Category Archives: Writing Advice

Sent out first Queary Letters for a new novel: Route 413

Recently, I attended the 2022 Writer’s Digest Conference, where I was able to pitch my latest rom/com horror novel, Route 413. This is a story about a mail carrer whose route takes him through hell, fairyland, and a retiremnent community for dead and dying gods.

I pitched to three agents with this project and got requests to send materials to each of them…

which I did today!

[cue exhausting variety of celebration videos, memes, parades, etc]

Anyways, now I will forget I ever sent these in order to not get my hopes up.

Route 413

Bridger Hahn is a solitary mail carrier, whose route takes him through hell, fairyland, and into a retirement community for dead and dying gods. If he can survive his route, his mother, and the constact attacks of an unfeeling universe, he might true love and becomes the next Santa Claus.

A rom/com for fans of literary horror, ala Welcome to Nightvale, John Dies at the End, and Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. Between 70 and 90 k, this book uses mythology from all over a world but especially folktales from Southeast Asia (Bridger is Vietnamese-American) and the indigenous people of the New York area (another character is the Hudson River who has not forgotten he was once worshipped as a god).


Three Lessons From The Brooklyn Writers’ Workshop

So last weekend I went to Brooklyn’s Writer Conference and I learned a lot about how to start a novel, what YA is (according to one agent) and especially how to pitch to an agent. I’ll be writing about those other two topics later on, but this pitching thing is tough. I got a request for a partial and two and a half requests to send first chapters (I’ll explain the “and a half” below), so fairly successful. I wanted to get my notes on it out into the world so that I could reference them myself the next time I pitch.

It boils down to three things: Tell a Story, Know Your Audience, and Be Human and Professional

Be Human and Professional

I had meetings with four agents and the first one was late to our pitch. I was terrifically nervous, so in a way it was good because I had a moment to sit and feel in control of the space. This also gave me the opportunity to eavesdrop on the other writers pitching.

Oh, we are awkward, nervous people.

I heard a lot of rehearsed and lifeless pitches, and it reminded me of watching middle-school students suffer through their first presentations. The same advice teachers gave you then, counts now. Don’t recite your notes by rote. Smile. Make eye contact.

Now, I’ve got a leg-up on other authors in this way. My day job is as a teacher and tour guide, so while I am the strong, silent, prefer-to-sit-under-the-stairs-and-take-notes-on-mere-mortals type, I’ve learned to command a conversation and talk naturally.

There’s a ton of resources on how to speak confidently at job interviews and in business meetings, but I think the best thing to do treat the agent like a person. They are not a genie who will grant you a best-seller if you rub them the right way (please don’t rub the agents). So, get out of the straight-jacket of a rehearsed monologue.

I can’t believe this is advice we need to hear, but I saw this three or four times (mostly men pitching fantasy to women): don’t argue with an agent during a pitch. I don’t care if she just said that the only good fantasy is about sparkly vampires or you will never sell your book. Bottle your pride, your rage, your contrarian nature and be professional. That agent wasn’t for you; don’t go off on her and make an enemy out of all the other agents in the room.

It helps me to start the conversation with something besides the business (since the temperature was wildly fluctuating at the conference I opened with the weather. Terrible idea in writer, awesome advice for small talk.) Then lead into my name and credentials.

Tell a Story

With one of the agents, I got detoured from my pitch and we went down a rabbit hole about the world. I got so carried away explaining the history of the world, how magic functioned, how it was based off the people in the area I was raised, that I never got around to telling her about the main characters’ stories. Not until she asked me, “what are the stakes? What’s the germ of the story?” I got lucky that she brought us back to that, because the details of my world weren’t enough to sell her on the pitch.

I applied her advice (leading with a log line that I had buried deeper in my pitch) and it lead me to my most successful pitch. I went into charming storyteller mode and told my novel the way I talk about movies and pieces of art. I hit all the marks professionally but entertainingly and it engaged the agent enough to ask for a full partial. We also finished early so I got to talk about my sales as a romance writer, my other work and ideas, and how the market might respond to such a book.

Know Your Audience

A.K.A.: do your fucking research. When I signed up for the conference, I remember choosing one agent who only represented fantasy and thinking she’d be a great fit not for the novel I’d be pitching to everyone else, but for a separate project I’d just finished. So, I signed on for her and thought in my hubris I would prepare a second pitch just for her.

I forgot.

I cannot explain how embarrassing it was to sit down with an agent and have her listen to me pitch a YA fantasy/sci-fi romance and then immediately explain she doesn’t represent sci-fi. It’s especially bad, when you’ve paid for the pitch session. But this is good advice for an email query too. When an agent reads queries, she is working for free, so not researching wastes her time and more importantly your rejection threshold. There you are agonizing for two days, two weeks, two months anticipating feedback and she deleted your email because you didn’t respect her guidelines.

When things went south, I was able to roll with it. I apologized for the misunderstanding and asked how I could improve my pitch and what advice she had (you know besides, doing my fucking research).

Towards the end of our conversation, I thought she was throwing me a bone when she gave me the name of another agent at her company who might fit the work. I almost didn’t write the name down, since I figured it was a pity gesture. But I’m glad I did, because she was right; that other agent would be a really good fit for my book. Because I acted like an adult and didn’t collapse completely under my own humiliation and despair, I have a personal introduction to an agent who has represented a lot of very lengthy books that have sold well. Which is like… half a point, right?

