy who refuses commitment (Brian) comes across a man he simply can’t live without, even if he has to learn it the hard way. I needed Brian and Justin to have that big, happy ending.

The story wound up taking a different direction than I originally expected, but as I was finishing Second Chances, I was suddenly well into mentally outlining the sequel, Second Drafts.

Second DraftsShain Ahren, Chance Whitaker’s brother, flat refuses to settle down, and won’t even sleep with the same guy twice. A writer and a major control freak (that doesn’t sound familiar at all … *ahem*), Shain simply won’t let anyone in.

Until he meets…

And here’s where the story really threw me for a loop. I needed a counterpart for Shain, someone to shake up his world and mess with his control, and the first (and only) character who came to mind to fill that role was Elliden Crawford.

Elliden also appears in Broken, as the unstable artist who is the brother of Daivid’s love interest. Elliden inherited an extreme chemical imbalance from his mother which leaves him prone to violent outbursts. When he has one of his fits, his sister literally has to wrestle him to the floor and hold him down until he works the fit out of himself; otherwise, he carries pills that can quickly sedate him and stop the violence before it starts, but they leave him lethargic and unmotivated to do anything whatsoever. His volatility forces him into a very sheltered, isolated existence. In some ways, he’s really not much more than a child, though he has the intelligence and rationality of any other man his age.

I really struggled with this character choice at first. Right off the bat, I knew there was going to have to be a sexual element between Shain and Elliden, and I had the most impossible time trying to picture Elliden as a sexual being. Straight or gay, I just couldn’t imagine it. To me, he always came off the page as not only a virgin, but as someone who would probably never have sex in his life. I just couldn’t see it ever happening.

What I could see, however, and see so easily that I knew he was the perfect choice for this book, was his need to be dominated. What little I’d written of him in Broken translated perfectly into his interactions with Shain. Elliden knows he’s dangerous, and he doesn’t want to hurt anyone. However, he’s also lonely, but thinks he can’t ever be close to someone because he’s unstable. Still, he does manage to succumb to his sister’s control, and even to the authority in Daivid’s voice, so pairing him with the domineering control freak, Shain, just made perfect sense. Elliden knows he needs someone not just stronger than him, but someone with enough presence to get through to him when he’s having a fit. He finds that he actually craves that outside control.

This whole book is really about control: taking it, needing it, and letting it go. Not to mention, an element of shame attached to it all. Apparently, the Writing Muse was trying to teach me a lesson with this book. I kept trying to get back on track with writing the Shifting Isles series, but the Muse wouldn’t let me, insisting I work on Second Drafts instead.

And no wonder. I was having some major control issues of my own. Some parts of my life in which I needed to take control, but thought I couldn’t (like Elliden does when he first moves out on his own). For instance, standing up for myself and seeking out the health care and procedures I needed in order to embrace my trans identity, rather than suffering the misery of constantly pretending for the sake of not upsetting others. Just like Elliden felt ashamed of wanting to take control and have his own life, I felt ashamed of wanting to take control and embrace my identity. Through my own character, I learned a lesson.

…Some parts in which I needed to let go of control but didn’t want to (like Shain does when Elliden starts to affect his life). For instance, not getting myself so worked up about things being done just precisely the right way (I might be a little bit OCD), and learning to let go and ask for help when things get beyond my power or ability (something I’ve never been good at because, hang it all, I want to be able to do things myself).

…Some parts in which I needed control, and was ashamed to admit it (like Elliden craving Shain’s presence to keep him in line). For instance, I’ve learned that exercise requires another’s presence. I can’t seem to motivate myself, but if I have someone else there pushing me, telling me what to do, I love it. Just as Elliden felt ashamed of wanting that controlling presence to keep him in line, I felt some shame in wanting the same thing in the gym, and we both had to learn to let go of that shame and embrace what we needed.

And through both of these stories, there is the matchmaker himself, Danny Berringer. Through Danny’s interference, Remy and Chance are brought together, then Elliden and Shain. Only fair that the matchmaker get his own love story, right?

Second PlaceThus, rounding out the trilogy (and, as it turns out, delving into more of my personal life), is Second Place.

Danny is still in love with Bryan, even after they’ve been apart for years, even though Bryan is married to someone else. But Bryan’s marriage seems to have fallen apart, and as much as Danny would give anything to have a chance to get back together with Bryan, he’s also dying to know what went wrong with Bryan’s marriage, considering he matched up the pair, and he never gets couples wrong.

