Guest Post: W.D. Foster-Graham

Old School New Kid

Yes, that’s what my teenage Millennial son would call me in this age of social media, iPhones and Internet branding. How did I, that 21-year-old version of myself, survive without the bells and whistles of 21st century technology? But hey, I’m a Baby Boomer and I own it.

I am always fascinated and intrigued when other authors share their stories; every path to becoming a novelist is different. For me, it started early on, with countless trips to the library as soon as I could get a library card. Vivid imagination spurred short stories about animals and their families, where I actually wrote a series of short stories about a family of mischievous seals (go figure).

As an African American/Native American/LGBT man, those stories changed over the years, but my passion for writing didn’t.  How many people have written short stories based on dreams they had–better yet, remembered? I have. Still, life went lifing along, and in the timeless words of Gwen Guthrie, “Ain’t nothin’ goin’ on but the rent.”

I am so grateful for that psych degree I received, for it was a major boost on my road to writing my first novel. I made up psychological profiles of characters for fun, and a pastor friend of mine read them and said, “Why don’t you put them all together in a book?” Seed planted!

Now, the million-dollar question:  what to write about?  One never knows where inspiration comes from, and mine sprang from a need. Being a man of color in the 1970s and 1980s, I was ever on the search for fiction novels featuring characters who looked like me and came up short. I was dying to read novels of successful African American men as entrepreneurs in areas other than sports and entertainment. I knew such men existed in real life, like John H. Johnson, A.G. Gaston and H.G. Parks, Jr. However, it wasn’t reflected in fiction. And as for characters who were also LGBT….

Faced with the choice of complaining about this challenge or writing a novel on it myself, I did what my dad would do and chose the latter. Thus, my concept for Mark My Words and the character of Allan Beckley Christopher. Thanks Dad, for being my No. 1 fan and my greatest critic. Your stamp of approval on this character as representative of your generation meant everything to me.

Trust and believe, Mark My Words was a novel 17 years in the making.  Between written pages, typewritten pages and what was then a state-of-the-art laptop (oh, those days of floppy disks), it was written in 5 years. The new challenge was the next umpteen years getting it published, and everything that goes with being a new author. Fortunately, I was blessed with 1) the mantra “Never give up” and 2) a great support system.

Today, this “old school new kid” has embraced a new learning curve in marketing and social media as a self-published author. Believe in dreams and never give up.

W.D. Foster Graham’s books can be found here. He can also be found on Twitter and Goodreads.

Christmas In June

I’ve always loved Christmas. It’s not as great as Halloween (in my opinion), and I like the food more at Thanksgiving (Americans know how to use bread, that’s all I’m saying), but I like it. I have very fond memories of Christmases past and can’t wait for future Christmases. I love giving gifts, baking (and eating) all of the treats, Christmas trees and lights are gorgeous, and I love the snow.

But I prefer to keep everything Christmas related within the month of December, please.

However, when you’re an author who has a few short stories showing up in a Christmas anthology in the future, you’re more than likely going to be working on them outside of the Christmas season. In this case. Recently, I’ve been doing my edits on Christmas stories for Christmas 2020. Which is 7 months away…

It’s hard to capture the feelings I have at Christmas time during the beginning of summer.

Christmas is whimsical yet solemn, bright yet dreary, magical yet exhausting–it’s like eating a bunch of cookies and throwing them up on a carnival ride, then going home and sinking into the couch feeling like the piece of shit you are. You had a good time, but at what cost?

So, editing Christmas stories in June when it’s hot, sunny, green, and I’m wearing shorts and t-shirts is…odd. I suppose we all have to do what we have to do, though.

Since I’m not used to short stories, and I have never really written anything Christmas themed, writing the stories was an interesting experience. As anyone who has read my work before knows, I usually write more realistic fiction, and some of the themes I’ve written about are dark and depressing. I’ve had more than one person tell me off for making them cry.

When I turned in my first drafts, I ended up having a very uncomfortable discussion with my developmental editor about whether or not I knew what readers expected from a Christmas story. Apparently, people want to be uplifted with cheerful stories of fun holiday things. They don’t want to hear about death and sadness.

Who knew?

“People want to feel the spirit of Christmas, be cheered up, uplifted, or laugh out loud. They don’t want to cry.”

I come from a long line of people with a cheerful, yet realistic outlook on life and morbid senses of humor. I can’t help myself sometimes.

So, I’ve had to adjust my way of thinking about story. I’ve had to adjust how I write because I’ve always written the things my mind conjured up with no expectation as to what my readers expect–other than a good story.

Taking an idea and shaping it around a holiday is a lot different than dreaming up characters and a plot and just seeing where it leads. When you’re writing a story (or novella/novel) with a holiday theme, you almost have to work backwards. Holiday theme comes first…then everything else. Sure, you have a great idea for characters and plot, but how do you make it a Christmas story? It’s a concept I’ve rarely had to deal with in my past writing.

Obviously, I don’t have much advice on how to make this work for other writers–I’m fairly new to this myself. However, maybe throw in a drunk uncle, some egg nog, and a Christmas Tree?

Regardless, it never fails to amaze me how most writers have to be willing to self-teach a lot of ways to write. There’s no blueprint for every possible thing you might encounter when crafting a story. Especially if you’re a multi-genre author. Additionally, no matter how long I am a writer, I’ll always wake up each day wondering what new thing I will learn or realize I don’t know anything about.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Guest Post: Tiffany Christina Lewis

Influences: Why I Write Black Characters

It may seem obvious, but I don’t write black characters just because I am black.

