Writing romance novels using Dungeons and Dragons

My Greywater Chronicles books are a relatively normal exploration of friendship and love. There are no monsters and no one gets stuck in a dungeon with orcs or evil sorcerers (not that I don’t want to write that book someday). But I definitely used the traditions of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) while writing my first novel.

  1. Get them all in a dungeon: Before the action even starts in Mistakes Were Made, Jules breaks both her ankles. This allowed me to keep her stuck in a recovery center–Misty Forests–for the first section of the book. Similar to how exploring a dungeon keeps role playing characters from wandering off from the intended quest, Misty Forests keeps the action and characters under control.
    My second book, Best Laid Plans, uses a different kind of limitation with the structure of the book (two chapter a season with alternating point of view). This was much more challenging and not nearly as much fun, but did force me to really try to see things through the eyes of both of my protagonists. Misty Forests was more fun, though!
  2. Alignment: a quick shorthand for the moral code that governs characters behavior in D&D, this is a fun way to think about how my characters in novels approach life. On the lawful-neutral-chaotic scale, most of my characters are in the lawful to neutral range, but I have two who tend to me closer to chaotic. On the good-neutral-evil scale, I have one brother who behaves pretty poorly, but even he is not firmly in the evil camp. And yes, the D&D Classes (or Jungian archetypes) are also helpful!
  3. Fighting when stakes are low: some of the most amusing moments in D&D can happen when the stakes are incredibly low–who drank the last goblet of ale? why are my tights stretched out? why does he always get to ask for directions? I try to remember this when my characters are starting to drift a bit. They can fight about stupid things.
  4. Adventure: what is D&D without an adventure? (rhetorical question) And so, what are my stories without some sort of adventure? This is both the larger arc of their exploration and also in little moments in a new place or in a new social interaction. Life (and stories) are more fun if we can see the adventure that we’re having, even if there aren’t any actual dragons or orcs.

I’m sure there are other D&D elements I’m using without even realizing it, and I will add them in as I realize. And someday I promise I’ll write an adventure novel. With a bard.

 

Progress on my next book, Good Fortune

I’m currently working my way through the first round of editing on Good Fortune, the sequel to Best Laid Plans. I’m very excited to start getting feedback from my very early readers on my next book! If you’d like regular updates on my progress, you can sign up for my email newsletter.

When I work on my books, I mark each section by their status: to-do, hot mess, first draft, etc. I’ve successfully gotten much of the book out of the hot mess status, although I’m sure there will be some new hot messes I introduce later this month.

Good Fortune has a similar structure to Best Laid Plans, in that we get Sam’s and Wil’s perspective in each of the four seasons. Instead of covering three years, Good Fortune will cover two years — between the two books, we will cover five years. I’ve enjoyed writing books with a more rigid structural requirements. It’s been an interesting challenge!

I absolutely adore the characters in Good Fortune, particularly Sam’s sisters. The Queezy sisters are a force to be reckoned with. Their affection and support for each other is loosely based on the relationships between my mom and her sisters, but they also very much have their own identity and dynamic.

Some of the early feedback has focused on drawing out more about Wil and how he’s growing and learning (or not). I’ll be working on the next draft later in June and early July, and then the manuscript will be off for the round of edit.s

I’m aiming for mid-November to officially launch the e-book and print editions. Sign up for my email newsletter if you’d like regular updates.

I’ll be looking for reviewers in the fall — drop me an email if you’re interested. And you can sign up for my email newsletter for regular updates on my progress.

Portland and the Greywater Chronicles

Portland plays an active role in the Greywater Chronicles books. The map below breaks down some of the key Portland locations. Mistakes Were Made locations are in blue, Best Laid Plans locations are orange, and Good Fortune (coming November 2016) are in green.

There are other key Portland things that don’t quite line up with a pin on a map, including Bridgetown Comedy Festival and Forest Park.

I really enjoyed making this map and seeing a visual representation of the various locations (real and imaginary) in Greywater Chronicles. I clearly need to have more locations in SE Portland and heading further south into SW Portland, and someday we’ll get to leave the central core of the city.

