How is it November already? Feels like this year blitzed and dragged at the same time.
Hurdles have abounded over the past 11 months (and more); some visible, some invisible. The pandemic turned up the pressure and thrust a whole lotta things into focus.
I don’t know about anyone else, but gratitude seems to be the one constant that gets me through a difficult challenge. I take stock of what I have, make time to meditate on it all, and remember that how much we have will never matter if we don’t know how to appreciate it.
Anti-Belle Thanksgiving is a week of love, gratitude, and community between readers and romantics—especially those of us who loved Skye McDonald’s Not Suitable For Work! From Skye’s newsletter:
I’m partnering with Jennifer from “JennsBookVibes” to host a week of thankfulness over on Instagram. Daily from November 16-20, you can enter to win a prize by following us and playing the prompt of the day. At the end of the week, a grand prize winner will get their pick of one of 3 Nashville-based business prize packs!
What will you pick? Christie Cookies? Bongo Java Coffee? Jewelry from Strings for Hope? The choice will be yours!
Mark your calendar for November 16-20 and be sure to follow me on Instagram to play along!
Sarah Smith is at it again! This Filipina American author is on fire with her latest enemies to lovers contemporary romance, Simmer Down. I had the honour of taking this book for a test read earlier this year, and was positively knocked off my feet! This novel is so fresh and so sassy with some very vivid memorable moments. Definitely my favourite Sarah Smith book to date.
Here’s the rundown:
Simmer Down by Sarah Smith
In this finger-licking good rom-com, two is the perfect number of cooks in the kitchen.
Nikki DiMarco knew life wouldn’t be all sunshine and coconuts when she quit her dream job to help her mom serve up mouthwatering Filipino dishes to hungry beach goers, but she didn’t expect the Maui food truck scene to be so eat-or-be-eaten—or the competition to be so smoking hot.
But Tiva’s Filipina Kusina has faced bigger road bumps than the arrival of Callum James. Nikki doesn’t care how delectable the British food truck owner is—he rudely set up shop next to her coveted beach parking spot. He’s stealing her customers and fanning the flames of a public feud that makes her see sparks.
The solution? Let the upcoming Maui Food Festival decide their fate. Winner keeps the spot. Loser pounds sand. But the longer their rivalry simmers, the more Nikki starts to see a different side of Callum…a sweet, protective side. Is she brave enough to call a truce? Or will trusting Callum with her heart mean jumping from the frying pan into the fire?
Writing has not been a priority of late. Instead, I’ve been making time to tidy my dwellings, reconnect with my feelings, and try and knock over all the stuff my mind tends to wander to when I’m supposed to be working 😅
And so my things have been thus…
Writing and such
Writing has consisted mostly of boring stuff, aka. non-fiction stuff for work. My bread-and-butter writing isn’t especially exciting, but I must admit, it does bring some relief when I’m anxious or stressed. I suspect it’s because there’s no emotion in it, not like there is in romantic and dramatic stories.
None of my big fiction projects have seen much love in the last couple of months, but I’m working on a couple of short bits and experimental pieces. My “weird fiction” story got accepted for publication—yay! It’ll appear in the Autumn 2020 issue of the Kyanite Press journal.
There’s a teaser excerpt coming out in next month’s Dot Club. Plus more information on this blog real soon.
Tidying up my digital life
Which means closing accounts and retiring profiles I’m no longer active on. It’s funny how many things get “left open” out of FOMO or nostalgia or the fear that we won’t have it at some arbitrary point in the future when we might want it again. I’m in need of some proper cleanups at the moment, though, and that oh maybe approach is standing in my way.
As of today, I’m no longer on Wattpad, Noveltrove and Lushstories. Thank you, readers, for following me there. I hope you’ll continue to enjoy my work in the spaces where I’m active. Like this blog 😊
Health, fun & other vitals
Self-care means working on my goal setting and time management, as this is proving to be super important while trying to get all my adulting out of the way 😅 I’m also really enjoying nice smelly things (candles, soaps and oils) and delicious tea.
There must be something about this time of year that gets me doing stuff other than reading. It’s Djilba in these parts, according to the Noongar calendar, described as “a transitional time of year”. Now, I don’t know if that refers to people and emotions as well as the weather, but I’m certainly feeling a sense of flux.
