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 💜💜💜💜
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.
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 inChasing Sisyphus.
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 life, 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 in life.
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 in my life.
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 ☺️
With Kyanite Publishing officially closing its doors at the end of 2020, It Starts With A Kiss will be pulled from bookstore shelves and online catalogues. If you’ve been thinking about getting a copy, now’s the best time to grab one, as I’m not sure when it’ll be available again after New Year’s.
Alternatively, if you fancy some snail mail from Australia (even though international postage is a bit poo), I’ve got a handful of paperbacks from back when I was planning on going to an event 📚 Just drop me an email and we can chat about it 💌
Thank you, everyone who bought, reviewed, talked about, and talked with me about this book 💜 I hope to share more stories with you soon.
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.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Perfectly Published Perth 2020 has been postponed to 2021. Regretfully, I’ll be unable to table on the new event date, though I hope to pop in as an attendee. Thank you to my Perth readers for your awesome support and encouragement while I’ve been preparing. I’m so sorry to let you down. If you’d like some bookish banter anyway, please always feel free to HMU on the socials 💜
Hey, lovelies! I’ll be tabling at the Perfectly Published Perth #PPP2020 signing event in July. This is a big multi-genre event, featuring authors from around Australia, all gathering at the Perth Town Hall on (hopefully) a lovely Makuru (winter) Saturday.
Come say hi and pick up a copy of It Starts With A Kiss, direct from my hands to yours. I’ll also have limited edition items for sale, which I’ll talk more about on instagram and DOT CLUB over the coming months.
Pre-orders are now open so you can secure your copy ahead of time (closes 10 June 2020). Confirmed early bird pre-orders come with a special gift, just a small thank you for helping me plan my table in advance!
Pia Manning is an author I like very much. She has a seasoned perspective and incisive way with words. Her latest Siren romance came out this year, but I wanted you to experience the Pia Manning universe the same way I did, from her very first book.
Pia has kindly donated to the giveaway prize bundle her debut novel and first in the Star Brides series, Star Brides: Procured. This is still my favourite of hers so far, because the elements of culture woven into her heroine’s experience of leaving Earth gently stroked my first-generation migrant nerves.
But enough about me, here’s what you wanna know about Pia and her lovely book…
JL: Tell us a bit about yourself.
PIA MANNING: I always find this the hardest question to answer. I love making a connection with my readers, but I don’t want to bore anyone. So, I live in the deep, dark woods of NE Wisconsin with my spousal unit, one spoiled dog and three rotten cats. I find I love the solitude and privacy living in the middle of nowhere affords, although it can be damned inconvenient at times. I began writing for real after a number of medical issues forced my withdrawal from the workforce. At the time, I viewed the diagnoses with a jaundiced eye. It wasn’t until later that I realized what a gift I’d truly been handed. Now, I get to do what I love every day.
JL: Tell us a bit about the book in the giveaway, Star Brides: Procured. What inspired it? What kind of world should readers expect?
PIA: Anis Warner is one of my favorite characters. She’s focused, determined, disciplined… Aaand then along comes Commander Dachar of the starship Talat… Procured is, if anything, about moving forward in the face of life’s unexpected transitions. We follow Anis as she struggles to assert herself in an ever-changing alien environment.
When I wrote Procured I was recovering from surgery and learning what that meant for my life. Like Anis, I needed to adapt to the boundaries that now framed my new normal. Developing Anis’s story helped me to realize how lucky I am.
JL: I love the way you characterise Anis as she gets to know Darchar’s culture. How important have you found culture to be in the way couples relate to each other?
PIA: Culture establishes expectations and points of reference for us all. When one half of a couple is thrust into a situation where cultural boundaries have changed and nothing feels familiar, all kinds of chaos can result. Sometimes those misunderstandings are funny, other times limiting and hurtful. There is a lot of negotiating and navigating necessary before they reach their happily every after!
JL: What kinds of things do you feel strongly about that you commit to including in your writing?
PIA: Portraying the unrecognized resilience and intelligence of women from different societies is a stream (Ok, maybe more like the Mississippi or Amazon Rivers) that flows through my books. Women have voices that should never be silenced. My women have no patience with culturally imposed limitations or stereotypes. Anis is a woman who knows what she wants. Is she frustrated at times? Yep. Does she make mistakes along the way? Definitely. But, she always strives to move forward despite every obstacle the Apochian world places before her.
