2022 Writing Snippet #6

A periodic look at some of the passages and lines I’m most proud of. For this one, a passage from my current WIP Summertime, Assassins, and Other Skullduggeries.

“Shit!”

Summer looked up with her eyes as wide as they’d ever been, her heart leaping up into her throat. “Shit? Lola, what do you mean…’shit?’”

Yanking the ski mask off her head, her curly purple locks springing free, Lola bit her lower lip as she began the laborious process of taking apart her sniper rile. It was a process Summer had seen several times over the past week, but she still couldn’t pull it off herself. “I missed.”

Summer blinked. “I’m sorry, what did you just say? Because it sounds like you said you missed.”

“Because I did!”

Summer watched as pieces of the sniper rifle came apart, like some bastardized form of Legos for bloodthirsty adults. The scope and barrel were one piece, until they weren’t, and then they disappeared in separate compartments of Lola’s black duffel bag. There were pockets inside pockets on that thing, so it appeared to hold more than it should. Like some magic fantasy bag or something.

“You told me yesterday you don’t miss!”

“Yeah, well,” Lola huffed, yanking a zipper shut before pulling off the shoulder stump and tossing into the opposite end of the bag, “I do when the wind gusts just as I pull the trigger.”

Writing Snippet #1 | Writing Snippet #2 Writing Snippet #3 | Writing Snippet #4
Writing Snippet #5

Random Thoughts

I.
I see you, cursor.

The way you blink. The way you beckon me toward the keyboard, only to laugh when I inevitably blank and pull back my hands. The moment’s panic when the opportunity to write is finally met with silence. The ideas of the recent past now little more than a fleeting memory.

I’ve published six novels, among other projects. I thought something got easier the more often you did it.

II.
It’s Pride Month. I’m bisexual. Sometimes pansexual.

My books feature plenty of queer characters. An ace protagonist, M/M romance, and a trans character in the Jill Andersen series. The lead in Notna is a Black bi male. I’m writing an assassin thriller that also amounts to F/F romance with probably the only ever HEA I’m gonna write.

So why am I still being ignored?

III.
I try not to bear my soul like this, but sometimes, I need to let the emotions out. And I have no other outlets.

IV.
I do, however, feel it’s important to be real that being an indie author is sometimes a struggle. The lack of sales. The paucity of social media engagements. People unsubscribing from my newsletter and my manuscripts proving uncooperative.

There are times when this indie author thing tests my patience and admittedly weak self-esteem. And hiding that fact just feels disingenuous.

V.
I want my books to appear on lists. Like LGBT lists. Best Books You Haven’t Read Yet lists. Best of [insert year here] lists. Any list. Just some validation that someone sees my work and acknowledges both its existence and its worth.

I just don’t know how to get there.

VI.
TikTok seems very much to be a thing in book circles these days. I can’t bring myself to jump in, though–mostly because I clearly still haven’t figured out Twitter and Instagram. I feel like I should learn to better utilize the platforms I’m already on instead of trying to learn yet another new one.

Besides, content ideas are few and far between.

VII.
I wish my favorite indie authors loved my books the way I love theirs. The love, as usual, feels one-sided.

VIII.
Why yes, I do have long-standing issues with self-worth and confidence. How could you tell?

Book Reviews XVII

The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams by Halo Scot

Halo Scot has quickly become one of my favorite authors, known for deeply intense stories featuring co-protagonists who are as equal as they are opposites, and for all the fireworks and the bloodshed and the lust, these stories have a heart and an earnestness about them that shines through.

The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams is no different. Though not nearly as disturbing as Scot’s Rift Cycle series can be at times (though this story is by no means short on the violence and the bloodshed), hallmarks of Scot’s writing are evident. Fortunately, they are all the best parts.

Slade is, for lack of a better word, the Chosen One. The only one who can fix the dystopian madness, and Koa begins as the person responsible for making sure Slade realizes her destiny. It’s much more complex than that, but that’s the spoiler-free gist–and it’s the backdrop for neurodivergent representation and LGBT representation and, most importantly, memorable, dynamic, and emotionally available characters.

More than anything, though, Heartbeat is the purest distillation of Scot’s writing. It’s urgent, intense. In your face. Scot has a lot of things to say, and they need to be said right fucking now, dammit and that urge, that necessity of message, is present in everything Scot writes.

