[Wherein you’re going to find writery thoughts and a novella announcement (buried at the bottom)…]
I really struggled after finishing Oblivion (a year ago April) to write, well, just about anything.
It wasn’t merely that the book took so damn much from me mentally, emotionally, and even physically (seriously, you think it hurt your heart? I barely have one left). I got a few words in on multiple projects but didn’t finish anything–for-pay writing fell by the wayside entirely, much to the sadness of my bank account–and chronic, debilitating depression made everything damn near impossible.
Depression is not to ever be romanticized for a creator; when you’re having trouble with the very basics of self-care (I don’t eat because I don’t have the spoons for cooking, or washing the dishes piled up to cook in; my hair is a tangled mess; anything outside of caring for my pets just doesn’t happen; every task takes me ten times as long to do), it’s impossible to write. Wanting to not be alive all the time is not conductive to creativity. And as much as I need the time off to clear my head and try to get better, that isn’t happening (newsflash: depression is expensive as fuck, buying pre-prepared meals and work taking longer to do). Writing just hasn’t been happening and publishing is a frustrating nightmare–it is, quite honestly, only my commitment to Patrons of Snark (who buy my monthly meds) that have kept me from deleting all my books from online sellers and nuking my website from existence.
And when writing stops, it’s like breathing stops–I lose my primary coping mechanism, the one thing that keeps me wanting to be alive, and everything becomes that much harder. I did get some revisions done, though–Oblivion came out in August, Solomon’s Seal in September, and Odin’s Spear in February–it was just new projects that were suffering.
Writing Resist in January helped tremendously; although it’s just 6K words, at least it was something I’d started and finished, and had a lot of fun with. Even getting a for-pay book done in February helped too, but the sheer size of a Livi novel (usually 105K-ish) was daunting. I have struggled with her third book for over a year now; it’s presently sitting at 17K, and I know I’ve been missing some component that would let it start flowing, but damned if I could figure out what.
A couple of pieces recently clicked, however, and while I’m not there yet, I think it’ll ultimately help.
The first was me lamenting how my writing productivity changed after being sick three years ago. Being sick meant everything became about illness and the stories went quiet, and while they came back, it hasn’t been quite the same. I am tremendously hard on myself and have a lot of difficulty accepting I’m different now, that I don’t have the same endurance, nor the tolerance for stress that I used to. Bad Horse pointed out that sometimes you have to reframe; writing came become richer, deeper, and you have to budget more mental time and emotional energy before you get to the writing part (which is entirely true–I am not a pantser like I used to be, at least not for most stories, and what I write requires more time to simmer in my head). Writing Livi #4 (look, I thought it was #3 at the time) a few years ago was one of the best writing experiences I’d had, but then I’d lived with that story arc in my head for years prior. That is not true with the book I’m struggling with now, which I only belatedly realized needed to be in the series and has to be worked into the overall arc.
The second piece came from the Livi novella I just finished, and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer 20th anniversary celebration.
Let me back up for a second.
So as I said, a full Livi novel was incredibly daunting to me. I’d tried (and failed) to write a couple of haunting stories lately, but why not throw a ghost in Livi’s world? After writing Zara’s short Resist, I thought I’d write a short story–maybe 10K or so–as something fun for Patreon supporters.
But Livi doesn’t do “short”, as should be evident by her novels.
The more I got writing, though, the more I felt like I was missing something. And I realized my biggest problem was that I hadn’t found “the Livi” of the piece yet.
This is a writing lesson I picked up from Buffy years ago, and all the recent interviews have brought it to the forefront of my mind again. One of the reason their Monster of the Week stories often worked far better than procedurals typically do is because the core question was always: “What is ‘the Buffy’ of this?” What is the emotional hook with Buffy, how does this reflect and connect with her–that’s the part that resonates with viewers. Those stories were always broken backwards, starting with the emotional moment–“the Buffy” of the piece–and then working from there (which is how I’ve written most of my life as well).
The Livi books have all had me know right off the bat what “the Livi” is in them. Solomon’s Seal doesn’t work without her need for financial freedom and desire to return to what she once had, which is parallel to the villain’s need for freedom in many ways. Odin’s Spear doesn’t work without the contrast of Oliver Talbot’s treatment of his daughter and Amy Gordon’s devotion to her son, nor Livi’s war with the complicated emotions she enters the novel with and Reed Gordon’s submission to what he feels is humanity’s true nature. (Shiva’s Bow, #4, is about trust; #5 is about the consequences of betrayal–and it goes on from there).
I am not the type of writer who can just write something fun and throwaway; characters need to grow and change in everything, there has to be meaning to what I write. Likewise Livi is not the type of character who can be in a story she’s not emotionally connected to (girl is busy; she ain’t got time for that).
The Livi novella I was writing finally had its “click” moment when I realized what emotional hook I needed for Livi–what her story there was once everything plot-wise was stripped away, what ghosts were truly haunting her below the surface story. Once I had that, the story took over, and I wrote 10K in a day last week to finish it off (for about 37K total–see, I don’t do short stories).
Now, I grant that afterward I could literally feel the holes in my brain, and it took two days of eating really carb-heavy foods before my brain felt repaired. But for the first time in months, I felt fantastic. I slept better, my mood was better, I got some basic household chores done. Again, it was like I was breathing after a lengthy period being stuck underwater.
Of course now my lungs feel like they’re going to burst again, so I’ve pulled out Livi #3. I know several of the tent pole moments, I know some of “the Livi”, but clearly this piece needs a bit more time simmering, and I have to give myself permission to do that, to accept that just because I’m not physically writing doesn’t mean I’m not laying the groundwork for the later writing. I have no idea when it’ll get written–hopefully by the end of the year, and btw buy my books or join Patreon so I can hopefully ease back on freelance a bit, ‘kay?–but Jeebus, I hope I’m finally on the path to it.
What does this all mean for readers?
A new Livi novella is coming soon!
It’s nearly 35% the length of one of her books, so a substantial chunk of reading material. I’m doing a dual novella release with my friend Dina James–our two different takes on hauntings–late spring/early summer, and then it’ll be available as a single release in the fall. Given the length, I’m going to also serialize it for all Patrons of Snark over three months or so once I have it back from my beta.
Here’s the rough jacket copy:
Four months ago, Livi Talbot successfully killed the afreet who abducted her family and tried to murder her. Then she took over his villa and made it her base of operations/home, as any respectable treasure hunter in need of better digs is wont to do.
But this house is haunted, and she’s starting to think the ancient murderer she used the Seal of Solomon to destroy might not be entirely dead after all. Deep in the bowels of her home, something dark is dwelling, gathering strength by the day, threatening not only Livi’s safety but possibly her very sanity.
It takes place a few months after Odin’s Spear (and a couple week’s prior to Zheng’s Tomb, Livi #3), so it’s officially Livi #2.5. I’ve posted an excerpt for Patrons of Snark, and little teasers at Alchemy Red. I’m hoping to have pre-order figured out and a cover reveal next month sometime.
So I go back to freelancing for the day and let the book simmer (of course, it’s Livi #9 in my head at the moment–not a typo, I’ve warned you it’s a ten-book series), and quietly hope to go visiting the Qin Shi Huang’s tomb and battle terracotta soldiers brought to life soon.
(Also, FYI, I’ll probably leave Solomon’s Seal freebie sample on instaFreebie for another month, so if you want to try before you buy, now’s the time to grab it.)