Although, if you were to watch me through the window, it would appear I’m only fluctuating between gaming at the computer or bingeing Netflix on the couch 😅
Well, it’s not reading, at any rate, and here are the lovely books that are taunting me from my house-sized TBR:
Forbidden Storm by A.R. Vagnetti
Newly released and hot off the press, this is the long-awaited sequel to Forgotten Storm. This time, we track the escapades of sexy Kurtis (I loved him in the first book, but who doesn’t love a hot martial arts hero?) and the enigmatic Lucretia.
The Kyanite Press: Volume 1, Issue 1
This is one book I wish I had taken with me on my last plane ride. It features speculative shorts of all sorts, and knowing what kinds of stories Kyanite Publishing likes to collect, this would have kept me properly distracted on the long transit home.
The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole
This book was an insta-buy when I saw it on Instagram, which is a shame because I’ve since done some research and learned that Mindy Kaling is one of the audiobook VAs. Oh how I wish I got the audiobook edition instead, because I love Mindy Kaling’s voice! It’s not ridiculous to buy the audiobook of something if you already have the Kindle version of it, right? Maybe it’s time to dust off the ol’ Audible subscription…
Not Meeting Mr. Right by Anita Heiss
Sometimes I don’t know what I’m looking for until it finds me. That was this book, another insta-buy from an author I’ve heard good things about. I eagerly await a chance to get stuck into it, though if it’s as “Sex and the City”-esque as it sounds, I should probably load up on wine and snacks first.
Dirty 1st Dates: The Arcade by Harley Laroux
Harley Laroux is a top shelf smut writer. While a few of her books await me on my Kindle, this one in particular is bubbling to the top. The next book I read will most likely be this one.
Reverb: Live, Die, Rave, Repeat by David Fuente
Another insta-buy—everything about this book sounds like a riot. This bit from the blurb was what got me in the end: “Expect Sun, Sex and Sangria all mixed in with EDM, even more Sex and Narcotics.”
The Heart of the Deal by Lisabet Sarai
Lisabet Sarai has been on my reading list for ages, but it was the “Ruby and Rick compete for ownership of a strategic factory in Malaysia” bit that drew me to this book. Who says representation doesn’t sell?
Endgame by Aisha Tritle
They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but the circuitboard-styled skull really sold me on this. That and the techno-thriller vibes in the very intriguing blurb. I have a thing for guys named Alexei too, so that’s a trifecta right there. Oh, Kindle, my Kindle, we shall spend time soon ❤️
My mental health has not been amazing lately. It doesn’t feel right to complain about it, as I very definitely have nothing to complain about. I live in an area with very low COVID-19 case numbers, where we can walk around safely without other people wearing masks, where even our gloomy weather is quite beautiful.
I kept my job; my industry has not suffered immensely (touch wood); I have a roof over my head, a partner who does not subscribe to domestic violence, and friends who check in on me out of the blue. I’m under no illusions here: I am very lucky.
And yet, there are times where words escape me or I stutter and mumble even when I know exactly what I want to say, where even the simplest questions are too hard to answer, where leaving the house is too unfathomable, where everything seems pointless or contaminated even when I know it’s not, and I laugh at jokes I know I’d normally find funny even when I don’t feel the laughter building from within.
It’s irrational and it’s odd. I wonder if it’s neurological or hormonal or nutritional. I wonder if it’s the cold or vitamin D or protein or hayfever or cabin fever or emotional contagion from others. It makes sense to blame workaholism and burnout, but in reality, I don’t know. The anxiety and depression—they’re just there.
Sometimes this just happens; the tidal wave sweeps through me and I have to ride it out.
These are interesting times we find ourselves in. Though saddened by the losses from turbulent events over the last few months, I’m simultaneously thankful for the shake-up. I’ll refrain from addressing specifics here, because there’s so much more to say than what I can fit into this post.
But generally speaking, something was not right in the life we once called “normal”. I’m optimistic that we can dismantle the rotten parts and build something better, but seeing it all unfold still stokes my nerves. It’s frightening to see how desperately some still cling to the old normal in the face of such overwhelming need for change. I get that change happens slowly, and one can only hope it doesn’t happen so slowly that we as a human family end up needing an even bigger shake-up further down the track.
