The Glories and Pitfalls of Writing Fanfiction While Dreaming of More

Like almost all authors in my demographic, from the most wildly successful to the most pie-in-the-sky aspirational, I cut my teeth on fanfiction.

I was writing it before I even knew it existed. Family members and old friends can recount countless stories about me as a tot, directing the other kids in my elaborate games of “pretend,” which were really just live action recreations of my fanfics. From Nancy Drew to Rescue Rangers to The Adventures of Sinbad and right down the line to obscure Christian Middle Grade/Young Adult mystery novels, I was always thinking up new scenarios, characters, and relationships to explore in my favourite pieces of media.

I took my first early steps into original fiction in this timeframe, too! Of course, almost all of it was “inspired” by my favourite books, shows, games, and movies. And by “inspired” I mean “basically just recreated.” My characters and settings were reskinned clones of the stories that thrilled my imagination.

A particularly egregious example was the ten book series I wrote from the time I was eleven to thirteen. (Why don’t I have that sort of writing output anymore??) You can track my parade of interests and obsessions across the series’s timeline as characters and plotlines sprout bulbous tumours inspired from the next big thing I was into. I more or less abandoned the series when I got into Star Wars — it was impossible to graft that into my basic high fantasy universe, sadly.

It wasn’t until I was fifteen that I found out that fanfiction was real. It was an actual thing that people did, a popular and active hobby with websites and discussion boards and social networks devoted to it. It was a revelation. You mean I didn’t have to disguise my interests as other things? I could just actually write twenty thousand words of post-canon Final Fantasy VII where Jenova possesses Aeris’s body and comes back as a zombie and also write a bunch of frothing polemic about why Cloud should be with Tifa? Nobody is going to like… sue me for that? Not only that, people will read it if I post it?

And that was it. From the moment I posted my first chapter of my first fic, I was addicted. The instant feedback, the feeling of community, the ease with which you could connect to other writers… it was amazing! I spent all my classes scribbling fic away in my notebook, and I’d make revisions when I typed it up at my old Windows 3.1 computer later that night. I’d sneak upstairs at midnight to the internet-enabled family computer, drape myself over the modem to muffle the sound of the dial-up connecting, and then post the new chapters. The next morning in computer class, I’d be greeted with an inbox full of new comments, each one as precious as gold.

Even to this day, over fifteen years later,  I can’t overstate the value of that feeling of community. Every day is a writing conference. You can find anyone willing to engage with you about anything. Some just want to talk about the characters and the plots and the concepts. Others want to connect on a more technical level. I learned more about the nuts and bolts — about how to tell a compelling story, about how to make prose flow, and how to engage an audience — from fanfiction than I ever did on any more “acceptable” platform. I’d spent years looking for books and mentors to teach me how to write, but I got all of my best lessons from those early fandoms.

Shout-outs to them, now, by the way. Hi there, Final Fantasy. How are you doing, Seiken Densetsu 3? Always have a place in my heart for you, Fushigi Yuugi. Congratulations on curing me of my internalized homophobia, Gravitation. What’s going on these days, Fire Emblem? When I hear Bryan Adams sing about the Summer of ’69, these are the halcyon days of youth I go back to. I even met my future wife in these communities.

But there was a solid downside to those years. Though I was writing all the time, reading constantly, learning and growing and developing as a writer… I’d completely stopped writing original fiction altogether.

There were a lot of reasons for that, but I think it comes down to two major points.

1. Original fiction and fanfiction share a very similar toolbox, and one can teach you invaluable lessons about the other. However, they don’t share an identical toolbox. While focusing completely on fanfic, I lost touch with a lot of the tools you need to write good, compelling, publishable original work.

2. The feeling of community and collaboration and camaraderie are central to the fanfiction experience. And while enjoying those things, I developed an almost pathological dependence on the rush of immediate, gratifying feedback that writing and sharing fanfic gives.

Any moment I could spend on my original ideas seemed wasted. I could be devoting that time to a fic, which I could post immediately, which would get me immediate feedback. Writing an original project felt incredibly, suffocatingly lonely. No one cared about the characters I’d invented. I was lost without the feeling of engagement I had when working with familiar faces and playing to an audience who loved them. It felt terribly and echoingly empty. And maybe I could have gotten through it, but it also felt impossibly hard to introduce concepts, characters, and world building. I’d come to rely so strongly on the shorthand of fanfic that not having it made writing incredibly difficult. I’d become incredibly frustrated with my inability to operate without the “vocabulary” of a given fandom, its cast, its world, its rules. Even in the most AU (alternate universe) of fanfics, you’re using an entire canon’s worth of context to communicate with your readers. And after doing it for long enough, establishing your own vocabulary for that stuff is incredibly hard, and it only gets harder the longer you go without practice.

I wanted to write my own stories so badly, but the more time went by, the less and less I felt equipped to do so. My efforts made me feel isolated and discouraged. I started resenting fanfiction, blaming the amazing community for my own discontent, and I ended up in a place where I wasn’t writing anything at all. I had to slowly build myself back up to the place where I am today.

So this is the part where I say that you shouldn’t write fanfic, right?

Well, wrong. Like, super wrong.

