Life updates, adventures

I’ve been a little behind with things recently as I was dealing with a huge dayjob deadline at the beginning of May. It meant that I couldn’t work on writing for about two weeks, at all, and things got a little hectic. So I’m playing catch-up for the next couple of weeks, and then I’m off on a much-needed vacation for two weeks so I’ll be playing catch-up again once I get back!

On the personal front, I’ve been spending a lot of time planting flowers, what with it being spring and all. After a great battle of wills, I successfully planted a bunch of lovely peonies along the walkway. The S.O. hates most flowers, for whatever reason. He pretty much likes sunflowers, some colors of irises, black-eyed susans, and zinnias. Roses, which I love, and peonies, are right out. I don’t think he has to like everything I like, though, and I’m happy to plant flowers he likes, too. We therefore came to a compromise.

The peonies are a gift from my friend who grows flowers for a living. The flowers from our wedding came from his business, Flowers of the Sun, and I think that helped smooth the way. Plus they’re excellent landscaping once they get established, providing a lovely border along walkways. And I’ve agreed to allow the front porch to be surrounded by three types of sunflower.

I finally made it out on the trail a couple of weeks ago, too, mostly because I was going to go crazy if I didn’t. We did a healthy four mile hike. We all have a goal of doing a seven day hiking trip in August, but I am definitely not in shape to do 77 miles right now.

I also made it out to the local homemade ice cream place, where I got this amazing lavender honey ice cream that just blew my mind. There was also a coffee ice cream that tasted exactly the way fresh-brewed coffee smells, the way you want your coffee to taste before you become a coffee drinker (which I am admittedly not much of, on account of the caffeine).

It’s been a lovely spring, though we’re officially sliding into summer. All of my kale has bolted already.

Anyway, I’m expecting to do some more personal posts over the next two months since my energy will be elsewhere with the summer. On the writing front, which you’ll hear more about in the next week or two, I’m working on finishing up drafting my current WIP and doing research for revisions. I hope to have a few announcements about publication dates before too long, but I’ve got to finish some business end research first. I’ll talk more about that in my six month post.

Hope you’ve been enjoying the weather!

Mapping, stories, Random City Generator

Short post this week, but a fun one!

I encountered the Random City Generator a few months back, and I’ve really been enjoying playing with it. While I haven’t been doing a great deal of mapping for my stories recently, I do use maps a lot to visualize different communities. Previous to this, I have mostly hand-drawn maps for my secondary worlds and spent a lot of time clicking through Google and Google street view for my contemporary stuff. In my earliest days of writing, I didn’t map at all, and I think it shows in the weakness of some of my earlier work in terms of setting and worldbuilding. It’s a really great skill for a writer to have. 

I’m not sure that Random City Generator will entirely replace my hand-drawn creations, but I thought I would share this version of Herkun’s City below. You can see the castle complex, the river and the temple to Herkun with the square in the center, plus Goldtown (the scattered impoverished communities that have grown up against the walls, which will probably show up in book three). 

It’s a great resource for writers trying to wrap their heads around their worlds.

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Science fiction and science: believability in storytelling

So the other day I was at aerials – that’s aerial silks, where I go to work out my stress in a way that is simultaneously beautiful and brutal – and the subject of science fiction came up. Not in the way you might think, either. Everyone in the class technically knows that I like spec fic a lot, but they must have all forgotten because we started talking about bad science in science fiction.

Now, I have a decent science background as compared to the modern American public, or at least I like to think I do. So I understand how it can be frustrating to be reading or watching a story and suddenly get thrown out of it by something not being accurate to science, especially in a genre that is supposedly playing with possible futures like science fiction. I mean, my partner is a nurse and so was my mom, and yet somehow I manage to watch people deal with near fatal trauma and get up and keep walking on television all the time. But my position on science fiction – and the broader action, fantasy, and other genres that also sometimes fall into this trap – is more nuanced. I can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, as it were, because I really like the baby. 

(I apologize for that metaphor, but I’m not taking it back.)

Some of the best science fiction is believable not because the science is solid, but because we want to believe it. Because it posits something about humankind and what we can be – what makes us both hopeful and despairing about ourselves. This is the case for all types of fiction, but especially for genre fiction. 

