I haven’t written a brand new story in over a year. Truthfully, for the past two years, I’ve mostly been working on the same story. I took a little break in between to write a standalone contemporary about two best friends falling in love in a bookstore, which I promise you’ll get to read someday, but most of the past two years has been dedicated to sister witches. It’s been a wild ride, and I feel like I’ve been in the thick of things for way longer than two years, but really, when I think about it, sister witches was birthed only just before I started writing it. I always knew that I wanted to write about best witch friends, but the actual characters & the plot didn’t come together until I was ready to write it. And that, honestly, is really unusual for me.
You see, normally, the conception of a novel happens literal years in advance for me. And though I also started writing Saintsverse very shortly after it came to me, that and sister witches really are the exception. The third edition of my current projects is officially over a year old, which is normally when I would be posting it again, but it’s all pretty much the same. And, if we take a look through it, there are 9 stories in total, and only two of them (Saints & sister witches) were conceived a few days/weeks before I started writing. (Okay, actually, looking at this list now, it is actually outdated because the story we’re talking about in this post isn’t even on there, WHOOPS.)
My faery story has literally been in my head since uhhhhh? Actually, it’s longer than I thought. I think I first wrote a short story about Mason in early 2016? It’s either that or 2015, and both are crazy. I’ve technically written a novel for him, but it’s crap, so really, we’re going on probably five years together still figuring things out. Planets novel was first conceived at Old Orchard Beach in Maine while I was floating in the ocean with my best friend. “I want to write about the planets as people, but make it middle grade,” I said. I haven’t been to OOB in over two years, so that’s saying something. My bookstore boys was literally a Marvel fanfiction first.
So, let’s chat about this process. Conception to first draft. Because, for me, that’s often a years-long process.
It’s been five years since the conception of vampire detective, and I’m finally writing it. Last year, I started a project called Thursday Thousand, where I had to write a short story that was a minimum of one thousand words long. I jokingly said that many of them would end in cliffhangers because if we were being honest, most of them were going to turn into novels. Considering a solid portion of them became short story series, and are now sitting in my brain slowly turning themselves into novels, I was just about as predictable as I thought I was going to be. It’s really hard for me to write short stories. 9 out of 10 times, I’m going to want to turn it into a novel. I’m hugely character-based when I write, and short stories tend to lean heavily on their characters rather than a super intricate plot, so when I create characters for a short piece, I usually want a whole lot more of them.
I’m also a huge fan of opening lines. I mean, isn’t everyone, but many of my short stories begin with that first line. Like, literally, before I do anything else, the first line happens. Before the characters, before the plot, I’ll sit down at a blank Word doc and start there.
There is nothing more that he hates than the smell of blood.
At the very tail end of 2015, I wrote that weirdly present tense line. Why did I write short stories in present tense back then? That’s weird. I must have still been writing fanfiction, which I also always weirdly do in present tense, and it was just bleeding over into my regular writing. There’s nothing wrong with present tense (jfc I’m digging myself a hole right now), I just prefer past tense, and it’s always strange to see my past self writing in present tense.
It was the beginning of something. I wasn’t yet 100% sure that the “he” referred to was a vampire, but something was unfolding at the edge of my mind. I fleshed out the rest of the opening paragraph, found out that the MC had probably just killed a bunch of people, and that he had a “partner” that was going to be pretty mad at him for said murder.
For a while, it was just Andrew & Sam. Every time I thought about this potential story of vampires and detectives, it was just the two of them. They have always been platonic, so don’t give me that look. They’ve always been friends, Sam ready to go to war for Andrew, and Andrew smiling fondly at what a badass Sam is. Andrew had a different name back then that we’re not going to discuss because I’m still an Underworld fiend, but, at the core, vampire detective has always been Andrew & Sam.
And, for a long time, that’s all it was. Even back in 2015, when I was writing this weird short story about a vampire, something I’d never done before, I knew that I wanted it to go farther. I also knew that I had no idea what that farther was, so I just let myself be excited about the short story for a bit and then went on my merry way. I’d check in with it at a later date. I had more exciting things to do at the time.
But it’s been in the back of my mind ever since that short story. I’ve always known that, someday, I was finally going to write about vampires. They’re one of my favorite myths, and I’m so sad that there really aren’t any good representations of them. I want vampires to come back so bad that I even wrote an entire post about why they’re awesome.
But my vampires? Well, it wouldn’t be until 2019 that something finally started to happen.
