Staying informed about the writing community

I am not a perfect author, and I have a lot to learn and a lot of benchmarks I haven’t met. That said, one of the things I have become fairly good at over the past few years is self-education and staying informed about resources for writers. Part of this, I’ll confess, is because I spend a lot of time on writing Twitter, which is the place to be if you want to learn about the writing community and new opportunities arising therein. Part of this is just because I have spent six years of my life trying to learn about what it takes to be a successful author and a good writer (not the same thing) which is a lot of years. Something is probably going to rub off in all that time.

With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some Twitter accounts, websites, and generally informative paraphernalia for the writing-inclined. These links are mostly targeted towards fantasy and science fiction writers.

Websites

If you want to be a writer of science fiction and fantasy, your first stop should probably be at Science Fiction Writers of America. It maybe should be a continual stop, actually. Bookmark this website is what I’m saying.

SFWA provides various resources for writers, both members and non-members. Membership is only possible once you’ve achieved certain benchmarks in your career, but SFWA understands that a lot of prospective writers won’t even get there without a roadmap. They maintain a Resources page that offers a high level overview of some of the information available on their site, and they also have a really great thing going on over at Writer Beware, which provides some information about predatory businesses and practices seeking to target writers.

Another great source of warnings for writers is the Absolute Write Water Cooler. Take comments on these forums with a grain of salt and do further research, but this is a good place to look for hints that all is not as it should be with a particular agent or publishing house.

But how do you even get to the point where you are worried about whether your agent is on the up and up? You have to query, of course. For one of the best resources on querying and tips and tricks, try QueryShark. Though no longer providing new posts, the QueryShark archives provide valuable critiques of hundreds of queries. Reading examples of good and bad queries is a great way to level up your agent search.

To find agents and editors, you can look several ways. Twitter is an option, and grabbing a Writer’s Market from the store is another. However, if you are looking for a single website that has a lot of information about what agents and editors are looking for, you may want to visit Manuscript Wishlist (MSWL). Please remember to verify the information with a secondary search of the agent or editor or by checking out their website directly.

Helpful Authors

I’ve mentioned I spend a lot of time on Twitter, but it’s not only to build my platform. It’s also to learn. There are some great, helpful accounts on Twitter, specifically other authors who are offering a lot of advice for free.

First of all, Chuck Wendig has made a name for himself for his off-color writing advice. He’s got several books out if that’s more your speed, but you can find a lot of that information in the archives of Terribleminds, his personal website and blog. His advice is mostly geared towards the craft of writing itself.

On Twitter itself, one of my favorite authors to follow is Delilah S. Dawson. She does periodic posts geared towards new and upcoming writers about the traditional publishing process. They provide helpful insight into her process and the way she has managed to get where she is.

Author Kameron Hurley tweets a lot about various parts of her writing career, but especially about work-life balance or the lack thereof. She also talks a lot about money. This is a really important bit of advice for writers that often gets overlooked. The Authors Guild recently published this survey of income for authors and writers at all levels, which shows that it can be really hard to make it as a writer even once you get published. Hurley is very open about her monetary issues and what she makes off of her writing, and it’s helped me to have realistic expectations and strategies for my longterm career.

Self-Publishing

There are several resources out there for self-published authors, and that deserves a whole other post. But one place you can start is the 20Booksto50k Group on Facebook. Be sure the read the FAQs before you ask any questions!

I hope these resources have been helpful for you. If there’s something you think is missing, chime in in the comments!


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Best of 2018 – Novels and novellas

It’s so hard to pick my favorite books. 

I mean, you read so many, right? Or, well, I read so many. If there were a monster that could only fill the deep gullet of its belly with words, then I would be that monster. I read a LOT. It’s like breathing.