Well, anyway, here’s what my last couple of months have been like…
Writing, publishing and Camp Nano
Sunset on a Distant World is on a publisher’s slush pile. I’m not expecting to hear back for a couple of months, but all my heads, shoulders, fingers and toes are crossed and hopeful. In late June, I wrote a piece of “weird fiction” to submit to the Kyanite Press journal. Whether or not it gets accepted, I’m thankful for the chance to try a different genre. It came at a serendipitous time, as this type of fiction has some overlap with Project H, which I’m working on this month for Camp Nano.
A Twitter hiatus + my relationship with social media
Recently, I deleted Twitter from my phone. A dear writer/editor friend pointed out that reading so much for work can make spending time on an ephemeral text-heavy platform a bit of a mind-killer. And my experience for the better part of this year so far has lined up with that.
Within 48 hours of deleting the app, it felt as if a fist had unclenched in my brain. Within a week, I found myself more able to focus on tasks in front me, and give more attention back to goals and habits that had fallen by the wayside.
Twitter is like a massively crowded pub—shouty, noisy, and heaps of fun if you’re up for that. But there’s a reason I don’t go to pubs as often these days, and it’s not (just) because pints are now $15 in Perth. I feel more relaxed after my break, and look forward to taking a more laid-back approach to how I spend my time on that site. And on all the other social platforms.
For the time being, Twitter is staying off my phone, and I’m enforcing a “no scroll hole” policy on myself. I’ll still see your mentions and messages, but may not get the opportunity to reply in a timely manner. If you need to reach me, HMU on email or Instagram instead 😊
BLM and activism
In the past, I’ve shied away from anything labelled “activism”, because I’d always understood activism to mean a confrontational big-bang approach to driving change. But in the last few weeks, I’ve learned about quiet/introvert activism and what an activism toolkit might look like if overt protest isn’t something you can sustain. It includes the kind of stuff that could slot easily enough into everyday life, and helps keep the movement going between heated moments.
Let me tell you about the experience of writing my first book, Chasing Sisyphus. It’s a suspenseful sci-fi romance and, well, there was nothing romantic about how its story starts. The romance—the creativity—came later. But in the beginning, it was all about one thing: getting a book published.
Sometimes it’s our dreams themselves that prevent us from achieving them. I woke up one day and realised the approach I’d been using wasn’t working. If I wanted to achieve this seemingly impossible task of getting a book published, I’d have to try something different. This is the path I took.
As a hobbyist writer, I had the luxury of writing “whenever I was inspired”. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be because you can’t really control what inspires you. Getting a book published first means finishing a book, which means committing to writing on the busy days, the uninspired days, and especially when you hit a difficult point in your story that would otherwise turn you away.
To the writer who worries about artistic integrity: you’re not a sellout for “writing to market”. In fact, just a little more market awareness can sometimes make your writing a lot better. A good story is both satisfying for you to tell and satisfying for your readers to read. And to be able to produce work in that “goldilocks zone”, you need to know who your readers are.
The good news is you don’t even have to be super clear about this when you’re starting out. Even a vague notion of your audience can be enough to get you started. My vague notion that got me started? Romance readers and romance publishers.
I wasn’t even thinking about my story at this point. As a very inexperienced writer (and chronic over-thinker), I didn’t even know what kind of story I wanted to tell yet. But defining my audience—even though the definition was vague—gave me a solid footing. I actually had a goal now, not just a dream.
What do they want to read?
Initially, I only looked up major publishers and names I recognised. This was a fail. I found very little information about how I could query a major publisher successfully without adding more hoops to jump through.
So I started aiming for smaller publishers who were more approachable and who could publish books faster than the bigger players. It amazed me to discover that beyond the “big 5” publishers, there is a huge publishing market, especially in romance. Some publishers prefer certain subgenres, some only publish in certain subgenres, and some have firm guidelines for the types of stories they’re willing to consider.