The fact is, I still write fanfic. I still write a lot of fanfic. And I love doing it. It’s important and valuable and incredibly rewarding. Fanfiction still helps me improve, still lets me be experimental, still gives me a freedom that I can’t get anywhere else. It’s taught me so much about interacting with fans and how to interface with the people who consume my work. And that amazing community I talked about is still alive and well. You can get feedback and appreciation and concrit and then go on the pay it forward. I’m still learning and making friends from the community, and I don’t intend to stop.

There are also a whole lot of writing jobs where the skills you learn from fanfic are incredibly important. Ghostwriting, working on licensed fiction, and working in a writer’s room on television are all great career paths, and your fanfic skills will make you an expert at capturing voice and tone.

It’s good for you to write fanfiction.

It’s just not good for you to write only fanfiction.

Don’t let your original fic muscles atrophy. Put aside time so that you’re spending a good ratio of your writing hours on both. Learn to wean yourself off that rush of instant feedback, treating writing like a marathon with long term rewards instead of a sprint with instant gratification. Find friends and contacts who’ll engage with you about your original work. (The last is surprisingly easy if you put yourself out there! You’ll find the fanfic community is full of other aspiring professionals who need the same thing in return.)

It’s also good to read not only fanfiction. Open yourself to meeting new characters and going to new places. Don’t cling too hard to the comforting blanket of the wonderfully familiar. Take a moment out of your day to engage with a fanfic friend about their original work. Express interest in their characters. Pick up a book and try and make time to read it, especially indie and debut authors. Leave reviews and/or connect with the authors. Don’t do this instead of engaging with a fan community! Do them both, because both are extremely awesome and important and irreplaceable.

(I should also note here, just at the end, that not all fanfiction writers/readers are aspiring professionals. Some just really love fic for what it is, and it’s all they’re interested in. That’s awesome! None of this is for you. If all you want to do is fic, all you should do is fic! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, or that your hobby is ‘lesser.’)

Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly isolated and insecure, I still boot up a word processor to write fanfic just for the feeling of being connected and accessible and easy. And that’s not only okay — that’s healthy, smart, fantastic. As long as we don’t drink so deep we don’t want to venture back out.

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Love, Marriage, and Fighting the Good Fight

They say that whenever you talk about politics or religion, you cut your audience in half. However, I write a book series where a closeted bisexual man slowly learns to love and accept himself amid some pretty blatant late capitalism/climate change coded fantasy stuff, so I think I might have already lost the portion of my potential audience who might be offended by the following statement:

The election of President Donald Trump was a hard, hard night for me.

See, November 8th, 2016, was four days before my wedding. To my wife.

I met Elzie in 2004. We were in the same very small fandom, and while our initial meeting was a hilarious cavalcade of fan-community flavoured teenage drama, we very quickly formed a connection that shook both of us down to our toes. We had everything in common, could talk for hours, and were united in our deep love of writing and sharing stories. Fanfiction at first, then original. She got me like no one else ever had. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was in love with her by the end of the first year of our friendship. But, perhaps because we’re both emotionally stunted goblins, it took us a long time to realize that that’s what it was.

The thing with bisexuality is that it’s confusing.

Growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s in Canada was a crazy time. That was when the gay rights/marriage debate was the topic on everyone’s tongue, the hot button issue of the day. I was raised as a conservative United Baptist, and we were on the front lines of the fight for “traditional marriage” — that is, the fight against marriage equality. Barely a Sunday went by when we weren’t getting a bulletin from the pulpit updating us on the status of the gay debate in Parliament, and one by one, the provinces started legalizing. It was a battle for the soul of the nation, and I was a flustered teenager in the middle of it.

I had a serious boyfriend. I was madly in love with him and incredibly attracted to him. So I knew I was ‘normal,’ and I tried not to give it more thought than that. But I also knew that I could never stop looking at the pretty girl in my Advanced English class, and that I seemed to like the female characters in my favourite books, video games, and animes a lot more than the males…

But it never connected. I had a boyfriend. I liked my boyfriend. I had crushes on actors and I thought Squall from Final Fantasy VIII was so dreamy, and therefore, those thoughts were just, oh, temptations of Satan, or a glitch in the brain-machine, or even just… normal. Something all good, straight girls experienced.

My church and our fellow soldiers lost the fight holding back gay marriage in mid 2005. I’d known Elzie for over a year, I’d just started to feel distant and alienated from my faith, and I was introduced the concept of bisexuality. It was strange and new, but it also made sense to me. Removing the binary thinking from the equation was something I’d never thought of on my own, but almost immediately, it was like I’d seen the light. I started very tentatively identifying as bisexual, though I never imagined acting on it. All around me, the authority figures in my life condemned the triumph of twisted morality. It wasn’t a good time to be queer. And I counted myself lucky. Being bi, if that’s what I was, meant that I could easily pass right under their noses, stealthily appearing straight even though I wasn’t.

But we don’t choose who we fall for. The mere capacity to be in a heterosexual relationship doesn’t mean that that’s what ends up happening. Elzie and I danced around each other for years, dating mutual friends and struggling with jealousy and alienation and failed relationships before we realized what was really going on. We’d joked about being a couple for years, but despite both of us being bi, we’d never considered it seriously until we suddenly realized that we’d been serious all along. By this time, I was out to my family and completely gone from the church. The lingering spectre of the war against the gays in my childhood was long gone, and shortly after we were officially engaged, gay marriage was legalized in Elzie’s home country of America.

