75k and a cover reveal!!

Here we are. We have finally made it to the 3/4 mark. It has been a long slow slog, a journey interrupted often by many upheavals in my life – the death of a grandfather, a proposal of marriage, TWO job changes, and kittens. Hopefully we can avoid any big events between now and the end of this manuscript, no matter how welcome many of those events were. We gotta get this thing done!

Really, though, I cannot thank my readers, family, and friends enough for their support so far and for the prospect of their continued support. Writing can be very lonely. It’s meant to be, I suppose. But you all make it worth it. We are so close.

So, in celebration, I give you the audiobook cover for MOTHER OF CREATION. It is, I have to say, beautiful. I knew it would be.

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I can’t wait for you all to hear these words brought to life on October 1st. And I’m even more excited to deliver to you DAUGHTER OF MADNESS next year.

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Balance: a follow-up

Last week I talked about the importance of finding your balance. I wanted to talk about that a little more today, and also move into some more thorough updates for where I’m at with writer stuff.

My dad got me this book for my birthday this month, pictured and linked below. The first chapter talks about the importance of the blog. Apparently it’s a good idea for a new blogger to start with a weekly post, so I’ve been doing things right! My apologies for bouncing around recently on the posting dates, as I was trying to decide for sure if I wanted to keep a Friday post date. If you have any opinions on that please feel free to chime in.

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The book is really about marketing and building your platform, which any writer will tell you can be a huge suck on time and energy. Between marketing, writing, publishing, and living, I definitely find myself juggling a lot. The thing that most often slides for me is marketing. Publishing hoops can also get a little hard to jump through, sometimes becoming more like moving targets. This can be a really dangerous habit to get into as a writer, and it’s something I’m working on. One of the best ways to handle this, I think, is to set achievable goals instead of optimistic ones. If you think you could finish the book in April and get it out there, consider scheduling your release in June. Life happens, all too often. It’s better to be twiddling your thumbs than crying because you missed your deadline.

The other thing that is just as likely to slide is the cleanliness of my house and feeding myself. To help with this, my long-suffering S.O. has instituted the Chore Board. To be fair, while I get points for meal prep, the Chore Board doesn’t really incentivize feeding myself. Happily (unhappily?) the physical repercussions of not feeding myself consistently are pretty intense – I get migraines and other fun stuff.

All of this is to say that while I may talk a good game at times, I find balance is a moving target. Sometimes you hit it, sometimes you don’t.

With that in mind, the audiobook has been delayed again. I’m working with the producer to figure out exactly how long that delay will be, as it is not entirely on my end. That said, I’ve definitely contributed. Given the delay and my desire to do a marketing push around the release, I’m going to release the book on October 1st. I should have a cover reveal soon as part of that, possibly accompanied by a sale! Currently the paperback of Mother of Creation is $10.99 but I will probably be dropping that price along with the ebook price for the week of the audiobook release. If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, you may want to wait for the first week of October.

Work on the WIP continues apace. The current wordcount is around 73k. Prepare for a celebratory 3/4 post soon!

Oh, and if I haven’t mentioned it before, I’ll be part of Roanoke Author Invasion in April 2017. You can always find information about my appearances here.

Lots going on, all-in-all. With that I’m off to adult some more. Good luck, all!

The Hugos: An unscheduled post

Hey, folks! I wanted to post links to the coverage of the Hugos from last night! So excited for everyone who won.

To read the full coverage from the Guardian on this year’s winners and a little bit about the Hugo award controversy, click here. Also, N.K. Jemisin wrote a lovely acceptance speech which I teared up over a bit, here.

I’ve got to say that I am so happy for Jemisin. The Fifth Season definitely made my Favorite Books of 2015 post last year and is just a most amazing example of writing. I am humbled to be in the same genre as her, honestly. That book is an example of the kind of poignancy and tension and sheer chutzpah that we should all strive for in our writing. Not to mention the quality of prose, awesome world-building, and amazingly written characters.

Some other brief updates while I have you here.

I HAVE KITTENS. They are, in fact, currently wrestling against my feet. JOYOUS DAYS.

Their names are currently Orca and Fidelius or Spot and Fido, depending on how I’m feeling.


Also, we have a release date for the audiobook! October 1st, girls and boys. I will be doing some promotions, so if you are interested in hearing more I encourage you to hang around here or sign up for my mailing list.

Profligacy

Something that I remind myself of periodically is that even successful writers often only get about one book out a year. I know this because so many of the authors I love keep to about that timeline.

Kameron Hurley, for example, works full-time like me and still manages to have cranked out six books since 2010, along with a startling array of novellas and short fiction. Her book a year reminds me that I, too, can do it if I put my mind to the accomplishment. On the other hand, of course, you have forces of nature like Seanan McGuire, who, since her break-out novel in 2009 has published an astonishing 27 books. That averages to about 3 and a half every year. These women inspire me to do better, to write more, to strike a hard balance.

I am conscious that I, also, am an inspiration to someone. This is comforting on days when I feel that I cannot accomplish anything because so many things want my attention.

