Word counts are tracking well

All things considered (ie. work, adult responsibilities, life admin), February’s writing effort wasn’t so bad. I know I had a little gripe about this back in January, but I did end up pushing myself for my own sanity after all.

It was less of a “publish or perish” thing and more of a “if I don’t get this story out of my head, I am going to become quite irritable” thing, which I feel is an arguably self-determining reason to push oneself.

Looking at the tally now, I managed to hit 10,000 words by about a third of the way through the month. That surpasses my entire January total. By midpoint the total reached 13k-ish words, and by month end it sat at an adequate 20k words as my to-do list took a more technical and admin turn.

It’s no NaNoWriMo and that’s fine, but it does boost my confidence somewhat for the upcoming Camp NaNo in April. A usable outline for Project Clay is on track. I’m daunted by this project, as it’s a first for me on many fronts, but I’ll talk more about that another time.

For now, I’m oiling my fingers and brain in preparation. Might as well keep that word count ticking to warm up 👩🏻‍💻

My three pillars of writing SFR

Confidence was never my strong suit, especially when it comes to writing. Sometimes it feels like the more I learn, the less I know. So now after years of writing and who-knows-how-many classes and courses, sitting down to write a draft fills me with anxiety like you can’t imagine.

Is that normal? No idea. But one way I try to work around it is by staying focused on the most important elements of this blended genre. This weekend, I’m visiting Amber Daulton’s blog to share my approach. Here ’tis:

Could you write so well that your infodumps are interesting?

I’m reading a book at the moment where the first two chapters seem to be one infodump chained after another, and yet they string me along with their colourful worldbuilding, unique character histories, and sudden bouts of compelling vulgarity.

Admittedly, I’m starting to get fatigued by having to mentally jump between so many points in time, but it’s not without payoff. The stakes feel rather high on the few key events driving the plot along so far. A house gets robbed. A guy washes his mother’s car and gets a job. And I find myself wanting to find out how these two arcs converge.

Are we wrong to turn our noses up at infodumps? Could they actually be opportunities to create art within art? Would we still refer to them by such a humble term as “infodump” if they evoked a spark of curiosity and emotion as powerful as the story itself?

Many questions, no answers, but perhaps something to try at one’s next freewriting session over tea ☕️

500 words is fine today

After giving up on writing over the weekend, I fired up the old word processor today and cracked out a healthy 500-word session. Granted, it took about an hour and a half, but I reckon I’ll use every one of those 500 words and then some.

500 is looking to be about my average for a reasonable writing session. That’s not bad considering about 3 years ago, I was aiming for 350 words. Last year’s NaNoWriMo saw me hit up to 2000 words per day, but numbers like that make it easy to hide the amount of planning, preparation and perspiration that goes along with it.

It’s hard to let go of the high-pressure unsolicited advice the well-intentioned “experts” will throw at you—that you should smash out a mega word count everyday otherwise how can you call yourself a professional writer? Maybe that’s the go for journalists and content mill bloggers, but maybe—just maybe—there’s also another way to exist? This is a big, diverse world with many ways to hustle. Surely “publish or perish” and toxic productivity narratives are on their way to becoming a thing of the past?

This year, I’m (practicing) giving myself permission to be okay with a lower word count (until the next NaNo challenge). Six years is enough time to observe that perhaps I do have a process that works for me when I lean into it. 350 words worked back when it was the season for it. Last year’s NaNo worked during NaNo month. And 500 words works just fine today.

The Genre Blender with B.K. Bass

Photo by Bruno Thethe from Pexels

B.K. Bass is a prolific storyteller, a professional editor, and a worldbuilding aficionado. For the last few years, his blog has been a go-to reference when I need to set my head straight on speculative fiction genres.

As far as I’m concerned, this guy knows his shit, and I’m very excited to have him here today to talk about the mechanics of combining genres.

The Genre Blender with B.K. Bass

When you think of genre fiction, what comes to mind? Likely, you may think of fantasy tales with swords and dragons, science fiction with aliens and starships, or a horror yarn with some unknown threat lurking in the shadows. Something even more specific may come to mind, like the grand scale of epic fantasy or the sociological analysis of social science fiction. Perhaps it’s something more personal, like the emotional tug of a romance novel or the intellectual challenge of a detective novel.

Many modern authors have a tenuous relationship with genre, and there are various views on the subject. Some feel genre defines their work, while others see it as a shortcut to describing it. “I am a fantasy author” is a statement that may only hint at the scope of an author’s work or be rigid guideposts defining the boundaries of it. There are authors who shun genres entirely, considering them unnatural labels that limit the freedom of their art form. Others see them as useful tools to shape a story with familiar elements that will appeal to an established fanbase.

