book recs

A Kind of Magic.

I love writing books. Not only is it absolutely fascinating to see how other writers write and where they get their inspiration, but as a beginner writer, I know I have a lot to learn. I couldn’t tell you how many books about writing I’ve bought and read this year. Yay, writing!

Yet, for all of my hard work and focus, I seemed to be getting stuck, and spending more time second guessing myself than I was writing or editing. A lot of that was freelance work taking up my time, but I can’t blame everything on freelance work. After all, having a full-time job in Japan didn’t stop me from writing. So what was missing?

Most of the books I’d read were focused on planning, marketing, writing fast or increasing productivity. All good things! But somewhere along the way, I lost the fun part of writing—the part where you know you have no idea what you’re doing and that’s okay. That’s what Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic is all about.


Gilbert believes in creativity. Not just that it’s a worthwhile way to spend your time, but that it’s transformative and a force in itself. She gives ideas agency, but doesn’t relent on hard work either. She urges embracing the many contradictions involved in the writing process (take it seriously, but not that seriously), without trying to make sense of them. Most of all, she emphasises wonder.

Most of my writing mentors are really practical, proactive people, and I have the feeling that Gilbert’s approach is too woo-woo for most. While I don’t agree with all of her conclusions, I found that her strong belief in the magical aspects of creativity touched part of me that I’d been neglecting—the wonder. And strangely, the reminder that writing should be fun is what got me back to work, while Gilbert’s acknowledgement that any creative project might fail, and that’s okay, is also tremendously freeing. While I won’t be adopting Gilbert’s approach to writing, I think that her perspective is one I’ll be returning to again and again on my writing journey.

Big Magic on Amazon: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Structure > NaNoWriMo

This post will be of more interest to my fellow writers than readers. I’m giving up my chance to finish NaNo on time to focus on overhauling my plot, starting by giving myself a crash course in structure.

November’s been a really horrible month. We don’t need to go over that. It’s been a particularly bad month for my NaNo project, A Gentlemanly Murder. When I started writing on the first of November, my protagonist didn’t have a name. I finally came up with a name for him, and an opening scene five days later, but then I decided I needed to finish Morgen Song before I went further and set it aside. Morgen Song had a rogue ending that needed to be wrestled with, and while I was pinning that down, November hit in earnest. Finally Morgen Song behaved itself. I sat down with A Gentlemanly Murder, had a brilliantly productive day, work up the next morning and realised that something had gone wrong.

Something has gone wrong is not an unusual feeling for me. Three-quarters of my stories have gone off the rails at some point, requiring a lot of hard work wrestling, cutting words, revising and long walks before they emerge. I think they emerge better for the struggle, but I know I can write really strong stories without that fight–Deep Magic, The Biggest Scoop and Banging the Supernatural are examples of this. Worse, the fight is hard work. It brings with it doubt and writer’s block and ends in a lot of time wasted, whether in time not writing or in revisions later.

I’ve got a feeling that the solution lies in my plotting. I want to be a better outliner, but pretty much all the books I’ve read on how to outline your novel talk about structure instead. After much resisting, I’ve decided to accept the inevitable, and am giving myself a crash course in structure by spending some time with some old friends, namely Michael Hauge, James Scott Bell, Libbie Hawker and Monica Leonelle.

Michael Hauge spoke at the RWNZ 2016 Conference and was amazing. His story mastery workshop was really, really good. I’ve been revising the notes I took from his conference but if you’re interested, check out his product page–he recommended Writing Screenplays that Sell and The Hero’s Two Journeys  for people at the conference who wanted more info of what he was talking about.

What’s really cool is that as I’m re-reading, I’m noticing how well Hauge’s key plot moments and structure ties into James Scott Bell’s pivotal moments. I am a huge fan of Write Your Novel From the Middle, and just read Super Structure, which, while covering a lot of the same ground as Write Your Novel From the Middle, enlarges on the pivotal moments. I found it good because Bell’s moments really resonate with me.

If you haven’t heard of Take Off Your Pants, I will be very surprised! Libbie Hawker does a great job of articulating how theme ties into character and conflict and the outline that she suggests working with is what helped me get Morgen Song back on track at last. The way she approaches her outline is very, very similar to the way that Monica Leonelle works, with the difference that Leonelle brings her marketing savvy to the process in Nail Your Story. Leonelle also provides a copious amount of worksheets. In the past, I’ve been daunted by the sheer amount of worksheets to work through but no more. I’m hoping the time I invest now will equal faster drafting and less revisions later.


Learning How to Lose with Alex Gabriel!

