Two years ago today, I released my third novel, The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos. In the two years since, this little book and I have had a wild journey together. It was the first romance I published, which was nerve-wracking enough, but I’d decided to push the boundaries with the social issues I tackle in my writing.
A single dad, dealing with his daughter’s irresponsible mother while trying to put himself through college.
A tattooed Latina artist, determined to do more than just get by, and have a real career.
A little girl who brings them together through a Craigslist ad.
I wanted to crush stereotypes, to show the world that young single parents and tattooed women aren’t the “losers” they’ve all branded us as. It was my friends’ decisions to raise their children alone, but they never asked for strangers’ opinions on whether or not they’re good parents. It was my decision to get tattoos, but I never asked for customers at the jewelry store I worked at to rudely interrogate me about my body.
I wanted to tackle heritage, how colonization forces immigrants to assimilate into American culture, to give up the things that makes them unique, the things they eventually lose. Like the Italian my family no longer speaks, the Spanish my niece and nephew rarely use.
I also wanted to challenge gender roles and equality rules. Who says a man can’t raise his daughter alone? Who says that a woman can’t choose to be a nanny while she builds her career?
These things had been burning inside of me for years, and they all sort of bubbled out of me while writing The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos. I knew that a “traditional” romance was never told from the guy’s point of view unless it alternated with the woman’s, but I wanted to do something different. I wanted to break the mold.
Go big or go home, right?
I’ll probably never win any awards for this book, but I’m damned proud of it. It’s a great big middle finger to society and conforming, and that’s reward enough for me.
Single dad Max isn’t looking for love—or so he thinks.
*deep breath* There’s something you might not know about me.
As in, LGBTQIA+. As in, bisexual (but I prefer queer). I’ve blogged about it before, and I’ve been out for years, but it’s not something I talk about often. Even though I’m proud as fuck to be bi—to be me—there’s another part of this story that is painful. Well, a few parts actually:
When I tried to come out to family, the first person I told said to me that there’s no such thing.
When I came out to my then-boyfriend (who was a complete scumbag anyway), all he could talk about was threesomes.
More recently, when discussing my sexuality with someone, they were all “Hold up. You can’t be queer. You married a dude!”
Thankfully, I had a fantastic support system when I came out: a whole bunch of queer people in my high school. We may have all drifted apart, as people tend to do after high school, but I’ll never, ever forget my friends Lisa*, Lacie*, Joy*, Phoebe*, and Starr*, who were all super supportive during the great LGBTQIA+ coming out party. (By the way, I’ve been searching desperately for Phoebe on Facebook, with no luck. I can’t remember her birth name or last name. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. I was one of very few people that she shared her name with and told she was trans, and I would love to know how she’s doing, how her story after high school unfolded.) This was before Twitter, so I can appreciate how very lucky I was to have such a support system.
Not many people are so fortunate.
I’ve been thinking about my sexuality a lot lately. A lot. It’s extremely important to me that I don’t lose that piece of me. That it doesn’t get lost in my heterosexual marriage or these strange, dark times we’re living in.
Being queer is an extremely big part of who I am.
I knew that Krista, the heroine and main character of my work in progress Cruising with the Blues, would be queer. I also knew that she and Perry were meant to be. I’ve struggled so much with this novel, writing tens of thousands of words only to scrap them because I just couldn’t get it right. I think I was trying to do too much with one book: play matchmaker, address a few social issues, wrap up the series… You know, nothing major. 😅
In the very first draft I wrote, Krista was a bi woman struggling with depression. I wrote something like 5,000 words and then tossed it because it just didn’t feel right.
In my second try, Krista was a spoonie like me, only living with Lupus. (My disease is possibly pre-Lupus.) She was also bi. Again, I was trying to squeeze too much into one book. I threw away over 16,000 words, which stung.
With my third shot, I wrote another 6,000 or so words, cutting the mental and chronic illnesses. This time I approached the story from another angle, matchmaking Krista and Perry by using their shared desire to get their band mates into rehab. Once again, though, I was focusing too much on things outside of Krista, rather than on Krista herself. So I scrapped those words, too.
Altogether I’ve thrown out something like 20,000 words. Can you say ouch?