On the other hand, I knew one of the agents dislikes The Fae, so when I referred to my world I was able to speak to that by calling it a kind of post-industrial fairyland, but you know without the fairies. And that really interested him.

So, know the agent, be a kind professional, and tell a story. Pitching is hard; but it’s a necessary step in an author’s career. You can’t level up until you master it.

Filler words to cut and replace

This is for me, mostly. I have a list of words that I personally abuse/find weak and I’m tired of losing my list and recreating it. So, I’m posting it here.  Yay!



Words to highlight and revise:






















It is


Words to probably remove:






Of the

Off of






All of a sudden












Towards with toward




Probably Lightening/lightning



Advice for Writing a Steampunk World: Part 2 Implementation

So, you’ve got the background blue-prints to your Steampunk world, now how do you put that to use while building a story with characters and plot?

If you’re an outliner, you may be struggling with the amount of details you have to find a place for. If you’re a discovery writer, you may have already written the story and be trimming down on the info dumps and useless bits of the world.

One of the weirdest things about The Scribbling Windhund is the point of view. Since the story is told by the machine, it exists somewhere between an epistolary work, a play, and the diary of a fashion critic. So, I had an interesting task in building the world without the use of large descriptive paragraphs (except when Otto gets effusive in his drafts).


Here’s my advice:

Determine what information about the world is most necessary to develop the plot and characters…

As the creator of the world, I know that Prussians have a list of names approved by the state that parents must use. I know that households are given financial incentives not only to have children but to have children who win awards and honors. I know that there’s a garden inside Prussia where every flower is artificially created to be perfectly symmetrical.

But none of that made it into the story. It filtered my experience of the world and informed how I wrote Otto, especially, but I couldn’t find a place to fit it while I was writing. So, I didn’t try to force it into the story. I remember I had to cut a section I particularly liked where Karl was looking down at the city and could see the garden and Otto told him about the perfect shape of the flowers. There’s was about five pages and it was acting as a fun metaphor for the culling of living things (like people) in the name of perfection, but really it wasn’t adding to the plot or the characters so I took it out.


And when to reveal it:

If you try to tell everything about the world on the first page, there will be no room for them to get attached to the character or story and in the end. I might feel like a textbook about the world. So, figure out when a technology or law gets revealed organically (then make sure it’s consistently applied even before the reader knows about it).

For example, Otto doesn’t mention the constant surveillance of the military, or the banning of imported alcohol, or the monitoring of sexual behaviors until later in the story. But he always behaves as someone who lives in that world and is particularly careful about what he says to and about the military.


Hide information dumps by building character and tension around them

I feel like this is a dirty trick, but it’s so useful. Whenever I have to get information about the world to the reader, I try to imagine how I would have learned about it explicitly in the world. I’m not afraid of character’s thinking back to school lessons, mother’s lectures, or the like.

I got to really cheat once or twice in this story, because the main character writes for a newspaper and takes the opportunity to educate children about something that happened in the past. Since the story is set up the way it is, I was able to include the actual newspaper story and the character’s interpretation of the event. Karl does his share of educating as well, but it comes paired with either an actual disagreement he’s having with Otto or with a personal disagreement with himself. So there’s always two or three things happening while the reader is learning about the world.


The Fantasist is a quarterly online magazine that publishes three original Fantasy novellas on the third Thursday of every third month.

And this month, while they celebrate Steampunk, one of them is mine!

Support these guys. They have good stories for free.

Advice for Writing a Steampunk World: Part 1 Development

This is my 100th post.

Which is cool. And because that’s cool, I wanted to make sure it was a good post so I’m writing about something I’m really pretty passionate about – building a good world. And I’m going to make it about Steampunk, because having your 100 post is not a good reason to break-up a theme.

There are a couple ways to start building a world. Maybe you have a premise for the whole world. Maybe you have a specific character problem that relies on a certain cultural restraint. Maybe you have a contest offering money for a Steampunk novella and you need to craft a non-Victorian Steampunk.

Either way, you need to grow that kernel of an idea into an entire populated world. I can’t tell which saddens me more, would-be writers with incredibly detailed worlds and no characters or plots to live there or would-be writers with a world just like ours except for one weird quirk that only seems to exist to inconvenience the really well-crafted protagonist.


Starting with a concept and filling in the story.

For me, this is the easier of the two starts. I can always find a character to play in a world. But here’s some questions to ask to flesh out a world and find the forces your characters are going to be fighting against.

  • Who takes out the trash? Enforces the laws? Takes care of the children?
  • What are the society’s ideals? Tell the story of a person in conflict with them.
  • Who does this society “other”?
  • Consider basic story types.  I think Seven Plots is limiting yourself and I, of course, would add Romance to the list, but there are worse places to start than the seven basic plots. How can one of those plots work well into your world.

I’ll answer these questions for The Scribbling Windhund. I wanted a Steampunk version of Fredrick the Great’s Prussia. So, I started by researching about this time period in German history and by researching the man himself. My man, Fritz, was a benevolent dictator, almost certainly gay, and obsessed with the ideals of the Enlightenment, service to state before self, and a military genius. His legacy has been a bit muddied in America (Hitler compared himself to Frederick the Great), but I wondered what his ideal society would look like with more modern technology.

