Progress Report: SO CLOSE

I’ve been absent from the blog because I’ve been trying to finish the first draft of my second book. I wanted to check in, say hi, and let you all know that I’m SO CLOSE. I only have three bracket notes left to write out, and then I’ll be done, done, done! *does a dance*

It’s been a longer process than I anticipated, from conception to finish. Last summer, when Please Give was out for edits and I was wondering what to write next, it took me a long time to settle on the next book. I had a lot of ideas, many of which I began to write, but then got stuck. I wrote some short stories, and started one short story that slowly grew into a novella. Even the novella got stuck.

Then this idea hit. It hit me as a short story — and hit me right as I got Please Give back for revisions. I decided to write down some notes (something I’ve been classically averse to). My notes told me this wouldn’t be a short story. It would be a novel — and it would be my next one.

I finished Please Give, opened Word, and began to write — slowly. It came to me in flashes, in passages I often forced myself to write, which was a much different experience than Please Give. I had to make myself stop writing that one. This one, I had to constantly tell myself to keep going.

I kept going — and I’d find myself surprised at how it came along. I cheered when I crossed the 50,000 word mark. I got closer and closer. There were times I thought I was close, then just had to add something else. I’m still being careful to avoid the trap of never stopping. But I see a stopping point ahead, and it feels really good.

I’ll be sure to celebrate in proper GIF form once it’s done. Thank you all for following along!

What I’m Reading: True Crime Time

First, my second book — I’m almost finished with the first draft! I think I can safely say I’m 3/4 done. I’m hoping to finish by the end of May, and use June and part of July as a resting period to finish revising the stories in my upcoming short story collection.

In between work on my own books, I’m still trying to read each day. I have read a couple of good true crime books (which, without revealing too much, have also helped me along with Book #2). I recently read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by the late Michelle McNamara. I admit I was not familiar with her blog or her work until after her death in 2016. I read the book before they caught the suspected Golden State Killer last month.

The book was an interesting read about McNamara’s attempt to solve the mystery of who was responsible for a series of murders and rapes in California. Without a known criminal to detail, most of the book was accounts of the murders and accounts of the cops’ attempts to find him; as well as her own. It was an interesting read, but I did find myself thinking it got repetitive after awhile with no known suspect to bring all the murders together. There was no villain to get to know — just his crimes. It’s understandable why this was the case, but now that there’s a suspect in jail, I hope the book will be rereleased with an addendum from Patton Oswalt, Paul Haynes, or Billy Jensen, all of whom helped finish the book McNamara left behind. I would buy and read it if they did.

Shortly after (though not right after — I need breaks between true crime stories), I read a classic true crime novel for the first time: The Stranger Beside Me: The True Crime Story of Ted Bundy by Ann Rule. This was the polar opposite of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, for not only did Rule (and the public) know that Bundy was responsible for a slew of murdered girls, Rule knew him personally. They’d worked together at a crisis center, and remained friends and confidants even as he was being investigated.

The Stranger Beside Me was fascinating. Rule did an excellent job with something that’s very hard to do: she wrote about Ted Bundy’s human side without glossing over the atrocity of his actions or the fact that he was not a good person. One of the passages that struck me the most was from the FAQ she added to the revised edition I purchased:

Q: Was Ted Bundy really nice … underneath?
A: No.

I really appreciated how quick she was to shoot down any notion one might have to try and gloss over who he was. Rule spoke of their friendship, and spoke to how she thought he was broken and how she wished he could’ve been committed or had some sort of treatment that would’ve saved others and himself; but she never made him out to be a martyr or a nice person. She knew who he was, and she wrote about what she knew.

Despite my lifelong fascination with the macabre and my interest in stories about killers, true crime was never really on my reading radar. Reading two true crime novels in a short period of time, I’d say that’s mostly still the case. I’m interested in these stories, but the format can grow tiresome when every other chapter has yet another story of someone getting killed. There are only so many times I can read a variation on “Jane Doe was really excited to live a full life. She didn’t get to” before I want to say, I get it. It’s like reading a really long episode of Unsolved Mysteries. The first couple accounts at least are necessary, because it establishes what the killer did and how they did it. After awhile, though, it’s understood that there is a killer and these people we’re being introduced to will be killed. It no longer feels suspenseful or shocking after that. It feels tedious, and almost feels exploitative.