Continuing my series of interviews with DRitC friends, today I bring you Alex Gabriel. I first met Alex through this year’s DRitC event, but you may already be aware of Alex as the author of Learning How to Lose, in Six Easy Steps. I’m excited about this interview because Alex has been busy since we last talked –and not necessarily in the way I expected! Our interview came out on the long side, so let’s jump straight in. Hi Alex! Thank you for talking to me today!

Alex: Hi, Gillian! It’s lovely to talk to you – thank you so much for having me over.

lhtl1In our e-mail conversation, you mentioned working on a mainstream SF novel in addition to M/M Romance projects. Obviously there are things that you can explore more fully in M/M Romance than you can in mainstream fiction, but I would like to know if the reverse is also true? Do you approach the world building or plotting differently, for example?

 Alex:  That’s an interesting question! In terms of plotting and world building, I was originally going to say that the main difference is the emphasis I place on the central relationship; how central it is to the world building, and how much of the plot revolves around and hinges on it. But then I realized that one of my unfinished non-m/m SF novels revolves almost entirely around the (platonic) relationship between two men, with the entire plot arising from it. Conversely, none of the plotting and world building for my m/m novella Still Waters arose from the m/m relationship – everything, including the relationship, developed from the nature and background of one of the characters.

So now I must say that beyond the obvious fact that m/m romance includes m/m romance (who would have thought!), my approach and the aspects I can and do explore in a story depend entirely on the specific story and characters in question.

I’ll have to think about this some more! A really thought-provoking and interesting question.

I’m glad you assured me that the sequel to Still Waters is still in the works! That was going to be one of my first questions. Since you’ve answered that, I am wondering what else we can look forward to you in the coming year?

Alex:  After the Still Waters sequel, I’m planning to return to the urban fantasy m/m novel that I started before “Love for the Cold-Blooded”. I wrote myself into a corner with that one, and in the end put it down entirely in order to clear my head by writing something else. I’ve been thinking about how to resolve the issues I ran into, though, and am really looking forward to picking it up again. I already have not only a great title, but also an actual cover for the book, so I really must finish it!  

The novel is set in a world where gods are a very real presence. Since many gods enjoy dalliances with humans, the world is full of demigods, one of whom is the hero of the story. James is lucky in that his divine power isn’t debilitating or disfiguring – he’s unlucky in that it’s far too powerful.  Because powerful demigods get snapped up by the temples, it’s a good idea for them to keep their heads down… which James rather fails at.

Still Waters was written for the M/M Romance Group’s DRitC event. Now that the dust has settled and you’ve had some time to reflect on this year’s experience, do you have any insights or things that you feel you’ve learned from the event? What advice would you give writers thinking about trying it (or something similar) next year?

 Alex: I have learned one very valuable practical lesson to pass on: Be extremely fast when claiming your prompt! Hit refresh constantly, and don’t even take the time to type out “ME!!” when the thread is opened for comments – have the text already copied and just paste it in. 

It’s tough to give advice when it comes to writing to a prompt, because my impression is that this works differently for everyone. Personally, I find it almost impossible to write to prompts that are more specific than a basic premise, but I know this isn’t true for other authors. Also, when I write in a plot framework someone else has set, my instinct is to subvert it in some way, twist it into an entirely different shape – so I have to watch that tendency very carefully, because that kind of story isn’t going to be what most prompters want.

You’ll notice that even when given the wide-open two-word prompt “ginger merman”, I still managed to twist one word of it. Fortunately my prompter was quite happy with a nix pretending to be a merman, but strictly speaking, I only fulfilled 50% of that prompt.

November sounds like it was an incredibly busy month! In addition to your projects, you were also one of the M/M Romance Group’s Authors of the Month for October. What was that like?

Alex:  It was a complete surprise, and an absolute honor! I actually only realized I was an Author of the Month partway into the month, and was more than a little floored.

You’re obviously not a person who shies away from challenges. Are there any new genres/story types that you’d like to try?

 Alex: In terms of genres, a steampunk novel might be fun… not that I have anything planned, but it’s a fascinating genre. And while writing this, I just had an idea for an alternate history novel.

I’d like to write a completely unreliable narrator at one point. All of my narrators are slightly unreliable in that they see the world in a way colored by their personality, pre-conceived notions and biases, and so miss and misinterpret some things, and twist or outright deny others. But it’d be fun to go a step beyond that, and have an entirely subjective narrative that has the reader constantly questioning and reevaluating everything she is told.

What attracts you to a particular story? How do you approach each of your projects? Are you plot driven, or is it a character that drives things? Do you outline or wing things?

