Nnedi Okorafor’s Remote Control is a gorgeous novella of impeccable worldbuilding. In a future Ghana in which people are glued to their phones, robocops patrol streets, and autonomous vehicles mingle with foot traffic, a mysterious corporation called LifeGen controls technology behind the scenes. A young girl the people call the Adopted Angel of Death, also known as Sankofa, has the power to end life and destroy any technology she touches after a strange alien artifact lands on Earth near the girl’s beloved shea tree on her family’s farm.
Loved everything about this book. Okorafor painted Sankofa as a complex character, doomed to wander from town to town with nothing but her pride, making connections and only to ruin them in the most devastating ways. She’s shown brilliantly as a child with experience beyond her years, and yet still a child whose closest companion is a fox, who climbs trees and talks to cats, who is asked to wear a hijab because of the awful things she has seen and done.
The worldbuilding in such a short space was stunning. Sankofa is an anachronism in a highly technical world, and you get the idea that there is much more going on than meets the eye; but it still feels as if a novella length is enough to tell the story. Okorafor’s world is rich in imagination, detail and folklore, layers of ancient and modern tradition, and thrumming with the incredible speed at which a community can turn into a violent mob when faced with something that does not belong in their world but cannot be stopped.
I’m back to doing book reviews on my blog! Took a long hiatus due to burnout, but I am taking a different approach with them. Here’s the most recent book I finished.
This book had me at epic fantasy with roots in Ghanian and Arabian folklore, and a sapphic enemies-to-lovers romance.
“The Final Strife” by Saara El-Arifi is Book 1 in a trilogy that centers on the main character Sylah. In this repressive empire on this dystopian world, people are divided into castes based on their blood. Embers, who have red blood, have the most power because they can do bloodwerk magic; using their blood to activate rune patterns. Dusters are second-class citizens and Ghostings are slaves who once rebelled against the ruling class and have been punished for centuries by their overseers dismembering their tongues and hands.
Sylah is one of the Stolen, Ember children kidnapped from their families, raised from infancy to compete in trials to choose new leaders; sleeper agents who will overthrow the government from the inside. But her people are killed and Sylah becomes a drug addict, hopeless and alone. Until she meets Anoor, the Duster raised in her place who needs help with training to compete in the trials.
The “revenge against the colonizer” trope has become so commonplace in fantasy now that frankly, I’m tired of it. There’s always some Chosen One who’s going to overthrow an evil empire. But I loved this book because the characters were complex and it didn’t go the way I expected. Loved the slow-burn romance and that Sylah’s bisexual. I also appreciated the way the author handled her drug addiction; it was sensitive without being trite.
I have changed my mind a lot about how I want to publish my MLM werewolf romance manuscript, which I renamed FULL MOON RISING. At first I was set on self-publishing. I like the idea of being a maverick, I am a control freak, I get impatient and I take criticism and rejection too personally.
But as I was learning more about indie publishing, I realized I wasn’t a zealot about it like so many self publishers seem to be. I also wanted to do it right. I know I can just get writer friends to beta read, use my editing background to edit myself, and find a cover for $50 and do it cheaply and quickly, but I want to do it right – and that’s expensive. You can easily spend $1k-3k to do it right. Then you have to treat it like a business and constantly hustle, and have a significant output to make any inroads. I’m not sure I have the emotional capacity for hustling, either, even though I like marketing.
I looked into the traditional market for MLM romances and I realized I had a shot when I saw just how many women write gay romances. It helps bolster my credibility that I’m queer, too. I think my concept has broader marketability beyond a niche audience, too, because of the deeper themes of the story explored in such an intimate way. Queer fiction is trendy right now – just look at the success of Heartstopper and Red, White and Royal Blue. People want queer rep, not just queer baiting. Publishers are finally heeding the call, even though a lot of it is problematically performative.
