The first draft of CLAY is almost halfway, which is nice. This WIP is pushing me hard against the limitations of my writing ability and I’m having to learn new storytelling and composition techniques on the fly. It hurts my head a lot, and even just pulling a hundred or so words together leaves me quite spent.
But I’ve had a good couple of days. Every beat makes me feel a little more positive about this story, though I still procrastinate and lug around a rucksack of paranoia in between writing sessions.
Anyway, I’d like to share a wee sample with you. First draft, obviously, so it might not end up exactly like this in the final version, but I hope you like it:
Damian Chandrasekhar leans toward the security camera. He rakes a hand through his thick hair, giving it a zhuzh to the left, and knows exactly what he’s doing—or trying to do. He holds his wristlet to his pouty mouth and raises a manicured eyebrow at the lens.
“Half an hour before the drones arrive, Tan. Tick, tick, tick.”
“I said I’m coming, Damo.”
“Want me to head over there?” He grins suggestively. “Could help you come a little quicker.”
“Ha-ha, don’t be gross, dickhead. Now shut up and let me concentrate.”
This post will self-destruct on Tuesday May 16th, 2023.
Reactivating my account to download my data and let friends know how they could contact me off-platform was… uncomfortable. My heart rate went up, I got an icky feeling in my gut and, no, it wasn’t the stew I had for dinner last night.
Something’s tripping my instincts when it comes to that site/company/way of life, and even though I can’t point to any one thing and say this is the reason why, I am trusting my instincts and getting away.
So, here I am. I have deleted my Facebook account and it feels good.
I look at this word count and where I had hoped to be on the Camp NaNo scale, and start to feel a little terrified about not finishing this book in time.
It’s ridiculous, though, because I’m on track with this WIP relative to my actual milestones beyond the April-specific constraint. What’s more, the approach I’m taking with this WIP is one I was longing to take for all my writing around this time last year.
So in the grand scheme of things, aligning with my career goal to stop rushing like a madcunt, to take things slow and think things through, I’m doing okay.
Why do we rush? I get that a little artificial pressure helps us get things done, but what then? There will always be more to do… and then we die. Even if I could manage to release a new book every three months, there’s no way a reader—even a superfan reader—would have the time and energy to just consume all my work.
And why should they? There are so many other books to read and movies to watch and podcasts to listen to—a life to live. This is an age of excess, which in some twisted way also means an age of scarcity of a different sort. The world simultaneously needs more stories and is also so full of stories. What are we to do?
I’m reading Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks at the moment and it’s got me thinking about all this. Right now, time well spent for me is time spent writing and yet even though the joy of it is coming back, I still feel this lingering anxiety over it.
But I’m still at the 16,000 word mark and it’s going well so far, so there’s no reason to feel too down. Not about this, anyway.
34k to go.
This post will self-destruct on Wednesday April 26th, 2023.
I find it comforting to immerse myself in stories that bear some resemblance to the reality we’re living in. I wonder if I might be the type of person who struggles with the inconceivable—which is also why I played a lot of Plague, Inc. in the early days of COVID-19. If you can conceive of something, you give it shape.
That means it you give it limitations. You know just how awful it gets. It won’t be better, but it certainly won’t be worse. This is all in abstract, of course. In truth, things could always be better, and things could always be worse.
But a little bit of quasi-certainty is, at an emotional level, more soothing that a complete lack of certainty. It’s why sometimes journalists at emergency press conferences ask the most ridiculous questions about things no one can predict. And why humans often jump to conclusions without gathering all the facts first. Our psyches are fragile, particularly in stressful circumstances beyond our control. We need that comfort to survive this moment long enough to make it to the next.
So even with a setting as god-awful as an ecologically ravaged Dominican Republic—rife with toxic waters, dystopian technology, and too often a blatant disregard for humanity—I still found some comfort in Tentacle by Rita Indiana (translated by Achy Obejas).
Tentacle is queerpunk sci-fi that at first seems like culturally vivid escapist fiction, but later turns out to be a breathtakingly interwoven non-linear narrative. It centres primarily around Acilde, a trans man who must go back in time to save the ocean with the help of an ancient Yoruba god. It raises questions of desire and destiny, and asks whether humanity really can be saved, or will the darker sides of human nature prevail?
I like it when a book makes me think. And it has taken me a long time to process my feelings about this one enough to be able to reflect on it. I don’t want to live in a world with toxic oceans. I don’t want the power to kill someone in need if they ring my doorbell at the wrong time. I don’t want to hold the future of the world in the palm of my hand. But the more I ponder this story, the more it looks like some bizarre allegory for how things are today.
I mean, okay, it’s probably not the smartest book to pick up right now, while the world is in such a weird place. But then, maybe it also is…?