My blackness has always been dotted with other cultural influences and I had excellent opportunities to see and experience different things as a young person.

I am from Oakland, CA. Some would say the area is a little rough, but if you look closer, you see the beauty of multiculturalism everywhere. Every black neighborhood had a token white family, just like white neighborhoods had their token blacks. There was a Chinatown and for miles up and down a particular street (aptly named International Blvd) you could find Elote before Elote was cool. Right on the corner, sold from a cart with questionable cleanliness, there was corn, cojita, mayo, chili powder and lime. And it was good. I won’t even get into how close biriyani, Korean BBQ, lumpia, Egyptian, Jewish and any number of foods or cultural experiences were to me at any one time.

Food wasn’t the end of it, as directly over the bridge (you pick which one) I could arrive in San Francisco where I could see any number of performances spanning dance, music, and theatre from a multitude of nations. Attractions that emphasized cultural awareness were ALWAYS cool.

We cherish cultures in the Bay Area.

In addition to that, my parents were very different people. My mom was straight up, old school R&B (Marvin Gaye and Al Green) while my dad was Rock and Roll (Joan Jett and Nine Inch Nails). Pile that on with the number of times we moved (including one special time we lived in Stone Mountain, GA…) and I was as open to differences as could be.

When I started writing, I was a middle schooler and we were back living in Oakland. Back then I just wrote about what I liked and modeled my characters after my friends. I drifted away from writing until about 2010 when I was invited to a Facebook writers group and that experience was eye opening. I made friends I’ll never forget and thank god for them because they showed me how important it was for me to express myself through writing again. I also learned about publishing and released my first book in 2014.

That book, Inside Out, is about a detective working in Oakland to catch a serial killer.

And yes, my detective is Black.

His girlfriend is Black.

Lots of his co-workers (police officers) are Black.

The book reflected my life in Oakland as well, not just pure Blackness, because of course we don’t exist without other humans around us. The district attorney is Hispanic as well as my characters’ supervisor. The coroner is white as well as the quirky lab tech but at the end of the day, I wrote a story where the most important person is Black.

Now, I am getting to why I did that. Thanks for sticking with me.

My main character is Michael Taylor and outside of the fact that he is based on a certain celebrity that I had a crush on during that time, there was no way he couldn’t be Black. During the time that I was writing and releasing this book, I was keeping my eyes on the books around me. I was kinda bothered by the fact that so many of the books I’d been seeing, traditionally or independently published, showed Blacks in a less than flattering light. I was tired of seeing a ton of books about drug dealing and criminals in the Black community.

YES. Those things are a part of our culture, especially my Oakland culture, but those behaviors are a product of the negativity we have been forced to live with for hundreds of years. If every Black man or woman who engaged in criminal activity had a genuine choice to continue that or have a prosperous position that would help them feed their family, I promise they would pick the better path.

That’s why, my characters are Black AND doing well.

Michael is a detective above corruption, he’s not a womanizer, he’s intelligent, he believes in monogamy, he saves money, he wants to be better, he’s in good shape, he’s polite, loves his family, he’s tough and determined.

I wrote what I wanted to see.

I want people who read my books, Black, White or otherwise, to understand that Black people can be more than drug dealers, killers and gang bangers and that Black authors know about more than “the streets”.

Don’t box Black authors in.

We continually show that we have the capacity to create worlds that take readers away from their toil, we enlighten and entertain.

Additionally, I wanted to show people that reading Black characters is not a genre.

Just as Blacks should be accepted everywhere, so should they be in many kinds of books. Just as they can be villains, they can be hero’s. Just as they are killers, they can be healers. Just as they are criminals, they can solve crime.

I had many opportunities as a child to see positivity in my Blackness but not everyone has that experience, so, I write Black characters because they inspire me and because I hope my characters will inspire others.

Keep an open mind and you can be inspired by all the colors.

Tiffany Christina Lewis’ books can be found here.

She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

What Now?

A MILLION LITTLE SOULS – my first YA Fantasy novel dropped on Friday, June 5th. If you didn’t pre-order or buy a copy, what are you waiting for? It’s also available on Kindle Unlimited if you have a subscription.

Of course, the work of an author is never done. I can’t speak for traditionally published authors, but I know us indies (or indie hybrids) don’t get to rest for long. As soon as one project is done, we’re moving on to the next. As soon as one book publishes, there’s another thing to write, rewrite, or edit. You have to be a bad bitch to be an indie author. I said it.

So, what’s next for Chase Connor?

I’ve mentioned a few times (read: a million) that I have several books with The Lion Fish Press in various stages of completion. We’ve been working on all of them closely together, deciding what’s next, what needs to be rewritten, edits that need to be done…it’s a never ending checklist, really. But I love it. I like to stay busy.

Regardless, it has been decided that A STRAIGHT LINE, a book I co-wrote with The Lion Fish Press author, J.D. Wade,, will be coming out next. It’s a pretty straight forward gay romance with a twist. J.D. released THE ADVISOR back in March. It’s a really fun gay political romance you might want to check out ahead of the release of A STRAIGHT LINE.