We planned to get married at my parents’ house in eastern Canada.

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purple and green was a recurring theme

It’s a beautiful home that we built from nothing out in the country. A blueberry field nestled into pine and birch trees used to stand where the house is, now. It has a big living room and an open concept. My younger sister had married her husband there a few years before. It was the perfect location. Neither of us wanted to wear white, so I chose green, her favourite colour, and she wore purple, which is mine. We ordered Christmas lights off Amazon and strung them all over the house. Friends flew in from all around the world, including Meg, who we’d never met in person, who came all the way from Australia.

We went to Starbucks at about 6 PM on the night of the 8th. Things weren’t looking good, but it seemed so obvious at the time that Trump couldn’t win the election. Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate, but Trump was a disastrous one. People around us in the Starbucks joked about moving further north and the world ending, but despite the humour, the atmosphere was tense. We all went back to the house to play board games and pass the time. We were pretty sure Clinton would be president-elect by midnight, and this weird moment in time when a Trump presidency looked possible would be over.

When we checked our phones between games, we got a rude awakening.

And it was tough.

I remember lying on the floor in the living room, staring up at the ceiling. I didn’t know what we were going to do. All of our plans suddenly seemed like they were made of cobwebs. I’d intended to move to the States with Elzie. After all, she’s a successful software developer and I’m just a writer. Would that still be possible? Was there a place for us? I was getting married in four days, and I was back in the early 2000s, when the debates raged and my pastor preached hate.

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back to our roots.

We got married. It was the best night of my life at the time, and it still is to this day. Drinking champagne, dancing with friends and family into the night, we felt triumphant and powerful and undefeatable.

I’ve held onto that feeling. The last year has been long and challenging. As immigration times stretched longer than they’ve been in years, Elzie and I have been kept apart for longer than any married couple ever should be. I’ve undergone invasive medical examinations. I’ve been asked deeply personal questions. I’ve spent days on planes, in waiting rooms, and on the phone dealing with the bureaucracy of the situation. I’ve seen some truly power-mad people — along with a lot of wonderful, kind, compassionate ones — at all levels of the process. Every time I’ve faltered, I’ve remembered how I felt that night.

We set a rule for the day of the wedding: no talking about Donald Trump. At the time, we thought that he’d hang over everything like a cloud, ruining our day. But in truth, it all seemed a thousand miles away. The thing with the wars of my childhood is that they passed. Progress doesn’t always move at a steady pace, but it always moves forward. In twenty years, I don’t think Elzie and I will remember the shadow the Trump presidency threw over our wedding. We might not even remember Trump, himself.

Today, young bisexuals have more options and more clarity than I did. It gives me hope and joy to think that another eccentric teenage girl might not feel trapped between two binary options, neither of which make sense to her. And on my end, I write bisexual characters and bisexual experiences into my work to capture that moment of time I existed in, when neither of those two limited labels fit and it felt like the world was against me.

I moved to the States, permanently, this week. I’ll write more about my experiences with immigration later — it’s a doozy of a story with a million maddening, heartwarming, and hilarious little details. For the moment, I’m settling into a happy domestic life with my wife of one year. We’ll still be here when Trump is gone, and no matter what comes after him, we’ll face it together. That’s the thing about fighting a battle you’ve already won once, after all. Your adversity-tackling muscles are damn well-honed.

*embarrassed cricket noises*

Ahem. Is anyone still here?

It’s been a quiet 2017, hasn’t it? Almost a year since my last update on this site. I’ve written some posts and then declined to post them out of guilt for talking about anything that wasn’t a release date for The Heartreader’s Secret…

Well, good news!

I still don’t have a release date that I can share with you, but we are close to giving you one. It’ll be in the first half of 2018 if all goes well. This book was hell to write and edit and get together, but I couldn’t be happier with where it is right now and I’m so, so excited to get it into your hands. I think it’s the best one yet, and my early readers have all agreed.

Thank you so much for all your patience with me and my business people during these long delays! Watch this spot for actual, firm news very soon, of which there should be a bunch coming all at once!

And now… back to work on the forth and final Faraday Files book. Because don’t worry! While The Heartreader’s Secret has been stuck in editorial hell, I have been hammering away at the first draft for The Spiritbinder’s Key! Hopefully it’ll be in your hands a whole lot faster than its prequel.

Drowned in Moonlight and Strangled by Her Own Bra

I rarely use my blog to talk about personal things that aren’t strictly related to my writing or my books, but the passing of Carrie Fisher has affected me in such a profound way that I find myself needing to put my thoughts down somewhere.

I was first introduced to Star Wars by my best friend in middle school, and I immediately fell head over heels in love with the feisty, brave, competent, and beautiful Princess Leia. Looking back now, with the hindsight of a queer woman, I was always pretty much in love with her. But more than that, I wanted to be her. I wanted to tap into that strength and fearless determination that she had and siphon it off for myself. I was thirteen, learning myself, and Princess Leia was a monument to what being a woman could be.

It wasn’t until years later that I started to really learn about the woman behind the character.

The first thing you find out about Carrie Fisher after loving her in Star Wars is about her struggles with addiction. There’s something transgressive and salacious about it, that the fresh-faced, spirited, confident princess was fueled by cocaine and LSD. “Carrie Fisher? She did some hard years,” people will say, nodding sagely. Which she did. But the story isn’t dark or deliciously scandalous. It’s about triumph.