So, the concept for my Prussia became a society of people who prized the work of artists, craftsmen, and thinkers, who idolized their military, and who strongly believed in service to the state above self.

People who prized these ideals so much, that they build a city on top of their old city dedicated to their ideals.

I knew this world would be a very pretty place, with gardens and art on every building. There would be intellectual salons, state-sponsored concerts. Basically, a society built around high-brow arts. The restaurants would all run by people who were passionate about food. Every architect would be a visionary. Everyone who wanted to grow up and be an artist, or a writer, or a singer would have an outlet (that wasn’t the internet).

So, who enforces the laws?

Obviously, a strong military. Who takes out the trash and takes care of the kids was harder. Since artistic and intellectual types are incapable of tending to demeaning labor like doing their own laundry and changing diapers, someone else had to do it. But if all education was designed to create artists and philosophers… maybe the military would have to force them to do it.

This took me down a weird 1984 path. Where I started to ask what would happen to the non-artistic and I realized their only place in society would be the military protecting the artists, or in the service industry taking care of the artists. I decided to combine them, so that this sectors military is enormous—over half of the population. The people who take out the trash are soldiers. The ones who repair the roads? Soldiers. The lady behind the counter at the DMV? A soldier. The person doing your taxes. Actually, I’ve met accountants that are very passionate about money, that’s probably an artist’s specialization.

Growing the military to this size made for an interesting twist on this Artist’s Utopia. Would I live in a place that paid me to write, if I was constantly monitored by the military? I don’t think I would.

Which brings me to…

Who is not in line with the society’s ideals?

Since Prussia is a society build around service to the state, idolization of the principles of Enlightenment and arts, someone who doesn’t trust the military-state would be on the outs. Also someone one who either wasn’t an artist, or for some reason had been excluded from the society.

This character became Karl, my terrorist. The champion of the poor, the ugly, the uneducated, and those left behind and erased from history when this perfect society was created. While being a master craftsman himself, Karl knew too many people who did not possess these talents who had been overlooked when the society built itself.

Who is othered?

I cheated on this one, because I decided to make Prussia a conservative country as well and reflect some problematic beliefs about what the ideal family looked like. This led to second-class citizens, people who had mental, physical, or emotional limitations and needed special protection from the government. Religious zealotry (i.e. any worship) and homosexuality fell into this category.

I liked the idea of making second-class citizens, people who weren’t ostracized so much as limited. They needed to be protected from the harm they do to themselves and can’t be put in positions where their limitation might affect their judgement. It gets creepy.

But this idea brought me to my second character, the everyday average man in this society. Otto, a good Prussian boy, who believes in his sector’s military, his own sexual limitations, and the superiority of this system… until he meets the terrorist.


Starting with a character and filling in the story.

It’s a littler harder to build a world around a character with a cultural restraint/element. The trouble really comes from having a great idea that relies on one aspect of the character being persecuted. It can make the world seem unfairly biased against the character and ultimately unrealistic.

Here’s the questions to ask about the cultural restraint/element.

  • Could this kind of cultural restraint/element exist in the real world? How is it treated and what are you saying by placing it in this context?
  • How do true-believers in this restraint/element view it? If the justification sounds evil or unlikely, then chances are you need to think more about this element.
  • What other aspects of the society would be affected by the restraint/element? For example, if your element is that your character has a steam-powered airship, what else is the society doing with that technology?
  • Who is in charge of this restraint/element (who created it)?

I could cheat again and talk about Otto’s homosexuality and how Prussia monitors and restricts him because of it, how I based it off of conservative communities in real life and the logical conclusion of enforcing anti-sodomy laws, and how the authorities in Prussia view homosexuality as dangerous to the individual…

But, I’m going to focus on the actually technology instead.

There are two big technological element I created for this story. The Environmental Dome and the DikTak. Both of them are vital to the story, but the dome exists in a vacuum I had to explain away.

So the character premise was: a terrorist escapes a prison by sneaking parts off an unobtrusive clock-work machine and using it to remove the environmental dome that’s been keeping all his friend imprisoned underneath the current city.

I’ll start with the DikTak. This is a simple clockwork automaton that functions as a note-taking machine because it can record what it ‘hears’ and ‘sees.’ Since I wanted the DikTak as the narrator of the story, it needed to be able to ‘see’ which is fairly advanced (it only sort of exists in real life). However, it had to be unremarkable enough to be allowed into a prison, which meant Prussia had to have not only clock-work devises by extraordinarily complex ones or else they would need to remark on how weird the DikTak was.

I could have left the DikTak as the solitary technological advancement (since its an invention of local genius, Karl Schneider), but I thought it would feel more organic in a world filled with other advancements. So, Otto mentions it casually like an advanced watch or toy. The characters don’t react to the machine like it’s extraordinary. There’s other technology like it. We see a clock-work telegraph machine in action and Otto draws attention to another piece of clockwork that is even more advanced. The clockwork in the prison-tower.

So that’s how the technology effects of the aspects of the world. If I got out of the DikTak’s narration, I would show other elements of Prussian life, which probably include clockwork sidewalks and staircases. It was created fairly recently since Karl’s designed are still used by clock-work re-creationists, but it’s entered enough into daily use for a little mechanical dog to not be notably out of place.

