Cursed Saint Caper! Plus Nanshe Chronicles FAQ

Hey hey! Nanshe Chronicles 3, aka Cursed Saint Caper is officially out, which means that the Nanshe Chronicles trilogy is now complete. Good news if you’re the sort of person who likes to know you’ll get closure before diving into a new series. 🙂

You can buy the print book directly from me (ebook is included!) or grab it on Amazon. If you’re a Kindle Unlimited reader, all three of the Nanshe Chronicles books are enrolled — but probably only for a few months, so get on it quick.

You can also grab Ghost Pirate Gambit, Blood River Blues, and Cursed Saint Caper on Audible, narrated by the wonderful J.S. Arquin.

I’ve been really thrilled by the response to this series — a huge thank you to everyone who’s already read it, reviewed, emailed, etc. You’re all amazing!

I’ve also gotten a few questions about the series, so I thought it would be fun to do a quick FAQ. Here we go…

Do I need to read any of your other books first?

Absolutely not! The Nanshe Chronicles is set in the same universe as the Bulari Saga, but they are both written as a standalone series set about thirty years apart. If you’ve already read the Bulari Saga you’ll find a few Easter eggs and at least one crossover character in the Nanshe Chronicles — but you can start with whichever series sounds more interesting.

Well, if I haven’t read either series, which should I start with?

It depends on what you’re in the mood for. Do you like a good heist with a quirky crew? The Nanshe Chronicles is basically Cowboy Bebop meets Leverage, with each book a standalone adventure where the crew of the Nanshe set off to explore fantastic new locations. The character arcs build over the course of the series.

The Bulari Saga, on the other hand, it’s all about politics and power struggles in the underworld of the city of Bulari. Picture Godfather meets the Expanse. Each of the five books build on one another to make a full story arc — so if you are looking for a meaty, high stakes drama to sink your teeth into, that’s a good place to start.

What about all these novellas?

There are three prequel novellas in the Bulari Saga and one in Nanshe Chronicles. They’re all designed to add more context and character backstory, and you definitely don’t need to have read them to enjoy the main series.

You can get the Nanshe Chronicles novella, Artemis City Shuffle for free by signing up for my mailing list.

If you do want the full Bulari Saga experience, I recommend downloading the ebook boxed set, which contains all five novels, three novellas, and a bunch of short stories. All for only $9.99.

You keep calling the Nanshe Chronicles a trilogy. Are you stopping after Cursed Saint Caper?

Absolutely not. I picture the Nanshe Chronicles as an ongoing series, with these first three books serving as the jumping off point. I actually have nine books planned!

This first trilogy is all about the crew getting together and learning to trust each other. Future books will explore character backstory more in-depth and build a richer world, in a similar format of the crew heading off on wild adventures.

When will book 4 come out?

I’m aiming for March 2023.

Who’s your favorite of all your characters?

How could you even ask that?? I could never have a favorite character!

(It’s definitely Manu.)

[Excerpt] Ghost Pirate Gambit

Ghost Pirate Gambit is almost here!

In celebration, I’m posting an excerpt; it occurs a few chapters in, but it’s one of my favorite scenes in the first part of the book, where Raj and Lasadi first officially meet. You can also download the first four chapters for free — no need to sign up for any email lists. 🙂

And don’t forget that through May 30th I’m offering a BOGO (buy one, gift one) deal!

Email me with proof of purchase, and the name and email address of a friend you think would enjoy Ghost Pirate Gambit. I’ll send them a copy for free.

Pick up your copy of Ghost Pirate Gambit today!


Excerpt from Ghost Pirate Gambit

The woman with the blond braid has dropped the service industry facade, but she doesn’t seem worried at being caught red-handed in theft. There’s a sort of feral grace in the way she tensed at his voice; she holds herself like a fighter. Something tells him she’ll struggle almost to the death before accepting captivity — and that she’s done it before.