Carrie Fisher, like me, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Everyone with this disorder self medicates one way or another. And Carrie fought to overcome that, to overcome all of it, and to become a self sufficient, self sustaining, and healthy woman. She fought and she won.

There’s a lot of reasons I identify with her, and some of it is that we had some of the same struggles. But a lot of it is that Carrie was a writer to her soul. Acting was never her dream. Writing was where her heart was. Princess Leia wasn’t just a character Carrie played — she was instrumental in the writing process. Check out Carrie’s handwritten notes on Leia’s dialogue for The Empire Strikes Back:

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Carrie’s edits made it into the final film and flow so much better than the original lines. “With the rest of the garbage” is such an iconic Leia moment, accompanied  by that little smile she has when she says it. And did I mention that Empire was the film Carrie was high during? She did these great edits and played these scenes with such finesse while high.

Leia’s strength was fed by Carrie’s. The older she got, the more passionate she became, and she was a champion for feminism and the value of women past thirty. Her rants about that goddamn golden bikini were always so delightful. She claimed to “think with her mouth” and her off the cuff, short way of talking could be insightful, moving, or just laugh out loud funny. She loved to just talk, to share her feelings. She had no shame about anything at all, and that’s something I wish I had in me.

It’s hard to say goodbye to Carrie Fisher.

I’m not the sort of person to get sentimental about the passing of famous people I admire. I’m something of a bright-eyed fatalist, embracing the inevitability of death as a time to rest. But today has been hard for me in a way that nothing but the deaths of close family and friends ever is.

Part of it, I think, is that she just had so much left to give. Leia had finally come back to the big screen and Carrie was leveraging her visibility as a platform for everything from new books (The Princess Diarist just came out!) to twitter rants (her barely penetrable internet-speak was charming beyond words.) She was visible and loud and out there, and suddenly, because she picked a bad time to have a heart attack, she’s simply gone. I feel like I’ve been cheated of all the things Carrie the writer, Carrie the actor, and Carrie the personality had left to give me. I feel like the thirty years I should have had with her have been taken away from me. And it’s leaving an empty space in my heart.

But maybe part of it is that my view of the end of life as a time to sleep and be at peace doesn’t feel right for Carrie. She’s not the type to long for a chance to lay down and rest. Carrie Fisher was the very soul of life itself. Thinking of her as anything but living it what really hurts.

Here or gone, Carrie Fisher is always going to be someone I look to for insight and answers, a What Would Carrie Do? sort of figure in my mind. I hope I can continue to learn from her. I’m going to take the rest of the day to start reading The Princess Diarist and glean every bit of insight I can from the pages.

After hearing George Lucas’s half brilliant, half ludicrous explanation of why she couldn’t wear a bra, Carrie decided that it sounded kind of beautiful. She said that no matter how she died, she wanted everyone to say that she was drowned in moonlight and strangled by her own bra. So that’s what I’m going to say, when someone asks how she died. That’s what’s worthy of such an amazing, brilliant, multi-faceted, and fearless woman. And instead of saying rest in peace, I’ll say rest in riots, because I think that’s what she would have wanted.

Year of the Deathsniffer

ME, THE INSIDE OF MY HEAD, AND DREAMS COMING TRUE

Almost two weeks ago now, on July 13th 2016, The Deathsniffer’s Assistant had its first birthday.

My parents got me a lemon cheesecake and took me out for dinner. I got some well-wishes from fans and industry friends on social media. I procrastinated writing this blog post, and the day passed.

It was both really, really exciting, and kind of low-key underwhelming. Partially because my second book is coming out in a couple of weeks, which is just crazy, and it’s hard to look back on and celebrate a year of my first baby when I’m currently having labour pains for my second! (And working on my third. Crap, I’m going to end up with so many of these things.) But mostly, I think it’s because I’m getting accustomed to this. In a good way!  When TDA hit shelves and kindles a year ago, it felt like living in a brilliant flash of a moment. My lifelong dream was coming true. Strangers were buying my writing, liking it, wanting more. Absolutely none of that has stopped being amazing, but, having achieved my dreams, my life didn’t stop.

Writing this, I’m remembering my favourite scene from the massively underrated Tangled, my favourite Disney Princess movie. (I, um, might be a little in love with the Disney Princess canon.) Rapunzel is about to see the floating lantern festival and gets a little scared, wondering what happens after you achieve your dream. I know that feel, Rapunzel. I think I’ve spent a lot of this year dancing with it.

Putting The Deathsniffer’s Assistant into readers’ hands didn’t make my life complete in the way that I irrationally always thought it would. And I’m realizing that these things I’m saying are making me sound like the year has been a disappointment, that nothing lived up to my expectations. Really, it’s the opposite of that. My fans are the gift that keeps on giving. Every @ on twitter, every new review, and every comment on my site still makes my day. What I’m saying is something that I think is a lot more universal: life is never complete, and it just keeps going.

That’s what I’ve spent the last two weeks thinking about. I thought publishing TDA was going to be the culmination of my life’s work, but I think I’ve realized that it’s just the start of it, the springboard I’ve built to go ever upwards.

 SUCCESS AND SATISFACTION

I think I can say, with firm certainty, that The Deathsniffer’s Assistant has been a resounding success.