There’s no right or wrong approach here, but there’s a few matters of fact that every author should consider. First is that almost no matter where you look, books are categorized by genre; be it categories on a website or shelves in a bookstore. Second is that many readers search for new books by genre. Once somebody gets hooked on epic fantasy, they’re likely to seek more of the same. If somebody has a craving for a murder mystery, they’re going to search the mystery category or shelf. No matter how the author feels about labels and genres, they are an important part of the journey of books into the hands of interested readers.

But they can be more than that.

Figuring out how to mash up different storytelling conventions could be the spark that leads to something completely innovative.

Genre is a toolbox packed with an assortment of devices that an author can assemble into a story that appeals to readers who are familiar with or interested in such devices. Medieval-inspired fantasy kingdoms complete with dragons and wizards remain a popular schtick, and you must unpack that traditional fantasy toolbox to get what you need to put that kind of story together.

But there is something that I feel is even more useful about genre, and that is finding ways to mix them.

There are many aspects of storytelling that define genres, and each genre has its own set of devices within that definition. While some genres are familiar due to the type of settings they occur in, others are recognizable by the types of characters, the tone of the book, the structure of the plot, the themes they explore, or even the style we write them in.

The empty space within each of these toolboxes is where things get interesting.

Let’s take two genres that are combined with relative frequency: fantasy and romance. On one hand, we have a genre almost entirely defined by the setting. Of course, there’s a lot of variation within fantasy fiction, but the fundamental aspect that defines it is a setting where elements of magic or the supernatural are genuine parts of the world. On the other hand, we can define romance almost entirely by how it approaches relationships between characters. So, here’s a splendid example where one genre fills one slot in the toolbox, while the other fills another. There’s no conflict between the two of them, and they fill in the gaps in each other’s repertoire.

Green eyes peer through a starry night sky on the cover of Beneath the Sleepless Stars by Charisse Nicolle
Beneath the Sleepless Stars by Charisse Nicolle combines an urban fantasy setting with a romance plot.

But we can do even more with that. Of the “big three” aspects of fiction, this example only covers two of them. We still must contend with plot. Now, there are romance plotting conventions we could use, or fantasy plotting conventions like the hero’s journey. But what if we threw something else into the mix? What if there was a murder mystery happening in this setting that our characters had to contend with? Now we have a fantasy romance mystery. There’s a lot going on, but none of the genres are stepping on the other’s toes. It’s like putting together a puzzle: all the pieces fit together perfectly to create the bigger picture.

This is just one example of countless opportunities to mix things up. Those who love delving into genres, like myself, may find this as a springboard for inspiration. Figuring out how to mash up different storytelling conventions could be the spark that leads to something completely innovative. Others, who aren’t fond of labels, might find this to be an opportunity to break the molds and ensure a single definition of genre doesn’t encompass their work.

And you might also find that readers love this stuff.

I recently published the last book in my Night Trilogy. Night Shift, Night Life, and Night Shadow are books built around this sort of genre mash up, and some of the most encouraging feedback I’ve received on all three books has to do with how they smoothly combine two genres.

Now, I’m going to preface this by saying that this combination isn’t entirely new. It was inspired, in no small part, by the film Blade Runner and the Philip K. Dick novel that inspired it: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? However, I endeavored to peel back the layers of those works to find what lay beneath the surface, and then pulled as well from those deeper and older inspirations to make the Night Trilogy what it became.

That out of the way, what is the Night Trilogy? It is a cyberpunk setting combined with a hardboiled detective mystery, although it shakes things up more and more as it goes along (but to avoid spoilers, we won’t discuss that). And why do these genres work so well together?

Night Shadow by B.K. Bass combines two genres that work well together — cyberpunk and hardboiled detective mystery.

Well, let’s look at what slots in the toolbox they fill. Like our fantasy example, cyberpunk deals with setting: a bleak future where technology rules our lives and capitalism controls the world. It also involves themes of socioeconomic disparity and humanity’s relationship with technology.

On the other hand, mysteries are more about the plot, as we discussed already. And the hardboiled detective is a specific subgenre that takes this plot and adds in a gritty, often cynical, protagonist (that is a brief explanation that hardly does it justice) and dark, introspective tone. So, each genre is checking off different boxes: setting and theme on one hand; with plot, character, and tone on the other. I also pulled inspiration for the writing style from some older hardboiled stories, like the works of Raymond Chandler, to further flesh out the atmosphere.

And as I mentioned, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Several reviews of the books have complimented how well these two genres work together.