5. So, Star Brides: Procured is the first book in a series. What are the other books like?
PIA: The other two books in the Star Brides universe, ‘The Meat Market’ and ‘Dept. of Corrections,’ explore what happens to society when women are mistreated and marginalized. In other words Karma is a… well, you know.
Both books are also about second chances and redemption. In ‘Meat Market’ our Zuntx warriors return to find their planet in shambles. They and their newly acquired woman, Tamsin, start over on the frontier of a newly colonized planet. The trio are now forced to work together to survive. Before joining her warriors, Tamsin had worked as a very underappreciated and underpaid server. On their new world, Tamsin finds her voice. And the boys find it in their best interest to listen!
In ‘D of C’ Kadir (you’ll meet him in ‘Procured’) returns to Zuntx with former inmate, Janine. Sentenced to a length prison sentence for a crime she absolutely did commit, Janine is in need of a second chance at redemption. Kadir and his warriors are not ready to give up on their home. Together, they dig in to make their menage relationship work and change some things along the way.
JL: What sort of stuff do you like to read?
PIA: My guilty pleasure shelves include erotic romances, murder mysteries- with or without a touch of paranormal, surviving the apocalypse stories, scifi/fantasy and paranomal/horror stuff.
JL: Any parting words for readers?
PIA: Go forth and read! Or write as the mood takes you. Explore, make your mistakes. Just don’t stop moving forward in some way!
An assistant, a crafter, an essential oils boffin and a mum, Handmade Gems creator Gemma Sismey must surely be a time wizard to fit all of these things into her day.
But no, she tells me. She’s just got a knack for planning and an insatiable love for her passion projects. Her lovely handmade work is included in the giveaway prize bundle. Read on to learn more about this clever lady and her craft.
JL: Tell me a bit about yourself and what led to the creation of Handmade Gems.
GEMMA SISMEY: I have always done arty and crafty things, at school, college and uni, whilst it isn’t (yet) my full time job, that’s the dream. I have a very busy desk job for my 9–5, so I guess I feel the pull to do something creative with my spare time. When I became a mum it gave me something to do that was mine during the few nap times there were. I also loved the idea of my son wearing things I’d made and a hand made gift for others always means so much more.
JL: Where do you get inspiration from?
GEMMA: Whilst I try to cater what I make to appeal to as wide a range of people as I can, I love very natural and classic looks, a bit of old English country style which is a product of my Dorset upbringing no doubt! I love florals, wood, animals and nature prints. I’m an avid pinterester and use my train journeys to check out new ideas.
JL: What does a typical day in your creative life look like?
GEMMA: I’m a natural over organiser and planner (hence the day job of being an assistant) but it means I spend a lot of time thinking through what I want to make, what the end product would look like, etc.—likely also because I don’t get a lot of time to myself, I have to get right to business when I do!
JL: Tell us a bit about your obsession with essential oils. And what does your home smell like right this second?
GEMMA: I first came across essential oils about three years ago. I wasn’t in the best place emotionally following the birth of our son and a good friend introduced me 😊 I have grown my collection over the years and now myself and my family use them daily to support our general well-being. I literally couldn’t be without them now!
My favourites for diffusing during the day are citrus oils as they are very uplifting, wild orange, tangerine. Otherwise lavender and vetiver at night to help us sleep.
JL: What’s your all-time favourite love story?
GEMMA: I absolutely love the classics. Pride and Prejudice and The Importance of Being Ernest are my faves… Does Dirty Dancing also count?
(I reckon it does.)
Enter the giveaway!
Two lucky giveaway winners will receive a Handmade Gems zipper pouch, along with a bumper prize bundle with wares by Renée Botman and More Sundays Please, fresh and awesome Kyanite reads, amazing romances by Skye McDonald and Pia Manning, plus a signed paperback copy of my latest romance, It Starts With A Kiss.
My relationship with paranormal romance is long and strange. I think it’s because I liked it so much in my teens, that it feels like a chain that tethers me to a tumultuous time in my life.
Well, now in my late thirties, I’ve decided to just embrace it. And Forgotten Storm, by fellow Kyanite author A.R. Vagnetti, seems like the right place to start.
JL: Tell us a bit about yourself and your latest book, Forgotten Storm.
A.R. VAGNETTI: I’ve always been an avid reader, especially in the romance genre. As a teenager, I devoured second, sometimes third hand, Harlequin romances from my family, and then when I started buying my own, I graduated to romantic suspense, loving the intensity. Until I found my passion; paranormal romance. I wrote my first novel in my twenties. It was a romantic suspense. It was so horrible. LOL I threw it in the back of the closet and walked away from writing for a very long time.