The problems plaguing us right now aren’t going to disappear on their own. Even if it’s depressing af, there are conversations we need to have about climate and pollution, and how these are ultimately affected by how we behave and regard each other. We are, after all, stuck together in this space and time.
So, it’s day 8 of Camp NaNoWriMo and even with a two-week headstart, my progress is abysmal 😂 Hitting the 10k mark on PROJECT CLAY means I’ve only put in 6000 words over a fortnight.
Y’know what else I did? I cut my April goal down to just “reaching Act 3” instead of trying to finish the whole 50k manuscript. But life is giving me not just lemons but a whole fruit salad this month, so it’s dicey as to whether I’ll even hit this lower target.
I will, however, make all sorts of fruit-ade instead of hating myself for not making word count. Pandemic effects, stepping back from social media, thinking about all the shit going on in the world, and waking up to the offline not-book-related goals I’d neglected for too long has done weird things to my perspective and sense of priorities. It’s pulling me away from writing, and yet I don’t mind too much.
But is it really pulling me away from writing, though? When I do sit down to write, I start to feel hints of leisure again. I feel the same sense of comfort and craftsmanship and driven optimism like when I first started drafting You and I and Chasing Sisyphus. It’s fun, it’s playful, and while I did feel echoes of it later during O, swear not by the moon and Iteration Eleven, there was a tightness in my head and heart that kept me from expanding into it.
That tightness is less pronounced right now. I don’t mind that at all.
This post will self-destruct on Saturday April 8th, 2023.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how the world needs healing, yet somehow manages to keep picking at the scabs. I’m trying to heal from a bunch of things, which often takes time I don’t have in between trying to live a normal-ish life. So, you know, I appreciate it when the normality served to me includes a big dollop of healing alongside it.
That’s what caught my eye about Sarah Smith’s latest contemporary rom-com The Close-Up. Okay, I admit, the sexy 90s webcam throwback concept got my attention first. And this author’s signature wholesome steam times draws me in too. But it was that hint of how a post-#MeToo society might heal captured in light-hearted mainstream fiction that made me appreciate this book on another level.
The Close-Up is a story about a TV producer and a camguy turned relationship expert. But it’s a far cry from that gross manipulative “seduction” stuff that arced up about a decade ago. No no, Simon Rutler — this book’s leading lad — is all about empathy, consideration, and non-toxic masculinity. Think like that bit in 22 Jump Street where Channing Tatum’s character gets woke, but this guy is self-possessed and confident instead of goofy.
Simon is a salve for those of us who’ve had enough of the “clueless male”, “hapless hubby”, and other tired true-to-life tropes that are really just passive-aggressive wilful ignorance wearing a mask.
He’s the male lead you want to be real, not because he’s some hottie dream boat (though it helps very much that he’s that too), but because he’s A DECENT HUMAN BEING. And before someone tries to #NotAllMen me, yes, there are decent men in the world. Unfortunately, they too often get overshadowed by not-decent men whose behaviour doesn’t get called out nearly often enough.
Simon Rutler, however, is decent to the point where he’ll call out bad behaviour and go one step further to suggesting better behaviour for his fellow dudebros. It’s one of many traits that makes him worthy of wishing into existence.
Sexytimes are sexytimes, which Sarah Smith handles so well in her books. But what struck me the most about The Close-Up were the underlying messages that neither men nor women have to settle for toxic masculine behaviour as the norm.
Clueless doesn’t mean blameless. And it absolutely doesn’t mean the situation’s a lost cause, because even shitty boyfriends can learn their way out of bad habits if they’re willing to do the work.
Disclosure: I am almost definitely biased. I have a personal friendship with this author, who I got to know through loving her work and watching her voice develop since her very first book.
For anyone paying less attention to the largest internet-based retailer in the world these days, here’s a book fair featuring steamy titles available across a range of different ebook retail platforms.
Sonia Palermo’s new book, Hot Girl Summer, is out and ready to party! Or is it? After all, this steamy contemporary Brit-rom features an MC who’s keen to move on from her old party girl ways.
Here’s author Sonia Palermo to tell us all about it…
An interview with Sonia Palermo
JL PERIDOT: Tell us a little about Sophia and what Hot Girl Summer is about.
SONIA PALERMO: When we meet Sophia at the start of her journey, she is a jaded party girl making the transition from cosmetologist to yoga teacher. She’s over casual hook-ups and emotionally stunted men. Then she meets Danny Pearce, a musician who—at the start—is rude and obnoxious. But as the story progresses, we see a different side to Danny, and Sophia’s story soon becomes theirs as they grow together and deal with previously brushed aside personal traumas and internal setbacks.
The heart of Hot Girl Summer (title inspired by Megan Thee Stallion) is about letting go of shame in a victim-blaming society. It’s about learning to love, however that may look, and healing. It’s about being unapologetic and changing the narrative of the past to create their own happily ever after.