That urgency, that intensity, is addictive, and it’s why the pages so often fly by. The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams is Scot’s best work, even if it’s not quite the mind-fuck one might expect. This is a must-read, another classic from Scot’s library, and anyone with even the faintest interest in spec fic or superheroes or Chosen Ones should not miss this classic.

Rating: *****

The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams is available in paperback and Kindle

Dreadknot by S.E. Anderson

The thing about comedies…every now and then, they punch you in the gut.

Dreadknot, the eighth entry in S.E. Anderson’s slapstick sci-fi series, does just that. Oh, there’s humor. Plenty of it. Lots of absurd situations, cracking dialogue, and laugh-out-loud one-liners. There’s also action, intense set pieces of zap-or-be-zapped that feel right at home in this particular drama.

There’s also heart. For a series where so many of the characters are immortal, there’s a lot of heart. Then again, we’re eight books in, and if you aren’t emotionally invested in Sally and Zander and Blayde and all the rest by now…what are you doing?

But with that heart comes the gut-wrenching finale. See, while Anderson was making you laugh over the course of eight books, she was also tricking you into feeling for these characters. Not just as individuals, but the collective. The way they interact with each other, the way their relationships evolve from book to book — even from chapter to chapter.

And then, at the end, she rips the heart out.

Sci-fi being what it is (and this series being what it is), nothing is truly final. But in the moment, it feels like it. Victories are hollow, tainted with the sorrow of loss. This is one of the funnier books in the entire Starstruck saga, but it’s also the most emotionally resonant.

Then again, this book does have the word “dread” in the title.

Rating: *****

Dreadknot is available in paperback and Kindle

Book Birthday, Times Two

June 1 will forever be an important day for me as an author.

In fact, June 1 marks the birthday of two of my books — including my debut Bounty. The first entry in the Jill Andersen series went live on June 1, 2015. Exactly one year later, I launched Behind the Badge, the third book in the series.

Both book releases were largely without fanfare (I was woefully ignorant when Bounty went live, and to this day, Behind the Badge remains my worst-selling book), but still: a day in which I can celebrate the anniversary of two of my releases is a good day. Bounty proved I can do this, and Behind the Badge proved I can tell difficult, important stories.

Just don’t ask about Bounty‘s original cover. Because that will never see the light of day again.

There won’t be a new release on June 1 this year, but Bitter End is coming along nicely.

Bounty (Jill Andersen #1)
Jill Andersen is one of Baltimore’s best and brightest detectives, but she harbors a dark secret — a secret that threatens to come out when the body of Dr. Trent Roberts is pulled out of the Chesapeake Bay. Dr. Roberts’ connection to Jill reveals a past that involves a tour in Iraq, a secretive cybernetic experiment, and a conspiracy that involves a native son.

Can Jill solve the case while still keeping her secret? Will her partners at the Seventh Precinct find out what she’s so desperate to hide? What was Dr. Roberts looking into that led to his murder? And perhaps the biggest question of all…

Who is Bounty?

Behind the Badge (Jill Andersen #3)
For Jill Andersen, being part of the Baltimore Police Department has always been both a tremendous honor and a serious responsibility. Her father, before his fall from grace, had instilled in her a great respect for police and the work they do day-to-day. But when a teenage boy winds up dead on the outskirts of downtown Baltimore, Jill finds herself once again faced with those who would abuse their badges to fulfill personal agendas and uphold biases.

Jill still has a job to do, but she soon finds that not everyone is in her corner. For the first time in almost four years working Homicide, Jill finds herself at odds with people who claim to be on her side. From other cops to suits downtown all the way to the Mayor’s office, it becomes increasingly clear that Jill will need to rely on more than just her badge if she’s to solve this case.

But even if she finds justice, what’s the price?

Bounty and Behind the Badge are both available in paperback and all major ebook outlets.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

May 2022: Month in Review

Another look back at the past 30-ish days.

Another short post, because apparently, my day job can’t just chill. I need to get back in the swing of things. Perhaps June? Maybe July?

Actual News!
May might’ve been light on posts, but I did take an important step this month; I revealed the cover for Bitter End (Jill Andersen #6), courtesy of the awesomesauce Sarah Anderson!