It wasn’t until about 3 years ago; I picked up the proverbial pen and wrote Forgotten Storm. The first book in the Storm Series, Forgotten Storm, is about Nicole Giordano. A young woman who struggles to overcome an abusive past until the exotic man from her dreams appears on her doorstep and forces her to battle her fears, accept a destiny foretold in an ancient prophesy, and trust him with her heart, but facing her malevolent father isn’t Nicole’s greatest challenge; suppressing her dark desires for Logan could shatter her one chance with the vampire who claimed her soul.
JL: Where did the idea for the story come from? What elements did you draw from real life?
A.R.: I wanted to write a story that had all the elements of a paranormal romance, but I also needed it to convey a deeper meaning. How to let go of whatever crap life has thrown at you and take a risk; to trust.
Trust is something I’ve struggled to deal with since I was 12 years old because it was stolen from me. Forgotten Storm is about a courages woman who never gave up, continued to fight and deal with her issues in whatever way she could; combat, pain, coffee. LOL. But most importantly, Nicole learns to take the leap of faith and trust a vampire with her battered and bruised heart. I relate to Nicole, and I’ve always maintained she is me times 10. She’s everything I’ve been and hope to become.
JL: What were the easiest and the hardest parts about writing Forgotten Storm?
A.R.: I guess I would have to say the easiest parts were the times I was “in the zone” and the words just flowed like a waterfall. A whole day would pass before I would finally come up for air. Those were the times I enjoyed the most.The hardest parts, besides the dreaded marketing, were capturing Nicole’s most vulnerable moments. The way she uses sarcasm to keep people at arms length, the paralyzing fear of emotions, hers and others.
But I think the most difficult scenes were when she remembered her past. Those were powerful and heartbreaking. I remember at one point, tears streaming down my checks as my fingers flew across the keyboard. After, I was so drained, I just sat there in my office staring at nothing for long moments.
JL: They say one of the great things about fiction is that it gives us a safe space to figure out how we might deal with the things we encounter in everyday life. What are your thoughts on the role of romance fiction in this context?
A.R.: The great thing about romance fiction is in every book you get a little education on what not to do in a relationship. *smirk* You learn that communication is key and burying your head in the sand, overreacting, or jumping to conclusions only escalates the problem. I think most romance novels touch on these elements. Relationships would probably run a lot smoother if more men read romance. Hahaha
JL: Is there much similarity between what you like to read and what you like to write? What are some of your favourite books that have influenced your style?
A.R.: Oh absolutely! Paranormal Romance is my go-to genre to read. The very first one I read was “Dark Lover” by J.R. Ward. It was the first book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood Series and I fell in love with vampires. After that is was Kresley Cole’s Immortal’s After Dark Series. I must confess, I did read the Twilight books and there were numerous things I loved about them and several things I hated. (No fangs and sparkles to name a couple), and last, but certainly not least, since it’s one of my favorite non-vampire paranormal romances is Darynda Jones’ Charley Davidson Series. (Little secret, I’ve read the series twice.)
JL: Finally, what’s your all-time favourite love story, and why?
A.R.: Funnily enough, my favorite love story isn’t even a paranormal romance. LOL Hands down, it’s The Stark Trilogy by J. Kenner. The intense passion between Damian and Nikki captivates you from the very beginning. The personal demons they must overcome reminds me of Nicole and Logan in Forgotten Storm.
Just five minutes chatting with Renée Botman reveals so much about her passion for a salt-of-the-earth way of life. She’s a seamstress by day, florist by other times of day, a fresh-baked mum, and some WA country town’s future treasure.
Her handmade homewares are darling, Nanna-inspired pieces that have evolved a lot over the years. I’ve had the pleasure of smelling almost every ream of fabric that’s entered her workshop, and I must say, they smell so wholesome. In the short time we were desk buddies in a shared office space, I got to watch her agonise over choosing supplies and suppliers that live up to the quality promise of her brand. And I just had to share this with you.
Let’s take five minutes with Renée…
JL: Tell me a bit about your background and career, leading up to you creating the RB label.
RENÉE BOTMAN: I studied Interactive Multimedia and Film & TV at uni and started my career as a graphic designer, which I loved for years. After a while though, I found I was no longer in love with the client work aspect of the job and it was time for a change. I’ve always loved sewing and textiles and being able to use my graphics skills to make my own patterns & products felt like the natural next step.
