Tin Lizzie – A Books of Binding Flash Fiction

“You bought another one?”

A shameless smile pulled at the Vampire King’s lips, and he made a sweeping gesture to the shiny black automobile parked in front of the Seahaven Opera House. Under the August sun, the sheen to Erik’s new toy gleamed. “‘Another one,’ Katherine? You’re making it sound like an old nag!”

Katherine cast a long-suffering look at Bridget, assuming that her ward would be as tired of Erik’s antics as she was. But the young seer grinned back at her. Apparently not. She smiled fondly at the girl—really a woman full-grown and at the height of her power. When had that happened? Katherine turned her attention back to the Erik’s latest frippery. “You already own the Model A, Erik. Your horseless carriage is frightening all of the real horses whenever you use it.”

Erik held up a hand, stilling her objections. “But that is the point. It’s the Model A—the prototype.”

“To be fair, Katherine, this one is a bit more pleasing to the eye than his last automobile,” Bridget put in, her words wry as she ran a gloved hand over the geometrically defined steel hood. “Perhaps it’ll be a touch less obnoxious.”

Given an inch of support, Erik took a mile. “Precisely! That was 1903—it’s been six years. Consider for a moment how much innovation we’ve had in just two years. Color photographs, the helicopter. That’s something I should invest in, by and by. We’ve traveled by foot, cart, beast, ship, train, now automobile. Why not by air?”

“Oh, lovely.” Jason, the Vampire King’s secretary and ofttimes keeper, leaned against one of the gilded double doors of the Opera House, taking in their conversation and the subject of it. “Bridget, did you get him started again?”

The young woman snorted. “He doesn’t need our help for that.”

“No, I suppose not. He gets carried away with all these newfangled contraptions. I’m still of the opinion that Katherine should take away his camera,” Jason said, and gave his king a bland stare.

The grin he got in return was entirely unfazed. “But Katherine loved our photograph.”

The queen in question arched her brow at him. “As much as you detest having to face the music of your rude creation, Erik…”

“I would take that as a warning. You do get your fair share of exercise in pushing your luck, Erik,” Jason nodded, woefully contrite, to the vampire queen. Erik’s off-the-wall sense of humor more often than not found Jason doing things the king’s secretary knew were beyond the pale.

“That he does.” Bridget mirrored her mentor’s posture and folded her arms but couldn’t keep the smile from tugging at her lips. “That aside, I can think of much better uses of your pricey innovations than antagonizing your queen. Do you intend to drive your Model T, or simply admire it?”

“If you’re going to be sassy—”

“It’s not as if you don’t deserve it, now is it?” Katherine’s own lips were beginning to curve into a smile.

The Viking waved away his queen’s teasing and tapped the hood. “Why don’t you give it a spin, Bridget? Tell me if my investment is worthwhile, hmm?”

She laughed, doubtful. “I am to believe that you intend to share?”

If Erik had ever mastered a mischievous grin, it was at that moment. “No time like the present to ruffle some feathers. Remember the rise you got from the humans with your bicycle?”

The sound that escaped her was far from ladylike. “I stand by the same statement I made two decades ago. Bloomers are an offense to the fabric they are made from.” The redhead pinned her large hat more securely and gathered up the short train of her long, iris-shaped skirts in one hand as she spoke, all while Katherine pinched the bridge of her nose at the prospect of their afternoon.

After a moment Katherine finally just sighed and gave Bridget’s hand a single pat while Erik set about starting his vehicle. “Do be careful with it, Bridget, and don’t let him talk you into a helicopter. He has enough paraphernalia to last him at least another decade,” the vampire queen said, and gave Erik a dry glance.

Bridget’s lips quirked into a smile to rival that of the vampire king’s, and the dread beast came to life with a roar—much to the chagrin of a handful of bays tied to the hitching post across the street. “That would be a pity, wouldn’t it? I will try to keep him reined in, but his hobby seems to be … what was it, ‘getting our goat?’”

“The goat has already been gotten, ladies.” Erik said, grinning wildly. “But seeing as we’re burning daylight, let’s get a move on, shall we? How many humans can we knot the knickers of in one afternoon?”


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Review of Transient By Zachry Wheeler

Transient, by Zachry Wheeler, follows the story of Jonas, a human spy embedded in the eternal-held city of Seattle. Eternals, blood-drinkers who in another age might have called themselves vampires, have taken control of the world and pushed humans to the brink of extinction. After years of war, the eternals have created a stable, nearly utopian society, subsisting on the blood of animals and sparking an age of egalitarian social and technological advancement. An age that the few humans who have survived will do anything to bring to an end. The humans have embedded spies, transients, among the eternals who use drugs to hide themselves and slow their aging. These transients study the eternals they hide among and search for a weakness to destroy them all. A weakness they may have found.

