What I’m not reading — Mar 2021

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

I’ve been good this year. Somehow, I’m managing to read and get my work done, which has not happened so harmoniously in many years. However, while I’m chewing through a hard sci-fi and a sweet romance, my TBR is still giving me puppy-dog eyes. Apparently, one can’t just read today. One must read faster. Oh well~ 😪

Here are the little culprits currently gathering dust in the corner of my mind palace…

Occupational Hazard: An Anthology of Sexy Workplace Stories by Rebecca Chase

A lady in sexy corporate-wear on the cover of Occupational Hazard by Rebecca Chase

As much as I love a good long-read with complex storylines, I’m very keen on what I call “snack reads”—short stories you can enjoy with satisfaction within little pockets of time. That’s what drew me to Rebecca Chase’s 2020 release, Occupational Hazard, an anthology of six sexy workplace stories. Real-life smutty office moments may not be my thing, but steamy workplace stories certainly are.

Open to Love by Lyndell Williams

A woman in a hijab smiles while a bearded man smoulders on the cover of Open to Love by Lyndell Williams

Having just finished watching Vida, I’m in so in the mood for romantic drama and sexual tension, and expect Lyndell Williams’s Open to Love to deliver in droves. I mean, just check out that cover and read this blurb: “Faheem uses all his charms to make sure Hafsah becomes his, but flirting can be a dangerous thing when committing to no sex outside of marriage. The two play with some serious fire that might burn them both.” 🔥🔥🔥

Neon Hearts by Stefanie Simpson

A woman illuminated in pink and blue on the cover of Neon Hearts by Stefanie Simpson

This amazing book is coming out in a few days and I can’t waaaaaaait! Unfortunately, I shall have to wait, but that’ll just give me more time to get excited. Stef Simpson is an amazing writer with a tight writing style that carries so much feeling. She was kind enough to chat with me earlier this month about NEON HEARTS and her other work. You can check it out her interview here.

The Train Guy by Michelle Prak

Cover of The Train Guy by Michelle Prak: A woman pretends to look at her phone while really watching a man reading his book on a train

I’m not sure what to expect from this book, but I love that Michelle Prak’s The Train Guy involves longing from afar and time spent on a train (yeah, I like trains). Oh, and it’s an Australian romance, which means it’ll probably have that special Aussie cheekiness about it too.

A Lover’s Discourse by Xiaolu Guo

A woman's face shown through the silhouette of a bird amidst leaves and flowers on the cover of A Lover's Discourse by Xiaolu Guo

A Lover’s Discourse by Xiaolu Guo 100% won me over with its cover and serious, almost solemn, blurb. It struck me as an introspective love story and in my post-dentist high, I picked up the paperback immediately. Don’t shop for books while on drugs, kids. Or, maybe do…? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

The Queen’s Alliance (Kingdoms of the Ocean #1) by Jessica Gleave

A red-headed mermaid on the cover of The Queen's Alliance by Jessica Gleave

I should be good and press on with Jessica Gleave’s Sky Realms series, especially after finding such a gem of a fantasy romance in Helios and Zelena. But when I found out this author has a merfolk series too, my curiosity was piqued. Neveah will just have to wait. The Queen’s Alliance is the next Gleave book on my list.

Fresh Find: Neon Hearts by Stefanie Simpson

Today, I’m so very excited to feature Stefanie Simpson and her upcoming release, NEON HEARTS. She is without a doubt one of my top romance authors of all time. Everything she writes makes me reflect on life, people, society. Her books are thinking, feeling books, couched in her insightful perspective on modern romance.

Love isn’t neat. And Stefanie Simpson’s work captures this so very well.

Pink and blue lit promo for NEON HEARTS by Stefanie Simpson. Text reads: Danger brought love, but hope? 29th March

An interview with Stefanie Simpson

JL PERIDOT: Stef, I understand your writing journey is more like an odyssey. Tell us a bit about that.

STEFANIE SIMPSON: Thank you for having me on your blog, JL! I’ve been disabled for about 20 years, but ten years ago I had a TIA. Up until then I’d been a painter as well as working full time. I had to listen to my body and change how I lived and stopped fighting it.