This is why I’m a little more fascinated with stories about other things to know about the killer. What were they thinking? What were they like before? What’s going on with the friends and relatives and partners who love them even after they’ve been exposed? What did people know about them and yet not associate with them becoming murderers? What can we learn from all this?

A story I feel does this really well is My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf. It’s a graphic novel written by one of Dahmer’s childhood friends. While his violent crimes are mentioned, they’re not shown or depicted over and over. Rather, we see Dahmer as a teen, one with violent habits that are ignored and psychological issues that the adults in his life dismiss as growing pains. The book ends with him picking up his first hitchhiker. We all know what happens next — and in my mind, it’s more effective to leave it there.

I’m taking a small break from true crime, as I do; but if you have any recommendations, please let me know in the comments!


I’m no stranger to serial killer stories — my short story, All the Pieces Coming Together, tells the tale of a man who’s found a place so perfect to hide the bodies that there isn’t anybody to hide. You can read it for free. It’s also included in my short story collection, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales.

Last summer, I read and discussed The Girls by Emma Cline. It’s a story of a girl who’s drawn into a cult reminiscent of the Manson family. I think it’s going to be a movie soon. I recommend the book despite its flaws.

Thanks for reading!

Progress Report: Inching Ever Closer

I am writing from the airport, about to head off on an anniversary trip to Montreal with my husband. I denoted this time in my writing agenda to not write — it’s a vacation and I should take a break. Still, with an hour to go before my flight boards, I decided to cheat a little and finish up the last couple paragraphs needed to finish a chapter in Book #2.

With my work this morning, I crossed the 80,000 word mark. While I still have more to write (and more to trim later on), this is the word count I see the final piece being close to. It made me smile to see 80,000 words and almost 300 pages in my master document. Back in December, I had maybe 30 pages and a lot of doubts on whether I’d be able to settle down and write this thing.

I’m somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 finished. I’m at the point where all remaining pieces are either in bracket notes, scratch notes, or outlined — no mysteries, no unresolved questions. nothing except pages I need to fill. It’s both exciting and scary. I’m a little nervous about the prospect of finishing, as I’m always nervous that my notes, thoughts, and outlines won’t turn out well once I actually write them. But overall, I’m excited. Another book — another finished book! And one that I’ve stayed excited about since thinking it up! It’s always a nice feeling.

I originally set a goal to finish a draft by today. Even in March, I suspected that wouldn’t happen. I set a new goal for the end of May, and I think I can reach that one. The finish line is getting close. This could actually happen.

It’s a good feeling.


Here’s where I was this time last year: celebrating a finished first draft of Please Give, which I finished before last year’s anniversary trip to Miami.

I did find the time to write a quick poem in Miami and post a picture of the beautiful beach.

I was also coming to terms with how it feels to have a finished draft.

Thanks for reading!

Happy International Short Story Month!

It’s International Short Story Month! I honestly didn’t know there was a month dedicated to short stories until I saw #ShortStoryMonth on Twitter the other day. But now I know, and now I’m going to celebrate it. *throws confetti*

As you know from my writing, I’m a fan of short stories. A lot of my ideas begin as short stories, and a lot of them end up staying that way. While there have been a few times I’ve gone in with an intended length (heh), I prefer to start writing and see where it ends up. My gut has done a pretty good job of telling me when something needs to keep going and, most importantly, when something is finished.

I also enjoy reading short stories, though I don’t always gravitate to them as quickly as I do to novels. I’m more inclined to read a book of nonfiction essays than a collection of short stories. My biggest shortcoming here is the speed at which I read. I read quickly and I often find short stories to be over just as I’m starting to get pulled into them. I’ve had to train myself to not read through them too quickly, and I’m glad I did. Some of the stories that have stuck with me the most have been less than 5000 words.