So I have decided to try a hybrid approach. If I self publish I won’t be giving up; it won’t be a Plan B. It’s just another option I have on the table that excites me. But since it doesn’t cost anything to query and submit to publishers, I figured I might as well give it six months and see how it goes. I was initially afraid of querying because the process takes so long (one of the publishers I submitted to takes 6-8 weeks to respond! And then on top of the time it takes to get an agent…) and I am in a fragile emotional state currently so I didn’t think I could handle the rejections.
But I tried a few Twitter pitch events and it made me think I could try it. It’s just like applying for jobs, or dating. Plus, rejections and having a community of people around your work, instead of just sycophants who will tell you how great you are, really does help you become better at the craft. I’m thinking of taking a writing class this summer, too.
I wrote a synopsis and a query letter and queried a publisher, and since they allowed simultaneous submissions I also queried my first agent. I did not get an immediate rejection, so while I was waiting around I decided to work on a new WIP so I wouldn’t drive myself crazy with checking my email inbox every 10 seconds.
I thought I was sick of paranormal romance and needed to turn to the cathartic blood, gore and dread of horror, but I came up with another paranormal romance idea so I decided to go with the flow of my muse. My new WIP is called SEEING GHOSTS and it is a WLW slow burn enemies-to-lovers romance between a demon hunter who thinks a local paranormal investigator is a fraud.
Currently at the baby stage of the manuscript where any words down feels like a major victory. I’ll need to do lots of research into paranormal investigation because unlike lawyers, reporters and cops, my knowledge of that field comes from TV, not from my personal life. Thinking of the fun of shadowing local paranormal investigators on a ghost hunt, though.
I’m at 612 words in the new manuscript. My goal for the coming week is to get 5,000 words in and get back into the practice of writing every day.
That’s about a wrap. Until next time!
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After about a week and a half break, I couldn’t stand being away from my manuscript so long and I finally started to tackle my revisions for my paranormal romance.
I thought it would be hard to attain the necessary objectivity as I felt pretty attached to my characters, but I started working on it in December so the first half of the book was far enough away and I was surprised at just how quickly my professional editor’s reflexes kicked in. I have demolished at least three chapters already. It started off at just over 100,000 words and I hope to cut it down to 90,000 words, which is a bit more appropriate for the genre; but only if I can tell the story efficiently enough. If it needs more words, then it needs more words.
I feel much closer to the second half of the book so I think it will be a lot harder to kill my darlings in that section. “Killing your darlings” is writer-speak for cutting out stuff you’re attached to but do not add to the story in the long run. I am attached to a side character romance between Eamon and Isaiah and I may have spent too much time on that, but as Eamon is one of the three POV’s in the book, I may have to keep it. I didn’t want it to be too predictable, either. But maybe those chapters just need to be backstory. Something to ponder later on.
I have also decided, after looking into the cost of hiring an editor (anywhere from $600-1800), commissioning cover art ($50-150 on Fiverr, $350-600 for some artists), and investing in Atticus formatting software ($149), I have decided I am going to submit to small presses first instead of self publishing, and keep self publishing in my back pocket if the small presses don’t give me what I want.
I think I have a pretty good chance, considering as paranormal romance, crime and queer characters are big sellers right now for debut authors. And I think small presses are a good compromise between self publishing and querying. You don’t get as much of the control or the royalties with small presses, but after investing in my team I don’t expect I’ll get much in royalties anyway. I’d rather have an established business do that work for me, if I can get accepted, as long as it is not a vanity press or hybrid press. If I have to pay money to publish, I’d rather self publish and pick my own team.
I’m not interested in querying because this is a very niche market, and ownvoices is very trendy right now. I am a queer author but I am not queer guy, but I’m writing about queer guys in love. Besides, querying takes too long. You often spend a year getting rejected by agents and then a year getting rejected by publishers your agent pitches, especially if it’s not a trending topic. I want my book published faster than that. It can happen faster than that if your book has the right magic sauce, but reading the tea leaves of the rapidly changing publishing industry is complicated.
