2019 Writing Roundup

The new year is here, and with it everyone is talking about what they wrote this past year. The last quarter of 2019 was a brutal rollercoaster for me, emotionally and personally, so it’s good for me to have the chance to sit here and reflect on what I accomplished and the good things that happened too.

2019 started with receiving a grant from the Toronto Arts Council for The Maddening Science – said grant went to research materials for the novel, a new computer, printer, and keyboard, and paying off some debts. But 2019 also started in a place of utter exhaustion, having slammed through writing, editing, and publishing five big novels in three years, as well as rewriting a feature film and completing the scripts for three seasons of a webseries.

I was also working two dayjobs – one first thing in the morning, for an hour and a half, and then a standard eight-hour shift in the evenings which got me home at around 10pm – so my sleep schedule was a mess and I was having trouble not only making time to write, but concentrating when I did have the time.

Happily, I’ve now had the opportunity to rest more, and I’ve had the chance to begin to refill my creative well again. Even more happily, left those dayjobs and am at the moment writing full time. I even got to reclaim my writing space by no longer needing a roommate.

I’m not quite there yet – turns out finishing two series in four years really takes it out of you – but I’ve begun to make preparations to sit down and begin to spin out a new novel. In the mean time, I’ve got lots of irons in the fire, as you’ll see.


The first third of 2019 was dedicated to rewriting The Skylark’s Sacrifice a second time. I’d rewritten it in the last third of 2018 and my editor ended up agreeing that while the rewrite was exactly what she asked for, we should not have gone down that street in the first place. It was what was asked of me, but it didn’t work. So I took it back to the drawing board, and started the re-write all over again.

I also published WORDS FOR WRITERS: The DO-ING Trap.

I finished the edits/polish on A Woman of the Sea, which I had begun in October 2018 and loaded the book onto Wattpad in preparation for serializing it.


I spent February rewriting and jobhunting. I tried to write a short story and Did Not Do Well. It’s half done and likely to end up on the Pile Of Unfinished Tales.

At least I got some new words on the page with WORDS FOR WRITERS – Beta Readers.

And I began releasing A Woman of the Sea a chapter at a time on Valentine’s Day.


I completed the Skylark rewrites and handed them over to Reuts Publications.  I also published WORDS FOR WRITERS – From Signing to Signing.

At this point I tried to start The Maddening Science, the book I received a Toronto Art’s Council Grant for in 2018, and bashed out a few chapters and a few scenes. But something was off about it, and I couldn’t pinpoint why, so I kept going into the file and only put a few hundred words in here and there. I couldn’t really sit down and dig in, and because I don’t believe in Writer’s Block as a mystical magical reason for why people can’t write (there are always reasons), I had to step back to try to figure out why I was struggling. I assumed it was probably because I was in the middle of job interviews and decided to try again later.


I started a new copywriting job, leaving my other two dayjobs, and it sucked up all my brainpower and creativity and made it very hard to want to sit down and compose yet more words at the end of the day.

I resumed working piecemeal on The Maddening Science, pecking out what I could one molasses-slow sentence at a time. I realized that the incidents in the news regarding the current political comment and the toxic white supremacist misogyny that is rampant in our society today has made it very hard to figure out how to tell a responsible story about a supervillain as the protagonist.

I’m still working on that. In the mean time, while I figure out how to restructure the tale, the book and the progress blog are on hiatus.


Still brain-dead from work, I only managed to bash out WORDS FOR WRITERS: How do social media and writing/publishing work together?


There were some final edits on The Skylark’s Sacrifice to be discussed, but I really did nothing this month beyond marketing pushes and watching all the webseries I judged for TOWebfest.


The director of my feature film, To a Stranger, was going to start shopping the script around to executive producers, so before he did that I got some actorfriends together to do a table read. The read, and their feedback, revealed some character motivation gaps in the film, and I set about organizing their notes and figuring out how to solve the issues.

I also wrote and published WORDS FOR WRITERS – How To Write a Synopsis.

This was also the month of TOWebfest, the festival itself, and I spent a lovely day with fellow creators and spoke to some executive producers about my own webseries to try to garner interest.

