Monday, November 24, 2014

Living With Imposter Syndrome--Guest Post Live on Fictionvale!

The first mercy of impostor syndrome, in my experience at least, is that it isn’t constant. Instead it attacks at intervals, at moments of either my deepest despair or highest success.
Of course success attracts this psychological beastie’s attention: in the grips of impostor syndrome, my jerky brain is happy to dismiss any achievement as a fluke or a fraud. I’ve either tricked people into thinking I can write, or they’ve reviewed my manuscript favorably from pity for someone so pathetically incompetent. “Despite external evidence of…competence,” Wikipedia explains, I have been “unable to internalize [my] accomplishments.” Sure, I’ve managed to pass myself off as a writer—somehow—so far—but sooner or later, I know my luck will run out. I’m just one bad review away from dying of exposure.
You might think almost a hundred short fiction publications would serve as some reassurance that I’m either not a fraud, or I’m so successful at defrauding dozens of intelligent fiction editors that this con might as well be my calling. And sooner or later, I do decide that I might have something going for me after all. If not talent, still more elbow grease than sheer luck.
The problem is that nothing will ever make me officially, unquestionably a writer. There’s no shiny medal handed down by an omniscient judge. I majored in philosophy, not fiction, and I know enough MFAs who continue struggling with writer’s block to prove that’s no silver bullet, either. Nor is getting published—no short story, chapbook, or novel can scratch my deep-seated itch of inadequacy. Even if this work goes off well enough, what about my next story?
One thing’s for sure, when I’m in the grips of impostor syndrome I don’t dare slack on that next story. And here’s its second mercy: worrying that your ‘fraud’ will be discovered may inspire you to be a better writer.
read the rest at: 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

All the Grammar Knowledge You Need for NaNo

National Novel Writing Month is not the time to become a grammar expert. The entire idea of this challenge is to stop worrying and write, that is, to churn out 1600+ words of prose each day, prose whose main glory is that it exists, not that it is perfect. Stopping to study capitalizing, punctuation, and sentence structure can only be a distraction, and probably a dispiriting one.

That said, NaNoWriMo is also not a great time to be slowed down by worrying whether you've punctuated this sentence correctly, or indeed any sentence correctly. Picking up the Chicago Manual of Style will slow you down, but so will thinking that perhaps this entire novel will have to be trunked because you've used participles so abysmally throughout that it's not worth the time it would take to fix each page, paragraph, and sentence.

I'm running on the assumption that I'm not the only author who's been slowed down by such worries. From clients I've worked with and friends I've consulted, I don't think I'm the only author to have been slowed down by such worries. And the thing is, these concerns can be addressed pretty simply--all you need to do is learn a handful of general rules. They won't make your first drafts perfect, but they will spare you the time it takes to second-guess yourself or correct common errors after the fact.

Here are seven grammar tips that are easy to learn, that will make your manuscript look that much cleaner, and--once you've memorized them--will be seven fewer challenges to trip you up, slow you down, or worry you as you continue your adventures as a high-speed novelist.

1. The Serial/Oxford comma
What it is: the comma after down in the line "trip you up, slow you down, or worry you." The punctuation makes it clear that slowing you down and worrying you are two separate things. This can be especially useful if you're trying to distinguish among, say, your parents, Ayn Rand, and God. Or worse. 

Some style guides--the one that comes most readily to mind is the Associated Press style guide, the "journalist's bible"--prefer not to use a comma before the last item in a series except when required for clarity (and even then, you might get headlines like the one linked above). To anyone who has had that one darn comma add an entire line to their paragraph, this makes a certain sense. From the newspapers' point of view, they save on space, not to mention paper and ink, by removing that one character. In fiction, ink and space are not such pressing concerns, and the added clarity of the comma usually makes it worth including.

Whether you use the serial comma or not, some people may complain and many others will not mind; just try to be consistent for duration of the manuscript. It may be useful to make a note to yourself or even to create a 'style sheet' to keep open in another tab (or on a notepad next to your computer) so you don't need to pause and hem and haw each time you list three or more things. And while you're at it, list your stylistic choices on the following matters, too.

2. The Em Dash
You can make an em-dash in MS Word by hitting the hyphen key twice: --. Although Blogger doesn't autoformat them the way MS Word does, you can see I've kept the habit.
If you hit the hyphen key once, you get a hyphen, which is a perfectly useful mark but not the same thing as an em-dash. In all styles except AP, the em dash touches the words on either side of it--like so.

Em-dashes convey a casual, lively tone. They can be used in place of parentheses, commas, or even colons, making they wonderfully versatile. In fact, they're virtually impossible to use wrong, which is why I'm surprised more authors don't use them--and why I overuse them myself.

They shouldn't be used for more than one purpose in the same sentence. You can't set off a parenthetical with an interruption inside it all using em-dashes. Break out those commas, parentheses, and (semi?)colons. Still, don't sweat overuse of em-dashes on your first draft, because it's easy enough to fix them the second time around. In practice, em-dashes can indicate parts of the first draft that need more organizational attention anyway. Not all parentheticals are relevant enough to keep, for instance, and sometimes you shouldn't change the topic quite so quickly (or you should change it much sooner).

It's also simple, but time-consuming, to add a second hyphen and remove the space around the half-formed dashes you typed before you knew how to create an em-dash. You can do that in December. For now, go and enter spaces no more.

3. Dangling Modifiers and the Sentence Boundary Errors
A picky editor or agent might reject you for punctuating dialogue incorrectly. A terribly picky editor might reject you for being inconsistent with your italics. Still, neither of those errors are deadly to the reader. Even I--hardly an easy-to-please judge of prose--have gone merrily along with a story full of badly punctuated dialogue because the words themselves, and the characters saying them, and the plot they moved through were all so convincing and gripping.

The truly fatal error, one that will turn off most readers and virtually all editors, is failing to construct complete and functional sentences. Sentence boundary errors don't only make you look illiterate, they make the reader feel illiterate for trying and failing to follow what you're saying.

After penning a sentence, many writers hurry on without checking to ensure it actually says what they mean it to. This is fine on occasion, if you keep your sentences simple and your topics consistent. But a manuscript full of dangling modifiers and run-on sentences could require extensive revision just to make your meaning clear, never mind reaching the heights of eloquence. And that's assuming you don't get lost just writing it.

After penning a sentence, many manuscripts require extensive revision.

Wait, what? NaNoWriMo would be a lot easier if my manuscript would just pen its own sentences.

This is the dreaded (though not enough dreaded, alas) dangling modifier. "After penning a sentence," the modifier, does not apply to the manuscripts but rather to something or someone who is not present in the actual sentence. Specifically, the writer.