So, here’s what my publisher criteria looked like in the end:
Must accept direct submissions (ie. not through an agent)
Must present a friendly and upfront manner on their website
Must be open to sexy stories of a medium-to-high steam rating
Must be clear about what they want (lack of clarity is the worst when you’re trying to learn)
Out of all the publishers that made my shortlist, only two had guidelines about story. And of those, only one of them got specific about things like sexual content, frequency and couplings. Their guidelines were the ones I used to help me plan my story.
Developing a viable story
I’m not ashamed to admit I wrote to a criteria and to a formula at this point. Many inexperienced writers (like I was) presume that such prescriptions leave less room for creativity. But in reality, they simply locked down certain parameters so I could focus on the really interesting stuff like worldbuilding and depth of character.
When it came to story planning, I kept things super simple with a chapter-by-chapter outline in a Google Doc. Then I divided those chapters into 3 acts, added a handful of genre-specific events (ie. when the characters meet, when they hook up, when the big climax happens), then finally, connected those dots with a story.
Then, I began to write.
Querying to the letter
When I finally had a submittable manuscript (thanks to feedback from generous beta readers), I began the querying process. For each publisher I submitted to, I followed their query guidelines to the letter.
Yes, it’s a lot of work to do this, and rightly so! Acquiring editors, like agents, are busy af. So at the very least, following their instructions shows we respect the people we’re asking to take a look at our work.
You’ll see this advice everywhere, but let me repeat it here: follow the publisher’s instructions. It could mean the difference between your email going to a human being or going into the bin.
The debut novel
Within two weeks of submission, the top publisher on my shortlist (the one whose content guidelines I based my story on) got back to me with an offer. From there, I followed their process, worked to their deadlines, and made extra effort to look up stuff I didn’t understand so I wouldn’t have to keep bugging them. Within a few short months, my book was released.
Once upon a time, I believed being an author and getting a book published would be a big scary ordeal. And, you know, it still can be. Writing a good story is hard enough when we don’t get in our own way. At least the process can be straightforward if we let it.
CampNaNoWriMo was a success. And by that, I mean The Dragon’s Den WIP is finally in a usable first draft state. It still needs so much research and revising before it’s even close to becoming a book, but I was very happy anyway and celebrated with a couple of new videogames (tell you about them in a tick).
The Basilica Conspiracy
The Dragon’s Den is book 2 of The Basilica Conspiracy, a sci-fi/retrofuture mini-series that follows the development of Rhys and Adria’s romantic relationship after they accidentally stumble on some business they weren’t supposed to see.
The first book, Chasing Sisyphus, came out in 2017 and while book 2 should have started as soon as book 1 was finished, now that I’ve reached this point in the WIP, I realise I just wasn’t ready to write The Dragon’s Den back then. The story was too complex, character motivations too intense, and my writing nowhere near strong enough to tell the story needing to be told.
But I’m ready now…I think. And after a short break, I’ll be starting the first proper revision of The Dragon’s Den as well as the first draft of book 3, Sins of the Other.
Sunset on a Distant World
…is back on the worktable after almost a year of sitting in a box. There are a lot of problems with the first draft, but a lot of interesting ways to fix them. There is a plan for this book and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with you when it’s done.
I hope you enjoyed reading about the revision process for It Starts With A Kiss, as there’ll be more where that came from. “Shop talk” is a new category of content I’ll be sharing in my newsletter and on this blog, talking about writing craft, mindset and “the trade”. I know most of you also write, so I hope you’ll find the information useful in your own creative endeavours.
So, the writing I started “for no reason” ended up as short story, Playing Trades. This 2000-word piece was sent out to my dear readers in the April/May issue of Dot Club, and has since been accepted into Crystal L. Kirkham‘s Where the Sun Always Shines Anthology, coming out soon.
There’s a new microstory going into next month’s newsletter. If you’d like to see it, you can subscribe on my website.
Oh, and I gave up on “MOAB”. About two-thirds of the way through, it stopped feeling right, so back in the box it goes.