We’ll also be releasing my book, A BOY CALLED NEVER, an omnibus edition of the JACOB MICHAELS IS… series (all 6 books plus the short story, CARNAVAL) in ebook and paperback formats. That’s going to be a chonky paperback, folks! Additionally, I’ll have a few entries in the short Christmas story compilation The Lion Fish Press will release later in the year. We’re working on the audiobooks for BETWEEN ENZO & THE UNIVERSE and A MILLION LITTLE SOULS, and we’re translating ENZO into French! Maybe there will be a few surprises along the way…

It should be an exciting second half of the year, and I can’t wait to share everything with all of you!

In the meantime, don’t forget that you can find all of my books listed on Chase Connor Books and catch me on Twitter.

Here’s to a better second half of 2020, and many amazing years to come. Thank you all for reading, being supportive, and just being the amazing, beautiful people that you are!

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Solidarity

Happy Tuesday, my reader friends.

This past week has been very difficult, but especially for Black Americans and Black people across the world. I can’t speak for everyone, but a lot of tears have been shed in this home over the murder of George Floyd and the countless Black Americans brutalized senselessly by police.

I’ve had a very difficult time making sense of these atrocities, why our police and government have responded (for the most part) with indifference and threats, and why protesters are being labeled as the “bad guy” in this situation.

I don’t have answers. I just have tears. But I also have abilities. I have the ability to contact my representatives in the Senate and Congress (which I’ve done). I have the ability to donate to the cause (which I’ve done), and support politicians who are running for office and will lead us towards a better future (which I’ve done). I have the ability to make a conscious effort to listen to Black Voices and confront my own biases and learn to be uncomfortable in communicating and working together in the search for justice, equality, and equity. Which I’m actively working on. I have the ability to elevate Black Voices without disagreeing or censoring–letting Black Voices be heard, and deep, soul-searching thought going into what is said without being defensive, then realizing that I don’t need to respond. I just need to hear.

Today’s post is not meant to be depressing or to bring you down. I hope everyone can find something positive and uplifting in the current state of America. We are living in a unique moment in history where you look out over a sea of protesters faces–and they’re all different. They’re all unified, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation to see justice and equality for all. We are seeing solidarity between people who know what is right. We see more people realizing that we cannot be afraid to be uncomfortable. We need to reach out to each other, listening, communicating, coordinating, and working together, we are in charge of what the future of this country looks like. Not our current squatter in the White House or any of our elected officials who refuse to truly represent us and do the right thing.

June is Pride Month.

I want to wish all of my LGBTQ+ family “Happy Pride.” I know “happy” is a hard thing to hear with what is going on in our world right now, but please try to make an effort to find some joy today. Of course, don’t lose that spark that keeps you angry and hungry for justice, but even in the darkest times, joy can be the light that shines the way.

For Pride Month, I’m working on bringing posts from Black Voices to you. I’ve spoken with a few writers already and posts are being worked on for this site. I’ll continue to reach out to Black creatives in the Writing Community. I’m working on making a list of books by Black authors that I have really enjoyed and would recommend for required reading or books with stories I simply enjoyed. This is something I should have done a long time ago, but I was uncomfortable reaching out to Black creatives with this idea for fear of coming off as pandering or playing “white savior.” But I’ve decided to stop being uncomfortable. I will reach out, and I will confront those feelings of discomfort. Some people will want to write posts and some will not–I fully respect and understand both decisions. Some may even say difficult things that are uncomfortable to hear–and I will listen.

Regardless, I would like anyone reading this to know that if you are a Black creative–or know of a Black creative who would be interested–I would be thrilled to feature your/their voice on my website. My platform is yours. It’s not huge, but I’m happy to share it.

In the future, I plan to open my platform to guest posts from writers from other backgrounds so that their voices can be elevated as well.

I’ll still be doing my weekly posts to share things about my books, process, and any Chase Connor Books news. However, this platform will also be welcoming to any marginalized voice that wants to be heard.

I can be reached via the “Contact Chase” page on this site, at chaseconnor@chaseconnor.com, or DM me on Twitter. I’ll respond as quickly as I can to all.

In the meantime, please be kind to each other. Reach out, communicate, listen a lot more than you talk, hold hands, give hugs. Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable and have the difficult discussions. Put down your shields and don’t be defensive. Be willing to hear the things that make you uncomfortable. Let Black people know that they are important. Their voices are important. Their lives are important.

Black Lives Matter.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

A Million Little Souls

If you follow my blog here or follow me on Twitter, you might have seen this *pointing down emoji* guy here a few times.

On June 5th, my next book, A MILLION LITTLE SOULS drops. It’s an LGBTQ+ YA Contemporary Fantasy that I’m so excited to share with all of you.

I’ve mentioned before that it’s a little THE PAGEMASTER x THE BREAKFAST CLUB. However, I thought maybe a sneak peek into the book itself might help everyone decide to read it.

So, read on and (hopefully) enjoy! And don’t forget to reserve your copy for pre-order! June 5th, 2020 is the big day (paperbacks will be available on release day)!

Nate repeated his actions numerous times as the rest of us resigned ourselves to the fact that we weren’t going to get a signal. And we all knew why. So, we all dejectedly shoved our phones into our pockets. At least we wouldn’t have to explain to our parents that we’d lost our phones when they were murdering us later. Only Nate seemed to not want to accept it. He repeated the tapping on his screen and bringing the phone to his ear at least five times before he growled with frustration. Before anyone knew what was happening, he reached out and shoved all of the books out of the chair, sending them thundering to the floor.

