Journal, Writing Discussion


Well it was back to the 3rd draft of my gothic novel. Draft 2 was a complete rewrite and I was a bit terrified to see what I had to work with this time around. It was a relief to find that the plot is mostly working, but it took more time than I expected to get back into the swing of it.

Momentum really is a thing. Taking 6 + months away from this story meant that it took almost all of June before my subconscious started cooperating on this story . By that I mean: random lines, dialog, and character improvements started coming to mind, and I was no longer preoccupied with the previous book I’d been working on.

But also it’s summer and I’ve got a bit of travel interruption coming up. I hope I don’t lose it.


Sometimes reading feels like eating vegetables (good for me, but I’m not always in the mood), but every once in a while you can find a streak of books that are  just what you needed at that time.

This month was heavy on the romance, so it’s time for some random craft analysis…

CRAFT TALK TIME – Creating Romantic Chemistry

In terms of plot, romance can be a very powerful story tool: a way to raise the stakes, and make them more personal. Falling in love with another character, or beginning to care for another character deeply should always change something in both the external story, and the main character’s personal motivations.

Sometimes romance is just a B plot, but if it’s the A plot, then the two main characters should be thrown together in every chapter or think about one another in each chapter, because that is where the main tension comes from. Maybe they weren’t planning on running into each other, but they do (tension). Maybe they don’t want to see each other, but they do (tension). Maybe they do want to see each other, but they can’t (tension).

But how do you get people  to believe that two characters are made for one another? Wow romance writers do a lot of psychological heavy lifting. Translating a nebulous idea like compatibility into something concrete is difficult business, and I find that non-romance writers sometimes cheat and use physical attractiveness as a shorthand for compatibility. My favorite take is when it feels like something about the other character just does it for the other. When it’s combo of personality and physicality, and it feels like personal taste — that no other person could ever be a better fit for the other (Roni Loren is very good at this).

I’m not an expert, but I’ve observed three components that make character compatibility feel realistic:

A) Strong physical reactions and observations. For example, ‘his hand was hot on her back’, ‘she could almost feel his eyes tracing across her lips’. Even if the characters are confused, or perhaps may not realize their attraction to one another. (Alyssa Cole  and Stephanie Garber do this brilliantly.)

B) Complimentary character traits.  For example, he is a snob that only respects a superior mind, and she is clearly brilliant, willing to engage him in scientific or philosophical debate (A Hope Divided). Or they are both uncommitted flirts, who enjoy tormenting each other, but never ever plan to get together (Legendary). You know they’d be so good together if they just got over themselves (conflict).

C) Moments of intimacy / sharing / bonding / trust. For example, characters could be dealing with similar past traumas they haven’t quite gotten over (The Ones Who Got Away). A character confessing her fears of the future, because a fortune teller told her she’d never find love (Legendary). Or a character taking his love interest to see his ailing parents, when he never introduces them to anyone (Warcross).


  • Warcross by Marie Lu (YA)
  • A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole
  • Legendary by Stephanie Garber (YA)
  • Archangel’s Viper by Nalini Singh
  • Quackery by Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen  (Non-Fiction)
  • The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean
  • Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh (YA)
  • Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir (YA)
  • The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson (YA)

Wow June felt like it lasted forever… is it just me? I really don’t know how I managed to fit in that much reading.


Writing Discussion

I’ve probably started this post a half-dozen times, but deleted it every time. The problem is there are too many feelings involved for me to make proper sense of things. But writing is how I do that, so I’m going to give it a go.

The WNDB movement had me optimistic, but the truth of it a few years out is not so encouraging. I’ve seen authors being abused, and having #OwnVoices weaponized against them when it was never the intent of the hashtag. I’ve seen teenaged book bloogers harassed by grown adult authors. THAT is F* messed up. I’ve seen agents say they want diverse submissions, yet all the books they love or comp are written by white authors. People are still fighting for a space (any at all) to be seen and heard without being shouted down, ignored, folded away, or having their existence questioned. It seems just as daunting now as it ever was.

Look here: everything I write, whether you could call it #ownvoices or not, is filtered through a very specific cultural lens. You may not get it, and I don’t expect everyone to get it, because people are so unaccustomed to engaging with it, that they can literally NOT SEE the culture, even when it’s there on the page without apologies. When getting feedback for my latest manuscript, other people with Asian backgrounds would tell me “That is the most Asian thing I’ve ever read.” Culture is  in every character interaction, seeped into every societal level of the story, but because the story is stripped of exotic words or descriptions (this is deliberate) I’ve had non-Asian readers say “I didn’t see the Asianness of it.”

Writing is where I get my truths out. The fiction I write more real than the real I present in real life, even though the characters I write can be nothing like me. (It’s fiction, not autobiography). Real people are messy, and perfect characters are not very interesting to write or read about. Real people are complicated and mired with contradictions. They can be terrible to some people, but sweet and loving to others. No one should have to out themselves, or explain, in order for their fiction to be judged as valid. It’s the reader’s job to bring themselves to the works they read. I think this takes an open mind, and a lot of empathy. These days it feels like both those things are lacking.

And it feeds right back into the hopeless fight. Every screaming area of my life asks me to be more. Tells me I’m not enough. I am a non-white woman working in software. When I interviewed for my job, the receptionist asked me there if I was in for a sales position (not development). Even my parenting is up for question, because I work full time (I can’t afford not to). I’m not even going to talk about my family and their expectations. Sometimes it feels like every other minute of my time requires me to justify my right to exist, take up space, and questions my value in the world. And perfect is a moving goal post. If you lay down on the ground to let people to walk over you, someone will say you’re not thin enough.

I am not perfect, but neither is the world. Neither are my characters. The whole point is: you shouldn’t have to be perfect to succeed, or win the right to exist. We do exist, whether or not anyone gives us permission. That’s real life.

It’s just so tiring. Sometimes I wonder why I even want to bother trying to write novels, when I know being published will open me up to the pile-ons. The racist trolls. To have my character examined – instead of the work.

But I keep writing, because I know what it’s like to be a lonely teen desperately in search of something (anything) to identify with. I know what its like to need hope for the future, like plants need water. The books I read when I was a teen broke my heart instead of building it up. I wouldn’t wish the same on anyone now.

Maybe I’ll be throwing my heart at a closed door for all my life. Maybe everyone else’s voices will drown out mine, but at least I will have tried.