Adventures in Drafting: Soul Swapping

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That title makes it sound like there’s some blood magic going on, doesn’t it? Well, there might have been in my previous project also known as “The Tree Book”.  Bitterroot is about 99% blood magic free. And 100% going to break me again.

2019 brings my critique partner (CP) and I about a quarter of the way through each other’s current WIP’s. And let me tell you, this swapping process is pretty different from any previous experiences of getting new sets of eyeballs on the writing.

Both of us are knee deep in projects that are pretty personal. The Tree Book was a book that I wrote because it wouldn’t stop rattling around in my brain. Bitterroot was a book I wrote for me because I needed it. Just for me. Without any intention of ever sharing it. Then I finished it and realized that I want it to get out into the world.

The hang up there is that it feels like giving little pieces of my soul away every time I stick another chapter in the google doc.

This is the general rundown of what a swap looks like for me:

Did she like that scene as much I do?

Did she like that scene less than I do?

Why is that character reading as more of a jerk than I thought he would?


Why is that character reading as less of a jerk than I thought she would?

Did she catch that Wonder Years reference? No, why would she?

But how did she miss that Potter reference? It was RIGHT THERE! Can we still be friends? CP’s? Are there rules about this?

Okay, okay, but is that joke as funny as I thought it was? No… damn.

How is she still missing all of those clues? I practically put that reveal out on a silver platter… Does that mean it’s well done? Or is it terrible?

Have I exhausted the supply of fire puns? They’re going to burn out eventually…

I really should’ve fixed the terminology problems before giving her a chapter using the word “ward” twenty times…

I might like planting Easter eggs a little too much. But the prose level stuff is so tenuous right now at a second draft that I’ll just have my fun thank you very much.

Bitterroot is the most complicated thing I’ve ever written. The multiple perspective thing is a big learning curve. A dynamic, technical magic system is a giant job. Brandon Sanderson, I salute you. And I’ve figured out recently that my favorite part of something this big is the payoff from getting it right. When I plant the clues in the right spot and my CP goes “OH!” Or when she mentions something I was hoping she’d pick up on and I’m just sitting there maniacally laughing cause just you wait…

Getting feedback, both positive and constructive is probably the most important part of this book spawning process right now. If I don’t know what’s not working, I can’t fix it. At the same time, it’s just nice to get that pat on the back every so often. Especially because it’s scary sharing intimate parts of yourself. I’m incredibly lucky that my CP is not only honest, but kind.

I had a bit of a stretch dream of subbing to a mentorship program called Author Mentor Match this spring for their sixth round. They match un-agented authors with completed manuscripts with agented, and often published authors. If the sub window had been in April or May like I’d hoped for, it might have worked. But it’s a the very beginning of March. That’s a squeeze in the best of circumstances. So maybe round seven? By then I should have a project that I can confidently stand behind rather than just sending something half baked out into the world. I guess we’ll see.

So that’s what’s up in my little revision bubble at the moment. Hopefully at some point I’ll be able to feel secure in sharing some more (concrete) details about Bitterroot. But until then, thanks for sticking with me on this messy journey.

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Seen/Read/Heard: Two

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Now that the 2018 is officially over, I thought I’d compile a list of my media intake for the second half of the year. I’ll throw in the caveat that this is going to be a bit lopsided. I read 104 books last year, which lead to less music, tv, and film on the back half of 2018. That being said, there were some gems that I hope maybe you’ll enjoy too.

Seen

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
For: Anyone in need of a romcom done right.
Why: The book is great, but I thought the movie was better. (Blasphemy! I know.) This is the way to adapt a young adult novel. Everyone else please take note so we can do future titles justice. If you need something light, fun, and super sweet, this is it.

Ten year anniversary show for Valencia’s album We All Need A Reason To Believe
Alright, I know this isn’t a tv show or movie. But it was a show and I want to talk about it. This was super last minute when Sleep On It got added and I thought, how great would it be to see them twice in one month if we can find resale tickets? Spoiler alert: very.