            Underfoot, the floor of the library rumbled. It wasn’t the vibration that could be felt when standing next to the orrery. This was like an earthquake, threatening to send us all crashing to the ground. We all stumbled, trying to readjust our stances to stay on our feet, though the shaking of the library seemed as though it would do its best to win the battle against our equilibriums. Kat screamed out in shock and, for some reason, began gathering up the books. When Marisol saw what she was doing, she grabbed the book on the ground closest to her and handed it to Kat. Once all four books were in her arms in a neat stack, Kat laid them gently back onto the seat of the chair. The rumbling underfoot immediately ceased. The change was so sudden, it was surreal. It was like it had never happened.

            “What the hell was that?” Nate gasped.

            “Respect. The. Books.” Kat spun to growl at him. “The letter on the table told you that!”

            Nate shrunk in on himself as his cheeks turned rosy.

            “The letter told us specifically not to disrespect the books.” Kat glanced at all of us one by one. “Don’t throw books around for God’s sake.”

            “How was I to know?” Nate snapped.

            “She just told you how you were supposed to know.” Marisol said.

            “How the hell would the library know if I pushed a stack of books over?” Nate growled at them as I watched them all with morbid fascination. “It’s a building.”

            “Just…don’t do it again.” Kat jabbed a finger at him.

            “Fine.” Nate threw up his hands, then he was stuffing his useless cell phone in his pocket.

            Nate and Marisol just seemed to accept what Kat had said without question. With my legs still feeling like jelly from the floor shaking beneath our feet, my brain was still rattled.

            “What are you talking about?” I chirped.

            Kat turned to me, concern etched all over her face.

            “The paper on the, uh, snack table.” She jabbed a thumb over her shoulder. “It’s a list of the things that are expected of us. ‘Respect the books’ is the last one. He shouldn’t have thrown the books in the floor.”

            She was suddenly glaring at Nate, and he had the common sense to look chastened.

            The dude just makes friends with everyone.

            “So,” I pondered, “we’re supposed to do everything on the list?”

            Marisol and Nate exchanged cautious glances. Kat shrugged.

            “I guess so.” Kat answered. “I mean—”

            “What if we don’t?” Nate interjected. “It says we may leave at dawn. What if we just sit here and wait it out?”

            Kat gave him a shrug but she still looked irritated with him.

            “Yeah.” Marisol added. “If we don’t do what it says, are we trapped here forever?”

            We all giggled nervously, since it was a ridiculous thought, but I could tell we were all concerned that Marisol’s question had merit. This whole night was weird. The way we’d been invited was weird. Getting locked in the library by someone we didn’t know and couldn’t see was even stranger. What happened if we didn’t play along with the way the event had been planned?

            “I don’t know.” Kat answered for us all.

            “It says this event happens every quarter century.” I suggested. “Is it always on the night of the Quarter Century Dance? Or does this year’s event just happen to fall on the same night as the dance? Does it mean anything either way?

            “How did we all know to show up here?” Marisol added. “I mean, why did we all decide Wyatt Public Library was the right place instead of LMHS library? The invitation wasn’t exactly specific about location, but…here we are.”

            “I just assumed that—oh screw it.” I reached over and grabbed a handful of chips out of a bowl on the table and stuffed one in my mouth before continuing to speak. “I assumed this was the place since Mrs. Clark said my book was from here. If the invitation was in a book from here, this had to be the place the event was at, right?”

            Marisol followed my lead by grabbing a handful of M&Ms out of a bowl and popped a few in her mouth. “Yeah.”

            Nate and Kat were nodding along.

            “Did Mrs. Clark put the invitations in the books?” Nate asked.

            “I don’t think so.” Kat watched Marisol and I as we continued to pick at the food on the table, her eyes conveying her desire to join in, though she was probably waiting to see if we fell over from being poisoned. “She seemed kind of confused by the book and annoyed that it had been returned to the wrong place. I mean, she was nice like always, but I could tell she wasn’t happy about a book from here being shelved in her library.”

            “Yeah.” Nate shrugged.

            Kat seemed less irritated with Nate once he agreed with her.

            “Well,” Marisol mumbled around a pretzel she had stuffed in her mouth, “what does it hurt to follow the rules? It didn’t tell us to sacrifice a chicken or chop off an arm or anything.”

            Kat and I nodded along. Nate was finally reaching over to the table to help himself to some food. Kat watched the three of us for a moment, gnawing on the mysterious offerings. She made her mind up that the food wasn’t poisoned and helped herself to a sandwich.

            “So, be nice to the books.” I began as we all stood there and ate. “Don’t disrespect the books. We all understand that one. I don’t know how we’re supposed to go by the numbers or take a stroll through time…but maybe the reach a higher plane of understanding, empathy, and compassion has to do with learning about ourselves and each other? Maybe we can start there, and—”

            “I don’t need to get to know you.” Nate snapped. “I know enough.”

            My cheeks were suddenly hot.

            “Do you want to argue about everything?” Marisol groaned before shoving another chip in her mouth. “You seem—and don’t take this the wrong way—unpleasant.”

            Kat giggled nervously.

            I snorted with laughter.

            “Screw you.” Nate stated blandly.