I enjoyed Transient very much. The story is told largely through journal entries from the main character as well as deep inside Jonas’s own conflicted mind. Jonas was three-dimensional and complicated, struggling with the anti-eternal programming of his youth and the reality of living and loving within the eternal society. Wheeler’s journal entries cover various parts of the history between the eternals and the humans they have replaced – everything from the war between them and the lawless years after the war began to the dating and social habits of the modern eternal. These journal “recons” were a delight to read and gave a great deal of depth to the setting in Transient.

I am very excited to see what comes next for Zachry Wheeler and recommend Transient to all lovers of urban fantasy, YA dystopias, and preternatural suspense.

You can find Transient at Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Transient-Zachry-Wheeler-ebook/dp/B01MTKX8U9/

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Unremarkable by Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee – A Review

Unremarkable by Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee could not be any less like its title. This supernatural historical fantasy is set in Chicago in February of 1929 and casts the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in an unexpected way. The novel, the first in a series, is tightly plotted, fast paced, and has plenty of twists and turns to keep readers guessing and engaged.

The story follows the character of Saul Imbierowicz, an ordinary man who is just starting his life away from his parents’ home. He lives an ordinary life, with a tiny apartment, no food in the ice box, and a brand-new job with a strict boss sorting mail on the night shift at the Post Office. Early in February 1929, Saul meets a woman in the Post Office diner after work—the beautiful and enigmatic Moira. Within days, Moira has turned his world upside down. Moira’s life is far different than Saul’s. She is confident, sexy, outgoing, and seems to have her finger on the heartbeat of Chicago. She is also carrying a secret and his association with Moira might just get Saul, and everyone he loves, killed.

I really enjoyed this protagonist. Unremarkable is told in first person, and so we get a close look into how Saul thinks and how the events of this novel change him. Saul is funny and self-depreciating, even when trying to shrug off the pervasive anti-Semitism of the 1920s. Habiger and Coy do not handwave these parts of the story. They have written a good glimpse into early twentieth century Chicago and do not shy away from the many casual, and sometimes not-so-casual, aggressions toward women and people of the Jewish faith in that time. But through it all, Saul’s thoughts and reactions are authentic to an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

I wholeheartedly recommend Unremarkable. It is a ‘read it in one sitting’ kind of book and a remarkable beginning to a series I cannot wait to read more from.

You can get the Kindle e-book or paperback here. Also, check out Habiger and Kissee’s upcoming fantasy crime novel, Wrath of the Fury Blade. It is available for pre-order here.


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The Faerie Rising Paperback is Now Available and Other Team Lowan News

It’s finally here!

We are excited to announce that the paperback of Faerie Rising: The First Book of Binding, is now available at Amazon.com. We appreciate the patience and support we have received during this long process. For those who prefer e-readers, Faerie Rising is available in e-book as well.

New cover for Faerie Rising: The First Book of Binding

What’s coming up?

We are hard at work on the sequel, Ties of Blood and Bone: The Second Book of Binding, which should be available in both e-book and paperback Spring of 2018.

For those who enjoy audiobooks, we are working on audio editions of both books to be released late in 2018. We will keep you posted on that exciting project.

Why so quiet lately?

Team Lowan took a bit of an extended hiatus at the end of 2017 to concentrate on getting healthy. We are back at work and excited to be bringing new projects out this year! There is more short, original fiction on the way through the blog, and a lot of fun Seahaven trivia coming to the website this year. If you’ve missed any of last year’s short fiction, you can find links to all of them on our Books of Binding Reading Order Page.

We’ll see you at the con!

Two-thirds of Team Lowan will be returning to Kansas City Planet Comicon at Bartle Hall in Kansas City, MO from February 16-18. Our third member is up to her elbows in Ties of Blood and Bone and will be sitting out the convention to concentrate on introducing the world to one of our favorite characters, Alerich Ashimar.

We appreciate you all!

Thank you all for subscribing or clicking! We are honored to have the opportunity to share Seahaven and The Books of Binding with you all. Drop us a comment here or leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads! We’d love to know what you think.

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Exposure – A Books of Binding Flash Fiction

“Erik, you have to hold still for this to work.”

“I still feel like it needs some adjustment.”