What happened creatively was I could no longer paint, and as I recovered, I was flooded with ideas. I think my creativity shifted from a physical visual medium to one of words. I went back to work part-time and started writing.

In 2015 my health deteriorated to the point I thought I was possibly not long for the world. I had a real impetus through that to finish and publish something to leave a record of my existence in the world.

I made every mistake possible but through the last six years, I’ve learnt a lot. My approach is that I sit with an idea, think about it almost obsessively, and work through the scenes, all in my head on repeat, then churn out a messy draft. I do endless rounds of edits from big dev to line edits. Often I’ll sit on books for several months, rotating projects depending on how I’m feeling and how well I am.

JL: Tell us a bit about your latest book.

STEFANIE: Neon Hearts is pretty special to me. Writing disabled characters, especially ones that I share a commonality with, has been a long process to feel able to articulate that truth, and I’ve been working on Neon Hearts on and off for about four years. It’s taken on many different versions until I realised what I’d never done was explore acquiring a disability, in particular, a brain injury.

So I shifted the focus from being full suspense to suspense lite, where the action mainly takes place off-page. And what we see is a character exploration of self-love and acceptance through the dynamic of romance.

The hero is also disabled, to a point, and has facial differences through surviving a fire. This trope is not uncommon in romance, and I don’t like how it’s generally treated. It falls into a twisted beauty and the beast mentality, and that backwards superficial concept is usually dehumanising. So I wanted to have this guy who is very scarred and really handsome. He understands trauma and medical trauma, and I think it falls into hurt/comfort in many ways, where he supports the heroine.

 

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Most of the book is drawn from my experiences and existing knowledge of working in the medical sector for a decade, but I tried to get a relatively accurate approximation of how the UK legal system works regarding impact statements and liaison officers and how survivors move through and navigate the system. It makes people relatively inactive. The agency is in the choice to participate.

Bea often finds herself as an inactive protagonist because people have to do things for her, medically or legally, and she’s within a well-developed system one uses rather than dictates. It goes against most writing conventions, so articulating her form of agency within that was a challenge.

JL: NEON HEARTS is part of a bigger body of work, isn’t it? Actually, you have two main bodies of work. What should new readers know about them, and do you have a favourite book of all time?

STEFANIE: The key difference is that NEW CITY SERIES are novels or short novels, in third person and dual perspectives.

I started writing in first person as an exercise and ended up with a bunch of shorter works in single POV. I felt the need to distinguish them as slightly separate but akin with lots of character crossover, so went with A NEW CITY STORY as a spin-off series which also works completely standalone. They felt more immediate, and I think they work out kinkier as a whole series, though that wasn’t intentional.

I can never pick a favourite, it’s usually whatever I’m closest to at any given moment. So that’s NEON HEARTS right now.

JL: So, you’ve had these incredible stories in the works for years and if I’ve heard right, you’re nearing the end of the books you had originally planned? How are you feeling at this point?

STEFANIE: This has been increasingly difficult for me to be honest, my health peaks and troughs and this is the last book in this series, and there are some things I want to do for A NEW CITY STORY if I’m able. I say I’m retiring, but I don’t think I will, what I’m doing though is stepping back from this cycle.

I intentionally chose self-publishing because trad and many presses are not accessible to me. The accommodations I might require, and my health’s instability mean that I have to be flexible for my wellbeing. There’s a lot I can’t do that I’m told I’m supposed to, and it keeps my reach small, and that’s fine with me.

What’s difficult is that I’ve struggled with each publication’s stress versus returns ratio and taken steps back or paused or taken pressure off myself throughout this process, and I’ve been burning out for just over a year now. So to preserve my health, I’m getting off that roundabout.

I might get back on it, and I’m definitely going to keep working, but I’ll have to decide what that looks like when this is finished, but I want to see it out to say, this is what I’ve achieved. I’ll feel disappointed if I don’t.

 

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JL: Now, I have to ask—what has writing been like for you throughout lockdown?

STEFANIE: Pretty much the same as before! I’m housebound and require assistance if I need to go anywhere, and my husband is also my carer. He’s made the garden accessible for me so I can be outside more now.