            “Really?” Marisol had her hands on her hips. “You are just a jerk. You’ve been rude ever since Frankie and I got here. What’s up with that? You guys seem to know each other. You tight or something?”

            “We’re definitely not tight.” Nate spat.

            “We’re not friends.” I said.

            “Okay then.” Marisol seemed unconvinced. “Well, whatever is going on with you two needs to stop if we’re going to do what the list says we should do.”

            “If we can figure out what ‘stroll through time’ and ‘go by the numbers’ means.” Kat agreed.

            “Right.” Marisol said. “Learning about ourselves and each other mostly makes sense, but—”

            “I don’t want to know anything about any of you that I don’t already know.” Nate reiterated angrily. “And I’m not telling all of you all of my business, either.”

            “Stop being a douche to them.” I snapped. I’d finally had enough of Nate’s attitude. “They didn’t do anything to you.”

            “Screw you, Frankie.” He spat.

            “Screw you back.” I snarled, my body inching towards him, my fists clenching at my sides.

            Nate straightened up angrily, his hands forming fists like mine.

            “Guys!” Kat pleaded. “Don’t act like this right now. We need to figure out what’s going on.”

            “I’m tired of listening to him.” I grumbled, glaring at Nate.

            “I’m tired of looking at you.” He returned.

            “Look,” Marisol huffed, “if the two of you don’t stop—”

            “We all just need to work together.” Kat interjected. “If we don’t work together, how are we certain we’ll be able to leave at dawn? Maybe we’ll be trapped here?”

            “How can someone trap us here if the library opens at nine in the morning?” Nate snapped at her, though his eyes stayed on mine and his fists didn’t unfurl.

            “Stop snapping at everyone!” I demanded. “Unless you want some of this.”

            “Nobody, literally nobody, wants any of that.” Nate quipped.

            “Oh my gosh!” Kat bellowed. “Could we all just focus on what—”

            But she didn’t get a chance to finish her thought. A long, blood-curdling cackle—like a witch in a horror movie’s cackle—pealed through the air, silencing us all. We all froze in place, our eyes growing wide, as the cackle rang through the air evilly, echoing through the cavernous library. It seemed to bounce off of the bookshelves and walls, reverberating wickedly. For what seemed like minutes, but was probably seconds, the cackle tore through the air, forcing us all into silence with fear.

            Then it was deadly silent once more.

            “What,” Marisol gasped, “was that?”

Tremendous Love & Thanks,
Chase

Where the Magic Happens

“So…you’re just…sitting there. Thinking. Typing. What else do you do?”

Something that I find amusing, but not in a “Ha Ha what a dumbass” kind of way, is that many people think being a writer is some strange process involving charts, graphs, good luck charms, and possibly a magic wand. The creation of a story into a book is twisted in its mythology. As though written, edited, and published books come out of an elf factory near Santa’s Workshop and are delivered to bookstores (or online sites) by dragon.

Let’s be honest–it’d be a lot cooler if that were true.

Your average person just can’t wrap their head around how a writer creates this whole story (especially stories involving high fantasy or epic adventure with lots of world-building) out of thin air. They assume that there is ritual and pomp and circumstance, some sorcery that has been bequeathed by some divine force to specific, deserving people who live among us. An author is…a chosen one.

It’s been implied to me many times that my process seems “boring,” and not at all a magical ritual where offerings are made to the gods and beams of light pour through the window to illuminate my laptop, announcing that it is now time to write. Your inspiration has arrived! Follow the muse! Instead, they see a coffee cup, a glass of water, and a confused asshole staring at nothing as he lets his mind wander.

It’s quite like pulling back he curtain to find The Great and Powerful Oz is just some hick from Kansas pulling levers and rods. Your once revered and all-powerful wizard isn’t all you expected thanks to the mythology (either of their own or others’ creation) that surrounds them.

Being an author is a job. It’s a skill that interest and talent births and practice gives life. It’s like being a lawyer or baker. Not that winning a case before the Supreme Court or baking the perfect pie doesn’t feel magical–it was really just perseverance, skill, talent, and tons of practice.

I posted a Writing Community Spectator video on Twitter within the last few weeks. It’s where I screen recorded a writing session, compressed it for time, and then displayed it for everyone to watch. Within the next 3 days, I got about a dozen DMs asking me what was basically the same question. Most people wanted to know if I just sit down and write and see what happens, or if there’s more to the process. Why wasn’t what they saw fitting what they imagined my work to be? I mean, you just sit there and type? That’s not all that exciting…

Look, if I recorded one of my writing sessions that was hours-long (I’ve had marathon writing sessions that exceeded 12 hours before), you’d see more interesting stuff. I’m not proud to admit it, but my writing sessions that go on for hours usually involve checking the dictionary and thesaurus, checking my grammar, looking up random facts and information I’m not sure about, taking quizzes on Buzzfeed, checking Twitter, playing silly free games online…and some writing.

When I know exactly what I want a chapter to be, I can type it out in an hour or two. Maybe even more quickly than that. I type pretty fast when I’m inspired. However, if I don’t know precisely what I want, it can take a day to write. Maybe even longer if I give up after several hours and decide to revisit it the next day. It just depends on what I’m writing, my energy level, my focus, and how well my imagination is working that day. You can never really tell what will happen when I sit down with the intent to write.