I'm uncertain if dangling modifiers are caused by too much faith that the reader will grasp the writer's meaning anyway, or not enough faith in the logic of the English language. That's not to say the English language is ultimately logical or consistent in any meaningful way--we shake down other languages in dark alleys for spare adverbs, for crying out loud--but it is logical enough that modifying clauses don't need to, and shouldn't, dangle. There is always room in the sentence for the noun they're modifying, usually directly after the comma that follows the modifier.

Though complete lack of faith is unjustified, faith may not be wholly out of place. Context will often enough make it clear that it's not your manuscript penning its own sentences. That doesn't make it okay, though. If you don't know any better, it's only a matter of time before you write a dangling modifier that really does confuse the meaning of your sentence (or at the least prompts a ridiculous mental image to those who read it literally, as many people do. Nobody plans to encounter dangling modifiers). If you know better, penning dangling modifiers is just intellectually lazy.

Participle clauses in general are tricky beasts. Another bothersome sentence structure occurs when "Penning each sentence, she left the manuscript to languish." This creates a wibbly-wobbly time warp effect where the pen-wielder is both actively writing her manuscript and leaving it to languish at the same time. I'm not sure if there's a proper term for this bugbear--for my part, I only know it as the Turkey City Lexicon's Not Simultaneous, and my editing clients know it as a margin comment reading "Simultaneous issue" or just "Simul."  

And lastly, there's "After penning a sentence, the manuscript was left to languish in obscurity because, hearing a voice out in the street, she dropped the laptop, running to the door and taking the stairs three at a time."

Whatever revision this sentence is given, it has to involve more periods. One sentence simply doesn't have room for that much action, or that many participles. It makes sense that a lot of newer or first-draft novelists write these kinds of sentences, since a certain amount of tunnel vision occurs in the midst of any creative endeavor. And it's certainly possible to correct these run-ons after the fact, but it may prove easier in the end to simply avoid writing them in the first place. Be conscious of the words flowing from your fingertips. As soon as you type a period, let your eyes scan the preceding sentence. Don't worry about it being perfect, but it may be a good habit to stop and revise particularly confusing passages. If you don't want to do this once a sentence, once a paragraph works equally well (I stop every three hundred words or so to correct misspellings and obviously unworkable sentence structure).

Even if it feels like a drag to slow down and ensure your sentences are functional, I think letting mistakes lie will always come back to bite you later. You'll either languish in editorial purgatory or never get that far in the first place. The good news is that once you learn to spot dangling modifiers, simultaneous issues, and run-on sentences, you'll commit them more and more rarely.

There are some other deadly errors in a manuscript (pacing and characterization are arguably more important, although they're harder to spot on just one page), but once you get most of your sentences mostly right, writing becomes much, much easier.

4. Grammar in Dialogue
As I've said, I'll still understand your story even if your dialogue is punctuated abysmally. I may enjoy reading your story a lot. But I guarantee you won't enjoy going over 50,000 words and correcting every line of dialogue, so it pays to figure out the general rules for it.

"It's that simple," she said.

"She" is lowercase--"she said" is not a complete sentence on its own. Indeed, it's a mere dialogue tag. A comma connects the dialogue tag to the spoken dialogue. The comma goes inside the quotation marks, as most punctuation does (the exceptions are mostly arcane, but can occur when the quotation mark isn't actually part of the dialogue: Did your brother really tell you, "Go to hell"?).

Later on in this post, you'll see I've written the sentence And then my beloved cousin told her, "Should I say hi to your relatives while I'm down there?" 

Put aside for the moment the fact that I started a sentence with "and." That capitalized A may annoy purists, but the capitalized S in the middle of this sentence might look downright terrifying. Still, it has a rationale: Should I say hi ... begins a complete sentence. "He told her" forms the lead-in to the quote: the dialogue tag. They're connected, as you see, by a comma.

Dialogue tags consist of the speaker and the word "said" and its synonyms, although I suggest you stick with "said" for the most part. If you want, you can add modifying clauses (After penning another sentence, she said, "What do you think of participles?"). You don't need to be allergic to the occasional "exclaimed," "remarked," "observed," "whispered," cried out," and "added," as these can contribute contextual information such as tone of voice. Do be cautious of tagging all lines of dialogue this way, though, as it gets distracting, and be wary of explaining the dialogue with tags ("You stole my money!" she accused).

Also be careful of tagging dialogue with words that don't mean "to say"--you cannot smile, laugh, or nod dialogue. These verbs form their own separate sentences. (After penning another sentence, she smiled to herself. "Now what do you think of that?")

5. Quotation Marks, Italics, Boldface, CAPSLOCK
Font choices best used sparingly but to great effect.

Aside from setting off dialogue, quotation marks may be used as "scare quotes" to imply the word choice isn't yours (She told my beloved cousin that he would "burn in the deepest subbasement of hell" for breaking curfew). They come in handy, but overusing scare quotes can get annoying fast, as they have a certain salty, sarcastic flavor. Don't make your readers feel like they're being clobbered over the head with your cutting wit--trust them to pick up the dissonance between words and meaning even if it's represented more subtly.

Single quote marks are used to set off quotations within dialogue ("And then my beloved cousin told her, 'Should I say hi to your relatives while I'm down there?' I'm so proud of his quick wit!" --And if I wanted to set "hi" off, it would indeed be with another pair of double quotes). Outside the US, these are sometimes used for setting off dialogue, and the double marks get used to set off nesting quotes. The thought of such a topsy-turvey world gives me illicit chills, although pretty much everyone will understand "these quotes," too. If you're split, I suggest using the double quotes. Because the single quote mark is also used for apostrophes, if you decide after the fact that you want double quotes you'll have to change every line of dialogue separately lest a universal Find-Replace will produce gems like you"ll. Changing double quotes to single quotes is a lot simpler. When in doubt, go with the one that's easiest to undo.

Italics are used for emphasis, to set off foreign words, and to show a character's internal monologue directly. (She thought of what an idiot she had been. I'm such an idiot). I strongly recommend against using quotation marks to set off your character's inner monologue, or they will give the appearance of speaking their thoughts out loud. If your character is psychic and communicating telepathically, italics are an intuitive choice to depict this, and context should make it clear that they're in dialogue with another telepath. (No, you aren't, he reassured her.)

Unless you are knowingly and deliberately performing an experiment in prose, I recommend leaving the bold tool aside for now. You will just distract readers who are wondering what you mean by the bold text. There are other tools, like italics, to use for emphasis.

WRITING IN CAPSLOCK gives an impression less of emphasis than of volume--an important consideration some authors seem to have overlooked. This makes them look varying degrees of belligerent and/or sugar high. The best use of CAPSLOCK is when a character is shouting louder than a mere exclamation point would suggest. Speaking of which, do not use multiple exclamation points to communicate volume, emphasis, or excitement. Once a reader sees one sentence punctuated like this, a great deal of trust in the writer is lost, as it's only a matter of time before some other courtesy of language is disregarded in favor of what the writer felt like doing instead!!!