This story centers heavily around death, guilt, betrayal, and moving on. Without even realizing it, this whole story exploded out of my own grief over losing the family dog. It was a year ago yesterday that we put her down, but it feels like it just happened. Even after a year, I still struggle with the guilt I feel over her last day. She spent her last day at the vet’s office, a place she hated, and when we went to say goodbye, she clearly thought she was finally going home, but instead we all cried over her while she was put down.

It felt like we’d killed her. She spent her last day away from her family, and then we killed her.

That thought tormented me for the longest time. Still does, to some degree.

And even though she was just a pet, I’m not quite ready to move on. I thought I was finally getting to that point, until my father started talking to a breeder about getting another dog, and I burst into tears, thinking, “You can’t replace her!” Stupid thought, but there it was.

So all these feelings — the grief, the guilt, the struggle to move on — came out in this story. Once again, the Muse was leading me where I needed to go, rather than where I wanted to go (namely, sticking to my writing schedule).

Hmmm, there’s that control thing again…

Despite all the difficult feelings that arose in these stories, I am so completely in love with them, and I can’t wait to share them with the world (well, my small readership, as it is, but it feels like sharing them with the world). As I sit here, eagerly awaiting my final proof copies to arrive, I’m counting down the days to their scheduled release date.

July 24th. Giving myself a birthday present this year. Writing what I want to write and not caring what anyone thinks about it. Trans guy writing gay romance. *shrug* That’s just who I am.

The Matchmakers Trilogy will be available — separately and in a combined edition at a discounted price — on Amazon.com and CreateSpace.com starting July 24th. I can’t wait!!!

Self Care, Deadlines, and Sanity

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After weeks of struggling, I’ve finally accepted the fact that my self-imposed publishing schedule is not going to be met.

I know. Self-imposed. Not exactly a big deal, right? Not like there’s a publisher out there to drop me, or like the world is going to end. But for someone who loves deadlines, who hates disappointing people, who will beat himself up one side and down the other rather than let someone down, it was a hard pill to swallow.

But, for the sake of my sanity, and the long term quality of my product, it has to be done. Consequently, I’m pushing back the entire publishing schedule of the remaining Shifting Isles books. There’s just no way I can put out Betrayal (Book 6) in time for its projected release date of June 30th and have it be any kind of good.

Besides life happening (sometimes a ten-hour day at a desk job just kills the muse), I’ve been so absorbed in writing the Matchmakers trilogy over the last few months that I’ve just not been able to focus on getting Betrayal written. I tried dragging my focus away from the trilogy so I could keep myself on schedule, but that only resulted in me getting nothing done at all, so I finally gave in and let the words flow where they wanted to, even if it took me off track. Then again, in the long run, it was probably a good thing. Sometimes a book idea comes along at just the right time, and I’ve been learning a lot about myself in the midst of writing this trilogy. In conjunction with therapy, this was just something I apparently really needed, mentally and emotionally, so I’m slowly getting to where I’m grateful for the derailing rather than stressing over it.

‘Self care’ has been the new mantra I’m trying to adopt, and in this case, it means going where the muse wants to take me, rather than where I think I ought to be.

So Betrayal won’t be available in June, as promised. However, it’s looking very much like the entire Matchmakers trilogy will be available sometime this summer. Maybe I’ll do a special release on my birthday in July.

Then, back on track.

The Five-Hour Wife — Now available!

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B05 - The Five-Hour WifeI’m sitting here, trying to think of what to say, and all I can seem to get my brain to focus on is how many tabs I have open on my browser right now.

Launching a book pretty much demands that. Checking the listings on Amazon, making sure the print and Kindle formats are linked, confirming the listing in the publisher’s storefront, adding the book versions to Goodreads, updating the Pinterest board (which in this case, admittedly, doesn’t have a whole lot on it), posting about it all on Facebook…

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Gods, I need more coffee for this.

*ahem* So, to The Five-Hour Wife. First, the title. I have no bloody clue where the title came from, but once I had it, I pretty much ran with it, and crafted most of the story around it. Granted, the story changed pretty significantly from the first version to what is now available to read, but the general idea was always still there: something incomplete, something aborted, something unfinished. This was a feeling I struggled with for a long time in my personal life. I distinctly remember my mother always telling me that the key to life was go to school, get a degree, get a job, get married, get the house and the car, have kids, etc.

