Ten Books

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Yes, I know there are only eight books in this photo!

A writer friend tagged me on Facebook the other day for something that’s been doing the rounds called ’10 books in 10 days’. I thought I’d write it up as a blog post instead… Cue LOTS of angsting to choose just ten out of the many books that I’ve fallen in love with over the years! Anyway, here are my picks, in no order whatsoever. Not all of them are science fiction or fantasy, even though I have a long-lasting love of speculative fiction. But all of them were read over and over and have been a big part of my life.

What ten books have left their mark on you? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Aka, the one that started it all. I blame my love of fantasy (and portal novels) on Lucy and her siblings. This actually isn’t my favorite book in the series; that’s a two-way tie between The Horse and His Boy and The Silver Chair. But it was the first one I ever picked up, and the first one that Lewis wrote. Why do I love it? A classic portal fantasy tale, with just enough ‘real world’ to anchor it.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I love pretty much all of Austen’s books, but the misadventures of Lizzy Bennet will always have a special place in my heart. I discovered Pride and Prejudice in my teens and have reread it countless times over the years. Why do I love it? Lizzy is one of my favorite female characters ever!

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. This was another pearl from my parents’ small but thorough library. This collection of short fiction contains the story where Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics first appeared and serves as a great introduction to his work. Why do I love it?Stories that make you think, in bite-sized short format.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Riordan was three books into his Percy Jackson & the Olympians series when I stumbled upon The Lightning Thief in the wake of the less-than-stellar movie adaptation. Since then, I’ve been a huge fan, and have read everything that followed. Why do I love it? Riordan’s fun storytelling style and excellent use of first person point of view.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. My dad handed me a copy when I was a teenager — I read the first page three times and then laughed like a loon and promptly devoured the rest of the book. Why do I love it? The Guide taught me that fiction doesn’t have to take itself seriously all the time.

The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie. My mother had a huge collection of Christie’s work, and I reread them all several times each. Miss Marple was my favorite out of her sleuths, and this collection of short stories about the amateur detective marks her earliest appearance. Why do I love it? Christie shines in her short stories, and these are excellent.

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima. I discovered Chima’s work three or four years ago and her Seven Realms series promptly became a favorite. It has everything an epic fantasy fan could wish for: magic, adventure, heroics, and a really great plot. Why do I love it? The perfect teen characters and a swoon-worthy romance! 

The Danger by Dick Francis. One of my biggest regrets is leaving my Dick Francis collection behind when we moved to the USA. I absolutely love his horse racing thrillers — the pacing is perfect, and the plots exciting and just intricate enough to entertain without too much effort. This particular book is one of my faves. Why do I love it? Francis wrote relatively ordinary characters that went above and beyond to solve mysteries and crimes. I think what I love best is this relatability.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher. Although this is absolutely NOT my favorite of Butcher’s Dresden Files novels, it is the first, and served as my introduction to a little something called Urban Fantasy, a subgenre I hadn’t come across before. Why do I love it? I love the snarky pop-culture-riddled dialogue.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. The Stormlight Archive is my new Lord of the Rings. The books have all the elements I loved in Tolkien’s classic, with the addition of great female characters, something LOTR sorely lacks. Why do I love it? Impeccable worldbuilding and truly wonderful character arcs.

 

Summer 2018 Updates

We’re already halfway through 2018 — where did all the months go? Seriously, someone needs to get working on that time-turner technology, and fast! So, what have I been up to this year?

Short stories! I made one of those infamous New Year’s promises to myself that I would submit a short story every month in 2018. So far, I’ve managed to (just about!) keep that promise. Of course, it doesn’t mean every submission has been accepted. But it’s been a good push to keep writing and — just as importantly — to keep sending my work out, even if it gets rejected. And taking a chance also means the occasional success!

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In February, my sci-fi detective tale Blood Makes Noise came out in The Last City anthology (DUST, 2018). This was a really fun initiative, with a shared-world premise that led to plenty of pre-publication discussion in our collaborator Facebook group. Check out our joint author interview in SFF World.

My angel love story Dawn Chorus was published in Kraxon Magazine in March, another happy moment. Kraxon always has great stories (free, go take a peek!) and I have a soft spot for the magazine, as it gave me my first ever paid writing sale, back in 2015. I also just handed in my contribution for an upcoming all-female-writers’ science fiction anthology: a teen time travel romance set in 1985. And I had a short story accepted for another anthology — I will have to wait for the official announcement to say more on this one, but I’m thrilled to be in it as competition was apparently pretty fierce, and the list of participating authors is amazing.