The second big piece of tech I had was the environment domes. So far this doesn’t exist in the real world, though as a metaphor for a strict border I was saying some pretty interesting things by keeping it impermeable and having the government forcing people to remain trapped inside it.

This had to be a complicated and not easily understood technology (it takes my genius a decade to break it). If it was a simple technology that was widely understood, then the people in the Undercity would be able to fabricate their own and certain plot elements would fall apart.

So it sounds pretty evil, which meant I had to take some time to ensure that the readers saw why it was necessary. Life without the dome is impossible because the environment is unlivable outside of them. Yup, I might be saying something with those domes…

Because the domes are complex, they are not widely used in society. There’s no thunderstorm rooms, or snow-filled parks—at least not in Prussia.

And of course, in Prussia the military controls the dome. Until, of course, they don’t…



The Fantasist is a quarterly online magazine that publishes three original Fantasy novellas on the third Thursday of every third month.

And this month, while they celebrate Steampunk, one of them is mine!

Support these guys. They have good stories for free.

Into the Mystic : Ava Kelly

Into the Mystic, Volume Three is a short story anthology featuring nine paranormal short stories that center on a lesbian/bisexual romance. I’m super excited about it, since I feel there is a lack of LGBT fantasy romance especially ones that focus on the ladies. Since I know a few of these authors, they let me interview them!

Ava Kelly

It Started Before Noon – All Stories must begin somewhere.

Ava Kelly is an engineer with a deep passion for stories. Whether reading, watching, or writing them, Ava has always been surrounded by tales of all genres. Their goal is to bring more stories to life, especially those of friendship, compassion, understanding, and comfort.

Secluded Storefront by Ava Kelly
“Secluded Storefront” art by Ava Kelly

L.J. wakes up bound to M. Hollis’ wheeled chair, but she is not in her kitchen anymore. Instead L.J. is surrounded by books, cogs, wires, and bubbling liquids. A picture perfect steampunk laboratory.

L.J.: Damn! Serves me right for trusting a vampire and her delicious cookies.

L.J. scoots and the chairs rolls forward.

L.J.: Hello? Is there a mad scientist around? Maybe a minion?

Crash that sounds like tools and metal, but also pens and paper. Ava Kelly pops around the corner. L.J. wiggles her fingers to wave.

Ava: Oh! You’re awake already. That vampire told me you were a dream factory and would sleep for a hundred years. I hadn’t even gotten around to test you yet!

L.J.: Nope, just a friendly writer going around door-to-door in other author’s imaginations and getting interviews.

Ava: Aw. Serves me right for trusting a vampire and her discounts. Well, I suppose it’s nothing a sedative won’t cure.

L.J.: But the interview? I mean this silliness has gone along quite long enough don’t you agree?

Ava: I suppose…

Ava sits down and sips from a cup of tea.

Ava: You’ll want to know what draws me to F/F romance?

L.J.: Actually, I’d like to be untied before–

Ava: The same thing that draws me to queer stories in general. Diversity and normalizing diversity.

L.J.: That’s beautiful. Can I quote you on that. I just need to not be tied up so I can–

Ava: Names are powerful things. I’ve been an outsider throughout my formative years, raised in an allo cishet environment in which queer media was almost non-existent.

Ava paces through the laboratory, pausing as they encounter experiments that need fine tuning.Tightening loose screws, pruning idea trees, that sort of thing.

Ava: So you can imagine the revelations I had later on, when—through the stories and movies and books of others—I could name the peculiarities of my own person. When I knew that I wasn’t alone. I’d like to bring that feeling to others. I’d like to help them understand who they are, be able to name their demons and thus turn them into trusted companions. Because, hey, we’re all different and that’s what makes us human. That’s a good thing.

L.J.: So is untying your guests.

Ava turning sharply with a needle full of dream-dust.

Ava: What?

L.J.: What inspired “It Started Before Noon”?

Ava leans against a table stacked high with books and sets down the needle. One of the books stretches, yawns, and patters over to L.J.

Ava: That is a very good question, since “It Started Before Noon” is a story about inspiration.

Ava rubs their chin.

Ava: Honestly, I can’t remember what it was that started it all. One moment I was hopping through the mythology multi-verses—Wikipedia is both a burden and a joy, isn’t it?—the next there were storypuffs and muses and scientists looking for romance in a world dry of it.

L.J. nods helpfully. But as soon as Ava returns to their survey of the room, L.J. rubs her bound wrists against the hard-ridges of the book’s spine. The book arches up happy with the attention.

Ava: I must admit, I have a soft spot for steampunk aesthetics, the visual part of it most of all. The universe of “It Started Before Noon” has that aesthetic, but it has magic. A subtle kind of supernatural energy, persistent, generously infused in everyday life. A resource like everything else.

L.J. stops sawing through the straps when Ava turns to look at her. The hard-cover book annoyed bats at L.J.’s hands with its sharp pages.

L.J.: That’s really cool. You don’t often see sci fi and fantasy blending like that.

Ava nods and collects the stray books and returns it to its tower while it hisses.

Ava: The people living in this world are on a spectrum of magic… flux, if you will. Some are immersed in it to their core, it’s part of who they are, what they are. Others are at the other extreme, oblivious to its tendrils wrapping around reality. Most, however, reside in between, be they creators of magic or simply users. Talida, a muse, is a part of it. Ingrid, a scientist, cannot see it.

