Life Stuff

Cutting this week’s post VERY short because I am working on way too many things, and sometimes I need to set something aside for the sake of my mental health and well-being.

I’m still working on the first draft (which is partially edited) of Fill the Empty Spaces, because the story keeps getting longer and also the characters don’t seem to have a stopping point in mind. I might have to put my foot down. Meanwhile, Trey Damone and his son Mikey, along with Zane Wolfskin, from my Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat series and the novel Chance Met, have just made a cameo appearance…

I’m also finishing up proofreading on the re-edited version of Try the Tofu (Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat 4), which will be up for preorder June 22 and will be released July 13.

And, on the not-writing-life side, I’m working on applications for graduate school. I finished my Bachelor’s degree in 1992 and then let a combination of trauma, life circumstances (including abuse, hence the trauma), and raising my kids keep me from going any further. For over a decade now, I’ve thought about becoming a mental health counselor, and I’ve decided if I don’t make the effort now, I probably never will. So I’m applying to various Master’s degree programs to try to make this my new career. And the application process is a LOT more intensive than I anticipated, so it’s taking a LOT of my time and mental bandwidth. But it will be worth it if I get accepted.

There are other life things going on that I’m not ready to talk about yet. But all of the above plus the things I’m keeping to myself mean that I don’t have as much time or “spoons” as I would like, so I’m going to end this blog post here.

“Stop Writing Damaged Characters”

One of the most common pieces of writing wisdom that gets bandied about is “write what you know.”

One of the things I know–much more thoroughly than I would prefer–is trauma. I have experienced various forms of trauma throughout my life, beginning at a very young age, and I live with Complex PTSD among other diagnoses.

I also live with neurodivergence. I don’t have a formal diagnosis of autism, but several medical and mental health professionals have expressed their belief that I am autistic, and even if I’m not, trauma also alters how one’s brain works and therefore is a form of neurodivergence.

Those things tend to show up in my writing. Many of my primary characters have experienced trauma in their lives, and some are still deeply affected by it while others have received support in learning to manage their PTSD. I write characters whose experiences and way of navigating the world make sense to me, which means that often, they are like me.

Early on in my writing career, nearly a decade and a half ago, I submitted a book to a publisher I’d been working with. This was probably my fifth or sixth book with them; I can’t recall for sure, because it was a long time ago. And like the other books, this one had a heroine (this was when I was almost solely writing heterosexual romance) who had a trauma history and was still being affected by it as she tried to progress in her healing journey and in her relationship with the hero of the story.

The publisher told me I needed to stop writing damaged characters, because readers didn’t want to read about people like that.

The publisher was wrong.

It is absolutely true that some readers don’t want to read about characters who aren’t perfect, especially in a romance story. And that’s fine; those readers are not my target audience.

It is *also* absolutely true that there are plenty of readers who are, themselves, trauma survivors who are struggling with their pasts and how it has affected their minds and their way of navigating the world. And despite what this publisher said to me, I received reviews and messages from some of those readers thanking me for not only *accurately* depicting PTSD in my books but also for showing that one does not have to be “fully healed” from trauma (something I don’t believe is even possible, healing is a *journey*, not a destination) in order to find love, respect, and a healthy relationship.

The other thing my publisher was wrong about is that my characters are “damaged.”

Being traumatized does not mean someone is “damaged.” Living with PTSD or mental illness is not “damage.” (Some people prefer to use that term for their own experiences, and that’s valid; I take issue with the term being applied to *other people*, especially by someone who doesn’t actually have lived experience with these things.) It means that one’s life has been altered. One’s perceptions and understanding of themselves and the world have been changed. But I am not “damaged,” and neither are my characters, though some of them certainly *feel* as if they’ve been damaged.

In my Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat series, Tobias Rogan is the Alpha of a very small werewolf pack in Boston. He is also, as we learn as the series progresses, the most powerful werewolf in the United States. He *chooses* to remain with a small pack because he doesn’t want power. He doesn’t want to rule others. He simply wants to make people’s lives better.  But his power and dominance are innate, and he uses them to help those he cares about–which eventually extends well beyond his pack.