But fourth time’s the charm because this time around, I understand Krista a bit better. I now totally get why she’s so upset with Poppy for ditching their plans to share a cabin during the cruise.
Krista is in love with her best friend.
She’s also got a thing for Perry.
There have been two times in my life when I was in love with two people at the same time. It doesn’t seem fair that the heart can be so conflicted, but it happens. It’s a painful experience, something that you can’t just turn off—just like Krista’s and my sexuality.
While I’m still incorporating other elements into SOF4—getting Krista and Perry together, wrapping up the series, getting Jett and Max help—I’m focusing more on bisexuality and the stigma from all sides.
How non-queer people just don’t get how you can have feelings for and be attracted to both the opposite and the same gender.
How queer people often exclude bisexual people, writing us off as “confused” or “looking for attention.”
How you just don’t feel like you fit in with either the straight or gay world sometimes, or all the time.
This kind of erasure—from two opposite parts of your life—can be heartbreaking and confusing, to say the least.
By exploring Krista’s feelings for both Perry and Poppy, I’m hoping to give other bi people a safe haven where they can find characters they relate to. There are so few books out there with bi characters, and the few that do usually have them in same-sex relationships. I’m writing the book that I’ve desperately needed for years, damn it.
I wonder all the time if I’ll someday regret marrying a man. I love my husband with all of my heart, and I’m happily monogamous. Making the choice to be in a heterosexual relationship despite my still-very-much-alive attraction to the same sex is conflicting enough, without other people saying things like “But you’re married. You can’t be queer!”
To which I reply, “The hell I can’t!”
I’m over 6,000 words into Cruising with the Blues now. It’s both painfully and proudly #ownvoices—written based on my own experiences as a marginalized person.
(Side note: I feel kind of weird using the word “marginalized,” but I also feel that it’s important to call it like you see it. A lot of my bi friends have purposely assimilated into heterosexuality, because even though gay people are for the most part accepted by our culture, our society just doesn’t understand or accept bi people. And trans people, and ace people, and… *neverending sigh*)
The first 5,000 words came slowly, but now that I’ve realized where Krista is coming from, man am I on a roll.
Letting her shoulders relax, she melted back into the music. Perry moved with her, letting her set the pace and tone. His hands never wandered—even though she desperately wanted them to—and he kept a respectable distance between them. Still, he was close enough that she could feel the heat radiating off his body.
The first week of NaNoWriMo is officially behind us now! I have a lot going on in my personal life (nasty flareup, financial stress, very sick relative I’m worried about), so I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like to. Still, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished so far.
Title:Twisted Broken Strings Series:South of Forever, Book 4 Word Count Goal: 75,000 Current Word Count:9,078 10,021
Admittedly, I’d written about 4K before NaNo started. Listen. Every month is National Novel Writing Month for me, okay? My production schedule waits for no NaNo, and all that. I’m just grateful that things fell this way so I can actually participate this year.
😂 I’M A PUBLISHED AUTHOR I DO WHAT I WANT DON’T JUDGE ME 😂
That said, my word count goal for this book is high. 75K?! I tried to whittle it down, I really did. The other SOF books are about 60K each, give or take. But Krista and Perry’s story, well, it needed a little more than that. There’s no way I’ll write 75K by the end of this month, though. Not with the condition my wrists—and the rest of my joints—are in. I do think I’ll hit the NaNo goal of 50K, though. Slow and steady wins this race, my friends. Hell, I’ll even write 54K, just to make up for that 4K I wrote before the official start. 😉
With every novel I write, I try to learn a new technique. Here’s what I’m doing with Twisted Broken Strings! (Possible spoiler alerts, so reader beware.)
Giving an antagonist a “save the cat” redeeming quality or two. So far, we’ve come to hate Saul (lead singer of King Riley), and we have a lot of reason to. But we’ve barely gotten to really know him—the real Saul. Krista gives us that perspective. Saul is her brother, and he’s made a lot of mistakes, but she knows he isn’t all bad. She’s just as concerned for him as she is for Jett and Max. I’m hoping that softens him a bit in my readers’ eyes. Krista reflects on good deeds he’s done and her worry for his sobriety (and safety).