Jason rolled his eyes in the direction of the new, breadbox-sized Kodak ‘Brownie’ camera and muttered softly in ancient Greek before raising his voice. “You do know that Katherine’s going to kill you, right?” He returned his attention to the viewfinder. Erik had a bee in his bonnet about getting this… picture… taken and wouldn’t be dissuaded.

The Vampire King laughed. “Isn’t that the point of this exercise?”

“Hold still. I’m still getting the exposure.” Dammit, Erik had moved again. “We’re going to have to try again. You moved.”

“Did not.”

This time Jason cast his look fully at his master, arid and annoyed.

Erik dropped his hand to below his waist and made an obscene gesture. “Is this in the shot, too?”

Jason sighed a long-suffering sigh. “I’m going to help her hide your body. Just letting you know.” He advanced the film with the turnkey and felt the small tug that told him this was the last attempt. “Last try, unless you want to break into the rest of the celluloid.” He shook his head. “I still can’t believe you spent this much money just to prank Katherine.”

“It wasn’t so bad.”

“The camera alone cost a dollar.” Jason tracked Erik’s expenses. If he kept spending at this rate, he would have to write to Erik’s vampire father in Rome for money.


Erik fidgeted with his pants some more until he finally looked up, grinning broadly. “Okay, now I’m ready.”

Jason sighed. He couldn’t believe Erik was making him do this. Never mind—it was Erik. “Okay, just hold still. Taking the picture… now.”

Katherine really was going to kill him.


For more original fiction and all things Books of Binding, please visit our website: https://www.aelowan.com

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Leftovers – A Books of Binding Flash Fiction

Jessie St. James felt a grin growing as she watched Justin MacDowell toddle around the worn wood floors of Otherworld Books, the stubby felt feathers on his turkey outfit sashaying with each bit of progress he made. She looked at Brian and found him grinning, too, teeth a flash of white against terracotta skin, before he leaned over and redirected his adopted little brother. “It’s hard to believe how much he’s grown in just a month,” she said, and decided to plant her plump butt in the doorway of the stock room to corral him a little.

Brian chuckled and nodded, bending to collect Justin. “Yeah, it is.” Justin objected loudly, gaze fixated on the Christmas display Brian was in the middle of assembling, and he patted the little boy’s back around the turkey accessories on his diapered tush in an attempt to distract and sooth. He sank onto the floor with Jessie and her insulated bag of Thanksgiving leftovers, and his stomach gave an appreciative grumble. A sheepish smile tugged at his lips. “That smells good.”

“Good!” Justin made grabby hands for the bag, evidently as interested in the smell as his big brother.

Jessie grinned at the toddler. “Oh yeah. About as good as it did the first time,” Jessie said, and gave a definitive nod as she unzipped the large doggie bag that Winter had so graciously provided. “I missed Winter’s cooking, you know, before everything,” she added with a glance over her shoulder, looking out for Norah MacDowell. While Brian’s mom was a wonderful person and incredibly kind, she was human and just wasn’t privy to what had happened in the last month—or some of the things that had come before. Jessie dug into the bag and came up with a Tupperware container and an itty-bitty spoon, handing them to her friend with a wry smile. “Winter also sent Justin some pumpkin pudding. Have to get him started young on that addiction.”

The young Black man laughed. “What else is in your goodie bag?”

“Hmm.” Jessie dug out stacks of plastic dishes, spreading them out between them. “Looks like the whole kit-and-caboodle. Winter likes to set people up in style, you know. Want to help me eat some of it?” It was almost like a date… on the floor… with a baby brother squealing for his share. So yeah, almost. Almost sort of counted when you were seventeen, right?

Now if only Brian wasn’t too good for her.

“It would be a terrible, terrible crime to turn down a Mulcahy plate!” Brian said, playfully scandalized as he got Justin settled into his lap for his snack—the gateway drug into all things pumpkin spiced.

“Wouldn’t it?” While Justin happily nommed away, Jessie took a few slices of Winter’s homemade bread and added some turkey and cranberry sauce before passing it along, feeling deliciously domestic. Then, Jessie’s lips pulled into a thoughtful frown when Brian took the sandwich.

Her friend tilted his head, his long, pencil-thin dreads swinging. “What’s wrong?”

Just as quickly, that frown quirked into a smile. “Just thinking. Wondering how you’re doing now that you’re in the ‘in-crowd,’ so to speak… Do you want to talk about it?” It was at least putting it on the metaphorical table.