I am celebrating Short Story Month on Twitter by recommending one short story a day in an ongoing thread. I’m also trying to find some short stories to read between the novels in my “To Read” queue and my work on my own novel (which, interestingly enough, began as an idea for a short story). If you have any recommendations, please share them with me in the comments!

I also hope you’ll read a few of my own short stories this month. My first collection, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, is available for Kindle and in paperback on Amazon. It features four stories and is perfect for a quick read.

Art by Doug Puller

Purchase The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales on:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble

You can also read one of my stories for free: All the Pieces Coming Together, which was the first story I wrote for The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales; and also the first story I wrote in several years when I returned to writing in 2016.

Art by Doug Puller

Read “All the Pieces Coming Together” for Free

Happy reading, everyone!

Better to End Well

My fortune cookie last night had some good advice for life in general, but also for writers in the midst of their drafts. Drafts are often stubborn and take a while to really get going, which can be discouraging for many of us who are trying to write them. However, the words below are a good motivator to keep going:

better to end well

It’s advice I’m certainly doing my best to remember as I continue my second book. I’m at almost 70,000 words and maybe 2/3 done. I’m excited and nervous all at once, and there are days I’m poking at my draft like someone poking at a bush and ducking in fear as a snake rustles out. But it’s getting written, and it will end — and hopefully, it will end well.

I love finding fortunes that help with writing. I found this one and this one last year, and still carry them with me in my purse or my pocket every day.

I also keep calendar postings like this one and this one on my cork board at work as well as folded up in my writing notebook. It’s like having a portable vision board. At the very least, it’s nice to have quiet reminders by my side wherever I go.

Progress Report: It’s All the Same Bug

Work on my next book is still going strong. This time last year, I was almost finished with the first full draft of Please Give. I’m maybe 2/3 finished with the next book, and hope to have a finished draft by May. I set myself a deadline of May 10, but that may be a deadline that, like Douglas Adams said, I can enjoy the whooshing sound of as it goes by.

I’m in the odd stage where I’m writing and having to contend with my original ideas changing or being dropped altogether. I already changed the title and reconsidered some of the themes. I’m also finding original scenes, moments, and ideas — ones I had before I even started writing, and ones that became my first passages — dangling on the precipice of the manuscript, waiting for the fateful keystroke that will send them to my Lost Passages folder (because I never delete anything, even drafts I hope never see the light of day).

Some of these are scenes I can’t wait to revise. I actually spent the past couple days revising one scene that was awkward when I wrote it and works much better now that I’ve written more of the story. But there are others I’m afraid to go back to and press CTRL-X, because a part of me feels like I’m letting go of a piece, a moment, or an element that I held with love for a long time — perhaps longer than necessary, but they were pieces I liked; and I grew sad when I first realized they no longer fit in the story that grew from them.

So much of writing a novel is learning to let go — and most often, what we’re letting go of are the moments that formed the novel in the first place. These are the darlings that are especially hard to kill. How can I drop pieces that inspired the story?

I can ultimately drop them, though, because the inspiration they created remains, even if the starting point does not. I’ll often go back and look at a finished piece and think, it’s so different from where it was when I first thought of it. And it is. It always is. But in many ways it isn’t. The fundamentals are still there. The idea is still there. It’s just in the form it’s supposed to be in.

It’s a cliche to use the caterpillar-cocoon-butterfly metaphor. I’m almost embarrassed to use it — I’m making myself type this with all my strength. But it’s an apt cliche because it’s true. A story crawls into existence, wraps itself in words, and emerges as something completely different from the caterpillar it started as — but at the end of the journey, it’s still the same bug. The caterpillar didn’t disappear. It just changed. And knowing that makes it a little easier to cut away the cocoon of a first draft that I’ve wrapped the story in to get it going.

I’ll be sure to post another GIF-filled entry once I’m done with the first draft of this book. I’ll do my best to not post a bunch of caterpillars and butterflies.

