Category Archives: Writing

Times are hard and getting worse.


When in doubt, support amazing people and diverse stories and creative art.

Books pictured:

  • Dead Girls Society by Michelle Krys  | AmazonB&N
  • The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon  | AmazonB&N
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart  | AmazonB&N
  • Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig  | AmazonB&N
  • Boy Robot by Simon Curtis | AmazonB&N
  • Updraft by Fran Wilde | AmazonB&N
  • When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore | AmazonB&N
  • Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King  | AmazonB&N
  • Tattoo Atlas by Tim Floreen | AmazonB&N
  • Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo  | AmazonB&N

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Everyone? Meet Tessen

islandofexiles-lr

In a way, the world Shiara occupies began back in 2008. I was fresh out of college, and I wanted to write a fantasy novel. That turns out to be hard to accomplish without an actual story idea, so I followed advice I found on Holly Lisle’s site and started with a map instead. I drew an elaborate world (seriously, I taped multiple pieces of graph paper together just to give myself space), arbitrarily assigned sociopolitical boundaries, and then began trying to explain both.

The story I came up with then isn’t the one you’re going to read in February, but the universe is.

Jump forward to 2014 and I decide to try a true fantasy novel again. I wanted to create something harsh and different and beautiful, so I plopped my characters in an Arizona/New Mexico-like desert and surrounded them with enemies and animals that could kill them. It was about twins and the perceptions of mercy in an aggression based society and a lot of other things.

This, also, is not the book you’re going to read in February, but it’s closer. I kept the setting, the enemies, and the animals. My narrator stayed, but changed her name, and her twin brother became a younger one. The character who remained almost exactly the same is Tessen. Somehow his character, one I didn’t plan for at all in the original version of the story, became the linchpin of this book, anchoring everyone and everything else as it all shifted around him. This isn’t his story, it’s Khya’s, but his footprints and fingerprints are all over the final version of Island of Exiles.

Readers likely won’t ever see the level of his influence. Tessen’s okay with that, but it’s why I’m so happy that the first excerpt I can share with you from the book introduces you to him! So read on and meet him for yourself. <3

I breathe the briny air and try to consider the options objectively. As objectively as I ever can when my brother is involved.

Yorri was the first person to tell me that one day I’d be kaigo, just like our blood-parents, serving the Miriseh and earning high honors in Ryogo. I’d flicked him on the shoulder and said “Of course I will be,” but his faith had been what convinced me I was right.

Yorri gets so excited he stumbles over his own words when he’s explaining how he solved some new, impossible puzzle. He devotes himself with frightening fervor to anything that ensnares his arrow-quick mind, but sometimes needs reminding that the rest of the world exists.

Forget objectivity. It’s worth the risk.

I am going to keep him safe, just like I always have.

“You’re going to be late for the vigil if you stand here staring into nothing for much longer, Khya.”

I tense, keeping my eyes on the angry, dark, blue white-capped waves. I’d heard the footsteps approaching, but several people had come and gone already and left me alone.

Tessen, however, never was able to keep his thoughts inside his head.

“I won’t be late.” I answer without looking at him until he moves into my peripheral vision.

He leans against the wall to the left of me, his forearms crossed on the ledge and his head tilted up. With his arms folded on the ledge and his body held slightly away from the wall, I can make out the lines of muscle under layers of cloth, all of it hard-earned—though I probably won’t ever admit that to him. I don’t look directly at him, but I turn my head enough to get a better look at his face.

He’s taller than me, so looking down on him like this is strange. Seeing him without the hood and atakafu we always wear on duty is stranger. I don’t think I’ve seen his whole face since he became nyshin over a year ago.

His thick eyebrows sit low over his deep-set eyes and the line of his nose is straight, because somehow he was always quick enough in training to avoid all but the most glancing blows to his face. The setting sun highlights the red in his terra-cotta skin and makes his oddly pale eyes flash. Usually they’re limestone gray, but now they’re paler than ever and gleaming almost as bright as the sunlight off the ocean.