Her gaze rakes down his body, evaluating; the calculating glint in her smoky brown eyes tells Raj she’s no stranger to getting herself out of a tricky situation.

Oh. And that she’ll write him off as collateral damage in a heartbeat.

She definitely isn’t a member of the catering team. Raj likes being right more when it doesn’t mean a major kink in his plans.

“Stay back,” she hisses. Her fingertips are on the plinth’s control panel, her hand clad in one of those shimmering silver antimicrobial gloves all the catering staff are wearing. “You’ll get us both killed.”

Raj freezes.

“Lasers,” the woman says in explanation. She waves her free hand at the base of the plinth. “They’ll kneecap us both if I screw this up.”

“I knew you weren’t a caterer,” Raj says.

“And I knew you weren’t an investor,” she answers. The bioscanner under her fingertips shifts from threatening red to a soothing green, pulses green a second time, then stays that way. A faint click sounds from the control panel and the forcefield around the obsidian totem dissolves with a sigh. The woman’s shoulders loosen imperceptibly. “But you didn’t turn me in to Sumilang.”

“It wouldn’t have been polite.”

“Polite? It’d fit perfect with the asshole Arquellian act.” She tilts her chin to study him. “Unless it’s not an act.”

And at that he places her accent: Corusca.

Ah. Could be another problem.

Indira’s moon is the newest member of the Indiran Alliance, which includes Arquelle. Only Arquelle is a founding member — and perhaps a touch aggressive when it comes to bringing new countries into the fold. Corusca’s citizens had been split on joining, and Arquelle had pushed, coercing an unpopular decision through the Senate. Frustrations in Corusca led to an Alliance occupation, which led to a viciously effective insurgency, which led to a retaliatory “peace” effort. Which led to Raj’s first command post.

Tensions had spread on both sides, until the deaths of seven hundred and twelve souls aboard a neutral New Manilan medical transport poured fuel on the flames. The resulting Battle of Tannis had been disastrous for everyone involved — but far, far worse for Coruscans.

“Let’s talk this through,” Raj says.

“Nothing to talk about,” the Coruscan woman says. “You walk back out of this room and I won’t tell Sumilang about your grift. We both get what we want.”

“One problem,” says Raj. He may feel bad about the war, but he’s got a job to do. He lifts his chin to the obsidian totem behind her. “I’m here for that.”

She blinks in surprise, but her hesitation doesn’t last long. A flash of decision in her eyes; he tries to move before she does, but she’s too quick. She ducks his arm, snatching the totem as she pivots, an elbow to his ribs as she whirls past.

Raj muffles a groan at the burst of pain in his side, bites back a curse as he lunges after her, acutely aware of the slightest sounds of their scuffle. The party outside the museum hall is loud, but not loud enough.

He catches her arm and spins her off her footing; she nearly drops the totem, but as he lunges for it, she tightens her grip once more and swings it at his head. He ducks, just in time. The breeze it makes passing over his head sets his hair on end.

She wasn’t expecting to miss, and she put a touch too much force into the swing. Just enough that Raj can use her momentum to push her off her footing. She pivots at the last second to avoid hitting another golden plinth — this one topped with a saint’s altar — and Raj tackles her before she can take off running again.

They roll to the floor, barely missing the tray of puff pastries she’d left on the table against the wall, Raj cushioning their fall to keep from making too much noise. She’s wiry, but he’s stronger, and he’s gaining the upper hand. He catches her wrist above her head when she tries to swing the totem at him again, frees the electric barb from his belt with his other hand, and jams it against her temple.

She goes still, chest heaving with breath. Every muscle in her body is tense; he can feel her taut strength pressed against his own. She smells like vetiver, with heady undertones of sweet caramel and brush fire.

Focus, Raj.

“I think I win,” Raj says.

In response, the woman ghosts him a smile and glances down. When he tries to follow her gaze, the cold point of a blade pricks below his chin. The corner of her mouth curls up.

“Try it,” she says.

