Debut Novel Now Available Through Torquere Press

Prodigal

Well, the big day’s here – you can now purchase Prodigal at Torquere Press here, and you can get a print copy from Amazon.  If any of you are familiar with my novellas Wanderlust and Threshhold, then Prodigal should feel familiar: it’s the novel that grew from those novellas.

If a romance between a smart-ass wanderer and an anal-retentive graduate student strikes a chord with you, pick up a copy!  I’ve included the blurb below.

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Nettles and Journeymen

Stinging nettles hurt.

I found this out when I was twelve years old, tromping through the forest next to my family’s summer cabin in the Appalachian mountains.  Wearing shorts, I marched through a patch of them and then started wondering why an invisible fire had started on my calves.  My panicked cries drew the attention of my father, who ran through the trees to find me clawing at my legs.  Without a word, he picked me up and dumped me – fully clothed and still yelling – into the nearby creek.

I remember laughing when the pain finally eased, splashing around in the creek and letting my dad show me where the wild strawberries grew.  I collected a whole handful of them.  And it’s that cabin – and the memories associated with it – which partially inspired Prodigal. Continue reading

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How To Cope With Writer’s Burnout

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It hit me the other day when I sat down at my computer: absolute, full-body malaise.

I couldn’t muster the tiniest bit of enthusiasm: not for writing fiction, not for blogging, not even for tweeting.  I stared at the screen for at least twenty minutes without typing a single letter, rubbed my hands over my face and through my hair, and encouraged myself aloud, “Come on.  Let’s go.”

Neither my body nor my brain seemed interested in obeying the command, and that’s when it hit me: I was smack dab in the middle of some serious burnout.  Every writer faces it at some point or another; I’m here to tell you what the signs are, and how to get past it.

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Writing With Anxiety

I struggled home several weeks ago in tears.

My purse strap was twisted around my neck, but the purse was in the passenger seat; I caught it on the gearshift when I pulled it over to me and almost accidentally choked myself getting out of the car to go inside.  My legs were shaky when I went up the steps to my house and my agitation had produced a series of unflattering red blotches on my neck and cheeks.  I had to try the doorknob three times before it opened, my palm so sweaty I couldn’t get a good grip.

My partner eyed me.  He knows the signs, and so he immediately went to heat water for tea, and then to give me a long tight hug.  “What happened?”

I half-laughed, but mostly cried a little when I heard myself say, “The doctor’s office moved to another location, and there was a roundabout, and I got lost.”

It was silly.  It is silly.  But I have generalized anxiety (an actual psychological condition not to be mistaken for simple fear or aversion) and so it’s a part of my reality.  That’s why I want to write about what it’s like to write with anxiety, to deal with a glitch in the switchboard of your brain that means any spike, any deviation from the mundane, gives your lizard-brain permission to run around screaming “shit oh shit oh shit danger scared fuck” while your intellect struggles helplessly in the backseat.

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On What Duolingo Taught Me About Writing (In English, Even)

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up Duolingo.

It’s a free language-learning app, and I like learning languages.  Unsure of what to expect from it, I knew there would be one thing I could count on, at least: verb conjugation charts, the nightmare of my language-learning adolescence.

I remember spending weeks on those charts back in high-school French and Spanish.  “I eat, he eats, she eats, they eat,” we’d drone.  “Yo como, él come, ella come, ellos comen.” It was our job to memorize every possible verb conjugation.  And only then could we use the verbs in sentences like adults, with a halting pause in the middle to mentally flip back to those cursed conjugation tables.

But Duolingo doesn’t do that. A few weeks into the app, I realized I was already translating verbs: Duolingo simply snuck them into sentences here and there.  And although I’d seen nary a single verb-conjugation chart and hadn’t been taught the first thing about how to conjugate verbs, I already understood how to do it.  I’d picked up the conjugations and verb endings innately simply through exposure and immersion.  Through listening.

That process has made me think a lot about writing dialogue.

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Preorder my first novel Prodigal!

ProdigalTo cope with his father’s recent death from cancer, conscientious and straitlaced Midwestern graduate student Shea Matherson returns to his family’s old vacation cabin, long since sold, in order to keep his final promise to his father.  When he arrives at the cabin exhausted and injured, however, he’s surprised to encounter a trespasser named Jamie: a defiant and sarcastic wanderer with an intellectual streak who travels and works odd jobs to support his burgeoning writing career.  As the pair resign themselves to sharing the cabin, they build a surprisingly intense bond — Jamie struggles to cope with the privileged but openhearted Shea as Shea struggles to cope with the death of his father.  When their burgeoning closeness finally leads to a night of pleasure, they agree to enjoy a sexy weekend together with no strings attached.

What neither of them anticipate is that the passion or tenderness kindled in the heat of the moment will linger after they part ways.  Or that when Jamie shows up at Shea’s door a week later for an unannounced stay, the feelings sparked by their cabin rendezvous will dismantle Shea’s comfortable, unassuming life…and tempt the stubborn Jamie to abandon his solitary journey.

Pre-order it here at Torquere Books!

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Continuing A Winter Reverie?

So this past Christmas brought with it a pleasant surprise.