Like exclamation points, scare quotes, and even italics, a little bit of CAPSLOCK goes a long way. If upon reflection you'd like to have less volume in your manuscript, you can remove capslock by highlighting the capitalized text and pressing SHIFT + F3.

6. Ellipses
These dots can be used to signify either an actual ellipsis--that is, leaving something out--or a suspension, hesitation, or interruption (although you may find the em-dash conveys an interruption more intuitively, as people being interrupted rarely have time for the brief but distinct silence an ellipsis conveys). They're easy to overuse, and you may find after the fact that they aren't all necessary, but don't let that slow you down on the first draft. They're also very easy to find and fix.

In both Chicago and AP style, a space is used before and after the ellipsis. Chicago style also includes a space between each period of the ellipsis, although MS Word may autoformat and take that out of your hands.

If the ellipsis comes at the end of a sentence, you include a period with it, for a total of 4 dots.

7. Tense and Point of View
As with everything else, you'll want to be consistent--sticking to a single POV and tense within a single scene or section. If you decide to write with omniscient POV or "head-hop," it's your novel--but for the sake of your readers, I strongly advise at least remaining within the same POV for each paragraph. It's not so much because I want to harsh on your omniscient party as that inner monologue, like dialogue, needs organization so we know who's speaking, and paragraphs are meant to provide that.

Some authors mix present and past tense artfully in their stories; others find themselves shifting their verb endings because they're carried away in the excitement of their narrative. It doesn't make you a bad writer by any means, although it can be annoying to go back and correct afterwards. When you're not sure what your next line will be, it sometimes helps to review the previous few pages to see where your scene is going--and while you do this, you also have an opportunity to make sure everything's remained in the same tense and/or POV.

But don't sweat this too much. If you catch yourself changing POV midscene, and you don't want to, but you also don't want to slow down to rewrite it, just make a note to yourself either inline or via a margin comment. Scene started in Martha's POV, now Jim's. You can decide to give the scene to Martha or Jim, or to split it between them both, sometime in March.

8. Spelling & Word Choice
Don't sweat this. You'll survive fumbling accept/except, or even you're/your--provided you know to correct it afterwards. MS Word's spellcheck is helpful, though not 100% accurate.

Yet be reassured: resources are available to check your meaning, if your peace of mind requires confirmation that you've picked the right word and have written it with the right letters. Keep Merriam-Webster open in another tab. Highlighting a word and right-clicking will also summon up MS Word's thesaurus, which can at least suggest if you're on the right trail of meaning.

9. Lay/Laid
Now I lay me down to sleep as I lie down on the bed.
I lay there for some hours, then gave up and reached for the manuscript which I had laid on the nightstand before tucking myself in. I might as well keep editing while I felt up to it.

You lay an object down: yourself, your manuscript, your glasses. You lie down. Your manuscript should not lie down of its own accord.

Image courtesy of Grammar Girl

While you're keeping Merriam-Webster open in one tab, open another for Grammar Girl, who's got you covered. I keep her post on lie/lay bookmarked for added reassurance.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

New Release: Different Dragons II

"Of the Generation" has been reprinted in WolfSinger Publication's Different Dragons II, a collection of cliche-busting dragon stories.

To celebrate the new release, WolfSinger is offering a 25% discount through Createspace-- follow the link and enter discount code TGERED9J at checkout. For those who prefer ebooks, the Smashwords coupon code ED26N will also give you a 25% discount at checkout. Both codes are valid only until October 15, so move quickly! 

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Ada Initiative and 'Citizen Editors'

It might be good for the world, though temporarily stressful for one’s marriage, to edit an anthology together, as Leonard and I discovered when we created and published our speculative fiction anthology Thoughtcrime Experiments together in 2009. Despite the risks, maybe you should become an editor. “Reader” and “writer” and “editor” are tags, not categories. If you love a subject, and you have some money and some time, you can haul under-appreciated work into wider discourse, curate it, and help it sing.  X
I appeared in Sumana Harihareswara’s Thoughtcrime Experiments anthology long before I ever thought of becoming an editor myself (in fact, the anthology was my first pro publication!), but her post today on the Ada Initiative and ideas for citizen editors* resounds even more with my added experience. While I'm not currently planning to publish a science fiction anthology, my work with self-published and indie authors has also made me think more about the responsibilities and potential of indie publishing. 
Harihareswara's post is rich with links to additional information for writers, editors, and fans, and closes with a call to support the Ada Initiative, a program to end harassment and make science fiction and technology communities a pleasure to participate in for all people. It's work that is incredibly important and tragically timely (to the point that I feel far more relieved that I should at not having attended many conventions this year, given the reports I've heard). I'm also reminded of one more initiative I’d like to boost visibility of: the BDG Editor-In-Training Program, which helps amplify the voices of editors who are queer and/or trans people of color by providing training and support in media and editing skills. In the words of Black Girl Dangerous, “Many of us who have the most to contribute to important conversations happening in indie media, including conversations on race, gender, queerness, economic injustice, disability justice, issues affecting youth, etc., have the least amount of access to the training, education and experience needed to be successful in contributing to and leading independent media movements.” 
Sometimes I’m brought up as an example of diversity in sci fi, for my gender, and while I appreciate people being excited for my inclusion (especially given all-too-recent incidents when no women at all were appearing in certain big genre anthologies**) it’s very important to remember I’m a cis, white woman—my challenges are minimal compared to many. 
This post is also fascinating in that I’ve learned today that not only do I share a table of contents with Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award-winning author Ken Liu (I knew that—I’ve been a low-level but genuine fan since reading ‘Single Bit Error’ in my own copy of Thoughtcrime Experiments), but that he credits his career to the publication that put us on that table of contents! 
*’citizen editor’ is a term I just made up without reference to any external source while trying to concisely compact the ideas of Harihareswara’s idea-rich post—like ‘citizen science’ but perhaps without the hierarchy. Citizen scientists are, after all, still limited by the technology and knowledge they have access to, making them helpful but in somewhat narrow roles of data collection and simple analysis. Citizen editors aren’t limited in that way at all. If you have some knowledge of how writers & writing work, and can figure out how to use Kindle and a POD printer, you have the primary resources to become a citizen editor all the way from acquisition of manuscripts through publishing and publicity.

**I don't think most people visiting my blog are interested in playing devil's advocate, but to make my point very clear, I do not claim that I specifically would be entitled to appear in any of those anthologies, especially not at that (very very early) point in my career. Women were robbed of a position on Mindblowing SF's TOC (and others), but I would not consider myself one of them. All the same, being a young writer at the time, I wasn't precisely discouraged, but was certainly frustrated to see that gender, along with race (if not in any way as straightforward as mustache-twirling misogyny and racism, through good-ol'-boys-club networking and perhaps simple myopia), was a thing that could count against people like me and writers I admired, even in the highest ranks of the field. Part of the reason I wasn't truly discouraged was that such discrimination felt more rarely encountered among the indie publications I still mostly publish with. Which I think goes to support Harihareswara's point. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fictionvale pub announcement!