The sun hadn’t yet risen.
First an opening line about blood, and now the sun? Seems a bit on the nose.
I’ll be honest, when I started writing a new version of Andrew’s story in 2019, it was still just Andrew & Sam. But, much like Tolkien watching some strange dude named Faramir wonder onto his page without his permission, Penelope Louisa Orellana was about to waltz onto mine. It takes literally less than two paragraphs for Penelope to be introduced in my 2019 short story about vampire detective. I had no idea who she was, but, all of a sudden, the cast had grown a little. It was not just Andrew & Sam anymore. And Penelope was not the only addition. Though Rafael Vilar is not in the short story, he was created around the same time. After I wrote the short story, I decided it was high time that I started figuring out how to write this novel for real, and I sat down to start putting together the puzzle pieces.
As I said above, I’m very character driven. And so, I knew that the first thing I had to do, before anything else, was flesh out my characters. Often, the plot comes to me while I’m doing this. I like to give each of them mini biographies, and as those get written, I can see something tying these people together, something larger tugging their lives toward one another. And so, as I finally began to sketch out Andrew’s very long life, as I started to figure out how Sam had become a cop, as I braided Penelope’s wacky doctor life into the rest of it, as I balanced this trio out with a posh, bit of an asshole, completely overworked and overtired Rafael, everything else just slotted into place.
I had characters now. Four MCs that would drive the story. A hell of a lot of history and interesting pasts between them. And the plot started to shift away from just a vampire who was also a detective and into things I’ve always leaned hard on. Found family. Self-acceptance. The desire for friendship above all else. Determination. Dark and hilarious all at once.
But that was over a year ago, and we still don’t have a first draft, so what, exactly, have I been doing for the last year?
A lot, honestly. I’ve talked about it before, but sister witches is the heart of my entire universe. Andrew & Mason, my faery, are both introduced in the second half of the second book, and they play big parts in the third book. Sister witches is set in the future of the universe, though, and while I knew what both Andrew & Mason’s stories were going to be about, I didn’t quite have them figured out when I started sister witches.
I always talk about that episode of The Big Bang Theory when Sheldon works at the Cheesecake Factory to give his hands something mundane to do so his brain can work out a problem in the background. I apply that logic to my writing a lot. I was having trouble figuring out both Andrew & Mason, so I wrote sister witches, and, all the while, their stories were unfolding in my brain. Honestly, it wasn’t until very recently that I finally understood what Andrew’s story was supposed to be. I’m still working on Mason’s, too, though I’m getting closer.
It’s usually an ah ha! moment for me. Originally, and you can see this happening live in action on the blog, Andrew had a form of amnesia that didn’t let him remember his life before he woke up in Boston, but did let him remember that he was a hella old vampire. I have stuck by that since the very beginning. In 2015, he doesn’t remember the actual act of killing people, only sees the evidence after. In 2019, he has no idea where he’s come from, just that he woke up on a sidewalk in the middle of Boston one day. And, for a long time into 2020, he was still that same, forgetful person. Truly, it wasn’t until I was trying to write that amnesia into sister witches that I realized it wasn’t working, and the second that I pulled it out, literally everything else made sense.
So, here we are, in July of 2020. The entire sister witches trilogy was wrapped last month. I just finished editing the second draft of the first book a couple weeks ago. I’ve officially started sending out query letters. Sister witches, at the moment, is as done as I’m going to get it, and it’s time to start phase two of my 2020 goals. It’s time for Andrew.
There are still some things that need to happen before I can start writing. The outline I did last year was still focused pretty heavily around the fact that Andrew remembers nothing of his life before he wakes up in Boston. It also only kind of takes Rafael & Penelope into account since they weren’t supposed to have POV chapters a year ago. Things have changed as I’ve figured out more and more of the story. I talked about outlines back in March, and I’ve still got literally all of that to do. But we’re also no longer at the conception phase.
Sometimes, like sister witches or Saints, conception happens a few days before, sometimes a couple weeks. But, most of the time, like Andrew, conception happens five years prior. When I wrote that short story in 2015, I knew that I wanted to write about a vampire detective, but it would take all of those five years for something to actually happen. I guess you could say it’s been a five-year conception, that I’ve literally been birthing this story for five years, that only now, as I finally feel confident in the direction the story is going, that I’ve reached the drafting stage. Because it is time for a first draft. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while now, and with everything finally lining up in my head, I’m ready to start writing.