Take The Light Brigade, which I reviewed a week ago on this site. One of the key ideas in this book is that it is technologically possible to turn a human being into light and then condense them back into matter. Let’s sit with that a minute. You are converting matter to energy and then back to matter and somehow managing to arrange all of the atoms in question into their respective parts and have a working human at the end of it. There is nothing in our science as it stands today that says it is possible, and a lot of information that argues the opposite. But this technological innovation is not the point of the story. It’s a backdrop, a lens through which we can see something new. This is a story about following versus leading and the institutional nature of evil. It’s about making change – about literally being the light, but also about metaphorically being the light. 

The important aspect of science fiction is always internal consistency. But there are also questions about what constitutes science. Sure, turning matter into light is definitely something you could explore through physics. But physics is not the only science – biology and neurology come to mind. There are also “hard” and “soft” sciences worth considering. Psychology, economics, and anthropology come to mind as great disciplines that feed a lot into certain science fiction novels.

Consider, as an example, the movie Arrival, which is in turn based off of a novella called Story of Your LifeThe movie is based off of a linguistic theory, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. This is a hotly debated theory, as unpacked in a Smithsonian article linked here, and the film and story largely seem to take this concept beyond one that is plausible in the field. Yet the Smithsonian article contains this beautiful final paragraph:

While the specifics of the Sapir-Whorf theory are still viciously argued today, Goddard says that the film offers a thought-provoking example of how integral language is to our lives—and yet how little we know about how it works, even today. “It’s not really about aliens,” as Goddard puts it. “It’s about us.”

It’s possible that all science fiction merely flirts with the idea of science. All science fiction writers use new discoveries and technologies as a mirror to explore the human condition. It’s not about the innovation. It’s about the people who made it.


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Sci-Fi Roundup

My dad recently found out that I read science fiction. I’m not sure how he missed this, as I have always read science fiction, even when I was living in his house, but it was apparently sort of traumatizing for him. Contemporary science fiction thrillers and certain dystopias seem to not count. He considers science fiction to be involving space, and is utterly uninterested.

Now this was not my first genre by any means, but from Star Wars to Outlaw Star to Cowboy Bebop I have been thoroughly enamored of science fiction for a long time. Some of my earliest scifi reads were by Julie Czerneda and C.J. Cherryh, and I’ve continued to read science fiction in that tradition as well. So below are three brief recommendations of recent science fiction books that I have enjoyed – all written by women and all dealing with very different things.

For those who like an element of romance in your fiction, scifi may seem unapproachable. Luckily, Jessie Mihalik is stepping in with her new series, kicked off by the book Polaris Rising. I really enjoyed this book, which I have described to friends as something like Chronicles of Riddick, for the folks that remember that film, and something like Jupiter Ascending (but with a lot more action and much more internally cohesive). If you enjoyed either movie but they didn’t quite do what you wanted them to, I suggest Polaris Rising as the ideal replacement. It’s fluffy and fast-paced, in space!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear. This rambling, first person standalone is full of strange space creatures and fascinating technological ideas. It’s not for the faint of heart, though – the writing style, while clear, is full of digressions that don’t always seem relevant (thought usually end up relevant later) and so it can be hard to track this winding tale. The thematic elements of the book are also hard to wrestle with at points, especially since some of the most tense moments of the book involve two people trapped on a spaceship, each essentially trying to talk the other into coming to their side before they both starve to death or reach their final destination. While there is definitely action in this book – exploding spaceships, high speed chases, and a rather large praying mantis creature – the main conflicts are cerebral. It’s a strange, vulnerable book that will not be for everyone, but which posits some truly fascinating and beautiful futures.

Lastly comes my favorite science fiction book I’ve read recently. The Light Brigade looks similar to Ancestral Night at first glance, but the tone of this book is far more gritty. While space in Bear’s distant future is almost (but not quite) bloodless, Kameron Hurley brings her trademark gore and grunge to this book about space marines subject to psychological and physical experimental technology that literally transforms them into light. This is a profoundly psychological book, but it’s also a profoundly physical one. And it does not hesitate to make strong assertions about power and how it corrupts. While most of the action takes place on Earth in a not-so-distant future that is terrifyingly plausible and there are no spaceships to speak of, this is a science fiction book that deserves a read. Do not miss it.


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Heroes and Dreamsnake

We’ve lost a lot of people in the past few years.