Novels! I spent most of the first part of the year finishing and revising a YA science fiction thriller. It’s completely different from my Blade Hunt Chronicles series, although my critique group says it’s still ‘very me’, which is hopefully a good thing? I’m really excited about this one! After a long querying hiatus, while I fulfilled my contracts for Heart Blade and Night Blade, I now have something brand new and have begun once again looking for an agent. Wish me luck…

And no, I haven’t forgotten my Blade Hunt readers. I’m taking a writing break in July, to visit my family in Brazil, but when I get back it’s all about books 3 and 4. Yes, the plan is to write the last two books in the series together, and hopefully have them done by the end of the year. I love my characters and story, and have promised myself (and a few of you as well) to finish the Blade Hunt Chronicles and give Del, Ash, Raze and co. the ending they deserve.

Appearances! I was once again a panelist at Boskone this February, and it definitely made a difference knowing what to expect this time around. I found that I managed to relax and enjoy my panels, and I ended up having a blast! A lot of this, of course, is due to the great moderators I had. I also took part in my local library’s Author Festival, speaking on the Teen Author panel. Out theme was Inspiration, and it was a great evening and a really good conversation.

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Photo credit Avon Free Public Library

All in all, it’s been a productive year for me so far. With plans to finish the last two Blade Hunt novels in the second semester, and to keep on writing and submitting short stories, it looks like it will get even busier once August arrives.

I’ll leave you with a link to a terrific interview I gave in January on Peat Long’s blog, with bonus Deadpool-riding-on-a-Lego-dinosaur pic. Because why not? Happy summer!

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LGBTQ Characters in SF/F

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Happy Pride from Lix, Ben, and Camille.

It’s Pride Month, and I thought I’d do a round-up of some of my favorite LGBTQ characters in science fiction and fantasy. I have a few in my own work; in the Blade Hunt Chronicles, my half-demon Camille is pansexual. My thief-witch Ben, who appears in Night Blade (Book 2), is gay, and so is his crewmate Lix.

YA fiction is probably a good place to start if you’re looking for LGBTQ characters. One of my current darlings is sharpshooter and thief Jesper Fahey, from the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo. Jesper is bisexual (and a terrible flirt, too), and his romance with Wylan Van Eck is absolutely adorable.

Another YA character that I adore is Pen Khan from the Skyscraper Throne trilogy by Tom Pollock. In Book 2, The Glass Republic, Pen travels to London-Under-Glass and meets Espel; the two girls team up to save mirror London and steal each other’s hearts along the way.

I’m a huge fan of the Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater, and Ronan Lynch was my top character from the start. I loved his slow-burn romance with Adam Parrish (oh, the pining!!!), and I’m so happy that Stiefvater is working on a new Ronan-based trilogy.

Moving away from YA, a great fantasy read from an indie press is The Art of Forgetting duology by Joanne Hall. In the first book, Rider, we meet Rhodri and watch him fall in love with one of his fellow soldiers. In the sequel, Nomad, Rhodri meets and marries a woman from a distant nomadic nation. His bisexuality is nicely handled, and his marriage does not in any way erase the legitimacy of his first relationship in the narrative.

How about love in space? One of my fave characters in Jo Zebedee’s Inheritance Trilogy is the main protagonist’s brother-in-law, Lichio le Payne. Even in space, it isn’t easy being bisexual while having an important military role, and Zebedee does a good job of helping us understand what Lichio goes through.

There are a lot of other great LGBTQ characters around in speculative fiction; Rhy Maresh, a bisexual prince in V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy comes to mind, as well as Rick Riordan’s genderfluid character Alex Fierro from the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard books. Why not share some of your own personal favorites in the comments?

*The awesome Blade Hunt Chronicles character art is by Corinna Marie. She takes commissions and is a lovely person!

Running Wild — when characters misbehave

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Post-it notes! Trying to organize my characters…

The other day I was chatting to my daughter about my Blade Hunt Chronicles series, and the conversation went something like this:

Me: I have this headcanon about one of my characters.

Daughter: You DO realize you’re the author?

Daughter: And anything you decide about a character is actually canon?

It made me laugh at the time. But that little snippet of conversation stayed with me. It suggests that writers are in charge of their characters and keep them on a tight leash at all moments. Which… isn’t really the case at all. How often do we read online posts where authors jokingly complain that their characters won’t do what they’re told? That they downright refuse the plans their creators had for them, sometimes with a big Hell No? WHY ARE ALL THESE CHARACTERS RUNNING AMOK?!!

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I can’t speak for other writers, but I’m a plotter. I like my outlines, and knowing where my story is heading. Of course, I leave room for detours and surprises, but my plots tend to mostly behave. When it comes to characters, however, I like to wing it. I start out with a rough idea of what they look like and how they act, but their personalities develop as I write my first draft. That leaves a lot of space for ‘misbehavior’.

Planned romances sometimes go in the opposite direction, while others turn up where I least expect them. ‘Strong’ characters break down in tears that make sense when I write them but were nowhere in my original outline, bullies turn vulnerable, and quiet throwaway characters stand up and demand page space, taking charge. It’s a wonderful crazy voyage of discovery, where I’m surprised over and over again, and often it isn’t until I reach those final pages that I truly know who my characters are.