L.J.: Oh that’s a relationship fraught with conflict right from the start.

Ava: Indeed. Their personalities aren’t all that similar either. Talida is easily annoyed, but she also has patience; unless startled, in which case she acts rashly and without much consideration. Ingrid is exuberant, relentless, a little stubborn. Yet, when it comes to tending to her own happiness, she might give up too easily. They fit around each other, not perfectly, but enough to make them gravitate toward each other.

L.J. snaps the rest of the strap while Ava plays with a character mixer demonstrating the auras mingling.

The Storypuff and the Rose by Ava Kelly
“The Storypuff and the Rose” art by Ava Kelly

L.J.: It sounds like you have a really in-depth world for a novella. Was that a challenge for you?

Ava: When writing fantasy, the most difficult part is world-building without making it obvious. It’s easy to drop a chunk of text explaining how that particular setting works, its rules, its way of life; but considerably harder to interweave it within the story.

Ava reaches into a jaw of descriptors and begins to pepper them around the lab. A ‘thatched’ there, an ‘eye of newt’ here, ‘creaky floor boards’ all around, and ‘smoke swirling upward. The ‘gingerbread fragrance’ thickens.

Ava: Let it drop here and there, make its way into the reader’s mind quietly and unobtrusively until they’re there. Until they’re living inside that space with no memory of having to jump through. As a writer you have to know how to open the doors to your own imagination without yanking your reader through. Must have patience, must lure them with crumbs under the canopy, one after another on the meandering forest path until bam!

L.J.: Holy cow, we’re in a witch’s cottage.

L.J. is now imprisoned in a cage made of hard-rock candy.

Ava: Would you like some gingerbread to munch on?

L.J.: No, I’ve leaved my lesson about snacking in other authors’ imaginations. What about the romance part of the story? Was that difficult?

Ava continues drinking their tea, though they lean against a kitchen counter full of dangling herbs, jars of organs, and vials of electricity.

Light Painting by Ava Kelly
“Light Painting” Art by Ava Kelly

Ava: Romance is… weird, in a good way. There’s a thing I noticed over the past decade(-ish). Our world demands fiction to be more and more realistic. There’s so much technological progress that science fiction is becoming true. I essentially design artificially intelligent systems in my research.

L.J.: Wait, like…for real?

Waves hands and dispels the witch cottage and re-checks their e-mail.

L.J.: Ava… is an engineer… That reality is a hundred times cooler than anything I could making up.

Ava: Yeah, let me tell you: it’s mind-blowing. Twenty years ago, having an entire computer in your pocket would’ve been too out-there to imagine it as an integral part of our lives. Now that computer can be the size of a watch and you can still write emails on it. And remember those Star Trek comm devices? The only difference is that we’re wearing them around our wrists instead of on our chests.

L.J.: I’d give all my money to the person who designs a case for one that clips onto my shirt and stays in place.

Ava: One will probably pop up soon enough. So, now we have this world in which the impossible is suddenly not only plausible but also probable, and we start craving reality to bleed through. Romance as a genre is a mirror that distorts reality toward happiness, but the world is sadly too bleak. On the one hand we want to see the possibility of contentment, and yet, on the other, we thrive when it moulds around life as we know it.

L.J.: So the challenge of writing romance…

Ava: Is making it feel possible. Realistic enough to touch. In the end it’s all about fulfilling the purpose of romance: to give hope. And that’s pretty damn hard to do if your heart, as a writer, is not in it.

L.J.: Alright, last thoughts. What is your advice to new writers, Ava Kelly?

Ava: I’ve seen a lot of advice regarding writing in general, but a lot less when it comes to the struggles of getting your work out there. So I’m going to talk about the publishing part. If you don’t want to self-publish, you have to submit your work for consideration. To a magazine, a publisher, an agent, etc. and convincing them to buy your stories can seem sisyphean.

One of the realities of today’s world is that there’s just so much of everything in it. So many people, so much media, a lot fewer avenues of publication. It’s hard to shine from a pool of millions doing the same thing (and this happens not only in art-related fields, but also in research and academia). I’ve been publishing things in both fiction and non-fiction since the late ’90s and oh, boy! I have gotten at least ten times more rejections than acceptances, overall. Haven’t really counted, but that’s in the upper hundreds there.

It’s spirit-crushing. Heartbreaking sometimes. Discouraging to the point of hopelessness.

My advice? Keep submitting.

The hardest thing about this is to not give up, so how do we endure? Simply don’t stop—don’t set that quill down, that’s your sword! Polish the story, if you must. Rewrite it, reimagine, but never stop submitting. Be patient, let the no’s slide off and get back to it. Persevere.

L.J.: This has been a lot of fun for me and now I’m super inspired.

L.J. walks away before any of these nutballs from Into the Mystic catch her again.

L.J.: Can’t believe I got an interview with the inventor of our future Robot masters.

Find more Ava Kelly on their:

Lily by Ava Kelly
“Lily” Art by Ava Kelly

Instagram(where we can bathe our eyes in weird sunsets apparently)

Into the Mystic : M. Hollis

Into the Mystic, Volume Three is a short story anthology featuring nine paranormal short stories that center on a lesbian/bisexual romance. I’m super excited about it, since I feel there is a lack of LGBT fantasy romance especially ones that focus on the ladies. Since I know a few of these authors, they let me interview them!

