The best way to research New York City

Despite the many glorious old buildings still kicking in New York, it can be hard to get a picture of what the city used to look like.

Well, not literally, because the library has thousands of them, and I just found out about it, and now you do too.

OldNYC is a mapping project using the New York Public Library's thousands and thousands of photos — from the year 1800 to the year 2000. The photos are laid out on a map of the five boroughs. Clicking on a red dot in a location will bring up all the old photos associated with that place.

And there are so many, y'all.

OldNYC's photos, unfiltered.

OldNYC's photos, unfiltered.

You can filter the years to show specific time periods, but the slider was a little finicky for me. But I filtered down to 1907 - 1929 and Manhattan is still packed with promising red dots to click on.

I first heard about this project when I was touring St. John the Divine with my friend Austin Chant. It's the largest cathedral in the world, and the OldNYC project hosts what seem to be hundreds of photos of its construction, which began in 1892.

This is a hell of a resource if you're writing historical books, or if you simply want to look at the city in younger years.


Organization: Trello

Last time I talked about my bullet journal and how it helps me stay organized. This time, welcome to Trello hell!

As with bullet journaling, I'm not here to say that this is the best and only way to stay organized you gotta try it. It's just a tool that has lent itself to a few of my needs when it comes to writing.

No more talking, let's look at some sexy organization.

What's Trello?

Trello is basically the online equivalent of a wall covered in Post-It notes.

You have a board! On the board you can make columns. Then you organize cards in these columns. The cards can store information and checklists. They can be assigned to people, given due dates, or labelled.

Most importantly, they can be moved around. Right now I use one board for all my writing tasks, but that may change. More on that later.

How Trello helps me

Right now I use Trello to track writing projects three months out. My first three columns are January, February, and March.

Now, my workload isn't super heavy. Under January I have one big thing going on: editing my NaNo 2017 project, which we'll call DTD.

In February, I have a cards for two other ongoing writing projects, as well as a card noting future scenes that I need to write into DTD.

I can see at a glance what I'm going to be working on after my current edits are done. But having those cards in the next month is less overwhelming for me than looking at a big to-do list. I can give myself breathing room by saying there's no expectation for me to tackle all these projects this month.

March is the projected released for Fool For You, where my short story A Spell For Luck will appear. As the date gets closer, I'll start jotting down promo ideas on that card and probably make a checklist for myself with reminders to tweet, post on Facebook, do a giveaway, etc. But again, I don't need to worry about that yet!

What's on a card?

Mild spoilers, I guess.

On the card for my edits, I have a checklist. These are all problems I noted when I was writing DTD, but I couldn't fix them during NaNo. I love checklists, and especially love that Trello's checklists come with a progress bar and the ability to hide completed items.

So, what if I don't finish everything I want to do by the end of January?

Well, I'll just move this card into the February column. Then I rename the "January" column to "April," move it down the row, and start populating it with April tasks. I could add more months, but so far I haven't really needed to. But uh, I do have other columns! Let's see.

It's a resource bank


First up, we have my "Tabled" column. These are projects I'm not working on right now. I don't want them floating around in my monthly to-dos and giving me anxiety.

I condensed things ever further by making a card called BOOK GRAVEYARD which is where I keep titles of projects that I'm not totally ready to let go of just yet, but I also don't want to see their horrible little faces on my board reminding me of my failure. They live in the graveyard now, which I'll occasionally open and then grimace at. 

The "Website" column is all upkeep. I keep lists of blog posts I want to write and newsletters I want to send. I curate my reading lists here too, so that when it's time to write them I can remember what books I wanted to include.

In the "References" column I keep useful links. I never use bookmarks, and it's easiest for me to keep writing-related links in the place where I do the rest of my ... writing-thinking ... ya know.

More in-depth editing

I've used Trello for more intensive editing and writing projects before, and it actually worked great. I made a little mock-up of that process.

