Your Baby is Ugly…Again

#SFWAPRO

Almost four years ago I posted to this blog for the first time. The post, Your Baby is Ugly, is about dealing with rejection. And now we come full circle. Last year I submitted a proposal to Harper for the next several books in the American Faerie Tale series (four to be exact). It also contained the first four chapters of the very next book. After several months, they rejected that proposal. I was—and still am—disappointed but I will say I wasn’t entirely surprised. The sales numbers for my books haven’t been terrible, but each book has sold progressively less than the one before. Publishing is a business and, I hope, this was a business decision. As such, I hold no ill will toward Harper or anyone there. Sure, I would’ve liked to have gotten more support in terms of marketing and/or publicity, but I also knew from the beginning I was a very small fish and there was only so many dollars to go around. It should be noted that Harper has said they would be happy to look at anything new I might have. So what does this mean?

Well if you’ve read that first post, and several others, you know I’m sure as hell not giving up!

In the short term, however the series is done. I could finish the next book and self-publish it, but I’m not ready to go that path yet. It would be the fifth book in a series and I think would be more about my vanity than my readers. Besides, I would rather devote my limited time toward something new.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done. As I write this post I’m about 30k words into the first draft and I think it’s pretty damned good, if I do say so myself. No, I won’t tell you the title or what it’s about. I’d rather wait until it’s at least close to finished, or has a publisher ready to put it out. I will say it continues my habit of genre bending, and I don’t recall seeing anything like it before. That could be good or bad, we’ll see.

I’ve also started writing some more short fiction. It hasn’t been picked up anywhere, I think I’m better at long fiction, but you only get better with time and practice. So I’m going to keep trying. I’m considering posting the things that don’t sell on here. What do you think? Post in the comments if you have a thought one way or the other. I also have one manuscript finished, Luna and the Star, and I’m going to see about shopping it around while I finish my current work in progress. It might be my first self-published work, but I haven’t decided. Stay tuned for more.

Without any new books coming out, obviously I won’t have as many appearances, but that doesn’t meet I won’t have any. I’ll be attending RavenCon (April 28th-30th) so if you’re going to be there, stop by and say hi. I’ll also be attending the Nebula awards, and will even be on some panels this year.

In the long term, my goals are still the same. Rejection is part of life, and especially part of being an author. I’m still working towards living on my writing, and I’m not about to stop. The only way I’m going to fail is if I stop trying, and I’m not going to do that. If you’ve read the books, I offer my sincerest thanks. If you haven’t, well they’re still out there and still worth reading.

Award Consideration or Gently Begging

#SFWAPRO

It’s closing in on the end of the year which means that it’s award consideration time for the Science Fiction/Fantasy world. All the authors I know post up blog pieces as a gentle reminder to everyone what they wrote and what’s eligible for various awards. This could easily be taken as a kind of self aggrandizing, but it really isn’t. In fact, most of the writers I know need to be prodded to do this. In my experience, authors as a group, especially newer authors, tend to be less than cocky about their work. Anyone who knows me is aware I’m an exception, I know how purely awesome my work is. Yes, that was sarcasm. In truth, here’s my take on it. If you’re eligible, let the world know. You might not think your work is award worthy, but you’re not the one (or at least not the only one) who decides on awards. Maybe the world doesn’t agree with you and wants to give you an award.
THE RETURNED_Small
This year I published The Returned, which I sincerely believe is my best writing to date. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. Do I think it’s a Nebula or Hugo worthy novel? No, but it’s not up to me. So if you are someone who nominates for the Nebula, the Hugo, or any other award, I humbly ask that you consider The Returned. Thank you.

The Bittersweet

In July, I wrote a guest piece for Katherine Harbour called, “The Awesomeness of The Bittersweet.” Recently, I was invited by Gail Martin to join in the #HoldOntoTheLight campaign. September/October are the months for Depression Awareness, Suicide Prevention, Bullying Prevention, Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness, World Mental Health Day and Domestic Violence Awareness. Several authors are participating, you can check out the Twitter Hashtag, or the Facebook page to see what others are sharing. I hope to post more, but this post seemed like a perfect way to start my participation.


The Awesomeness of The Bittersweet

As someone who has struggled on and off with depression since my adolescent years, it’s probably not a shock–and some would argue less than healthy–that I just love the bittersweet. Not the chocolate, though that isn’t bad. I’m talking about music, movies, books, and art in general. I love scenes, songs, or images that are sad, but filled with hope, and the promise of tomorrow, a new day where anything is possible. The power of the emotion, the magic and the power of it fuels me, both in my life and in my creative endeavors. Music, books, movies, every kind of art, it all serves to connect us. When the artist creates, that creation is imbued with some of their soul, an emotional snapshot of them at that moment in time. I can relate to the bittersweet moments. That’s probably why I love the songs of Sarah McLachlan, The Cowboy Junkies, and Tom Waits. Each of them excels at wrapping sadness around a glimmer of hope that can’t be extinguished.