I was a guest at Pretty Heroes Con for the first time and LOVED it. It’s great to celebrate strong female leads in SF/F and I loved Sailor Moon as a kid, so I was in nostalgic nirvana. It was lovely to introduce those Girl Power-loving fans to The Skylark’s Saga.


I restructured and rewrote To a Stranger, added extra characters and extra scenes to clear up some character motivation in the screenplay. It’s now back with the director and I hope to hear that he’s got a production house and an Exec attached to the project soon.

I appeared at FanExpo Toronto to do some panels, sell some books, and judged the short fiction contest. I also wrote and published WORDS FOR WRITERS: How to Create a Pitch Package.


The Skylark’s Sacrifice was published! Yay! I had a wonderful launch party at Bakka Phoenix, and got to simultaneously launch the incredible book trailer for the duology animated by Elizabeth Hirst to a song by Victor Sierra. Friends Adrianna Prosser and Eric Metzloff, and Danforth Brewery made it extra special.

I also got to read at Word on the Street, which was been a career-long dream, reading on the new Across the Universe Stage.

However, September was also the month when I lost the copywriting job. I saw it coming, so I was shocked when it happened and how it went down, but not surprised. I wasn’t fitting in well with the team, the original project I had been hired for had been cancelled by the execs, work was being taken away from me and given to freelancers, and I didn’t have the training they wanted (though that makes me wonder why they hired me in the first place.) In retrospect it’s been a blessing, as the workplace was not at all a good fit for me and was slowly becoming toxic, and I’ve had lots of time to get my creative life in order as I jobhunt.

Just a few days after I was fired, on my 37th birthday, I won a Watty Award for A Woman of the Sea. Happy birthday to me! I was offered a place among the Wattpad Stars program and accepted – and wow, is there a lot of paperwork for that – and I’m still trying to figure out what benefits the program offers. (Though I’m pretty chuffed with my free Canva Premium subscription!) A Woman of the Sea was featured on the home page as an Undiscovered Gem and as of today has about 82k reads. Whoa!

I also wrote and published WORDS FOR WRITERS: How to Plan a Series.


I spent most of the month sleeping and crying and working through how I felt about getting fired. When one identifies oneself as a writer, to finally get a job in writing was a thrill and felt like a confirmation that although I was struggling with my next book, I was a writer and I’d get through it. Being fired from the job – even though the reason was an exec decision to eliminate my project and thus my role – felt like a very personal blow. I wasn’t a writer after all. (Or at least, that’s what it felt like).

This had me thinking long and hard. Especially about where I wanted my writing career to go next – as much I’ve been writing in the realm of SF/F the past decade, I’ve begun to realize that was I really am is a Character-Driven Romance writer. Romance set in spec fic and fantasy realms, sure, but Romance and Character Work are my wheelhouse and how I should be selling myself.

This realization has been pretty freeing because it means that the frustrations and roadblocks I’ve been coming up against can maybe be dissolved by reframing my brand and rethinking my career map.

Wattpad added the sample of City By Night that’s on Wattpad to their Halloween Reads list on the homepage and I decided to put the whole novella up on the site for people to read. Read it now, though. It won’t stay up forever as the eBook rights to the novel are signed with an indie publisher. This is just a limited-time promotion.

And knowing that readers were asking what I would be posting next on Wattpad after A Woman of the Sea, I rejigged Triptych for the site and started serializing it from the start. You can read it here. This story also won’t stay up forever, for the same reason.

I also started serializing Words for Writers on Wattpad. I won’t be copying over all 75+ articles I have on my website, just the ones that are specifically useful for Watties.

I also polished a webseries and sent it to a producer with a major broadcaster after our convo at TOWebfest for consideration. I’ve followed up but there’s no reply. I’ll follow up again in January 2020 but I can pretty well assume that No Answer is my ‘No’ Answer.

I am thinking about maybe pitching it as a graphic novel in the future, though I’m going to have to reach out to my friends who write them for publishers to figure out how to put at pitch together.