To mark the holiday, I wrote a small short story – A Winter Reverie – and published it via Kindle.  I loved writing the story and it was special to me, but I didn’t think much of it beyond that.

The response to it has staggered me.  Even now – in February! far past Christmas! – I’m getting emails and random notes about the story from people who for whatever reason really enjoyed this peek into the life of Morgan and Kai.

Because of that, and because of the tempting dimensions of Morgan and Kai’s story, I’m considering either continuing the series as a series of shorts or as a novella.

I’m curious if fans of the original have any preferences in that regard.  Please let me know either here or on Twitter (@reallexistone).

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The Lonely Road: Why Writers Need Encouragement

Writers are brilliant liars.

It’s the nature of the craft; we live by making up stories.  Yes, even “true” stories, even the ones we say are raw and vulnerable, even the ones where we tell you we’ve exposed some secret, sacred part of the soul.  In the hands of a writer even honesty becomes artifice, a mask we make out of words and silences to show the world whatever it is that we think is real.

And I think sometimes that verbal shapeshifting, that ability to control a narrative or wrench it from its axis if need be, seeps into the other aspects of our lives as writers as well.  On social media we chirp about our releases and our upcoming projects, amplify the good reviews and chin up against the bad ones.  And from the outside in, I think we’re often good at acting as though we have this whole thing figured out and we don’t need anything, thanks.

Which is the most damning lie of all, because we do.  We need a lot.  And encouragement most of all.

Here’s a list of reasons why.

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The Embarrassing Art of Self-Promotion

I want to share a story about Eric the bank teller.

Eric works for a Big Important Bank and, as soon as he became a teller, he immediately took it upon himself to share that information at every available opportunity.  “Hi,” he’d say, and hand you business cards (that he’d made himself at his own expense).  “I’m Eric, a bank teller at BIB.”

He worked his job into every single conversation we had.  “There’s shrimp on the menu?  The other day at BIB, I heard our loan officer saying he’d tried some shrimp!”  And he loved nothing more than associating himself with BIB’s hierarchy.  If you complained about a customer service problem at BIB or wondered about one of their services, he’d place a sweaty hand on your shoulder and lean in to speak to you in a conspiratorial tone.  “I’ll work on it for you,” he’d promise, as though he was going to march right into corporate and demand immediate recompense for your troubles.

That sort of blatant self-promotion, the relentless introduction of oneself as a brand, is enormously off-putting.  It’s little wonder I tend to avoid casual conversations with Eric.  And yet, as authors, it’s something we’re expected to do.  We are the brand, and it’s up to us to promote ourselves.

That’s hard enough when you write romance.  (“Like…romance?” people ask.  “Like…bodice-rippers?”) It’s even harder when you write gay romance.  (“No,” I have to explain earnestly.  “Like…tunic-rippers.  Like loincloth-rippers.  Maybe.”)

So what’s an author to do?

What I’d really love to know is how you get your work out there to be seen and heard.  How do you promote your writing?  Is it a frustrating process for you?  Easy?  Embarrassing?  How much time do you put in?  And are there any tips and tricks?

Share them in the comments or on Twitter, or drop me a line here at the blog.  I’d love to crowdsource this and come up with a list of workable strategies for niche authors or fledglings who are just starting out.

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The Difference Between A Romantic Gesture and A Weird or Intimidating Overture

A recent post on the blog Deadspin gathered up some tales of “failed romantic gestures.”  As you might expect, some of the stories are pretty funny.  There’s a poor guy who, clarinet in hand, decided to be a one-man pep band at his crush’s soccer game.  Bad poetry and embarrassing mixtapes abound.  And one suitor had a $500 ring kicked out of his hand during a brawl in the stands at a hockey game.

I noticed that the women in the stories almost always responded in ways that spoke to me of incredible discomfort: they fell silent, or said something awkward, or shut down.  Some of them fled the scene or just blurted an outright rejection.  I’ve been there myself, once, when a boy whose name I did not even know decided, at writing camp in high school, to make me the lead character of his fantasy story – which he read aloud to the class.  After that mortifying incident, I avoided him whenever possible, to the point that I sometimes made myself late to events.

To my surprise, though, a lot of the commenters on the piece didn’t seem to notice the discomfort or awkwardness experienced by the objects of affection.  Instead, the discussion centered on how much people have to endure in the process of Making A Romantic Gesture: they have to sacrifice pride and decency and dignity and sometimes money, to be met only with scorn!  Or silence!  Or rejection!  In the debate there seemed to be this general confusion about how a person with good intentions and romance on the brain could be rejected or how such a gesture might be received in a negative way.

And this is where I – as a woman, as a romance writer, and as a Haver of Romances, step in.  Because the comments on that article about failed romantic gestures underscored what I already know: the people who complain that others (often women) just don’t appreciate romantic gestures or the risk involved and never respond “nicely” have, in general,  lost the concept of what a romantic gesture is and should be, and what the purpose of a romantic gesture is.  They’ve forgotten, or not yet realized, that there is a thin line between “romantic gesture” and “incredibly awkward creepy thing.”

So let’s find that line, shall we?  Herewith, a useful list:

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