Of course there are moments in life of pure, unbridled joy: hearing someone say they love you, the smile of your child when they look at you, or achieving a hard won success. Those moments are treasures to be sure, but rarely is bliss ever an immaculate conception. Often it’s born from hard work, pain, turmoil, sadness, or grief. Life tends to be complicated and messy, but there is beauty in that mess. And I think we all see it. I believe we all know that the pain will end, and in the ending there is a happiness all its own. There are all sorts of cliches, but the one that has stayed with me the longest is: if you weep because you miss the sun, you also miss the stars. Like all cliches, there is something profound in the simplicity.

When I was really struggling with my depression, I found a book titled Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. It’s about his time at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. He is taken there, separated from his wife and sees the utter worst humanity has to offer, and I use the word humanity in its loosest possible sense. During his time there, never knowing the fate of his wife, parents, or siblings, he struggles to find meaning, a reason to continue on. After reading this book I knew that if this man could find purpose in a nightmarish place like that, surely I could as well. So I set to find happiness in the cracks and crevices of the everyday, and that became my purpose.

But as I matured I came to see that every emotion had value. They all could be debilitating if not tempered by another. Haven’t we all rolled our eyes at the sickly sweet, lovey-dovey couples of the world? We all know that past a certain age, there is no perpetual state of happiness, and those who seem to achieve it often come across as delusional. Sometimes it’s okay to be sad, to be angry, to grieve, to weep. And isn’t there a special kind of happiness in offering comfort to someone who needs it? The key is not to let those darker emotions overcome you, to slip from merely experiencing them into wallowing in them.

That’s why I love the bittersweet. It’s like an entire life experience all in one dose. I recently watched Inside Out with a friend, and we both got a little misty eyed when Bing-Bong fades away. Sorry, spoilers. It’s a sad moment, one we can all probably relate to. It’s a piece of childhood slipping away, losing a friend you know you’ll never see again for the first time. But there’s more to that scene. There is also the hope in the understanding that it’s also the beginning of another journey. That the sun might be setting, but it will rise again on a new world, and they will both be beautiful, filled with possibility.

We all listen to sad songs when we’re sad, at least everyone I know does. So often we chide ourselves for it, seeing it as wallowing in self-pity. But that’s not really what we’re doing. We’re grieving for something, or someone, lost; for a future we hoped for that won’t ever come to pass. More than that though, we’re remembering. So often we forget that, which is ironic really. When we listen to that same song, or watch that same movie, over and over, we’re reliving the joys of the past. We think we’re grieving for their loss, but we don’t lose them. What we’re really grieving is that there won’t be more like that. And we’re right, there won’t be, but there will be new joys.

It’s that feeling that I try to capture in my books. Each ends on a hint of sadness, but with the light of hope just visible on the horizon.If you finish one of my books and you’re crying, that’s okay, but I also hope you’re smiling as well. There is no darkness that won’t eventually end at sunrise. There is always hope. That’s what the bittersweet means to me. It is the happiness we find, that we hold on to, and carry with us for our entire lives. Sure, we might find some sadness and carry that for a time as well, but we have to eventually let it go. When we do, there is more room for new happiness. So listen to sad songs, watch sad movies, but always find the bliss behind that sorrow. Experience the latter because it reminds you of the former, and always be looking to the horizon for the rising sun of a new day.

#SFWAPro

Beth Cato Interview, The Sequel, This Time It’s Personal!

You probably remember Beth Cato. I interviewed her in April for the release of Final Flight. Well, she’s back with another new release. Breath of Earth comes out August 23rd, and while you’re picking up a paperback copy of The Returned, (which comes out the same day) you should totally get Beth’s book too. I did convince her to bring something extra to the pub for this interview though. She’s promised to share the recipe for one of her amazing treats which earned her the (well-deserved) title of High-Priestess of Churromancy by Kevin Hearne.


So, another book. Already. Really? Are you just trying to make the rest of us look bad? Or is this a clever attempt to shame Patrick Rothfuss and/or George Martin to get the next book in their series out?

Ha! Well, we’re not talking about books here that are sizable enough to bash intruders over the head–and I’m pretty sure GRMM and Rothfuss books would be excellent for that purpose. In my case, Final Flight was a longer-length short story. Breath of Earth is a full 400-page novel. It’s in trade paperback, so it’s not that effective for head-bashing purposes… unless you buy a full box. Which I totally endorse.

Don’t sell yourself short. Book bashing is all ability technique. I once disarmed a group four ninjas with nothing buy a battered paperback copy of Nine Stories, true story. Moving on, Breath of Earth is a departure from your Clockwork Dagger series, was it hard abandoning turning away from the characters you created and got readers caring about?

This is where the whole space-time continuum of the publishing industry makes things weird. I actually wrote Breath of Earth three years ago, during the limbo time when I had a verbal book deal for Clockwork Dagger but not an actual contract yet. I then had to wait until Clockwork Dagger and its sequel were written and done before my agent could submit Breath of Earth to my publisher for consideration. Are you still following me? It messes with my head, too, because I have been hopping back and forth between these steampunk worlds for several years now.

