Semi-socialite

In an attempt to fix those annoying tech issues, I deleted all the social media apps from my phone only to have the subsequent experience (and rest of the internet) tell me it’s not enough—a factory reset would be imminent *DUN DUN DUNNNN*

So I was happy to drag my feet a bit, and found one pleasant side-effect of being app-less. It was only for a few days while work and other commitments pushed the phone reset lower down the priority list. But I found I could focus better on writing and reading.

That “hooked” feeling I’d get from feed scrolling transferred to books and I am so very pleased. I’m getting to stuff that’s been on my TBR for ages, approaching my work with a clearer head, and the weird thing is I’m not even going cold turkey on social media. I just don’t have the apps on my phone right now.

Actually, wait, those are only half-truths. I’m on a “feed restricted diet” right now too 😛 I get five minutes each of Twitter and Facebook a day (unless there’s something undeniably work-related I need to take care of). And now that I’ve reset my phone, I’ve put Goodreads back on there—but you could argue that Goodreads isn’t really a social platform, it’s more like a beefed-up logbook of stuff you read.

I wonder if it’s the combination of convenient internet-enabled devices and engagement-centered design that creates that dangerous combination. When you sit at a computer to do something, you have to sit at the computer to do the thing. But with a smartphone, you can not only spend your precious micro-minutes, but the extra tax of context-switching too.

Or am I the problem? Do I have poor executive function and self-control in the face of digital temptation? 🤔

At any rate, my phone is running smoothly and I’m okay with being a bit less twittery and instagrammy at the moment. My manuscript is running on schedule for now. And I’ve finally been able to pick up Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan and B.K. Bass’s final book in the Night Trilogy 😄

Photo by arvin keynes on Unsplash

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.

SUNSET sits at 70k words

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.

Me, a donkey, chilling in a hammock after writing 70,000 words.

The next steps from here are:

  • A final proofread
  • The nerve-wracking beta
  • Researching agents
  • 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.

The importance of stories

Hello from a very swift and sudden 4-day lockdown in Perth, following the discovery of a community-transmitted case of the COVID-19 delta variant in our city. Our State Gov doesn’t muck about. They picked up on the case last night, made the call, and let us all know via a press conference last night.

It’s been interesting observing the news and people’s reactions to things like this. There’s so much distrust and worry, not just around this situation, but built up from situations in the past, and compounded with fears around other things that are wrong—things that may continue to go wrong because it looks like no one’s doing anything about it. There’s a Here & Now side of me looking to find manageable, sustainable actions that I can contribute towards making a difference. There’s also a Helpless Observer side of me who deals with these things by taking notes and writing stories about situations turning out okay.

Stories are so important, I’m realising, and writing scifi and romance fiction at a time like this no longer feels like a frivolous pursuit—I mean, it could be, but it doesn’t have to be.

Map of the Whadjuk Boodja south-western Aboriginal country in Western Australia. Taken at WA Museum Boola Bardip, 2021.
Map of the Whadjuk Boodja south-western Aboriginal country in Western Australia. Taken at WA Museum Boola Bardip, 2021.

One thing that followed me home after visiting Boola Bardip was an idea of the important role stories play in capturing history on the ground. Facts and figures are useful, but they’re not infallible. They can be diluted, reinterpreted, misrepresented, and misapplied, particularly if they’re cold, hard and dry. They are not the immutable trustable truths we’d like to believe they are. Perhaps if we were machines, they might be. But we’re human. And we can’t help but wield cold data the way humans will—for our own purposes. In a way, facts are stories too, but of a different kind.

Stories, and the emotional messages they carry, help us relate to actual experiences of those facts. Writing fiction, therefore, seems like a radical act of preserving history, encoding elements of the zeitgeist between threads of fantasy and fancy in world-building, plot events, character development.

At least, that’s what I’m telling myself on Day 1 of this lockdown, as I pace between my study and fridge, shop for more flat-nose-friendly face masks, and procrastinating on my novel WIP.


About Henry: A Novella drops on Friday. Preorder it now to have it delivered to your Kindle. Or grab a review copy while they’re still available. (Whoever I one day hire to review my sales & marketing will probably yell at me for this exact thing I’m doing here 😅)

Being busy happens when life makes plans for you

I reject the idea that being busy is a badge of honour. If anything, being too busy may be a sign that we’re not being kind enough to ourselves, giving ourselves time to rest, which is hardly something to brag about even if it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

We may not mean to be busy, yet life happens and we end up that way. Maybe in our pursuit of meaning and happiness, we took on one too many enjoyable things and overdid it a little—or a lot. Or maybe we got caught up in the hidden tasks, the unpaid labour, the little extras that project managers need Gantt charts for.