My fantasy story "Eisiden's Sister" has appeared in Fictionvale's 4th episode.  The third published piece featuring swordsman Rathin and wizard Anweth, it actually takes place towards the end of their timeline--and features a major twist in their circumstances.

Also keep an eye out for my guest post on the Fictionvale blog early next week. It'll be a quick checklist to getting started publishing short fiction.

I'm glad of the opportunity to guest blog, not least because it encourages me to actually complete a post. I have a number of drafts on this blog (the specific number is 64), most of which are book reviews and writing advice. The reason I haven't had a lot of time to write advice for the general public is that I've been busy working with specific manuscripts! As I wrap up client projects, I'm seeking out more, but I'm also hoping for a little more downtime in which to write both fiction and nonfiction again. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Editing Gift Cards!

They're here! I've printed off this lovely bunch because I'm offering 10,000 words of line-by-line editing as an auction item at the Plowshare Center of Waukesha's Fashionably Fair Trade fundraiser this September. But gift certificates are also available for any wordcount and any occasion--and can be delivered electronically as well as in hard copy. I can even custom design the gift card for you to print out or email them. 

If you're lost on gift ideas for a writer in your life  (another journal just means they have to start another story to put in it!) consider getting them a manuscript edit, to be redeemed any time.  Email me and we can arrange for a wordcount-based edit (at an estimate of $5/1,000 words) to be done on a piece of the recipient's choice. I will be at my gentlest, yet nonetheless thorough, helping the writer develop their craft and bring their manuscript to the next level. It's a gift that will keep on giving!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Rummage and Toil

After almost a month back in Wisconsin, I'm relearning my way around my hometown's streets. I was out for three hours today, visiting the post office and (of course) library, gathering blackberries at the park, and visiting a mere handful of the infinite rummage sales being advertised along the road. As I followed the bright orange and glo-in-the-dark green signs down obscure back roads in sunny but fairly empty subdivisions, I realized this would make an excellent setup for a serial kidnapper.

This actually is the perfect time for one of my favorite writing prompts--going to rummage sales, sorting through old treasures, knickknacks, junk, and stuff, and selecting something out of the mass to write a story about. Personally I think it's a courtesy to also buy the item you're going to write about, simply because rummage sellers can get pretty desperate to clear out merchandise. It's a buyer's market.

So far I've picked up a new jewelry box, and could have purchased a second bookcase if only I had the space for it in my room or my car. No stray rings have come along in the box, although you never know. I could have collected a lifetime supply of Harlequins or of beanie babies, and there was far more maternity wear than I foresee a personal need for. Also computer parts, several dish sets, and two prom gowns (not maternity). What I'm really searching for is a tea kettle, now that I've purchased a tea pot at the antiques mall in downtown Waukesha. I feel I've really committed to the literary lifestyle now that I own my first bookcase and a tea pot.

I'm only using two and a half shelves of the bookcase, though. I'm not only surprised but a little appalled at myself. One of those shelves, though--the entirety of it--holds my 'to read' list, including 15+ library books. And a Nook with over 200 volumes. This blog isn't called Story Addict for nothing.

Of the wild blackberries, I will say they are plentiful enough to almost make up for the near-complete lack of strawberries this year. I don't know if I should blame the rain or the cold winter for the latter, of if I was merely out of state during the week or so they're ripe. The blackberries are easier to spot, being higher off the grown and having a distinctive shape--both the bend of the blackberry cane and the crown of berries at the top, with the ripest inky-black ones at the center of the cluster. This year, they happen to have outsourced the job of self-defense form their thorns to hordes of mosquitoes. Having made this unfortunate discovery last Monday, I came prepared with bugspray today. I killed most of the critters that landed on me last time (and given the mosquitoes who suck blood are all preparing to lay eggs, I like to think I made a dent in the next generation)--but that's poor comfort when my arm's all one solid itch that long outlasts my harvet of berries.

Monday, June 16, 2014

News and forthcoming reviews

Well! This past June 8, I celebrated a birthday by touring Mt Vernon and leading my mom on a perhaps ill-advised adventure to the Bake Shop at Clarendon for macaroons (fittingly, they had Birthday Cake flavor). Ill-advised because our GPS satellites konked out on the return journey, leaving a woman from Wisconsin and a woman unfamiliar with driving in D.C. to navigate our way back to the hotel. I began to suspect some force didn't want me to leave the Washington metro area.

But, whatever that force intended, I have in fact returned to Wisconsin--after a somewhat leisurely journey through Virginia and southern Ohio, with frequent stops to see tourist sites my mother and I have passed by on more purposeful trips over the past 18 months. The theme was, unintentionally, presidential deathbeds (Washington, Jefferson, and Madison all passing away peacefully at their homes at Mt Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier, plus a stop at Ford's Theater in D.C.). We also got to explore Mound City, Serpent Mound, and the Adena Mansion (which upon reflection is I think the source of the name of the early Adena moundbuilding culture) around Chillicoethe, Ohio.

I've been back in Wisconsin for about just over 3 days now. This house is much more peacefully quiet than the apartment in D.C.--although I miss my desk, as handling a laptop charging cord while contorted on the living room couch is a different sort of experience. Well, a desk and a bookshelf are all that is lacking to convert the spare room into an Official Writer/Editor office.

Speaking of writing/editing: I've had a new publication in Issue #24 of Neo-Opsis magazine. "Sibial' in Exile" is a story about loss, grief, and, well, exile. It's tempting to consider whether it reflects on the twinges of D.C.-homesickness I've been experiencing on occasion this past week (a little weird, given I've just done a literal homecoming), but honestly? I think it's glummer than that. Sibial' was drafted as someone I loved was dying, which I think is key to understanding it. Not all science fiction is a metaphor. But sometimes science fictional events are parallels to real life ones. Anyway, besides being in some very strange was autobiographical (but then, I suppose every story is, if we'll use the term so liberally) "Sibial' in Exile" is also the opening of a wider range--not precisely a series, but a number of stories sharing this background.

I have a few more of those stories on my to-write list for the summer. Also on my to-write list are a series of blog posts about writing and editing, including a master list of writing resources that couldn't quite fit into the Starter Guide for Professional Writers. Then come the book reviews, thanks to rich windfalls from both LibraryThing and Goodreads giveaways. An ARC of Half a King is my first introduction to Joe Abercrombie, and while I feared he'd be grimdark along the lines of George R.R. Martin or even Richard K. Morgan, his characterization is actually very...well, not lighthearted, but with an essential underlying compassion that is very refreshing and extremely engaging. I'll be checking out more by him for sure.

Monday, May 26, 2014

"The Witch Hunter's Account" in Nameless Magazine

Nameless Digest Issue #3 contains, among many other fine stories, my "Witch Hunter's Account."