Ah, the dangers of time travel. Been there, done that, am I right? Tell us a little about this new book. And will it become a new series, full of characters we grow to love who will then be abandoned by their author in favor or something new and shiny?

Breath of Earth does indeed kick off a new series, and I hope to stay with these characters for a few years more (HINT: buy this book so I can finish the series). This world features some heavy duty alt history: America and Japan are allied and in the process of taking over China. Magical creatures exist. Airships and advanced technology are powered by captured energy from earthquakes. My heroine, Ingrid Carmichael, is a clandestine geomancer. Women aren’t supposed to be geomancers. This complicates her life, especially when someone is trying to assassinate geomancers in San Francisco–and the fault lines emit waaaay too much energy for one person to hold in check.

You heard her, buy this book! Do it! Right now! And certainly not because she’s bribed me. So this story is set in 1906 California, what drew you to that era?

I’m a native Californian. I have experienced my fair share of earthquakes. As a historical fiction buff from an early age, the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire always fascinated me. When I was trying to figure out a new series to write, I realized no one had used that era and place for steampunk. I decided to take on the challenge.

Fire, mass devastation, crushed hopes (and people), what isn’t fascinating about that? No, I’m not moving away for any special reason. This is a historical fantasy novel, so how much did you keep to historical reality and how much did you make your own?

Even when I consciously twisted history, I tried to make it as accurate as possible. Same with my use of mythological creatures–I wanted to keep it as authentic as possible, relying on native sources wherever I could. This has been downright daunting. I have included a bibliography in the back of the book and also have it on my website because I really want to encourage people to delve deeper into the real history, especially when it comes to the Chinese immigrant experience in America. The amount of erasure on that subject is shameful.

A book with homework, interesting marketing idea. Is the rumor I made up about you and John Hodgeman being caught in a closet playing seven minutes in heaven at the Nebula awards true?

I’d never play any game in a closet during that particular block of time. That dinner was expensive, man. I wasn’t going to miss out on a single crumb!

Sorry, I just got the timing of the closet rendezvous wrong. Sorry, my bad. In your last interview you mentioned this book had geomancy and mythology. Care to expound? I know that interview was ssssoooooo long ago it might be hard to remember way back then.

Sure! Geomancy is earth magic. In Breath of Earth, such energy is released through earthquakes. The rare folks who are born as geomancers act as mediators with the earth. They take in energy and can stop earthquakes–but that power also quickly overwhelms the human body with a fever. They can overheat and die in minutes. The only way to release that contained power is to be in contact with a crystal called kermanite; it siphons the power and holds it for later use as a battery.
I bring in mythological creatures from around the world, too. Even fairies. (Yes, THAT spelling.) Garden pixies are common, and things like unicorns or pookas might be seen in use by rich men about the city. There are also major creatures called Hidden Ones–demi-god level beings that are either well hidden or extinct.

Since we’re friends, I’ll ignore that grievous spelling error. Name four of your favorite fictional characters, and you don’t get to pick Laura Ingalls, your Little House on the Prairie love is well documented.

I couldn’t choose Laura anyway–she was real! Let’s see. Raistlin Majere from Dragonlance, Hermione Granger, Flavia de Luce from Alan Bradley’s delightful mystery series (11-year-old girl who loves poison and investigating murders!), and Paks from Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion series.

An excellent list! Just what I’d expect from a fellow awesome author. Speaking of which, I personally don’t really struggle with remaining humble while being so awesome, what about you?

I feed cookies to people and desperately hope said people will like me, so I think it’s safe to say I have difficulty accepting any kind of self-awesomeness.

Cookies are always a sure fire way to make friends, and a trait I would assuredly assign to the awesome. I’ll give you some pointers in awesome acceptance. Moving on, I’d ask what you’re reading but you’re probably too busy baking, working on your next three novels, six novellas, two screenplays, and cookbook to have time to read. Okay, fine, what are you reading right now?

A nonfiction tome about the Hawaiian Revolution and an old holiday baking issue of Cook’s Illustrated. And for the record, I have never written a screenplay. Publishing industry rejections are bad enough, I don’t even want to mess with Hollywood!

You heard her, Hollywood, she has no interest at all in you buying the movie and/or TV rights to her stories. Tell us about the main characters of your new book.

Ingrid Carmichael is a young woman of color and a geomancer. She keeps her magical prowess secret with the help of her adoptive father and mentor, Warden Sakaguchi, and works as a secretary for the Earth Wardens. She’s not happy being constrained in such a role.
Then there’s Cy. He’s a southern gentlemen and a mechanical genius with a few secrets of his own. His business partner is Fenris, an acerbic and likewise brilliant mechanic. Fenris is going to gain a large fan club following, and Lexie Dunne has already been declared president of this club. Send her your membership dues, folks.