I got into Valencia right after they went on hiatus and never thought I’d get the chance to see them live. This anniversary show was so much fun, mostly because the crowd was just living for it. Hometown shows are magical, and I loved closing out the year with my cousin and some warm holiday vibes.

Read

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl (YA Thriller)
Lowdown: A reality bending, claustrophobic, whirlwind of young adult thriller goodness. Five friends are caught in a never ending day. The only way out is to choose one to live while the rest die.
Wrap: Have you ever tried to eat one oreo and wound up eating the whole package? That’s what happened with Neverworld Wake. I devoured this book in two days and felt a little breathless after the last page.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman (Adult Fiction)
Lowdown: A small, rural town is shaken when a member of their prized youth hockey team commits a heinous crime.
Wrap: Some people are really good at putting words in the right order. Fredrick Backman is one of them. This book is a slow, careful examination of humanity in crisis, so don’t expect anything flashy. Everything about this story landed perfectly for me and it left me haunted for weeks.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (Adult Fantasy)
Lowdown: A military fantasy that draws influence from the Second Sino-Japanese War. Young orphan Rin is accepted into an elite military academy and thrust into a dangerous, insidious world.
Wrap: This is a fantasy that delves into some very dark subject matter. If you’re looking for a magic school story, maybe pick up something else? I finished this book in July and still think about it at least twice a week.

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (YA Contemporary)
Lowdown: Two teenagers connect over a shared love of a podcast with a cult following. And so, so much more.
Wrap: Alice Oseman just gets it. I had so many of the same problems and feelings my last year of high school. While perfectly capturing that feeling of discomfort, hope and light still shine through.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff (Adult Fantasy)
Lowdown: High fantasy set in a mashup of ancient Rome and Venice. A sixteen year old orphan looking for revenge attends a school for assassins. It’s kind of like Hogwarts got a murderous facelift.
Wrap: This book crosses the line, tramples it, then sets in on fire. There are no limits and every time I though I knew what was coming, I was very wrong. Nevernight is dense. Like half an hour to read three pages dense. But it’s worth it, I promise.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab (Adult SciFi)
Lowdown: Two college students figure out how to create humans with ExtraOrdinary abilities. Then things go horribly wrong. Ten years later both are ravenous for revenge.
Wrap: Vicious was so much more than I expected. Brilliant, complex characters, a twisty plot, and a heap of brutality. My favorite V.E. Schwab book to date.

Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry (YA Contemporary)
Lowdown: A teen atheist winds up at a Catholic high school and joins an underground club for kids that don’t quite fit in.
Wrap: I laughed so much while reading Heretics Anonymous. And after the year I had reading All Of The Dark Books, it was so welcome. Katie Henry does a great job with in depth, respectful discussion on religion, faith, and morality. As someone with a dysfunctional religious past, I really appreciated this book.

Heard

Small Talks: Oceans and Nicotine and Tangerines
A happy accident of a find at a show in December. I really like the first two singles off their upcoming February album A Conversation Between Us. It’s catchy, fun pop rock that was very needed towards the end of the year.

Wish You Were Here: No Say and Come Find Me
I’ve really gravitated towards chill acoustic music this year. Wish You Were Here is the same singer from Trade Wind, and this project is just as good.

Jetty Bones
Catchy, accessible, expressive pop. Jetty Bones is so much fun while simultaneously hitting on some not so fun subject matter.

Paramore: After Laughter
Alright, I’ll say it. I completely ignored this album when it came out in 2017. But After Laughter is brilliant. It’s pop with a dark, unsettling undertone. I got so much milage out of this album in 2018.

Grayscale: Adornment
And another miss on my part. Grayscale is a Philly band which means I automatically want to like them. After seeing them live again in November and some more listens of Adornment, I’m on board. There’s a little something for everyone on this album. And hey, look, the acoustic track is my favorite. Is anyone surprised?