So every year I try to keep a list of the books that make me smile or laugh out loud or weep uncontrollably and every year I doubtless fail. I know there are things that I will miss, books I really loved but that I can’t quite bring myself to put on my best of list and books that touched me despite not being my favorite and really, who am I kidding? I love all the books, unless I don’t. I’m not really a halfway kind of person when it comes to the written word, and so when I read a book I either love it or, more rarely, hate it. If it makes me feel sort of meh, I don’t finish.

Anyway, the point is that these books are happy, good, glowing things that are worth your time. There’s probably something on this list for everyone and if there is something you’ve read and liked and you want to know about stories like it, I can probably point you in the right direction. It’s a talent of mine.

Without further ado, my 2018 list for novels and novellas: 

In Other Lands

Urban Fantasy, Portal Story, Coming of Age, LGBTQ. This book has a lot going on. The pacing is good for the scope of the time that is taken up in this novel. It’s also a standalone, so don’t worry about getting into this and having to commit to some long series. Everything you need is contained within its cover from the beginning. 

I read this book early in the year and it read, for me, like a balm. It’s the story of a boy who is used to not being loved, and all the problems that he makes for himself because of that habit. And it’s the story of his friends, who stand by him despite his best efforts, and of the magical world they call home.  I hope you read it and love it and feel comfort.

The City of Lost Fortunes

I’ve mentioned this book before, but since it technically came out this year I need to mention it again. I met Bryan Camp at WFC in November of 2017, devoured his book, can’t wait for more. Also he’s a cool guy. This book is set in New Orleans, but unlike most of the similar books mining such a rich setting, The City of Lost Fortunes feels real and lived in. That’s probably because Bryan is a native, and a native with good attention to detail and a love for the city he calls home in all of its chaotic glory. Urban Fantasy.

The Stone in the Skull

Epic Fantasy. This book takes place in the same secondary world that Bear previously created for The Range of Ghosts. Because of that, it is easy to see just how far she has come as a writer. Range of Ghosts and the ensuing novels are solid, well-written, and inventive. The prose in The Stone in the Skull, however, practically leaps of the page. It nonetheless loses none of the excellent elements of the original world, expanding on them in ways that feel natural.

Some of my favorite books in secondary world fantasy have been written by this author. Her skill in research in writing is something I aspire towards. Also she’s a gem and she liked my dress at Futurescapes. It is one of the highlights of my life. So I hope you will read this book and enjoy it as much as I did.

Iron and Magic

You may remember a few years back when I discovered Ilona Andrews. This husband and wife team write the most excellent romance and magical action. This year I have read several of their works, since I’ve been in the mood for romance recently, but since I do love the world of Magic Shifts I decided to recommend this one. It is the start of a trilogy that can be read alone, but I wouldn’t waste the chance to read the recently completed Kate Daniels series, of which this story-line is a spin off. Romance, Urban Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic.

Glory’s Teeth

This is the only novella that made my list this year. I did read a few, mind, and there were some exceptional ones. But there is only so much space on this list and I’m kind of pushing it as it is with seven titles instead of my usual five or so. Luckily, you can read Glory’s Teeth as a standalone, though the author has other works in this world if you can’t get enough.

This book was an unexpected find. I actually saw the author post about it through someone else I follow on Twitter, proving that, occasionally, social media does sell books. The story made me absolutely sob. It’s about a girl who also happens to be a wolf destined to consume the world, the torment of feeling empty and alone, and the hunger to be alive. And it is so very, very delicious.  Urban Fantasy, Norse Mythology.

Trail of Lightning

Gritty, inventive, excellent – these are all words one might use to describe Rebecca Roanhorse’s debut release. And it is definitely gritty. The gore in this book is not to be underestimated. Nor is the refreshing approach to the world. Roanhorse uses her own Native heritage as inspiration in creating a dynamic, grungy world where myths come alive, and not always for the better. While it’s not necessarily a hopeful book, it is a solidly vengeful one, and it sets up nicely for future sequels. Action, Urban Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic.