I don’t know how loudly I’d proclaim Lexie’s interest in your book. Her sister is really the gifted judge of literary excellence. You went viral not just once, but twice (I’m not counting that unfortunate event while researching a 12 monkeys fan fiction story). Tell us about it? Was it as satisfying as we’re all told?

It is pretty cool when a tweet goes crazy like that, though it’s also maddening if you have alerts and sound effects set. My “most viral” experience was one of my #TwitterFiction stories last year, which you can see here: https://twitter.com/BethCato/status/598567939533471745
Maybe you can wield your inherent awesomeness and make it go viral again!

I make no promises. I must wield my inherent awesomeness judiciously. But if it happens, I reserve the right to take full credit. Alright, time to cough up a recipe! Hand it over and no one gets hurt!

Let’s do a recipe that YOU have actually eaten, Bishop! Chewy Honey Maple Cookies! These things are like crack. The smell alone drives people crazy.

Chewy Maple Honey Cookies6_sm

Originally posted on Bready or Not: http://www.bethcato.com/bready-or-not-chewy-honey-maple-cookies/

Honey and maple team up to create sweet and chewy cookies that last for days… unless you eat them all right away.

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons maple flavor
  • 1 cup bread flour (or all-purpose flour, but cookies will be less chewy)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • maple sugar or turbinado sugar for the tops, optional

In a large bowl, beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and honey and beat until creamy and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then mix in the egg, vanilla extract, and maple flavor.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients: bread flour, all-purpose flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Sift together.

Slowly stir together the wet and dry ingredients until just combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and stash in the fridge for several hours or days.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Use greased stoneware, parchment paper, or silpat mats. If you want to add some sparkle to the cookies, place some maple sugar or turbinado sugar in a saucer and dip in the tops of the dough balls. The cookie dough, even straight from the fridge, has a soft Play Doh-like consistency, so it will spread some when it bakes; keep this in mind when you space the cookie dough balls.

Teaspoon-sized cookies need to bake 9 to 12 minutes; Tablespoon-sized take 11 to 13 minutes. Let set on cookie sheets for 10 to 15 minutes before moving to a rack to cool completely.

Cookies will keep in a sealed container for at least a week. They are excellent for travel or shipping.

OM NOM NOM!


I can indeed vouch for the cracky-deliciousness of these cookies. Make them, make lots of them and I promise all who partake will forever follow you blindly*. Thanks, Beth. As always, a delight to have you, especially when you bring cookies. Breath of Earth is available right now, everywhere.

BreathofEarth_500x332

AmazonB&NBAMGoogleiTunesKoboIndiebound

*Not an actual promise.

Save

Save

Save

Guest Post: Nancy K. Wallace

Nancy Wallace was my first writer friend. When I first got word from Harper Voyager that I’d been selected from their open call and offered a contract, I posted a comment on a thread on the HV website. I was told not to do that again, politely, and I did. Not everyone had been notified you see and they wanted to make a big, official announcement. As you might imagine, this single comment created a lot of buzz. More than 4500 people had been waiting for 18 months to hear, though the number was surely much smaller by then. Status updates didn’t come as often as any of us would’ve liked and my comment was something new. After that, I had to keep my head down. I answered questions as best I could without revealing anything more. Then I got a message from Nancy. She was also accepted and was told not to say anything yet. That was more than two years ago, and I’m proud to call Nancy a friend. Her first book, Among Wolves, is spectacular and I highly recommend checking it out. The sequel, Grim Tidings, is now available and I’m sure it will be just as good. To mark the release of the book, Nancy is here to talk villains, why we need them, and how hard they can be to write sometimes.


Why Must There Be Villains?

Anyone who knows me well knows that I avoid confrontation, violence, and just unpleasantness in general. Maybe it’s simply my nature or maybe it comes from having worked with children for almost 30 years but that fact is that sword wielding heroes pretty much turn me off. I am more hobbit-like in nature. I like a good cup of tea, a cozy fire, and a good story sans the gruesome details. I believe the Greeks had it right in confining violence off stage where it was hidden safe from sight.

And then, I found myself writing Grim Tidings, Book#2 in the Wolves of Llisé series. I’d left my readers with a cliff hanger at the end of Among Wolves; one that couldn’t be conveniently explained by divine intervention. I knew in my heart that my villain, René Forneaux, had to be really horrible if Book #2 was going to work. The first line of Book #2 gives a good idea that this book will be very different: “At dawn we discovered the first body.”

I found myself squeamishly dabbling at a difficult subject for me – the inherent evil of some people. I have always preferred to believe that everyone is essentially good, if somewhat misguided, and that most people can be swayed by finding common ground. But the farther I went into my story, the darker it became. It was very difficult for me to watch this happen, considering that I wasn’t able to read anything other than the first book of the Hunger Games because I was so traumatized by the violence!!