Projects (still) on hold
Project D (yep, there’s another unnamed project floating around)
There’s a lot I can’t control right now, but also a lot that I can. Getting at least 20 minutes of sunlight a day is one of them. Drinking 2L of water a day is another. I still slip sometimes, but for the most part, minding these two things sets me up to be able to do other things. Like exercising and catching myself before I get too emotionally invested in ignorant hot takes on Twitter. Everyone handles stress differently, and where I can help it, I’m trying not to let some stranger’s stress tantrum become the reason I have one too 😅
Other self-care activities that have helped a lot:
Moisturising my forearms… Maybe I have a sensory thing going on, but supple forearm skin seems to be a real mood lifter 🤔
Nice smells. I’ve burnt all my smelly candles, but found a tiny vial of peppermint oil on a cluttered shelf, so we’re all candy cane country this month!
Curating my feeds. Nuff said.
Forgotten Storm by A. R. Vagnetti, after longingly staring at the paperback on my shelf for months.
True Refuge by Annabelle McInnes—I had to stop this one, as the incredibly powerful first chapter moved me more than I was ready for. But I’m ready to come back now.
I stumbled upon a blog prompt recently, asking whether online shopping was better than going to a physical store. The answer for me is obvious—online wins hands down. And since lockdown started, I’ve thought a great deal about how N and I could digitise (and possibly automate) our regular shopping routine.
Fancy a rundown of what we’ve been buying?
Matcha green tea
My favourite right now is ITO EN Matcha Green Tea Bags, available at only a couple of shops in my city. I got a bit worried after a week of lockdown, as I’d reached the end of my teabag supply. But fortunately, ITO EN has an Australian distributor 💃🏻💃🏻💃🏻 which means affordable, accessible matcha as long as I can receive mail.
Fun fact, all tea—black, green, white—comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The only difference is in the way they’re prepared. If a tea doesn’t come from that plant (eg. peppermint, lavender, chamomile), then strictly speaking, it’s not a tea—it’s a tisane or an infusion.
Matcha is a special type of green tea, finished off differently to other teas before harvest. And unlike with other green teas whose leaves get steeped in water, matcha tea leaves are ground into a fine powder. Which means you’re consuming the leaf matter when you drink it, taking in the brain-boosting amino acid theanine. (Though I’d be interested to know if those trace amounts actually make noticeable difference.)
I signed up for Dollar Shave Club after seeing an ad on Instagram, curious if the reality was as good as it looked in the video. I was very skeptical at first. What if it was no better than the crap razors I was already buying? What if couldn’t use them quickly enough? What if trying to use them quickly was environmentally irresponsible?
Good thing it was cheap to have a go, otherwise I’d still be buying crap razors today. Now every month, I get an email to tell me my next box will ship on XYZ date, and I can add/remove stuff if I want, or postpone that shipment to the following month. I was surprised by the quality of the product, surprised by how much it ended up reducing my shave-related waste, and surprised how big an impact the convenience had on my mental state.
That last bit astonished me the most. I never thought taking razors off my shopping list would amount to much, but having one less thing to think about was significant. It’s such a small thing, but I guess you don’t notice the load you’re carrying until someone finally takes it off you.
Once upon a time, I would never have dreamed about buying deodorant online, cos don’t you need to smell it first to see if you like it? But N and I were getting fed up with our old stuff. There’s something about ordinary deo that makes it start out nice only to suddenly turn horrible. Then it all stops working or makes us smell worse than before. Maybe we’re low-grade allergic or something. Who knows!
A few Instagram ads later (again), I decided to try NATIVE. Their “no stink” claim was a tall order, but I promised myself I’d make an effort to try new things. So glad we have it a shit. This deo blew my expectations out of the water. It smells nice, feels nice, doesn’t stink, doesn’t linger after a shower, and doesn’t defile my laundry.
Their website lists Lactobacillus acidophilus as an ingredient. Yep, that’s the same bacteria found in yoghurt and in your mouth, gut and VAGINA. I’m guessing this good bacteria eats the bad bacteria whose poos make us stink. While I also never would have dreamed I’d do this, it doesn’t freak me out that I’m spreading MAGIC VAGINA GERMS onto my armpits. I also promised myself a few years ago that I’d try to work with my body’s biome instead of against it, and this seems like a perfectly scientific thing to do.
Back in the old days, N and I would take a cheap and cheerful, low-key trip out to the country. Perth is a small city and you don’t have to drive far to reach a country town with its own culture and collection of cottage industries. While we’re out there, we find the nearest local soap-maker and do a big purchase. That soap stash ends up being the countdown to our next quiet weekend away. It’s our way of supporting a small rural businesses while being mindful and proactive about our relationship.