Like "The Astrologer's Telling," published in Daily Science Fiction last month, "The Witch Hunter's Account" was inspired by one of Lovecraft's favorite authors, Arthur Machen, and is also a response to Lovecraftian cosmic horror, again with fewer tentacles and, I like to think, less xenophobia than Lovecraft. Hmm, actually, scratch that bit on the xenophobia (although I'm sure a conversation could get started on the refugee themes in "Astrologer's Telling." It may not have been a conscious screw-you to Lovecraft's intolerance, but I'd be tickled if people read it as such). No, Witch Hunters aren't exactly known for their open-armed acceptance of difference.

In "Harmony," a story published in Kaleidotrope Issue #8 some years back, I made my first attempt to hash out a dichotomy or Harmony/Discord--not good/evil or order/chaos, but rather permissive-of-life-as-we-know-it/utterly-inimical. It's not that Discord is objectively bad (there is no objectivity), it's just...very easily made uncomfortable for us squishy organic lifeforms. But even here it's not a clean cut. Because sometimes we want the rules of the universe to work differently, at least for a short while. A lot of the themes in "Harmony"--including the seductiveness of Discord and the "they who hunt monsters" elements hinted at beneath the surface--are further developed & examined in "The Witch Hunter's Account." Plus I got the chance to develop the culture of colonized, terraformed 31st century Mars, a place I certainly hope to return to with later stories.

An excerpt from "The Witch Hunter's Account":

Just before dawn—the dossier said she was an early riser—I drove up the cliff-hugging pink gravel road. The gates opened at my name although I knew I wasn't expected, and I parked in a courtyard shaded by some of the most luxurious growth I had seen on Mars. A housekeeper, dressed in smart black, was passing a sprinkler over a bed of poppies in the shade of a vast palm.     
"Go right in, Mr. Saye," she said. "The gate announced you. Ms Mao will see you in her study, right at the end of the hall."     
The inside of the house was as comfortable and modest as the exterior, though again overgrown by plants spilling from urns and troughs set before windows, on tables, and even directly on the plush burgundy carpet, staining it with water around their bases. The hall was permeated with an unnerving feeling of good health. I hurried to the door at the end of it, and it swung open at my touch. Also unnerving, the way every door and gate seemed to yield to me.    
 The study wall opposite the door was taken up by a vast window overlooking the sea. A pale Martian sunrise polished the waves, and it was a moment before I looked away from the sight to see the woman standing at a narrow bookcase.     
"Ms Mao?" I said.     
She turned to me, sliding a book back onto the shelf. Theophania Mao had a slender body and a round face, unlined save for softening wrinkles at the corners of her dark eyes. Her hair, onyx-black, hung to her chin in a style graceful in its plainness. Her long red dress was tailored in the fashion of a business suit.     
"Mr. Saye," she said, "would you like to sit down? And you would mind if I called you Jonathan?"     
Of course, she must have thought I was a client. A patient, I corrected myself—the file Edith Zann sent me said she didn't charge for her miracles.     
But she did call them "miracles." I took a seat with my back to the window.     
She pulled up a chair and sat across from me. "Can I get anything for you? Coffee? Wine? A glass of water?"    
 "No, thank you." I realized I still wore my hat and removed it, with a nod of apology, wondering what about this case was making me so nervous.    
 "Are you certain?"    
 She asked with such insistence that I said, "Water would be fine, thank you."     
She buzzed the order into her intercom with a small smile. The knotting in my gut unraveled, then rewound itself, as I considered her. She plainly enjoyed offering a helping hand, if only by offering refreshment to a stranger at her door. She had a generous spirit, the air of a person born for service. It disarmed me—while I knew some fell into Discord for noble reasons, it was academic knowledge; the only crusaders I had met were like Zann, on our side.    
 "I have something to ask you, Ms Mao," I said.     
She bent forward in her chair. "Yes?"     
"I want to know how you do your healing."     
Her eyes lowered, and she sat back like a reprimanded child. Her voice was firm but also apologetic as she said, "I can't teach you how to do it."     
I shook my head. "I don't need to know for myself, ma'am. I'm curious about your own method."    
 Her eyes narrowed. Anyone who might have taken her eagerness to help as a sign of weakness—or naïveté—would have been corrected by that look. "Why?"    
 "I have some interest in science," I said. "I'm slowly forming a theory of how things perceived as miraculous—like your healing or Miguel Chapman's levitation and walking on water—"  
 "Miguel Chapman's performances," she said, "are all charlatanism."       
"I'm not so sure, ma'am. Either way, I'd like to see examples of your work, and try to fit it into established science."

Saturday, April 26, 2014

"The Astrologer's Telling" up at Daily Science Fiction

...charnel winds that brush the pallid stars and make them flicker low.

Ever since I first encountered that nightmare image, from H.P. Lovecraft's prose-poem "Nyarlathotep," I have wanted to write a story about the stars going out. A morbid urge? Absolutely. But there's a certain virtue in morbidity; it makes me thoughtful and perhaps compassionate, if that's a thing a writer of apocalyptic fiction can be.

And so "The Astrologer's Telling" comes from a different philosophy than Lovecraft's more nihilistic landscape.I hope it proves, as well as terrifying and mournful, perhaps a little inspiring. I spent some time worrying about the science of kindling and extinguishing stars, before I at last embraced the fact that my interest was much less scientific than artistic and emotional. And I hope the story is more impactful for it.

About this time last year, this story received an Honorable Mentions in the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing (whew! I've never been able to write the full name without looking it up)I am very grateful to Rick Wilbur and Sheila Williams for constructive commentary after the contest.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

2 Weeks Vacation

Strangely, travelling is one of my more relaxing experiences. Not to overlook the strain of the TSA (complicating matters is the fact that I saved space in my suitcase by wearing my bulkiest jacket and high-heeled boots, not exactly easy to take off & put back on in a rush) or even the physical strain of lugging a backpack and suitcase for 12+ hours (ah, carry on). But at least things are simple. I never bother with WiFi while flying, so I am completely unlinked from the Internet for the duration of my trip, and have nothing to do but read, jot notes, and navigate terminals. Focusing on one thing at a time is refreshing.

And even after as much flying as I've done over the past 18 months, there's something to be said for getting  a window seat at 40,000 feet up.

My journey to California was actually a fair bit more than 12 hours. This wasn't only because of time zone differences--the longest portion of my journey took me from my doorstep to the C Terminal at Reagan National Airport. With a stop of about 10 hours at the baggage claim.

Pros of booking early morning flights: it's cheap; setting off early allows me to cross the North American continent and arrive at my sister's with some daylight left.

Con of booking and early morning flight out of DC: the buses were not running early enough to get me to Reagan in time to go through security, or even walk across the terminals.