I’ve sold considerably more copies than I ever expected for an indie publisher without in-store distribution. (Without sharing specific numbers, it’s only about half of what would be considered a success from a major house, but for my situation, it’s extremely strong!) My Amazon ranking in the paid Kindle store has twice broken the top one thousand, and once broken the top one hundred. And my reviews have been phenomenal. In one year, only one single reader has ever said that they outright didn’t like it. This matters a lot to me. I think I’d rather sell five thousand copies to universal acclaim than five hundred thousand to a lukewarm response. With a 4.4 on Amazon (of almost 100 reviews) and a 4.1 on Amazon (of almost 300 ratings), I can safely say that people really dig it, and that’s fantastic.

I’ve always wanted to make money writing. First of all, because money is wonderful and I am poor and I like to eat. But secondly, because, despite the way we romanticize the starving artist, it’s the ultimate dream to have someone give you cash not because you performed a service, but because you created something. I mean, hell. I’d almost pay you to read my books! The chance to share my stories with a receptive audience is almost payment in itself. When that audience is actually trading currency for the privilege, it’s kind of enough to make a creative-type weak at the knees.

For literally as long as I can remember, I’ve been telling stories. I can’t possibly overstate how grateful I am for the 4.4s and 4.1s and dollars in my bank account that are the evidence of a year spent telling them on a large scale.

I AM REALLY BAD AT COMMUNICATION EXCEPT FOR WHEN I’M NOT

We get it, Kate. You don’t like blogging! Yeah, well. I think I just might hate the act of throwing my voice out there into the void. But what I love? Is actually engaging with people, and talking about my work.

I’ve  numerous done book clubs and signings this year. It’s been wonderful. Especially the book clubs, because I get to talk with people who have already finished the book and have so many questions. I love answering questions. I love talking about my behind-the-scenes insights. I love getting into discussions about my own stuff, talking about my process, and  digging into the meat of my characters.

I’ve discovered that as much as I struggle with the act of stringing together non-fictional words about me, my work, and my process when I’m doing it alone, I absolutely love it when I’m doing it with others. I want you guys to know that I am always open to questions and thoughts and discussions about my life, my work, or anything about me! While I agonize over topics for blog posts, I just love getting to answer directed questions. Consider my door wide open.

AUTOPSIES AND APOLOGIES

All right. Time for this.

I didn’t want to say anything negative about my own work until a year after it was out there. For a lot of reasons, but mostly two.

The first is because it’s really easy to get down on your own work, seeing problems where they aren’t any. (For instance, there’s one scene in TDA that I wrote while extremely sick, and I hate it so much because all I can see is how miserable I was and how bad it was the first time I wrote it because I was so sick. It’s fine, now. Some people say it’s one of their favourite scenes! But all I can see is how much I hate it.) The second you vocalize those things, it can cause this effect where, now that I’ve pointed out a problem that doesn’t exist, other people start seeing the problem, too. And it still doesn’t exist! I wanted to let enough time pass that, like with the scene above, I can be objective and only talk about things I actually think were mistakes.

The second reason, obviously, is that when you’re trying to sell something to someone, you don’t point out how bad it is, haha. “Hey, you should buy this car! It smells like old fish and the e-brake doesn’t work and I really hate the trunk size. Only five thousand dollars!” I wanted to wait until the time to sell TDA was mostly over, and the time to discuss TDA had started in full.

In all honesty, there are still some things about the book I hate irrationally because of what the experience of writing it was like. For example, that one scene I describe above. It’s still fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. And I still hate it. There are some spots where I wish, with the eye of a hyper-critical creator, that I could go in and tweak and play around and make it “better.” I’m not going to talk about those things.

I do kind of want to talk about Ethan Grey.

!!HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!!

I want to do another Backstage Character Pass series where I talk about the characters from TDA who won’t be appearing in the rest of the series — the cast of the val Daren murder mystery. I have a lot to talk about with those characters, and wanted to wait until I could go into the nitty gritty details of the mystery without spoiling it. So that’s coming! For now, I just want to say that I think I could have handled my killer better.

I think I came at it from a good angle. For my first mystery, I wanted something really classic. The murdered patriarch. The elegant, grieving widow with a secret. The fey and beautiful daughter. The shark creditor. The spurned mistress. The spurned mistress, obviously would be the killer. And I got this idea that I could put a modern twist on the spurned mistress characters, and have it be a gay man.

I go back and forth on whether or not Ethan was fundamentally a mistake. I still like the idea. And when you read The Timeseer’s Gambit, I hope you’ll see that I use Chris’s reactions to him in interesting ways, as well as seeing some more positive LGBTQ characters. But a book has got to stand on its own, and Ethan straddles the line perilously close to that predatory gay man trope who tries to trick straight guys into doing gay things and is unhinged and dangerous. Like, really close. Close enough that I think I could have done better.

I tried to mitigate the circumstances. I do think that Ethan is a tragic character. Being gay didn’t make him a killer — a society that forced him into the shadows and convinced him that he was evil did. He was pushed to the sidelines and the choices he made were just a stacking Russian doll of ways to push back until he had crossed so many lines he didn’t know which way was up anymore. In a world that had accepted him, Ethan wouldn’t have become what he did. He’d have been a brilliant, celebrated artist with someone who loved him. I tried to use Olivia to show this, to be the one person who could see past the way things “should be” to mourn for his potential.