“Shouldn’t you be off training? Or guarding something?” I ask before he speaks.

“I am.” He smirks at me. “I’m guarding the mad nyshin girl who’s decided to perch on the walls and imitate a mykyn bird.”

“I’m not planning on attempting flight.” I wave my hand at him, trying to brush him off. “You can go, Nyshin-ten.”

His lips purse; I hide a smile. It was delightful discovering exactly how annoyed he got when I called him by his class and rank instead of his name. The flash of aggravation disappears quickly, replaced by his more usual sardonic smile. “Should I guess what has you lost in your own head the night of a vigil?”

“No. I don’t have that much time.”

“Then I won’t guess. Only your brother puts that look on your face.”

I look at him, expecting to see mockery in his eyes. There isn’t any. He looks almost…serious?

“You’re worried about his herynshi. Unless he’s in trouble again? It’s been a while. He’s overdue.”

“It’s been a while because he doesn’t have to deal with people who point out his every mistake anymore. Like you.” Gritting my teeth, I bend to brace my hand on the ledge and jump down to where Tessen stands. At six feet, he’s only an inch or two taller than me. Our eyes are nearly level when I square off against him. “You’re one of the reasons he ever got in trouble in the first place.”

“And you spent years trying to make him invisible.” Tessen’s lips thin, and the muscles in his jaw clench for a moment. “Even before you found your wards, you shielded him from everything. What he can do now that you’re not there to monitor his every move should be all the proof you need.”

“He would have died if I hadn’t protected him.” Nothing will ever convince me it was wrong to keep him alive. “You can’t seriously be suggesting I should have let that happen?”

“No, that isn’t— You don’t even know what he’s capable of! How long has it been since you’ve seen him fight? It’s been—” He steps back, his lips pressed tight and his hands held away from his weapons. “Bellows, Khya. I didn’t come here to fight with you. This isn’t how this was supposed to go.”

I blink. “What?” Tessen backing away from an argument? This has to be a trick. “How what was supposed to go?”

He shakes his head, a small smile quirking up the corners of his mouth. “I only came to ask if you’d dance with me tonight at the celebration.”

He can’t be serious…but there’s not a single sign that he isn’t being sincere.

I drop my gaze to hide the confusion that has to show on my face. My focus catches on the pendant gleaming against the undyed cloth of his tunic—a two-inch iron disc etched with crossed zeeka swords. Blood and rot, I hate seeing that around his neck. The zeeka is the symbol of the kaigo; the pendant is a symbol of their students.

Tessen is wearing the kaigo-sei pendant that should have been mine.

Out of the whole clan, the Miriseh and the kaigo only choose one nyshin-ten per year. His blood-mother, Neeva, is on the kaigo council. Being named a kaigo-sei isn’t a guarantee of advancement, but it is a sign that the leaders of the clan are keeping an eye on you. The kaigo-sei are given extra training and have to face additional tests of magic, skill, and leadership. Not every nyshin named a kaigo-sei student becomes a council member, but no one who isn’t a kaigo-sei will ever become one. I can still earn one—and I will, sooner rather than later—but it seems like they’re already grooming Tessen to take Kaigo Neeva’s place one day.

Rot take him, it was supposed to be me.

Swallowing the fruitless envy building in my chest, I raise my eyes to meet Tessen’s again. “I don’t make promises I don’t intend to keep.”

“But that’s not a no, so I’ll ask again tonight.” He smiles, inclines his head, and then walks away whistling. I hate that sound, and I’m almost positive he knows that.

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At what point does editing a book become rewriting a book? Like,…

At what point does editing a book become rewriting a book? Like, what percentage of lines need to be deleted or changed for it to be marked as a rewrite? Asking for a friend…

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Think of this as a glimpse of how my brain feels after editing…

Think of this as a glimpse of how my brain feels after editing for hours. There’s still a lot more work to finish before this book is a book again. Right now it’s more of an arts and crafts project.