Tobias is also a trauma survivor. He grew up in an abusive household. He was changed to werewolf at age 15 (in violation of shifter law) in a very traumatic assault. Decades later, when the series takes place, he still experiences flashbacks and other signs of PTSD. Which *affect* him, of course… but they do not render him “damaged.” They do not prevent him from being a fair and powerful Alpha werewolf. And they do not prevent him from finding, accepting, and building a life with his mate, Kyle Slidell.

I did not listen to that publisher all those years ago. And I continue not to listen. I write characters who have lived experiences I understand and can relate to. And I will continue to do so.

When the Characters Take Over

Several weeks ago, I finished writing the first draft of a new novel called Fill the Empty Spaces. This novel started as a way of processing the passing of my mother at the beginning of December; although she and I didn’t have the best relationship, the realization that she was no longer around hit harder than I’d thought it would. Through much of my life, until my writing brain stopped functioning in 2015, writing was how I processed, how I coped, and sometimes how I kept myself alive. Although I didn’t write much of anything for six years, now that I’ve started writing again, it has once again become one of my ways of dealing with and understanding life. And, in this case, death.

(This isn’t the final cover, it’s just something I’m using to keep myself in the story’s mindset.)

When I started writing Fill the Empty Spaces, I didn’t know it would turn out to be a novel. I thought I was writing a short story. But Del Nethercott, the main character/narrator, had other ideas. So did Lochlan Moroney, the character who becomes Del’s close friend and possible love interest. At the beginning of the story, Del is only about a month past losing his longterm partner Austin, who was killed by a drunk driver. The last thing Del’s thinking about is a new relationship; he’s barely functioning day to day, and his grief over Austin consumes him. The story extends through a few months, until four or five months after Austin’s death, and we witness Del’s healing–though of course he’s still grieving–and the beginning and blossoming of his connection with Lochlan. At the beginning, I thought Spaces would turn out to be contemporary; Lochlan threw a metaphysical/paranormal loop into the story that wound up being a key part of the story. And so the “short story” became a novel.

As I said, several weeks ago, I finished the first draft of Spaces. Or so I thought. To be honest, when I said, “The end,” I wasn’t actually certain it was. I’d reached a point in the story where it felt like I could stop and hold something over for a follow-up book, probably from Lochlan’s point of view.  The story didn’t end with a “happily ever after” or even really with a “happy for now.” It ended with “Del, you aren’t ready for a relationship, so let’s stay friends until you *are* ready and then see what happens.” The book as I ended it at that point was not a romance (nor did I intend to say it was; I was very clear in talking about it that it was a novel with romantic undertones).

This past week, I started editing the manuscript. I’d done some editing as I worked on the first draft; I didn’t do much plotting or brainstorming before I started writing, so some of the things I put in the story didn’t work or dragged down the pacing too much to remain, so I’d yoinked those as part of writing the first draft. But there was still work to do.

By the time I reached the end of what I’d written, though, I knew I had to continue the story. Ending it with Del and Lochlan agreeing that they would enter a relationship when Del reached a point in his grieving process that he could handle having a new partner was good, but it wasn’t where Del and Lochlan wanted to end the book. So I finished editing what I’d written and started writing more.

As it stands now, two days into the process of continuing the story, I don’t know where Del and Lochlan want to end up. I’d like to see the book end with them in a relationship, but that’s going to depend on how Del’s grief and healing progress. And with what happens to each of them in the meantime. It’s been a long time since I started writing a book with the mindset of “let’s see where this goes,” and I’m enjoying doing it again, even if these two guys do keep throwing wrenches into the process.

Fill the Empty Spaces is currently planned for release on October 12 of this year. I’ll keep you updated!