JL: What inspired you to create RB and what’s it been like getting established in Perth?
RENÉE: The short answer is, my Nanna. I started sewing by hand when I was about 4 years old, taught by my mum’s mum who was a seamstress all her working life. The first things I ever made were simple clothes for my mum’s Barbies that Nanna kept at her place, made out of colourful scraps of material from Nanna’s fabric stash.
The market scene in Perth is great for getting established as a small maker, I think. It can be trial and error to find out if your right demographic are attending the markets you’re working, but persistence pays off and once you find the groove, it can work wonders!
JL: What’s been the most challenging hurdle you’ve had to overcome in getting RB off the ground?
RENÉE: Making my products completely natural and biodegradable and using top quality fabrics is the cornerstone of the RB brand, and something I’m very passionate about. Finding haberdashery items such as threads, elastics and zips and even batting that are not at least partly synthetic has been a challenge and has meant ordering my most basic of supplies in from other countries at times. In the last 18 months, however, I have been pleasantly surprised to find the products I was buying from overseas, and even better options, become available through my local suppliers.
JL: How have your RB skills translated to the challenges of motherhood so far?
RENÉE: Well, being able to make matching things for myself and my daughter Imogen brings me no end of joy, so there’s that, ha ha, More seriously, though, being used to searching high and low for the right materials to make my products made finding sustainable alternatives to more modern, plastic and synthetic based baby products a breeze, meaning I could help make my mothering journey as sustainable as possible.
Also patience and perseverance. Whether I’m trying out a new market or prototyping a new product I often have to try more than once before it worked out or felt right. Motherhood and babies can be very similar, sometimes you’ve just got to keep plugging, or change your approach a couple of times before it feels right or it sticks!
JL: What advice would you give to young creatives starting on the journey towards their dreams?
RENÉE: Stick with it! Especially the vision you have for your products or art. Let me give you an example…
Using all natural materials and top quality fabrics mean that my products often fall into a higher price bracket, and at times I’ve questioned if it was necessary for me to lower my prices to what they were expecting. Thing is, what they were expecting when I said “handmade”, it means “designed here in Perth and handmade by someone who is likely being exploited”, not “handmade by me right here in WA”.
And when I say that my fabrics are top quality and include linens and other quality fibres such as hemp and organic cotton, what I mean is that all my fabrics are fair trade or made in countries with fair work conditions. But this, again, isn’t necessarily what the customer is expecting.
So by refining how I package, advertise and talk about my brand and my products I can let my customers know that what they are buying is something unique, considered and made, in a sense, the old fashioned way, to last a lifetime! Now sure this won’t be for everyone, but it is for my demographic. I stuck with my vision, and refining my message and how I talk about my brand helps me find them and them find me!
JL: What’s your all-time favourite romance?
RENÉE: I’m going to be a sap here and say the relationship my husband Chris and I have is my favourite romance! He’s my best friend, we share the same sense of humour and the same whimsy about the world. It also helps that we’re both nature loving homebodies, so even a trip to our favourite park with a flask of tea can feel like an adventure.
Other than that, I’m a total sucker for a Rom Com, any of them, really, but if it’s British so much the better!
I’ve been terrible with falling into rabbit holes this year. When my mind fixates on things—projects, drafts, games, etc.—I tend to shut myself off and not post as much as I’d like to. Left unchecked, the habit can fall away entirely, and then I’m just an unshowered recluse in a suburban study.
Well, I promised myself I’d try to be a real actual professional writer this year, so here I am, attempting a somewhat structured blogging schedule 👍
Book 2 of The Basilica Conspiracy, The Dragon’s Den, is in the second-draft planning stages, following a thorough review of the first draft (read: crying and eating chocolate). I don’t fancy the chances of completing this manuscript before new year, but the story, the characters and the underlying conspiracy are coming together quite nicely. Would you like a sneaky peek? It’s rough, it’s first drafty and may change, but here it is:
I’ve also been working on a story I can’t talk much about yet, as it’s still in the primordial stage. I’m about 70% through an early outline, and I promise I’ll tell you more about “Project H” as soon as I can.
This website has a redesign on the way. Yes, another one. A good friend asked me why I don’t use some of my old skills to try and do more than what WordPress can give me. I haven’t been able to get the thought out of my head since she said it. She’s one of the most highly respected web developers in my city and an internationally recognised industry face. If she believes in me, I feel like I can believe in me too. So, yeah, some webby things may be on the horizon.