Roanoke Author Invasion 2017

What a weekend.

So I want to start off with some background, here, before I talk about selling books and such. I came into this weekend a bit like a jetplane making an emergency aquatic landing. That is to say, I belly-flopped right into RAI because I was straight up out of fuel and had been for two weeks. This is in large part because I over-committed myself this spring. What did I over-commit to? You guessed it. The wedding.

Who’s idea was it to get married again? Why didn’t we elope in September like civilized millenials do? I don’t know the answers to this, exactly. I suspect they were “mine” and “because I said so” but….I really can’t face that right now. So we’ll treat those questions as rhetorical.

In any case, mistakes were made, caterers were contracted, and mothers were roused, so now we’re having a wedding. It’s at the end of May, for those keeping track. If you’ve ever planned a wedding, much less planned one while holding down a full-time job with increasingly more robust deadlines, you may be aware of the state of pure dismay that has come to live in my brainpan. There is far too much to do, and not enough focus to do it all. Thus, when I rolled up on Roanoke Author Invasion, I rolled up with a tongue raw from licking envelopes and a brain that was oozing out of my ears. At least the weather is nice around here this time of year and I didn’t have far to travel – just down the road, in fact. Small favors.

I showed up to RAI with two boxes of books, several handfuls of postcards, business cards, and some sweet buttons. As you’ll see from the pictures, I was not so prepared as my fellow sellers, who had great banners and signs with which to wave and attract customers. Goals for next year. However, considering, I think it went okay. I sold a few books, doubled my mailing list, and gave away a bunch of promotional material. My only real goal here was to get my books in front of some new people, and I accomplished that. Of such minor successes are upstart authors made.

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Do I look tired? I feel tired. Luckily I survived.
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My table from above! I love all of my pretty markers. You can see that people had cleaned out a lot of my stuff by this point.
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A wide view of the room. Look at all those authors!

 

I am happy to say I got a hike in this weekend, once everything was over. I needed that hike. With the stress of the past few weeks, I have gotten about zero exercise in. So this hike, needless to say, kicked my butt. But honestly, it’s the best feeling, once it’s all over. You feel strong in ways you can’t usually feel strong during the week.

I was the slowest member of my group, and I lost them right before the summit. They weren’t where I thought they would be, and I spent some time sitting on the trail down, staring down the valley and contemplating things. It was time I needed. There’s a bit of a war going on in my mind most days, as I’m sure is true for many people. On the mountain everything gets quiet. It seems possible.

When my friends caught up with me, we headed back down and started the long drive home. There was dinner waiting for us at a friend’s house. I loaded some major calories and drank five types of home-brewed beer, and generally had a good time. No pictures of that, but here are some from the mountain.

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This is the tiniest dog. My friend Greg brought it, and its brother. They lasted a mile, I think?
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My red face and a tiny dog in my backpack. They were really a bit too small for boulder hopping.
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I was so far behind everyone for pretty much the whole trip. But I got cool pictures.
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A panorama of the valley and some of the boulders we climbed.

Well, that’s it! I’ll catch you next week with some regular content, but until then I hope you get some outdoor time in!

Pushing boundaries

Recently, a friend and I were discussing trends in storytelling. We were talking about how, for a while, zombies were the “it” thing to write or make shows and movies about. She argued that now, the “it” thing was exemplified by shows like Westworld. I’ll admit that I haven’t watched Westworld yet, but I’ll take her word for it that the core question of this show is about what it means to be human. She argued that that was the new hot thing to question and interrogate in story, especially in stories in science fiction/fantasy or SFF.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why I write SFF in the past few days, and about what makes a good story in this grab-bag of a genre. I think that my friend has hit on something here. To me, a good SFF story does one thing especially: it pushes boundaries. It stretches our understanding of the world. One could argue that this is what makes a good story in general, actually, but as I am a reader and writer predominantly of speculative fiction in all of its stripes, this is where I feel safest offering an opinion.

Arguably, this pushing boundaries is easiest in SFF, or at least in the science fiction half of the equation, because the genre requires you to think inventively. Take, for example, the prospect of life on new worlds – an eternal question among those who look to the stars. People will be looking for life in the cosmos until they find it or they cease to exist. You can argue we have been looking forever – angels and demons are certainly otherworldly beings, and some creatures from the heavens appear in most major mythologies across the globe in some fashion or another. Yet, the questions that arise when life is found are the most interesting, and can only be asked through speculative fiction. What will it look like? How will we respond to that life? Will we be kind?

The answers to these questions are not just important because they satisfy our curiosity. They tell us something deeply important about ourselves as human beings. The answers to these questions reveal the heart of our nature.

