The 3 hardest things about writing sci-fi romance

I’ve lost count of how many times I curse my choice of story genre. It tends to happen when I hit particular writing challenges, and end up walking away from my computer in a huff. After a little sulking on the couch, I reflect on the fact that I do love writing sci-fi romance (or romantic sci-fi). I love exploring how people and societies cope in a futuristic setting.

But there are things I definitely find difficult. I consider myself at between the “advanced beginner” and “competent” skill level when it comes to writing, with these three major bugbears that frustrate the hell out of me:

Economies and power structures

In my early days of writing fiction, I read something along the lines of how every exciting space battle is ultimately driven by economy. While love, culture, religion and politics may spark conflict, it takes economic incentive to fuel an all-out war. After all, you need something to make it worth the huge risks, the sacrifices and expense. Learning this secret blew my mind and I’ve never been able to un-see it.

It changed the way I approach my writing. For example, I couldn’t just have characters playing Cops & Bounty Hunters in Chasing Sisyphus. I need to consider the societal structures and economic forces that shaped the circumstances in which the characters find themselves.

Adria isn’t just a bounty hunter, she’s a tiny cog in a dynastic capitalist machine (ie. Basilica City) that’s beholden to an external authority (ie. the Alliance). There are wheels in motion within the city that empower and hinder the police, making it easy for bad cops to abuse their power and hard for good cops to keep the streets safe. That’s what drives Rhys’s frustration and, in many ways, gets him so caught between what he thinks he should do and what the situation calls for him to do.

Beyond my neon-washed room is a Pollock’s shitshow that may never make it into the story, but it’s all necessary for creating a richer world and a more interesting romance.

The technological landscape

Some writers and readers are offended by anachronism. Not me. I find it charming and remarkably relatable as a quirk of futuristic fiction. Looking around my home, my neighbourhood, colleagues and social circles, I see a diverse spread of technology in use. Not everyone can afford the latest hardware, and some devices are capable of surviving many generations of technological advancement.

There’s a lot of scifi out there that only shows a single era of tech as the norm. Or maybe the latest tech + whatever bleeding edge innovation (or ancient artifact) that eventually serves as the inciting incident/MacGuffin of the story. Nothing wrong with this, of course, but I wanted to base my future tech on the diversity of today’s tech.

The world I see today is full of cassette players in petrol-guzzling cars that refuse to die, Android fragmentation across millions of handsets, previous-gen iPhones struggling to keep up with iOS 14.6, tablet cases that mimic typewriters, printed publications that thrive because they’re charming, mechanical keyboards, mechanical watches, and other such affectations.

Technology influences and is influenced by policy and society. Sometimes we keep loving old toys because we are human. This what makes my world.

Culture & society

This is the part that causes me the most stress. It’s actually the least complicated aspect of world building, but one that stands to cause the most upset for contemporary readers. For me, a world that’s enjoyable to write about is colourful and multicultural. But what does culture look like hundreds of years from now when you’ve sent humans into space?

I see a lot of cultural blending where say, two cultures spawn a new intermingled culture in a space colony. My favourite example from big-name scifi is the blending you see on Mars and in the Belt in The Expanse universe, with accents and writing and language from different Earth roots all fused together.

Confession: I’m not that smart or skilled or detailed. My cultural blending for the Alliance Worlds is rudimentary at best. So I’m forever wondering whether my readers will pick up on it, or if they’ll view it like the racist cultural conflations you come to see in monoculture societies today. If a Chinese-named character demonstrates Japanese customs, how can you convey the backstory of a futuristic Sino-Japanese society? And you’d have to, somehow, wouldn’t you—so XYZ reader doesn’t mistake you for some QED rando chump who thinks that all Asians look the same.

Growing up in Southeast Asia and Australia, I’ve gotten to see cultural blending in action, and it occurs to me that this isn’t a typical experience for everyone. If you had never lived in a multicultural society, what would it take for you to recognise one when you see it? And how would you work that seamlessly into a story?

No answers, just work

If you were hoping for answers at this point, I am sorry. I have none.

These challenges plague me throughout the entire creative process, and the only way I can think of to address them is to keep learning and keep writing.

Improving one’s writing skill means increasing how fluently one can express ideas and intentions without jarring the reader out of the story. I imagine this is a worthwhile approach for any writer at every level.