The electric barb won’t kill her, but if he discharges it into her temple it could do some gnarly things to her wiring. Course, he won’t get far at all if she bites that blade into his jugular. He’s not interested in leaving any bodies behind on this job, but he’s pretty sure she doesn’t have that same hang-up — especially about an Arquellian like him. Either way, she’s faster than him. Even if he was willing to pull the trigger, she could slit his throat before the jolt knocked her cold.

She’s watching him make his decision, a hint of amusement on her lips. Like she’s already solved this particular puzzle and she’s waiting for him to catch on.

Her lips part as though she’s about to speak, then she glances up, eyelashes sweeping wide.

He hears it, too: voices heading towards them.

Raj acts before he can second-guess himself, rolling them both out of sight under the hem of the tablecloth. He keeps his grip on her wrist, the electric barb against her temple. He can still feel the edge of her blade against his throat — only now their positions are reversed and she’s straddling his chest.

The woman gives a startled laugh, then presses her lips shut tight and holds as still as he, waiting for the scuffing heels and muttered complaints of the caterers to pass by. Her professional mask has melted into something more playful, and he revises her age downwards. She can’t be any older than him, despite the experienced way she carries herself.

“What’s your name?” Raj whispers when the caterers have passed. One of the woman’s eyebrows lift, but she doesn’t move the knife from his throat. “I’m Raj.”

“Hi, Raj. I know you’re not going to pull that trigger.”

“And you’re not going to slit my throat.”

“I’m not?”

“You’ve got a buyer for this thing?”

“None of your business.”

“Mine pays top dollar. Tell you what. We work together to get out of this and I’ll make sure you get your share. Fifty-fifty.”

“I kill you, I get one hundred percent.”

“You don’t know how good my buyer’s rates can be. What’s your name?”

The woman snorts a laugh and moves without warning, rolling off him and out from under the table, disappearing in a rustle of tablecloth.

Raj hisses out a curse and scrambles out after her, but the woman’s halfway across the hall by the time he gets to his feet. And — how the hell? — she stole his electric barb.

She glances back to gauge her lead, and that’s why she doesn’t notice him: the burly wall of a security guard stepping around the corner. She runs smack into the guard’s chest and the big man’s hands close around her shoulders like vise grips.

And there’s that animal desperation flashing over her face once more — the wild fear of the trap, the feral instinct to fight her way out even if it kills her.


Download the rest of the sample here, or buy your copy of Ghost Pirate Gambit today!

Ghost Pirate Gambit Sample: Click here to download

Meet the Crew of the Nanshe

I love a good “hiring the crew” montage. 

The uneasy gathering in the warehouse in Ronin. Viola Davis approaching the wives of her husband’s dead crew in Widows. Danny Ocean recruiting his accomplices in Ocean’s Eleven.

As I started writing the Nanshe Chronicles, I lived through my own crew-hiring montage. I already knew Raj and Lasadi, Starla’s parents — but I had no real ideas about who the rest of the characters would be. 

They had to be fun, flawed characters that I wanted to spend an entire series with. They had to have chemistry with each other. They had to have depth and mystery, and — most of all — they had to feel like real people whose dialogue and actions I was just recording.

I went for long walks. I jotted down ideas. I watched movies. And I just kept scratching until the magic started to happen and, one by one, the members of Raj and Lasadi’s little crew started to show up and talk to me.

The first book of the series is coming out in a little over a week, so I thought I’d give you a sneak peek at who you’ll be spending time with in the Nanshe Chronicles… using the tried and true heist writer trope of a most wanted list, of course. 🙂  

The art is from my cousin Nico Longoria, a talented freelance comic artist. Check out their Instagram and website for more amazing art!

Bounty board

Woman with dark blond hair in a braid, and pale skin, wearing a headset.