“We’ll never speak of this again.” I can’t remember the name of this writing technique—brain fog, the horrors!—but basically something happens that the reader and/or other characters aren’t aware of that no one wants to talk about. Between SOF3 and SOF4, South of Forever goes on a regional headliner to promote their EP (and to shake off the disastrous tour with King Riley). This happens off-screen, and during that time, a thing happens that affects the plot of SOF4—a lot. It’s hinted at a couple times, and eventually revealed to the reader so that the reader can commiserate with Krista. This wasn’t part of my original outline, so I’m pantsing the big reveal. After talking with my CP, I determined that I definitely don’t want to reveal it too early… but also don’t want to wait until the very end, either.
#OwnVoices.Twisted Broken Strings is my very first #OwnVoices novel—my MC Krista is disabled, like me, dealing with similar struggles I had in college and have now. There’s no magic cure for her at the end; where I’m still undiagnosed, I’ve diagnosed her with Lupus (since that’s a possibility for me), which is an autoimmune disease with no cure. Krista’s Lupus isn’t the main plot, but it impacts the story a lot. It’s simultaneously cathartic and really freakin’ hard to write about this. I really want to show people that just because you don’t “look” sick, it doesn’t mean you’re not struggling—and you can also lead a fulfilling life. I’ve had #OwnVoices supporting characters before, and included bits from different areas of my own life in several novels, but never like this.
So despite gimping along, I’m pretty satisfied with this week’s progress.
How many words have you written so far this week? Tell me where you’re at in the comments below!
ED: I ended up doing some writing today, so I’ve updated this post to reflect my new word count for the week!
I’m a firm believer that, if we want authentic diverse and #ownvoices books, we have to be willing to call out problematic behavior when we see it—even if that means stepping on the toes of a giant.
I love the Harry Potter series so much, I started re-reading it this summer. J.K. Rowling brought real magic to the middle grade lit community. She wrote strong female characters and dealt with heavy subject matter like death and grief without holding back. Even the story behind the books she wrote is impressive and inspiring. I have nothing but admiration and respect for her.
But I still have to say that all of the recent post-publication revelations she’s made are extremely harmful to the diverse lit community and marginalized readers.
During all of the controversy surrounding which actress would play adult Hermione in the upcoming play, Rowling announced that as a matter of fact, Hermione was written as racially ambiguous because she is actually secretly black. Personally I think the whole uproar would have been better handled had Rowling said, “Pipe down kids, the color of Noma Dumezweni’s skin has no bearing on her ability to play this character.” It would have been direct and to the point rather than puzzling; several readers pored over the texts and found several instances were Hermione was described as white.
If Hermione’s blackness had been crafted into the story with intent and purpose, it could have been a major win for girls and women of color. Instead, this muddled announcement comes off as confusing at best.
Another grand divulgement was that Dumbledore is totally gay. Which, again, would be so cool—had his sexuality ever been mentioned or even affected the plot. As a queer woman, this super piqued my interest. But there are only a few ambiguous references, such as when Nicholas Flammel is mentioned to have been Dumbledore’s partner. However, timeline-wise, Flammel has been married too long to ever have had a romantic relationship with Dumbledore (unless they’ve been having an affair, which would quickly get the entire cast of characters on the set of Jerry Springer).
Queer kids need heroes like themselves in fiction that they can look up to but, despite his kindness and bravery, Dumbledore just isn’t that kind of hero.
I could have completely overlooked all of this, though, because at the end of the day it might just all add up to semantics and perspective. But I was completely speechless when I heard that Rowling recently explained that Lupin’s condition is a metaphor for HIV/AIDS.
I appreciate Lupin’s struggle. Every time there is a full moon, against his will, he turns into a werewolf and gets destructive. He has little control over his actions during this time, until the full moon wanes. However, Lupin’s condition affects him exactly once a month. It is not life-threatening like HIV and AIDS are. Nor are people living with these very real illnesses at all monsters.
This comparison is simply offensive and harmful, and I can’t stay silent.
Rowling’s status as a household name doesn’t make her immune to being checked. I wish more authors and readers would speak up when there is harmful behavior happening in the lit community. Keeping our mouths shut because we don’t want to upset an author or their fans will only continue to enable problematic books with marginalized characters.