Albums Of The Year: 2018

Albums of the year

In six or seven years of being pretty immersed in the alternative music scene, this year was the most disconnected I’ve ever been. 2018 was a weird music year for me. The amazing was top notch, while some albums I was pretty sure were going to make this list didn’t wind up being for me. I listened to a ridiculous amount of audiobooks this year, cutting my music time down dramatically which shrunk some of the variety as well. The time I did spend listening to music was still top notch. I have some new favorites, and I’d like to share them with you.

Here are my favorite nine releases of 2018.

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9. Shortly: Richmond (EP)

Shortly was such an unexpected, pleasant find. There’s something so vulnerable and often slightly heartbreaking about these songs. A mix of warmth and sadness in the best way. Perfect with a cup of tea on a rainy day.

Listen To: Finders Keepers, Two

 

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8. The Xcerts: Hold on to Your Heart

If you came for upbeat and infectious, look no further. Genuine optimism and feel good vibes dominate this album. The Xcerts write life affirming tunes with a little nostalgia for good measure. I almost missed this album but I’m so glad it made it into my pretty small musical bubble this year.

Listen To: Daydream, Hold On To Your Heart, We Are Gonna Live

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7. Trash Boat: Crown Shyness

On a very different note, Trash Boat steers into heavier, rougher territory. I listened to this album on repeat while drafting the first third of Bitterroot and it always put me in a weird, raw headspace. While Crown Shyness doesn’t necessarily reinvent the genre, it brings some teeth and surprising vulnerability.

Listen To: Inside Out, Shade, Old Soul

 

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6. Can’t Swim: This Too Won’t Pass

To be perfectly transparent, I wasn’t sure where or how to put this album on the list. It came out in the middle of November and I could probably use another month or two to really form an opinion. That being said, I find more and more I like about with it each listen and this spot feels right. Compared to Can’t Swim’s first album last year, this is a much heavier showing. It feels earthier, trimmer, and even less hopeful than Fail You Again. This Too Won’t Pass tells it like it is, and I’m always down for that.

Listen To: My Queen, Hell In a Handbasket, Daggers

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5. Trophy Eyes: The American Dream

This is a huge, sprawling, nuanced beast of an album. Trophy Eyes made it pretty clear that this was the album they wanted to make, and it’s evident. I love that they swung for the fences and just tried things. It’s a journey from euphoric highs, all the way down to brutally honest, extreme lows. There’s a solidity to these songs that feels like home. Oh, and it made me cry, so bonus points just for that.

Listen To: Lavender Bay, More Like You

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4. Marmozets: Knowing What You Know Now

A twisty, inverting, speedy roller coaster of an album. It never turns the way you’d expect, providing plenty of plot twists along the way. My little lit loving heart is happy. A massive vocal range accompanies fascinating instrumentals which sometimes don’t make perfect sense at first listen. But things that shouldn’t work (like yelping) do. You’ll just have to trust me on this one. Or go and listen for yourself.

Listen To: Major System Error, Lost In Translation, Run With The Rhythm

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3. Boston Manor: Welcome to the Neighbourhood

Boston Manor is really good at something that’s incredibly hard to do. They create seamless soundscapes that bridge the gap from a group of songs to an experience. All while incorporating brilliant new sonic elements. While Be Nothing left me feeling like an alien in my own skin, Welcome To The Neighbourhood leaves me worried about the world beyond. It’s a descent into a hazy, gritty, black as night world that promises no answers to endless commentary and questions.

Listen To: England’s Dreaming, Tunnel Vision, Halo

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2. Florence + The Machine: High As Hope

If you’d told me in January that I’d have a Florence album at the number two spot on this list, I wouldn’t have believed you. Then it slowly tangled me up and didn’t let go. High As Hope is a stunning battle cry that demands to be heard. It’s an intimate, honest, angry, powerhouse. And it kept me company while I stripped myself down to nothing to write the book of my nightmares and dreams.