You can read the rest of my adventure at Reagan International at the review I wrote for This was the last time I expect to be at Reagan for a while--if I need to fly anywhere over the next 6 weeks, it will be because of an emergency--so I didn't mind a last hurrah sleepover. That doesn't mean I wasn't a teeny bit disgruntled at the fellow in the distinctly unslept-in suit behind me in line who complained about how early it was in line for check n at about 4:30 am.

Oh, about that 6 week figure--DC is a wonderful city, and I have made many friends here. But a number of push/pull factors, from the financial to the familial, have made me decide that I'll be moving back to Wisconsin by June. Lots of hopping about, I know. But in the meantime, the reason for this particular cross-country flight, was to visit my sister, an English grad student who is currently stuck in the state of California for a year because of residency requirements.

At the Sacramento airport, I, or at least the plush Eighth Doctor who is my travel companion (perhaps I am his), was greeted by my sister holding up a silly sign.

Accurate, too

First things first: after eating nothing but airport pretzels all day (I said travel was relaxing, not good for digestion), we broke my fast on In-n-Out Burgers, devoured as my sister drove at something like 80 miles per hour on a California rural roadway. At last we arrived in Davis, a town of 60,000 or so people that looked disconcertingly like a mixture of the Midwest and California, and not at all like DC. The mountains weren't visible in the torrential downfall I arrived in, but at least the drought was being broken.

My sister's apartment, shared among 3 English grad students, was very scenic--with everything from fresh flowers to Waterhouse prints to bike maps of Davis and, the crowning distraction, a poster of Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus. 

(As a self-indulgent aside, there's a simmering debate over exactly how much that shower scene was meant to pull in female viewers. In context, it's very painful and disturbing, but I think the fact that they put it on the posters is giving ammo to one party).
Her room was tastefully decorated in a blend of inherited antiques, Ikea pieces, and lots and lots of grad student books. Bookshelf, window ledge, and closet shelves were all crowded with pieces. I enjoyed reading about Victorians, the Gothic, queer theory, and...well, let's just say my sister thoughtfully bought me a gift:
The Powers of Evil by Richard Cavendish is actually an excellent reference for any dark fantasy or horror writer. Some of his theories may be out of date--the book is from 1975--but it's very fluently written and occasionally, as I discovered reading the introduction in the dark of a storm-tossed California night, bloody terrifying.

I spent most of Wednesday recovering from jet lag and enjoying a tour of Davis, from the Delta cafe to the university library. It was a glorious library.

On Thursday, there was a TA strike at the University of California, and my sister's classes were canceled in solidarity. And then--perhaps not so much in solidarity, not that I don't wish the striking workers the best--we went up to Napa and Sonoma. My sister worked in the liquor department of a grocery store long enough to recognize some of the names, while I just dazzled at the sight of grape vines, hills, flowers, and buildings that ranged from California ranches to Mediterranean villas of debatable taste, or at least fittingness with location. Apparently there is an honest to god castle somewhere in the valley, but I didn't get to see it. Perhaps because we didn't do our wine tasting until later in the day, after we'd have a full picnic lunch at Sattui and gelato in between window shopping in downtown Sonoma.

I have no taste for wine, none at all. It is an acquired taste, one I do not have the time or the depth of wallet to acquire. And as some have pointed out, there's a narrow delineation between "acquired taste" and "Stockholm syndrome." I've taught myself to like tofu, sushi, green beans, and black coffee, but wine continues to elude me. I may have scandalized our, ah, server? Administrator of the wine tasting? Holy high priest of the vine? when I honestly answered "sweet" when asked what wines I preferred. "We don't get those out here," he said, in a tone of voice that is the equivalent of a Catholic crossing herself. Or maybe that was just my self-conscious imagination. I did get to try a port for the first time, and it was splendid. Dessert wines and Door County fruit wines for me only, I think.

Not that I didn't taste any of the others. And, to be polite, I finished everything they poured me (although I knew this wasn't necessary). And so I experienced the most interesting state of floaty numbness, starting from the mouth and spreading outwards. I'm not sure I'd call it intoxication so much as anesthesia. You could have performed oral surgery on me and I'd have remained cheerful as bee buzzing from valley flower to valley flower.

My sister, who as a graduate student in Northern California is far more acquainted with the juice of the vine than I am, was unaffected and drove us home without incident.

Friday was another relatively non-eventful day--I had some client work (luckily nothing came up before I napped off the wine) to catch up on and generally enjoyed my sister's apartment swimming pool. Over the weekend, Davis had a tiny little conference on the history and philosophy of science. I'd taken one course on that in college and so knew enough to be fascinated with the presentations, even if I didn't entirely understand them. There were some heated debates about quantum mechanics that I just couldn't follow, however much I thought I'd absorbed the concept of quantum whatever from Dan Simmon's Ilium (that reminds me, I should do a book review one of these days. Ilium: riotous good fun. Olympos: terribly disappointing follow up. How could you go so wrong with Greek gods, robots, cosmic horror, time travel and quantum entanglement? Well, you could add random subplots with black hole bombs and Islamophobia aftertaste, plus some pretty dull depictions of the Amazons, for a start. Ooo, lady warriors are shrieking harridans,  what a fascinatingly unique take, Mr. Simmons).

For a less intellectual palate chaser, my sister and I went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. So nice to see Washington, D.C. again, even if it was frequently being blown up. Although not as challenging to the gray cells as quantum mechanics, it was engaging on more than a flashy pyrotechnical level. I teared up a few times, not just because I'm pretty sure I and/or several of my friends died during the climax (maybe not--my house is on high ground...but no spoilers) and there's plenty of political commentary to chew on.

Speaking of movies, the next presentation I went to at Davis was one on James Cameron's Avatar and activism. A year to the day of the colloquium, I had just returned from Ghana, and I still have a number of ideas for stories to write that include environmental sci-fi themes, so there was a lot in the presentation to interest me and also much I should take to heart, well-intentioned white writer that I am. As you might guess from the fact that the approach is described as "global feminist environmental justice cultural studies," it's a complex issue. Marxism was also involved, but then when isn't it. Meanwhile, I'm belatedly vindicated in my disappointment walking out of the theater years ago, because while I could enthuse to a limited extent with my friends about the fantastic graphics, the tired old storytelling and sexist storytelling (I wasn't yet as conscious of the racial issues) filled me with a deep sense of disappointment. Meanwhile, Winter Soldier is proof that you can tell a story that will actually have people arguing politics over it, and entertain without completely marginalizing everyone who isn't a white male (obligatory "Give us a Black Widow" movie here. Additional "I'd really enjoy a Falcon movie," because Anthony Mackie is delight personified). For all that, it was interesting to see how indigenous groups harnessed Avatar and James Cameron himself to further their causes. 