Was it enough? Honestly, probably not.

My own history and beliefs don’t really make a difference, and intent only goes so far. I made a conscious choice to hold back on outing my queer characters until book 2, and I think if I wrote the book again, I’d make it explicitly clear for least one of them. Gay people can be killers just as well as straight people. But my only visible gay character being a killer? Not ideal.

Some of you are probably reading this thinking “I don’t know, I thought it was fine.” Others might be going “that’s a nice apology, but you can’t unring that bell!” And perspectives are going to differ. I get that. But this is why I waited so long — to be sure that I knew how I felt about my own choice. And I think that I didn’t quite do my best to ensure that my people got the rep we deserve. All I can say is that I can’t go back, but book 2 is going to bring it in spades

!!END OF SPOILERS!!

THE FUTURE

If you’re like me and procrastinate reading articles the same way I procrastinate writing them , The Timeseer’s Gambit might already be out when you’re reading this. It’s my great hope that it’ll have as good a year as The Deathsniffer’s Assistant did. As many positive reviews, as many sales, and as many opportunities to communicate with my fans.

I think it’s the better book. I think people are going to like it. I hope I have less to answer for in my autopsy for this one, and I hope all readers respond to it the way early ones have.

Who knows how it’ll feel in a year? Or, for that matter, how TDA will feel another year from now? Will I mark the date at all, or will it just float by? Time will tell! All I can say is that this has been one of the best years of my life, thanks to the book, and thanks to all of you who’ve read it.

Oh, Hey, Long Time No See

Wow, this is embarrassing, isn’t it? After all that talk about making an effort to blog more and get myself out there and make sure I’m staying in close touch with you guys, I seem to have gotten worse than ever at this. Huh.

After about two years of doing this, I’m coming to the conclusion that I am just bad at blogging. Or, no. Let’s scratch that. I think I’m actually pretty good at blogging. People keep telling me that they really love my blog and they think my posts are really compelling and interesting and they love reading them. The truth is probably closer to this:

I hate blogging.

I have got this idea in my head about what a blog post needs to be, and one of those things is that it needs to have effort put into it. Which may or may not be true, but god dammit, it’s stuck in my head like a song that won’t leave. When I just have some hot take I want to throw out there, I go to my twitter.  Blogging feels like an obligation that’s going to absorb my valuable writing energy. Which it kinda does.

Anyway. I feel like I’ve made this damn spiel so many times, everyone must be bored of it! This isn’t a blog post about my issues with blogging. Rather, this is a blog post I’m putting the absolute minimum amount of energy into to see if it can be done, instead of getting myself all worked up about things!

UPDATES:

The Deathsniffer’s Assistant has been out for almost a year! It’s birthday is only two days away, and I’m really excited to hit that milestone. I’m intending to write a big postmortem on the book and do something to celebrate the birthday. We’ll see if it actually gets done! For now, let me just say that I’m really, really happy with how this year has gone and I’m so, so grateful to all of you for buying a copy and telling your friends and supporting me. I write for you guys.

The Timeseer’s Gambit is out in only twenty-five days! Holy crap! The time has flown, and also, has dragged so slow I could cry. I am really proud of this one and so frigging excited to get it into your hands. Early reviews are starting to go up, and the consensus so far is that it’s as good or better than the first one. (Yay!) I am really just so pumped to start talking about the book with you. My cover reveal is next week (pushing it close to pub, I know!) and I hope you guys love it!

The Heartreader’s Secret is looking a hell of a lot better than it was the last time I updated this blog, when I posted talking about how I’d spent five months writing a single chapter. The good news is there is now a lot more than one chapter hammered out on this manuscript! The going is still slow-ish compared to how fast TTG came out, but it’s a much more complicated book. I think it’s going to turn out considerably longer than the first two (which have almost the exact same word/page count!), which could be great or terrible depending. I’m still at a stage with this book where I’m worried it’s not very good, so I can’t say that I’m excited to get it out there in front of you all. But it’s coming, and it’s turning out mostly the way I want it to, so that’s good.

As for me, personally, it’s been a long summer so far. What do you mean, summer has just started? Dammit! It isn’t over yet?? I hate summer, I really do. I’m one of those weird people who would rather sit curled up by the fire with blankets while a blizzard rages outside than go to the beach. I hate the beach, actually. And the heat. And bugs. And eighteen hours of daylight. And I’m pale as a ghost and sunburn like I’m being roasted. Summer is not my time. I’ve been a little down, a little unfocused, and really, really excited for autumn to get here. Okay, is summer over, yet? What’s that? It’s only been a minute since I started writing this paragraph? HOW IS IT STILL HERE?

I’ve also read some books that are totally worth checking out. In the sci-fi side of things, I’m still digging the absolute pants off of  The Expanse series by James S A Corey. As for fantasy, Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan just recently came out in paperback and I tore through it in a day or less. So good. And on the romance front, I’ve been absolutely thrilled over how good Sarah Maclean’s Rules of Scoundrels series is, especially the second one!

So that’s it. This took very little effort and was fun to write, so hey, that’s something.

The Wretched Rebirth of That Little Voice

Come with me on a journey. We’ll use that magical internet ability to time travel and go back to May 17th, 2015. The world was still waiting for the promised new Star Wars and the Canadian dollar hadn’t yet ruined my life by bungie jumping without a cable. I was ecstatic, because I had just finished the first draft of The Timeseer’s Gambit, which at the time still lacked a firm title. Look at how happy I was. How proud. How naive.