Listen To: Sky Full Of Song, 100 Years, The End Of Love

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1. The Wonder Years: Sister Cities

It took about two listens for Sister Cities to jump to the number one spot, where it’s firmly planted itself for the last eight months. There’s so many aspects of an album that have to line up perfectly to fill a number one spot for me. It has to be a full arc from point a to b with the occasional plot twist somewhere in between. But most importantly is how it makes me feel.

There isn’t anything subtle about this album. Quiet, still, calm in places? Sure. But when it goes off, it goes off hard. The Wonder Years condensed all of the emotion, pain, and awe into songs with so much depth, I still notice new things months later.

The storytelling on Sister Cities is absolutely breathtaking. I feel like I’m right there experiencing these interactions all over the world. I feel like I’m on a plane headed for the eye of a storm, or alone in a temple in the middle of Kyoto. And at the end of the ride, a surreal almost hollow sense of peace.

This is a journey of an album with so much to dig into. So if you need to feel something, maybe give Sister Cities a listen.

Listen To: Pyramids of Salt, Raining In Kyoto, Sister Cities

2019 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for music. I’m looking forward to albums from The Maine, Walking On Cars, and a new find Small Talks . I’m also ever hopeful for new music from A Will Away, Sleep On It, Trade Wind, PVRIS, and Grayscale.

What did you love this year, and what are you looking forward to in 2019?

This is the fourth in a series of Albums of Year posts. If you missed the last three years, you can find them here: 2017, 2016, 2015

Adventures in Drafting: Compulsive productivity and a break

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Well, the breakneck pace finally caught up with me leaving my writing life in a weird floaty limbo.

The plan was to finish a first draft, take a week off and jump back into revising the other project. Watching everyone and their grandmother plan and start Nanowrimo might have added to the “not doing enough” feeling that can get lost a deep, dark hole. Guess what? Two months spent writing almost every day is draining with a capital D.

I’m not going to encourage compulsive productivity. Not when it’s ruled my life to the point of major anxiety and stress for days on end. Sure, I started a revision plan. And promptly chucked it across the room. But realizing that it wasn’t the right time took a lot of that pressure off.

We’re not machines. I can’t constantly create and fix and fill and make.

Eventually there’s nothing left to mold into a brand new thing. Because work takes energy and if the energy is all used up, then so is the time for work.

So I refill.

I went to another concert alone and watched people feel, and watched the people that made the thing that made people feel. And alone in that crowd I thought about why five twenty somethings from the north of England wound up in a church basement in Philadelphia. The only reason is because they made someone feel something. And I bet you they took breaks too.

I’m trying to wrap my head around what it means for me to try and do this. Write a book, revise a book, have other people read the book in the midst of the world’s longest recovery.

My critique partner requested our first swap of our new projects on the 24th of November. It’s going to force me to revise whether I like it or not. But if it’s too much, that’s okay too. Uncharted waters are scary, but they’re a lot more manageable when you decide how far to swim.

Adventures in Drafting: The End and First Draft Stats

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I drafted a book in two months.

The last two days have been spent trying to wrap my head around said book. It’s a mess, it’s risky. It’s been done a million times, I’ve never read anything quite like it. The plot is awful, it’s the most complicated thing I’ve ever written. I hate my characters. I love them with every fiber of my being and I’d take a bullet for them.

You feel what I feel? Maybe even a little? Last time I finished a draft, I cried. This time I promptly dissociated because good things are also *too hard to comprehend*. Thanks brain, you’re really hitting it out of the park.

Before getting to the stats (because let’s be real that’s why you’re here which is great and fine, thank you) I want to make the point that I accomplished this in the midst of adjusting to multiple medications including a few very scary, intense weeks of my antidepressants tanking on me. That’s great conversation for another time. Couple that with joint pain that got to the point of barely being able to grip a fork and it’s a freaking miracle that Bitterroot is book shaped.

Bitterroot (working title) is a young adult global contemporary fantasy with a bit of magic, a lot of fire, and enough tea for a small army. We’re going to need a bigger mug. There’s own voices representation for multiple mental illnesses as well as an avenue of my physical illness I’ve never seen represented in young adult fantasy. Oh, and did I mention magic schools? Two of them. Now are you interested?