SUNSET sits at 70k words

Mate. Maaaaaaaate. I hit my 70k-word target on Sunset on a Distant World (SUNSET) yesterday and feel absolutely and utterly delighted.

This WIP has been a load on me since 2018. That’s not to say it’s been a burden, as I do feel a lot of love for it—but then, isn’t love simply the burden we accept that brings meaning to our lives? Anyway, I am the donkey, and this manuscript is my very full saddlebag, and my poor asinine spine could do with some rest.

Me, a donkey, chilling in a hammock after writing 70,000 words.

The next steps from here are:

  • A final proofread
  • The nerve-wracking beta
  • Researching agents
  • Querying like a bitch

It’s funny, I’ve been looking forward to this for months, eager to get stuck into the not-drafting part of the process. But now that it’s here, I’m kind of bricking it. What if my work is not good enough? What if it’s too weird? What if readers hate it? What if it’s indulgent and dreck and destroys my chances of a sustainable creative career? What’s the most dignified way I can pass it off as a joke, life as performance art, that kind of thing?

But then I remember it doesn’t matter. One day, I will die. The sun will expand and devour the earth. In the grand scheme of things, one hack story doesn’t stop the unfolding of time and the universe. My worries are nothing compared to the stuff that makes a difference. And in this brief period of my existence, I might as well have a go.

About Henry — out now

A white man kisses the cheek of an Asian woman on the cover of About Henry by JL Peridot

About Henry: A Novella (also known as About Henry) is now available on Amazon. Here’s the lowdown:

Let me tell you about Henry. I could get fired for this, but what the hell.

Julie was perfectly fine, admiring the rich American Henry Aston from a distance. That is, until he asked her out to dinner. But there’s just one problem: CapriLuxe Perth has a strict policy against employees fraternising with the guests.

Sorry, two problems: Henry Aston’s married.

ABOUT HENRY: A NOVELLA presents JL Peridot’s erotic short story, originally published in the notorious CapriLuxe Chronicles anthology, and featured on The Good Bits website and podcast.

It also includes the follow-up story, ABOUT HER, where we discover what happened when the Astons got back from their road trip; what happened after a chance meeting in a cocktail bar on the other side of town; and what happened when Henry finally introduced Julie to his wife.

For anyone saving pennies this month, you can still find the ARC on StoryOrigin until the end of July 🤗

Henry: I have a surprise for you, Julie. / Julie: I want it. / Henry: Are you sure? Yo udon't even know what it is. / Julie: Mm, well, if you're offering, I'll take it.

RSS is not dead, it’s just the LI in a shapeshifter paranormal romance

Remember when RSS/Atom feeds were all the rage and you didn’t have to visit noisy social networks to get updates on your favourite blogs? Instead, you went to your noisy feed reader (eg. Google Reader, Feedburner, Feedly, etc.) and scrolled through hundreds of titles and text previews. Ah, good times.

Well, I don’t want to say those days are gone. They’re not. But they have had to adapt to the rise of social media superpower platforms. I do have an RSS feed on this blog. You can find it at /feed. But I have blog feed on Twitter now too: @jlperidotblog 😄

Not all of my blog posts make it to my main account, so chuck us a follow if you’d like to see the full set of updates* in your timeline.

(* I am not perfect and may sometimes forget to schedule stuff properly)

Admittedly, this isn’t very newsworthy. It’s just a way to test out the automated posting system behind the scenes. Thank you for reading 👋

The importance of stories

Hello from a very swift and sudden 4-day lockdown in Perth, following the discovery of a community-transmitted case of the COVID-19 delta variant in our city. Our State Gov doesn’t muck about. They picked up on the case last night, made the call, and let us all know via a press conference last night.

It’s been interesting observing the news and people’s reactions to things like this. There’s so much distrust and worry, not just around this situation, but built up from situations in the past, and compounded with fears around other things that are wrong—things that may continue to go wrong because it looks like no one’s doing anything about it. There’s a Here & Now side of me looking to find manageable, sustainable actions that I can contribute towards making a difference. There’s also a Helpless Observer side of me who deals with these things by taking notes and writing stories about situations turning out okay.

Stories are so important, I’m realising, and writing scifi and romance fiction at a time like this no longer feels like a frivolous pursuit—I mean, it could be, but it doesn’t have to be.