Lasadi Cazinho (Captain)

  • Birthplace: Corusca 
  • Last seen: Battle of Tannis (Corusca; presumed alive) 
  • Distinguishing features: Pragmatic and level-headed, ace pilot and capable commander. Fanatically attached to the cause of a free Corusca. 
  • Wanted for: Captain in Corusca Liberation Army terrorist organization 

Man with shoulder-length black hair and light brown skin.

Raj Demitriou (Grifter)

  • Birthplace: Arquelle 
  • Last seen: Battle of Tannis (Corusca) 
  • Distinguishing features: Quick thinker and charismatic leader with a penchant for lost causes. Captain in Arquellian navy, dishonorable discharge. 
  • Wanted for: Desertion 
  • Special handling: Family political connections require extremely delicate care in case of capture 

Man with black hair and pale skin, winking. Wearing a pair of goggles pushed up on forehead.

Jay Kamiya (Mechanic)

  • Birthplace: Corusca 
  • Last seen: Battle of Tannis (Corusca; presumed alive) 
  • Distinguishing features: Mechanic with a miracle touch, tendency to hotheadedness; full tattoo sleeves. Known associate of Lasadi Cazinho. 
  • Wanted for: Member of Corusca Liberation Army terrorist organization 

Woman with long, curly black hair, dark skin with freckles, red jacket.

Ruby Quiñones (Hacker)

  • Birthplace: Unknown 
  • Last seen: Ironfall (Dima) 
  • Distinguishing features: Tech genius with a promising future that went south (reasons classified); red leather jacket, freckles, golden tattoos on collarbones 
  • Wanted for: Intellectual property theft 
  • Special handling: If captured immediately deliver to Huancaya Corp 

Young man with a coif of curly black hair, freckles, dark skin. Holding up a peace sign.

Alexander Quiñones (Thief)

  • Birthplace: Unknown 
  • Last seen: Artemis City (Artemis) 
  • Distinguishing features: Fast talker with even quicker fingers; teenage brother of Ruby Quiñones, ward of Aymaya Apostles.  
  • Wanted for: Stealing anything that’s not nailed to the ground 
  • Special handling: Minor; requires maximum security if detained 

Introducing my new series: The Nanshe Chronicles

I’m about to head on my first international trip since before the pandemic, and I’m beginning to immerse myself in the process of exploring a new city and culture.

I used to dream of being constantly on the move — road trips with the wind in my hair and the open highway stretching out in front of me, backpacking adventures stumbling into small towns and new sights, life a constant stream of new and fascinating experiences.

Like most people, my travel plans in 2020 were shunted down the road by the pandemic — but that didn’t stop me from exploring.

Because near the end of 2020, I began writing the Nanshe Chronicles.

I’d spent the previous three-ish years working on the Bulari Saga, which takes place almost entirely in the city of Bulari. I enjoyed immersing myself in the world, but I was itching to hop on a ship and start exploring the rest of the Durga System.

As a writer, my world building process is basically to make things up as needed to serve the story, rather than creating a world from scratch and layering story over it. I’d mentioned dozens of places, but didn’t know much about them. I knew a few facts, but I didn’t know how these places felt.

When I started working on the Nanshe Chronicles, I knew I wanted to do the exact opposite of the Bulari Saga, when it came to location. Instead of diving deep through the layers of a single city for five books, I wanted each book of the Nanshe Chronicles to take the reader — and me — to fantastic new locations.

Like any science fiction writer, I draw on what I know in order to write what I don’t know. I thought it would be fun to share some of the real-life travel inspirations behind locations in the first three books of the Nanshe Chronicles.

Let me take you on a tour.

Nanshe Chronicles 1: Lost in the labyrinth at San Jose, CA

A plucky space ship soars towards a menacing space station on the cover of Ghost Pirate Gambit.

In book one, Ghost Pirate Gambit, the newly-minted crew of the Nanshe are still learning to trust each other. I needed to send them out on a job — and into a physical location — that would put them under enough pressure that their deeply-locked secrets would break out. A place designed to test them physically and psychologically.

What better inspiration than the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA?