M. Hollis

The Hunt – A first bite is never easy for a teenage vampire.

M. Hollis could never decide what to do with her life. From the time she was a child, she has changed her ideas for a career hundred of times. After writing in hidden notebooks during classes and daydreaming during every spare moment of her day, she decided to fully dedicate herself to her stories. When she isn’t scrolling through her social media accounts or reading lots of femslash fanfiction, you’ll find her crying about female characters and baking cookies.

Favorite Authors:Hollis 1

  1. GL Tomas
  2. Siera Maley
  3. Brigitte Bautista
  4. Tess Sharpe
  5. Shira Glassman


Ziggy Schultz closes the mausoleum gate as soon as L.J. passes through. Which is good because L.J. immediately tries to escape.

L.J.: There’s a vampire out here!  Let me out!

The vampire draws nearer licking bubble-gum pink lips, then lifts a tray of oatmeal raisin cookies.

M. Hollis: Cookie?

L.J.: Um… obviously. Yeah.

The inside of the mausoleum is in fact a very pretty kitchen. Lots of bright colors and a sign over the table that says “forever thirsty” and has a suspiciously red margarita. 

M: So happy you could join me in my happy home. When I heard Ninestar Press was looking for F/F paranormal stories and I decided to write something for them. Vampire stories always fascinated me for some reason.

M. Hollis giggles and flashes her pearly fangs. L.J. eats the cookies.

M.: So it was easy to come up with The Hunt. I wanted to write a story that isn’t dark or creepy for once but more about vampire families and how vampires do the transition from newborns to fully formed vampires. That’s how I came up with the first bite being kind of a ritual for some vampires (not all of them feel the itch to bite humans though).

L.J.: Cool take on vampires. Life cycle. These cookies are amazeballs! So you’re main character is a teenage vampire?

M: “teenage” vampire. She was changed a few days before she turned 19. You can see her on my pinterest. She was scared and alone at the time and she found a family with Carla and Mona (who she calls Mom and Mommy). Carla is a writer who specializes in writing books that tell vampires where the safe and dangerous places are to live and visit while her wife Mona is a translator and they kinda work together sometimes. In this world, vampires have secured themselves into a new dimension where they have their neighborhoods and houses in a safe place, but they come out sometimes for food, pleasure or work.

L.J.: Nice. So you’ve got two F/F couples?

M: Representation is so important. I started reading F/F romance when I was looking for more diverse stories years ago and the more I read the more I figured my sexuality out and my love for other women. So now I like to dedicate myself to reading and writing F/F as much as I can.

L.J.: That’s beautiful. Nearly as beautiful as these cookies… so…what challememes…

L.J. swallows the cookie.

L.J.: What challenges did you face in writing fantasy/romance?

M.: World-building l is always the hardest part for me. I like to write more about the characters themselves than little details so I tend to forget things that other people care about. I guess is something I slowly work with and my beta readers are always helping me out to become a better author. For romance, the challenge is to find a way to tell a love story that will make everyone happy, which is completely impossible. Every person likes different things and you end up making some people happy and some people disappointed. With time, you learn that you can just write a story and see what happens when it reaches other hands.

L.J. suddenly feeling very sleepy, yawns.

L.J.: Yeah, can’t please… everybody all the… Did I ask about your advice to newbies, yet?

M.: Nope. Here, have a seat in this convenient and not at all suspiciously wheeled arm chair. You look exhausted.

L.J.: Well, you know, between the ghosts and demons and werewolves and… oh more cookies. It’s been a weird couple of days. So advice for…

M.: Make friends in the publishing world! Especially, other authors. I don’t know if I could still be here if it wasn’t the many other wonderful authors who encourage me and are always helping me with my stories. And I love helping them back. Working in publishing is hard…

M. Hollis plumps the pillow on the chair.

M.: If you don’t have a good support system, you’ll end up too exhausted to keep going.

L.J. snores as M. Hollis wheels her away…


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Into the Mystic : Ziggy Schutz

Into the Mystic, Volume Three is a short story anthology featuring nine paranormal short stories that center on a lesbian/bisexual romance. I’m super excited about it, since I feel there is a lack of LGBT fantasy romance especially ones that focus on the ladies. Since I know a few of these authors, they let me interview them!

Ziggy Schultz

By Candlelight – A girl and her ghost await a funeral.

Ziggy is a small-town queer kid who has escaped to the big city of Vancouver, BC. She loves comic books, monsters, and hard fought happy endings. Her writing has appeared in Behind the Mask (Meerkat Press, 2017), Daily Science Fiction, and she is also the cowriter and producer of Crossing Wires, a hopeful post-apocalyptic podcast. When not writing, she spends most of her time in haunted houses, spinning ghost stories for anyone who will stop and listen.

Favorite Authors:heart

  1. Tamora Pierce
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien
  3. Ivan Coyote
  4. Maggie Stiefvater
  5. Neil Gaiman



Leaving Lis Valentine behind in a crazy South Dakota bar, L.J. dashes into… a Canadian graveyard. It’s surprisingly peaceful here. No traces of monsters just a few ghosts in the chilly curls of mist.

A gender-ambiguous person in a hood with a scythe waves L.J. over. Then notices the scythe and quickly puts it under the robe.

L.J.: Ziggy Schutz?

The figure nods.

L.J.: I’m here to interview you about your story in Into the Mystic. Uh… “By Candlelight”?