So I have been looking at small publishers who are interested in LGBT paranormal romance crime thrillers and compiling a list of people to submit to. I figure I’ll give it a good six months and if I get buried by rejections, I can still go about hiring an editor and proceeding with my original self publishing plans.
And I also recently read Richard Russo’s essay “Getting Good” that ultimately persuaded me to try small presses. It helped me understand the value in rejection and how having a community of professional people in the publishing industry can help improve your craft and help you grow as a writer. I am fine with running my own publishing house and thinking of it as a business, but I also don’t want to pump out 30 books a year just to be remembered by the algorithm. I want to take my time, be inspired, and get good, be the best I can be with my craft.
But first things first: The edits. Had to take another little break from it because I was starting to get too obsessed. Can’t find your romantic leads annoying, after all, or the reader will. I’ve been saving multiple drafts as I make major changes to the first half, then I compile everything into an ebook format and read it again on my Kindle – I always manage to find typos I missed versus when I look at it in Scrivener. I’m actually surprised at how ruthless I’ve been. I was really finding my way in my first half and just racing to achieve a word count, I think. I found my footing in the second half, which won’t need as much work.
I’ve also closed down my Patreon and I’ll only be keeping up with my Ko-fi from now on. I just wasn’t getting enough interest in previews of upcoming works, but I think people would be interested in my short stories if they were free on a donation basis. I still have to work on building a fanbase for my writing, after all. I get ahead of myself sometimes. I also decided to discontinue my newsletter because after a year I only had 15 subscribers. That’s the advice that people always give to new authors, but frankly I’ve had more luck with my blog so that’s where I’ll focus my efforts for now.
My enormously exciting news is that I have finally, at long last, after five months of steady work, finished my first draft of the paranormal romance crime thriller.
Clocking in at 100,071 words, it is finally done. Well, not done, because I still have massive amounts of editing to do, but considering all the half-finished manuscripts littering my hard drive the past few years, it’s a huge accomplishment for me. Have to celebrate the wins when you get them.
I took a week off from writing even though it made me itchy and worked on my reading. I have an enormous list of books to catch up on and some more pre-orders on the way. This weekend I thought I had enough space from it so I compiled my Scrivener file into a Kindle ebook and read through the whole book.
I thought I had been good at editing as I went along but other than a few typos I was mostly just good at proofreading and producing clean copy. I can really see the split between when I was working on it just once a week while writing another project; and when I really became immersed in the story and the world and began working on it every day. There is a subtle shift in tone.
That said, I think the first draft is not terrible; what mainly needs work is fixing up the copy, have more show and tell and less body language, and I need to totally gut the first half to make it align with the second half. There are a few gems that I will keep but I need to do some serious rewriting.
I think I need another week off from it to regroup though. I am far too obsessed and fixated on it right now. The second half is much better than the first half but like I say you can tell when I found my footing, got to know my characters and warmed to the plot. Life of a pantser. But I find I am looking forward to editing. Drafting was a nerve-wracking rollercoaster, like diving off a cliff; editing will be polishing the turd into gold.
I may start working on some short stories although mainly I need to clear my brain space, which is hard to do because I’ve worked so hard on that thing. I’ve decided I will also purchase Atticus for formatting, hire a cover artist from Fiverr and hire an editor, after I finish my own rewrites. This is my baby and I want to do this self publishing thing right, even if I end up losing money, which I probably will. It’s also a passion and I have to invest in it.
In other news, I decided I will close down my Patreon in June once the serialized version of my story ends. I only ever got two patrons and I think it was hard to get people interested in the paywall. From July on out I will focus on my Ko-fi and a serialized fiction site like Kindle Vella or Radish Fiction and post my fiction for free to build up a fan base. The plan is to keep on submitting short stories, then post the rejections to Ko-fi, hopefully compiling enough to publish in a collection.