Perhaps it just feels that way because there are so many other bad things, and so the losses hit harder. Perhaps it is just part of growing up. I’ve just recently entered my third decade. It’s probably about that time. But you’re never ready to let go of your heroes.

Carrie Fisher was a hard one for me. So was Mary Oliver. This week, we lost Vonda McIntyre.

If you’ve been reading science fiction for a while, you’ve probably heard of Vonda McIntyre. Her book, Dreamsnake, is one of those canonical works that become their own entity, irrespective of author, almost separate from the author. Though no work could or should be separated from the one who made it, Dreamsnake has its own weight within the world of science fiction.

I first read this book in middle school, where I found it in the school library. I’m not sure who made the decision to stock that book in the middle school library of a small town in Southwest Virginia. It was shelved alongside Redwall and Jane Yolen, and I picked it up all unsuspecting. I have not read it since. I remember it so clearly, nonetheless. The desert landscape where the book begins, the craters from a long ago war, the idea that there were some things that could not be healed and that, sometimes, the only peace that could be given was sweet dreams. The found family Snake accrues in her travels, and the joy of discovery, the hope that remains a core of the story despite all of the darkness that inevitably fills a post-apocalyptic world. The book showed me what fiction could be. In some ways I have always been aspiring to do to others what that book did to me at twelve.

If we are lucky, we lose our heroes to death. Not to controversy, or an unkind word when we needed or wanted their kindness, not to villainy, but to death, which takes us all eventually. So though each of these losses makes the world feel smaller, I am grateful.

Look, if we’re lucky, we’ll leave some small mark in the hearts of those we meet. If we’re very lucky, it will be a mark like Dreamsnake left on my heart.


In less somber news, you can catch me this weekend at Roanoke Author Invasion from 10 am to 2 pm on Saturday. Stop by and tell me about your heroes.

News, mostly news

There’s been a lot going on this spring! For those who missed it, I had a short story published through Luna Station Quarterly on March 1st. “At Love’s Heart” is a tale about grief and love and ice. You can get it, and all of the other lovely stories in Issue 37, on Amazon or directly from the magazine.

Also notable news! April promises to be a busy month. We’ll see the first installment of the Black Roses novella go up on the Patreon on Monday, April 1st. $3 and up backers will receive pdf, mobi, and epub installments every week. Check out the synopsis below.

It’s grief that drives Lorelai to Vermont, a land of mountains and hidden lakes and deep snow. She wants to forget everything she’s lost. Ethan Locke seems like the perfect man to lose herself in.

But every lover has ghosts…

I’ve made a new banner for the Patreon, and I like it a lot better. Tune in April 1st for a cover reveal and an excerpt of the first installment!

Last bit of news! Roanoke Author Invasion is right around the corner on April 6th. I’ll have copies of all my books available and free swag, as always. The event is free, so come visit!

No post this coming Friday, but I’m excited for everything coming up in April and I hope you are too!


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Multi-tasking, finishing, other

Hey folks, MystiCon is next week and I’m pretty caught up with preparing for that and my other projects, so no analysis posts in February. But I’ve been watching a lot of anime and probably you’re going to get a lot of anime recommendations and reviews in March, so hold onto your hats.

I think a lot of writers are multi-taskers, and I’ve been reading a lot lately about the importance of NOT doing that. Which is a little frustrating given that the deck is stacked against me.

For Christmas, I bought myself a book called The 30-Day Productivity Manual, which is, as you might guess, a book about how to become more efficient in your use of time. The premise is not that you should put more time into the thing to get it done, but that you should accept that you only have so much time in the day and develop routines and coping mechanisms to streamline your workflow. I got this book because I was feeling absolutely overwhelmed, mostly at the dayjob. This is because while I tell everyone I’m a mapmaker, and that’s true, I also do a lot more complex stuff, including a lot of writing of very long documents.

Sound familiar? (Really, let’s just assume everything that holds true for my dayjob is also true for my writing career. Except the meetings. So far no meetings as a novelist. YMMV.)

Unfortunately for me, writing something that’s very long and based on research, while quick once you’ve done all the research, is very hard to do between all the other smaller tasks I have. It’s also really hard to focus on the broader vision for such a large and bulky project when there are all these smaller projects vying for your attention. Managing my workflow in an effective way is essential. But it’s allowed me to reflect some on my writing processes as well.