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The Friday Five – August 26th

THE FRIDAY FIVE

Sometimes we forget the good things that happen because the bad ones feel so much bigger. In an effort to keep that phenomenon at bay, here are my five good things for this past week.

  1. Yesterday, for the first time in a long while, I not only hit my word count goal but actually felt like I’d made appreciable progress. It was a glorious feeling. I have missed it greatly. Hopefully it continues for the next few days until I suddenly have a finished book!
  2. Related to the above, my Entangled editor Kate Brauning continues to be epic and patient and encouraging. I am so happy I get to work with her, and I sincerely hope I can continue working with her for a long time to come.
  3. My dear friend Tristina Wright got to share her words with the world recently! And this week, it opened up from just being available to subscribers to being readable by everyone. Which means you should go read it, because Siren Song is so amazingly beautiful, you guys.
  4. I teach at a in-patient rehab center for teenagers with addiction and other issues. Over the summer I’ve been running a summer reading program, which I’ve done before. Previous incarnations didn’t achieve much in the way of new readers, but this year I had them all reading I am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells. I have never seen a group of students at this center so excited to read, and I have never been more grateful to an author for a book. Or for the perfect timing of a movie version of a book. They’re all looking forward to watching it on Monday! And, honestly, so am I. It looks amazing.
  5. Thanks to the collected efforts of some authors on Facebook, I was able to find a short story I haven’t read since 2001! It’s stuck with me over the years, and I found myself thinking about it more than usual when I started lesson planning for the year, but I couldn’t remember the author, the title, or the anthology that I had originally read it in. Some sleuthing by some wonderful people didn’t just give me the title and author; I got a link to the full text of the story, too! It’s Velvet Fields by Anne McCaffrey for those interested. I highly recommend reading.

The Friday Five – August 19th

THE FRIDAY FIVE

Welcome to the first ever Friday Five post!

To give credit where credit is 100% due, I have stolen this idea (with permission) from the lovely Katie Cotugno’s Five Good Things posts. The world can be a crazy place, so I think it’s excellent to recognize and publicly acknowledge the good things in it when we can. I am going to try to make these posts every week (I set an alert on my phone and everything), and this is the first one. Here are five things I enjoyed or am grateful for about this week:

  1. I don’t know how I’ve gotten so lucky with editors so far in my career, but I am so super grateful for my Entangled editor Kate Brauning who has been uber patient and supportive, helping me contain and shape my current projects and encouraging my new ones. She has continuously not keelhauled me for being overdue on this draft. I gotta say that I greatly appreciate that in an editor.
  2. Cait Greer has been especially fantastic this week, listening to me flail and whine about book problems only I can actually solve. A+ awesome friendship. Plus, we’re counting down the days until I fly to Salt Lake City, help Cait load up a trailer, and then road trip with her back to South Florida! I am very excited about that trip. There will be a LOT of pictures.
  3. It’s wonderful to me every time I see my Don’t Erase the Aces essay shared anywhere. The response to this post makes it more than worth the anxiety of writing it. Thank you to anyone who has promoted it, and even more thanks to the people who have told me how much the story resonated with them.
  4. I am closing in on 100k in my current project. The end is kind of in sight? If I grab a old-school seafarers telescope? And look in exactly the right direction? And good things are happening in the background on book one in this trilogy! I am trying to use that to spur me into finishing book two…
  5. Tomorrow (later today?) I am continuing my efforts to be social periodically and am meeting up with several local SCBWI friends for lunch and a workshop session! My regional chapter is fantastic, and I adore all of my local people, so I’m really happy I get to see them.

Onward I march….


Didn’t finish the book this weekend, so onward I march. Ever upward. Kind of like Sisyphus.