I published my first book, since taken down for editing, in 2013. I had been working on that book since 2009. It wasn’t ready to go up, but it taught me a great deal. I have since written thousands of words, including Mother of Creation and two unpublished novellas as well as editing an unpublished novel something like a thousand times, which I pitch to traditional publishers as time permits. I have a trunk of short stories, some of which have received good reviews from editors, though none have yet found a home. I am about two thirds of the way through Daughter of Madness. I have done all of these things while attending graduate school, job hunting, and finally holding down a full-time job. I am, by these counts, a writer.

Recently, I don’t just say I’m a writer. I feel like one. Making time for writing, while it puts additional pressure on me, reminds me that this is a part of who I am. It’s not something I can just stop being.

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Instead of being anxious and upset that I’m not writing, I remind myself that I will be writing tomorrow. That I will sit down in my cafe and put on my headphones and dip into another world, shaping it and creating it. That has done wonders for my stress levels and my productivity.

There are still so many things that try to pull me away from this part of my life. The job. My family and friends. The chores needed to make a house run. Volunteering. Planning a wedding. The internet. Even hobbies like reading and watching shows. They’re all things I need. They’re all things that make me who I am and it’s not a contest. For me to be me, I must do all of it. I must bring it all into balance, and really, isn’t that what we are all striving for? Balance?

Balance, to me, is probably the hardest skill and also the easiest. Once you find balance, life becomes easier, but finding and holding onto balance in a changing world is massively difficult. My competing wants can pull one another down as easily as they push one another up. And yet, when I strike that balance, however briefly, I am happier. My writing is better, my mood is better, I am a better lover and friend. It’s worth striving for, however elusive. It’s worth remembering that producing words takes something out of us, and that the well isn’t endless. Our profligacy is directly dependent on our ability to feed it.

The next time that you are down and out about something you want to accomplish, remember that no one does it easily. We are all balancing our own plates, overburdened with bounty as they sometimes are. The task is to walk in balance. That seems easy to say, and harder to do. It is both of those things. No one can tell you what balance will work for you, but find one that does. Compare yourself to others for inspiration, if it helps.

If it doesn’t, throw those comparisons out the window. Your writing, your act of creation, your passions – they don’t belong to anyone else. They belong to you.

Werewolves and women

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Not sure who drew this, but it is lovely.

In Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten, which I just reread this week, the main character Elena Michaels tells a story. It’s the story of an old European legend about a werewolf that is ravaging a town. In response, the local lord goes out to hunt the werewolf. He lops off its paw as they fight. The werewolf flees. The paw becomes a human hand.

The nobleman is baffled by this. He returns to his castle, hand in tow, and goes to seek out his wife – only to find her cradling the bleeding stump of her arm. Realizing that she is the werewolf that he injured, he kills her. The aggressive, destructive feminine, revealed, is destroyed. There is no place for it in a wife and mother.

This story is related by Elena as a piece of trivia, but it’s really commentary on how she sees herself. What I want to get into today is precisely that – the way that female protagonists in werewolf novels see themselves. I’ve picked three examples: Elena Michaels in Bitten, Vivian from Blood and Chocolate, and Anna from Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs. Full disclosure: This review is full of spoilers. I really enjoyed all three of these books, but there are some interesting parallels in the way that werewolfism is portrayed psychologically for the characters that really struck me.

Of these three characters, none of them chooses to become a werewolf. Elena is bitten by her lover in an effort to keep her with him. The agent of her change is undeniably a man, who is forcing a choice on her for selfish reasons – a metaphorical rape if not an actual one. Anna is changed as a literal act of rape, and is raped and abused continually throughout her early months and years as a werewolf. Again, the agent of her change is a man, and this time not someone she was even considering sharing her life with, but a predator who picked her out for explicitly sadistic reasons. Vivian breaks with the other two stories in that she was born as a werewolf (or loup garoux, to use the novel’s parlance). While she doesn’t choose the life, it is not forced on her but a part of her identity. That said, most of Vivian’s conflict with her identity comes from the fact of her sexuality. As a young female werewolf whose father was the leader of the pack until his death, she is seen as a prize for all of the male werewolves, a way to secure their role as dominants. She is even tricked into a mating ritual with the most alpha werewolf, a man several years her senior. (She does this in order to protect her mother, and in the process essentially weds herself by pack law to a man she had previously been avoiding and rejecting outright. Her mother does not protest.) In other words, all three of these women come into conflict with themselves and their werewolf identities as a product of male objectification or violence, or some combination of the two.

As might be imagined, the main internal plot of these three novels revolves around, to some extent, the desire not to be a werewolf. There is also a corresponding romance plot, wherein each of the three women struggles to find a man who will both respect her and accept her violent nature. In two of the novels (Bitten and Blood and Chocolate) there is a moment where the main character finds herself, either involuntarily or otherwise, revealed as a werewolf, a ‘monster’ that is summarily rejected, to a nice, respectful human male. They are forced back into relationships with their werewolf partners in part because of the circumstances of this reveal – partners that have not previously been partners at all, but manipulators and abusers.