They are most certainly answers that we are already being provided, every day, through our interactions with other beings on our earth, including with one another. And yet, they are not always satisfying either in story or in life. Perhaps this is the other half of what draws me to SFF, that it may be possible to imagine a world that is brighter than ours on the days when it feels dark. If senselessness might make sense, if we could rise beyond ourselves and the bounds of random chance – that world is the world of story, and sometimes the world of life. Those are the stories I most like to read.

You see this clarity, this neatness to life reflected most often in the fantasy side of the SFF genre. There are dangers in the ease of those narratives, but at the same time there are comforts. These narratives offer an answer to our questions of our own nature and worth in a way that is positive, and I think that positive answer can be very important as a way to move forward as individuals and as a society.

The reason I write speculative fiction in all of its stripes is to explore human nature, the essence of what it is to be human in all of its forms. It is my greatest joy to do so. I hope that you, reader, enjoy it, too.

Some exciting news coming next week! Raffle opportunities, general good things…Tune in to check it out.

Some upcoming dates

Early post this week to update you on some upcoming events! And while we’re here, some discussion of what’s been going on in my life! You’ll get a regular post on Friday about some fun Daughter of Madness inspiration, but stop in with me for a moment to get up to date.

This weekend I will be at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, networking with other local writers. Maybe I’ll come out of it with a new critique group, or a lead on one! MystiCon is also coming up at the end of February, and I’m very excited to be on several panels for that con. I’ll remind you again closer to time. As always, all of my upcoming events are on my events page. Really, this reminder is the reasons for this post! I’ll likely have some books for signing, so if you see me, snag them while I have them!

In other news, things have been busy at the start of the new year, which is perhaps unsurprising. These separations are mostly artificial, after all. I’m happy to say that the house hunting is on the back-burner, for now, leaving me juggling Daughter of Madness (nearly done with a first draft, more on that soon) and wedding stuff mostly, in addition to the day job. This is a welcome state of affairs.

On the wedding front, in fact, we are making great progress. I’ll be getting married end of May in a rather informal affair, but we needed to check some basic boxes for sanity’s sake. A venue for people to gather in, since there wasn’t one big enough in the family that anyone felt up to volunteering, and a caterer to feed folks. Those, happily, are pretty much firmed up. There’s more to do – decorations are a huge thing, rings to order, and just generally coordinating an event like this is a big deal. So there is a lot more to do, but I finally feel like I’m moving instead of just standing still waiting for the train to hit me.

We also had snow at the beginning of the month! Followed by MLK day, it means that I’ve had a lot of time off recently to cook and hang out with folks. It’s been great for my writing productivity, honestly. These are the things that help me make words, after all. Good food, good time with friends, tea and beer and time outside. I even went for a run a few days ago, which was monumental!

 

A picture from one of my snow hikes.

 

In other news, I’ve been reading a lot and watching a lot. I devoured Dusk or Dawn or Dark or Day by Seanan McGuire this month, chewed through Earth Logic, sequel to Fire Logic, by Laurie J. Marks, and have also enjoyed The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod. I’ve also been chipping away at Upside Downa collection of short stories put out by Apex Books. I promised them a review when I’m finished, but I forgot how slowly I read short story collections. I’ll have to keep that in mind for ARCs I snag in the future, since it’s not nice to keep folks waiting. It’s just hard for me to digest a story and move on to the next one – I can only read about three short stories in a day at most. The completion is the best part, after all.

Other story consumption has included watching Mushi-Shi with the S.O. He has really enjoyed it. The animation style is very clean, and the stories are eerie and whimsical and sometimes tragic. Some of it has unfortunately gotten stuck in my head – I’ve had a couple of Mushi-Shi inspired nightmares, actually. That said, it’s solid storytelling, and refreshingly original – or, at least, based so thoroughly in another culture that it feels original, which is just as good for a devourer of stories like me. We’ve also been watching Cowboy Bebop still, which is a very different anime of course.

For Christmas I got The Cat Returns, which is one of the few Studio Ghibli films I haven’t seen yet, so that is on our to-watch list. We’ve also got Grave of the Fireflies now, though that’s going to have to wait for the right time to watch since I know we’re both going to cry through it. That movie is so gut-wrenching, but it’s definitely worth watching. It gives great context to the effect of WWII on the Japanese, and it is beautifully done. So those are in the pipeline on the anime front. I’m excited to see what the S.O. thinks of them.

I’m also hoping to read March soon, since I got it for the S.O. for Christmas as well. He says its really good so far.

What have you been reading lately?