I should buy stock in Starbucks at this point…

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My students finished I Am Not a Serial Killer and…


My students just finished reading I AM Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells and they LOVED it! So I decided that we’d express that love via fan art. This is what they’ve put together in just about an hour! I am a very happy author-teacher right now. ?

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Don’t Erase The Aces

A while back, the wonderful Michael Waters asked if he could include me in a piece he was doing for the B&N Teen Blog about diverse authors in young adult who were writing diverse books. His questions were wonderfully thoughtful and concentrated on my experiences growing up asexual and how that orientation has impacted both my life and my writing. 

As I usually do when someone asks me to write something, I gave him WAY too much material. After the article released, I dumped the extra content here to come back and edit into a post later. Apparently, it’s later now. 

Side note: You can read part 1 and part 2 of Michael’s beautiful series by clicking on the links. You should also follow him on Twitter


Asexual. It’s a word that is usually first encountered—at least for my generation—in biology class. In that context, it refers to any organism that reproduces by splitting. Like amoeba.

That’s not I’m talking about when I use the word asexual.

Definitionally speaking, asexuality is an orientation in which an individual does not experience sexual attraction to anyone regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, or aesthetic appeal. Or even their wonderful personality.

What it means socially and contextually is a lot harder to pin down. For me, it’s a hyper-awareness of innuendo and oversexualization. It’s an extreme discomfort when someone calls me hot or even, sometimes, beautiful. It’s also the hope that one day I’ll be able to say “I’m asexual” without the explanation that always follows now.

Because I am asexual. More specifically, I identify as heteromantic-asexual.

Deciding on that label has been a winding, partially obstructed mental path (and explaining it could be it’s own post), and it took me through most of the ace spectrum identities. Since 2014, I’ve called myself demisexual and graysexual, but asexual really does fit best.

I wish I’d grown up knowing the term, because looking back at my life, it’s clear that this has always been a huge part of who I am. It never happened. I was twenty-nine before I first heard “asexual” outside the context of amoebic reproduction. By that age, I’d already been married and divorced. My lack of interest in sex had been a huge factor in the dissolution of that relationship. And the emotional manipulation and abuse I suffered through most of it.

For almost thirty years, I assumed I was straight but broken. How could I not? The only options I knew existed were straight, bisexual, or gay. I had no interest in kissing girls, so that knocked two of the three options out. I didn’t mind the thought of kissing boys (though I don’t think I’ll ever know how much of that is naturally me and how much of that is social conditioning), so straight was the only box left for me to check. “None of the above” was never offered.

Because I never had any explanation or understanding of why I didn’t want sex the way that the rest of society seemed to, and the way my ex-husband definitely did, the only answer I could come up with to the question “Why don’t you want me?” was “Because something is wrong with me.” It was a belief that developed over the course of years, and it was reinforced by my ex, by the media, and, inadvertently, my friends.

During my marriage, because I couldn’t explain the way my mind worked in a way that made sense to my ex, he used that against me, guilting me deeper into a sense of self-loathing I’m still in the process of shedding.

He would ask questions like: What’s wrong? Why don’t you want me? Don’t you love me?

He’d say things like: If you loved me, you’d do this for me. You won’t tell me the truth, so you must not trust me. This would make sense if you’d been raped or something. If you won’t give me what I want, I’ll go find it somewhere else.

Blaming me for his cheating was easy for him to do and, by the time that began happening, the relationship had been so twisted for so long that it was easy for me to accept. There was nothing in society or the media to tell me that he wasn’t right, so obviously it was my fault.

Trying to force myself into compliance only made things worse, causing depression and anxiety and self-esteem issues I’m still trying to get over years after my divorce was finalized.

After the divorce, I tried one more time. Because I still thought straight was the only option I had. The relationship was better, but the same lack of interest in sex from my side of the relationship happened again; I still didn’t have any explanation for it except “There’s something wrong with me.”