But the process itself is never magic. It’s hard work. It’s focus. It’s dedication. It’s education and learning. It’s tears and sweat and countless hours in front of a screen when I’d rather be playing with my dog or spending time with Bae. It’s like any other job, really–except I get to live in worlds of my own creation. So, while it’s still pretty cool, it’s still work.

Sometimes, when something I never expected to happen, like a new plot idea, or connecting scenes together is seamless, or I think of having a character do something that elevates the plot even more, it feels magical. The magic is something I feel as the writer, though. It’s invisible and indiscernible to others–so you’d never know it by watching me.

Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month (and sometimes even year after year), a book gets worked on by the writer. They piece the characters and plots together, weaving and fixing as they go. Then, one day….book. To the reader, it seems they are holding magic in their hands, but to the writer, their blood, sweat, and tears are held between those pages. It’s not as important as saving a life as a doctor or nurse, or putting out a fire as a fireman, but it feels like the writer has contributed something meaningful to society. They’ve added to their legacy.

For writers–though I can’t speak for us all–the true magic for us is when someone reads our book(s) and loves it(them). When we’ve allowed a reader to escape their life for hours and enjoy our stories, that’s magic. Sweeping a person away to far away lands, or introducing them to a character they love, or hitting them right in the feels is magical. The path to that moment is pretty humdrum, but it’s all worth it in the end if the readers enjoy it.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

How Do I Become A Better Writer?

Disclaimer: I am still working on becoming a better writer, so these are merely suggestions for how to start your own journey towards improving your own writing.

Last year, I wrote a blog post about finding a writing mentor. It covered what to expect, how to present oneself, how to find a good fit–all the necessities for better understanding what/how/why of the process. Today, I’d like to talk about something else that is so important but is not talked about much in the Writing Community.

We all want to be published.

A lot of the writing world is dedicated to querying. Everyone talks about finding an agent, GETTING THAT BOOK IN PRINT, but other important things, like improving your craft, is pushed to the side.

It’s understandable that every writer wants to be published and be able to call themselves: “author.” Most book and story writers I know have the ultimate goal of becoming a published author. There’s no reason why anyone should feel this is an unworthy goal. Being published garners clout, which usually leads to a steady paycheck of some kind. Until you’re published, you’re really working for free. Even hardcore, die hard writers like myself want to make a buck or two if we can.

Many writers find becoming published through the traditional route to be difficult, tiresome, daunting, or just not for them. So, they turn to indie publishing or working with a small imprint. Some people even pay-to-play. No shame to anyone’s methods or processes. One thing to consider, though, is that one of the roadblocks a writer may be facing is that their writing is not up to standard–or it doesn’t improve from one book to the next.

Maybe it’s time to…get better.

Why is this important?

My first instinct is to bonk someone over the head if they don’t understand why continuing education is important for any skill or profession. Very few people can pick up a pen and just be a master storyteller and writer. Most of us need a basic education, practice, and continued education. There is always room to be a better…whatever you are. There’s always room for improvement.

It’s important to become a better writer with each story that you write because that’s what your readers expect. They want quality writing and storytelling. Readers do not grade you the same way on your debut as they do on your fifth book. They expect you to keep their interest with your stories. If you want to keep publishing and keep making money, you want to keep getting better.

Furthermore, there’s a sense of satisfaction a writer gets from learning a new way to write their stories. Whenever I sit down and write a sentence that I never could have constructed ten years ago, I feel a sense of pride. It’s also earned pride because I put in the work. There’s no better feeling than that. If for no other reason, keep getting an education because it feels good.

Why isn’t querying as important?

Querying agents is important. Don’t let me be misunderstood. If you want to get published through traditional routes, an agent is almost absolutely necessary. Some publishers accept unagented manuscripts, but it is not the norm. It’s also a difficult path to publishing if you don’t have an agent. Not impossible–just much harder.

Agents only want to represent the best of the best–and publishers certainly only want the best. If your writing is merely average, that’s another roadblock on your way to becoming a traditionally published author. Why not avoid that if you can?

Lastly, if you devote all of your energy to simply trying to find an agent, you’re stunting your education and growth. Your creativity gets lost in the mix as well.

You can’t write stories without those things.

What will work for me in becoming a better writer?

All of us writers have different abilities, different strengths, different financial resources, and contacts. There is no single method that works across the board for us all. We have to consider our time, our energy, our money, and our commitment to our craft. However, there is most likely a method to help any writer that fits their life.

Critique Partners/Groups/Beta Readers

Do you know a writer who is out there getting their hustle on as well? Are they struggling to write, query, and grow as a writer? Buddy up! Read each other’s work(s), be brutally honest (but fair) with each other. Tell each other, as readers, what you liked and didn’t like. Just make sure you are going into this agreement clear that you will each be completely honest and helpful. If you’re the type of person who does not take critique well, you need to learn quickly.

Critique groups are also a great way to get feedback and learn your strengths and weaknesses. Again, you will want to find a group that fits you (consider meeting times, personality types, how honest each person is) but they can be a great resource as well. Many critique groups “meet” on social media, so you can participate at any time of day–which is great for a working person or someone with kids–OR BOTH! Asking around in the writing community on Twitter is a great place to start. Most of the groups are very welcoming and kind–and will be happy to be brutally honest if you request it. There’s a group for everyone’s personality type and genre of writing.