Of course, this kind of thing is out the window when you have to stay at home. So we ordered a batch from our favourite skincare artisan down south. It feels good having a bundle of handmade soap in the cupboard. They smell amazing and while sometimes it’s sad to be reminded of something you can’t have, smell is just…so visceral. For a split second, I’m back there and the mood’s all all sleepy towns, beachy walks and blue skies. I’m grateful to have the memory. I’m grateful to be able to look forward to it once all this is over.
Our home is tiny. We have room for two small wardrobes and a compact clothes rack. So we’re minimal on clothes, thanks Marie Kondo.
There are certain clothes we’ve deemed essential: socks, undies, basics and sportswear. We wear the life out of them most of the time, so we don’t think twice about buying what we want when we want it. Even at our most gluttonous, we still seem to accumulate (and spend) less than friends with more space and bigger appetites for fashion.
It’s harder to support small businesses here, balancing for quality, fit, comfort, price and durability. We default instead to familiar brands like Uniqlo, Cotton On and MUJI. I don’t think we could automate these purchases either, because clothing is such a personal decision to be made on the spot, even if you’re not leaving the house.
Last week, we set up regular orders of cat food and I think it’s gonna change our lives forever. Gone are last-minute Sunday “oh fucks” when we realise we’ve run out, followed by a mad dash to the supermarket at dinnertime rush hour, then coming home to a proper scolding from our hairy beasts because we’ve served them late.
And stress comes down to a chain of events, don’t they? First, it’s the “oh fuck”, then it’s the guy who almost runs you over as you’re walking to your car, then it’s the noise that greets you upon your return, and you don’t seem to be able to settle down for the rest of the night. And then it’s back to work on Monday.
Cat stuff plays a much bigger role in our lives than shaving gear. Having that looked after by an automated process and online controls should give us back the mental bandwidth for more satisfying things.
I do not miss the physical shopping experience
I’m very grateful to be living in a city and time where most things I could want are easy to get hold of. But I do not miss the sensory barrage that is the local shopping centre.
In my time, I’ve walked past police action, fist fights, screaming children, screaming adults, mysterious traces of blood on the floor, arctic temps, a larger-than-average human turd (yes, really!) in the car park, people who cough and sneeze without covering their faces, people who do cover their faces then proceed to touch common surfaces… Someone I know was even assaulted by a creepy random in a fancy supermarket in a fancy suburb. Luckily there was an eye witness and CCTV footage. She took the guy to court and got justice. But you know that for every one woman who gets justice, so many others do not.
Gosh, it sounds terrible to read that list back. Supermarkets are safe enough here most of the time, and worrying about this kind of thing is maybe a first-world privilege. But when given the choice of a practical, affordable and safer online option, you bet your sweet knickerbockers I’m taking it. Wouldn’t you?
So much can change in just a week. Australia’s “lockdown” began today. We’re at “Stage 1” and I don’t know if our government defines the stages the same way other countries do, but if Italy and France are anything to go by, it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. Let’s just hope “worse” means “strictly sensible” and not “utterly dire”. Our household is adapting swiftly, sans panic buying.
We’ve adjusted our social habits—a straightforward and painless process for a pair of introverted digital natives. Making up for the lack of meatspace contact, we’re reaching out to our friends more. Random hellos, how are yous, memes, banter. So far, so good.
Last week, we looked at our work circumstances and finances. This week, we’re switching over to socially distant online PT sessions and cutting back our supermarket visits.
I’ve had to pull out of the Perfectly Published Perth event, which has been postponed to next year. It would have been nice to meet readers and other authors around my city, but given the current uncertainties and the commitments I’m still anticipating, I didn’t feel right about locking in something so far ahead.
Writing is happening, albeit slowly. About Her may go live later than expected. I’m okay with this and hope you are too. Though I’m not mega stressed about everything going on, it’s been hard to focus lately. I’m managing to do like, 1-2 things per day. I’m sure it’s the same everywhere. I don’t want time anxiety while working on this WIP. And I don’t want my editor to have so much time anxiety when looking over my WIP. So yeah, nice and slow we go.