I would make a board for the book, and then a column where I stored cards corresponding to each chapter. I labelled the chapters with colors corresponding to the character's POV (this was a multi-POV book). On each card I had a chapter summary, what the goal of that chapter was, and a checklist of things I needed to edit — or just things I needed to look out for.

That might have been fact-checking something I was unsure about, or making sure that a character was having the correct emotional reaction.

This system worked really well for me, and I'll probably return to it when my workload is heavier than it is now.


That's my Trello process! If you're interested in more about my writing process, check out the links below. This is an ever-evolving chaos for me, but it's fun to think about, and hopefully fun to read about too.


Organization: Bullet journal

Around the time I moved to New York, I got Extremely Busy.

I juggled calendars and Trello for work deadlines, Facebook and text messages for hangouts with friends, and an incomprehensible web of Trello, emails, Notes, and Google docs for my writing.

That same year I started bullet journaling. EVERYTHING IS BETTER NOW.

In high school, my planner was a life-saver. I’ve never been good at diaries, but always liked the idea of being able to look back at memories —without the pressure of Finding My Voice as a diarist.

I was attracted to bullet journaling because it took the best part of planners and the bare minimum of keeping a diary.

My first journal was hideous. My second journal was hideous. But through them I found out what ways bullet journaling could help me organize my wacky life. Now in 2018 I’m on my third (but prettiest) journal. I’m by no means a pro. My spreads are messy, and I make mistakes all the time. But here is a run-down of my journal and how it helps me track work, writing, and personal goals. Also anxiety! How fun.

Organization part 2 will be a look at my Trello board. The most erotic sentence ever written.


I found this spread at Little Coffee Fox and if you think Shelby's journals are intimidating please look at this article about her husband's — it's very cute and that's basically what my first journal looked like too. For readability, the categories here are: top memories from 2017, successes I had, things I would change if I could, what worked, what didn't, and looking ahead to things I can do to make 2018 good.

I didn't do much reflection in my first bullet journals, but one of my goals this year is to be more introspective in a meaningful way. I hope this page will be a fun way to kick that off!


Another spread from Little Coffee Fox! Again, I have never used a mood tracker before but it is so pretty, and seemed like a low-impact way to see if mood tracking is something that works for me. As you can see, I struggled a bit to remember how many days were in each month, despite the fact that I mumbled "thirty days hath September" the entire time I was drawing this.



What's that? Yet another spread from Shelby's 2018 set-up post? Yes. I did this with the same principle as the 2017 reflection page: get some accountability for things that I want to change. I'm not sure how well this one will work out. So far I've done a lot of browsing social media at night, and so much not going to bed before midnight, and every time my 2018 promises are there, staring me in the face ... ah well. 


This is my favorite part tbh. What I've added with my 2018 goals is some semi-untrackable promises that I'm making to myself. Some of these could probably go on the habits page, and might later when I finish filling it out.

Reading 40 books is pretty self-explanatory! I'll color in each box as I finish the book, and there's room for (the beginnings of) a list of titles.

My writing goals are almost the same as last year, with some exceptions. I still want to finish a novel — I have a checkbox and a progress bar because I like coloring things in. I've set a goal for two complete short stories. I'll be writing one blog post per month (January, check!), and I'd like to bring video into the mix this year!

The notes below that are inspired by a conversation in QWC. I was considering setting a bi-monthly short story goal for myself. It sounded like a lot, so I asked some prolific writers how they got inspiration and got some great answers (thanks particularly to Edith for the phrase "magic spyglass"). I haven't quite committed to the goal yet but I wrote down my takeaways from the conversation:

  • Creativity is a skill you can train
  • I would want to write these stories without any eye towards publishing them, to free my brain up for experimentation and bad writing. I have a habit of turning my hobbies into jobs, and not starting things unless I have a plan for how they will eventually be THRUST INTO THE WORLD. I think it could be good to just chill out and do some practice projects that will improve my writing and my voice.

Anyway. At the bottom of the page is a graph for the monthly blog posts. I'll fill in a square per post, and if I write more posts in a month, I get to fill in more squares! Love 2 fill in squares.


Around oh, I don't know, the 2016 election, I became a little bit obsessed with home decor. It's been an interest of mine for a long time, but the confluence of political hell, having money, and my roommate moving out all became a hurricane of I NEED TO MAKE MY HOME THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SAFE SPACE ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH.

I uh, only have so much space to work with in my New York apartment, but work with it I shall! I'll continue to add to this list (baskets for cutting boards), but right now my focus is finishing what will be a gallery wall in my living room. Which means I need to make infinite trips to Goodwill looking for frames. Which means it needs to stop snowing. I'm committed.


Obviously this is blank because I haven't done shit, but here is where I'll jot down the good things I did in 2018! IF THERE ARE ANY.


I'm VERY excited about this page. I just moved to New York in 2016, so in my old journals I started keeping lists of bars and restaurants that I liked, or cool things to do. My ultimate dream was to glue a fold-out map of New York into the journal and write the list onto the map. I still think that would look really cool, but there are some logistics to figure out.

But when looking up 2018 journaling ideas, I found this recipe bank from, again, Little Coffee Fox. Instead of writing recipe names down on the journal pages, Shelby jots them down on Post-It notes. This lets her store a lot of recipes on only two pages. I realized this would be the perfect way to keep track of places as well!

In my spread, each Post-It note will be an area of New York (i.e., FiDi! East Village!). I'll write down names and short notes on the places I go. This might work, it might not, but either way ... if it doesn't, I can just throw out the Post-Its and try something new! 


Finally, we're getting to the meat and potatoes. This is my spread for January. You'll notice that I uh, got tired of making lines and I'll do it later I swear, it's gonna look great. This is the first time I've drawn out a calendar — in my old journals I just made a vertical list of numbers corresponding to the days, and jotted down my schedule. I was happy with that, but I wanted to try something new.

Honestly, I really like how visually appealing this is. It was hell to draw but I'm happy with how it looks. I have space for multiple appointments, can arrange them according to time of day, and there's room for more notes in the margins of the month for more nebulous goals.


It ain't pretty but it's functional! I always have trouble remembering what I'm reading and watching. In my old journals, I rectified that by adding a media log. It's pretty simple. I write down whatever I watched and read that week. The item moves week by week, and on the week that I finish it, I put a little X next to its name.

This is helpful because I can cross-reference the media log with my yearly reading goal to make sure I don't miss anything.

I used to split the list up by Reading/Watching but for this journal I'm no longer doing that because I ... can remember whether "Paul Hollywood's Big Continental Road Trip" is a book or a show, thanks.


After much workshopping, this is my favorite weekly format! Nothing too fancy. I write down my tasks for each day, and there's room for further notes on how the day went.

New to me are the boxes at the bottom. Previously I had sections for general notes: what you need to do on one side of the journal, and how the week went on the other. Now I have a small box for weekly to-dos that aren't confined to a specific date (AKA shit I'll never get done, sorry me).

I added a small box for meal planning. I cook a fair bit but I want to do it more and save my ass some money. This is my good faith effort to start planning ahead by deciding beforehand what I want to cook that week, and assigning myself cooking days. We'll see how it goes!

Finally, there's a larger box for reflection on how the week went.


Whew! That sounds like a lot now that I've written it down! If you're a regular bullet journaler, you might have noticed that I didn't include a yearly spread. I tried it in my first two journals and it just ... didn't work for me? I would always forget to write things down it, or to look at it, period. So I nixed it. I do have an index though, written on the back of the journal cover.

Materials: Moleskine notebook (thanks bro), extremely shitty metallic calligraphy pens, Huhuhero fine-tip drawing pens. I used a bookmark as a ruler. I'm lazy.

Part 2 of this series will be about my beautiful/hideous Trello board, which is completely writing-focused!


Looking for Hemingway in all the wrong places

I am on a quest to find a beautiful copy of The Sun Also Rises. I'm not out here looking for a shitty copy.

Here are books I do not want:

They are ugly.

They are ugly.

As my search has drawn on I've gotten increasingly irrational about the copy of Sun that I'm going to buy. I can't just buy one online. I'm going to find one, I'm going to find one in a used bookstore, and I'm going to find it because Hemingway's ghost led me there.


I went on an odyssey of sorts to the East Village to scour used bookstores for my perfect copy of Sun which exists out there and I will find it. Yesterday ... was not that day.

But I did find some books that want to share with y'all.

The Strand - 828 Broadway

The Strand is an enormous bookstore, and the best and worst part about it is that there are racks of $1-5 books that line the block outside. I didn't have time to go through these yesterday, and also it would have taken five hours, but it kills me to think that my Sun might have been there. Anyway, I went straight inside to the Hemingways and was waylaid by something even better: An LGBTQIA book display on the main floor.

And that's where I found Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes.



Barnes was a writer and an artist active during the 1920s in New York and Paris. She had a lot of bad relationships with men and then swore off men, and then had a lot of bad relationships with women and swore off love altogether. She was known for, according to Andrea Barnet, "reams of sardonic poetry, dreamlike plays, short stories, and several edgy novels with lesbian themes."

Nightwood is one of those novels. It definitely sounds like it's going to be one of those classic "it's the 1920s so this lesbian is gonna fuck up her whole dang life" kind of stories, but also that was kind of like, Djuna Barnes' whole deal? Write what you know.

I'm very excited to get into this one, and look how beautiful the cover is. If some people (Ernest Hemingway) could manage to have covers that beautiful, then I would own a copy of The Sun Also Rises by now.

The Splendid Drunken Twenties - Selections from the Daybooks 1922-1930


I found this book when I went to the basement of The Strand, looking for Leslie Blume's Everybody Behaves Badly, a biography of Hemingway's early years. I found a different biography with that picture of Hemingway pointing a gun at the camera on the cover and I'm not about that life, but while I was wandering forlornly in the stacks I stumbled upon The Splendid Drunken Twenties.

Carl Van Vechten was a writer and photographer who wrote another book that is extremely fucking racist but that book is not this book, in that this book I would actually take on the subway, and have in my home. Van Vechten ran in the same circles as Djuna Barnes and was also That White Dude that was obsessed with Harlem and the black artists of the time (they didn't need his patronage at all). Van Vechten noted down his daily activities in his daybooks, which are printed here. It's full of stuff like "had lunch with George Gershwin" and "went to a party at A'lelia Walker's" and it's all the mundane daily shit that is perfect research fodder.

Alabaster Bookshop - 122 4th Avenue

This place is quite literally around the corner from The Strand, going towards Union Square, and I like it because well ... it's a tiny used bookstore. In one of the most hopping parts of New York. Next to New York's most famous and biggest used bookstore. It's the kind of perfect used bookstore that is packed up to the ceilings, with books tumbling all over the floor.

All Night Party: The Women of Bohemian Greenwich Village and Harlem, 1913 - 1930

This book is not an in-depth biography by any means, but rather a thrilling, breezy account of the lives of some of the amazing women of the time. It covers five of the women in their own chapters, with another chapter devoted to salons. But it opens with a "Cast of Characters" providing paragraph-long biographs of some twenty notable women, and I want to read books about every single one of them.

I actually found this book at Alabaster in September and checked it out at the NYPL in ebook form. I really enjoyed it, but I kept not finishing it before my hold was up so I gave in and decided to go back and buy it. This I explained in a sort of stammer to the kind and patient bookseller who will hopefully not remember me.

I love this book as a jumping-off point, and as a fucking inspirational text. It does a few things really well. The cast of characters got me pumped and made me want to go out and find someone who thinks women never did anything in history and then bash them over the head with this book. It's a litany of baller women who left their homes, made their own way in life, wrote revolutionary prose and poetry, made art, and were celebrated for it. Many, many of them were queer.

The book also includes wonderful tidbits about contemporary life that are so useful — things like what bars people hung out at. These are the kinds of details you can only get from reading biographies or contemporary writing, and I love it.


Where the book falls short: the author is white, and though there are chapters about the black women who were killing it at the time, I haven't read them yet because they're ... in the back of the book. The introduction mentions in a sanitized way that these black women artists were fighting both racism and sexism, and acknowledges that blues and jazz were the product of a "much-neglected" black America. But I would argue that "neglected" is nowhere near strong enough a word to describe the black America that was living under segregation, had seen the end of government-sanctioned slavery a mere fifty-odd years before, and was thriving in the decade that saw a major resurgence of the freaking KKK.

On one level I understand, because the whole tone of the book is about feeling very good about the accomplishments that women made. But it would be a disservice to women like Ethel Waters and Alberta Hunter if we don't acknowledge the whole, awful truth of the odds that were against them. Both were lesbians, by the way.

I think All Night Party does tend to revel in the glamor of the '20s, and avoid some of its ugliness. That's mostly okay with me (mostly, see above) as long as we remember that ugliness on our own. Fredrick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday did that in '31 and it's a great read.

East Village Books and Records - 99 St. Mark's Pl.

Okay, I did not actually buy any books here because I felt fragile after accidentally spending so much money elsewhere — BUT. I had never been this bookstore before and I'll definitely go again. It's another hole in the wall, absolutely lined with books.

They also had shelves upon shelves of discount books in front and in a sort of shed in the back. I came so close to finding what I wanted here, y'all. But it just wasn't my day.

If anyone has other used bookstore recommendations please throw them my way! They're not easy to find, and apparently neither is a good-looking copy of The Sun Also Rises.


My bad teen novels made me a better writer

It's the screaming time again, when I sequester myself for a month and desperately make bad words come out of my hands.

This National Novel Writing Month I'm trying something new which I'm calling "living like a Spartan" or perhaps "like an adult with a good sense of time management."

My rules are to be in bed by 11:30 (if I want to read, or need to write more to hit my goal I can do it from bed, but no dicking around online or playing games or watching TV allowed), and up before 7:00 to get a thousand words in before work.

It's only day 4 but so far, so good.

I've been doing NaNo since I was in high school and for a long time I thought I had gotten nothing out of it but fun times with friends who write. Neither of my published books were written during NaNo. And the books I did write with the month-long constraint... woof.

But as I tried to convince everyone I knew to join me on the NaNo journey this year, I realized that NaNo fundamentally changed how I approach writing, and more than anything, why I think it's a great idea to start young.

I've written a lot of bad books

The first time I did a writing month was actually JuNoWriMo, when I was about sixteen years old. Back then I was, against all odds, really fucking good at writing 50K in a month and let's be real, it was because it was a bad 50K. I wrote garbage that year. I wrote garbage for NaNo when I was 17. I wrote garbage with my friends, and I wrote slightly less-garbagey but still pretty garbage in sophomore year of college.

But all those reams of garbage that I wrote made me think of writing as tangible work, rather than a mystical art.

Doing NaNo changed my relationship towards word counts, and towards completing projects. And it taught me my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. And I started doing it when I was so dang young that I tricked myself into learning life lessons, what the hell.

Word counts aren't scary

I've failed NaNo more times than I've won. But those early NaNos, when I was so young and foolish and cavalier about words that I actually won fixed some things in my brain.

50,000 words became not a scary number. When submission calls I was looking at wanted books of 50,000 or more, I knew I could hit that number.

Even though I would never in my life let any of my early NaNo projects be seen by living human eyes, it was a weight off to know that the sheer volume of words was possible. That I had done it, and could do it again.

I knew I was bad at endings

Here's the other thing about my early NaNo projects: I finished 50K, but I never finished a book.

I was terrible at plot arcs; I would imagine most sixteen-year-olds writing their first book are. I'd estimate that I was around 2/3 of the way through the plot each time I got to 50K, but like, imagine the plot arc is less of a parabola and more of a pancake. 

It's because I was bad at plotting, and definitely bad at villains (these stories tended to have Villains), and definitely because I was bad at endings.

I'm really fucking bad at endings.

And again, it's good to know that. Just like I knew I could make 50,000 words appear, I knew that none of those words would be a decent ending.

In a better world where I'm a better person, this means I know to take extra time during the planning process to iron out an ending and make sure my conflicts are actually leading somewhere.

I knew what I had done.

I knew what I had done.

In practice it meant that when I turned in the manuscript for Sparkwood and Amanda sent back edits calling me a villain and pointing her accusing finger at me from across the country, I was ... unsurprised.

But I wasn't crushed or disappointed, because years of doing NaNo had trained me to be extremely cognizant of my weaknesses, but also not to let them stop me from writing.

I had written a book before

Writing a book is really damn hard. You work long and lonely hours at it and you agonize over little things, and you make strange horrible mistakes that will have you looking back and screaming "WHO WROTE THIS?"

I know this... on a certain level. 

And on another level I swoop into novel-writing going "uh, of COURSE I can write a novel" because my idiot teen self wrote like three of them and if she can do it, anyone can.

Again I have stress for the fiftieth time these books were not good. I think people around me at the time wondered why I bothered, because it was obvious that I wasn't putting much care into what I was writing. But the fact that I could do this when I was a useless teenager, I should be able to do it now has been a backbone for me. Every time finishing a story feels impossible, the horrible evidence of my past writing crimes is there going "OH NO, IT'S POSSIBLE."

Even though it's much harder to write now, I came into adult writing knowing the elation of finishing a book. Knowing that I could cope with the sheer number of words needed. Knowing where I was going to half-ass it, and failing to stop myself from half-assing, accepting that it was going to happen and that I would be able to deal with the consequences of my half-assery.

These aren't craft skills, but they're work skills. Craft takes time to hone, but so does the ability to keep gnawing through the bad to get to the good. And that's something I learned without realizing I was learning, when I was just writing bad books for fun.


On writing an aromantic comedy

I stole my characters from another story.

It was my own story, and in the process of recasting them for The Trouble, they changed a lot. I feel like I took two out-of-work actors and said, "hey, I have another job for you." 

One thing that didn't change is Danny being aromantic.

I didn't have an outline for The Trouble. The book came out more as sketches, and then had to be stitched together by me, weeping, on deadlines. (And my amazing editor Amanda Jean, scolding me, also on deadlines.) 

But I knew one thing for sure: I was writing a book with a romance novel structure, and Danny being aromantic was never going to be the Drama.

That was so much fun, and so freeing. They get to have conversations about Danny being aro and what it means for their relationship—a relationship that they're both committed to. And I got to saddle them up with a buttload of other problems, which stemmed from their choices and backgrounds and personalities—not their romantic preferences.

I wanted to write a story about two people who come to mean the world to each other, but who don't have a mutual romantic love. The most challenging part for me was how to describe the strength of those emotions from Danny's POV, without making it sound like he was in love, but just didn't want to put a name to it.

Danny's feelings are huge and powerful and real! But they're not romantic.

One of my favorite things that I got to do with this pairing was then turn the mirror back on Jiyoon, who does feel romantic attraction. Jiyoon is hyper-analytical, and since he's interested in dating an aromantic person, he decides to figure out for himself what exactly a committed relationship means to him. Is it romance? Is it shared goals? Is it emotional support?

Here's a chart! Clickthrough for full size.

Here's a chart! Clickthrough for full size.

I feel like we could all benefit from looking at relationships that way (though we don't all have to make spreadsheets like Jiyoon does...). One of the reasons I love the rise of labels like "aromantic" or "gray-romantic" etc. is that it blows up the way we conceive of relationships.

I'm sure that everyone, not just people on the queer spectrum, could benefit from putting words to how and when and why they experience romantic attraction. There's absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain from treating these distinctions seriously—if not proudly on your Tinder profile, at least in conversation with yourself.

For me, being aromantic means that I know now that I occasionally get wildly intense crushes on people (usually people I'm just getting to know, who aren't quite on the friendship level yet). The crush will pass in like a week and then I'll be free of attraction again for a long, long-ass time. It's nice to know this. It's nice to have confidence in the consistency of my emotions and reactions to other people.

For Danny, being aromantic means he loves his friends and he puts them first. Jiyoon is a friend that he has wildly hot chemistry with, who understands and supports him emotionally and becomes irreplaceable. And hey, he wants to hang out with him all the time. He's not in love. And that's not the drama.

Writing, Teaser

Writing Sparkwood was the worst

I know the universal truth is that first drafts suck. But oh my God.

The process of writing Sparkwood was a garbage fire on a sinking ship, and it was absolutely within my power to stop it. This post isn't a "what not to do" post so much as it's me going back through a year of revisions in my planning document, and screaming at myself.

Sparkwood was written for LT3's "My Dearest Enemy" submission call. Enemies-to-lovers romance! Something I had not written before, and wasn't terribly confident about.

Here's my first word-vomit summary:

I am nothing if not eloquent.

I am nothing if not eloquent.

I kept adding to this document sporadically. Ideas were hashed out that never made it into the final draft; I was really attached to the idea of fairies taking magic from storytelling, and that Luke (the dead twin) had died because he was telling the fairies his life story, without realizing that it was quite literally sucking the life out of him. That's pretty esoteric. Not my style.

Fairy eyes look like this judgmental seal's eyes.

Fairy eyes look like this judgmental seal's eyes.

I also wrote down "someone wakes up with horse eyes," which is based on a nightmare I vaguely remember. And now that I look back on it, that might be the entire basis for the fairies having completely black eyes. Writing is dumb.

At this stage of plotting, I was extrapolating a lot of things from my second rewatch of Twin Peaks. I was interested in the idea of fairies being attracted to heightened emotional states—that they themselves weren't capable of deep emotion, but they fed off human emotions. Kind of like the spirit BOB. Anyway, that's another idea that got cut, although the fairies remain very dramatic.

The idea of telling stories might not have remained so central to Sparkwood, but the bones are still there: if you read Sparkwood, you know that the library played a big role in Luke's life.

RIP, that plot.

RIP, that plot.

So now I have a very loose plot: LIVING TWIN finds out that DEAD TWIN, who was taken by fairies years ago, has died. LIVING TWIN goes to the fairy court, where he also starts to slowly die of the same causes. That was the gist of it.

It was time for characters.

None of these names appear in  Sparkwood .

None of these names appear in Sparkwood.

As I discussed in my process post, I made a planning document for Sparkwood. I was having trouble finding a voice when I started writing; the prose felt bland, and the dialogue wasn't clicking for me either.

To jar myself out of that, I started writing Sparkwood as a detailed outline, including dialogue when it came to me.

You can read the final version of this scene on my excerpts page! It became chapter 3 of Sparkwood. Some of the details are the same: The main character wakes up to find a fairy in his bedroom. They fight.

And... drumroll... here's where I first considered naming the dead twin Finn! This deserves its own paragraph, because this asshole went through Jacob, Finn, Lee, Dylan, Rylan, Ryan, and finally Luke. As you might notice... my main character actually nabbed the name Finn. It's not confusing at all!

But onward! More scenes that have shades in the final draft show up in this document. Robin and Finn (the real, living one, not the dead twin) lose their tempers with each other over the hotel room—except in this version, it's a frankly overblown drama about how the room is full of the dead twin's favorite shit, which was meant to set up a whole subplot... where Finn really, really thinks Robin used to date his brother. This got cut in edits because it was pointless, and never really made sense. I mean, he could just ask, right?

At this point, a full month after starting this brainstorm/plot outline/collection of garbage prose, I start knuckling down on why Finn's twin died in the first place.

I'm only including this because LITERALLY NO PART OF IT made it into my final draft.

I'm only including this because LITERALLY NO PART OF IT made it into my final draft.

Obviously, this was a big problem. I had next to no plot. Granted, I hadn't written a lot of prose yet either, and part of writing is plotting for me. But still, it's a messy way to start writing a murder mystery. Or any book for that matter. Luke's death is the entire central problem. It was literally the most important detail, and I totally neglected it!

If someone dies, figure out why they died, and make that priority number one. Fortunately, I figured out Jacob/Finn/Lee/Dylan/Rylan/Ryan/Luke's death relatively soon after this. But it took more world-building to get there, and it was world-building that would have saved me substantive edits had I done it out sooner.

It's not all bad here though! There are some cute ideas hidden in this old doc. One of them is a scene that never made it into the final story. It takes place at a bar, and Finn is flirting with another guy to get information. Robin gets jealous, and uses magic to make the guy's beer room temperature. The guy complains, gets another beer, and Robin does it again, playing coy even though Finn knows exactly what's going on. I think this scene is super cute, and I love the idea of fairies being incredibly powerful, but using their magic for petty means because they're ultimately ruled by their emotions. This was where I started figuring out the tone of fairy culture, and the chemistry between Finn and Robin.

Two months into plotting (April 10, 2016), I named the town Sparkwood. And I de-named the DEAD TWIN, and gave my main character his final name... Finn!

I made another revision to that document at 11:56 PM:

So there it is, a very, very skeletal description of the plot of Sparkwood. It needs some work. Apparently Robin still went by a filler name! And Jacob/Finn/Dylan/Rylan/Ryan/Luke's name was Lee? For five whole seconds? But a late night prick of inspiration changed the whole direction of this story for the better.

What would I do differently?

Every step of writing Sparkwood was an editor's nightmare. And yet, it's hard for me to think of doing it differently. Maybe it's because I felt so stuck when I started the book, but brute-forcing a fantasy world to life did work out. And I learned a lot while I was desperately cobbling everything together.

That being said, of course I will never put myself through this again. One of the better things I did was make a list of clues and relevant information that Finn (the living one) could discover along the way as he investigated his brother's death. Knowing what is important to your story, and what isn't, is crucial. 

Brainstorm people that might be useful, or who the characters would realistically run into. After coming up with that skeleton plot, I sat down and made a list of nameless characters, including THE MAYOR, THE GENTLEMAN, and A HUMAN. These would go on to become the mayor (uh, duh), Alan Merrow, and Finn's friend Pearl. They didn't need names, because all that mattered were their roles in the story. 

When writing a romance, it's easy to focus on the main characters and lose sight of the people around them. The best romances don't do that, of course. And murder mysteries can't do that. The other players are crucial to the plot. When I started Sparkwood, I was concerned about writing my first enemies-to-lovers story. I devoted more attention to that, when I should have treated it as a murder mystery and let the animosity between Finn and Robin flow from that.

Along the way, as I was struggling to master my plot, I got worried that I didn't have a B plot. I had read something about balancing an A plot (the main story) with a B plot, which complemented it or served as a metaphor.

After this freakout, I had a laughing conversation with my friends because I remembered I was writing a murder mystery/romance. There's your A and B plots, right? Robin and Finn solve a mystery (A plot) and fall in love (B plot).

Well, it turns out that what really made Sparkwood click, in my second or third pass of edits, was adding another B plot. Or C plot, I guess. Either way, there was a supporting element missing from the story. All this goes to say, if you feel like your story is missing something, it probably is!

It just might take you two drafts and a lot of misery to figure out what.

Sparkwood is out now and it's a lot better than this post makes it sound!