I had the most difficulty subjecting my original cast of characters to untold horrors, so I created some new ones. Oddly enough, I found the poor traumatized characters rising from the ashes like the Phoenix. I even added a character that I don’t believe I was capable of creating two years ago.

When my manuscript was returned to me with structural edits, there was, thank heavens, not much to change except that my editor felt my villains weren’t quite as villainous as they need to be – even after all my work!! So I tweaked. I made some things more graphic, or as graphic as I could bear to make them and I made René Forneaux a man who people wanted to kill. It made a difference and I learned an important lesson, too: without darkness, light is not so startling in its beauty.

Writing is a study of contrasts, of struggle, failure, and blessed resurrections. It pulls us out of our comfort zone and forces us to see the world as it really is, with all its sorrow, evil, and hurt. But as writers we can also offer beauty to mollify pain, and extend hope to assuage sorrow. That is the benefit of fantasy: in a place that doesn’t even exist, we can imagine ourselves as we might be at our very best!


Grim Tidings - Hi Res

Book two in the sumptuous Wolves of Llisé trilogy.
As the son of Llis’s ruler, Devin Roch knows its laws only too well. It’s a land where keeping historical records is forbidden. To do so would mean imprisonment or death.
Only bards may share the histories of their provinces, but Devin’s quest to learn from them ended in tragedy. His best friend Gaspard has been kidnapped, Master Bards are being murdered and whole communities are disappearing. Clearly someone doesn’t want Devin to know the true history of Llis.
With his guard Marcus and a wolf pack for protection, Devin sets out to discover the truth. But as terrible secrets come to light, Devin realizes that some knowledge can be deadly.

Amazon Barnes & NobleGoogle iTunes Kobo


Nancy K. Wallace loves chocolate, Christmas, and puppets! She collects fairytales and folklore and houses them in dozens of bookcases (alphabetically according to country). Her pets include four lovely cats, and an Arab mare named Ariel.  She lives with her husband in a 140 year old farmhouse named Chevonwyck. Fortunately, she has a family who is tolerant of her obsessions and excellent at proofreading! Nancy is the author of 19 children’s books plus The Wolves of Llisé series for new adults. She has reviewed YA literature for VOYA magazine for 20 years.
Headshot1
Facebook Twitter

Save

Save

Save

Growing as a Writer, and a Person

In just a couple of weeks, July 12th to be exact, The Returned, will be released to the world. Surely you’re all aware of the date and are counting down with bated breath. This will mark my fourth published book in just under two years. I’m going to say that again because it’s still a little hard for me to believe. Fourth book. Published by a major publisher. Fourth book in two freaking years!

Ahhhhhh!!!
hobbes

Okay, sorry, where was I?

Despite the relatively short period of time, it feels like I’ve come quite a long way. The Returned is the first book whose outline survived until the very end. I admit, as a lifelong Panster—writes by the seat of my pants—I was worried the book would be too formulaic. It wasn’t. Wraith grows a lot as a person and a character, as do Caitlin and Edward, both in their relationship and as individuals. As release day approaches, I think about something I’ve heard other authors say; that it took them three or four books to feel as if they’d found their voice. It’s heartening to know I’m on a similar track.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my other books, but I think The Returned is my best work to date, as it should be. That growth and improvement is something I strive for as a writer: to always be improving in my craft. I’ve recently started rewriting a book—the first novel I finished—and it’s remarkable to see how far I’ve come as a writer since finishing that book. It’s also more than a little embarrassing to think I sent that manuscript to agents, but we’re not going to talk about that.

grumpy-cat-saying-no-4-300x193

Yes, I’ve improved as a writer, but for me, being a better writer is inextricably tied to being a better person. Unfortunately, growth and improvement is never a singular, instantaneous event. It happens over a long period of time, sometimes so slow that, like the proverbial frog in the pot of slowly warming water, it goes entirely unnoticed until you have some context. When it happens, it can be embarrassing (see above, and we’re still not talking about it) but mostly it’s wonderful to see, clearly and starkly, just how much progress has been made. In this post I talked about how much I learned about the tropes and stereotypes I’d blindly fallen into and how I work to rise above them. I say work not achieved, because I still have a long way to go. This fact was brought into harsh relief as I was editing The Returned.

The hardest part about change, of any kind, is accepting and acknowledging things about yourself that need to be improved or, shudder, “fixed.” It’s a fact: sometimes we meet an asshole, and sometimes, we are the asshole. Very few people enjoy being the asshole, particularly when it’s not intentional. I certainly don’t, especially when it adds to the already massive pile of shit that marginalized groups have to deal with. I’ve worked hard to, for lack of a better term, check my privilege.