Map of the Whadjuk Boodja south-western Aboriginal country in Western Australia. Taken at WA Museum Boola Bardip, 2021.
Map of the Whadjuk Boodja south-western Aboriginal country in Western Australia. Taken at WA Museum Boola Bardip, 2021.

One thing that followed me home after visiting Boola Bardip was an idea of the important role stories play in capturing history on the ground. Facts and figures are useful, but they’re not infallible. They can be diluted, reinterpreted, misrepresented, and misapplied, particularly if they’re cold, hard and dry. They are not the immutable trustable truths we’d like to believe they are. Perhaps if we were machines, they might be. But we’re human. And we can’t help but wield cold data the way humans will—for our own purposes. In a way, facts are stories too, but of a different kind.

Stories, and the emotional messages they carry, help us relate to actual experiences of those facts. Writing fiction, therefore, seems like a radical act of preserving history, encoding elements of the zeitgeist between threads of fantasy and fancy in world-building, plot events, character development.

At least, that’s what I’m telling myself on Day 1 of this lockdown, as I pace between my study and fridge, shop for more flat-nose-friendly face masks, and procrastinating on my novel WIP.


About Henry: A Novella drops on Friday. Preorder it now to have it delivered to your Kindle. Or grab a review copy while they’re still available. (Whoever I one day hire to review my sales & marketing will probably yell at me for this exact thing I’m doing here 😅)

A big, deep breath

I’ve finally come to the end of a long run that wasn’t the best for me. For months and months, I took on too many projects and constantly lived an overloaded lifestyle. My justification? I didn’t have one.

In hindsight, it was probably a combination of a work ethic that favours intensity and the lack of a well-calibrated filter for input. I understand this is not uncommon for people in Team Neurodiversity, which I have also recently learned is indeed my team.

Of course, being the kind of person who believes we make the choices that seem like the best idea at the time, I embrace the notion that “that unhealthy lifestyle” was actually very good for me at some point. Sometimes we need to struggle before we experience gratitude. Sometimes we need the rain before we get flowers.

Well, to continue the metaphor, I still need to tend to my garden before anything will bloom, but I have finally dug my way out of the mire 🌻 Here are the seedlings I’m currently tending:

WIP — “Sunset”

Act 2 of “Sunset” is done. I had a lovely break over the weekend, involving computer games and Thai food 😄 in preparation to get cracking on Act 3. This book has been a work in progress since 2018, and I’ll be over the moon when I finally get to share it with you.

Coming soon — About Henry: A Novella

About Henry: A Novella is now up on Amazon, pre-ordering is open, cover has been revealed, etc. 🙌 It feels great to have both stories, About Henry and About Her, in a single device-friendly ebook format.

This blog — a refresh

So here I am now at my new blog home, blog.jlperidot.com. I should have done this ages ago, as the new setup means easier maintenance and less faffing about every time WordPress releases a new update.

I hope you’re still with me and, if you are, that you’ll excuse any broken links still pointing to my old domain. They’ll get fixed in due course.

A bowl of Thai beef curry noodle soup and sweet Assam tea
Thai beef curry noodle lunch from the other day 😋

Construction in progress

No, I haven’t been taken over by hackers (at least, I hope not). Just working on a bunch of updates for this blog 👷🏻‍♀️

It’s been a nightmare trying to maintain the previous incarnation, so I’m now running on a new setup. Please excuse the mess! 🙏

It’s a long weekend in Perth, starting from today. Here’s hoping something doesn’t go horribly wrong, forcing me to spend the next three days in CMS hell 😅

Impromptu status update: Other than tinkering away with this site, I’ve been working on my novel WIP, the upcoming About Henry release, and procrastinating on planning my next story.

Published
Categorized as Diary

About Henry — a novella

Sometime last year, the CapriLuxe anthology disappeared from Wattpad. It looks like the organiser cleaned up her digital life, and I absolutely don’t blame her. There’s an airy feeling of freedom that comes with deleting accounts you no longer use. For one thing, you never have to worry about a “hey, we got hacked” email from a brand you forgot you once shared personal information with.

Anyway, the disappearance of Henry Aston shall be remedied. About Henry and About Her will be combined into a single novella edition and released through Amazon sometime in July.

If you’d like an ARC, make sure you’re subscribed to Dot Club. There’ll be more information about this in the June (#30) newsletter.

A man in a suit holds a cocktail in a brandy balloon