Space Opera

Last but definitely not least, for those of you who haven’t heard of this wonderful book, we have Space Opera. Ambitious it may be, but this book sticks the landing, as Valente is wont to do. In a story reminiscent of Hitchhiker’s Guide but definitely it’s own, with aliens and absurdity and tongue-twisting prose, Valente takes us on a journey that seems to be about what makes good music but is actually about what makes someone human. Above all, this is a hopeful read. It’s the story you didn’t know you needed in 2018, the longest and shortest year on record, and I have it last so that you will remember it best. Science Fiction, Weird, Eurovision.

I hope you enjoy these reads, folks! Don’t forget to let me know if you’ve read one of these, I’d love to hear how you liked it.


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We took a break from the blog tour this week for the holiday, but I wanted to take a minute to remind everyone that the final blog stop is coming up and that means our giveaway for two signed books is coming to a close. You have ten days to get on that, and you can enter at any tour stop.

In other giveaway news, my Instafreebie excerpt is part of a Group Giveaway featuring women kicking ass, so you should take a minute to check that out.

Last note: the blog resumes its regular posting schedule on Friday, July 20th. So look forward to some fun articles at that time.

Catch you on the flip side!


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Preorders, sales, promotional graphics, oh my!

You may wonder what in the world I have been up to lately, and let me say – a lot. April is a rollercoaster and I’m not strapped in. Please expect me to be absolutely mad over here.

Currently, I’m preparing to leave for Salt Lake City (or rather, its environs) where I am attending a writing workshop called Futurescapes. It’s looks to be an amazing experience, and I’m so excited to tell you about it later if I survive the next few weeks.

That said, I have some lovely things to share with you if you haven’t already seen them on my Twitter, Tumblr, etc.

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First, Daughter of Madness is up for preorder! I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago but I was not perhaps exuberant enough. Specifically, the ebook is what is up for preorder. The print book will be releasing at the same time, but you will have to wait until June 2nd to get your copy.

Speaking of June 2nd, you can get an ebook of Mother of Creation anytime before that date! I’m hoping to have it for $1.99 soon but there has been a technical glitch at Amazon so I will do a special post to update you on when that is resolved. I made a cool graphic to share to folks….someday…..

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I’ll also be doing some blog tours coming up. I will crosspost those here and mostly put a hold on original content for The Bramble until those are finalized. But we still have a couple of weeks until then, as the beginning of the tour is May 7th.

Phew.

Send me kind thoughts, readers, and let’s power through!


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The Shape of Water: women and sex

I’ve had some time to think about The Shape of Water, which I saw a few weeks ago, and I have decided the thing that most impressed me about the film was not the beautiful composition, nor the aesthetic, nor, even, the commentary on how society attempts to break the outsiders among us into something palatable and how wrong that is. It was the way del Toro treated sex. Specifically, a woman’s sex.

Mild spoilers to follow for The Shape of Water.

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The movie, for those who haven’t seen it, opens with a sequence of the main character, Elisa, getting ready for her day at the super secret oceanic labs which are going to house the much-advertised fish-man. A very important part of Elisa’s evening is one that is most certainly not shown in film. Each evening, Elisa makes her lunch, runs a bath, climbs in, and masturbates. She does this one screen twice during the film, and each time the shot is framed in such a way as to do two things: to make it clear what she is doing, and to make it clear that you are not the target of it. This scene is not designed to titillate you, not exactly. It’s designed to make you acknowledge the complexity of being in a female body, a female who likes sex.

That last part is a very interesting aspect of Guillermo del Toro’s last two films, Shape of Water and Crimson Peak. In both of these films, the protagonist has been an adult woman. In both of the films, the protagonist has been in sexual situations – a romance arc being integral to the plots of both.

In neither film is the main character sexualized in the way that we, the audience, expect.