Time Management

Time management…where what often happens is my time manages me.

analog clock

That’s something I’m working on, but I’m neurodivergent (I haven’t been formally diagnosed with anything, but multiple medical/mental health professionals have said that I am almost definitely autistic, along with living with Complex PTSD which also affects how my brain functions). There are numerous factors that go into my relationship with time and accomplishing things, and some of those factors fluctuate day by day. For example, I have fibromyalgia. If it’s a higher-than-typical pain day, more of my mental bandwidth goes into just being capable of things like preparing a meal or walking to the bathroom; I don’t have anything left over to focus on writing a story or doing paperwork or whatever was on that day’s agenda. If it’s a day I’m scheduled to work at the daycare center where I’ve just taken on a one-day-a-week gig, I have to get up at 4am and probably won’t be able to concentrate on anything by the time I get home at 4pm. (To clarify: I’m not working a 12-hour shift. I get up at 4 because I prefer to have time to ease into the day rather than getting up and immediately rushing out of the house; I leave a little before 7 and have to fight city-area rush hour traffic to get to the center by 8. I leave work at 3 and then have to fight the beginning of afternoon rush-hour traffic to get home.)

In addition to the “do I have the bandwidth today” thing, I also have some issues with executive functioning. I might have a task in mind but not be able to sort out where to start (e.g. do I make the spreadsheet first, or look up the info that goes on the spreadsheet and write it down and then make the spreadsheet, or…), which isn’t a case of “just figuring it out” or “making a decision,” it’s literally my brain being unable to put multiple steps of a process into the most logical and efficient order.  That difficulty also crops up when it comes to determining which task of the several on my list should be done first. I do have a daily “task list” (I hate calling it a “to-do list” because then I feel crappy if I don’t get everything done), but I’ve found that trying to schedule the tasks at certain times of day leads to a further break-down of brain cooperation because I start feeling trapped, which pings one of my CPTSD buttons and can even trigger a full-on PTSD flashback/panic attack. But *not* scheduling the tasks sometimes leads to me spending 5-10 minutes just staring at the day’s list trying to decide what to do first.

This is becoming more of an issue for me because I’ve added things to my figurative plate. I’m still trying to write, though my writing brain seems to be on a bit of a break (I’ve done a couple of short stories recently and hope to start working on another novel by the end of the month). I’m promoting the books I’ve already released. As noted, I’ve started working one day a week at a daycare, and that might not be the *same* day every week; they’ve said they’ll try to let me know the week before which day they’ll want me the following week. I’m looking into going back to school for a Master’s degree in social work or mental health counseling, and yes, I am aware that going back to school with my particular combination of mental and physical health issues along with the neurodivergence and associated executive dysfunction might be a recipe for frustration, if not disaster; meanwhile, I’m trying to organize myself and my time to allow for researching different schools and their requirements and then actually completing the application processes for the schools I choose. (I’ll worry about how to manage the program itself once I’ve applied and been accepted and figured out how to finance it…)

A lot of times when I talk about trying to organize my time and tasks, I get advice like “Use a planner!” or “Just figure it out!” or “If you really wanted to do these things, you wouldn’t be having such a hard time.” None of which is helpful, and none of which even remotely acknowledges that executive dysfunction and physical or mental health conditions are not a CHOICE. I didn’t choose to be repeatedly and relentlessly traumatized at home and in other settings from pretty much birth until my mid-30s. I didn’t choose to be born to two neurodivergent parents (neurodiversity often has a genetic component). I don’t choose to feel trapped and panicky when I try to follow an intensely structured schedule, and I don’t choose to have a messed-up memory that sometimes results in me not even remembering to write things in a planner, let alone look in the planner to follow the plans. I definitely don’t choose to be unable to figure out how to sequence the steps of a process or to take longer to sequence the steps than it ultimately takes to complete the task itself…

Over the years, I’ve learned some accommodations and routines that help, but none of the issues I deal with are choices. I’ve also learned to give myself compassion and make allowances for the things that are genuinely outside of my control.

“I Don’t Know What to Write!”

Sometimes my brain just doesn’t want to cooperate with writing anything. It’s frustrating to me when this happens, because a decade or so ago, when I was writing and publishing frequently, I had *too many* ideas. But now, sometimes my mind just goes completely blank and I can’t think of anything to write at all.