I’m a straight white male who grew up in the 80’s. Like a lot of kids, in elementary school I had a fairly diverse group of friends, but as I grew up and social structure became more central to life—junior high and high school—my group of friends became more homogenized. In short, the vast majority of my friends looked like me and had similar experiences in the world. I imagine it was the same for a lot of people. For me, my distorted view of the world was compounded by a father who, to put it mildly, was a less than a stellar role model in terms of minorities and women. But that excuse only works for the young. Those who are, for lack of a better term, trapped in their environment and unable to change their circumstances. As an adult, I’m responsible for my behavior. Yes, we’re all, everyone one of us, shaped by our pasts, and we carry those biases, preconceived notions, and judgements forward into adulthood. BUT—and this is a “but” of mythic proportions—while I might have a reason for why I have those blind spots, it’s not an excuse to do nothing about them. Some people may see wanting to improve yourself as apologizing for who you are. I don’t, and I’m not.

The problem, however, is that blind spots are by their definition not visible. As the old saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Often, we only find learn about them when someone else points them out. It’s easy to see that as a personal attack. In some ways, it is, and justifiably so. After all, I’m being the asshole. I know it’s not the responsibility of the person calling me out to do so gently or kindly. Is anyone regularly patient and understanding with assholes? I’m not. So, it’s my responsibility to recognize that I’m at fault, and address said blind spot like a grown up. I’m not saying I always agree, though I do always try to see things from their point of view. I’m not even saying it’s enjoyable, it can be shameful and embarrassing. No, it’s not always easy, but then I’ve never felt the fear of creepy men following me while catcalling, of being been pulled over because of the color of my skin, of being  threatened because of who I love, or the anger of being seen as less because stairs aren’t a pathway but a barrier.

It’s good to keep some perspective.

After The Forgotten, I thought I’d come a long way in terms of checking my privilege and making sure my characters all had agency (influence on the story). Turns out, I still have a long way to go, and a hell of a lot of blind spots. My editor for The Returned was a woman and several years my junior. Much to her credit, she never failed to call me out when I needed it and I have the utmost respect for her because of that. I won’t lie, I was shamed by how many small things she pointed out. Not because of anything she did, but because I felt I should know better. I’m both amazed at how subtle changes can make a huge difference in terms of granting, or taking away agency, and humbled that I didn’t see before, something that is so obvious now. Want an example? I originally wrote a line of dialogue where one male character asks another male character where he is taking his wife on their honeymoon. My editor (whom I’m not naming only because I didn’t ask her permission first) said I should change it so the first character is asking the second where he and his wife are going on their honeymoon. That small change moved the wife from being someone who was being taken somewhere (no agency) to someone who was going somewhere (agency).

Yes, that change is small, and incredibly subtle, but it makes a massive difference. The small things are, by their nature, the hardest to see. As someone who hasn’t had people try to take my agency away from me, I don’t always recognize when I’m doing it to someone else.

Imagine what it would be like meeting someone who mispronounces your name, and continues to do so every single time they see you. It would get annoying but you’d probably write that person off as a jerk. Now, imagine that it’s the majority of people you meet who do that. And more than that, when you correct them, they roll their eyes and tell you to get over it, or worse, threaten violence. That is just the barest taste, of the faintest whisper, of what some have to deal with every single day.

I’m sure there are some who will say I’m being ridiculous and that this is political correctness run wild. While I will agree there are some cases where PC has gotten out of hand, I think for the most part it comes down to respect, and treating people how you want to be treated. You know, like we all learned in kindergarten: be nice and polite to others, and when you’ve done something wrong, including hurting someone’s feelings, say you’re sorry. Some lessons never stop being valid. Though sometimes it can take forty years, and writing four books to really appreciate them.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

D. Lieber Interview

I’ve talked before about how much of a struggle it can be to find an audience and get word out about your book. It’s even harder if you’re an indie author. I crossed paths with D. this year and spoke to her after a panel I was on. She impressed me enough that I decided to invite her here for an interview to ply her with ridiculous questions and maybe even talk about her upcoming book, Conjuring Zephyr, which comes out June 23rd.

First, welcome to the pub, D. What are you drinking?

Irish breakfast tea with two lumps of sugar and a little milk

Going easy, huh? Fair enough. Next question is an easy one. What is your biggest fear? As in utterly, entirely debilitating fear. The kind of thing that would send you into a whimpering fetal ball, and if someone knew about, would provide an excellent source for blackmail. Or, I suppose you could say what your protagonist’s biggest fear is instead.

Kai’s greatest fear is that others will discover she isn’t as confident as she pretends to be. Mentally, she is sure she can fulfill her quest while not giving her true identity away. But even when a person is absolutely sure, societal consensus affects everyone. The entire world as she knows it says what she’s trying to do is impossible. Going against that, anyone would have doubts. Of course, on the hiding her sex front, she’s completely in over her head. She walks in thinking she is totally prepared, and she is so wrong. In life, I find situations of forced spontaneity, where you have been thrown into the unknown and nothing is what you thought it would, have the most possibilities of unexpected happiness. But, if Kai is going to accomplish her quest, she must be bold and confident to convince herself and others. If someone else was to discover that it’s all bravado, would she have the strength to believe in herself?