Presentations and media crit/consumption aside, the other thing I did a lot in California was eat. Davis, not unexpectedly, has a farmer's market, which not only provided my sister with a supply of fresh vegetables to experiment with but also gave me a one-stop location to sample various eateries she has been telling me about since she arrived in September. And then there were all the other places--from the Delta Cafe (the full name, as I discovered on my last day, was Delta of Venus, and let's laugh together at all the obvious puns. The graffiti in their bathroom was something to see, too) to the Black Bear Diner to the mysteriously good "breakfast place" in the nearby hamlet of Winters my sister had heard rumor of. I got my sister back into the habit of eating breakfast, which finals week had knocked out of her, and introduced her to eel sushi. She introduced me to actually cooking with an oven and a well-stocked, well-organized kitchen. 

She also introduced me to that greatest of US Davis celebrations, lauded by multiple fliers, plenty of chatter, a myriad of closed-off roads, and a disconcerting number of police and campus statements asking people to please not repeat incidents involving alcohol and other such illegalities. Although the poor people at the coffee house we went to were neighbors of a fart house that had been welcoming visitors to the fraternal bosom of Davis with loud and profane exclamations since 5 that morning, literally everyone else in the entire city was excellently behaved. Included the students in the Picnic Day Parade who were protesting police violence. On a lighter note, there was the Whimcycle club (from tandem bicycles to arm power-driven bicycles to converted motorcycles to a bike that incorporated a hammock for the driver's slumbering offspring), a Cycle de Mayo and a Tour de...something with chickens (you had to be there), and the classics department of Davis sporting a Greek Underworld masquerade. Tantalus wore a colorful, fish-patterned shower curtain to represent the pool he is forever drowning in, which along with the ripe bunch of plastic grapes over his head threw me a bit because I wondered if he was supposed to be Dionysus thrown into the sea and turning sailors into dolphins. Sort of outsmarted myself there (I blame The Powers of Evil). 

The next day, my penultimate day in California, I attended my first craft fair of 2014. It looks like adorable crochet animals are in, which I do not protest in the slightest. Plushie Eighth Doctor did not get a little friend, though--I had no room in my luggage. 

We came home to some tragic news of a loss in the family back in Wisconsin. Frankly, it's a bit eerie--disaster struck back home the day my sister left me after her visit to DC last year. Does the universe not want us to ever split up? Are we cursed? Is it a curse I can only break by doing the one thing I am least inclined to do--stop seeing my sister?

I'm a rationalist, a philosophy major, a skeptic. But I also have a very deep sense--or call it a willingness to see--patterns. This is one of the few psychological tendencies of mine that actually appears in my writing. In my stories, perhaps especially the unpublished ones, structure recurs, patterns emerge, and the predominant themes are of echoing and returning. More echoes than returns, to be honest. Ever since I started writing, I have wanted to keep a sort of realism in place, and part of that realism, I am painfully aware, is that too few things ever really return. 

My sister used to be very "into" irony (being destined for a PhD in Literature makes one destined to get "into" literary devices, I suppose), and now I think I'm growing into it--dramatic irony being a wonderful tool. When it happens in real life it's more than a little unsettling. I have had times when I felt like a character in a story, where my actions were not constrained yet still felt recorded; incidents which I could look back on with a sense of satisfaction. It's much less fun to feel like you're in a horror story.

Perhaps I had read too much of Cavendish's Powers of Evil. 

If it helps, my dark feeling of doom was redeemed by a few grace moments on my trip home. My layover was in Milwaukee, and my mother came down to meet me at the gate. If you ever get the chance to meet friends during a layover, I highly recommend it--so long as you're prepared to go back through security again. Which I was. I had an hour.

Time passes quickly when you're talking with someone you haven't seen since Christmas, though, and next I knew my flight's boarding call was announced. As I got to security, my name was announced. I've had that happen twice before--once in Washington D.C. without even realizing it ("Don't tell me you've been sitting there all this time," the stewardess told me as I ambled up to the gate. "Um, no, I've just arrived," I blithely replied.  "Right answer.") and once in Milwaukee just after I'd got through security. That last time had led to me dashing for my gate, something I promised myself I would never do again. Just that morning in Sacramento I'd seen a well-dressed man running for his gate and laughed internally with a feeling of superiority.

Well, this time the Milwaukee TSA staff were very nice about helping to hustle me through when I suddenly discovered I was an intercom celebrity. And if you ever get the chance to run like hell is on your heels for your departing plane--I highly suggest you do it. For one thing, it's a great cardio workout (not only was I carting a heavy Samsonite carry-on, I also, unlike the well-heeled businessman in Sacramento, was wearing my high-heeled travel boots. Anything Fred Astaire did Ginger Rogers did in high heels, etc.). Even better, you become part of the airport ambiance, and a source of diversion to your fellow travelers. If this attention flusters you, I suppose you could always pretend to me the star of some romantic film rushing to meet your lover before they depart forever (passionately screaming out a name of any sex may encourage this image). I didn't, but I may have provided fitness inspiration to at least one woman whose "Woah," sounded vaguely approving as I flew by. The next guy's "Woah" sounded more disturbed than impressed, but it's not like I collided with him or anything. And the three preteens understood the script precisely, encouraging me to "Go go go!"

It's not that I genuinely thought I would miss my flight, but I'm a worrier by nature. So long as I was running, I wasn't worrying.

It probably took me the entire flight to DC to recover from that mad dash, though.

I returned to the district to pouring rain (I'm a rain-bringer, I guess). As the plane taxied to the terminal I got a text from my friend asking if we had time for our Tuesday night writing/library parties. Well, sort of. And I'm glad I did drop by to the library, because it gave me the chance to say goodbye to one of the Palisades librarians who is being moved to a different branch next week. She'd got the news suddenly and wasn't sure if she'd have the chance to see me one last time in person. I'm touched to be remembered (I guess becoming a weekly regular does make a difference). I wish her the best.

While I was there, I picked up the 3 most recent Best Food Writing anthologies. Perhaps because of my recent trip to Davis, or discussions my friends and I have had about sensuality/sensual experiences in writing, or else because food and culture have been a lifelong interest of mine (there's a series of historical cookbooks out there that I adored when I was younger--not that I was interested in cooking medieval pottage of Stuart anything myself, I just was interested to learn about them and wanted to be sure those long-ago peasants were well fed), I dug in. They've been fascinating so far. "On Killing," an essay on hunting by Hank Shaw in the 2012 anthology, brought chills. A sweeter story was "From Kenya, With Love" by Rick Nelson from 2011, which is about a Kenyan family growing Kenyan greens to sell among their 7,000-10,000 community in the Twin Cities, on land they purchased from a lesbian couple in Wisconsin. And "The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater," by Erica Strauss in 2013, was predictable yet amusing, and frighteningly verging on truth for either California or D.C. Come to think on it, Madison is supposed to have an excellent Slow Food movement, which whatever its virtues may also include such complicated soul-searching over vegetable sourcing (or, as Shaw would put it more bluntly: habitat is important to animals, too, and animal habitat is what your vegetables are grown on. "We all have animals' blood on our hands, only I can see it on mine.")