My Grandma Kwak instilled in me a longstanding fascination with ghost towns, houses with turrets, and the Winchester Mystery House — so when I got a chance to go during WorldCon one year, I jumped at the chance. Instantly, I knew how I was going to use the visit in the novel I’d just begun starting to plan.

(I wrote a longer post about my visit over on Patreon.)

The house, if you’re not familiar, was built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of firearms magnate William Winchester. As the story goes, after the death of her husband and newborn in 1881, a medium told her that she should leave her home in New Haven and travel west to construct a home for herself and the spirits of people who had been killed by Winchester rifles.

Supposedly the medium told Sarah that the way to placate the spirits was for the home to be under construction continuously — for the hammers to never stop ringing.

She moved to California hired workers, and from 1884 until her death in 1922, her mansion was continuously under construction.

In Ghost Pirate Gambit, Auburn Station is the fever dream of a long-dead space pirate who thought if she constantly kept her station under construction it would keep her safe: airlocks that open to nowhere, halls that corkscrew dizzily, corridors that dead-end without warning.

And plenty of boobytraps to keep out unwanted visitors. 😉

Nanshe Chronicles 2: From Canaima, Venezuela to Aguas Calientes, Peru

A plucky space ship hovers over a verdant planet on the cover of Blood River Blues.

Just after college, I spent six months living in Santa Elena de Uairén, Venezuela, working as a carpenter and volunteer coordinator for a small local NGO.

Santa Elena is on the edge of Canaima National Park, which is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever seen in my life. You can stand at the edge of a cliff and look over the brilliant emerald canopy of the Amazon rainforest as far as the eye can see. You can climb the tabletop mountains (tepuis), hike rivers made of pure jasper, and see the tallest waterfall in the world.

And while the tourists gawk, the locals are doing their best to scrape by in a place so remote that — unless you’re incredibly wealthy — the nearest airport is an eight hour bus ride away.

I drew on my time in Santa Elena de Uairén for Nanshe Chronicles 2, Blood River Blues. In it, the crew touches down in New Manila for a job that has them facing down old ghosts as they con their way into racing the famous Liluri Star Run.

Part of the race takes place deeper in the mountains of New Manila — and anyone who’s been to Machu Picchu will probably recognize where I took inspiration for the town of Moie. Aguas Calientes is the spot most tourists overnight in before trekking or bussing up to Machu Picchu: it’s a lovely village set into the cliffs of a deep mountain ravine, with a river tumbling through the middle. I tapped into the visuals of the town as much as the frenetic tourist energy it exuded when writing about Moie.

Nanshe Chronicles 3: Scarred hearts and scattered bones in Alba de Tormes

A plucky space ship floats by a hot pink gas giant on the cover of Cursed Saint Caper.

The locations in Nanshe Chronicles 3, Cursed Saint Caper were inspired less by a physical place I’ve been than a single line I wrote down on a Post-it:

“Dendera, temple of dreamers.”

I don’t remember why I wrote that down, or where I heard about Dendera. I didn’t research it at all — I didn’t want to. Something about the idea of a dreaming temple sparked my imagination, and I didn’t want to tie it down with reality.

In doing some quick googling now, I find that Dendera was an Egyptian temple dedicated to the goddess Hathor, and supplicants who visited the temple could stay in special quarters where they could commune with the goddess in their dreams.

Coming from a Christian background myself, the idea of a dreaming temple brought to mind Christian mystics like Sta. Teresa de Ávila and St. Julian of Norwich. I’d seen Sta. Teresa’s heart at the convent of Alba de Tormes, carefully preserved in an ornate reliquary; I remember studying it, searching for the scar where she’d been pierced by the arrow of Christ’s love.

Did I find the scar? Hard to tell. Was Sta. Teresa’s experience real? It was to her, and in my mind that’s the important bit.

I’ve stood in sacred places like Alba de Tormes and read the writings of people who truly believe they’re channeling the divine. But I’ve also come across plenty of con artists and self help gurus who are only trying to channel other people’s money.