Crimson Peak is a good example of this. As the Bustle points out, at no point is Edith Cushing portrayed in any of the ways we expect women to be portrayed during sex. For one thing, she remains mostly out of view, her nakedness taking second fiddle to Thomas Sharpe’s. For another, she is clearly consenting, and her pleasure is accounted for. Del Toro manages to strike a careful, tender balance in this film. Edith is not the wide-eyed virgin, nor is she the ravenous whore. She is a woman, and Thomas is a man, and they are learning and experiencing together.

While the Bustle article crows that this is a new age for Hollywood, I for one have not noticed a sudden dearth of movies featuring the male gaze. I still find, far too often, moments in film that leave me lost and frustrated as I watch a rounded, interesting character become heavily objectified by the camera lens, or worse, a single woman installed as sexual window dressing to men’s struggles. (Kingsman is a terrible example of this, but I digress. We’re not here to talk about people who do this wrong. We’re here to talk about how del Toro does it right.)

Elisa’s role in this film could have easily been one of being unnecessarily sexualized. There were several moments that played off of the viewer’s expectations by skirting close to this but refusing to give into it. Aside from the initial masturbation scenes, one of the most notable ones is the scene where Richard Strickland traps Elisa in his office and makes advances towards her which are decidedly unwanted. This situation could have easily devolved into physical sexual violence. It does not.

In another notable scene, Elisa and her fish-man, unnamed for the duration of the film, have sex and are interrupted by her neighbor, Giles. While in many monster movies, the virginal female lead is the unwilling victim of the monster, in this case Elisa intentionally seeks out, befriends, and then seduces her monster. She is always the one in relative control – the fish-man cannot survive without her help. When Giles walks in on them, he sees a vision – Elisa embracing the fish-man, making clear, unashamed eye contact. Her naked body is not shown, and her position is not obviously erotic outside of that nakedness. The fish-man’s own form hides her, just as Thomas’ form hid Edith. It is not that we haven’t seen her skin before. It is that we see her, in all of her erotic glory, without any attempt at shame or degradation. Elisa is here because she wants to be. You will get no blushes, no guilt, from her.

There were several other things to love about this film. The decision to have a mute protagonist was something I worried about initially, but found myself very much enjoying. I love watching ASL, though I don’t really speak it. And my absolute favorite scene of the movie was also one that was heartbreaking – Giles being rejected at the pie shop was a well-functioning piece that drew clear parallels between the struggles of LGBTQ+ folks and racial minorities within society, with Giles finally speaking up in the face of racial injustice when he realized that it came from the same hegemony that had made his own life so miserable. There’s a lot that can be said about that, and I’m not the person to write it. And of course, as with every movie, there were flaws. I won’t list them here, but I recognize there were things that might have been done better.

All that said, I enjoyed the film, and I look forward to Guillermo del Toro’s next work, and his portrayal of the women in it.

 

 

Best of 2017

At last, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Here’s my holiday gift to you, and I hope you enjoy! This post is going live for those still looking for last-minute gifts (like me), and there will be no post this Friday in honor of the holiday. Sorry for shaking things up on you folks, but I thought you’d prefer getting this sooner than later.

I read a lot of books in 2017, though perhaps not as many as I would have preferred. My TBR continues to grow much faster than I can strike things off. But nevertheless, I persist in climbing this mountain! Happily, it’s quite enjoyable.

2017 saw a lot of amazing fiction, honestly, no doubt spurred in part by everyone being pissed off and defiant. I loved some of those pieces, but I also got the chance to discover some preciously clever examples of characters subverting hegemony through self-care and care of others, and those stories were honestly some of the most raw and wonderful. So, as always, we’ll do these grouped by form. I’ll pick five of my favorite short stories, a handful of novellas, and five novels (if I can narrow it down that much).