After the countless times I’ve read this book I can still hand on heart say that I adore this story, and the HEA still gets me every time.
JL: What is it about Sophia’s initial struggles that readers may relate to?
SONIA: I think being taken seriously as a young woman has always been a challenge for myself, and for my friends when I have spoken to them about it. I’ve been in Sophia’s shoes—a woman in her mid-twenties trying to navigate life, work, men and friendships. I didn’t have a clue who I was at that age, although I really thought I did.
Older people didn’t take me seriously because at that age you’re halfway between being a teenager and being a responsible adult. People are quick to assume that pretty, young women have no life experience outside of their privilege, and I wanted Hot Girl Summer to smash those assumptions. Everyone has their own trauma, and things they need to heal from—even if they don’t know it.
JL: How much inspiration did you draw from real life and your own experiences?
SONIA: In a past life, I was a party girl. I share a lot of traits and quirks with all my characters, but I was also heavily inspired by my friends and old acquaintances. I really couldn’t tell you what the [UK] clubbing scene is like now—especially since being in a pandemic. But ten or so years ago it was great. Student nights are really popular in the UK—especially in the University towns and cities like Brighton, where this book is set.
The nightlife is buzzing and eclectic—there really is something for everyone! My inspiration for Lilura is a mash-up of two bars in Brighton—Bohemia and No. 32. Nowadays, I like to go to cute bars with decent cocktails where I can have a chat with my friends.
JL: The hot older guy trope is so very nice. What did you have to do to get in the headspace for writing a character like Danny?
SONIA: I completely agree—I’ve always been attracted to older men, and I love the age gap trope. I’ve met guys like Danny, and I thought it would be fun to explore the male ego/alter ego dynamic in a “whiskey sour hero” (term coined by Amy Andrews), and the way his own trauma has affected him and the way he is.
He hides behind that overconfident, cheeky façade but he is just as vulnerable and soft as Sophia is—and that’s one of the reasons why they’re perfect for each other. They’re super different in their lifestyles but deep down, remarkably similar. Danny is reluctant to show his vulnerability, but after the studio scene, we see a change in him. He gives Sophia that extra bit of strength she needs to overcome her trauma, and in turn she helps him let go and face his grief from the divorce.
JL: Let’s touch on THAT SCENE. Readers will know what I’m talking about when they get to it. Talk us through how that pivotal moment came about.
SONIA: Sophia is learning to let go of all the pent up fear that’s been holding her back from living a full and happy life. I suppose it’s her way of releasing what no longer serves her. Sophia’s complicated relationship with her dad makes it hard for her to let people—especially men—in. But she finds comfort in Danny’s presence.
This scene is representative of her allowing herself to let Danny in. Like it’s okay to want someone to have more of you than you’re willing to initially give, and I think this scene is a really important turning point because it shows her completely raw and vulnerable, and also shows Danny’s vulnerability, too.
There are so many things in this scene that are unsaid but understood. Like how Sophia needed to lose control for her own benefit, and to create a level playing field. She needed to express herself in a way that she knew how—that was comfortable to her, and on her terms. And she needed to release that pent up emotion. Also, it’s ultimately the push that Danny needs to realise what he actually wants.
JL: Hot Girl Summer is the first book in a series/collection? What can you tell us about the series overall?
SONIA: The series will be connected, but not in the traditional sense. The main characters in book two aren’t in Hot Girl Summer, but the entire series is set in Brighton and centres around sassy, sex-positive heroines and whiskey sour heroes with hearts of gold with a focus on healing, real-life issues, online dating culture with a ton of banter, fun, steam and of course a satisfying HEA.
JL: What’s your background and how much of that influenced this book and the other books you’re writing?
SONIA: I had a pretty basic school upbringing. I’ve worked in the beauty industry for 15 years, so I had an easy ticket to Sophia’s world. My hobbies have heavily influenced my character’s jobs, too—yoga, personal training, and baking/cooking (a little teaser for book 2). Also, I owe the food connections in Hot Girl Summer and the other books in the series to my Italian heritage.
JL: Finally, what is one thing you hope readers will take away from your book?
SONIA: I hope that readers find comfort in the knowledge that it’s ok to be vulnerable, and to own the power that we all carry inside of us.
Hot Girl Summer by Sonia Palermo
Sophia DeLuca is over casual hook-ups. Between her sister’s eating disorder, her track record of falling for fuckboys, and a lifetime of being written off as a shallow flake, “failure to launch” may as well be her middle name.
Under false pretences and a fake name, she meets Danny Pearce, an obnoxious musician on the opposite end of the millennial spectrum. Danny is cocky, rude, and a contender for fuckboy of the year.
After a series of serendipitous encounters and a secret gig, Sophia unexpectedly falls for Danny. But when he is faced with his own demons, Sophia must reclaim her power and forgive the past, or risk losing the only thing that’s real.