No matter your religious or philosophical tradition, people will try to use faith to make a quick dime on people who just want to trust.

It was that dichotomy of holy and scam, divine and con artist, true faith and shell games that inspired me in this book. The crew of the Nanshe will need to unravel truth from fiction in their own dreams as they tackle a con artist. This job takes them from the glitz and glamour of Artemis City to the mystic, unsettling quiet of the distant gas giant Bixia Yuanjin.

Introducing the Nanshe Chronicles

When I wrote the very first book set in the Durga System, Starfall, I had no idea the adventure I was about to set out on.

I didn’t know how much readers were going to resonate with the main character, Starla — and I had no idea how much I would eventually become intrigued by the story of her parents, the notorious Raj and Lasadi. 

I was worried when I began writing the Nanshe Chronicles. I’d spent years living with the characters and stories in the Bulari Saga, and meeting the crew of the Nanshe was odd at first. 

Lasadi doesn’t trust that easily. Jay doesn’t give up many secrets. Raj and Ruby seem like open books on the surface, but then you find out they’re only showing you select pages. And Alex is still figuring himself out — let alone learning how to share himself with others. 

Slowly, though, I began to find my way into this first book. Then the second. Then the third. Eventually, the crew started to open up to me, and I started to realize they were something special.

As I write this, I’ve finished the first three books in the series, along with a prequel novella, and I feel like I know this crew pretty damn well. 

I’m having a blast writing these books, and there are plenty more adventures to come in this series!

Stay tuned for more sneak previews and goodies as we get closer to the launch date. I can’t wait to share this new adventure with you!

If you haven’t already, go pick up Artemis City Shuffle for free and start on the adventure!


How to get your hands on Ghost Pirate Gambit

Right now you can pre-order Ghost Pirate Gambit in print, ebook, and audio directly from me. I’ll be launching this book into Kindle Unlimited on May 24th, but if you’re not a KU reader, don’t worry. If you’ve pre-ordered from me, you’ll get to read the book before it goes into Kindle jail. 🙂

Don’t forget to add Ghost Pirate Gambit to your Goodreads list!

What I Learned in my 7th Year as a Freelance Writer

Photo by Carl Cerstrand on Unsplash

Seven years ago this week, I was snowed in, stir crazy, and fighting off the certainty that I’d just made a huge mistake.

And now — sans snow — I’m struggling with that fear again.

(But more on the changes afoot here in a minute.)

That snowy January seven years ago, my husband and I had just moved to Portland, OR. I’d worked my last shift at the Elysian Brewing Company, said goodbye to all our friends, and hung my shingle as a full time freelance copywriter.

I was terrified.

One year earlier, I’d worked my way out of my full time catalog copywriting gig by freelancing on the side until I was too busy to do both.

I’d gone down to part time at the catalog company, then picked up shifts at the Elysian and a local Mexican restaurant (the excellent Fonda La Catrina in Georgetown) to bolster my shaky freelance income.

Working three jobs on top of being a freelance writer was exhausting — and, more critically, it was hindering my ability to grow my freelance business.

But letting go of that steady income?

I couldn’t do it.

Not on my own, at least — not until my husband got a job in Portland, and I had to cut my safety net loose and trust my writing business to support me.

I remember checking my dwindling business bank account, wondering if I’d made a mistake.

“If this doesn’t work, you can always go back to waiting tables,” I’d said to myself.

And I got to work cold-calling potential clients.

A new transition point for this freelance writer

“You can always go back to waiting tables” was my mantra for years.

Every time I lost a client, every time a dream gig fell through, every time I found myself checking a near-empty bank account.

And in seven years, I never did.

My hustle in those early years paid off. As I slowly gathered portfolio clips and confidence, I grew from charging $50 for a blog post to charging $500. I gathered a stable of reliable, well-paying clients I loved to work with. I said no to projects that weren’t a good fit for my goals, or a good use of my time.