You know? The whole ‘American dream’, blah blah blah.

Instead, I wound up a college dropout, single, childless, and still in the same dead-end job for going on 16 years. But, I do own my own home (yay!) and I’ve found passion in writing, which is something I completely lacked up until just a few years ago. Still, I had a really hard time adjusting to the idea that I could be happy and successful without having that rigid list of things my mother outlined for me — a hard time adjusting to the idea that I could feel complete without checking off every single item.

That can be a hard lesson to learn, as my heroine, Jani Shyford, discovers throughout the book.

While Jani is struggling with feeling incomplete, she runs into her celebrity crush, Kal Rydyn. Actually, it’s more accurate to say he runs into her. Literally. As they spend time together, they both think the other is the answer to all their respective problems, until a deadly scandal breaks, pulling up secrets from both their pasts and threatening to ruin both their careers.

And they’ll have to work against each other.

This story takes place basically between the last two chapters of Broken (Shifting Isles Series, Book 4). It does end with a happily-ever-after, but maybe not your typical one. You’ll just have to read it to see. 😉

An Exercise in Perspective

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Have you ever been driving down the road and going slower than usual — say, because you have a sick or injured person in the car and you want to make the ride as easy for that person as possible, or you have a vase of flowers sitting in the seat next to you and you don’t want it to tip over, or you have a pounding headache and it’s all you can do to make it that last little bit of the way home so you can finally rest…

And then, the next day, you get stuck behind someone driving a little too slow, and all you can think is, “What an asshole. This guy is holding me up. Why doesn’t he just get out of my way?”

I know I’ve been guilty of this. Perhaps you have, too. Becoming aware of these things has been giving me lots of possibilities for brainstorming reasons behind people’s actions — which, of course, can translate into character motivations.

I remember, back when I actually read M/F romance, coming across two books by Julia Quinn that both included the exact same scene, but told from two entirely different perspectives, which really gave a lot of interesting insight into why certain things were said or done in that scene. Just reading the one perspective left the reader with the impression that one character was an asshole, but reading it from the other perspective really changed the overall impression. Sometimes, taking a step back and looking at something from a different angle can make a world of difference.

So when I see someone barreling down the freeway, and other people are honking and showing the finger, I stop myself from doing the same and try to think why that person is driving like a maniac. Maybe he really is just an asshole, true, but there might be plenty of other reasons. Maybe he’s just found out his child has been injured. Maybe someone called to say a pipe burst or his house is on fire. Maybe he had car trouble and now he’s running late for his first day on a job he finally got after being unemployed for several months and he really needs to feed his family.

This weekend, I had another personal lesson in perspective that made me stop to think. To set it up: I have a major pet peeve about people who wear their sunglasses indoors. It creeps me out. Besides the fact that it’s nonsensical, it makes the person seem somehow untrustworthy. If you’re hiding your eyes, I’m going to be suspicious of you.

Friday night, I had a minor anxiety attack brought on by an overwhelming social situation (hooray for being a major introvert, right?). Not nearly as bad an attack as some I’ve had before, but it was enough to leave me unsettled for the next two days, so I pretty much spent the weekend curled up in my house, avoiding people, with one exception.

I had to drive my father to a family event (which I was also supposed to attend, but obviously bowed out of after the attack), and spent a few minutes helping him unload supplies for the party. I managed to get through a few obligatory hellos to people who were already there, and then made my escape.

As I stepped outside, I reached for my sunglasses, and realized I’d never taken them off the whole time I was inside.

Subconscious armor. The sunglasses staying on made me feel safer, provided a small barrier between me and the ‘danger’ that was other people.

Talk about light bulb moment.

So, the next time I see a person wearing his sunglasses indoors, I’ll be less quick to judge. Maybe he’s not untrustworthy or stupid or an asshole. Maybe he’s just barely keeping his shit together, and taking off the sunglasses would leave him feeling more vulnerable. Maybe he needs that little extra layer of protection just to get through whatever business he has so he can escape unscathed and get on with his day.

Maybe that’s what it takes for him to survive. And if that’s the case, having been on that side of things, I really can’t blame him.

When Characters Have Their Own Way

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So, I finished writing a book last night.

Not the one I was supposed to be working on, mind, but one that grabbed my attention just about a month ago and wouldn’t leave me alone.