If Rowling wants to write diverse books and characters, our little village would love to have her. There is an aching need for more books that readers can identify with—especially young readers who are searching for their place in the world. But I can’t stress enough how important it is to write diverse or #ownvoices books with intent and authenticity, creating characters who are loudly themselves, even if they’re still struggling within.
Again, I love J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series. And, even though I’m frustrated, I still enjoy the books and characters. But I have to use my voice and say that these post-publication declarations are more harmful than they are helpful—just as harmful as authors who purposely exclude marginalized characters from their work.
First, a bit of news: What Happens On Tour is officially done! It weighs in at 58,124 words. Not my biggest baby, but still a nice healthy weight—especially considering how much I struggled with this damn book.
I slogged through writing it during a really hard time when all I wanted to do was quit. I didn’t believe in myself or the story. My own characters felt like strangers to me. I couldn’t get a handle on Poppy. She was so indecisive in that first draft. Even worse, Poppy and Griff seemed to have zero chemistry. No lie, I hated almost every second of writing this book. When I typed “The End,” a relief washed over me. I put its binder on my shelf, convinced that I’d have to scrap the entire thing and rewrite it.
Months later, when I read through it for my first round of edits, I was actually surprised. It didn’t suck as much as I’d thought! And I knew how to fix it. By the time I got it to my critique partner and editor, I liked it. Both Molli and Christina gave me excellent notes on making it even better. I can’t brag enough about how fantastic my CP and editor are. Still, something about this book was bugging me.
My first rule as an artist is do no harm. Maybe not all authors feel this way, but I see art as a sort of social highway. I write as a way of processing the world around me, and since that world is very diverse, it’s up to me to portray it fairly. Though I’ll never experience racism, I have experienced sexism, homophobia, and ableism. And I’ve been relatively lucky! At first glance, I almost fit into the cookie cutter. On a day when I don’t need my cane or braces, I can nearly pass. Still, I know what it feels like to have people make assumptions about you, so it’s extremely important to me that I don’t perpetuate any stereotypes in my writing—especially since I write about characters who have mental illnesses and disabilities, are LGBT+, and are people of color.
When I wrote the first draft of What Happens On Tour, I left out any information about Poppy’s dad. There were two short scenes with her mother and grandmother, and her relationship with these two women influenced many of her choices, but the central conflict was still about Poppy struggling to balance her dreams with her reality. I didn’t want to bring her dad into it because I also had a subplot (South of Forever going on tour with their nemesis King Riley). Since I write New Adult, I try to keep parents out of the equation as much as possible. It’s all up to my fledgling twenty-somethings.
I truly didn’t think much of Poppy’s dad not being in the picture, because plenty of dads have a “Whereabouts: Unknown” status. I’m one of the few people I know whose parents aren’t separated or divorced. I decided not to get too into detail because I didn’t want to curse poor Poppy with resentment or abandonment issues. In my author-head canon, Poppy’s dad was somewhere out there, no hard feelings, and her family was a matriarchy. Girl power! But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’d inadvertently contributed to a long-running stereotype: the absentee black dad.
It’s a bullshit stigma. It’s unfair and untrue. And the last thing I want to do is misuse my words and hurt anyone.
It’s a difficult balancing act. I know I can’t please everyone ever, and there will always be people who misunderstand me. Being a writer is overwhelming sometimes. But even though there’s always a possibility that someone out there won’t like my work for whatever reason, it’s still extremely important that I carry the intention to do no harm. Throughout the entire writing process, I ask myself if I’m representing my readers fairly, if I’m portraying my characters justly.
In the final draft of What Happens On Tour, Poppy’s dad still isn’t physically present in her life, but he’s a positive part of it. There still may be things I screwed up in this book. Those are all on me; my CP and editor are goddesses and helped me work out so very many knots.
But to the best of my ability, my Poppy is a boss woman—the kind of character I want to see in more books. She’s not perfect and she has some tough lessons to learn, but she works hard to be a better person and kick ass at her career. I think she’s pretty damn cool.
What Happens On Tour is coming soon! I just need a wee bit of help getting the cover designed. If you could spare any extra change, I would really appreciate it. Click or tap here to donate.