That’s rhetorical, right? Cause I’m the one asking the questions here. Your book is set in an underground society. Are you intentionally aiming for the Morlock fans of fantasy, or is that just a happy coincidence?

To be honest, I had to look up what a Morlock was. The setting came to me very early on in the writing process, but it was only as a means to an end. The concept of rebuilding after an apocalypse was perfect, because it gave me a chance to explore how a small group of modern humans might reorder society if given the chance. The fact that these humans were led by scientists provided a magnifying glass into scientific culture, particularly examining why I think science is stuck. Though if I had to choose a book that made me love the underground setting, I would say Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Normally I’d criticize your lack of knowledge about H.G. Wells, but you pulled out the Jules Verne card, so it’s all good. You’ve said there is some “adult content” in your book. Are you at all concerned that addressing topics like choosing a good life insurance plan, applying for a mortgage, and managing your 401k will turn off some younger readers?

This question made me laugh aloud. Yes, there is adult content. There are tons of adult readers who read young adult books, because they have fun storylines and don’t take a lot of effort to enjoy. You work all day, and you just want to read for enjoyment, but that War and Peace on your shelf is pretty intimidating. My writing style is at a young adult reading level, and I think younger readers would really enjoy my story. That’s why I always give a disclaimer. Readers are good at self-censorship. If someone feels uncomfortable, he or she will just put down the book. While that may be the case, I don’t want anyone to feel unprepared. The primary drive of the story is the fantasy aspect, but there’s also a love story, a real love story not the censored, practically platonic love stories of young adult fiction. The adult content is important, and not just so readers feel the relationship is real. We live in a society where sex is either something we whisper about, like it’s shameful, or something that’s used to entice consumers out of their money. Why is that? Every person living is the product of a sexual act, so why do we treat it like it’s not a part of everyday life? I’m as affected as anyone else, so I wanted to challenge myself and my readers to see sex for what it is: normal and natural.

For the record, I was the product of immaculate conception, but let’s move on. Okay, here’s a serious question, probably the only one. Cowboy Bebop, best anime series ever, right?

I haven’t watched that one, because I don’t like the animation style. But, I’ve heard good things. I love anime. It’s common for me to spend an entire weekend sitting on the floor in front of my television, trying to get through a whole series on Crunchyroll or Hulu. It’s interesting to me how some people sneer at reverse harem stories (a female protagonist and many male characters), but they don’t even blink at harem stories (a male protagonist and many female characters). I wonder what that says about us as a society. One of my beta readers told me he thought Conjuring Zephyr was a story about every woman’s fantasy. I laughed at how little he knows about women. I would say it’s only human to want others to find you attractive. However, do women (or men) really want all their friends to declare love to them? I don’t think so. Quite honestly, I think it would be horrifying. These are people you care about. Why would you want them all to love you in that way? How bad would you feel to reject someone you care about, but don’t want to be with? On the other hand, there are situations in Conjuring Zephyr where Kai is sexually responsive to people she may or may not be in love with. Again, that happens in real life too. Man, real life is messy. Conjuring Zephyr has just enough messiness to be believable, but none of those dangling loose ends that life so often leaves us. In any case, I love reverse harem stories. I think my favorite reverse harem anime is probably Ouran High School Host Club.  I love how clueless Haruhi is. She’s so smart and so oblivious at the same time. If you have ever seen a reverse harem anime, you will recognize a lot of the character archetypes in Conjuring Zephyr.

Let’s pretend I’m familiar with those particular anime series and move on. Your main character in the book disguises herself as a boy to enter a prestigious all-male magical university. Was this a way to subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) speak to gender roles in modern society?

I don’t think I was subtle at all. However, I don’t force social commentary down my readers’ throats. It’s there, but it’s under a healthy dose of storyline and character development. Terrenus is a society where men and women are not even close to equal. While I feel modern society can be like that, I also feel we have come a long way. Terrenus is extreme, but there are still people who have strict gender-role lines today. Women are still dealing with having to prove that they are equal in intelligence to men, and men are struggling to live in a world where they aren’t afforded the luxury of openly feeling human emotions. Our society is a wreck. I would love to think we’re all trying to do our part to make it better for future generations, but I know that isn’t the case. Still, for those who care, it’s important to talk about these issues. Writers have always been key players in societal change. Even sweetened with entertainment, we all have to do our part to make people think, question, and learn. In Conjuring Zephyr, Kai is fighting strict gender-role guidelines. While the rules have been that way for a long time, Terrenus is in a time of flux, which is why some characters are more accepting of Kai’s presence. But really, it’s the male characters who are pushing the limits. Each male character is unique, proving that there isn’t just one way to be a man. Our society puts a lot of pressure on men to be strong and brave. They are told to look and act a certain way, just like women are. My male characters show how courage and strength come in many shapes and sizes, and I hope modern men will feel more comfortable loving themselves. I also hope they see that reaching down to pull women up to an equal level is in everyone’s best interest.