And remember that in the Greywater Chronicles, we’re in the future. New buildings have been built. Not all restaurants have continued. Businesses that are institutions in the Greywater Chronicles don’t even exist yet. Bikeshare: we don’t have Biketown (Bikey-town) quite yet in spring 2016, but it’s going strong in the 2040s.

Did I forget anything? Drop me a note and I’ll update this post!

Marketing. It burns. It burns.

My pretties!This started as a normal update on the ins and outs of marketing books and rapidly took a turn to weird. Consider it an essay. About marketing.

So, I’ve got two novels available and a third in active edits, but I’m still finding my audience. Fair enough. I’ve working in digital marketing. I know (sort of) how this works. (See Rules for Being Online and Theory of Twitter)

But then I start getting tangled up in my methodology. And then I get tangled up in the word “methodology.” I won’t follow this tangle any further.

But fundamentally, I want to try to do this on my own, from scratch. No smoke and mirrors. I currently have minimal budget other than my time. Sounds great. What could go wrong?

Know your readers/customers/audience: well, since I don’t have that many yet, I have my imaginary personas. They are helpful only to a point.

Know your self: working on this one. Silly, fun, kind stories about the complicated, mixed-up, inconsistent nature of who we are.

Content Marketing: this blog post, email newsletters, videos that I haven’t made, podcasts I haven’t recorded. Provide real people with interesting content, and they will connect to me and to my books. Sounds great. But takes time. And hard to not judge this content even more than my original fiction writing.

And again, none of matters if the books aren’t selling.

Social media: damned if I’m going to pay for any services to get followers/likes/strokes. I’ll use a service like Hootsuite to help me time my own content, but I’m not going to automate anything. Everything will be touched by me. But then I start get sucked into the numbers game. The ego stroke. The sexbots. The drugs. Well, not the drugs. But the whole world is bizarre. And maybe I’m being stupidly stubborn on the manual management.

And at some point, none of this matters if books don’t sell.

And I start crossing paths with people who seem mean. I want the friendly marketing bots to come back. Come back, friendly marketing bots. Make me feel better about myself without being a scary person.So far, I’m sticking to my principles of touching everything. Even the sexbots.

Advertising: costs money and requires copywriting skillz I lack. Brief experiments did not have the return on investment (ROI) I wanted. But I know about ROI. So that’s something.

Giveaways: sure, I have some books on hand. But shipping costs money. Although I always have Little Free Libraries. And my Goodreads giveaway actually was really fun (and I think may have helped with sales). I should try again.

Events: a little tough as a friendly introvert, since writing a blog post is always an alternative. Also quickly costs money since I feel strongly about beer and wine being present at events. Maybe I could find a beer and wine sponsor? Someday I’ll have to actually talk to a book store as well. But they are as scary as some of the grumpy people online. Chase my tail in circles.

Publicity/PR: well, shoot, I have no idea how to do this. I talked boldly about press releases and outreach and press kits and blah blah blah. I read the advice of writing marketers about press releases and interesting pitches. I did none of it. Perhaps this blog post will push me into taking action.

I’m also not sure how much to believe the writing marketers. A lot of the advice seems like it’s from the 1980s and was never updated. An easy solution would be to have a conversation with a few reporters about how they find stories. But they seem scary.

Sits down with bourbon and pouts. Clearly, I need to talk to people. All sorts of people. I have learned to order pizza over the phone. For my spouse’s travel hacking hobby/obsession/awesomeness, I talk to credit card companies. I give professional presentations with a minimum of stress. I write scolding emails about appropriate information management techniques and code documentation. I can learn how to do this.

And I’ll always have the social media sexbots. They want me. I know it.

Next steps

Writing this blog post was cathartic. I was going to say oddly cathartic, but I think catharsis was exactly what I was looking for. So, moving forward…

  1. Take advantage of local friends’ expertise and classes. Meeting with people and attending a one day small business class on marketing later this week. Pulling all my marketing thoughts into one primary document in preparation for marketing class.
  2. Focus on the Portland angle right now. I have had this vision of finding a worldwide audience right away. But my story as an author (and within my books) has a strong Portland bent. I might as well us this. I am passionate about this.
  3. Use my current (small) profits to run some online advertising campaigns and see how it goes. Amazon and Goodreads seem like the most promising…I think.
  4. Reviews, reviews, reviews. Keep chipping away at this.
  5. Content marketing is great as a baseline, but gotta keep moving forward on items 1-4.