Brian adjusted Justin on his lap and set the sandwich on his knee, deliberating in his answer. “I can’t say I didn’t suspect something was going on with you at the Theatre, but…” Brian shrugged one shoulder, “it’s a lot to swallow. I won’t deny that it’s nice to know I’m going to do something worthwhile with my life, and make an impact for the better. There’s more certainty in that than I can say I’ve had before.”

“Why’s that?”

The dark-skinned teen just shrugged, again. “Growing up out there,” he made a vague gesture to the streets with one hand, and gave his little brother another spoonful of pudding with the other, “sometimes you have to wonder.” Another sheepish smile immediately followed. “That’s not to discount what Norah’s done for me—and that’s been a lot. Being a Hero, though… that pays things forward in the best way, if you can believe in Destiny.”

“I do believe in Destiny.” Someday, that Destiny would take Brian from her, but she was determined to get the most of every day she had with him. Jessie found a smile for him and playfully nudged his knee with her sneaker. “But, you don’t have to be a Hero with emphasis on the capital H to be the everyday hero variety. Winter and I are ‘come as you are’ people. You know that. And Norah knows it without the rest of the picture,” she said, and scooted over to eat her lunch with him just in time to catch a flash of flush across his terracotta cheeks. Maybe…? Naw. “Now, after we go Jaws on this bountiful feast, what can I help you with here? Not really in the mood to go home yet.” She was never in the mood to go home, but that was another story.

He laughed, grateful for the excuse to move on. “If you need an excuse to be busy, you can help me with this display.”


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Ties of Blood and Bone Cover Reveal

We are thrilled to reveal the cover for our next full-length book! 

Preorders for Ties of Blood and Bone: The Second Book of Binding are available now. We are offering $1 off the list price of $3.99 to anyone who pre-orders before January 15, 2018. Click here to grab yours!

This cover, like our beautiful one for Faerie Rising, was designed by the incredible team at Deranged Doctor Design. We are just left speechless by them each time we work with them. You can find them here.

We are also working on print and audio editions for both books. We will announce once those are available.

And now, our beautiful new cover!

2017-520 AE Lowan b02 final

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Things Fall Apart – A Books of Binding Flash Fiction

He sniffed the air. The scent of burnt bones and under it—blood. A lot of it. And the outhouse smell of violent death.

He walked the utility area carefully, reconstructing the deadly dance from a lifetime lived among its devotees. The spatters of brown flecks. The dust-free smears where a body had been dragged, struggling. A broken fingernail caught in the chain-link. The cloying smell of burning hair and garbage, and just a hint of cucumber. Acetone. At least they had destroyed the body, but it meant the attackers were not human. A human gang might have doused the body with gasoline to throw off the authorities, but they wouldn’t have brought their victim all the way out here, and it wouldn’t have been acetone. They’d brought it with them to make sure the body was gone. He sighed heavily. Perfect. He didn’t have time to pity the dead. This was just one of the sites he had been sent to check.

He opened the dumpster, holding his black sleeve over his sensitive nose, wishing the leather were doing a better job of masking the stench. The inside was charred black, the sides a little warped from the heat, but the accelerant had done its job. Nothing remained to mark this victim as different. Just a lumpy sort of ash. Shattered bone fragments and the occasional tooth. He could have his team sanitize the area, but they couldn’t remove the smell. If the authorities didn’t find the body they could smell, there would be more questions than a few teeth, they would never find a match for, would pose.

This city was a mess. Its preternaturals were out of control. Just short of all-out warfare between too many factions. It was getting worse, and more importantly, it was getting sloppy. That was something his masters couldn’t allow. The humans could never know who lived among them. They were a panicky breed and the only thing they liked more than killing each other was killing anything else. It would be open season on them all, and as superior as many preternaturals liked to feel with their extra strength or speed or longevity, there were billions of humans in this world. No matter his people’s advantages, they would lose any concerted war.

He heard a car approach, its tires crunching the gravel. He lowered the dumpster lid soundlessly and scaled the fence behind it, dropping to a crouch on the other side. He heard the ding of the car as the occupants left the engine running and the lights pointed in his direction. He sprinted for the tree line, trusting the dumpster to block him from view. He hurtled past the first line of trees and hauled himself, hand over hand with the ease of practice, into a tall one a few feet into the stand, coming to rest about fifteen feet up. Any higher and his weight was going to be an issue.

He watched from his temporary blind as a man and a woman crossed through the beam from their headlights. The woman wore a long dress and carried a large, floppy bag, from which she was pulling a flashlight and a few small bottles. The man beside her had his hand across his stomach, fingers under his jacket. He would bet most of his not-insubstantial resources that the jacket held a gun. The man’s eyes never stopped moving, searching outside their pool of light—muscle then, which made her the boss.