Click here for the original post.

The Defense Rests
Fan fiction gets a lot of shit, and none of it’s deserved. Yes, I’m a fanfic defender.

It’s a Dirty Job, But Someone’s Gotta Do It
Most writers I know despise editing. But what if I told you I have four tips that will not only make the process easier, but maybe even more fun?

I won’t even charge you four installments of $19.99 for it.

Just Finished
Dreadknot by S.E. Anderson, The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams by Halo Scot. Both tremendous reads; look for reviews in the next week or so (or look me up on Goodreads and see them now).

Currently Reading
Eye of the Brave by Halo Scot.

First Person vs. Third Person
When I started writing Summertime, Assassins, and Other Skullduggeries, it was in third person, because that’s how I write just about everything and it’s automatic at this point. But on a whim, I tried the first couple chapters in first person, and I liked them so much that now I don’t know what I’m gonna do.

You Like Free Stuff, Don’t You?
Have you subscribed to my newsletter yet?

No?

Did you know that if you do, you’ll receive a free novella? Specifically, the Bounty prequel Boundless?

Re-Post: In Defense of Fan Fiction

NOTE: This piece originally published on Jan. 10, 2020.

I’m gonna let you all in on a little secret:

I used to write fan fiction.

Castle fanfic, mainly. There was one where I managed to merge Castle with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was fun to write, but it got lost in the shuffle of life as a full-time worker bee and self-published creative type…I keep telling myself I’ll get back to it, but I haven’t yet.

Now, depending on which corner of the Writer Internet in which I say the words “fan fiction,” there’s no telling the reaction I’d get. In certain circles, fanfic might as well double as one of the late, great George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words. It’s the Thing That Shall Not Be Spoken Of, and people who partake in it might as well wear a scarlet W on their chests.

Acting like fanfic is the second coming of Satan and the director’s cut of Batman v. Superman, all rolled into one.

Now, I don’t begrudge authors who don’t want to see fan fiction of their work. It’s their work, their property, and they’re entitled to not wanting others to play with it. I disagree with that stance (I would flip my shit — in a good way — if I ever found out someone wrote fanfic based on my books), but I’ll never tell another writer how to treat their intellectual property.

And I think some of the anti-fanfic sentiment stems from such works as the Fifty Shades series, which famously started out as Twilight fan fiction before Big Publishing swooped in and left millions of us with a bastardized idea of what BDSM should be (but that’s another blog post for another writer to tackle).

Also worth noting: many of the most active fanfic readers and writers online are female and/or LGBT (and that there’s plenty of adult material in fanfic)…so I can’t help but feel like a good chunk of the anti-fanfic sentiment is society trying, once again, to render things that speak to marginalized people as less than, as The Other.

“You like that?! Ugh, girls and q***rs like that!”

So I write in defense of fan fiction, for several different reasons.

  1. It’s fun! Seriously, people are showing their love for their pop culture property of choice by spending more time in it, by creating their own corner of it. People love Harry Potter so much, for example, that they spend their precious free time creating more of it (without payment). Fanfic, at its essence, is a labor of love.
  2. Fanfic can be great practice, for both novice and experienced writers. When writing fanfic, you’re operating in a fictional universe that already exists. The rules are already there, the characters are at least somewhat fleshed out. In writing fanfic, you can hone your skills when it comes to plotting, dialogue, and characterization. Even if the fanfic in question stems from a belief that the source material erred (i.e., “Kate Beckett would never walk out on Richard Castle like that!”), the basics hold true.
  3. Unless a fanfic writer is profiting off the work, fanfic is, at the end of the day, harmless fun. People are reading and writing stories about worlds and characters they love. They’re harming nobody in doing this, and if a new fanfic chapter is what helps someone get through the day, then it’s worth it.
  4. Not to get meta on everything, but if you really boil it down, almost anything can be considered fanfic of a sort. This is a variation of the “everything derives from everything” argument. There are no truly original ideas anymore and that every story, explicitly or otherwise, borrows from several other sources. Many of us become creators because something someone else created inspired us, and we pour that inspiration into our work.

I’m not saying everyone has to partake in fanfic; it’s your prerogative if you don’t. But don’t look down on people who read it, and definitely don’t begrudge people who write it. In a way, fanfic is one of the purest forms of written expression, because it’s done without the expectation of reimbursement.

