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.
The next steps from here are:
A final proofread
The nerve-wracking beta
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.
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.
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.
When we are naked, I stop to take him in. His shoulders, his chest, the contours of his stomach—they are sinewy and strong, sculpted, perfect. His arms and legs look forged by a life of adventure, not writing alone in his room. I wonder if he lives the stories he writes. I wonder, will he write about us one day?
Then I realise he is watching me too. I blush, I think. I’m not sure. The room is not yet warm, but I am hot all over from his touch, his gaze. My posture closes. I don’t want to be modest now, but I can’t help myself. He rolls us over.
“Don’t be shy,” he teases, looking down at me. “I like what I see as well.”
How arrogant! I laugh out loud. It’s a burst of ungraceful noise, but the music continues and I don’t feel shy anymore. The bedspread is cool under my back; he burns above me. His hubris gives me confidence—this is a game, the good kind, just for fun. I won’t be trapped between the bed and his body. Not yet.
I push him upward. He falls back to his knees. I rise to meet him and kiss his lips, his soft and bristly chin, his neck. When I reach his collarbone, he shudders. He is ticklish. Ah, to manipulate his body with just a touch. His hands are at my shoulders, but he barely touches me.
It was meant to be a short and shallow steamy read. That’s what perplexes me about The Only Question That Matters: how it ballooned into a novella. The intention was a 1,200-word wham-bam-thankyou-sir flashfic, but while writing Sofia’s initial exchange with Alexei, little hints at her backstory kept popping up. I had to explore what got her on the AMS Celestial Dream in the first place. Why was her dinner date so important?
I’m not totally old-fashioned. I’m content with the idea of a one-night stand being what it is. But everything means something to someone. Everything we do is part of a bigger story. And we do things because they matter to us for one reason or another. It may be a small reason, like you’re antsy and need a fix. You can have your one-nighter and let it go, no problem.
But then how you go about it is unique to you; the way you flirt, make your intentions known, how you eventually pop the question. Those little decisions are a culmination of who you are, how people have treated you in the past, what you think about the person you’re with, and how you choose to express yourself.
It means something.
I guess, then, there’s so much you could say about a one-night stand if you wanted to. At the time, I didn’t think I wanted to. But the more I wrote, the more words kept pouring out of me. Sofia isn’t me, but she shares elements of my stories, and of the stories I’d collected from people who at some point in their lives loved too much, loved for the wrong reasons, loved the wrong person, not loved themselves enough, or not let themselves be loved.
Writing the first draft took three months. I was so immersed and consumed by this project, I think it brought on a mild bout of depression in the later weeks. Some of the songs on my writing playlist still hit me quite hard in the feels.
I think The Only Question That Matters may be the heaviest story I’ve ever written. I hope you guys enjoy it.
“The word falls out of him between breaths. He is drenched in sweat, and the heat emanating from him ripples the air around the surface of his skin. He squeezes my wrist, forehead resting on his other hand, shoulders rising and falling.”
Sofia is en route to Planet Paradiso, ready to start a new life after her divorce. But when she accepts Alexei’s dinner invitation on her final evening, she realises she’s in for more than she bargained for. As the AMS Celestial Dream arrives at its destination, and their one-night stand draws to a close, Sofia must choose between newfound possibilities with Alexei and the freedom she so desperately craves.
The Only Question That Matters is an emotional examination of healing and resilience through sex and love.
Thank you so much to Chase Horan for his unending patience with this cover. We went through two or three revisions until we landed on a style that would capture the mood of this book and the other books in the series—yes, series ☺️ More on that later.