It started several years ago, when I started feeling a lot of stress, anxiety, and even full-on panic about writing. I won’t go into the whole story behind that right now; I’ve talked about it online a fair bit and might blog about it more in the future. For now, I’ll just say that due to a combination of personal-life stress and trauma along with poor sales and difficulty coming up with new stories at the pace I’d set myself, the writing part of my brain kind of collapsed. For years, I was unable to write anything at all.

I started writing again in 2020 or 2021, but not romance. Writing romance again didn’t happen until last year. But then I started feeling the stress and pressure again. It’s less than it was, in part because I’m self-publishing; some of the stress and anxiety years ago was a probably-irrational fear that my publishers would be angry with me for not selling more copies of my books. But it’s still present, and it still sometimes results in my mind going blank when I sit down to write something.

This time, I’m giving respect to that fear. That doesn’t mean letting it rule me, but it does mean that rather than fighting against the fears and the “don’t know what to write,” I’m honoring myself to the extent of saying, “Okay, let’s take a break for a week or two and see what happens.” It means rearranging the schedule I’d planned to accommodate not having a new book ready by a certain date, as well as making the decision that I will not announce release schedules more than six months in advance. (With the exception of Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat 5 and 6, which are coming out in January and July 2024 respectively.)

Sometimes it means not writing anything at all and letting that be the case, rather than letting not writing lead to the additional fear that I’m heading into another years-long stretch of not being able to write or fear that readers will forget I exist and my books will go down the tubes if I don’t release frequently. Trying to force writing when the ideas aren’t there only results in me writing something that’s either complete crap or that I half-ass so I can say it’s done, and obviously neither of those cases yields something I would actually want to put out in public.

At other times, though, ideas come to me and things flow. My novel Fill the Empty Spaces was a case of me saying “I want to write about someone grieving,” and then I followed the story and the main character. It led in a direction I wasn’t anticipating, but I think the book is good, and I will be releasing it in October of this year. A few weeks ago, I went to Canada to visit family and wrote two short stories while I was there, because ideas just popped into my head and I rolled with them.

Right now, I would like to be writing a short story or maybe starting another novel. But I don’t have any ideas, so I’m letting myself not write. The ideas will come, and when they do, I’ll write something good. Something I’ll be proud of. Until then, I’m respecting and honoring the part of me that feels anxious and fearful, and I’m letting writing not happen.

More Release Updates

The best-laid plans and all of that…

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks looking at the plans I’d made for releases and rereleases and realizing a few things.

First… while I do need to plan things somewhat in advance, when I try to plan too far in advance, my brain rebels. It isn’t a choice on my part; it’s like my circuits overload and my brain just crashes. So I’m making plans for releases and rereleases, but only through January 2024. Things will be updated as I go along.

Second, if I insist that I’m going to write (or even rewrite/re-edit) things by a certain time “no matter what,” it sometimes results in the finished product being forced and not up to the quality standards I want to give to my readers. I need to have deadlines, but I also need flexibility, and I need to allow more time than I think I’ll actually require so that I don’t wind up feeling pressured and start short-cutting and half-assing things. I also need to give myself the freedom to say “Nope, this isn’t working, never mind” on any given project.

Third, and somewhat related to the above, the book I was originally planning to rerelease in September is not a book I actually want to rerelease at this time. Aside from needing more work than I anticipated to bring it to the standards I want, I don’t really connect with either of the two main characters. And if I don’t connect with them, readers won’t either. So this book is on the back burner; over time, I might see if I can do the work it needs not only to fix the current issues with it but also to make the characters people I want to get to know better.

And finally, since I’m now not releasing that book in September, I’ve decided to move my new novel Fill the Empty Spaces up by one month. Fill the Empty Spaces was going to be my November release; it will now be released on October 12. Going forward, I will be planning to release (or rerelease) 4 novels per year. This year, the next two releases will be July 13 (Try the Tofu) and Oct. 12; for 2024, I will be releasing books in January, April, July, and October, with the January and July releases being part of the Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat series. The books for April and October 2024 are to be determined.

In between times, I may put out some free short stories or low-cost shorts/novellas, depending on what the writing part of my brain decides to do.