Usually, we’ll take short trips to places, so obviously, we’ve not been able to do that. Being at home for very long periods is difficult, and the stress that goes with the circumstances is probably the biggest factor. I have lots of coping mechanisms for it, such as designating a weekly routine versus a daily one and keeping it flexible depending on my health.

JL: Finally, what is one thing you hope readers will take away from NEON HEARTS?

STEFANIE: That being disabled is normal. It’s ok. Disabled is not a dirty word. That we deserve love and happy endings. Disabled people are people.

Anyone can become disabled, and society is so fixed on its narrative of us, we’re immediately dehumanised and reclaiming that and making us visible and mainstream is monumentally important.

We’re often reduced to an inspiration meme to make non-disabled people feel better and what I hope comes across in NEON HEARTS is that finding our new normal and the best quality of life we can is important. How that manifests, and accessibility is a struggle, but nobody needs to overcome anything, other than ableism. We are not the villain, we’re not better off dead, and we don’t exist to teach non-disabled people a lesson.

I didn’t write this book with an abled gaze, it’s not important to me, I wrote this for me and other disabled people because giving disabled people a happy ending is radical.

Neon Hearts by Stefanie Simpson

Pink and blue lit promo for NEON HEARTS by Stefanie Simpson

Danger brought love, but hope?

Bea strikes up an online friendship with Josh, the mod of her disability support group, as she adapts to her new disabled reality after a serious accident. When the danger that’s dogged her for months closes in, she flees to Josh’s home during a terrible snowstorm, knowing he’s the only one she can go to.

Josh needed to cut ties with his security job and life in Chadford, to seek solace in the hills and valleys of home. His intense connection and friendship with Bea made him second guess his isolated life. He could protect her, but it would take him back to a dark place. Yet letting her go is impossible.

Being apart only makes them see how much they need each other, finding that they don’t have to be strong or alone. They are enough, disabled and scarred, and beautiful.

This romance contains a happy ever after.

Content warning. Depictions of medical care, including coma. References to past medical trauma. References to and a brief description of a car accident. Moderate threat and peril. Suspense-lite, mostly off-page references to crime. PTSD. Brief court case appearance. Challenged ableism. Strong language. Explicit sexual content, including a soft femdom dynamic, masturbation, oral, penetration including pegging.

Available 29th March. Preorder NEON HEARTS.

About Stefanie Simpson

Author Stefanie Simpson wears glasses, red lipstick and her wavy ginger hair in a long, asymmetrical style

old goth. 5 raccoons in a trench coat. anxiety. disabled. she/her. bites. taken. switch. smol dragon. TYPOS #romance #author. Filthy deviant harpy ♡

Status Update — May 2020

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.

Shop talk

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.

Short stories

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 H
  • Project D (yep, there’s another unnamed project floating around)

Self-care

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.

Reading

  • 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.
  • Also beta reading for some writer friends.

Recently finished: The Way Home by Stefanie Simpson. Night Life by B.K. Bass.

Watching

  • Family Guy
  • Parks & Recs
  • Luis Miguel: The Series—Diego Boneta is a snack, even with a mullet
Actor Diego Boneta holds a cigarette between his soft lips
Diego Boneta via IMDB

Recently watched: Devs (brilliant).

Playing

Recently on the socials…

https://www.instagram.com/p/CAEn942AIwS/

Status Update — Mar 2020

I haven’t been writing as much as I’d hoped. A week-long trip to Japan in the middle of February waylaid a lot of plans. In the days before flying out, I had my first major bout of pre-travel anxiety. Seriously my first since… say, childhood? Not even last year’s longer, less familiar UK trip did that.

It’s all this mania over COVID-19. I wasn’t scared of catching it, though. The WHO Situation Reports—just facts, nothing more—did a great job of curbing that stress. My fear was that I’d get caught up in some sort of racist panic on the way home and get sent to off-shore quarantine.

I mentioned this to a few of my friends, but I don’t know if many of them understood what that feeling is like. Heck, I never understood what that’s like until now. If I’ve ever had real actual racism levelled at me before, I sure wasn’t savvy enough to pick it. Live and learn, hey?