If I publish a book, it’s in the hope someone buys it, and if they buy it, I get a cut of the money. If I write fanfic, and someone reads it, I get…the satisfaction of knowing someone read my work.

But fanfic is a legitimate form of writing, a legitimate form of entertainment, and a legitimate form of artistic expression. Without fanfic, I’m not sure if I’m a published author at this point, and fanfic is something that I occasionally long to dabble in once more.

It’s fun, it’s harmless, and it’s really just another way for creatives to show support for the stories and characters they love.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

COVER REVEAL: Bitter End (Jill Andersen #6)

Here it is!

The cover to Bitter End (Jill Andersen #6), courtesy of the awesomesauce Sarah Anderson.

Book blurb and release date will be made available in the coming weeks.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

BITTER END COVER REVEAL COMING

Tuesday. May 10.

Unless you subscribe to my newsletter. Then you’ll get the cover a day early. Want that and other exclusive goodies (like, say, a free novella just for subscribing)? Then click here!

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Re-Post: Four Tips to Make Editing Better (and More Fun)

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Medium.

In some ways, editing a manuscript can be even more stressful than actually writing it in the first place. It’s no coincidence that a lot of writers I interact with say editing is, by far, their least favorite thing about being an author (particularly the independent variety).

(My least favorite part is marketing, but that’s a completely different essay).

On its face, editing can feel utterly daunting. A massive task that needs to be tackled, yet feels never-ending.

It was one thing to churn out 100,000 words the first time through, but to then traverse through those caverns of literature, over and over again, with little more than a pickax and the vain hope of keeping the demons of self-doubt at bay — even as you wrestle with the imperfections of your first draft…

Still, there are ways editing can be a less cumbersome, less intimidating process. A process that might even be fun.

These are by no means universal tips — after all, one size does not fit all when it comes to writing — but in my experience, these tips have helped me the most.

Tip #1: After you finish, walk away.
As soon as you type “The End,” save your work, back it up (preferably in multiple locations), and close the document. Leave it to sit for at least two weeks.

No, really. Don’t even read it.

I understand it can be tempting to dive right into the editing process, to simply get it out of the way. But consider a two-week break your vacation after having put the effort into writing the first draft. Writing a book is an exhausting, time-consuming task, and you need the time off once you’ve hit Save for the last time.

The time away will also let you return to your work with fresher eyes. Some writers will wait months at a time, but two weeks is my sweet spot.

It gives me the distance I need to return to my manuscript with fresher eyes (reader’s eyes, one might call them), but I’m not so far away that I forgot what I was writing in the first place.

In fact, I use the two-week break between every step in the process. That time away is key for a number of reasons (not the least of which is avoiding creative burnout).

Tip #2: Break it all down into parts.
The editing process can seem daunting because of how multi-faceted it is; you’re not only on the lookout for spelling and grammar errors, you’re also checking for plot holes, character inconsistencies, story issues, so on and so forth and the list seems never-ending.

Trying to tackle all those things at once would be enough to turn any writer bald.

Break it all up into sections. By which I mean: make your first pass-through about nothing but spelling and grammar. The first time you turn your editor’s eye on your own work, make that your sole focus. Then take your two-week break and when you return, make your second pass-through about plot holes.

Do this as many times as you see fit. Each pass-through should have a specific focus. That way, when you’re editing, you’re not overwhelming yourself with all the things you have to fix (and if one of your pass-throughs ends up being a re-write, you’re at least prepared for that). Every time you finish a pass, you feel like you actually accomplished something and made some progress.

This sounds like a pain, and in terms of time spent, that many passes through your manuscript can take longer than tackling it all in one go. But editing is not something to be rushed, and focusing each pass-through on a specific task will make your work better in the long run — with the added benefit of not stressing you out to the point where you want to quit.

(A note here: if you find yourself becoming bored with reading your own work over and over and over again, take heart in knowing you’re not alone in that. All authors face that because we’re seeing words we’ve already read several times over. Rest assured that anyone reading your work for the first time will never be as bored with it as you are.)

Tip #3: Know when enough is enough.
Give each pass-through focus one pass (except for maybe the spelling and grammar — that one you might need to do twice). Plot holes get one pass-through. Continuity errors (especially if you’re writing a series or a trilogy) get one pass-through.