Bitterroot First Draft Stats: With Commentary!

Word count: 78,539k
Goal word count: 80k

This is the first time I’ve given myself a word limit as an experiment, and I was thrilled to draft under 80k. What came out was a contained draft that feels like a rough sketch. The word count will no doubt grow in future drafts.

Start date: August 22nd, 2018
End date: October 21st, 2018
Days off: Four

I never set out to draft in two months. The hardest thing was allowing myself days off without feeling like the writing momentum would disappear.

Perspective: Third person past tense
Number of perspectives: Four

The biggest challenge of this draft. Bitterroot was originally two perspectives but when I re-outlined, the story grew to need more voices. First person is comfortable, but third feels like writing with an elephant on my back.

Number of chapters: Fifty
Longest chapter: Chapter 14 at 3,623 words
Shortest chapter: Chapter 1 at 667 words
Average chapter length: 1,570 words

A perk of extensive outlining was that I could treat each chapter as it’s own little bubble of story with a clear set of rules. I like to feel contained, so this was a good move for the draft. The general chapter word limit was around 1,500, but it varied a good amount and all worked out in the end.

Number of Named Characters: 26

My previous project had a giant cast and it was overwhelming for me and the first person to read the whole thing. I tried to have a smaller cast for Bitterroot but it kept growing and growing. Around twelve of those twenty six are very minor so they’ll probably get the ax.

Time frame covered: Late May through late December of 2015 with most of the book taking place from June through August.

It’s really not a secret how much I hate summer. Bitterroot was originally going to span more time, but it wasn’t working. Summer fits the plot, so summer it is. I had to remind myself often that jeans are not necessarily appropriate for 90 degree days.

Cups of tea consumed by characters: Upwards of 30

My new favorite thing is roasting myself for the absurd amount of tea consumed in this book. Have a problem? Here’s some tea, and another problem to go with it.

Number of fire puns: Way too many. They were a hot topic.

Number of significant libraries: 2

Libraries are usually a place of refuge in stories. Bitterroot messes with that idea.

Number of musical artists mentioned: 7

If I was going to write something contemporary, you better believe some of my favorites were going to get a shout out. Who knows what will stay, but it was fun while it lasted.

Times I made myself cry: 2

Things get dark.

That’s Bitterroot by the numbers. What does it tell you about the book itself? Not much, right? Hopefully my first attempt at a book aesthetic helps. I’m the type of person to associate colors and smells and tastes with just about everything. For instance, the number seven is orange and tangy. Fight me.

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Bitterroot has always been a golden book from the moment the first inklings found their way onto the page. Think that hour between sunset and sundown but a little brighter with the occasional dash of purple, red, and black.

A first draft is only the beginning and I’m equal parts excited, overwhelmed, and terrified for revisions. But I’ve conquered the first mountain and it’s pretty cool.

Adventures in Drafting: The Middle

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. You’re cruising along through the beginning of your novel. About forty thousand words in, everything comes to a screeching halt like you ran into the barrier for platform ten instead of nine and three quarters.

There’s a reason writers talk about “fixing the middle” or a “messy middle”. If you traverse any novel writing circle, you’ll probably hear these terms thrown around a fair amount.

Writing the middle is hard. So hard that I’ve abandoned numerous projects right around that 30-40k word mark. There’s a million and three reasons why:

  • The beginning of any novel is sparkly and new. The honeymoon phase is real. Your characters are still fun to hang out with, the setting is fresh and all of the nasty plot issues aren’t super visible yet.
  • The gravity of writing 80k words hasn’t properly set in yet. If you’re not a novel writing freak, tl;dr, that’s a crap ton of words.
  • For some reason nothing happens during that middle stretch. Now’s the time to cry about the plot.

But it’s manageable if you know the password. Just kidding, no free passes. Magic aside, here’s how I got through it this time.