Still, it's perhaps a bit cruel to surround oneself with food anthologies when you have nothing to eat but leftover airplane pretzels. Wednesday was taken up by catching up on work and undertaking a grocery pilgrimage to Trader Joe's. How's that for a predictable pattern?

Monday, March 24, 2014

More on the Starter Guide

Namely, you have the chance to win some free copies!
2 print copies are available through a Goodreads giveaway that closes on April 7th.
Ebook copies are also available at LibraryThing in a giveaway that closes to entries this Friday, March 28th.

Also, I've put together a list of all the posts on this blog that wound up--substantially revised, but with some similarities in structure and content--in the Starter Guide. If you found any of these posts useful or interesting, you'll probably like the book, too.

Print on Demand Formatting for Better Royalties--On how the blank space on your page physically hurts me to contemplate.

Anatomy of Successful Crowdfunding--In which I pour out a lot of thoughts on options, strategy, and success by dissecting the crowdfunding campaign for the Starter Guide on Kickstarter, as well as examining other campaigns on other platforms.

Making Promotional Bookmarks Using Vistaprint--One of the most popular posts on this blog, and pretty useful if I say so myself. I've actually uploaded more pictures to the blog post after using them to illustrate this section in the book (2 and a half of the 50 pages I have on promotion).

Promotion: Now is the Time to Keep The Faith--Turned into the prologue of my 50-page chapter on promotion. Sort of gets one in the mood. The mood being fervent prayer and desperation, right?

Madwoman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge--The personalities of writing and revision, and the story of the story I wrote...almost a year ago, now...on safari.

On 2500 Word Scenes--You can write them. It's all mathematics from there.  Actually, I'm trying to round up more resources and more thoughts on the "Butt In Chair"/Power Through It writing method, so watch this space. The Starter Guide also includes several more methods of beating writer's block, a bit more analytical and less easy to represent in numbers.

Friday, March 21, 2014

It's Fair Trade Friday on this blog, too!

As a child, I was never especially distracted by the weather. Nice days were nice, but I could wait patiently until I got out of class to run around and soak up the sun.

Not so much anymore. It helps that I've learned walking provides necessary fresh air, exercise, and rest for the wordsmith portion of my brain; it also helps that we've just made it through 3 months of snow coming in amounts and at times cruel and absurd enough to awaken anyone's cynicism (I never got angry at weather before this winter). But last week I was outside every day. I discovered the Capital Crescent trail and walked as much of it as I could reach from public transport. I've got blisters now, and I don't regret a thing.

I've also juggling a number of fun projects, when I could focus on them and wasn't distracted by the shiny sunlight.

So in case you've been noting this blog's lack of updates and fearing I was dead: no, rather the opposite. Too alive to slow down and blog, or find something to blog about!

However, when all else fails, I always have my weekly Fair Trade Friday posts from the Amani DC blog to share.

Today I have a particularly nerdy delight to share: Harry Potter fans organizing for social justice! Although I was never quite as into the series as some of my friends, I'm super excited to see this example of the power of narrative to affect real-world change (and also excited at how Potterheads combine with other fandoms, such as The Hunger Games, for other relevant campaigns). 
HPA Chocolate Frogs

A few weeks ago at the Amani blog, I did a feature piece on Celia Grace bridal, running some research on their company and sharing links to their site with my write-up.
And now the Celia Grace blog has linked to my post (“They did an amazing job of capturing the spirit, history, and mission of Celia Grace.") and shared some information on OUR boutique.
It’s like these two Fair Trade fashion companies flirting at each other via bloggers. It makes me blush and giggle like a schoolgirl.

I don't always find blogging easy, but I am glad I do it. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Where You Can Get the Starter Guide for Professional Writers

I'm happy to announce that The Starter Guide for Professional Writers is now available at most online retailers!

The Starter Guide for Professional Writers contains everything to know so that you can begin earning money for your writing. Ten chapters address every stage of writing, revising, releasing, and promoting your first (or second, or third) published story, including what you need to: 

  • Defeat writer's block and finish your story 
  • Revise to make the strongest manuscript possible  
  • Find markets for your writing and keep track of your submissions 
  • Concisely and engagingly describe your story to agents, editors, and readers 
  • Query agents, submit to a small press, or self-publish 
  • Avoid scammers disguised as agents and publishers 
  • Advertise your work with everything from an author's website (and learn who actually reads your blog!) to promotional bookmarks with the help of a full marketing plan 
The Starter Guide offers an on-the-ground view of publishing and focuses on using inexpensive resources (after all, writers should make money off their writing, not pay for it!). Covering everything from how best to use a thesaurus to how to handle editor deadlines, its holistic perspective builds skills writers will use at every stage of their careers.

Throughout, I try to explain how things look from a complete beginner’s perspective, maintaining a conversational, and in places even humorous, style. I hope this holds your attention and keeps you from feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff there is to know about publishing. Even I was surprised by how much I had to share once I started writing!

The paperback, printed through CreateSpace, and the Kindle version are available through Amazon and its international sites: (Print) 

For those of you resisting Amazon's creeping tyranny over the world--or who simply, like me, own a Nook--the Starter Guide is also at Barnes and Noble.

And in the iTunes bookstore!

You can download the ebook in virtually all formats directly from Smashwords, too.

Because Createspace gives a more generous royalty rate for direct purchases, I figured I'd pass some of that generosity on to you. If you pick up a copy of the Guide through the Createspace store, use the discount code A4ZBCGSH for $2.00 off the cover price.

I'm also offering ebook downloads of the Starter Guide as part of a gig on great place to look if you're also interested in picking up my editorial services on the cheap!

The Guide is also on Goodreads and LibraryThing.

Smashwords will continue to distribute copies of the Guide to other retailers, and I intend to update this post as new links go live. If you've seen a link in the wild, or noticed one of the ones I've posted here isn't working anymore, please shoot me an email or let me know in the comments. Thanks so much!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Veterans of Future Wars release

My short story "Ayema's Fleet" has been reprinted in the Veterans of Future Wars anthology from Martinus Publishing. As with the Battlespace anthology "Ayema's Fleet" first appeared in, VFW is for a good cause--10% of proceeds from the anthology go to Disabled American Veterans.

I've done an interview with anthology editor Martin T. Ingham, which can be read here. And the anthology itself is available in print and ebook at and Barnes & Noble.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Kobo Coincidence

In a sort of amusing coincidence, Aqua Vitae appears in the Kobo search right above Night Train to Rigel, the novel I read just before writing AV and which certainly jogged my brain on the interplanetary tourism elements. A family reunion of sorts. 
(The Starter Guide still isn’t available in all sites, although it is in the Smashwords premium catalog since it’s only a matter of time. Checking where it is available was my actual reason for this ego search today.)