Without further ado:

Short Stories

With Cardamom I’ll Bind Their Lips by Beth Cato

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Beth Cato is an author I’m just now coming around to following, and I look forward to seeing more of her work. I really enjoyed this story, which is on the slightly darker end set in post-war Britain or something very like it.img_3988

Three May Keep a Secret by Carlie St. George

This story has major content warnings, so please be advised. That said, it’s a powerful story about bringing darkness into the light and how our secrets can be deadly, cemented by a lovely, mostly platonic relationship between the two main characters.

The Earth and Everything Under by K.M. Ferebee

This story was a haunting tale about grief and healing and the nature of death. It also spoke to me about how an entire community can turn on you, but you are forced to live with them. I have complicated feelings about this story, which are the best kind.

Sun, Moon, Dust by Ursula Vernon

Sliding in here at the end of the year is this precious gem of a story that makes me believe in humankind. Honestly everything Ursula Vernon writes makes me feel better. She’s been a huge balm for my soul this year, and inspired me thoroughly as a writer. She also writes as T. Kingfisher, who you’ll see later on this list, and if you want more of her writing I recommend the entirety of Jackalope Wives and Other Stories without reservation.

A Recipe for Magic by Kat Howard and Fran Wilde

This story is another balm to my heart. I am super into kitchen witches and gardeners and anything else bringing magic and power to things domestic and full of love. Please check it out and try not to tear up (happy tears, I promise). It’s up on B&N’s website as part of their new push to publish original fiction.img_3990

 

Honorable mentions to Loneliness Is in Your Blood, The Oiran’s Song, and If We Live to Be Giants. They were all hella good.

Novellas

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

I loved this novella mostly because it felt so real to me. I knew the people that Killjoy described in a way that a lot of characters don’t exactly strike me as real. It’s an urban fantasy, or more appropriately a contemporary fantasy, and it’s an unexpected and delicious story.

Dusk or Dawn or Dark or Day by Seanan McGuire

McGuire had several novellas come out this year, and a few books, too. She is super prolific. I picked this one for the list because it was one of my favorites, and also because it’s a great place to start with her work, encapsulating a lot of her reoccurring themes in a standalone text.

Also I have to point out that I read this novella around the same time that I read “You’ll Surely Drown Here if You Stay” by Alyssa Wong, and if you put those two titles together they make a refrain to what could be a bitterly beautiful poem.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

You all know I love Martha Wells, or at least you do if you’ve been reading this blog any length of time. This novella has taken the sff world by storm for its inventive approach to an alien consciousness that nonetheless remains lovable. It was actually a little short for me – I felt like I would have become more emotionally invested given more time in Murderbot’s head – but good news! There are two more planned installments in The Murderbot Diaries to look forward to next year.

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Novels

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

I read the entire Craft Sequence this year, and I cannot recommend it enough. Technically, the book that was published in 2017 is The Ruin of Angels, which is my second favorite book in this series, bumping off Three Parts Dead to take that honor (barely). My favorite, though, is Full Fathom Five. All of Gladstone’s books explore earth-shaking themes with inventive, masterful language and world-building. (What if magic was real and also managed by a bunch of capitalists, for example. Also: what if the stories we told ourselves became sentient?) I recommend these books to everyone I come across. You can read them in order of publication or chronologically (I did order of publication) but just go read them.

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The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

Wrapping up The Broken Earth Trilogy is The Stone Sky, a book that lived up to the promise of the series. I can’t say it was uplifting, but it was satisfying.

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

I wrote about this book a few weeks ago, and it remains one of my favorites I’ve read this year. I’m very much into American West reimaginings that feature women and people of color. I even did a whole blogpost about this subgenre, which you can check out here. Anyway, check out this book, it’s worth it, and can be read as a standalone or as the first in what I believe is a trilogy.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

This book is the only non-speculative fiction title on this list. It’s also the only YA title, I think. It explores similar themes to “Three May Keep a Secret,” mentioned above, so content warnings are necessary. However, this book, too, is about healing, and it was a powerful read for me during this long year when it has seemed like so much darkness has been in the world.

Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher

Surprising no one, another one of T. Kingfisher’s fairytale reimaginings has made my list this year. You will recall “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon, above. They happen to be the same person, and all of her stories are amazing. This one tackles Beauty and the Beast, and it’s one of my favorite retellings of that particular tale yet.

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Serials

This isn’t exactly its own category, as I have only one work to mention here. Serial productions seem to be on the up and up at the moment, and I wanted to note one that I think will go a long way towards revolutionizing the genre. Steal the Stars has been a remarkable listen, and it has taught me a lot about what can be done with a serial story. You should check it out.

Essay

The Shape of Darkness as it Overtakes Us by Dimas Ilaw

Essay is not a category I usually include and probably won’t make it in future best-of lists, but I felt like 2017 has been an exceptional year and so we had to make an exception. If you have felt at all hopeless and overwhelmed, I can’t say that this essay will make you feel better. But it will definitely help you to process, I think, just as the author is processing their own grief. And it will help you to step forward, too.


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Getting ready for my panel

Hey friends! This weekend I am in San Antonio for World Fantasy Convention 2017. The theme is “Secret Histories” and I am moderating a panel all about cities as palimpsests! The panel is called “The Role of Cities in Fantasy Settings” and it will be tomorrow morning at 10 am if anyone is in town.

I got to be panel moderator because of my day job, so I thought I might use this post to make recommendation of some of my favorite books about cities for those of you who may not be able to join tomorrow. I’ll also try to do a recap of what the other members of the panel discuss for next week, though we’ll see how on the ball I am tomorrow morning with note-taking.

Imaginary Cities

First, I spent several weeks leading up to this panel reading the book Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson. It was a super interesting read, and I recommend it if you are a writer daylighting as an urban planner, like myself. Anderson does a broad survey of the city in literature and architecture, including such famous minds in the urban planning field as Le Corbusier alongside philosophers like Plato and fiction writers like Italo Calvino. It’s a dreamy, memorable survey with a delightful way of looking at things. One of my favorite early lines in the book talks about Le Corbusier’s vision for the city: “It is a city rethought as planetary space, but what can live in a vacuum?” There’s enough fodder in here for all of your storytelling and visioning needs.

The Dervish House

On the semi-fictional spectrum, one of my favorite cities is Istanbul as depicted in Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House, a tense and smart techno-thriller meets near-future dystopia meets historical fiction. Yes, there is a lot going on in this book, and it is done so well. The layers of Istanbul sit on top of one another, bleed into one another, and each character carries their own city with them. It’s a book of intensely vivid prose and gorgeous vistas, all contained around a tight knot of action.

The Water Knife

Paolo Bacigalupi has made a name for his near-future dystopias focusing on climate change. Most memorable of these is the Wind Up Girl, which won several awards, but I think the author really comes into his own with The Water Knife. This book takes place in Phoenix, AZ, conveniently enough the city I was born in, and I had a hard time reading it because it was so incredibly believable. As might be expected, climate change means that the setting is absolutely integral to the plot of this work, and that setting is a grim, waterless future indeed.

The Wheel of the Infinite

Really you could pick up any Martha Wells book and get a delightful lesson on building worlds, but why not start with this one? This city hangs parallel in time or space to another, and the big crisis of the book is trying to keep it from being erased by that other place. Wells draws on canal cities from around the world to design Duvalpore.

The Craft Sequence

I left the Craft Sequence for last because there aren’t enough words to explain Max Gladstones adroit use of the city in these works. The first of the books in order of publication, Three Parts Dead, is set in the city of Alt Coloumb, a magnificent place whose infrastructure is literally the body of a god. Every book in this sequence is set in a different city, each more fascinating than the last, with the most recent book focusing on how cities are narratives, communal decisions in how we want to experience our world. If you have any interest in cities historically, urban planning, fantastical zoning law or anything of that nature, you should probably read these books.

Go forth and read, and I’ll see you next week!


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