 

2017: Looking forward

It’s a new year – indeed, it’s been a new year for about a week now. That newness has a lot of worry and strangeness caught up in it for me and mine, but also a lot of excitement and forward-looking hopefulness. There is the prospect of marriage, of maybe moving, of traveling. There is no doubt to me that 2017 will be a time of upheaval, much as 2016 was. Not all of those upheavals will be bad – some will be wonderful. But this will not be a year of placid waters, in all probability, anymore than 2016 was.

In 2016, I got engaged. I moved up in my day job. I published an audiobook, which was a weird and edifying experience. I mostly wrote a first draft, though I’m not quite done yet, and finished a few short stories. I read so many books that I’m a little baffled at how I found the time, and grew a whole mess of tomatoes successfully for the first time. I became a cat-mom, which has been incredibly rewarding. Mostly, though, 2016 has felt like paddling upstream, like fighting a current. In the last slow weeks of it, I found some peace with that. I’m ready to float downriver.

I grew up on a river that’s renowned, in places, for its rafting. I’ve canoed or kayaked it often, waded, swam, and generally frolicked in the at times treacherous waters.One of the keys to successfully navigating white water, in my experience, is to know where you are going, and to aim to go where the flow takes you. It is so important to have goals in this new year, so important to look forward – down the river, not back up it. To keep your eye on your destination, even knowing you might get shunted off to the side. You might scrape rocks, you may miscalculate. But the water will carry you down the river regardless, and as long as you know where you are going you can regroup. Don’t get thrown from your boat. If you do, float as far as you can. It’s not without its perils, navigating troubled waters, but it can be done with resolve and skill and a vision.

So, enough with fighting the river. I’ll look at where it’s taking me, and enjoy the ride.

These are my goals for the year of 2017. They’re a mix of personal and writing goals. I look forward to being able to tell you all about them in the coming months.

  1. To make this marriage thing stick. To get the wedding plans planned and then let it go to be what it will be. To continue to remember that relationships are work and require cherishing just like any other small, precious, hopeful thing.
  2. To find us a home and plant it with flowers and fruit and all good things. To experiment with growing sweet potatoes and lemon trees and mangoes, because I can.
  3. To attend all these conferences I’ve signed up for, and most especially to make it to WFC in San Antonio in October. Selfishly, I’m most excited about seeing my family there, but also super jazzed about Martha Wells being the head honcho for this go-round.
  4. To finish Daughter of Madness and get it to my readers, sometime this year, no matter that I’m behind. To not feel guilty about that behind-ness. To give you an outline of next steps with this, I need to: finish the rough draft, send it to beta readers and/or an editor for a look, and then do second rewrites as well as deep line edits. I’m also in the process of doing the cover design which will hopefully be finalized this month sometime, so be looking for that! (I am focusing on being excited, so excited, to bring this book to you and not intimidated by all the to do’s that still need doing.)
  5. To re-issue Child of Brii, taking it back to my original vision for it, before I got caught up in word counts and mess.
  6. To start something new – either the last Creation Saga book, which I’ve honestly already got about 10,000 words of from cuts from Daughter of Madness, or the Child of Brii prequel I’ve got planned, or maybe both. Ideally I’d get the roughs for both finished this year but realistically it’s probably one or the other. And maybe…
  7. To start something entirely new – it might happen anyway if I’m being honest, because I’m excited about a great many projects right now. There are octopuses and mermaids and werewolves and princesses and warriors all begging for my attention at the moment, so you’ll know as soon as I do what I pick up next.
  8. To put honest work into querying a project that I have previously referred to as ‘The Zombie Book’. This requires putting together a synopsis, since that’s the last element I’m missing, and updating my agents list for queries. I’d also like to finish the spin-off story from that novel, and hopefully find it a home, or maybe hold onto it until it’s time.
  9. To love and care for those important to me. To visit my brother finally, and to make time to travel with my soon-to-be husband.
  10. To never stop believing in myself and my work. To continue to try to find homes for my short stories. To write new ones, as the mood takes me. To write for the sake of writing.
  11. To take care of myself. To make sure I eat well and exercise, which is hard, and that I get enough sleep, which is easier but still doesn’t always happen. To climb some more mountains, and float some more rivers, and spend some time under the stars.
  12. To fear less and try harder.

It’s a hefty list. No doubt I will struggle with it at times. But I think it’s doable for the new year. I’m not worried about losing my seat in my boat, or rather, I can worry about it. But it won’t affect my resolve.

It’s 2017, folks. Put those paddles in the water, because here we go.

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Photo from Abingdon Outdoors.

A Yuletide post

Happy Holidays to one and all! No matter what you celebrate, I hope you have a great time this year. Heavens knows we need it.