“I don’t like this. It’s too exposed out here. Let’s come back in the morning.”

“Etienne, it has to be tonight. Do you smell that? Tomorrow this place will be full of families and someone is going to notice the smell.”

The man frowned, and he stopped his scanning to look at her for a moment. “I smell it. Why don’t you go wait in the car? I’ll take care of it.”

She sighed and seemed to be counting to ten. “I know that you think you’re protecting me. You seem to think I’m much more fragile than I am. This is not my first burned body, Etienne. Not my first murdered friend. This isn’t even my hundredth. I appreciate you coming with me, but this thinking that I’m the damsel you have to save has got to stop. This is my city. I’m the Mulcahy now. You have to let me do my job or I can’t have you come with me again. Tell me you understand.”

The man’s body was tense, his face a mix of frustration, anger, and a touch of fear. “Winter, you can’t seriously expect me to—”

“Tell me you understand or go sit in the car. This is my job, Etienne. This is what I do. None of that has changed. I am responsible for keeping as much peace as can be had in this city, and barring that, for keeping things under wraps enough to not have us all killed by the Eldest to keep the Veil of Secrecy intact. Sometimes that means stopping fights before they start. Tonight, it means making sure that a missing lion’s body has been destroyed enough not to raise questions. A fifteen-year-old lion.” Her teeth and fists were both clenched as she spoke. “Who belongs to a very good friend. Tonight, my job is to make sure his body is unrecognizable. Tomorrow, it’s to talk to his Queen and tell her that my need that she maintain the peace is more important than her need for vengeance. So, tell me you understand. Back me up and help me do this impossible job or stay home.”

The man searched her face, and sighed heavily. “I don’t understand.”

The woman raised her hand to point at the car. “Then g—”

He caught her hand gently. “I don’t understand, Winter, but I’m trying to. Do your job. I’ll back you up.”

The woman struggled to control her face, but nodded, and turned toward the chain-link fence.

Winter… this was Winter Mulcahy. Seahaven’s wizard. The man in the trees had heard of her, but never met her. She was out of her depth, but it looked like maybe she was recruiting some help. He hoped it would be enough. Seahaven was winding up on his masters’ radar too often. The Eldest were neither patient nor forgiving. They couldn’t be.

He slipped silently out of the tree and into the darkness beyond. Lions. He couldn’t help Miss Mulcahy comfort her friend, but he could make sure that whoever was attacking the lions was too scared to do it again. His smile was feral as he ran toward where his car was hidden.

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Filed under Fantasy, Flash Fiction, Urban Fantasy and Other Trifles, Writing

There’s A Monster at the Door – A Books of Binding Flash Fiction

The little monster crept toward the door of the enormous stone house. Maybe this was not such a good idea after all. Her friends had dared her to come here. They’d called her weak and scared. She swore she would show them that she was made of tougher stuff than they thought. But standing here, at the end of the mile-long drive, the house gave her pause—squatting here on the edge of the world, nothing but water as far as the eye could see on the other side.

She eyed the door and tried to summon her courage. It was just a house. Nothing to fear. She stepped away from the comforting shelter of the bushes, squared her shoulders, and climbed the stairs. She raised her hand and—

The door swung open. Light poured into the night and framed an angry man holding a struggling grey cat. “You have your own door, cat. Why are you screaming for me to let you out this one?”

The monster froze, her arm still raised like a startled statue.

The man blinked for a moment and set the cat down. The cat apparently changed his mind. He sniffed the monster once, twined himself around the man’s legs, and disappeared into the depths of the house. The man took in the diminutive monster—her horns, her claws, her spotted fur, her row of sharp fangs, and the spiked tail that hung behind her. He studied her with a perplexed look on his face, then turned to call into the house for help. “Winter! There’s a monster at the door.” He turned back to her. “What do you want?”

His words unfroze her and she turned to run back to the shelter of the bushes and away. Who cared what her friends thought? She had come when none of them dared.

A woman came to the door, white hair in a bun. She gave the man an exasperated look and called out into the night, “Don’t go. You’re welcome here, little one.” She reached back into the house and pulled out a small cauldron, filled to the brim with candy.

The monster turned back, uncertain. The woman seemed nice enough. She came back toward the pair standing in the light and held up a sack, uncertainly. “Trick or Treat?”

The woman smiled and held out the cauldron. It held candy, but not the normal cheap kind that most people had. The cauldron was filled with full-sized candy bars. “Take all you want. Very few people are brave enough to venture out here.”