When that relationship came to a natural conclusion, I didn’t look for anything new. There was an incredibly strong fear burrowing inside my head that I wouldn’t ever be able to make anyone happy because I’d never be able to give them what everyone but me so obviously needed. If what had happened in my marriage and the only other long-term relationship I attempted was just going to happen again, it wasn’t worth it. So I stopped trying.

But I still didn’t understand why I was so fundamentally different from the rest of the world.

The thing is, for someone to find out who they are, there needs to be a safe space for them to try things on—personalities, clothes, genders, sexualities, jobs, tastes—without the pressure of someone else’s expectations. I think one of the reasons it takes us so long to discover and become comfortable with who we are is so few of those spaces exist. Humans are social creatures, and we’re programmed to bond with others. For the most part, we want to please the tribe we’ve been born into or chosen, and sometimes the only way we can see to do that is to change or deny some aspect of ourselves.

And that’s why, even if I had heard of asexuality at a young age, I don’t know that I would’ve embraced it. I was somewhat socially isolated as a kid, different in small ways that seemed to make a huge difference. To discover back then that there was a true, significant difference between me and everyone else? I might have grabbed that and espoused it immediately, or I might have held it at a distance as I tried to follow the path everyone else was walking. It’s hard to know.

When I did finally find asexuality on a list of sexualities and gender identities, the loudest thought in my head was, “Holy hell. I’m not the only one. I’m not broken.”

It didn’t magically fix everything, and fully integrating the concept into my identity in a meaningful way has taken time—that’s an ongoing process—but it’s helped so much in understanding myself and determining what I need to be content. It’s helped me figure out what kind of compromises I’m willing to make if I ever find someone I want to be in a relationship with. It’s given me something almost like a shield I can hold up against the world when it tries to tell me that what I feel (or don’t feel, more often) is something that needs to be fixed.

Discovering asexuality has given me back a tiny spark of hope that one day I’ll find a romantic relationship that includes only the physical element I’m comfortable with, but actually finding that partner in a sex-obsessed world is…daunting to say the least.

The first person I told about asexuality warned me to make sure I wasn’t reacting out of fear and writing off something I actually, secretly wanted. It was several months before I mentioned it to anyone else and, partially because of the previous reaction—that “well, really…are you sure?” feeling I got from the conversation—this time I couched the whole conversation in the terms of “this is just a theory, and I’m not really sure, but it kind of fits, so I don’t know.”

The doubt of my initial conversation became a trend. In fact, the theme of a lot of “coming out” discussions has been something like, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that! That sounds so sad. Here, let me see how I can fix that for you. Have you tried ______?” In almost every case the words aren’t intended to hurtful, but that doesn’t make it okay.

Unless someone is already familiar with the asexual spectrum, confusion and disbelief are usually the predominate reaction to coming out ace. People don’t seem to know how to react to an absence of something. “You’ll change your mind when you meet the right person,” is an incredibly common response. Others include:

“You don’t know what you’re missing!”

“Are you sure your partner knew what they were doing?”

“Were you abused in the past? Maybe it’s just fear.”

“So, what? You’re a prude? Or just celibate?”

“You’re asexual? You can’t be! You’re not a virgin!”

“Wow, so you actually expect to find a guy who doesn’t want sex? Good luck with that one.”

The erasure and the disdain in these micro-aggressions (although some of them feel like straight-up aggressions to me sometimes) is frustrating. The feeling that the person I’m talking to believes they know my mind and my emotional experience of the world better than I do is sickening. What’s even worse is that the people asking these questions are usually the same people who don’t understand why asexuals are currently making so much noise about the fact that we exist.

Pretty much the only conversations I’ve had about asexuality that haven’t been somewhere on the scale between doubtful and disdainful have been with people who are already involved in the MOGAI (marginalized orientations, gender alignments, and identities) community. However, even in that sphere there can be pushback. Some people still try to claim that the A in LGBTQIA stands for allies. In the recent past, notable gay rights activists have literally laughed at the asexual awareness movement saying, “You have the asexuals marching for the right to not do anything. Which is hilarious! Like, you don’t need to march for that right, you just need to stay home and not do anything.” (Dan Savage, 2011, (A)Sexuality documentary)

What they don’t realize is that we’re not fighting for rights, we’re fighting for recognition.