One of the things I want to talk about with this post is the importance of making space for yourself, of making time to be quiet and small in vastness, to be lost and still. So much of the time, especially leading up to the last month of the year, we find ourselves running around frantically. Searching for gifts, bombarded with music and lights and stimulus cutting through the dark. There is definitely a good part to this. It’s nice to have warmth and light and cheer in the face of the steadily lengthening nights, the often crummy weather, but we pay a price for that cheer. Nothing is free. The price is often in our sanity, in our time alone, in our comfort and health.

We can, if careful, balance ourselves, and use these bright moments to power us through the long, dark month of January into the snowy brightness of February and the gusting winds of March. But for many of us, especially us introverts, that requires care.

I have not necessarily been taking care of myself lately. I’ve been juggling too many things – there are a lot of things, after all, that go into a wedding, not to mention the normal stresses of a Christmas season. I do celebrate Christmas, after a fashion. It’s a pseudo-secular version – no babies in mangers or anything, just pretty holly branches and candles and shiny lights. I partake of presents wrapped up with bows and good food shared with the family, though our food is enchiladas and homemade salsa and rice and beans. Christmas to me is chili peppers and Kahlua and pine needles. I rationalize it by saying that most of the Christmas traditions were stolen ones, but you know, it’s really just easier to go with the flow on this one. The lights are so pretty, after all. The house is warm, the songs are familiar. And I don’t mind a holiday that’s about giving. One of my favorite things is to pick out gifts for people. Books are the most fun, because you get to hear how they liked it afterwards. But kitchen supplies and gourmet coffees and star maps and little rocket ships have all featured on my gift lists over the years past. It’s fun to find the things that will make a person light up. You can’t find it with everyone – we all have dud years, for sure – but when you do get it right, it’s absolutely delicious.

This year, though, much of my gift-acquisition has been haphazard. Everyone is getting small things, because between holding down a full-time job, writing, and gift shopping I have also been hunting for a dress, trying to pin down a caterer, figuring out decoration themes, coordinating with my Brewmaster Extraordinaire, contemplating a honeymoon, looking for a house, sending out save the dates and designing invitations….the list, I must admit, is long. You never realize just how long the list is, until you start marching forward with the list. Who made the list so long?

One of the things I have had to do to hold on to the bits of sanity I need to enjoy this holiday season and not set it all on fire is to schedule me-time. Now, me-time that is scheduled is not, to my feeling, quite as lovely as me-time that is unscheduled, but beggars cannot be choosers, as the very classist saying goes, so I must schedule or lose any hope of me-time. Some of the things I do to wind down include long showers, anime marathons, take out, and reading books. Sex, cuddles, and general positive partner time also help me, though mileage may vary, of course. Some people really would rather just be alone, and I certainly have those days. But the S.O. and I have date nights where we just don’t talk about any of this planning stuff, and it has been a relationship and life saver. Going to see a movie with the person I love is so much more enjoyable than bugging him about his schedule or the paperwork we haven’t filed yet. Looking for those moments of personal joy is just as important as trying to bring joy to others.

So this holiday season, do yourself an act of service, whatever kind it is. Buy yourself a chocolate, get a massage, or just take a moment to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea with the cat in your lap. It’s your gift to yourself, and it is the season for giving gifts. Your loved ones will appreciate it when you don’t burn down their house in rage, and you will feel better.

Lots of love, my dears. And Happiest of Holidays to all of you.

 

 

Creating as a woman

The other day, a friend and I were discussing the movie The Fifth Element. My S.O. loves that movie. It is ironically one of the only science fiction movies that he enjoys. I chalk this up to nostalgia – not that I don’t enjoy the movie, the opposite, but it’s not really his kind of science fiction. His speed is more Interstellar or something else vastly cerebral.

Anyway, so my friend and I were discussing this and she mentioned that The Fifth Element would have been vastly better with some gender-flipping. The trope of the woman as sacred object, the naive woman who needed a man to save her and help her navigate the world, was tiring for her. Make Bruce Willis be Leeloo, and have Milla Jovovich be the tough cab driver with a mysterious past. I suggested going one further – keep Jovovich as the mystical Leeloo, and cast some hard-bitten older woman in Bruce Willis’ role. Her name could be Kora, or Ervin. You already have several speaking male side characters, including the very prominent role of the antagonist. Why not?

In a separate conversation on one of the social media sites I subscribe to, I found this post which talked about the role of female heroes in writing. I want to talk about how it made me feel in light of the above and in light of my identity as a writer. I swear it connects to the above.