The repetition of this idea is a little troubling. Only Cry Wolf stays away from that particular trope. Anna meets her werewolf mate at the beginning of the book, as a consequence of her own rebellion against her abuse. He is able to emancipate her (with her help) from that abuse, and to help her adjust to her new life by showing her that she is not a monster at all. The violent nature that she has inherited is a product of the violent world she has found herself in, and her goodness as a human being is made no less because of that. For Anna, her wolf becomes a source of solace very early on, protecting her from the worst ravages of her abuse, an alternate personality that keeps her human psychology insulated from what happens to her.

For Elena and Vivian, while they eventually come to terms with their wolf identities, the wolf represents a cost. They are forced to give up their humanity (in the form of their symbolic human lovers) and are essentially trapped by the violent wolf nature. While they each eventually decide that the good things about their wolfness outweigh the bad, and while I reveled in that decision for them, the core of the conflict still meant that accepting their status as a werewolf lost them some of their status as humans. They faced the same conflict as the lady whose story Elena relates, and while their human lords didn’t kill them outright, the symbolic cutting of these two women from the lives of their human lovers is no less a death.

Werewolf books are books about transformation. I’m a huge fan of them, and as mentioned I enjoyed all three of these books. I would still recommend them to people on the basis of my deep werewolf love, and because the main characters are complex and often relatable. I would argue they are relatable because werewolves are relatable, especially for women. The sense that one must conceal one’s negative, aggressive qualities, must play the quiet and passive feminine creature, is drawn out explicitly in Bitten especially. The ability to return to a primal identity as the feminine destroyer goddess – Diana the huntress, Kali the eater of men – is a fascinating and seductive one. But there are definitely troubling overtones in a version of this transformation that relies entirely on males – whether a mate as in the case of Elena, a predator in the case of Anna, or her father’s lineage in the case of Vivian. I would love to see a werewolf book that didn’t lean on these tropes of male domination and abuse.

Guess I’ll just have to write it.

Some thoughts on audiobooks and performance

I may have mentioned that I have recently been listening to a few audiobooks. It started last summer, when my fiance forced me to listen to Dune through his Audible.com subscription. I say forced like he had to twist my arm, but it wasn’t hard. I hadn’t read Dune yet (I know, bad Amanda) so it was something that I wanted to knock off my list. And he loved it so much, which was surprising, since he typically is not a huge fan of fantasy or science fiction.

Anyway, I listened to Dune. And then I listened to The Fifth Season. And then I downloaded a few nonfiction books, and most recently I listened to The Water Knife.

What’s so interesting about each of the books above is that they are read by very different narrators. Dune, for example, is read by a white man. His voice is vaguely British, and there are all sorts of little flourishes and sound effects that really brought me into the story – blowing wind on the desert, that sort of thing. It was almost like listening to a radio play. The Fifth Season is narrated by a black woman, which is appropriate because both the author and the characters are black. The narrator of this book doesn’t do as distinct a set of voices for the different characters, relying more heavily on dialogue tags. Her voice is rich, and listening to a black woman tell the story within the context of the plot – that of slavery and prejudice and racial violence – is particularly chilling. Lastly, The Water Knife is narrated by a woman who, based off her proficiency in Spanish narration, is at least fluent in the language if not a native Hispanic Latina. It was fascinating to hear her manipulation of different accents – the Mexican-born Angel, a man, was voiced very differently from the probably-Canadian Lucy, a woman, for example, or even the bilingual Texan girl Maria. The way that she managed to capture their underlying identities with accent was fascinating.

Listening to these different books has taught me more about writing than I could have imagined it would. Before listening to these separate humans from separate backgrounds narrating these stories, I had sort of imagined that every book had a firm, definite way it should ‘sound’. That is to say, emphasis should be put on certain words and not others. There was a way I read, and I interpreted that way as the way the author intended the words. Now, I’m not so sure. there have been several moments when listening to these books where I have found myself absolutely taken aback by a stylistic choice in delivery of a sentence or paragraph. I could, in those moments, hear the sentence as it was spoken, and hear, in my head, the way I would have interpreted it from the writing. These two things did not match up. The whole text transformed before me, unlocking new meanings, clarifying characters. It was an epiphany each time it happened.

It makes me realize just how little control I, as a writer, have over what the reader will understand of my work. Sure, we writers do our best to be clear. We comb through, searching for misunderstandings or bulky phrasing. But in the end, the reader has their own voice, their own experiences, that must be laid out over the story we have made. We’ve provided, perhaps, the line drawings. The reader has to color in everything. The picture will always be of more or less the same thing, but that doesn’t mean that any two readers will end up with identical pictures. I don’t think I had ever really understood that before. I certainly had never realized that all of those ways of coloring inside the lines are totally sensical and valid. That all of them can add something, some essential essence, to a story.

So, in closing, I’m very excited about listening to more audiobooks, and about working to get my book into audio form. Speaking of, the audiobook should be done over the next week or so. I will be reviewing it and then it will be ready to publish! I’ve still got to get the cover finalized for upload, so I’m looking at a August 20th roll-out, in all likelihood.