The monster straightened and smiled. She was brave. Take that, third-graders of Room 31! She reached her blue-furred hand into the cauldron and took her favorite, looking speculatively at the woman.

The woman smiled and nodded. “You can take as many as you like.”

The monster grinned and took two more. She tilted her face up to the woman and smiled. “Thank you!” She spun and ran down the steps toward the bushes and her bike. She put the candy bars into her sack but stopped when she saw a glimmer of light—a symbol that glowed for just a moment then disappeared when it touched the other candy. She looked back to the woman.

The woman tilted her head a little but smiled. “It’s alright, little one. It will keep you safe tonight.”

The monster considered that, then smiled at the woman. She put the sack in the basket on her bike and pulled back out onto the long driveway. She called back to the pair, “Happy Halloween!”

The woman, Winter Mulcahy, turned back to Etienne and shook her head, pulling him and the cauldron back inside and shutting the door.

Etienne looked at the candy and back at the wizard. “Is that going to be happening all night, then? Monsters at the door until dawn?”

Winter set the cauldron on the side table and headed back to dinner. “Not a monster. A witch.”

Etienne glanced back at the door. “A witch?”

Winter nodded. “She saw the glyph of protection. She’s one of us. Now come eat.”

Etienne sat and picked up his spoon. The night was a cool one and the stew was warm and filling. He glanced back at the door and the purple-spotted monster. He hoped the little witch would be safe tonight.

A grey form rubbed against his legs under the table. He pulled a bit of beef from the stew, blew on it, and slipped it to the cat.

Winter pretended not to notice.


Filed under Fantasy, Flash Fiction, Urban Fantasy and Other Trifles, Writing

Summiting Mount Writers’ Block

What is Writers’ Block?

Each writer defines writers’ block in their own way. To us, writers’ block doesn’t exist. We don’t actually believe in it. We believe in getting stuck. Often, to call getting stuck writers’ block is to give it a great deal of power over your creative process. It becomes an event. It becomes an insurmountable force standing in the way of you reaching your creative goals.

If Writers’ Block Doesn’t Exist, Why Can’t I Find the Words?

  6 factors getting you stuck

When you’re staring at the blank screen, but the words just won’t come, there could be one or more factors putting the brakes on your creative output. Most of these factors can be broken down into just six categories:

1.       Something is awry in your story

2.       Environmental factors are either not conducive to or actively stopping your writing

3.       You don’t have enough time to devote (or perceive that you don’t)

4.       Your stress level is too high

5.       Anxiety is overwhelming you

6.       Your block is actually depression

We’ll talk about each of these categories—how you can spot each one and ways to help you get unstuck if this is your challenge.

Its Broken—Something is Awry in Your Story

One of the primary reasons why authors get stuck is because something in their story isn’t working like they intended. There are three primary ways something can go awry:

·         You have fallen into a rabbit hole (and found dirt instead of Wonderland)

·         Your story doesn’t have enough conflict to drive it

·         A character (or characters) lack agency

Falling into a Rabbit Hole

Chasing Rabbits

Let’s talk for a minute about the pantsing vs. outlining debate.

There are two broad types of writers—those who start with an outline of the action to follow as they write and those who start with only a loose sense of where the story is headed. (This second group are called pantsers in reference to the idiom: flying by the seat of their pants.)

Outliners believe that carefully structuring the action before writing keeps them focused and on track. Many will prewrite important sections, much like a movie director creates a storyboard. Detail level in outlines can vary from those who know the general topic of a chapter to those who create a play-by-play of each scene. This method can be very effective, but critics feel that it can stymie creativity, locking in the action and leaving little room for exploration.

Pantsers believe that allowing a story to grow organically allows them to evolve ideas as they write. They may begin a story with an idea for who the characters are and what the cornerstone pieces of the action will be, but they allow the action in each chapter to lead them to what happens next. This method can lead to unexpected places—rabbit holes. Some rabbit holes lead to Wonderland—places that you never dreamed the story could go. These rabbit holes can enrich your story tremendously. On the other hand, some rabbit holes lead to a dirty hole in the ground from which your plot cannot dig out. These rabbit holes are the type we are talking about. (It is important to note that outliners are not immune from rabbit holes. They are simply more likely to have ironed out impossible plots before they began writing.)

If your words have stopped flowing, make sure that you haven’t fallen into a rabbit hole you can’t escape from. If you think you may have, you’ll need to figure out what about the plot has made it untenable. Follow the hole you went down backwards to find the last plot point that funneled you here. Examine that plot point. Was there another option available to your characters than the one they took? Try starting at that decision, but going in another direction. Giving your characters a do-over may be just what you need to get the words flowing again.