Depressingly, we’re about to come up on a year since that day, and I’m about to admit that I’m only just now finishing… the very first chapter of Book 3.

Oh, ouch.

I wish I could say that I’ve had a hard year. I haven’t. Full disclosure? I’ve had a great year. I got engaged and went on a ballin’ vacation in Las Vegas. The Deathsniffer’s Assistant has done so well and I’ve gotten a lot of incredibly moving feedback, met wonderful fans, and even made a not insignificant amount of money. My finances are better than they’ve ever been and I’m a happier, better person than I was this time last year. My mental health has never been so good. So while I wish that I could take refuge in having had a rough time of it, the truth is quite the opposite.

Part of it is that I wasn’t prepared for how much different editing is when you have an actual committee of people on you. I am really bad at starting a new project while I feel the previous one is still “unfinished,” and the fact that The Timeseer’s Gambit is still nowhere near ready for print right now, almost a year after my finishing it, is actually low key making me crazy as we speak. So many more steps were added to the revisions process with the addition of an agent and an entire publisher‘s worth of assorted people. But I sat down to actually start really digging into work on The Heartreader’s Secret in January, which is about when I started working on TTG in earnest last year. Even with the unexpected complications of working with publishers on a the previous book, I should be a lot deeper into THS than I am. There’s really only one real explanation for it.

I just can’t shut that little voice off.

You know. THE VOICE. The one that comes from inside of you. The one that always has something to say, and it’s never something nice. That voice is my best friend while I’m in editor mode and it’s part of what makes me a pretty good writer. But only part. The only part is the creativity, the joy of storytelling, the ability to find and follow a scene and the characters who inhabit it. And while my creative spirit leaves the voice alone and lets it work when it’s work time, the voice isn’t content to return the favour. It does its level best to strangle the creative part of me every single second when I’m actually trying to create.

That paragraph is too long.

You’re overusing italics.

That transition was awkward.

What’s the point of this scene?

That’s not the perfect word you’re looking for.

This entire beginning is trash.

Obvious explanatory dialogue tag.

Chapter too short.

You’re rambling.

Run-on sentence.

Too much dialogue.

Not enough action.

Not good enough.

Not good enough.

Not good enough.

A year ago, fresh on the high of having finished my second book in record time, I had kind of convinced myself that I was above that voice. I’d slain it like a knight on a dragon, and now it was behind me, beneath me, and I’d never face it again. I was a Real Writer now, and my difficulties had graduated with me. I didn’t have to face the same things that I’d faced before.

Well, lesson learned.

I’m realizing that we never defeat that voice. Sometimes it’s louder, and sometimes it’s quieter, but its always there, and we all have it. I think I underestimated it and oversold myself. And it’s laying me so low because I naively thought I was beyond it. When you think you’ve slain your demon and stupidly turned away from it, its strikes become backstabs.

So here I am, looking that voice in the face.

I underestimated you, asshole. I let myself think that you were gone and you’re very much still here. But here’s the deal. I wrote two books already, and you were here for those, too. And they’re pretty damn good books. So you don’t control me.

I’m going to go back to my basics. One chapter minimum a week. A commitment to hard work. Furrowing my brow and ignoring you when you start whispering, and doing it over and over again until I get my immunity to you back.

You can be a useful partner. You’ve helped me see flaws, cut fat, and kill darlings. You’ve kept me grounded and realistic. But right now, nobody wants you here. I’ll see you when the draft is done, but that might be a while, so don’t wait around.

… is it gone?

That’s a joke. It’s never gone. Because the real shitty twist to this story is that it’s not an evil dragon-demon-voice.

It’s me.

It’s my own brain, doing what brains do, being both your best friend and worst enemy. No amount of shouting at my brain will make it go away, and besides, I kind of need it. But the fact that it is me is also an advantage, because ultimately, we have control over ourselves. I’ve made the decision to ignore my brain-voice before. I know I have, because I remember doing it. I can do it again, and I will.

I’m going to work my ass (and my brain) off to get The Heartreader’s Secret into your hands in the summer of ’17. So here I go. Screw you, me. Let’s do this.

Renewing my Blogging Vows

I’ve heard it said that by blogging, you can learn a lot about yourself. I’ve definitely found that’s true throughout my year of experience running this blog and being an Author Person. I’ve learned that I naturally take an impersonal tone when I write in this format and struggle to come off as human. I’ve learned that I’m perfectionist about what kind of content is on my blog. I’ve learned that I really like writing posts where I can order things into lists.

Biggest lesson? God, I hate blogging.

Twitter? Twitter is easy, I’ll post whatever off the cup observations I have. Facebook? I can posts pictures of my cats like a champion! Email? I love responding to my fans!

Blogging? Yeaaah. Different story altogether.

A lot of it is the aforementioned perfectionism. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say about anything. I have tons to say about everything. But I always get caught up in my own anxieties about the content on my site. I don’t know, guys. Are my opinions on Star Wars and the perfect Starbucks drink really blog-worthy? Does anyone really want to know about the cute things my cats do? How does a list of best video game husbands contribute to my “brand?”