In the back of my mind, I’d always known that as long as I kept relying on my waitress shifts for cash, I wouldn’t take the risks and pour enough energy into the freelancing.

And now?

Now I’m in a similar period of transition with my fiction business.

A deer standing on a mountain bike trail, captured on camera so that a perfect tiny rainbow seems to be shooting out of its forehead.
Apropos of nothing, please enjoy this photo of a magical unicorn deer that my husband took while mountain biking this summer. Photo by Robert Kittilson.

A focus on fiction

I’ve been diligently working to write and publish books while still keeping up with the freelance writer hustle, terrified that if I pull the plug on that regular income, my fiction income won’t sustain me.

It can’t — not now, anyway.

But what if I gave it the same full-time energy that nurtured my freelance writer career in those early years?

What if I trusted myself to work the fiction hustle as well as I worked the freelance one?

After all. I can always go back to copywriting.

Learning to say no

Of course, there’s a key difference between quitting waiting tables and quitting copywriting: I like copywriting. I find most of the work I do incredibly fulfilling, and love my clients.

Waiting tables, on the other hand? For all that I loved my coworkers, that job gave me stress nightmares almost every night.

In 2020, I started learning to say no to the work that no longer fit my goals, and opening space both for writing fiction, and for more of the work I do want to take on.

Going into 2021, I’ve set myself clear guidelines around the type of work I can say yes to as a freelance writer — and those guidelines are incredibly narrowly defined.

It’s terrifying to say no to money when you don’t have a big project on the horizon.

It’s terrifying to invest weeks and months into writing books on spec, rather than putting those hours under contract to a paying client.

But after seven years of watching my income ebb and flow, after watching myself build a business out of scratch, to succeed past every setback, I know I can do it again.

What I learned in my seventh year as a freelance writer

All that to say, welcome to my seventh annual reflection post. Changes are obviously afoot in Kwakland, and I’d like to talk a bit about how I got through 2020, what I learned along the way, and what I’m taking into 2021.

As always, my goal is to be transparent about my business and my struggles to help out freelancer writers who are earlier on their journeys than I am.

(And if that’s you, I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line: jessie at jessiekwak.com).

Read about Year 6 (2019)Year 5 (2018)Year 4 (2017)Year 3 (2016)Year 2 (2015) and Year 1 (2014).

So…. 2020.

Jessie photo: white woman with short bleach-blond pixie cut shaved on the side with stripes cut into it.
2020 was the year that I let my husband cut my hair. He’s been playing a lot of Cyberpunk 2077 and FIFA on the Playstation….

2020, amirite?

This past year turned me (and many others) from a homebody into hermit. I forgot to leave the house for days. Honestly, I barely left my office.

It was a year of extremes. Some times I was so busy with freelance work I could barely breath. Other times it was crickets, and I used the lull to work on fiction. Some days I was laser focused on my work and goals — other days I could barely manage to find the energy to scroll Twitter and try not to scream.

I was used to working from home as a freelance writer, but I wasn’t used to my husband being constantly at home with me, and our forced co-captivity surfaced some issues we needed to work through. (As well as making our relationship even stronger.)

We all have our 2020 story, and I’m grateful to be in a place where I could weather last year’s storm relatively painlessly.

But, wow. I’m looking forward to the coming vaccine.

As for how COVID-19 impacted my freelance business, it’s hard to say. At the beginning of the pandemic, I took on a couple of COVID-related projects, such as an ebook about pivoting your business during the pandemic for Microsoft.

But as the uncertainty stretched out, marketing budgets froze and projects for Jessie dried up. I still had a few regular clients, but new work just didn’t seem to be coming in.

I used the time to finish the last book in the Bulari Saga and begin planning my next series, the Nanshe Chronicles — but as I watched my bank account drain, I started to worry.