Until next time, friends! I finally finished something for once… I cannot believe it. I am still pinching myself. It’s been years in the making and you can do it too.
I don’t know what got into me but I way surpassed my weekly target goal this last week. I am feeling a really odd mixture of excitement, trepidation and nerves as I near the end of my first draft of my paranormal romance crime thriller. I think I was feeling inspired by getting so close and pushed through, and I kept getting good ideas and had to run with them.
My WIP is now up to 98,586 words. I have one more chapter left to write, the marriage proposal chapter (I don’t mind telling you that my paranormal romance has a Happily For Now ending. Happily For Now since this is only Book One of a trilogy!) I for one appreciate HEAs and HFNs (Happily Ever After and Happily For Now endings) so I don’t mind spoiling you on that.
I was going to push through and finish today but I think I’ll stretch it out over the next week and really take my time with it. I didn’t manage to write a short story, but there will be time for that tonight when I was going to plug away at my novel some more. I did, however, write a blog post. I usually write my short stories to submit on Sundays because I have all day and I can work on them in 20-minute chunks of time between doing other chores, and my emotional headspace is cleared from the weekday triggers of the day job.
After that I’m planning on taking a month off from working on the paranormal romance. I’m still too close to it so I don’t think I could dive straight into editing with the proper brutal touch. My characters Mal and Noah have become like living, breathing beings to me and it feels like introducing my children into the world. Being a novelist is kind of like playing God.
I will spend that month working on short stories and Bablyon 5 slash fanfiction under a pen name. If you follow me on Twitter I’ll whisper my pen name on there if you’re interested in that sort of thing. I also plan to catch up on my enormous backlog of reading and write some book reviews and maybe some Medium articles. These are all a different kind of writing mentality than producing a novel, and I don’t want to take a break from writing completely to lose my momentum.
Then I’ll be able to detach myself from my darlings and approach editing my first draft with the proper brutality. I’m looking forward to the revising process. I plan to spend two-three months on it.
I’m finally feeling better from my cold as well, so my other goal is to get back into my exercise routine. I need to go to the gym and pool at least three times a week.
Feeling very excited that I will finish my first draft this week. I started working on this project on December 5, 2021 according to my Scrivener writing history. Now I’m nearing the end, and I’m an odd mix of chaos, panic and reverence.
I thought I’d talk a little bit about how my werewolf universe came to be in my manuscript, CRY WOLF. I’m going to be changing this title, but it’s the working title for now.
I fully admit I picked paranormal romance because originally I was going to publish this as a serialized story to Kindle Vella. I looked at what sells and trending categories on Vella and paranormal romance sells. Considering I’d struggled to complete manuscripts in the grimdark fantasy and horror genres I’d dabbled in previously, I thought, why not. Because I like to be difficult, I decided to make it a romance between queer guys. I am queer and even though straight romance sells better I want to see more queer romance; besides, it’s more fun to write.
Paranormal romance usually involves supernatural beings like vampires, witches and werewolves. Vampires are so popular, even getting their own mainstream soapy TV shows on the CW and bestselling movies. But werewolves don’t get enough love, so I picked werewolves. I am a big fan of forbidden love as a trope, so I made my romantic leads a werewolf and a human.
Because I’m a pantser, and I wanted to make my werewolves fresh and unrecognizable from pop culture or any tabletop gaming systems, I made up my werewolf mythology as I went along.
In my universe, there are all kinds of creatures – werewolves, vampires, witches, demons. Creatures came to being in ancient Europe when the early church was experimenting with demon possession. Eventually demon DNA mixed with human DNA and the first creatures were created. These creatures branched off into werewolves and vampires and et cetera. Witches have the most powerful source of magic but other creatures can do limited magic.
This brings up the problem of halfbreeds. When werewolves breed with humans they produce a halfbreed werewolf. This becomes a thing later on in my story and attracts the interest of the FBI, which enters into a covenant with the werewolf clans. In my story werewolves operate in a clan structure, similar to indigenous tribes, and they have their own jurisdiction. They don’t exactly shout about their presence but the U.S. government officially recognizes them even though most humans think they are just a myth.