So I get caught up with two sentences of a blog post about my upcoming wedding and then delete them. And then, unable to come up with anything more compelling to that, I don’t make a post at all. Even now, writing this blog about my difficulties writing blogs, I’m facing those same anxieties. Nobody wants to hear about this, Kate! Your readers want to know how the next book is coming, not that you sweat over dumb posts like this one! I just caught myself with the whole thing highlighted and my finger hovering over the delete key! Oi.

Blogging is important, and I know it is. It’s a way that I can reach out to you, my readers, and help you get to know what kind of person I am outside of the writing in my books. It’s a way that I can check in with all of you. It’s a face I can show the people who are just coming to this site because they heard about my book.

When I started this blog, the first thing I wrote about was my difficulty in blogging and how I’d tried twenty times to make a good “first post.” Nothing has really changed in the year since then, except now I have a lot more people watching.

So here’s my goal: at least six posts a month every month until The Timeseer’s Gambit hits shelves on August 4th. That’s not so bad. I mean, I’m still sweating at the thought of it, but it’s not so bad. The thing is, I want to get better. I want to show you guys all the little things about my life. I want my fans to have a place where they can come to see me talk about things. Important things and silly things, relevant things and random things. I want to see if I can get over this hump in my head.

And if I can’t…

Well, there’s always twitter. And the bitter sting of defeat!

New Experiences

As a resident of the far east coast, I’ve seen a lot of things that most people haven’t. The wild, grey Atlantic ocean.  The Fundy Bay tides. Forests covering absolutely everything. The glory of that in the autumn.

Of course, there are a lot of things I haven’t seen. Like, for example, a mountain.

a whole new world

I spent my vacation this year on the southwest coast.  We touched down in Ontario, California and walked out into the world and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The horizon was completely dominated by mountains!  Scrub-lands! Palm trees! Wild cacti! Dry heat! I must have looked like a little kid stumbling through the area.

“Write what you know” is an incredibly overused and overrated statement. In the words of fellow fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal, “Write what you know is what’s saddled us with so many novels about English professors fantasizing about having affairs with their coeds.” I’ve never seen a unicorn, a body, or an elemental. I’ve never solved a murder, ridden in a carriage, or taken notes with only my mind. But I think I did a pretty good job writing all those things. “Write what you know” should really be something more like “have enough knowledge about what you’re writing that you can fake it, and throw in some personal experiences to add flavour.” If people just wrote what they knew, we wouldn’t have any speculative fiction at all.

But with that said, gosh there sure is some value in new experiences from a writing perspective. For instance, having spent a week driving up and down mountains, I’m embarrassed at how I’ve written them in the past. They’re just so big that I imagined their size was a gradual thing. They look that big from far away, but up close, they must look completely different. It must take forever to drive up a mountain. Never did I imagine that we actually could drive up and down one of those San Bernadino mountains in a half hour, the car at a 70 degree angle all the while!

Despite being on vacation, I learned a lot on my trip to bring into my work. Mainly, to never discount the value of real world experiences. I’ve thought about writing a Gold Rush fantasy at some point, and I’m definitely realizing that I might need to spend more time in the scrub-lands before I can really tap into all those things. “Write what you know” might be oversaid and overrated, but there’s value in new experiences.

(And yes, I had fun. I had so much fun you guys. The Colorado river, SoCal, and Las Vegas… what a crazy trip! Happy thirtieth birthday to me and all my best friends. We celebrated in style.)

Metrics of Success

Have you ever sat down and tried to sketch out an exact scenario that would signify you’ve achieved your dreams?

I did.

About ten years ago, my friends and I were trying to come up with moments like that. Moments where, once they happened, we could sit back and say “Well, all right. That’s it. I did it.” I constructed this scenario:

If someone I’d never met before and didn’t know my family or know someone who knew my family approached me with a physical copy of a book I’d written in hand and asked me to sign it, I’d consider that my dreams come true.

And now I need to come up with a new scenario, because I achieved that one ten times over!

Last Tuesday was my first official signing! I’d scribbled in a couple of books that I gave as gifts to my family and friends, but thanks to the wonderful people at Chapters in Moncton, I was sitting down a nice table, surrounded by my books, pen in hand, and was ready to sign some copies. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was shocked at what I got.

I was expecting a good turnout, just because my parents are social butterflies and know a hundred people. But a lot of those folks they convinced to come didn’t show up. And I had a good turnout anyway. A really good turnout.

A dozen strangers approached me. They’d heard of the book from an article in the local paper, or one of the posters I put up around town, or they were just walking by and curious what the display was for. They flipped it open. They read the back. And they wanted to buy it — and wanted me to sign it!

I loved talking with the fans. I’m actually pretty  bad in crowds and am quite shy. But it wasn’t only painless — it was wonderful! Answering questions, giving the skeptical my pitch, asking them what names I should write to personalize the signings. It came easily despite all past experience to the contrary. I was filled with such an energy and passion. And confidence! While I sat there, pen in hand, I really believed in the book. All these people couldn’t be wrong, could they?

I hope so deeply that this wasn’t the only time I interact with the people who came and bought a copy. I’d always thought that I’d be awkward at events, but instead, I can’t wait to get out there and connect with my readers again.
A friend of the family is a talented amateur photographer and took some great pictures of the event. I’ll leave those with you while I try and concoct a new scenario for success. It’s going to be hard to top this one!