Not Enough Conflict

Beware the Overpowered Character

Another place where a story can run off the rails is where there isn’t enough conflict to propel the action forward. If you’ve found that you have pages and pages of characters doing inconsequential things or of characters doing much more talking about how past plot points made them feel, rather than participating in new plot points, your problem may be that there isn’t enough conflict in your story.

Look at each character and determine what they want. What is it that motivates them? What role do they play in this story? What characters or elements exist that stop your character from achieving their goals? You generate conflict in a story by putting characters in direct contact with characters or elements who want opposite things. Simply put—determine what your characters want, then throw increasingly difficult obstacles in their path.

This might be a good time to mention the concept of an overpowered character. Especially in speculative fiction, many characters have abilities that the rest of the world do not possess. It is tempting to keep adding power to your characters in order to make them able to overcome any obstacle. This can lead to problems because as a character gains power, unless the obstacles keep pace, soon the character has no risk in the story. Instead of conflict driving the plot forward, the story has become a scrapbook of your amazing character breezing through life. If you find yourself feeling like there is no energy to your plot, check to make sure that your character still has to struggle to succeed.

Lacking Agency

Characters Must Have Agency

The last place your story could be holding you back is if one or more of your characters lack the agency needed to affect the world around them. If you find that your writing is bogged down and you just can’t think of any way to move forward (and you’ve made sure that you haven’t fallen into the wrong rabbit hole) then check your characters to make sure that they have the means and influence to carry a story. Are they able to make decisions on their own? Are they merely reactive to the actions of others or are they proactive in their own story? Do your characters make decision that further the plot, or are they plot piñatas who are simply being battered about by the events around them?

If you find that your characters are far more reactive than proactive, you’ll need to take a hard look at the character and what function they serve in the story. If a character’s job is essentially set decoration and their only purpose is to react to the actions of other characters, that character—no matter how cute, tragic, attractive, or loved—is holding you back. Story thrives on conflict. If your character can’t contribute in a way that drives the action forward, then they are a prop. Stories can have prop characters as long as they are very minor. If you have a prop character sucking the energy from a large portion of your story, getting stuck is inevitable.

Locking the Door—Environmental Factors

Sometimes, what stops the flow of words has nothing to do with the story itself, but has triggers elsewhere in your life. Some of the most common factors that can derail you are components in your writing environment. These come in two broad groups: physical and social factors.

Physical Causes for Derailment

Check Your writing space for distractions

Some environmental triggers that can stop the flow of words are things that distract us that can be altered. Environmental factors like uncomfortable room temperature, distracting noises, constant phone calls, a disorganized space, and spending excess time on the internet can all lead to frustration which can build into an inability to concentrate and create.

These kinds of factors can be mitigated fairly easily. The use of fans or heaters to make your writing area comfortable, using music to help stimulate your creativity and drown out distracting noises, keeping your writing area organized in a way that makes sense to you, ignoring non-essential phone calls until you are finished writing, and setting boundaries for when you are working and when you can surf online can all do wonders for lowering your frustration and getting you back on track.

Social Causes for Derailment

Communicate About Your Needs

Some environmental triggers are not as easy to fix. The biggest is not having a social structure that is supportive of your writing or your need for a distraction-free time to pursue it.

When you live with others, it can sometimes be difficult for them to understand that writing is much more strenuous than it may appear. It requires a great deal of concentration. It may look like we’re “just typing” and that we should be able to stop abruptly then pick up where we left off easily. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most writers have some version of the writing trance. It is a lot like the zone that long-distance runners talk about. It is a place where the world around us falls away and we are completely present in our story with our characters. It doesn’t operate like a light switch. Like runners, most of us need a period to warm up and cool down around our emotional workouts. When people and animals in our environment continually interrupt this trance, it takes us far longer to get back into our trance than they may realize. This can lead to frustration and sometimes can derail us to the point where we completely lose our connection to the scene.

If you think that social environmental factors are affecting your writing, try talking to the adults in your life and asking for their help. Non-writers often have no idea how their “just a quick sec” interruptions affect us. Good communication may help you get the distraction-free environment you need. If the social factors are small children or pets, be proactive. Make sure that you have anticipated and tended to the needs of those who depend on you before you begin. In a hectic house, with constant demands from children and pets, changing the time of day you write might also help. Saving your writing time until everyone is in bed may give you the uninterrupted time you need to get words on the page.