 Alex: How I approach a project depends entirely on the story in question. Some stories are driven by a character, like Still Waters (which is entirely shaped by Drakjan); others are more plot or concept driven, like First Contact (“cops undercover in a gay bdsm club run by the mob”). Most are somewhere in between, starting out with a spark of plot or character inspiration and spinning out from there. 

I used to be a complete “winging it” kind of author, to the point where I was afraid to write down a plot outline in case it would make me lose interest. I was writing to find out what would happen next, and if I already knew, part of the motivation for writing was gone.

That’s changed over the years. Now, I plan more, although I still don’t set out every scene and plot point in advance. There is an initial, general plan – although often, the first scene is written before this plan fully materializes.  As I write, the story evolves, various plot points changing along the way. I’m constantly adding new ideas and shifting things around as new connections occur to me.  In the end, I go back and edit mercilessly so it all comes together and flows smoothly.

Something that I’ve found really helpful is planning out just the scene I am about to write – jotting down a rough outline of who does and says what. Most potential problems become apparent at that stage, so I can adjust the scene until it works, and then write without running into any of those snags and getting stuck.

I cannot imagine that you’ve had any time to read lately, but what was the last book you read? Would you recommend it? If not, what is a book that you would recommend?

 Alex: It’s true that I have much less time to read now than I used to, although I haven’t changed my book-buying habits – which leads to unread books stacking up more and more, both on my shelves and on my harddrive!

A book I’ve been reccing to friends who enjoy tricksters,  mythology and queer urban fantasy is Liesmith by Alis Franklin. It has m/m romance elements, since the male protagonist falls in love with Loki in male form. I think it’s best enjoyed when read as a fresh, original urban fantasy twist on Nordic mythology, though.

I also really enjoyed the m/m science fiction novel Dark Space by Lisa Henry, particularly the author’s portrayal of the space marines from the point of view of a low-grade (and lower-class) conscripted recruit. The sequel’s recently come out, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is a mainstream science fiction novel, the first part of a recently completed trilogy. A fragment of the warship Justice of Toren’s AI – part of an imperialistic empire’s unstoppable fleet – is stuck in a human body after an act of treachery leads to the ship’s destruction. Justice of Toren is left with unanswered questions and a thirst for vengeance, and the fact that she has only one fragile human body left is not going to stop her.

I am always fascinated by characters and societies that are truly and genuinely alien. This protagonist has an inhuman point of view as she should, and I loved it. Another interesting aspect: The narrator’s culture and language do not differentiate between genders, and as a spaceship, she’s indifferent to such distinctions in any case. The result is that gender is a complete non-issue, which is interesting and refreshing.

How can readers keep up to date with what you’re working on?

 Alex: The best way to keep informed about my upcoming releases is to subscribe to my newsletter ( – it also offers sneak peeks, writing updates, special offers and more. Plus, anyone who signs up gets my novella “First Contact” for free.

I have a blog at in which I talk about all things related to writing and reading – I don’t update as often as I should, but I do frequently resolve to do better. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter as ScribblingAlex, and I’m always happy to hear from readers!

And just for fun: What superpower would you most like to have? Would you use it for good or for evil?

lhtl ep2 walk 1600Alex: I’ve always wanted to be able to fly, just for the fun of it. But it would be even cooler to be a teleporter. In all honesty, I would be likely to use my power for very boring things, like popping out to get the best takoyaki straight from Osaka, or avoid traffic jams, or go have tea with friends on the other side of the world.  

Of course, if I were to be embroiled in an international secret battle involving spies, politicians, corporations and desperately outnumbered but determined superpowered rebels – as seems inevitable, really – I would definitely be on the side of the idealistic underdogs who have no real idea of what they’re up against.

What exciting things are on the horizon?

Alex: I have a Holiday Special coming up! From December 25 to 27, the bestselling first novel of the “Learning How to Lose, In Six Easy Steps” trilogy will be entirely free on Amazon. (It’s not that Ryuu’s a bad loser, you understand – he just wants things to be in order. And in the natural order of the universe, he should not be losing to dorks.)

Learning How to Lose” is a slow-burning, red-hot gay romance in three volumes, set in the world of Japanese pop idols. You can check it out here to see if it’s your thing.

Find the first novel here on Amazon. 

And before the year is out, there will be an all-new bonus story featuring Ryuu and Hiro, the main characters. Also entirely free, and guaranteed not safe for work! 

Thank you again, Gillian! 

My pleasure, Alex! Thanks for stopping by.