You can read a better use of bugs as a book-writing metaphor in my essay, My Jar of Fireflies.

And check out my progress on the book so far under its current working title, Without Condition — the title’s already changed, and probably will again until the cover’s been drawn and I can’t go back.

Thanks for reading!

Texting in Text: How Do We Write Dialogue that’s Typed?

I’ve been thinking about text messages in stories lately. My next book has texting, though I’m having to remember what it was like to write text messages in 2004. I also laughed really hard at two jokes in Barry, a new show on HBO that’s quickly becoming a new favorite; and both jokes involved texting.

Texting has become its own form of dialogue. I’ve seen it portrayed in various ways — and with various results — on film and in print. I find it fascinating to see how it’s depicted, and am also curious if we’ll ever see an agreed-upon format in the future.

Texts are written, and italics are usually used to denote writing. I do this myself. It’s easier to type and means less fiddling around with fonts (fonts that may not even remain in an ebook if someone changes their Kindle settings). I do this for handwritten notes, emails (especially since I just include the body of an email — I don’t like including email address, sender, subject line, time sent, etc., but that’s for another blog post), and text messages.

However, I found that using italics for text messages isn’t always so simple. Please Give uses text messages second only to spoken dialogue in terms of how the characters communicate. I love writing dialogue, but lines of quotes read very differently when they become lines of italicized text — especially lines of italicized text that need to indicate a back-and-forth without constantly writing, “She texted ____. He texted ____” (I find that tedious, and thankfully, it hasn’t appeared too much in the books I’ve read — not nearly as much as excessive “she said/he said” lately, which is also for another post).

My solution was to try and only do this for three or four lines if I needed to, or to put in the few (or sometimes several) minutes it often takes people to text back and to keep the responses short. One of the questions I had for my beta-readers was if it was clear who was speaking to whom and who was texting to whom. They all said yes, and I hope that other readers agree!

But writing the act of texting is a challenge, and while I’ve seen smooth integration of text messaging in books, I have yet to see a universal format. One book I read put the entire exchange into a centered block denoted by each sender’s initials. It read like a chat screen, and while it made the exchange very clear, it seemed a little odd placed in the middle of regular text in the book. The book I’m reading now denotes text messages in its own line, and in a fixed font that’s smaller, bold, and in a colder font. It’s also very clear, and while momentarily a distraction, it flowed more seamlessly than the block of chat-like text. It flowed like what text messages are: dialogue.

As a reader, what formats have you seen in books for text messages? Are there any you prefer?

As a writer, how do you incorporate text messages into your stories?

Whether a reader, a writer, or both, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!


As a P.S., I wanted to talk a bit about texting in TV and in film. That’s something I’ve watched with great interest, from both my communications and film studies perspectives. Texting as dialogue onscreen seems to be evolving, even though there still isn’t an agreed-upon format. Most movies and TV shows seem to have moved away from characters reading text messages out loud, which is a blessing — it had the same lack of naturalness as the one-sided phone conversation where the person onscreen repeats whatever (we presume) the person on the other end said.

A popular form for a while now — and still in use sometimes — was to put the text messages on the screen, sometimes like typed-out subtitles and most often by text windows popping up on the side like Pop-Up Video. I found this awkward and weird, but something that couldn’t really be worked around — much like fixed font text messages in a book.

More shows and movies, though, seem comfortable just showing someone’s screen with the text message on it. This is easier to do with bigger phones and clearer, more colorful screens; and I prefer this method. Text messages aren’t spoken and they also aren’t word bubbles like dialogue in comics. If we can see the phone’s screen, we should. As I mentioned above, I recently saw this used to great effect on Barry, which in addition to just showing the iPhone screen with texts, incorporated some of iPhone’s text message features, like confetti falling over the screen when a celebratory text is sent (and the text message the confetti accompanied was a very dark thing to celebrate). I look forward to seeing how communicating text messaging in stories continues to change over the years — or given technology’s current pace, over the coming months.