You can also look for a more experienced and successful writer to be your mentor. Which I covered in this post. This isn’t always easy, and mentors are not there to sugarcoat issues with your writing, but they are invaluable. If you have a strong backbone, can take a harsh critique, and are extremely dedicated, a writing mentor can change your life.

Beta Readers are also invaluable tools for the burgeoning (and even experienced) writer. These are either volunteer or paid readers who will read your work and give you feedback on what they thought. They can give you general ideas of what worked or didn’t, or can work off of a check list that you provide. Some are the harsh critique kind and some are the sugarcoating kind. If you ask in the writing community on Twitter, you’ll find many beta readers of all kinds to suit your needs. Most of them are eager for free reading material and love to help burgeoning writers. Just make sure to pick the right beta reader to fit your needs.

Personality matches matter with critique partners, critique groups, writing mentors, and beta readers so much!

Writing Classes & Retreats

Almost any mid- to large-size city has at least a community college that offers creative writing classes. This is a great resource for people with the money to participate in such a class. I’ve seen classes range from under a hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. If you have some money to throw at your problem, this is a great option. It’s just up to you to contact your local community college or university and see which classes they offer. Many of these are at night, so they work with a lot of schedules.

Additionally, many writing classes are offered by teachers and professors outside of the classroom. Fees are paid directly to the instructor. These can vary wildly in price as well, but many are well worth the money if you have it. Just be sure to research each class thoroughly and get references and referrals from previous students.

Some creative writing classes can be found for free at community centers or public libraries (public libraries are one of the greatest American institutions, as far as I am concerned). Don’t think that these classes are of lesser quality because of the settings and that they were free. Many well-educated and experienced writers donate their time to teach the community how to improve their talent in a variety of skills. Don’t discount them. Contact your local community centers and public libraries for information. Most of them keep a calendar of events and classes on their websites. Even if they don’t have free classes, they are almost always cheaper than classes at a college or university.

If you do go to a less expensive or free class at a community center or public library, think of how nice it would be to bring chips, cookies, or something healthy for everyone to eat in class. Don’t forget that the library staff likes to snack, too! Or consider donating to the institution where you are taking the class if you are able.

Lastly, writing retreats abound. They are usually the most expensive option due to the fact that there is often travel involved, hotel rooms are usually needed, meals need to be paid for, and the instructor has to be paid for their travel, meals, accommodation and time. Some are a few hundred dollars and held in camps with cabins. Some cost much more and involve plane fare. I was once “offered” a seat at a writing retreat in Hawaii, taught by a moderately famous romance author. It only cost six-thousand dollars (all-inclusive, of course). Unfortunately for them, I found out that I could purchase a round-trip ticket to Hawaii that week for less than $300 and the Waikiki Grand Hotel had rooms for $80 a night, and I could easily have fun in Hawaii for a few days at less than one-thousand dollars, so I skipped the retreat. Actually, I skipped going to Hawaii that week completely because my day job, like, wanted me to do my job and stuff.

But hey, if you have 6k to toss around–that’s always an option, too. I will not judge you.

Carnegie Hall. How do you get there?

Practice, practice, practice. Yeah. I used that joke.

You’ll never become better if you don’t write often. Unless I’m on a break, I write something every day. Now, I’m not one of those writers that say you can’t be a real writer if you don’t write every day. Some people have disabilities and other illnesses to contend with, they have children or others who depend on them, or they’re just exhausted from their main job(s). Maybe it’s a combination of all of these things.

You don’t have to write every day to be a writer or to get better.

However, you do need to practice. Set some time aside each week to write. Even if it’s a one-page story. Have a notebook and pen handy at all times so if you’re stuck at the DMV or doctor’s office, you have an opportunity to write. If you can’t sleep at night, open your laptop for a few moments. Write on your lunch break. Write in the car while your child is in their piano lesson. Write at your bedside table in the few minutes you have before you turn off the lamp. Find creative ways to write when time presents itself if you find you can’t set aside hours at a time. We all have different circumstances, so we all have to create systems that work best for each of us.

You don’t need office space or anything fancy. You just need your creativity and drive.

Maybe you will find time to write an hour each day. Maybe you will have a string of days where you have hours to write each day. Maybe it’s five minutes here and five minutes there. Some days or weeks you might be so busy that you don’t have any time at all.

Don’t debase yourself on the days you don’t have time. Especially if you are someone with a lot of responsibilities or a disability/illness. But be proud of yourself when you do.

Read.

Lastly, I do feel that you can’t be a good writer if you are not a dedicated reader. Reading helps us learn how to structure sentences and stories. It opens our minds to new ways of telling stories and types of stories. It makes us love the written word. It also teaches us the things we like in stories and the things we don’t like. It helps mold us into the type of storyteller and writer we want to be.

You don’t have to read a book a day or a week, but just like practicing your writing, find time to read. Even if it’s a few pages while you’re waiting at the doctor–this reading is invaluable.

What do I need to work on the most?

I’m not going to sit here and lecture you all on how to improve without exposing my own shortcomings. We’re all in this together, after all.

I’m pretty good with dialogue. I think I can craft a mean story. My writing is accessible and engaging.

But my expository and descriptive writing can be awful at times.

When I’m writing dialogue or action, my fingers fly over the keys. But if I have to lay out a setting, my words per minute dwindle.

I’m learning new and creative ways to structure sentences. How to self-edit. How to kill my darlings (I know, I know, we’re all tired of this saying).