I decided to portray the werewolves similar to dissociative identity disorder; not an exact replica, but similar. When Mal, my main character (MC) shifts into wolf form, he takes on a different name, Etienne, and has a different personality. He is a wolf with some abilities that wolves in the wild don’t possess. Mal doesn’t remember what happens to him when he’s Etienne and doesn’t have any control over Etienne, but their consciousnesses are still linked even though they can’t directly talk to each other. They more convey communication through emotions.
When werewolves mate, they mark someone as their mate. This can be conscious or subconscious as long as there is a strong desire on the part of the people involved. Mates can be polyamorous or exclusive although most mate for life. Creatures can smell desire thanks to a finely tuned ability to detect pheromones.
I’m sure the number one question I will get asked is why with four queer guys with sexual tension, did I not make them polyamorous?
I thought about a Mal/Noah/Eamon story for a time, in fact. But I decided this was too easy. I wanted to show queerplatonic, lovers-to-friends relationships, which you see rarely in fiction. Not every queer person is polyamorous. Polyamory needs more attention in fiction too, but I decided lovers-to-friends would provide more drama. Mal probably would have been okay with it but Noah wanted to be monogamous. He struggles with jealousy and insecurity and has a possessive personality. He wanted Mal all to himself.
Mates then can choose to get married. Divorces are frowned upon and will get you a lot of judgment but they happen; they’re more common among human-werewolf pairings. Marriages are usually arranged within the clan to keep their secrets and keep everyone in line. But romantic relationships happen. When a human and a werewolf want to get married, they need to get the permission of the werewolf council.
Leadership in my werewolf clan is run by the alpha, Donovan, who is also a father figure to Mal, whose parents died when he was young. But it is also a democracy, with a council that makes decisions. A halfbreed council meets when the clan needs impartiality, such as appointing defense attorneys for lone wolves who have mental health holds. The werewolf clans run a mental health institution for wayward wolves.
Werewolves can shift at the full moon or any time they wish, but they need rituals and spells to be able to shift. The clan has a tradition of a hunt and celebration at the full moon, when creatures also swear the oath if they wish. Halfbreeds cannot swear the oath, so that’s why they can be impartial members of their own council.
I think that about covers the main highlights without giving too many spoilers. I could go on about my werewolves for hours; I only think about them all day, every day after all.
I came down with a cold this week so I haven’t been as productive as I would have liked, but I still met the small goal I had set for myself for the week so I’m satisfied with myself.
My WIP now sits at 86,608 words. As I near the end of my first draft, I decided to add to it more incrementally to make sure it packs enough of a punch and to breeze past the inevitable doubts and overthinking. I’m planning to make it 100,000 words but after I get to 90,000 I won’t restrain myself to a certain word count; I will end it when it feels right, when I have done the story justice.
I’ve been working on this manuscript so consistently that even taking a few days off to recover from my cold made me feel guilty and restless. I don’t like it when I don’t write these days. I have so much fun with my characters and my universe that I don’t like leaving it behind. It’s not always fun, sometimes it’s quite emotionally involved; but it’s still always something I have to keep coming back to, again and again, to get all my story ideas out of my head. Even if it’s not always fun, it’s usually fulfilling and therapeutic. At the very least, it’s a distraction from my very boring life.
Even when I feel like I’m stuck and I don’t have an idea for the next chapter, I start with a general setting or theme, and because I’ve been writing regularly and practicing that muscle, the words usually flow eventually and I’m not staring at a blank screen for long.
But even muscles need sick days and recovery days. If you’re trying to force yourself to write through a migraine, don’t. In my case, I had low energy, brain fog and fatigue for a couple of days, so I didn’t even try. (I took a covid test and it was negative, thankfully.) I felt better over the weekend so I added a few more words and my writing sessions were more productive because I had rested.