My two priorities with writing and self-publishing are to release good-quality, entertaining stories with characters that readers–and I–like and want more of; and to maintain my mental and physical health and well-being. By changing my plans as I’ve done, and allowing space to follow the writing muse from time to time, my hope is to meet both of those priorities.

I Took a Trip

When I decided to start blogging (again… I used to have a blog on the old Karenna Colcroft site years ago),  my intention was to do it weekly.

Obviously I forget sometimes. Or things happen that lead to me not writing a post.

Last week, I didn’t have a blog post because I was traveling. I took a trip to Canada to visit my kid, who is in veterinary school there. This was my fourth visit to the city and province where they’re studying, and the first time I actually stayed at their house. I really enjoyed the visit, and while I was there, I wrote two short stories! I’ll be sharing those in my next two newsletters (which will be sent out on April 13 and 27; if you haven’t subscribed, visit the “Free Short Story” page to sign up for the mailing list and get a Kyle and Tobias short story). Before I left, I finished writing the first draft of Fill the Empty Spaces, and I didn’t anticipate writing anything while I was gone. But the story deities proved me wrong!

I also spent some time visiting cousins I haven’t seen in over four years, visiting a bookstore that had offered to carry the Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat books (which fell through for the moment because the store has to move from its current location, so the owner isn’t currently taking any new stock), and just enjoying peace and quiet.

My mother was from Nova Scotia, and I spent a week or two there each year when I was growing up. I’ve always felt more at home in the Maritimes provinces than anywhere else. Will a move there happen? Anything’s possible; I have dual US and Canadian citizenship, so I could in theory relocate if I wanted. Meanwhile, I enjoy my visits there!

(I didn’t get any pictures this time around; this one is from a previous visit.)

Musing About Marketing

As a self-published author, the responsibility for marketing my books is entirely mine. Even years ago when I worked with publishers, much of the marketing responsibility fell on me; small publishers don’t have the budget to put a ton of marketing muscle behind their authors, especially the authors whose sales aren’t in the higher levels. Which is me.

Marketing is something I’ve always struggled with, mainly because I don’t completely understand what I’m supposed to do. “Write blogs.” Okay, but then don’t I have to get people to read the blogs? How do I do that? Likewise with “Have a newsletter.” I do have one, but that’s also something I have to market because otherwise people won’t subscribe to it. Having to market a marketing tool I’m supposed to use to market my books doesn’t make sense to me. (I do have a newsletter. If you go to the page on this site that’s titled “Free Short Story,” you can sign up to get the Real Werewolves short story “Kale and Karaoke,” and thereby be added to my newsletter mailing list.)

When I ask people what to do to market, I often get vague answers like “You know, let people know you have books.” Yes, I know that’s what I need to do… but HOW? “Post on Facebook.” Which is like whispering into a hurricane; there are literally millions of people posting about their books on Facebook.

“Connect with people.” Okay… how does one do that? This is the most frequent piece of marketing advice I receive, and it, like the concept of marketing a marketing tool, makes no sense to me. I am neurodivergent. I grew up being severely bullied and not understanding how to “human,” so to speak, and as an adult who lived through fourteen years of an abusive marriage, I never had much opportunity to develop any healthy ways of connecting to people. I didn’t learn the social intricacies most people take for granted. I’ve been told that I don’t *appear* awkward in social situations, but I sure as hell feel awkward…and anxious that the figurative mask I’ve put in place will slip and people will see how awkward I really am. Not to mention that even as an adult, even after leaving that abusive marriage in 2006, I’ve continually encountered people in work and social setting who find me an easy target for bullying. (Children are not the only ones who bully; some grown-ass adults never got over the high-school mean kid mentality.) So what little bit I understand of what “connect with people” means is something I’m disinclined to do, because it’s complicated and not something I’m even sure how to do, and there’s always the risk of more bullying. Not in favor of that.

So I bungle along trying to market my books doing the same things I generally do, because those are the things I know how to do. I join Facebook groups and sometimes interact, but I don’t form out-of-group connections with anyone. I mention my books on my profile and Facebook page, as well as (very occasionally, when I feel comfortable–which is rare) on my profile on another social networking site.  I blog and send out my newsletter, and when budget allows, I book blog tours for my new releases.