With the release of Broken (Shifting Isles, Book 4) at the end of December, and a completed draft of The Five-Hour Wife (Shifting Isles, Book 5) around the same time, I was trying desperately to start working on Betrayal (Shifting Isles, Book 6) in hopes of getting myself back on track after it took so much longer to finish Broken than I’d anticipated.

But, no matter how hard I tried, I was stuck. Betrayal just wasn’t speaking to me. At all.

I fought and struggled and tried to focus on writing Betrayal. I really did try. It drove me insane. I know exactly where I need the story to go; most of it is already laid out in my head; I just can’t seem to get it down on the computer.

The problem? I was completely and thoroughly distracted by a minor character having a mind of his own and taking charge of my muse.

In Broken, the MC, Daivid Thaton, works at a strip club in order to pay off a debt due to money he’d stolen from the owner of the club. One of his coworkers at the club is Remy, who popped into my head one day and pretty much demanded a place in Daivid’s book, just to torment Daivid’s very heterosexual masculinity. Remy has all of a handful of lines and appears in only two scenes in the book, and that was the extent of my plan for him.

Well, Remy, apparently, had plans of his own, because while I was struggling to work on Betrayal, he jumped up in all his flamboyant glory, threw his arms in the air, and shouted, “I need a book of my own!”

What can I say? I obeyed.

It didn’t take much for his story to take shape. Just his few lines in Broken got me thinking: How does a kid wind up being a stripper and a porn star? Why does his boyfriend not mind his job, and even gets off on it? Was it an easy road to that relationship, or was it a struggle getting his boyfriend to accept him as he was?

And there it was. Story concept. And as I started writing it, other characters popped up out of nowhere, more backstory developed to come back to haunt Remy, and suddenly, in a matter of weeks, the gorgeous, energetic Remy Dawes had managed to star in a book of his own.

But, of course, he couldn’t leave it at that. He had to drag in his boyfriend’s brother, who will also have his own book (alongside Elliden Crawford, who makes appearances in Return To Tanas (Shifting Isles, Book 3) and Broken (Shifting Isles, Book 4)), and then Remy’s boss stepped up and said he needed a book, too, which rounded out the stories and developed this neat little M/M romance trilogy that would run as a side-step from the main Shifting Isles anthology.

The trilogy, which I’m calling Matchmakers, after the name of the club where Remy works, will be available…well, I’m not really sure. Since I really should be focusing on the main series, I should be putting this new one off until the end of my current writing schedule, which is already about three or four years out. Then again, this project has me so wound up and excited that I just might make it a special release amongst and between the scheduled release dates of the main Shifting Isles series. I hate to be vague, but there you have it.

I just hope I can get back on track with Betrayal. Granted, all my deadlines are self-imposed, so it’s not like the end of the world if I get off-schedule, but still…my OCD wouldn’t be too happy with me were I to do that.

Broken — Now available!

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41f+T193FWL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Finally! It’s done! Wow, you have no idea how glad I am to have this one behind me. After having Return to Tanas absolutely explode out of me in a matter of days, getting stuck over Broken for over a year was beyond frustrating.

But, it’s done. It’s published. It’s now out of my hair.

And it turned out a lot better than I originally thought it would. This story line went through so many changes along the way until it finally flowed well and everything tied together. It still amazes me how moving a key event from one plot point to another dramatically changes the pace and tone of the story.

With Broken, we take a slight change of course in the world of the Shifting Isles. From Benash’s story in The Prisoner to his daughter Saira’s story in S.P.I.R.I.T. Division to Saira’s son Graeden’s story in Return to Tanas, we now drop down one more generation, but the Crawfords are now just supporting characters, and the protagonist is Daivid Thaton, a grown orphan who crosses paths with the Crawfords, and not always in a good way.

Daivid has committed several thefts throughout his life, and gotten caught every time, so he pays the price over and over. On one hand, he doesn’t mind getting caught, because he hates being indebted to people, and he always intends to pay back his victims, but each time he gets caught, he accumulates a new mediation debt on top of the amount he stole, so he’s perpetually broke and quite often homeless.

I got to amuse myself a bit with this one in terms of free market justice. There are no police and courts like we have in the real world, so crimes are subject to a mediated agreement between criminal and victim. Because of his criminal record, no employer will hire Daivid, but he does have a job — only because it was offered to him by his victim as a means of paying off his debt with his own labor.