It made me realize that maybe I need to add in weekends to my writing schedule. My “weekends” happen whenever I don’t feel up to writing, but it might be good to schedule in time off to just do nothing or to work on my other hobbies, just as I schedule in 25 minutes to sprint after a weeknight dinner or on a weekend morning. Too much rest can make it hard to get back into the flow of it; but just enough rest can be just what our creative muscle needs.
I am already feeling better even though my cold’s not quite done. Another few days of taking it easy and I think I’ll be able to get back to the gym and do more of my normal activities. And back to writing – almost every day.
I also thought I’d mention, I decided to take down the first three episodes of my story on my blog because I plan to completely rewrite them. You can see on my Patreon how much my first draft changes from my final product.
My plans this week are to write two short stories, one to submit; get over this cold; and reach 90,000 words in my WIP. Happy Easter, Passover and Ramadan if you celebrate, happy Spring if you don’t, and until next week.
Apologies for my absence. Haven’t felt like blogging for some time. It doesn’t get the same kind of immediate interaction that posting to Twitter or Tiktok gets you so it can be hard to keep up with it sometimes, and frankly, I get so busy writing that I don’t leave as much creative energy for the marketing side of things. I have been writing almost every day though and making significant progress on my novel.
It’s also hard to figure out what to blog about on a weekly basis when I’m in the drafting process. Only so many times you can report on your word count. The actual act of drafting is pretty tedious stuff really; 30 minutes a day, 500-1,000 words pumped out. Then it becomes a habit. Like doing the dishes, or taking your medication. The same thing every time, even if the writing is exciting. But you can’t say much about the writing because spoilers. I’ve shared excerpts on social media but I don’t think these really say much about the story, just show people a taste of your writing.
I’ve hit 83,214 words in my m/m paranormal romance crime thriller, which makes it officially book length no matter how much longer it grows, and it continues to be the longest manuscript I’ve ever stuck with. I am in the home stretches of the ending so the words are coming more slowly now, 300-500 words a day versus 1,000-2,000. I feel a little bit of imposter syndrome kicking in, as I get nervous about wanting to build an unpredictable ending and to tie all the pieces together in a way that will satisfy my readers.
I decided I will look at Fiverr for my cover art; I don’t want to spend $300-500 on it, because I probably won’t make $300-500 in book sales (I’m a pragmatist here!), but I am willing to spend more than $50 for a good cover. Graphic design just isn’t my strong suit. I’ve thought about commissioning character designs too as a marketing tool. (I made the mistake of mentioning this on Twitter and I got mobbed by people using bots soliciting their services; if you send me one of these emails I will delete it without looking at it and block you. Just saying.) I want to see my characters come to life, though.
I plan to spend 2-3 months on editing after I finally type “The End” on my manuscript. I need to rewrite the first 30,000 words at least, and fix some continuity issues, and insert more action into some dialogue-heavy scenes. I’m good at self-editing so I feel pretty confident with this step. Then I’ll need to learn formatting but seeing as I do that for a day job on legal documents I think I’ll be able to figure that out too.
I’ll probably be looking for volunteer beta readers after I get it edited into a decent shape. Then comes the task of finding ARC reviewers; I’ll probably sign up for a site like Booksprout once that time comes around.
I also decided to turn this book into a trilogy since they sell better than stand-alones, I’m not quite ready to leave this universe just yet and I have a few more ideas up my sleeve. For the rest of the year I will be working on that as well as novellas and submitting short stories.
I have episodes scheduled out on my Patreon through May 10. Nearing the ending of a first draft is a whole slate of mixed emotions – fear, excitement, giddiness and nerves. But this one will happen, I can feel it in my bones. I haven’t finished a book-length manuscript since my creative writing thesis at age 23. Now, at age 40, I’m actually doing it. Just goes to show that you can start following your dreams any time. You just have to put in the work to make them happen.