I know other authors who seem very at ease with marketing, and judging from what I’ve seen about their sales, they do it quite well. I watch and try to learn from them, but at the end of the day, I’m me and have to do what I’m able to do. Which is not bringing my books the attention I would like for them. But here we are.

What marketing advice have you heard? If you’re an author, or someone who has a business or product, how do you market?

Release Week! And Some Upcoming Changes

This is it! On Thursday (March 23), Chance Met will officially be released! The book will be available in Kindle and print formats on Amazon! I have a couple of reviews scheduled, and I can’t wait to see what the readers and reviewers think of single dad Trey Damone,  his son Mikey, and Trey’s new love interest, psychic Jeremiah Crawford. (Honestly, I want to know what readers think, even if they think it sucks. I’m not thin-skinned, and I don’t go off on ranty explosions online if someone gives me a negative review.)

Meanwhile, I spent the weekend looking at the release schedule I’d planned. Originally, Chance Met was supposed to be released on March 9. However, because of some personal life stuff that happened, and the fact that Trey and Jeremiah decided their story needed to be over twice as long as the version that was published in 2013, it took longer than anticipated to ready the book for publication.

My next release, Try the Tofu (Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat 4) was originally planned for May. But because of the delay with Chance Met, that would have given me two releases within six weeks, unless I pushed back Tofu, which would have meant needing to push back my July release, and so on. (It got confusing.)

Instead of moving every upcoming release back by two weeks or so, I decided to just bump Try the Tofu to July. This gives me a little breathing room in my schedule, and also enables me to change my plans for the entire Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat series. When I started planning the rereleases of the previously-published books of this series, and then decided I was going to write new RWDEM books as well, I thought it sounded like a good idea to do 3 Real Werewolves books a year. However, when I looked at the other things I have planned to write or rerelease, I felt overwhelmed. Since overwhelm was at the root of the 7-year hiatus I took from writing anything at all, my priority this time around is to *not* get overwhelmed.

So I will be releasing 2 Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat books per year, in January and July (which started this year with Hummus on Rye’s January release), until Kyle and Tobias stop giving me ideas. In September of this year, I’ll be rereleasing Lost Soul, a novel which originally predated Chance Met (Jeremiah Crawford is a secondary character in Lost Soul) but is now a follow-up, though it doesn’t focus on Jeremiah and Trey. And in November, I’ll release Fill the Empty Spaces, a new paranormal novel I’ve been working on, about a man who has lost his partner and is struggling with grief. Fill the Empty Spaces is more paranormal than romance, but there are romantic elements.

The good thing about self-publishing is I have the power to rearrange things as needed. Hopefully it won’t be needed again any time soon!

Chance Met Preorder Is Available!

Working on Chance Met was an adventure. The original version, published in 2013, was a novella that came in at well under 20,000 words. It was written as part of a Valentine’s Day thing my publisher at the time was running, and I wasn’t entirely happy with it because I felt like the characters, one of whom is a single dad, fell into bed together way sooner than I was comfortable with. But it was supposed to be a short piece, and the characters having sex was kind of expected.

When I decided to add it to my roster of rereleases, I wanted to do something about the insta-lust aspect. I also wanted to expand on some facets of the story that I’d given short shrift in the original due to length constraints. So I set out to expand the story…

…and it expanded quite a bit more than I thought it would.

That isn’t a bad thing. The new version is around 53,000 words, long enough for me to feel justified in publishing a paperback version as well as Kindle.  Although the heat between Trey and Crawford still escalates quickly, it isn’t as rapid or out of the blue as in the original. And there’s some conflict between the two of them, unlike the original where everything just happened smoothly over the course of a few days.

My plan for this release was initially a March 9 release date, with the Kindle preorder going live on February 23. Because of the length of the expansion, plus some personal life things that interfered with my ability to work on the book, that didn’t happen. However, as of March 9, the Kindle preorder is live! And the official release date, for both Kindle and paperback, will be March 23.

You can preorder the Kindle version on Amazon.