And Daivid hates the work, but he accepts it because he’s simply thankful to be employed at all, and thus able to not only work off his debt but also (mostly) keep a roof over his head. Why does he hate the work? Well, you’ll just have to read it and find out (keeping in mind that he agreed to the mediation terms, since the alternative meant no employment, certain homelessness, and an even greater mountain of debt that he would have more difficulty paying off — his choice based on his subjective scale of values).

(Thank you, Ludwig von Mises.)

And on top of his debts, Daivid is also trying to track down the parents that abandoned him, not to mention trying to get through the drama of his upcoming wedding.

But then an accident puts a stop to everything…

Broken is now available at CreateSpace.com, as well as on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle formats. I’ve also unlocked the Pinterest board for the book if anyone is interested in a few visuals for characters or settings (as well as a few interesting articles on up-and-coming technologies that are used or at least hinted at in the story). The book is also listed on Goodreads for those of you book junkies like me who like to keep track of what they read.

Happy reading!

A Year of Excess

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Wow. 2015. What a year! And I can’t believe it’s about to end already. Where has the time gone? I swear it was just yesterday I was packing up 2014 files at work to store away, and now I’m about to do it all again.

As for writing? That’s been a rollercoaster all on its own. It certainly didn’t help that life was seriously getting in the way all the while…

 

Excessive Anxiety

To people who have never experienced shyness or social anxiety, it’s difficult to explain just how debilitating it can be to try to be social. Add in any other layers to this anxiety, and it can be downright earth-shattering. Even something as simple as going to the grocery store requires an internal pep talk, deep breathing, and a whole lot of hurry.

It can be terrifying to go through the day feeling like you have a spotlight trained on you at all times, when all you want it to just curl up in a dark corner in the safety of your own house and hide away from the world. You don’t want to be seen. You don’t want to be acknowledged. You definitely don’t want to have to interact with anyone for any reason whatsoever.

That’s not to say I’ve been a complete hermit. I did get up and go to work every day, but it was robotic. Habit. Familiar. Fifteen years of going to the same office every day made it easier to stick to that routine without having to talk myself into it each morning. I did go to the grocery store, because it was necessary. Other than that, I pretty much stayed home. Home was safe. Home was comfortable. Home was my own familiar territory where I could be myself and not have to constantly put on a mask for other people and pretend to be something I wasn’t.

Through all that, I could turn to my stories for solace and escape, except for one problem:

 

Excessive Writer’s Block

Gah! How completely frustrating! After having written Return to Tanas (Shifting Isles, Book 3) in pretty much a matter of weeks, it then took me over a year to complete the next book, Broken (Shifting Isles, Book 4), which is due out at the end of this month. I struggled with this one to the point that I almost threw my hands up and quit. I just could not get the plot to come together. It was almost unbearable to reach the point at which I realized the story wasn’t working and demanded a complete rewrite.

So, I finally gave in and did a rewrite. Scrapped some 50,000 words (half a novel), and started over entirely from scratch.

Twice.

Then, thank the gods, it finally started to come together. Move a few key scenes to different plot points, and what a difference! The character arcs and plot progression finally flowed the way they were supposed to. After battling this one for over a year, Broken is finally and blessedly finished and about ready to be released. Now, of course, I’m way behind on the writing schedule I had set for myself early in the year, and though I know it’s not true, there’s a part of me that’s inclined to blame that at least partially on…

 

Excessive Work Hours

For the last year and a half or so, I’ve been working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week at my day job. No lunch breaks. I pretty much park myself at the desk and I’m there until closing, eating like a Hobbit (every two hours) between answering phones and writing up invoices. I’ve done this schedule before, and I’ll probably do it again, whether I like it or not.

Alright, so, it’s not quite as bad as I make it sound. It does pay the mortgage. It does pay the bills. It does give me a definite sense of security and familiarity. I don’t take lunch breaks mostly by choice — it’s just easier to be there all day rather than leave my customers waiting, easier to be there rather than coming back from a break and trying to play catch-up. Still, it’s exhausting. For a person who thrives on solitude and silence, being in a noisy environment all day long, especially with the constant drone of conversations layering over one another, it leaves me at the end of the day with a bone-deep ache for peace and quiet.