My first two books are now available on this site and Amazon.com. You can follow Taylor on GoodreadsTwitterFacebook, Instagram, and/or sign up for email updates — whatever works for you.

The Future in the Greywater Chronicles

The Greywater Chronicles are in the future. It’s true. But also not particularly overt. In fact, you could easily read the books as taking place in the 1990s as much as the 2040s. The first three books are focused on love and friendship, and the time period of the books is a (delightful) surprise for anyone who is paying attention.

But if you are paying attention, there are some interesting things going on.

  1. Things that are different in the future aren’t really remarked upon by the characters. The future is usually more boring and less exciting that we suspect.
  2. The cars drive themselves. We still have taxi drivers since we’re not allowed to have self-driving cars without human oversight.
  3. Global warming is real; greywater plumbing and energy efficiency are all the more critical.
  4. Portland became uncool, cool, and uncool again. In the mid-2040s, Portland is considered a bit provincial and not a hip place to live.
  5. The earthquake has not yet hit. This might change in a future book.
  6. We have mobiles and computers, but there is no discussion of what these look like and how we interact with them. For my  characters, the technology is unremarkable and unremarked upon. Some technology is seamless, with more devices referred to with a simple noun rather than any fancy new language.
  7. Old and young live together. The baby boomer generation is dying off, leaving us with a surplus of housing built for the old. At the Misty Forests Recovery and Adult Living Center, the longer-term residents are mostly older, but this is likely to continue to shift to a more balanced demographic.
  8. Portland has figured out how to deal with mental health crises with MenPros (Mental Health Professionals). Yay!
  9. The United States has not solved debt for higher education. Boo!
  10. People are still silly.

Detail & imagination: playing with the ideas

One of the tensions I find most interesting in writing is between providing real, vivid details and creating space for the reader’s imagination. I have an overactive imagination and as a reader, I love filling in the open areas of books to build connections to my own experiences. This is particularly true for me in romance, fantasy, and science fiction.

Because of this, there are some intentional ambiguities in the Greywater Chronicles universe with Mistakes Were Made and Best Laid Plans. I read a lot of classic science fiction growing up (and enjoyed Star Wars) where I switched the gender of the heroes. While my characters do have a specific gender identity and use gendered pronouns, I chose many names that do not have single gender uses and character traits and professions that do not always line up with traditional western ideas of gender. Besides a nice push back against more rigid roles, this hopefully also allows readers to more easily see their own gender identity in my characters.

I also like to imagine that I live in the cities or farms or tents or spaceships or castles of my favorite books. The Greywater Chronicles are clearly set in Portland, Oregon, but I don’t name the city initially. Furthermore, the

Race and class are perhaps the trickiest for me to give space for the reader to see themselves. I try to use descriptions that show the personality of my characters while not excluding readers’ own physicality. However, my characters are reasonably well employed, and not struggling with being part of a minority or oppressed group. They just want to find love and happiness, which is a luxury we rarely acknowledge.

All this being said, I also love stories that are incredibly specific in the details so that I can attempt to imagine life as someone completely different from myself. I’d be sad if everything was written so that I could project myself onto the characters, but I quite enjoy some character projection from time to time.

An updated biography

As some of you know, my original biography did not quite line up with reality. This was a nice way for me to hide when I first started sharing my writing publicly. I’m now starting to true up my biography with my actual, boring life — tragically empty of guinea pigs.

You can read the new version (with an earlier bio appended at the end) on the biography page on this website as well as on Goodreads and Amazon.

I’ll be updating the e-book editions with the new biography over the next few weeks, as well as future print books. However, if you’ve got your hands on an older e-book or print copy, you’ve now got a limited-edition collectible on your hands!