Fortunately, I landed a few big projects at the end of the year that brought my income back up to par with what it had been in 2019. But October and November were probably two of the busiest months of my career, and I was perilously close to burnout by the time December rolled around.

But that’s a freelancer’s life, right?

Gif from Toy Story: Jessie the cowgirl saying "Jessie never gives up. Jessie finds a way"

Income analysis: How I made my living as a freelance writer in 2020

I had some shifts this year, but overall the makeup of my freelance income stayed on par with 2019. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, it’s a bit hard to break down by project since I sometimes do different types of writing for the same client.

The big change is that I had fewer clients overall. Whereas I did work for 16 separate clients in 2019, last year I only billed 10 clients — and two of those were for single projects that took less than a few days to complete.

I spent 2020 slowly shedding clients in an attempt to free up more time to focus on writing fiction. Going into 2021 I have only one monthly blogging client, and an ongoing relationship with one main client that feeds me regular content marketing work.

I’m still open to new work — particularly ghostwriting —  but I’m in a position where I can be very choosy about who I work with and how it fits with my goals.

Here’s my income breakdown for 2020:

  • Content marketing (ebooks and such): 60%
  • Business blogging – 18%
  • Ghostwriting – 8.5%
  • Copywriting (website copy) – 8%
  • Fiction – 5%
  • Knitting product copy – 0.5%

Content marketing and ghostwriting are my favorite types of work, so I’m glad to see them making up a good chunk of my income for 2020. I’m also excited that my fiction income held strong at 5% — especially since I had planned to do several big in-person book events that got canceled.

Growing a fiction writing business

A photo of my office wall: a grid laid out for 9 books with post-it notes for plot points and characters, etc.
Plotting out a nine-book series with post-it notes and tarot cards.

I mentioned that I’m paring down my client list to free up time to write fiction. The hope being that by pouring energy into writing and marketing that side of my business this coming year, that income will grow to a level that actually is sustainable.

Currently, my plan for that is to launch a new series (probably in fall of 2021), and re-launch the Bulari Saga with new covers (sometime next month).

My goal is to get these books in front of new fans, but also to double down on my core fans. To that end, I’ve started a Patreon, where I’m documenting my journey of writing the new series (the Nanshe Chronicles), sharing behind-the-scenes information, and posting sneak previews.

I also had a chance to go on the No Shelf Control podcast and talk about the Bulari Saga with authors Lindsey Fairleigh and Lindsey Pogue. It was an incredible amount of fun! (Listen to the interview here.)

A year of Chaos and Creativity

A selection of Instagram posts from fans of From Chaos to Creativity

As well as fiction, I’ve been growing the nonfiction book side of my business. From Chaos to Creativity came out at the end of 2019, and I spent part of the summer of 2020 writing a followup book about the writing process.

While I couldn’t travel to do events like I did in 2019, I did have a few fun virtual opportunities come up to talk with people about creativity.

The first one was in May (remember May?) when I got a chance to chat with Lydia Rogue from Microcosm Publishing about pandemic productivity, and how to be gentle with yourself. (You can watch it here.)

The second amazing opportunity was with Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn podcast. (Listen here.) I’ve been a longtime fan of Joanna’s podcast, so it was a complete thrill to get to come on the show!

Finally, I was invited to give a presentation on productivity for writers at the virtual Willamette Writer’s Conference in August. There’s no recording of the event, but it was an incredible honor to get a chance to speak with everyone there — and the organizers even managed to build in some networking time where I made some new friends. (Difficult to do over Zoom!)

What’s coming up in 2021?

2020 gave us all a bit of whiplash. And I don’t think I’m alone in my newfound reluctance to make big plans at the moment.

But my main goal is to double down on fiction, refining my process and focusing my time in order to grow this part of my business like it deserves. If you want to stay up to date on that, join my newsletter.

Enough about me now. I’d love to know — what are your plans for 2021? How did your 2020 go?

Leave me a note in the comments.

And here’s to a fresh start and an amazing new year!

–Jessie