It also leaves me with little time to take care of things for myself. Even just trying to get to the dentist or the chiropractor can be a challenge. And one thing I’d been wanting to do all year, but hadn’t managed, was to go visit my old high school so I could take my English teacher, Ms. Mayfield, a copy of one of my books. Though I was always the math wiz in school, and never thought I’d pursue a hobby or a career in writing, Ms. Mayfield helped foster a deep and long-lasting love for philosophy and the written word. Finally, just the other day, I had an opportunity to stop by the school. I didn’t get to visit long, but to see her again was so cool. She has such a passion for words, something I’ll never forget. And to see the smile on her face when she had my book in her hands — that made all the struggles worth it. Ms. Mayfield is one of those teachers who makes you love school, who makes you excited to learn, and she’s definitely a person I’ll treasure forever.

But, after a bunch of hugs, smiles, laughs, and shared memories, I had to get back to work. The office was a disaster when I got there, and a bit overwhelming, but I managed to get everything righted and caught up and then finally take a breather when I found a few minutes of quiet.

One of the perks of working for the family is that I’m allowed to write in my downtime. When the phone gets quite and the flow of invoices slows down, I can fire up the laptop and knock out a few thousand words, if I’m lucky. I’d never be able to get away with that working anywhere else. And for a while I really thought I was going to be stuck having to find another job until we started getting…

 

Excessive Good News

Thanks to the very nasty divorce my mother put my father through a few years ago, the family business wound up with an obscene amount of debt in order to buy her out. We’ve been teetering on the edge of collapse because of that for so long, there wasn’t even a tunnel, let alone a light at the end. Every day I woke up thinking this would be it, that we’d lose everything, that I’d lose my house, that I’d lose my writing (alright, so I’m a bit dramatic). Then, this year, everything turned around.

Debt still there? Yes, but suddenly it’s more manageable. The bills are all paid. I don’t have this terrifying stack sitting beside my computer anymore. I sit at my desk and look around helplessly because I have nothing to do. No budgeting to plan. No bills to decide which to pay and which to let go another month. No stressing over how to shift things around to make sure my employees get paid first. The To-Pay slot in my filing rack is empty. It’s so weird! And after having put myself on voluntary cut pay for almost two years, I finally got my regular wage back, so I’m saving money again. No more fretting about losing my house, my sanctuary, my safe space where I can be alone with my characters and forget the world for a while.

But not having to stress over work meant that there was suddenly all this new space in my brain to worry about other things, which meant my anxiety spiked. Until, one day, I finally got angry, put my foot down, and decided to make a change. First discovering and then attacking the root of my anxiety meant I could finally see a possibility of life — not just existence but life — in my future. Which led to…

 

Excessive Happiness

Now, if you had asked me, any time prior to a few months back, if it were possible to be excessively happy, I’d have laughed in your face. Excessively happy? No such thing, right? What could possibly be so bad about being too happy? Was it even possible to be too happy?

Oh, yes. It’s possible. It’s so incredibly possible.

Once I decided to do something for me and started moving forward, the happiness started out exquisite. I hadn’t felt true happiness in so long that it was such a relief! Finally, I was starting to feel alive!

The happiness was so intense that it was almost erotic. I would lie on the couch on a day off work, just staring out the window with a big smile on my face, almost (and I never in my life thought I’d use this word in a serious manner) writhing with pleasure just from being so damned happy.

After a few days of this, it got to be overwhelming. I couldn’t stop smiling, laughing, giggling. After two weeks, it became such a burden that I found myself wishing for sadness or anger or even numbness just to have an emotional break!

Eventually the happiness tapered off to a sense of contentment. Things moved forward, I took some necessary steps, and I had high hopes for the future.

Then I wound up with some time off work to recover from an operation, and I went into it thinking this would be exactly what I needed. A nice little break from work, some quiet time at home, a chance to get caught up on my writing and editing. Ah, yes, I was definitely looking forward to it. What I was not expecting, however…

 

Excessive Boredom

Yeah, so…being at home, post-op, sounds like a nice relaxing time in theory, but reality was a bit different. I wasn’t in much pain, but I was so damned exhausted while my body healed that I couldn’t seem to get my brain out of a fog. I had eleven straight days of not having to go into the office to look forward to, and suddenly I had nothing to fill them with.

I couldn’t write. I tried. Oh, believe me, I tried. And I knew I had so much to do in order to get back on schedule, but I just could not get my brain to properly engage. So, I took a break from trying, and tried to read instead.

Couldn’t do that, either. I couldn’t focus.