Beyond this, the real fun can be picking apart different genres that don’t fit so seamlessly and make them work together. I’ve done several other mashups, including military science fiction with social science fiction and post-apocalyptic, flintlock fantasy with supernatural horror, and alternate history with cosmic horror. By removing or changing certain elements of genres to make them mesh, you may create something innovative and exciting. And this also casts a wider net to attract readers, as you won’t be just putting your book in one genre box, but several!


B.K. Bass is the author of over a dozen works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror inspired by the pulp fiction magazines of the early 20th century and classic speculative fiction. He is also a freelance editor with experience both as a publisher and editor-in-chief of a literary journal. When B.K. isn’t dreaming up new worlds to explore, he spends his time as a lifelong student of history, bookworm, and film buff.

Find out more about B.K. at his website and connect with him on Twitter. The Night Trilogy can be found via Amazon.

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.

Reviewing books is a bastard of a thing

Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

And many thanks to Nomad Authors for letting me share some musings on it.

Navigating the at-times murky waters of reviewing books has forced me to look more critically at the value of reviews.

I love getting a great review, and yet only rarely consider reviews when deciding whether or not to read a book. Perhaps it’s this ambivalence that feeds my anxiety about writing them.

Anyway, here’s the post. Any of this sound like your experience too?

Hobbies that feed my fiction

Throughout my life, I’ve been prone to minor obsessions (and many not so minor), some of which have been finding their way into my writing. I think the best part about being a bit of a hobby junkie is how much one can learn without it feeling like work.

It is work, of course. As they say, we never get to skip eating the shit sandwich, we can only choose the flavour it comes in. But if that sandwich happens to be a flavour we enjoy, then it seems appropriate to count our blessings.

So, here are a few of mine 💜💜💜💜

Birdwatching 🐦

Did you know that birdwatching is such a serious pursuit, they have a different name for the truly committed enthusiast? I’m definitely more on the casual end of the spectrum, though I do own a pair of binoculars bought specifically for this hobby. In our home, it’s not about snapping photos or filling out a catalogue. We just try to say hello to as many birds as possible when we’re out on a walk. Bonus points if we can identify the species, imitate the bird call, or whip out a fun fact on the spot.

We’ve had odd encounters with our local birds. They can be real friendly once they get to know you, and some just aren’t afraid at all as long as you seem non-threatening. We found an owl in our driveway a couple summers ago, staring at us like we were the weirdos out of place. Once, I sat for ages next to a cormorant who pretty much snubbed me the whole time (tbf he was probably asleep). And then there was that well-orchestrated bird heist

Anyway, even as just a casual hobbyist, this interest popped up in an early writing exercise. Birdwatchers, an erotic short story, ensued.

Book cover for Birdwatchers by JL Peridot

Martial arts 🥋

Up until a couple years ago, I studied a shōtōkan-based martial art with my partner and some friends. I originally got into it as mental-health management and body awareness practice, but ended up going as far as a brown-belt grading. Really, it was a “just for fun” grading, as I’d recently graded and was rocking a sprained ankle from something unrelated. A proper brown-belt grading would have flattened me.

I had a love-hate relationship with this sport, but learned so much from doing it. The experience of sparring was especially useful to the work I do now. It’s not the same as a real-life fight situation, and I only ever did it at a beginner level, but it gave me a taste of those on-your-feet things your brain thinks and registers when you’re in the moment.

Most importantly, it showed me the things you don’t take notice of. This dramatically changed my approach to writing action scenes, culminating in the fights that appear in Chasing Sisyphus.

Book cover for Chasing Sisyphus by JL Peridot

Partying 👯‍♀️

I spent my twenties as “one of the bad kids”, frantically making up for a youth squandered amidst strait-laced negativity and toxic conformity. I partied with a variety of goodies, sometimes every night, and today thank my lucky stars that a) it never hindered my ability to work and function, and b) I’m not biologically or psychologically predisposed to addiction.

Ironically, that lifestyle ended up being good for me at the time. It helped me unwind in ways I never knew how to before and helped me think about things with a different perspective. It let me develop some artistic confidence and practice self-awareness under unusual circumstances—both early-days skills I could take back with me to Sobriety City. It’s for this reason that I feel certain illicit substances shouldn’t be outlawed, but studied and regulated with care and pragmatism, and with a body of education developed around them.

I wouldn’t recommend this hobby for everyone—even a short stint of deep research will come with risks—but well, it was certainly a time in my past, and the experiences from it factor a lot into my writing today.

Arduino programming 🤖

For a brief period, I was very into microcontrollers. Arduino, to be specific. I’ve always regretted skipping the hardware units at school, thinking stuff like logic gates and resistance calculations would never come up in my work. Getting into this hobby filled a huge gap in my computer science education, which I’d never missed in my web development career, but definitely ended up yearning for after school.