Again the silent figure nods.

L.J.: Well, this is gonna be a strange interview. What draws you to F/F romance?

The figure begins a muffled answer. Then realizes and pulls down the hood. Ziggy has the most excellent dimples.

Ziggy: Oh Gosh! Forgot I had that on. Hi. Yeah so… as someone who grew up feeling the absence of F/F stories, especially stories where girls were allowed to really fall in love, as opposed to just kissing as a way to titillate the male audience, I try to create the stories that I wanted when I was younger. Even in the space of queer fiction, sapphic romance is so underrepresented, after all. Especially in genre fiction.

They walk through the graveyard.

L.J.: Couldn’t agree more. I came from a small town too and there was zero representation. So, “By Candlelight” has a really interesting version of ghosts.

Ziggy: Oh yeah. Ghost is a job title, like a personal reaper. The world, and this version of ‘ghosts’ already existed. Just left to collect dust with a half finished novella, so when I saw Into The Mystic calling for paranormal, sapphic stories, I went ‘hey, I might have something for that.’ Separate from that, I was playing around with the idea of who funerals are for, and the trope of getting to attend your own. Combine all that, and you get “By Candlelight”!

They pass several mausoleums and a row of carved stone angels.

Ziggy: In this world, when someone dies a ghost comes, sends them on their way, and takes on their appearance so that they can tie up any loose ends. The ghost who comes to help Zoe move on is very good at her job. She’s been doing it as long as she can remember, doesn’t recall ever having her own name or face. And she hasn’t had anyone turn into a spirit – refuse to move on until all humanity is leeched from them – on her in a very long time.

Some of the carved stone angels turn to watch as they walk past.

Ziggy: But Zoe has known she’s going to die for years, most of her last years being defined by that fact. It makes sense that in coming to terms with dying young, she’s become obsessed with death – what it might look like, what comes after, both for herself and for her family and how to make it easiest for them. She is stubborn and single minded, which is why when a ghost that looks like a healthier version of her shows up when she dies and tells her not to worry, the ghost will take it from here, she refuses to move on without explanation.

Ziggy notices the stone angels following them and brandishes the scythe until the angels go back to the way they were before. L.j. doesn’t notice.

L.J.: There’s so much in there that is really intriguing. Really original take on ghosts. Did you have any challenges while you were writing for this call?

Ziggy: Fantasy is something I’m very comfortable with, romance is… not so much. The challenge was really in making sure the subtle romance of the story shone through, really making sure each scene and interaction between Zoe and her ghost carried the weight it needed to feel genuine.

They arrive at the far gate of graveyard.

L.J.: Any advice to new writers?

Ziggy: is it too cliche to say ‘write.’

L.J. shrugs and makes a face because that’s the advice she usually gives and she thought it was pretty damn good advice.

Ziggy: Challenge yourselves. Write a romance, or a sci fi heist, or a high fantasy piece. You’ll never know when you stumble upon something, some new genre or type of story that you never would have tried if you kept to what you knew you could do. And don’t pay too much mind to what people say is marketable. So much of that is based on an outdated, narrow view of the narrative.




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Into the Mystic : Lis Valentine

Into the Mystic, Volume Three is a short story anthology featuring nine paranormal short stories that center on a lesbian/bisexual romance. I’m super excited about it, since I feel there is a lack of LGBT fantasy romance especially ones that focus on the ladies. Since I know a few of these authors, they let me interview them!

Lis Valentine

Fire and Brine – Of all the bars in all the world, Alice had to wander into Cassandra’s. Are either of them ready for what comes next?

Lis lives in Boston with her partner and kid. She chases the mail for money and has too many books and too few days off. She has more stories at Ninestar Press under her other (PG 13) pseudonym, Valentine Wheeler. Check out Dead Letter in Into the Mystic Volume Two, and Piece of Cake in the Teacher’s Pet anthology! Coming out next month in Once Upon a Rainbow Volume Three, is her story “Loose in the Heel, Tight in the Toe.” And Surface Tension, a novella about mermaid abductions, is due out in September.

Favorite Authors:


  1. N. K. Jemesin.
  2. S. A. Chakraborty
  3. Felicia Davin
  4. Seanan McGuire
  5. Tamora Pierce


As Bru Baker roars away in the ghostly carriage, L.J. is surprised to find herself in…South Dakota. Outside of a bar, called Dusty’s. Since a drink sounds like a fantastic idea after the night she’s been having. L.J. goes inside and is surprised to find everyone seems to know her name. Just as she’s backing out the door again, L.J. notices a fellow author perched at the bar.

Lis Valentine: You gotta write with other people! Work in coffee shops together! Hop into each others’ google docs, email drafts back and forth! The more you see other people’s process, the more you can understand and streamline your own and figure out what works…and  you know, what doesn’t… for you.

Lis sagging on the bar.

Lis: Not to mention the fact that writing can be lonely if you’re doing it solo. Make it social and make it fun if that’s your jam!

L.J. approaches the bar cautiously waiting for vampires, or werewolves, or succubi.

L.J.: Hey there, Lis. So I take it “Fire and Brine” takes place in a bar?

Lis: Well, why not? All these supernatural beings, and they never once get down after lights’ out? Come on. I love the trope of strangers meeting for a night, and this was the perfect opportunity. Ladies in a South Dakota bar…

L.J.: So what drew you to F/F/ romance?