That was a well worded response, so I have no witty retort. Next question, heads or tails?

I always choose tails.

Sorry it was heads, mostly because it was a two-headed coin. However I’ll remember your answer should a coin toss ever come up again. What are your thoughts on tofu and its role in the slow degradation of civilization?

I love your questions. They keep me on my toes. Tofu is one of those foods I want to like, but I just can’t force myself. I’m gagging just thinking about it. Yeah, yeah, it’s supposedly good for you and has been around for centuries. I would love to visit Japan one day. I almost applied for a job in Tokyo a few months ago. I hear it’s lovely, and the people are really nice. But I would starve to death. As for its role in the slow degradation of civilization, it’s definitely got an evil agenda. Everyone should prepare for the worst. Beware of anyone who says he or she likes tofu. They’re already under its influence.

I’m glad to see there are others out there who recognize the existential threat tofu poses to us all! Gelatinous cubes of fermented evil. On a lighter now, what kind of research did you do for this book? For example, did you take a trip to the Artic to see what it would be like to experience an ice age?

Most of my research for this book was in physics. With any sci-fi/fantasy story, you have to establish laws of physics. While you can pretty much make up whatever you want, you do have to be consistent. There were devices I wanted to have, but I had to figure out how they worked. Of course, I also had to think about what kinds of things an underground society would need, and how I would provide those necessities. I was nearly bashing my head against the wall trying to get the light generator to work. With some help from my husband and younger brother, who are both total physics nerds, I managed to satisfy even their pedantic standards.

Sounds like the Arctic trip might’ve been easier, but who am I to judge? What three books (aside from mine of course because that’s just a given) would you take with you if you had to live underground? And yes, you can also bring a book light.

Is there a handbook for how to survive underground? Because, that’s the first on my list. My favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo, so that has to come with. My third choice is probably Pride and Prejudice, because I never get tired of reading it.

A pragmatist, I can respect that. I suggest The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, because, you know, Morlocks live underground and might provide some insight. Is this book a standalone or part of a series? I did say there was probably only one serious question.

As of right now, it’s a standalone. But, the end leaves a lot of room should I decide to revisit Terrenus.

Leaving room for a sequel, I didn’t realize you worked in Hollywood. What else are you working on?

I have two books in the editing phase right now. The Exiled Otherkin is pretty close to completion. It’s about a half-fae who is exiled from Faerie to the steampunk human realm. The protagonist, Ember, takes a dangerous job on an airship, and tries to maintain her apathy as a helpless and naive human follows her around. Faeries, pirates, and traveling players meet in this steampunk fantasy adventure as Ember tries to cope with feelings long forgotten and a past that pursues her while balancing new friends and lovers. Unlike Conjuring Zephyr, this world has complete equality of the sexes. Intended Bondmates is the other novel in editing, but it was just sent to my beta readers for first-time review. It’s about a society where fae and werewolves have signed a treaty to protect fae from vampires and werewolves from humans. Essentially, the fae magic werewolf territory into Faerie, so werewolves don’t have to worry about humans. In exchange, every werewolf pup is assigned one fae child to protect until the faeling grows into his or her full magic, since fae are vampires’ favorite snacks. Runa, a werewolf, is forced to return to the bondmate she had abandoned in light of tragic circumstances. The book revolves around her trying to keep him alive while rebuilding their relationship.

I’m very glad to see you spelled “faerie” correctly, 712 bonus points for that. Those sound intriguing, be sure to stop back by when they’re available.

D. writes stories she wants to read. Her love of the worlds of fiction led her to earn a Bachelor’s in English from Wright State University.
When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s probably hiking, crafting, watching anime, Korean television or old movies. She may also be getting her geek on while planning her next steampunk cosplay with friends.
She lives in Wisconsin with her husband (John), retired guide dog (Samwise) and cat (Yin).

You can preorder Conjuring Zephyr direct from the publisher here. On June 23rd the paperback and ebook will be available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Added bonus, if you preorder it now you can use the promo code PREORDER2016 to receive a 10% discount.

You can find D. at her website on Facebook, or Goodreads. Thanks for stopping by, D. and for keeping a sense of humor.

Conjuring Zephyr front cover Promo1 highres

Retreating underground to escape a devastating ice age, humans build a new society. When magic is discovered and harnessed for survival, the citizens of Terrenus establish theories and principles of how to use it.
Kai Stephenson is determined to prove magical principles aren’t set in stone. Having lost her younger brother in a tragic accident, she will ensure such accidents never harm anyone else. She enrolls at the most elite university to gain the knowledge she needs to achieve her goal. Overconfident that living as a boy at an all-boys university will only be a minor inconvenience, Kai is convinced her classmates will never discover that she’s a woman. After all, women aren’t capable of higher forms of magic, and her boyish figure certainly doesn’t hurt her disguise.
Hiding her true identity becomes a problem when her new friends start to awaken her repressed sexuality

Save