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Writing as a woman is hard, because you’re covered in sticky cobwebs of male gaze and you don’t even know it. The post above mentions male writers, but male writers, as male directors, are only part of the problem. They are a huge part of the problem, sure. But the other part of the problem is that we as female creators often perpetuate their tropes.

Unfortunately, even once you awaken to the tropes in question, it can be hard to shake them, mostly because there aren’t any mainstream models of the kind of story you do want to tell. You end up making it up as you go along. I was lucky. I found authors like Martha Wells and Laurie J. Marks early. I knew I loved what they were writing, but I didn’t really understand why. It took me years, four of them spent at an all women’s undergraduate college, to really recognize what it was that was so fulfilling about these stories for me. It was because those stories were written for me. They weren’t written for the male gaze, but for mine. The characters in them, both male and female, were not indefinably crippled by the assumptions that so often come up in our stories: the woman must be saved, the woman must be beautiful, the woman must be perfect, the woman must have volition, but not too much. She must not overshadow the male protagonist. She must be good.

Nowadays I have added a plethora of authors to my list who are writing the kinds of stories I want to write, and to read. Seanan McGuire, Catherynne Valente, Kameron Hurley, N.K. Jemisin – they are all doing amazing things, testing the boundaries of their genres, and generally rocking out. They are telling the kinds of stories that I want to tell

But it is still hard, despite that, to shake the tropes that have so often reoccurred in mainstream fiction and genre fiction. I still read through a story or a paragraph and realize, oh, I have done the thing that I did not want to do. I have reduced my character to her attractiveness, to her goodness, and not let any of the dark survive to give her flavor. Writing as a woman is a balancing act between being true to your heart and being pulled in by the assumptions you never realized that you were taught to make. You can guarantee that if you are true to your heart, someone will accuse you of being an SJW, of distracting from the story, of advancing an agenda. And if you get pulled the other way, if you give up – well, you have even more left to lose. It is hard.

But the best things in life are rarely easy. So chin up, buttercup. Write your heart.

(P.S. if someone wants to write that Fifth Element AU I will totally read it. Totally.)

Thanksgiving Dinner!!

I promised you a Thanksgiving post so here we are!

My friends and I got together last Sunday to make some scrumptious things, as we do every year, and here is the menu list, with occasional pictures. Plus what I made for my family’s Thanksgiving! Recipe links, discussion of adaptations, and general cookery follow. Feel free to drool.

The appetizer: Presenting, the Pumpkin Herb Cheese Ball

I found this recipe… I don’t even remember where, really. I am a recipe hoarder. Anyway, it’s really not that hard. I don’t have a stand mixer so I just hand-paddled mine, which took a while but is good exercise. Make it ahead, buy a box of crackers, and you’re golden. I made this to take to my Mom’s house, and used the pumpkin seeds from the stuffed pumpkin recipe below to roll it in.

I also made a salad to take, since that was requested. Since I’m lazy we’re not going to even talk about the salad today. It was there, I ate it. Yay!

The main course: Stuffed Pumpkin Supreme

Is there anything more satisfying than gutting a pumpkin? I found this lovely heirloom baking pumpkin down at the grocery for only five dollars. That’s ridiculously affordable. It was a bit bigger than the pie pumpkin the recipe called for, so I added extra cheese because you can’t go wrong with cheese.

I’m a vegetarian. This recipe is not. But the only thing not-vegetarian in it is a tiny smattering of bacon, so I took that out and did a substitute for the gruyere. Smoked gouda brings that smoky umame flavor and then some. This is decadent and not for the faint of heart. You will eat it and you will be amazed. Plus it’s cute, because who doesn’t love a little stuffed pumpkin as your centerpiece for a delicious meal? Make this first, because it takes minimum an hour and a half to bake and you can always bake other things around it if your oven is big enough.

The dessert: Peach pie

I made a peach pie based off of the Smitten Kitchen blog recipe, which is my literal favorite website for recipes that involve any kind of baked goods. It was pretty delicious, and also one of the prettier pies I’ve made recently, probably because my oven failed to burn the crust this time around. Thanks for being reasonable for once, oven! For this recipe I would definitely recommend putting a baking sheet under your pie pan to catch the falling peach juice and also running your vent or cracking a window. My smoke detector went off a few times (Thanks again, oven.)

Bonus photo of Steve with his Pecan Pie, a family recipe! The pecan pie was a bigger hit than my peach pie, I believe because there were two of them and people felt like they could safely avoid taking the last bite. Or maybe because peaches are a summer fruit. Or maybe because the S.O. was standing over the peach pie brandishing a fork in defense. Thanks for taking the pressure off, Steve!

Alright, that’s your food porn for the day (year?). I hope you enjoyed! Until next week.