Lis lashes out with her drink.

Lis: There’s not enough of it! I’m always looking for great queer female characters, especially in genre fiction and romance. We’re making strides, but we aren’t there yet.

L.J.: I know, I read your tumblr post about men taking men to task about their female characters and I–

Lis: As a queer female-presenting person, I love seeing people like me in the fiction I read. This particular piece was a bit of a challenge for me because I don’t usually write erotica, but I’m proud of it!

L.J.: Ooh spicy!

Lis: Proud of it!

L.J. recoils.

L.J.: And you should be, Lis. Tell me what it’s about?

Lis: So Cassandra– she’s the main character. She looks like Alona Tal —  she’s a woman who lives her life on her terms now that she’s gotten a fresh start. lis1

She has a long history that she’s pushed aside and tried her best to forget. She built Dusty’s up from nothing when she bought it, and she isn’t going to let anyone get in the way of her life.

L.J.: Hey! That’s a gun you’re character is pointing at me!

lis2Lis: And then there’s Alice– she’s visually inspired by Saba Mubarak. Alice has no love for the quiet life. She blows into a town and then right back out of it, taking what she needs and charming everyone along the way.

L.J.: That’s  a really hot combo.

L.J. backs away from the blonde with the pistol.

L.J.: Any challenges in writing such intense character into a fantasy romance?

Lis: I started writing through fan fiction, so the mix of fantasy and romance is what I’ve always written. I find that romance doesn’t care what genre you’re writing in: if the sparks are there, they’ll fly!

Probably about as fast as L.J. flies out of that bar.


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Into the Mystic : Bru Baker

Into the Mystic, Volume Three is a short story anthology featuring nine paranormal short stories that center on a lesbian/bisexual romance. I’m super excited about it, since I feel there is a lack of LGBT fantasy romance especially ones that focus on the ladies. Since I know a few of these authors, they let me interview them!

Bru Baker

Heart’s Thaw- A frozen heart is no match for ignited passions.

Bru Baker writes sophisticated gay romantic fiction with strong characters, real-world problems, and plenty of humor. Bru spent fifteen years writing for newspapers before making the jump to fiction. She now balances her time between writing and working at a Midwestern library in the reference department. Whether it’s creating her own characters or getting caught up in someone else’s, there’s no denying that Bru is happiest when she’s engrossed in a story. She and her husband have two children, which means a lot of her books get written from the sidelines of various sports practices.

Favorite Authors:images

  1. Daphne Du Maurier
  2. Margaret Atwood
  3. Emily Bronte
  4. Jennifer Egan
  5. Mary Calmes



As K. Parr lopes away for her monthly howl, L.J. remains in the carriage watching her disrobed friend’s transformation agog.

L.J.: Well, I’m agog! One never knows how strange one’s friends truly are. Wait, wasn’t this just a taxi?

The driver of the carriage turns and smiles at L.J.

Driver: M’Lady has the most peculiar fancies. You know, I also wrote a story for that collection.

L.J.: Splendid. And you are?

Driver: Bru Baker

L.J.: That is the best author name ever.

Bru utterly unimpressed by L.J.’s admiration focuses on the road and the horses.

Bru: Quite. My story is Heart’s Thaw. Helena, who is the Duke of Keering’s daughter and very well-bred and prim, and her paid companion, Calliope, who is a bit of a firecracker. Calliope is supposed to keep Helena out of trouble, but Helena is too stubborn for her own good. They’re an interesting pairing of fire and ice.

L.J.: Sounds most delightful. What inspired–

Bru:  My best friend asked me to write her an F/F piece for Christmas because she has such a hard time finding lesbian fiction.

L.J.: I know! There’s such a shortage of good F/F–

Bru: I liked the idea of experimenting with what a paranormal creature like a succubus would do when confronted with a woman who isn’t attracted to men.

L.J. nods and takes notes.

Bru: I primarily write gay romantic fiction, so dipping into F/F was an interesting challenge for me. I primarily write contemporary and urban fantasy, and to further set it apart from my usual voice I chose to go with a historical setting for this piece. It was a lot of fun, and I found writing women to be a much more sensuous experience. Ditto for writing outside of contemporary. Everything is sexier by candlelight!

Bru looks over at L.J. disdainfully.

Bru: You’re very quiet for an interviewer.

L.J.: Well, it just pieced together so nicely.

Bru: Indeed.

L.J.: So…You usually write contemporary and urban fantasy. Were there any unexpected challenges to writing fantasy and romance?

Bru: It’s tricky because romance traditionally has very defined rules, and fantasy patently doesn’t. So blending the two can be difficult. Since this was just a short there wasn’t much world-building, but that is where I get hung up when writing fantasy. How do you pull the reader into your world without going overboard on the exposition? It’s a balancing act.

As the carriage slows, L.J. realizes they’re not in the forest anymore…

Bru: And surely the best way to understand the balance is to keep writing. Some writers are lucky and their first book hits the bestseller list, but most of us aren’t. The best way to make a living at this is to build up a backlist. There’s always room for growth, and the way to get there is to hone your craft. So keep writing, keep submitting, and keep editing. You’ll find your audience!

The carriage comes to a stop and Bru nudges L.J.

Bru: Now go away. I have M/M contemporary to write.



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