It’s really easy to never finish something. For example, I give The Zombie Book, a project I drafted seven years ago.

(Sorry, I had to check the math there.)

Anyway, seven years ago I first sat down and wrote The Zombie Book. At the time it was a rip-roaring adventure and, I was sure, the best thing I had ever written. (Does this sound familiar?) Anyway, I pitched it to a few folks, they asked for partials and fulls, it was summarily rejected. Then I had grad school finals and finding a job to worry about, then I started writing DoM….suffice to say it was summarily trunked. But I always had it in the back of my head that it was a good, fun book and that I wanted to revise it and bring it back to my submissions folder.

Cue my 2019 New Year’s Resolution. I’ve been chipping away at this revision since December and… folks, I’m pretty sure that at the sentence level this is the… actual worst thing I’ve ever written. Oops. This doesn’t mean that it won’t become the best thing I’ve ever written. But it’s going to take a lot of work.

Meanwhile, it’s been a lot more fun to draft two new projects. Oh, and I’ve also been trying to polish up some of the short stories I wrote last year and submit them to magazines…. Plus I get to keep up with this blog, and the Patreon that theoretically pays me for doing the blog, events, and my social media….

Add to that the fact that I manage anywhere from 14-20 separate projects a year for my dayjob (which translates to actually working on four or five a week usually, because I’m human) and we can see that my brain is going literally everywhere at once. Plus, I really like to do a good job on things. I don’t want to let it leave my table unless it’s at least halfway decent.

Anyway, this is a lot of what I’ve been meditating on as I contemplate my life going forward and maintaining a healthy work-life balance with what is essentially two jobs that both require the ability to juggle multiple tasks. And it’s something to think about for both readers and writers that are interested in the writer’s process and why we can’t get that next book out when you want it. There’s just a lot going on, and finding enough focused time to knock out a single project sometimes seems impossible. As my productivity manual informs me, though, finding that time is up to me.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you writing isn’t hard work, friends.


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A brief bit of personal and a story announcement

Oh man, friends, this year has gone so fast already. We’re in February!

February! Where I just….sold my first short story? Already achieving my NYE goal? Somehow?

So yeah, I have a story called “At Love’s Heart” coming out in Luna Station Quarterly on March 1st. It will be available for free online for a week at their website, then will be available in ebook and print zine format. I am very excited. And I’ve already submitted two more stories to other markets, because I think it would be fun to get a bunch of rejections anyway this year.

Other than that, most of my writing time has been spent working on a new project, editing an old manuscript, and polishing short stories for submission. So I’ve got a lot of irons in the metaphorical fire. I’ve been using Tools for Writers by Christie Yant to track my progress towards each of my goals, which is a Google Sheet . So far this year I’ve written 12,000 words! It’s kind of amazing to watch those words build in the spreadsheet.

On the personal side of things, I’ve been happy to see the days get longer. Imbolc was spent getting a massage and soaking in a jacuzzi, in a true observance of this renewal-focused holiday. I’ve also recently subscribed to Hulu, which is apparently where all the anime is. It’s been lovely. There’s a lot of pressure coming down on me from my dayjob right now, but I’m trying really hard to make the time for the things that make me human.

Anyway, so far I can’t complain too much about 2019.


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Upcoming events!

I wanted to go ahead and let everyone know what events I will be at this year so far.

Roanoke Regional Writers Conference (tentative), January 25-26

I don’t have any panels lined up, and this will largely be a networking conference for me. If you’re interested in the craft and business of writing and want to meet other writers in the area, this is a good conference to attend!

MystiCon, February 22-24

MystiCon is a fan convention, and I’ve already got my schedule for the year. Feel free to come by and check out any of my panels, or come buy a book! I’ll also have free stuff to give away.

  • Balancing the Geek Life with Mundane Adulting,Saturday, 11 am
  • Signing Table, Saturday, 4 pm
  • Let’s Take Flight, Saturday, 9pm
  • Ghosts, Witches, Wizards, Magic: Shakespeare and the Supernatural, Saturday, 10 pm
  • Beyond Western Europe – Other World Cultures for Fantasy (M), Sunday, 2pm

Roanoke Author Invasion, April 6th

This is the annual signing and book sale. I haven’t figured out exactly what all I will be bringing to this event yet, but I should have more information before April!

Hope to see you there!


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