Getting home, having the customs officers be friendly and nice as I rolled straight through, and then seeing N waiting for me in Arrivals was such a relief. And this is me, a white-collar Australian person, having a smooth and comfy ride all the way back to my white-collar life in a multicultural city. I think about people who have it way worse; realise that no matter how anxious I get, I will never even begin to fathom how much more anxious they must be.

Well, I’ve been home a few weeks now. And despite the low word count, I’ve managed to get a lot done. Here’s what…

This blog looks different…

IT SURE DOES. In preparation for the new website, this blog now has its own home and a new theme that does what I tell it to. In case you fancied it for your blog, it’s called Uncode and was worth every penny.

The new website…

…is coming. The whole process reminded me why I love web and why I changed careers. But it’s coming, friends. jlperidot.com will look different soon.

The Dragon’s Den

After chipping away at this manuscript, I’ve finally hit that scene. Every manuscript has one—the one that’s been over-thought to oblivion and now I just can’t even. Focusing on web stuff has been a good break, but I’ve done my soul searching and am almost ready to come back to it.

Camp NaNoWriMo

April’s camp is only three weeks away. I was tempted to skip this one, because of how much still to do ahead of the big event in July. But I have some things I’d like to write. Short stories, manuscripts, other things… so hey, let’s go camping.

Short Stories

About Her, the follow-up to About Henry, is coming back from my editor this week, with plans to go live on 6 April 2020. Watch this space.

I’m also working on a new short story: “MOAB”. It’s not romantic and not erotic, though the protagonist does get to have a fling. It’s been a long time since I’ve written something that’s not a love story. I have doubts about this draft, but will give it my best shot and see what happens.

Projects (still) on hold

  • Sunset on a Distant World
  • Project H

Self-care

As of last week, I started working from home as a precaution, just in time for a minor COVID-19 scare upon finding out that a friend went to get tested.

We were only in our self-imposed lockdown for a day before she forwarded the all-clear, but it did bring to light a few significant concerns to be mindful of if lockdown becomes a thing in Perth. Getting enough sunlight, for one. And exercise. Checking in with friends. And playing games with friends, because it’s important to have fun.

I’ve started writing for no reason again. As in, writing without intent to publish. I may publish them if they turn out all right, but that’s not the goal at this point. Sometimes it’s fun just to see how things go.

Reading

Night Life by B.K. Bass. Heart Stuck by Laina Ruff. True Refuge by Annabelle McInnes. And The Way Home by Stefanie Simpson… hnnnng, I promised myself I wouldn’t buy her amazing-sounding new release until I finish all the Simpson books I already have (but there’s a very good chance I’ll cave and buy it anyway).

Recently finished: The Devil’s Work by Demelza Carlton. Dead Town by Anthony D. Redden 💀

Watching

Parks & Recs. You. Terrace House: Boys & Girls in the City (again). Family Guy. Broad City.

Recently watched: The Naked Director (so good). Devilman Crybaby (awesome soundtrack).

Playing

Merchant RPG (pixel-art crack). Dead Cells (wonderful art style; try a turret build).

Recently on the socials…

Fresh Find: Submitted to Housework by Stefanie Simpson — a free read

Loved this saucy and sweet flash story by Stefanie Simpson.

OK, so “saucy” is a bit of an understatement. Have a look for yourself…

I tapped the wooden arm of the bedroom chair, clicking my nails, watching.

The nude man on the other side of the room glided an iron across a freshly washed bed sheet. He neatly folded it and set it down on the perfectly placed pile next to him.

Bored, I got up, but he didn’t lift his face and started on a blouse. I stood next to him, steam rising, the smell of heated cotton and the vague scent of him close by made me want. I palmed his naked bottom, squeezing it, but he didn’t pause.

I leant right in, still feeling him. “You’re doing a terrible job.”

“Sorry, I’ll do better.”

“You say that every time. And yet you never improve. Bend.”

He hovered, the smallest doubt in his eyes as he turned his head slightly, but he obeyed. He held the ironing board and bent a little.

“More.”

His chest rose silently, and he went further. I pinched hard, making him tense.

“Ready?”

“Yes, Mistress.”

Read the rest…