In 2017 I handed over a YA contemporary re-telling of “Northanger Abbey” to my agent, and it was lukewarmly received by both her and the handful of editors she showed it to. It was then shelved for possible future reworking.

In the first part of the NaNoWriMo month, I decided to tackle this reworking, and I was still wrestling mentally with The Maddening Science. This reworking was inspired a lot by reading Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston in October, and realizing that the tone I’d been going for with my narrator hadn’t been irreverent or GenZ-y enough for the story I was trying to tell, and not grounded enough in the technologies and social media that my modern-day Catherine Morland would have access to.

I reworked the Pitch Document for the novel, now currently called “Title TBA”, and got to chapter seven during NaNo. I’ve got some thinking to do about structure for the novel, and how far into using Social Media As A Storytelling Tool I want to go with the idea, but generally speaking I’m pretty pleased with the result of the rewrites.

Partway through NaNo, it occurred to me that there was another story that my Wattpad readers were asking for, and one that would be a lot of fun to write. In A Woman of the Sea, my fictional Regency-era  Jane-Austen-analogue authoress Margaret Goodenough writes her debut novel “The Welshman’s Daughters”. As I describe this non-existent novel in A Woman of the Sea, it’s a Gothic romance that’s very Elizabeth Gaskell-and-Jane Austen-esque in terms of it being a character study driven romance, with some of the fun high melodrama and gothic tone of Ann Radcliffe. And, in the world of A Woman of the Sea, it’s the first queer kiss in Classic Western Literature.

A handful of readers have asked where they can find this book, or have confessed to going to the library to ask for it, only to learn that it’s not real. I made it up.

And I thought… well, why not make it real?

So I’m working on the pitch doc and the first chapter now, to see if this is something I want to pursue. I hope it will, but I think I still need to take time to rest before I really push into it.

And I still have the “Title TBA” rewrites to complete.


I published WORDS FOR WRITERS: How Do I Get An Agent?, and spent the rest of the month just trying to chill. I’ve become a bit of a reluctant reader, so I am trying to push myself to read a little each day, to remind myself why I fell in love with storytelling in the first place.

A Woman of the Sea was turned down for Paid Stories, unfortunately, because of the structure of the romance. The Stars Team explained that romance stories like this one, with one romantic partner in the first half of the book, and a different one in the second (a la Brigit Jones’ Diary) doesn’t tend to do well on Paid because readers are reluctant to shell out for a romance where they don’t meet the HEA partner until later. It’s a disappointment to hear, because I was really hoping that this might become a viable stream of income for me. At least the team who turned it down were very kind and expressed how much they loved the story in and of itself.

But no matter – onwards and upwards!

What’s ahead for 2020

Well, I’m not sure. This has been a really, really difficult year and I have really, really struggled with trying to figure out who I am and what I want, both in life and as a writer. Certainly, there will be lot of hard thinking about the future of my writing career. I have ideas that I love and want to pursue, but this post-firing-return-to-the-job-hunt-depression is a hurdle when it comes to carving out time to create.

However, I have some new opportunities on the horizon – conversations happening behind closed doors, as well as Divine Paradox Films still working toward filming To A Stranger, and Alpaca vs Llama shopping The Skylark’s Song as a teens animated series. And the webseries I wrote is under consideration with a new production team, so keep your fingers crossed.

Who knows, perhaps the rewritten “Title TBA” might be just the thing to propel my work into a realm where readers can connect with my work more easily. Though I had originally envisioned it as the first of a series, the more I work and think on it, the more I feel like it would be best as a stand-alone. I think it would slap a lot harder if it was a one-off.

And I am genuinely liking the plot of The Welshman’s Daughters, and all the research reading and viewing I am doing to get the tone and mood of the book right (please recommend me your favourite Gothic Romances – film, TV, or books!).

But I’m not going to rush anything. It’s nice to be able to remember how to putter with a book and have no looming, razor-blade deadlines hanging over my neck.

2020 will be, I hope, a year of renewed creativity, motivation, and the year where I complete at least one of the three novel projects I’ve started.

For now, I’m going to have a nap.


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JM Frey2019 Writing Roundup