Too Many Irons in the Fire—When You Don’t Have Enough Time to Write (Or Think That You Don’t)

It adds up fast

Sometimes, our lives are simply too busy to write. A new baby, a new job, and exams are all reasons why you really might not have enough time to get words on the page. But often, we fall into a pattern of believing that because we are active, but don’t have time to write. Chances are, you have more time than you think you do.

The average fantasy novel is around 100,000 words—probably more than you have time to do in a weekend—but it is not as many as it may seem. With an active schedule you may not have time to write 5000 words a day, but could you write 500 words a day? The average word length for the English language is 4.5 characters. If we round that down to 4 characters and a one character for a space, 500 words a day is 2500 characters, or the equivalent of 17.8 140-character tweets. That is easily in reach for even the busiest of us.

500 words a day might not sound like much, but if you find that small amount of time every day, in 200 days—less than 7 months—your 100,000-word novel would have a draft.

Saying that you don’t have time to write can be a lot like saying you don’t have time to exercise. There is a point at which it is a matter of setting priorities and deciding that your story is important enough to squeeze in your daily writing workout.

My Life Is Too Complicated—When You Are Too Stressed to Write

I just need it to be a little easier

We have all had those years, when the pressures of the real world—family obligations, trouble at work, money matters, illness, social upheaval, interpersonal strife—builds to such a head that it takes over every part of your life. These periods can make getting words onto the page a particular challenge. The brain power you need to bring to bear on your story is being used to process other priorities.

This type of stuck is one of the only times that it might be time to take a vacation from the story. You need to be gentle with yourself and do what you can to alleviate the pressure. If you’re not ready to call a vacation just yet, try some of the many techniques for lowering stress. Go for a walk, get a massage, take a hot bubble bath, play with a dog, meditate/pray. Find some time each day to do one small thing that is only for you.

Anxiety – When You’ve Talked Yourself into Being Stuck

Keeping Negativity at Bay

Sometimes we can’t get the words out because our fears about ourselves and our writing have taken over. Writing is not an easy thing to do. It requires an enormous amount of vulnerability as we lay ourselves metaphorically bare for the reader. We pour our whole selves into the page and then hand it to strangers and hope that is speaks to them. And fear that it won’t.

That fear—that tiny seed of doubt that you will never be good enough, that your writing will be rejected, that you will face ridicule, that you will never taste success—can fester inside you until you are locked up with it.

We all have tapes in our heads that play when we have doubt or when we are trying something new. Some of those tapes can be disruptive and lead us into a spiral of negative self-talk. We’re terrible. Our writing is bad. We have no original ideas.

Part of being an artist, of creating for others, is learning to insulate yourself from negativity. We love it when readers tell us that we have made a connection, but you have to know that your writing is good enough even without constant accolades. Bad reviews will come. You have to learn to tune them out, and more importantly to never keep a copy of the tape to play in your head as you work on the next story.

If anxiety has taken over and paralyzed your writing, you need to take control back. Remember why you began writing in the first place—because you love stories and want to share them with others.

Seek out the support of other writers. A writing group can be a wonderful way to realize that the tapes you are playing are wrong. Finding a supportive group to cheer your successes and help you when doubt rears its head can make a world of difference.

Make sure that your goals and deadlines are realistic. Demanding from your writing that you hit the bestseller list in two weeks is going to set you up for disappointment and doubt, but so is expecting that you will write 5000 words a day and finish a novel every 20 days. Set small, attainable goals and hold yourself accountable for your progress.

Depression—When It Is Not About Writing at All

You Matter More than you Think

Sometimes your inability to write doesn’t have to do with any of these things. Some of the hallmark symptoms of depression, especially the inability to concentrate and the lack of interest in activities you once found pleasurable, can be mistaken by authors as writers’ block. Depression is a serious illness that affects millions of people from all walks of life. With depression, it can feel as though your life is slipping away. That it is robbing you of everything you once thought was important. That you will never regain what you’ve lost.

If you are suffering from depression, please don’t suffer alone. There are resources available to help. You are valuable to the world. You make a difference in the lives of others, especially as an author. Depression will lie to you and tell you that no one will care. That you are a burden. That your contributions are not important. None of those things are true. You, and the stories inside you, are a gift to the world.

If you are struggling with depression, please ask for help. Here are some resources that might be of use to you:

·         https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression

·         https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/ask-and-learn/resources

·         https://www.betterhelp.com/

·         https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline also has a telephone number that is staffed by people who understand and can help. Their number is: 1-800-273-8255.

You are not alone.

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