I did ultimately manage to put on a show and zone out while watching it, which provided a bit of a distraction, but even that didn’t hold my attention for long. So I wound up on the couch, staring at the wall, bored out of my gorram mind.

At any other time, I could easily spend a Sunday lying on the couch with nothing but my thoughts and characters to keep me company. I love that. It’s my favorite way to spend a weekend. But during post-op recovery, my brain couldn’t even handle that. So…I got nothing done. Ugh. All that productivity I was looking forward to, and none of it came to fruition.

Eventually, things stared to go back to normal. I went back to work — on restriction, which sucks (no hauling around cases of antifreeze for a while, dang it) — and got back to my stories. I finished the last of the editing and formatting of Broken that I’d been putting off, and the writing for The Five-Hour Wife (Shifting Isles, Book 5) is going well, so I should be just barely on schedule for the posted release dates I’d set for myself. That is, if I can keep on track while my imagination is bombarding me with…

 

Excessive Book Ideas

I was nice and focused on the Shifting Isles series, sticking to my schedule and looking forward to hitting my target release dates. Yet, in the meantime, I keep getting ideas for more books.

Sometime earlier this year, the J.A. Wood series popped into my head, and hit me with such intensity that I knew I’d have to ultimately write it (a series of books set in the world of the Shifting Isles, but taking place prior to the events in that series). Based on the ideas I currently have for it, this new series will probably fall somewhere in the 5-6 books range.

So far, anyway.

And then I got an idea for another new series, also taking place in the world of the Shifting Isles, but pulling in stories of some minor characters you’ll meet in the Shifting Isles books and delving deeper into their own stories. This will be the Matchmaker series, and is currently sitting at a total of three books.

Hopefully it’ll stay that way. For a while, at least. In the meantime, I’ve got a book to release and another to finish, so, I had better get to work. Which means, of course…

 

Excessive Coffee

Mmmm….coffee…..

Return to Tanas — Now available!

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Return to TanasAnd here we are again! Wow, six books out now. This is crazy. It’s funny to look back at my life and think that I never imagined myself writing, whether as just a hobby or a potential career. I always loved English classes, but I was a total math geek all through school, so to have all these stories bouncing around in my head all the time is a bit surreal.

Then, to have a paperback book in my hands, with my name on it…

There really is no way to describe that feeling. It’s just incredible

Alright, so, third book in the Shifting Isles series, Return to Tanas follows the life of Dr. Graeden Crawford, second son of Charlie and Saira Crawford (from S.P.I.R.I.T. Division). Graeden is keeping a big secret from his family, and it takes getting trapped on the Isle of Tanas for him to finally find the motivation to confess.

Assuming he ever makes it back home… 😉

This book just absolutely exploded out of me. I literally wrote two-thirds of it in six days. The whole thing was just laid out in my head, plain as day, and my hands ached from all the constant typing I did that week.

Gods, was that really a year ago, now? How time flies.

Yep, just about this time, last year, I was writing this book, trying to keep ahead on my writing schedule. Ever since then, I’ve been absolutely stuck on the next book (Broken, Shifting Isles Series Book 4), but thankfully it’s finally starting to come together — and hopefully in time for its December release date. In the meantime, though, I’m so excited to share this newest baby of mine with the world.

Graeden was a lot of fun to write. He’s kind of an asshole, but with a reason. And the reason…

Well, you’ll just have to read it. But I will say this: The big reveal gets me choked up every time.

And I wrote the damn thing.

Still, every time I get to that line, the tears of joy and excitement and relief start welling up. Can’t be helped. It just gets to me.

I had a lot of fun with this one delving more into the comparisons of Tanas (a socialist country) and Agoran (an anarcho-capitalist society). The first two books did that a bit, each being set on one of the Isles, but to have both in the same story, it makes for a striking difference.

And lots of good tension. Oh, does Graeden ever love to argue with the Tanasians!

The book is now available in print at the publishing site, CreateSpace, as well as on Amazon.com in both print and Kindle formats.

I’ve also listed the book on Goodreads, and released the Pinterest board, for anyone interested in some of the visuals that go along with the story.

I particularly love the idea of holographic imaging for use in medicine — that concept was a lot of fun to play with!

87d3115e2ab62cdcd0625729e601ea0fSo, once again, enjoy! I’m off to get back to work on Book 4 while I’m stuck here in a hotel in a tiny little town in Texas.

Yeah, I really don’t do vacation right, I know…