A 1k daily word goal works wonders for me. It’s enough that I can see real progress, but not too much. If I hit the goal for the day, I usually wind up going over by a few hundred words. And let me tell you, words start to pile up very quickly. With the occasional day off (like today!) I’m looking at just over two months to finish an 80k draft.

In a perfect world, we all sit down to write and the words just pour out. But the world is a mess just like my manuscript so that’s not a thing.

The middle crashed into me like a ton of bricks and writing went from “this is fairly challenging because what are words?” to “words don’t exist. This might actually be impossible”.

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably hoping for some sort of book-saving answer that doesn’t involve a pint of vegan ben and jerry’s and a good cry. The sad truth is that the only way through is through.

Louder for the people in the back: The only way through is through.

The only way I got through that miserable middle section was by sitting down and pounding out messy, awful, first draft words.

Yep. It’s a mess.

But that’s okay! There’s a reason rough drafts are rough.

Here’s some good news:

  • Nothing is permanent and everything is fixable. I remind myself of this regularly.
  • You can’t edit a blank page, but you can fix a messy one. (That’s not mine. I stole that from someone. I can’t remember who…)
  • If it’s not your first manuscript, you already know that you can finish it this time because you’ve done it before. If it is your first, then things are a little more touch and go. But just remember, the only thing to worry about is finishing the damn book. Seriously. That’s it. Just finish it.

Three times through this, and at 60k, I can confidently say that this works. It’s sucks, but it works.

Of course, if things get really bad, you can always listen to The Middle by Jimmy Eat World on repeat. Hey, don’t write yourself off yet…

I’d love to hear how you tackle the middle, so tell me in the comments if you want.

Adventures in Drafting: (Re) Vision

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Writing is hard. Can we just take a minute and acknowledge that stringing words together to make coherent and engaging sentences is a nightmare at least 50% of time? You know what’s harder? Writing a freaking novel. And after that, revising the book might be even harder than writing it.

Anyone remember the couple of excerpts I posted a few years ago with the trees? If you like mountains, secret societies, self-important trees, and boatloads of bread, then this book might be for you.

I’m between drafts two and three and trying not to cower in fear at having to condense and re-write the beast down another 20,000 words. At the same time completely reworking the main arc of my protagonist and dealing with a 12,000 word field trip that was a very bad idea. Listen up, if you’re three chapters away from the climax of the story, don’t send your cast up to summit a mountain.

Meanwhile I’m also trying to shake some sense into my other project. The one with the actual magic and a lot of burning in just about every sense of the word. Of course, I decided to make things more difficult by writing in third person for the first time, and juggling various international locations and characters. No, I didn’t think I’d ever wind up writing about a fictional school in the mountains of Nepal, but here we are.

I forgot what it was like to write every single day, and I can’t decide if it’s going to be a good thing in the long run or crush me completely. There’s been a lot of crushing this year. Hopefully I’ll crush this first (ish) draft so I can start fixing all of the problems that are already glaring back at me. I know it’s a bad idea to give a character with a fatal nut allergy peanut butter unless you want to kill them. I don’t want to do that. Yet. It’s on the List of Things to Fix. I’ll get right on it.

In other writing related news, Scrivener is all it’s cracked up to be and more. It turns out staying organized with that much world to keep track of gets unwieldy very fast. So I’m head over heels for the writing software that is Saving My Writing Life. The ability to color code specific scenes and chapters is peachy. There’s a real tropical vibe going on, although the book itself is about as un-beachy as it gets. I make the rules, okay?

Posts on here have been sporadic and I’m not going to even pretend that I’ll try to stick to a schedule. I’m still in the just-trying-to-claw-my-way-through-the-day predicament of being a young sick person. I want to tell you about that too, but pain is a thing. Sometimes it’s too real of a thing. When I figure out how to eloquently explain that thing, you’ll be the first to hear about it.

I’ve been reading as much as I’ve been writing. Probably more so there’s another Seen/Read/Heard in the future for sure.

If you’re a writer, what are you working on? I love to hear excited people talk about their projects, so hit that comment section.