I’ve attended creative writing classes, had critique partners, and have had a writing mentor for years. Until the day I put down my pen (laptop, really), I’m committed to getting better. Even if I never get to a place with my skill that makes me happy, I won’t give up.

If you’re not learning, you’re not living.

I’m not sure who inspired the above quote since it’s disputed, nonetheless, it’s true. If you don’t learn something new about writing–and yourself as a writer–every chance you get, you’re not a writer. You don’t have to write every day. You don’t have to be published. But you are not a writer if you are not learning.

Just like any other profession, writing requires constant education and discovery. Anyone who tells you that you’ve mastered writing is trying to sell you something.

So, go forth and learn. Write. Make your magic. Tell your stories.

But never stop learning.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

AGONY!

Before we get into the post, don’t forget that my next LGBTQ YA Fantasy book, A MILLION LITTLE SOULS is available for pre-order in ebook format. Check it out!

Every author who has published a book has characters they love to write and characters they hate to write. Not to say that they love the characters they love to write–sometimes hating a character (such as a really evil villain) makes them a joy to write. Conversely, not all characters an author hates to write are hated by them. Sometimes we love a character but they are agonizing to write.

Let me explain.

When I’m writing a book, the characters I love to write most are the ones that I can relate to on some deep emotional level, or the ones who are nothing like me at all. Writing characters who have similar life experiences, beliefs, or ideals as myself are fun to write because I can get inside of their heads. It makes the writing flow. Furthermore, a character who is nothing like me is fun to write because it’s fun to figure them out.

For example, writing a character like Oma from the JACOB MICHAELS IS… series is so much fun. She’s presented as a woman in her 70s, foul-mouthed (okay, I can be foul-mouthed at times), witty, feisty raised in the country, a widow, and highly protective. Plus, there’s something witch-y going on with her. Any scene with Oma got written at a speed that is almost unimaginable. I didn’t have to think…I just wrote.

Likewise, writing a character like Alex in BULLY was easy because I can relate to him. No. Not the sex stuff. For the most part, anyway. I could relate to him because he was unsure of himself, didn’t know how to flirt, loved books, he was kind of nerdy, loved music, loved his mother, and felt alone a lot of the time. He also tried to do the best he could with what he had to work with in life. Writing him was easy as well.

But if we were to talk about characters like Alex in JUST A DUMB SURFER DUDE (privileged, rich, white kid going to an elite high school who is prone to having a jealous streak), or Tom from THE GRAVITY OF NOTHING (a depressed, anxious, borderline suicidal guy who is recovering from childhood trauma), I didn’t have a clue how to write them. Luckily, Alex was not one of the MCs who was at the forefront of the SURFER DUDE trilogy, so he didn’t vex me quite as much. However, Tom was the only real MC in THE GRAVITY OF NOTHING, so he was daunting.

There were many times during NaNoWriMo 2018 where I wanted to yank out my hair and scream (maybe cry) while writing GRAVITY.

Characters who can be written effortlessly don’t really deserve to be discussed much. Writers reading this post don’t need help with writing those characters. But what does a writer do with a character who is giving them problems but is integral to the story? Do you change the character to suit your writing abilities…or do you dig deep and hope for a miracle?

In writing these characters, I’ve found that it’s neither of those things. A character that pops into your head can be fleshed out, but changing who they are at their core usually ruins the story you have in mind. Simply digging in your heels and being stubborn simply frustrates you further. I’ve found a better solution.

If you have a character you’re struggling to write because you can’t relate to them enough, or you aren’t interested in how different from yourself they are, there is a solution.

Find a common ground.

Find something about the characters that you relate to or can at least be empathetic about, and you might have your solution about how to write them with less difficulty.

With Alex, I realized that we shared our passion for how deep our love runs for the person with whom we’re in love. Additionally, I realized that he was very goal-oriented and, underneath everything, not really all that confident. That’s why he was jealous all of the time. I can relate to those things!

In regards to Tom, I realized that he felt all alone and was trying to figure out which step to take next. He cared deeply about the people in his life and he wanted to give more of himself, but he was afraid of what would happen if he opened himself up and things fell apart. He was locked in a cage of his own making. I could relate to that, too.

Once I dissected the characters a bit, found something about them that intrigued me and resonated as truly human, writing them wasn’t so hard. The only struggle I had in writing them after I figured them out was keeping them on brand. I didn’t want to venture away from who they were at their core. It’s far too easy for a writer to change things about a character as they write to make things easier. So, I had to focus on the things that made them easier to write while not shying away from the things that intimidated me about writing them.

Writing some of my characters has been truly agonizing at times. They usually end up being the best characters.

Believe it or not, Ian and Mike from A SURPLUS OF LIGHT were agonizing.

Those two guys vexed me for another reason, though. I was so in love with them–for different reasons each–that I didn’t want to mess them up. I simply adored those guys. Which is why I’ve said it’s very unlikely there will ever be a sequel to that book. I worked so hard to make them consistent, believable, yet unique. While that book didn’t take long at all to write–maybe a couple of months–I don’t know if I could do it again. I’d probably end up screwing one of them up. I’m pretty sure they’ve completely vacated my head and all that’s left of them is in that book.

Regardless, I love all of my characters for one reason or another. Some I adore from the beginning of the story to the end, and others I think I could have done better. However, figuring out how to relate to–or at least be empathetic towards–a character has always made writing easier.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase