Category Archives: My Fiction

Three things I learned from finishing the second draft of my novel

patrick-tomasso-Oaqk7qqNh_c-unsplashHello again, friends!

So, as some of you may be aware, in November 2018 I used NaNoWriMo to write the first 50,000 words of my fantasy novel (it’s set in a Middle Ages style military matriarchy! I’m still very excited about that fact) and then by March 2019 I had a full novel draft of about 80,000 words.

I felt like the text needed a lot of clean up and revision before it could it could be shared with anyone, there were a lot of “[insert name here]” type things, which I felt would get in the way of people getting what the story was trying to do and enjoying the characters and so on. I wanted useful feedback, and at that stage the text was just too rough for an outsider to get a clear view of it.

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Things I wrote in 2018

New year 2019At the start of 2018 I had a few writing goals: spend the first six months of the year writing short stories (hopefully about one a month) and the last six months working on my novel draft. I hoped I’d have half of my first draft done by 2019, but I knew these were very optimistic plans.



I had two poems published! Which turned out to be my two publications for the year. I’m still enormously happy (and a little surprised, frankly) that every poem I’ve submitted to editors so far has been accepted for publication somewhere.

In February Only the Trees came out in Arsenika. I really love this indulgent love poem, because most of the poetry I’ve ever written was love poetry, unlike my fiction which has had a lot less romantic content. I’m so happy it found a home and people seemed to enjoy it.

In September Strange Horizons published Survival in Six Easy Steps, probably my most political poem so far and the one I’m still the most proud of. It’s hard to talk about, for me, because it just feels like the articulation of a truth that’s been with me and will stay with me for a long while if not the rest of my life.


I told myself I was going to take it easy on the nonfiction this year and focus more on fiction, but of course ended up writing the same amount of articles as last year. /o\

The full list:

I do consider it the epitome of my ~personal brand~ that I wrote an article on how to worldbuild your fictional military correctly and an article on how Romance should be taken more seriously as SF/F within months of each other. It doesn’t get more me than that.

But I got to write for four different outlets this year! Three of them entirely new for me! It has been a struggle though, to sit on my hands and NOT pitch articles about things like “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”, or “Titans” or “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” because I Do Not Have Time To Write More Articles.

Short Stories

I ended up writing three short stories in the first half of 2018, about 50% of my most optimistic estimate. One was accepted for publication and will be out next year, one is still making the rounds among various magazines, one is still unfinished.

In general, writing short stories is a really long, arduous process for me, something I kind of knew going into 2018, but was hoping to somehow improve at. No joke, a short story can take me about 8 months from conception to finished product, when a full edit of my nearly-novel-length novella took me two months.

At the end of September I was lucky enough to meet Ann Leckie, one of my favorite writers, at an SF/F con and even luckier to find myself sitting next to her at a dinner table. There were a few other writers present, and I shared my experience of short stories absolute torture for me, they took so long and I felt like producing publishable stuff was an endless process. And then Ann Leckie told me I should just forget about short stories and focus on my book instead.

For some reason having that affirmation from a writer I so deeply admire gave me some kind of mental push to just say, forget about short stories for a while, focus on the novel. Whenever my brain tries to tell me I’ll never amount to anything if I can’t even produce decent short stories I can tell it to shut up because Ann Leckie told me I was allowed to focus on other things, haha.

The Novel

Oh hey, I can update about this now! Me writing a novel is a real thing, not something that exists solely in my head! The working title is Empress of Ashes.

I spent November writing 50,000 words of my first draft (all of it will be scrapped for the second draft, but that was a given), ended up doing other things entirely in December, and am now going to get back to writing that last 30k in January! Every day we get ever closer to the magical moment when I can experience resounding rejection from agents and publishers about my very own novel!

What’s next?

What’s my writing wishlist for 2019?

If I’m very, very fortunate, I hope to have the second draft of the novel done by the end of the year, and maybe even be in the process of a third draft (out of, hopefully, no more than five, but who knows). I hope I can take time in between drafts to write at least one short story (plus finish the one I started this year).

It’s a lot of grunt work. I suspect I’ll have even fewer publication credits next year, compared to this year. But I knew this time had to come if I wanted any hope of publishing a book. So, here we go.

5 Things I Learned From My First NaNoWriMo


So, as some of you may know, I spent November of this year writing just over 50,000 words in 30 days. It was INTENSE, it was unbelievable, it was better than I’d hoped and nothing like what I’d expected. I decided to write down some lessons, mostly for myself for the next time I decide to try NaNo, but also for anyone who might want to read my conclusions from attempting and successfully completing NaNo for the first time.


Why did you do NaNoWriMo?

I’ve wanted to do NaNo for at least 5-7 years, and always wished I’d had the time in November to write every day. But until last year I was in undergrad and then in grad school (while working full time) and November was too packed with school things and I knew I’d have to either sacrifice academics or sacrifice writing at some point and I didn’t want to go on this stressful, intense journey already knowing I would fail. (You can set any word goal for NaNo, of course, but I found it counterproductive to do the challenge at a time when I knew there was no way I’d get to 50k).


Why did you decide to do NaNo in 2018?

First, because I handed in my Master’s thesis last November, so this year was the first time I was a free elf \o/ and could realistically dedicate myself to NaNo.

Second, because I’ve been working on a Fantasy novel for the last few years and once I’d handed in my thesis I was able to work on it even more, so by October 2018 I finally had a complete outline! Three acts, all the characters and emotional arcs, I had a beautiful, reasonably detailed structure that was ready for demolition by the cruel reality of actually writing a book.

It just so happened that I’d spent the last two weeks of October freaking out in the general direction of all my friends that I had to, like, actually write a first draft now, and that was terrifying because you couldn’t take a first draft back. Once you started, it would always be there, in the back of your mind, as something you didn’t manage to complete, or in an extremely, extremely unlikely case it would grow into a published book.

So, after freaking for a while, I finally sat down to write the draft on October 31st. And then promptly realized the next day that everyone was talking about NaNoWriMo, and hey, I could actually just do that instead of writing my draft without a clear schedule? I signed up on the website on November 1st and that was that.


So what did you actually learn?

Wait! Before we get into that: let me say up front that all the advice I’m about to offer may not work for you. For example: I love deadlines. I’m mostly not a discovery writer, so I could only write a good draft quickly if I already had an outline.

Another fact: the most necessary thing for completing NaNoWriMo is time to write, if not every day then a reasonable amount a week. For most people, this means a certain freedom from obligations – professional, family, health related. I had a full time job and a disability (still do!) and NaNo was a huge challenge, time-wise. Maybe the most important thing I learned was how privileged I was to have the time that I did, and how easily I could have lost that time, if my health had been even slightly worse, or if family obligations had been greater that month.

Please remember that and be kind to yourself.

Actually, please be kind to yourself in general!


#1: Log your words immediately

Most of the people I’d talked to who’d done NaNo were writing their text somewhere – a Word file, Google Docs, email drafts on their phone, whatever, occasionally checking the word count until they hit 1667 words for the day, and then logging that into the NaNo website, sometimes putting in the amount they’d accumulated over several days.

When I was struggling to get the words out I started putting my word count into the NaNo website much earlier. Starting with the first 500 words or so I’d managed to write that day. Then I started putting any round number into the website – 300, 400, etc.

And then finally, in the last 10 days, I started putting my word count in from the very first sentence or paragraph. I started registering 27 words, 32 words, 47 words.

Once you put in that number the total word count for the project doesn’t change much, especially later in the month. But for some reason instead of staring blankly at the page, letting the website know I’d produced 27 words already spurred me on and gave me a happy little note to focus on, instead of the negativity of all the words I still had to get done.

I found that if I was stuck on beginning my output for the day I’d just write a sentence or two, put the number into the website, save it, then write a few more sentences, do the same, then a few more, and then the words started flowing much quicker.

Usually my updates on the website went like this: 27 -> 48 -> 89 -> 156 -> 320 -> 670 -> 1123 -> 1662

Sometimes it even went: 27 -> 48 -> 156 -> 620 -> 1662

Obviously the exact numbers varied by day, but you get the idea. It really taught me the power of positive reinforcement and how even the smallest sense of achievement can give you momentum to go forward (I’d always assumed that the danger of small achievements was that you’d not want to keep going now that you’d gotten to feel good about Doing the Thing. Turns out it works the other way around, at least for me.)


#2 Give yourself as much positive reinforcement for writing as possible

Sticking with the theme from the first point, I’d always liked Written? Kitten! as a writer, and thought it was a cute idea to get pictures of cats (or any other object, you can change the parameters!) for every 100 words. But I never used it consistently when writing, I found it distracting and it felt like more of a cute gimmick.

With NaNo it became my lifesaver. I literally had it open in a tab next to my draft every single day. My process went: get to 100 words, and from there whenever you feel stuck, even a little, use either WK or the NaNo website to give yourself a tiny boost of accomplishment and positive reinforcement. Do I have another hundred words yet? If not, add what I do have to my word count on the NaNo website, and look at the stats change, even just a tiny bit.

If I do have over 100 new words? Put them into WK and get a lovely new cat.


Observe the cat for a moment, look at its majestic fluffiness, let yourself feel joy at the thought of this cat’s existence, imagine yourself petting the cat. Doesn’t that feel nice? The cat wants you to succeed. It’s happy to see you here, making a hundred words happen, so it can meet you. Don’t you want to meet another cat?

Great, back to the draft!

I won’t deny this sounds pretty ridiculous, but for me going from writing a short story in 2 months to writing 50,000 words in a month was also pretty ridiculous. Whatever works.


#3 Plan for not getting anything else done in November

On November 1st I thought to myself – I can totally write every day for a month. I’ll do it after work and on weekends, it’ll mean I’m a bit busier, but it won’t be that big of a deal.

But the thing I didn’t realize was that every day meant EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. And most days getting the words out is HARD, it takes a WHILE and it’s mentally exhausting if you’re not used to it (or at least it was for me). Some days you won’t be able to get to 1667 and you’ll have to make it up on other days. Some days you’ll have commitments that can’t be postponed and you’ll be at zero.

A selection of random events that I didn’t realize would fall in November and take up my time: late Halloween parties, Thanksgiving, winter holidays related shopping, Black Friday with its endless digital sales. None of these things were crucial to my survival, but I didn’t realize how much NaNo would mean not having time for ANY of it. And while it’s possible to take days off during NaNo, I found that more than one day “off” in a row could be disastrous for me. So if I did want to fit something in – for example, shopping for gifts for my loved ones – I had to plan for it, and know I would “pay” for it later.

I got a lot of non-NaNo things done in November (I took time off NaNo to write an article about Magic and Romance and KJ Charles for for example!) but I wish I’d been smarter and realized I needed to clear my plate AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE for November and pause as few commitments as possible because just keeping up with NaNo would be exhausting.


#4 It’s OK to have zero-words days sometimes

At some point in November you will probably have a zero words day. Maybe it’ll be because of an event you can’t miss or postpone, maybe something unexpected will land in your lap, or maybe you’ll just feel so goddamn exhausted after getting everything else done that day that you won’t have the brain to write before the clock strikes midnight.

Going into NaNo, I was really worried I’d lose momentum and get discouraged if I started missing days, especially once I realized how hard I had to work just to keep up. For me, the idea of actually getting to 50k in a month seemed so unlikely and impossible that I knew if I let myself get too far behind I’d quickly starting *believing* I couldn’t do it, even if in reality I still had a chance.

In total, I took 5 days “off” from NaNo in November. Sometimes it was other commitments (like writing an article), sometimes it was exhaustion and sometimes it was simply disability, which ensured I couldn’t get the words out that day.

There were two rules I tried to set for myself regarding “missed” days.

  • Never two missed days in a row. Making up 1667 words in addition to my regular daily word count was hard enough, I feared missing two days would leave too big of a gap and my brain would just start believing I couldn’t do NaNo.
  • Let myself make up the word count gradually, instead of feeling stressed that I had to make it up as soon as possible, preferably the very next day.

I told myself I had to sacrifice that daily sense of achievement for the 5-6 days, after a zero-words day, and know that I would slowly close that gap, with a few hundred words at a time.

So for example if I had a 1667 word deficit on Sunday, it would grow smaller like this:

Sunday: 1667

Monday: 1320

Tuesday: 988

Wednesday: 610

Thursday: 267

Friday: 0

Keeping it to a few hundred words a day, instead of feeling like I had to write twice my usual output in one day to make up for it, kept the anxiety about being “behind” manageable. Also, with this plan I was still writing under 2000 words a day, and staying in the 1667-2000 range seemed less scary than knowing I had to write over 2000 all at once.

(I had days when I wrote over 2000, and even over 3000 words, but they weren’t days when I HAD to write that much, which made a huge difference to my stress levels.)



Here’s a detailed chart of my daily word counts. You can see that occasionally there’s a dip in the daily graph, for example on day 16 and day 23, that then slowly gets filled up over the next few days.


#5 Track how much time you’re spending on NaNo

One of the things no one told me about NaNoWriMo is that the website offers the option of tracking hours spent working instead of words produced. (Even some of my friends who’d done NaNo before were surprised to learn this!)

When I started NaNo I didn’t actually think I’d get to 50k (as I was writing from an outline I was determined to produce decent quality prose and not simply write to stretch my writing muscles and make word count no matter what, so getting to 50k seemed unlikely) so instead I set myself some alternative goals.

I decided that the most I could realistically hope for would be 25,000 words. If I got that done, it would be a HUGE achievement.


(Luckily I was able to surpass 25,000, but having that reminder that this is what I’d realistically aspired to was important, again as a form of positive reinforcement to keep myself going.)

But I wanted to know I’d still feel accomplished, even if I didn’t produce 25k. I wanted to know I’d given NaNo my all, and really invested more in writing in November than ever before. So I decided to track the one thing I could control much better than my creative output – the time I spent trying to write.

So I set myself a goal of 40 hours, the equivalent of a full time work week (minus the lunch breaks). Basically, could I work 5 weeks instead of 4 in November, where one week was my writing job on top of my regular job?

To give you an idea, on an average week I spend about 5 hours writing. That’s about 20 hours a month. NaNo would mean doubling that, which was a huge commitment for me, and as we’ve discussed required clearing my schedule and missing out on a lot of things.


Here’s the graph for hours spent writing. I updated this every 2-3 days sometimes, which is why it looks uneven. I also ended up writing for about 43 hours, but I didn’t know the website wouldn’t let you update stats after the last day, so I never did log those last few hours.

On the tough days, when I wasn’t sure if I would make the word count, having that time tracker was a lifesaver. No matter what, even if I only managed 10,000 words, or less than that, I would know I was making huge strides, huge sacrifices, and giving writing the book my very best shot. I could look at that graph and know that whatever my word output, there was tangible proof that I was doing more work than ever before.

I highly, highly recommend that to anyone who isn’t sure if they can do 50k in a month and who is as anxiety prone as I am.


What’s next?

Of course, my novel will not be 50,000 words long (this is true for most Fantasy novels). I estimate the first draft will be between 75,000 and 85,000 words (I feel even more confident in that assessment now that I’m 50,000 words in). My book has three parts, and NaNo got me right to the beginning of part 3, as I thought it would.

I forced myself to take a “vacation” from writing in the first week of December, and didn’t actually touch my draft, or any of the commitments I’d set aside while I was too busy with NaNo. I needed that break, my brain needed that break. I was sleep deprived and emotionally exhausted from writing so much story so quickly.

I thought I’d spend the second week of December catching up on everything writing-related that  didn’t get done in November: going over line edits for a short story that will be published in an anthology next year, writing a short story as a present for a friend, writing this post while my memories of NaNo were fresh, other bits and bobs like replying to editors and sending out stories.

Of course, only one week was not nearly enough for that. Here we are at the end of it, and I’ve barely gotten 50% of these things done. I’ve decided to give myself as much time as I need to really clear my plate so I can dive back into the final 30,000 words of my draft without feeling constantly torn about lagging commitments. NaNo taught me how stressful that can be.

So, wish me luck for the next 30,000 words? I hope to get them started in 2018, but no doubt I’ll be doing the majority of the work in 2019. What a scary, exciting prospect for the new year 🙂


Can we read some of your manuscript???

I’m not sure any of you actually want to do that, but I know I was always curious to see the quality of writing authors can produce during NaNo, and to see how rough it really was. I can tell you that by my own estimation, my 50,000 is about 10% “worse” than the same prose would have been if I’d written it without NaNo, in my own sweet time. I know this about myself: my first drafts aren’t really readable yet, they’re just fodder that will later turn into a second draft, that I will actually hopefully be able to send beta readers.

But as long as we’re all here, and as long as you’re curious (I mean, if you’re still reading I have to assume that you are), here’s a short bit from the draft, towards the start of the book, in which a queen and her mother are discussing the queen’s upcoming wedding.


“It was purely a courtesy that her mother announced herself, instead of simply barging in as she was in the habit of doing, like a reminder that nothing, not this palace, or the country at large, or even Elro’s private rooms were truly hers.

“I won’t ask for an apology,” her mother began, as soon as she was ushered in. Elro stood by her bed, dressed in a thin shirt and a robe. She usually had someone read to her while she fell asleep. “But I hope you at least realize how inappropriate your behavior has been.”

Elro struggled not to roll her eyes. That wouldn’t make this go any faster. “Do enlighten me.”

“The Regent has sent you an ideal match. A boy from the main branch of the Yaritemi clan. His dowry is the equivalent of two months’ taxes for your treasury. He comes with a pristine reputation. Nothing but glowing accounts, from his tutors to his peers.” Her mother’s face hardened. “And what do you do? Turn a cold shoulder, act like a distant relative invited to the wedding party.”

That did make Elro roll her eyes. “Am I supposed to court him? The wedding is a week away, it’s a bit late for that. And surely you don’t want me to touch him before then, so what am I supposed to do?”

Her mother spread her hands in exasperation. “Talk to him! Show some initiative, some leadership! Remind him he’s marrying a queen, not a servant.”

“Is that what you did with Father?” Elro asked.

Her mother’s face went dark. “Your father, may his soul rest with the ancestors, was a model of chastity, loyalty and manners. He was in a unique position, a man ruling over a country, having to display all the strength of a woman while maintaining his own caring nature. He welcomed me warmly and made sure I never felt awkward at court.”

“And were you the best bride the Regent had to offer?” Elro asked.

Her mother hesitated. This was a sure way to get under her skin. “We were a very good match, yes.”

Not the question Elro had asked. Not that it mattered, she already knew the answer.”

I know not everything about that excerpt makes sense, but I hope that gives you a little glimpse?

Thank you for reading this far, and I hope you’ll wish me luck in finishing this book some day? And also that any of what I’ve said about NaNo will be useful to you in your own writing.

New poem! “Survival in Six Easy Steps”

asdfsdfsI have a new poem out in Strange Horizons! It’s called “Survival in Six Easy Steps” and it’s very different from most of the poems I’ve written before. For one thing: it doesn’t have a love story.

I wrote it at the start of 2018, when all the political things that are currently going on in the world were just starting to happen, and I thought about how many of my friends felt like they needed a vacation, an escape, just to be able to deal with it all, and I thought of how often stress is literally a killer for marginalized people who speak up and dedicate their lives to activism, especially in the wake of a traumatic event. And so, I wrote this poem, about survival and the wilderness and not being able to escape the real world and how we keep living anyway.

You need to go into the wilderness, but there’s no one to take you.
There are women living under your bed,
in the refrigerator,
on every tree branch
on your way to work.

Their eyes are all different—
angry, hopeful, surprised, afraid—
but their hands are all the same. Cold,
bloodless, pulling your lids
up when you’re falling
asleep. Watching you brush
your teeth in the mirror, hiding
your good underwear in the back
of the drawer, forcing you to reach
down. Some days you roll your eyes
at them. Petty, like children.

Read the full poem at Strange Horizons: Survival in Six Easy Steps.

Awards Eligibility Post (aka SF/F works in 2017)

I’ve never done one of these before, but I’ve always wanted to and I guess I’m finally getting it done. I’m still not sure how a lot of SF/F awards work (in terms of categories and schedules, there’s just a lot of them out there for a newcomer to figure out!) but here’s an awkward “a thing I wrote you might want to nominate/vote for if you’re into that sort of thing” first time post anyway.



In 2017 I wrote a novella, Three Keys in the Desert (39,000 words).

In a sentence: it’s science fiction about kids and staff at a military boarding school on a remote planet.

I’m also eligible for the Campbell Award this year.








New poem: “Only the Trees”

ARSENIKAJPGI’m very excited to announce that I have a new poem in the latest issue of Arsenika!

(I’ll always remember the publication history of this poem, because I nearly missed the acceptance notice for it /o\ It had gone to my junk folder and I saw it a week late, and might never have responded to it if I hadn’t accidentally checked the status on Arsenika’s website itself. KIDS, ALWAYS CHECK YOUR SPAM FOLDER.)

“Only the Trees” is kind of difficult to sum up, but I will say it’s one of my most explicitly romantic poems.


A storm blew down
the tree your bones
nourished, through the
roots. They cleaned
you from the dirt and
tore you away from
where I left you, lying
peaceful, reborn an
older creature, my
heart with you, a
piece of tissue and
blood, keeping you

Read the rest of “Only the Trees” >>


On Names and Where They Come From

Hello friends, and welcome to the post that will probably interest you if (1) you’ve read my scifi novella Three Keys in the Desert, or (2) you like reading meta about how writers come up with names for their characters.

If you’re part of group #1, I should tell you this post won’t expand the universe of the novella itself. What it will do is give you more background into who I am as an author and where my creative choices come from. (I’m not always into learning about the behind-the-scenes of the stories I like, so I just thought I’d disclose that up front.)

On the meaning of names

So, because Three Keys in the Desert was the first long work I wrote as an adult (the first draft of it, in 2007, was about 24,000 words) it was not only uncomfortably autobiographical but was also an amalgamation of all the things I loved and had always wanted to put into stories. Especially where names were concerned.

For this reason, a lot of the names I used in the novella meant something to me and had a whole backstory behind them. I made sure the names were always a reflection of the character’s identity, but often they also had personal significance to me, like my own secret little in-joke.

So, now I’m going to share some of those personal meanings, in no particular order.

1. Sol

As a kid I grew up watching the show “Chiquititas”, an Argentinian telenovela for kids. The storyline concerned an orphanage for girls in Argentina where everyone wore uniforms and sang songs every episode. If you’ve read the novella you can already see how the setting of that show is reminiscent of its setting 🙂

Sol was a character on “Chiquititas”, but in the first seasons (which are the ones I remember the most) she wasn’t actually part of the orphanage. She was the youngest girl on the show, maybe 10 years old, and lived in an apartment with a few of the supporting characters. I remember learning as a kid that “sol” was Spanish for “sun”.

Little Sol was truly a ray of sunshine. She smiled the most, she was the youngest and most adorable, and her life wasn’t as tragic as the lives of the orphan girls (at least at first). I knew very early on, when plotting Three Keys in the Desert, that my Sol would be none of those things.

Or rather, that she would be like an echo, or a memory, of that little girl.


2. Ebie

Growing up I loved a lot of what I call “old school HBO” shows. Most of them were historical fiction (for example, the amazing “Rome”), they had a huge budget, and they were doing things with historical narratives that I’d never really seen before.

I think the last show of this kind I watched before writing the novella was “Deadwood”. It was about a small 19th century settlement in the U.S. that transforms into a town, and the costs and benefits of civilization.

One of the characters on Deadwood was named E.B. Farnum. He owned a lodging house and over time became the town’s mayor. I doubt he was most people’s favorite character – he was cowardly, greedy, selfish, abusive to his employees, opportunistic. He had no backbone and no principles and not even good looks, or youth, or humor or wit to “redeem” him to the viewers.

Nevertheless, he was on “Deadwood” for as long as it ran, and he got a lot of attention and character development. If “Deadwood” was a show about human nature, then E.B. Farnum was a mirror of the worst parts of us ordinary folk. Arrogant, petty, a coward and often a fool. Nothing about him was attractive or interesting except his inherent humanity.

I remember thinking that of all the characters on “Deadwood” – the stalwart hero, the foul-mouthed brothel owner, the silly journalist, the compassionate doctor – E.B. Farnum was almost impossible to imagine being played by a woman.

I couldn’t find a single example of when a woman was allowed to play this sort of role, and remain on the side of “good”, and have significant character development over the course of multiple seasons. What would a woman playing the most cowardly, most wretched, most petty and mean and arrogant human who was still somehow perfectly average even look like? I couldn’t imagine a TV audience rooting for a woman who was all of these things, the way I was meant to be rooting for E.B. Farnum.

So, Ebie is named after him.

Of course, there’s almost nothing in common between Ebie and E.B. In fact Ebie is probably Farnum’s polar opposite. But when I created Ebie I thought of all her faults, and I thought to myself how far this flawed character was from the profound, “unattractive” flaws of E.B. Farnum, and I named her as a reminder to myself. As an aspiration.

Write more women who are flawed and “unsympathetic” and inherently, deeply, movingly human. Write about the ugliest parts of yourself. Women should be allowed to have their own stories, even when they’re only in it for themselves. Even when they’re not there to take care of anyone. Even when nothing about them is admirable.


3. Vrei

Vrei’s name, like a lot of the kids’ names (including “Ebie”) is meant to sound like it was meant to be a real name but didn’t quite get there. I wanted to create a sense for the reader that the kids in Three Keys in the Desert had fundamentally different names than the adults. I wanted them to be less obviously gendered, less obviously derived from a recognizable language.

Vrei was named after the French word “vrai”, which means “truth”. There’s an extra note of appropriateness, I guess, since Vrei spends most of the story looking for the truth about a certain incident.

As far as I’m aware, “vrai” isn’t a given name among French speakers anywhere. So, I wanted Vrei to create a sense of “huh, your name is kind of like a real word, except it isn’t”. It fit with how the system saw the kids in the story – they were almost like real people, but not quite.


4. Claudia

If Vrei and Ebie were meant to sound like names that were not-quite-names, I chose Claudia because it was a name that sounded ordinary and “normal” in so many languages. Spanish, Greek, French, Italian, English. I don’t have to change a single letter, and Claudia and is still Claudia. (If you’re wondering, I usually pronounce her name the Spanish way in my head.)

As an immigrant myself, I wanted the “permanence” of Claudia’s name to be an indication of her privilege. If the kids in Three Keys in the Desert have identities that are sort of blurry, as far as the system is concerned, Claudia is someone everyone sees very clearly.

It was also important for me to give her (and the other adults) a name with several syllables, contrary to the names of the children. There’s something very “indulgent” in a name that long. In a way, the kids had to have short names because they were moved so frequently. The shorter the name, the easier it is for new people to pronounce and remember. Which is a dynamic that’s never applied to people like Claudia.


5. Bo

The reason I chose this name is probably the simplest one yet. In the early outlines of the novella, Bo’s character was referred to simply as “boy”. He was Sol’s boy, the boy Kim befriends, the boy no one takes seriously. And so eventually I just settled on calling him “Bo”, for short.

The point of his character, in many ways, was that the things that happen to him are completely random. Nothing – from Sol choosing him, to the later events of the novella – is really due to his initiative or actions. In my head, he played a role that girls often play in these sorts of narratives, where they just react to things older and more powerful people do around them and to them. So, he was just “boy”.


So, these were some of my personal reasons for naming the characters as I did. I mean, you can tell this story took over a decade to finish because I have paragraphs of things to say about the names alone, haha. Anyway, if by some chance you haven’t read Three Keys in the Desert yet, the ebook is on sale for $0.99 until tomorrow, so now’s probably your best chance to get it for cheap.

If you’d like to get an email next time I publish something (probably in uh… a pretty long time), you can subscribe to my New Release Mailing List.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day.



Three Keys in the Desert – on sale!

So, a few days ago I finished posting Three Keys in the Desert, my little military SF novella featuring a cast of mostly women. As I’ve said before – I wrote this story over a decade ago, and wasn’t sure it would really find an audience or be interesting enough to be read by anyone.

I’ve been really overwhelmed by the reactions to it, quite honestly. Thank you so much to everyone who bought the book, who read along with the posts, who retweeted or shared my daily updates, who left a review and who tweeted and emailed me to say how much they enjoyed the story.

All of that means more to me than you can ever know. ❤

So, what now, you might ask?

Well, for the next week, the novella will be on sale! Which means if you haven’t gotten it yet, now’s your chance to get the ebook for $0.99! 

Barnes & Noble | Amazon | iTunes | Kobo

After July 7th the price will rise to the princely sum of $2.99.

What if I already bought the book?

Well, first of all, you’re my personal hero. But also, in the coming weeks I’m hoping to do some behind-the-scenes and bonus material type posts, so I hope you’re done reading the full story in time for that!

Anyway, thank you, again, to everyone who’s been part of this adventure so far.

Three Keys in the Desert: the map!

Hello friends!

So, we’re past the middle of June, and past the middle of Thee Keys in the Desert! Yesterday part 20 went live, which means there are only 7 parts left, meaning 7 days and we’re done.

So, I thought today might be a good time to take a break and post some bonus material. A few people have asked me about how the world of the novella is arranged, what districts are next to what, how the space works, etc. To answer all (or at least some) of those questions, I’m happy to share with you this map!

(All credit for making it pretty, instead of an ugly, crooked drawing on a piece of printer paper, goes to the amazing Dana.)



>> click for full size map <<

Here you can see where all the districts are, and their size relative to each other, and where the food happens, and where the Fluff Palace is.

If you have any questions about it I’m always happy to answer!

I hope you’ve been enjoying Three Keys in the Desert, and I promise we’re going back to our regular posting schedule tomorrow.


Three Keys in the Desert

On a remote planet, a military boarding school is about to get a new headmistress. Her charges will include Ebie, a girl desperately trying to keep a secret, Kim, a boy desperately trying to keep his friends from dying, and Vrei, a girl who just wants to make it to the end of the day. Will any of them get what they want? With only a week until Transfer Day, the biggest and most important event of the year, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

The novella is available as an ebook and also as a free read on my website, posted in chapters.

Buy the ebook:

iTunes | KoboAmazon | Barnes & Noble

 Bonus materials:

Map of where the story takes place

Behind-the-scenes of naming choices in the story

 Read the story online:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

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