Dating back to the Middle Ages, non-consummation of marriage has been perceived as an insult to the sacramental union and grounds for divorce. Today, a couple who doesn’t have sex would have an almost impossible time convincing the INS that their relationship is valid and real. This is the society we’re born into, so, you’re wrong.

We do need to march. Not because we’re fighting for the right to get married or even the right to “do nothing,” but because we’re fighting to be acknowledged, to have our existence validated and accepted. We’re marching and making noise and calling people out on their erasure because we want asexuality to be recognized as an orientation, not classified as a disorder.

And it has been. People see a “missing” sex drive as practically inhuman. “It’s a bit like people saying they never have an appetite for food. Sex is a natural drive, as natural as the drive for sustenance and water to survive. It’s a little difficult to judge these folks as normal.” (Dr. Leonard R. Derogatis as quoted in an article in the New York Times on June 9, 2005). Starting with the DSM-III, a notable lack of sexual desire has been considered a psychological disorder by the psychological community. It’s begun to shift away from that, the most recent DSM offering clarification that could protect ace-spectrum individuals from inaccurate diagnoses, but that doesn’t mean the perception has changed enough to counteract the stigma.

Not yet, but we’re working on it.

All we want people to see is that we are just as normal as anyone else on the planet, partially because there’s no such thing as normal. This isn’t a religious thing, and it’s not at all like abstinence or celibacy. We’re not trying to convert you. Go ahead and do your thing, whatever that is. We’ll be over here playing Scrabble or watching Netflix with only the literal chill, not the innuendo laden kind.

That is what we’re marching for. That is why we’re standing on our chairs with our hands wildly waving above our heads. That is why American Apparel’s erasure of the A infuriates us so much. We want to be seen. We want to be heard. We want the next generation of asexual children to grow up without the “What’s wrong with me?” question playing on loop in their minds. We want people to acknowledge our experiences as valid and real and not broken, and we want kids growing up today to be able to see asexuality on the list of available sexual spectrum check boxes.

What we’re fighting for and making noise about is the right to exist. So please stop erasing us.


My books that feature ace characters (as of this post):

I’ve read thousands of books in the course of my life, yet until I really went searching for it, I’ve only seen the word “asexual” used to describe someone’s orientation once. And that author used it wrong. It’s doubtful that any of my books will be about asexuality, but I want everything I write to include the concept. I went three decades without encountering the word, and so I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to someone else. If I can help someone who’s never heard of asexuality be a little more understanding when someone in their lives claims a spot on the spectrum, wonderful. If I can introduce this identity to someone who’s struggling to understand themselves, even better.

  • Deadly Sweet Lies will always be a special book for me because although Tumblr may have introduced me to the term asexual, it was my research into the spectrum for Julian Teagan’s character in Deadly that gave me my “Oh, that’s me” moment.
  • In the Laguna Tides series, Kody Patterson is demisexual, something that is verbally confirmed on paper by him in the third book, Dealing With Devalo (which should be out before the end of 2016, I think).
  • In my upcoming Assassins series one of the characters in Discord identifies as asexual, but I can’t say who because it’d be a bit of a spoiler. The narrator of the second book, Nemesis, is also confirmed on page as ace-spectrum.
  • Within The Ryogan Chronicles series, the fantasy trilogy that begins with Island of Exiles and releases with Entangled in 2017, will include more than one asexual-spectrum character.

These are my TBR shelves.


These are my TBR shelves. I have even more books (the ones that I have read) triple stacked in my closet.

Looking at it after the reorganization, it appears as though there is a slight chance that I have a small book hoarding problem. ?

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