The obsessive phase for this hobby was short, but I learned just enough of the concepts, principles and vocabulary to develop Celeste’s character for It Starts with a Kiss. Even though it’s a soft sci-fi romance that’s light on the tech, I’m glad I got to write an MC who talks nerdy like it’s normal, not too unlike many of the beloved nerds around me.


How about you? What hobbies scratch your itch right now? How do you feel when you see one of your interests appear in the books you read? If you write as well, what hobbies have played into your work? Leave a comment. Let’s chat ☺️

Should fiction writers talk about politics?

I find I don’t have so many opinions these days, more just feelings and questions. And one thing stoking these feelings lately is the idea that fiction writers shouldn’t talk about politics.

When I was a younger reader, I certainly wondered why on earth they would. Unless an author was writing contemporary political fiction, what would real-life arguments that no one seems able to agree on have to do with their work?

Then I started taking my own writing more seriously and realised, wow… actually, politics has A LOT to do with fiction.

Let’s set aside the idea of “moralising” or “sending a message” here. It’s kind of obvious this happens, and whether an author intends for their fiction to push an agenda is always down to the individual author and the piece of work in question. Also, this isn’t the thing I want to talk about today.

I want to talk about world-building. Specifically, how worldly mechanics and market forces help shape the setting of a story and drive the drama. Even in romance fiction, where the conflict is about how the MC and LI succeed or fail in answering the call of love, it’s stuff like politics, economics and social issues that offers fertile ground for interesting conflict to grow.

Take Sarah Smith’s Simmer Down as a contemporary example. If Nikki lets Callum nick her parking spot, her sales will drop, resulting in less income to support her family. Their conflict over food truck territory is ultimately an economic one. This novel may not feature US economic policy per se, but it does examine the impacts of capitalism on the individual, albeit in a super hot, sexy and entertaining way.

A glowing plasma ball
Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

Speculative fiction, by necessity, may include its fair share of politics, which I think stems from authors having to create an entire universe by extrapolating from real-world circumstances and events. Policy influences how people behave, decides how technology may be created and used, and deems what actions are acceptable when we want something we don’t have.

The effect is subtle in Pia Manning’s Star Brides series, where xenopolitics encourages the interspecies marriages that lead to romantic tension, giving us a taste of how humans and aliens might resolve differing ideologies within an intimate partnership. In my own work, It Starts With A Kiss, the romantic conflict occurs against the backdrop of issues surrounding industry automation and regulation of UBI (universal basic income).

But then there are stories where you also get to see characters actually do a politics. Stories like Frank Herbert’s Dune, A.R. Vagnetti’s Storm series, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight universe (the Volturi), and James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse.

But let’s get back to present-day realism.

We share this world. We are all connected. Sometimes we mean to be, but most of the time it happens by accident. The events of 2020 highlighted quite profoundly how strong our connections are, even when we can’t see them.

Politics (governmental or otherwise) is the means by which we negotiate the influences and resources within our world. It’s in the air we breathe, the water we drink, it even governs the ground we walk on. Just try setting foot in a restricted area and you’ll get a first-hand lesson in how your society regards “property ownership”.

If we’re lucky enough to be aligned with the dominant political and socioeconomic position where we live, we get to take it all for granted. That doesn’t mean we’re apolitical, it just means we don’t have to think about it all the time. We get to pretend we’re happy-go-lucky and stuff doesn’t matter.

If that’s not the case, though, then we remain almost constantly aware and conscious of the fact that everything stems from politics. We may never get the experience of not thinking about it.

A toy dinosaur sits atop a stack of books
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

The book on top of your TBR pile got there because certain worldly forces permitted it to be. Maybe you live in a place where books like that are allowed to be printed and sold. The author must have been afforded the ability to sit and write it, then to have it be published and distributed. And you were able to acquire it because someone somewhere paid good money for it to be at the right place at the right time. All of the forces that put that book in your hands were shaped by the negotiations in our shared world.

I daresay fiction writers must be aware of this, at least on some level, in order to write relatable and interesting stories. Even when we make the argument that fiction should be about helping readers escape from vexatious politics, writers must still create those places they can escape to. These places may not feature political conflict, but politics—in some fashion—will always be relevant.

Now, I don’t think fiction writers should necessarily talk about politics. But my feeling is there may be no reason why they shouldn’t, as politics are necessary to create an interesting world.

And appreciating how worldly forces have enabled me to sit here and write this post, I can’t help but wonder—how can anyone talk about anything without ultimately being political? 🤔