The last thing you want to do is analyze your work so much, you freeze.

Once you’ve finished every pass-through, now is the time to find another editor. Yes, you need an editor other than yourself (yes, even if you are an editor yourself). Another pair of eyes is invaluable, and if cost is an issue, there are options at your disposal.

While my editor has my manuscript, I use that time to tackle other things that need to be done before my book’s ready to be published. I secure my cover artist, I write my back blurb, and I begin working on formatting — because while the content itself might not be ready, I find turning my manuscript into something resembling an actual book at this point will help push me through the rest of the process.

By the time I’m ready to apply my editor’s notes and suggestions, my manuscript resembles an actual book. That visual shift helps motivate me — because sometimes, this part can drag the most (and sometimes, editor’s notes aren’t fun to deal with — even if the editor is nice and, more importantly, right).

At this point, the finish line is visible. Like Olympic sprinters leaning into the proverbial tape at the end of a race, this is where you push through as hard as you can and lead with your chest as you cross that line.

Tip #4: Always take advantage of proof copies.
Whichever service you use to publish your work — whether it be Amazon’s KDP or Draft2Digital or something else — likely offers a chance for you to proof your work in actual book format before you hit Publish. Whether it’s an actual hard copy or an ePub/Mobi file, always take advantage of this.

This way, you get to see your work the same way your readers will see it. You get to see whatever formatting errors there might be, whatever issues might crop up if you’re offering print copies.

Yes, you should again check spelling and grammar (because those are pesky little buggers who will find a way to sneak through repeated edits), but seeing your work in the format buyers will also see it in is just too valuable to pass up.

Never pass up the chance to grab a proof copy. It’s better to find any issues that might arise before you hit Publish and not after someone’s spent their hard-earned money on it.

In conclusion:
The last thing I want is for a writer to put all their time and effort into crafting a manuscript, only to abandon it out of frustration because the editing process overwhelms them to the point of quitting.

Even if you can’t learn to embrace the editing process (which I get), hopefully, the above tips can at least help you understand and accept the role editing can play in making your writing shine.

Think of editing less as a way to fix what’s wrong and more a way of bringing what’s good to the forefront. It’s like mining for gold: you know it’s in there, you just have to chip away everything around it to find it.

Editing your manuscript is the same way.

I understand these steps might not work for everyone; as I said, writing is not a one-size-fits-all exercise, and what works for me might not work for you. But I have found the above steps (especially breaking down each part into one specific focus) make the editing process far less burdensome.

I might even occasionally call it fun.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

April 2022: Month in Review

An end-of-the-month look back at the last 30 days.

Another short post, because I have once again underestimated my own energy levels. Specifically, how I spend April recovering from March.

So, About Those Book Reviews…
They’re finally here!

In this installment, I review Echoes of Blood by Halo Scot, A Dangerous Game by Madeline Dyer, and Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen. I really enjoyed all three books for various reasons; read why here.

Speaking of Ace

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Remember?
That post I mentioned in the March month-in-review, that I had submitted to Writers’ Blokke on Medium and it was just sitting there? I submitted it to the ILLUMINATION page instead, and it posted! Check out The Theory of Creativity.

I Like Indie Books and I Cannot Lie
Since people like lists so much, I made one of my own: my favorite indie books.

Because indie books are cool. Indie authors are really cool, and the more we support them, the more really cool books these really cool people (full disclosure: myself included) will write.

Work, Work, Work…Day After Day…
Like most writers, I have a main source of income outside of my books. Yes, the dreaded “day job.” Does said day job actually help my writing, though?

It can. But not always.

It’s…complicated. Read why here.

I Was Told This Would Get Easier
Most things get easier the more often you do them. Writing? Not so much.

*Insert Stevie Wonder Singing Happy Birthday Here*
April 14 marked the two-year anniversary of Betrayal‘s release. That’s right, the fifth installment in the Jill Andersen series launched right as we were in the first throes of COVID-19. Worst timing ever aside, it was a successful launch.

Check out Betrayal here.

You Like Free Stuff, Don’t You?
Have you subscribed to my newsletter yet?

No?

Did you know that if you do, you’ll receive a free novella? Specifically, the Bounty prequel Boundless?