That’s certainly how my last few years materialised, anyway. My rearview looks like a long, dark tunnel, stretching so far back that I can barely see the pinprick of light at the entrance. But the road ahead looks brighter. April has been a raging nonce of a month. A heap of big, demanding long-term projects converged at once, which was intense but came with the silver lining of getting them all out the door.

Actually, no, they’re not quite out the door. At the moment, they’re still in the foyer putting their shoes on, but it’s progress and I feel better for it. I’ve caught up on a huge backlog of filing and admin as well, and am now getting closer to catching up properly on email, unsubscribing from ancient spam, et cetera. It’s been a productive time, even with all the recent pandemic business that’s been going on in Western Australia. Looks like when things go awry, I deal with it by buckling down, focusing local, and taking comfort in things I can control. It’s left me with room to rediscover things I love that I’d let fall by the wayside.

This week, I’m working on “Sunset”; I’m working on a novella release of About Henry; I’m working on maintaining work-life balance as we head towards the light.

And it feels good.

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 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 ☺️

Status Update — Jan 2021

It was SO warm last week. With temps in the high 30s—even cracking 40 a couple of times—my homebody self has been uncharacteristically eager to go out just to enjoy 15 minutes of air-conditioning in the car. We had a little reprieve over the weekend, and despite predictions of the days climbing back up to 40, we seem to be back in the gorgeous Celsius bracket of first summer 🥵 According to the Noongar calendar, this is Birak.

Warm days generally adds an extra struggle factor to writing. This is the kind of weather to spend being restless, agitated, out and about instead of sweating away at a desk. But I do love it. And I’m trying to work better with the seasons. For example, we just started keeping our water filter jug in the fridge.

I know. Genius, right? 💁🏻‍♀️

This month, I’ve committed to getting just one WIP past the post. Surely focusing on just one thing means it’ll get done, because that’s exactly how life works 😅😅😅 It’s a sci-fi romance short story that’s been bouncing around in the ol’ coconut since November. And in case you’re curious, I’ll leave off with a wee snippet from Instagram:

A subroutine pours a drink for Roxy. Tanith studies the arc trajectories of particles as they slosh and swirl against the glass. So realistic. The latest patch to the Garden has all but eliminated the uncanny valley that reminds her she belongs to a different world.

Red wine spills into a glass

The pain you choose

There are only 26 days left until the new year. I don’t know about you, but this winds me up a bit, especially when I think about all the things I meant to do since January, but haven’t done yet 😬

Self-pressure is not the greatest thing, but I saw this quote yesterday:

“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.”

— Jim Rohn

It makes me question which kind of pain I’ve embraced this year, and which kind I’m now facing as we count down our sleeps to the end of the month.

I have many regrets about this year. Like the unfinished WIPs I need both hands to count. I regret the times I stressed over how many there are—to the point where I couldn’t muster the energy to just start working on one. I regret taking on so much work and letting everything get unmanageable. I regret neglecting self-care and mental health matters. I regret worrying so much about stuff that just wasn’t that important in the end.

I know I have workaholic tendencies. But doing more work isn’t the same as being disciplined about work. So, lesson learned, hey?

I’d like to be able to say, “Next year, I choose the pain of discipline,” but it’s never that easy. This isn’t the sort of choice you make once and live happily ever after. It’s a choice you have to make, over and over again, every time you hit that fork in the road between The Thing You Gotta Do and Some Other Thing.

Well, here’s to making better choices in 2021. It’s hard to feel too bummed when you still have the power to change.

Project 365

Follow my Project 365 on Instagram.

Back in September, when I was super stressed and anxious about a lot of things, I remembered an old social media photo challenge. It’s called “Project 365”, where you post a photo a day for a year. People still do it today, though it doesn’t seem to pop up as often as it used to.

When last I tried it, I found some much-needed perspective on the life I was living at the time. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees, and it takes something big (like 365 photos) to finally bring the landscape into focus. I saw the traps I kept falling into. I discovered what was making me unhappy, and from there, I could make changes.

A 3x3 Instagram grid of miscellaneous photos
Follow my Project 365 on Instagram.

I’m on Day 68 now and it’s been great so far. I feel connected to my surroundings and a sense of ownership over my choices and activities, though if you’d asked me before if I felt disconnected, I probably would have said no. Maybe it’s a case of not realising what we’re missing until we find it.

Just under 300 days to go. I wonder what else will come up along the way.

If you’ve ever done a 365, I’d love to hear about it. How did you find it? What did you get out of it? How did you feel by the end? Leave a comment or send me an email if you feel like sharing!