Going back to that conversation with my daughter, I think I’ll stick to calling my character theories ‘headcanons’. Because once I get to writing them down, who knows what my characters will have to say about them? And that’s just part of the fun.

Retreat, Regroup, Resume

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This morning’s view from my kitchen window

I sit here in my cozy kitchen looking through my manuscript notes as yet another nor’easter blasts my town with snow, and I’m content. Not only content, but downright happy. I don’t even care that it’s snowing AGAIN. I’m happy because the new story I’m working on has finally had its niggles worked out and its outline charted, and I’m ready to blast my way forward.

After getting my head stuck in boggy, swampy plot points for a good couple of weeks, I’m finally moving on. The main reason for my breakthrough is this: I was lucky enough to spend time this past weekend with friends in Vermont on an informal writing retreat.

We gathered for meals and coffee/tea breaks, and for post-lunch writing prompts, as well as evening readings and critique sessions. The rest of the time, I was able to dive into my work. No distractions of family, grocery lists, or laundry piles. No TV shows calling from my overflowing DVR. Nothing but my laptop, my notes, and a dog or two. I ended my weekend with:

  • 70 pages of revision
  • The makings of a much-needed new start to my work in progress

Now, I know not everyone can take a weekend off — there are many things going on in people’s lives, like small children or elderly parents, pets, or weekend jobs. Not everyone has a place to go, or knows someone with an awesome house in the snow (like me!), or can afford a hotel or a cabin rental. But there are other ways to break out of your routine if you’re stuck. Try spending a Saturday, or a weekday evening, writing someplace where you wouldn’t usually go, like your town’s library, or a welcoming coffee shop. Hide away at a friend’s house for a morning. Sneak away from your colleagues at lunchtime and find yourself a quiet corner. Get away from those everyday distractions, even if it’s for an hour or two.

Now, rather then just stick with your usual writing routine, label this a MINI RETREAT and set yourself some ground rules. Give yourself an internet allowance, and ignore the online world the rest of the time. If you manage to wrangle yourself an entire day or two, set break times, meal times, and times to relax. Start out with a clear idea of what you want to do. In my case, it was revise the work I had already done and adjust the plot points I’d changed so I could move forward. You can make this work for you, even on a 1hr lunch break: say, 15 mins to eat and browse the internet, 40 mins working on a chapter, developing a character arc, or mapping out a fight scene, and then 5 mins of free internet time at the end.

If you allow yourself to carve out this sacred space every now and then, and keep it fiercely for yourself, I hope you’ll find — like me — that it boosts your productivity and sharpens your focus. Retreat, regroup and then, with your ‘writer brain’ back on track, prepare to resume your regular writing schedule, full speed ahead.

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Retreat bliss: a peaceful writing corner

***

For my Blade Hunt fans: no, I haven’t forgotten you, I promise! I have a gazillion notes and a basic outline for Book 3, Star Blade, and will be jumping back into my Blade Hunt Chronicles world in April, as soon as this draft of my new project is ready for my beta readers’ eyes… More updates on Star Blade and King’s Blade (Book 4) coming soon!

Read For Pixels 2018 – International Women’s Day Edition

This year I’m once again giving books to The Pixel Project’s International Women’s Day fundraiser. Heart Blade and Night Blade will be among the many ‘perks’ you can choose from when you donate to the campaign.

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The Pixel Project is an international non profit organization that raises awareness to help end violence against women around the world. Their twice-yearly Read For Pixels campaign has free online hangouts with top authors, as well as books and other prizes that you can claim as ‘perks’ with your donation. They do a great and necessary job, so please do go and check out their site.

The author hangouts for 2018 begin on March 2nd, and you can find the full schedule and links here.

Here is the link to the donations page and the perks you can get for your money. My books are in a bundle by themselves, and also in a larger bundle with books by YA authors Susan Dennard and Leigh Bardugo. (USA only for these, sorry, but there are other international items, such as 1-1 Skype calls.)

You can read more about The Pixel Project’s work on SFFWorld.com, in my interview with founder Regina Yau.

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Boskone 55 Round-Up

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I’m back from Boskone, aka “New England’s longest running science fiction convention.” Boskone is big enough to bring in great guests/panel participants, and yet small enough so that it still feels relatively cozy. This was my fourth time at this event — second as panelist — and probably my favorite year so far.

A few thoughts about Boskone 55:

  • Being a panelist is fun! Last year, I was terrified at my first couple of panels. This year, I knew what to expect, and managed to relax and enjoy myself. Our moderators did a great job, and conversation flowed easily. If you’ve ever thought about being on a convention or conference panel, but weren’t sure if it was for you, here’s my advice: give it a try. Cons like Boskone are happy to mix up established and beginner writers, and to give a chance to new faces and voices. Keep an eye out for calls for participation. Boskone has a nice little survey you fill out, which lets you tick all sorts of boxes and tell them what you’re comfortable talking about.
  • Kaffeklatsches are still one of my favorite things to attend. Unfortunately, this year I only managed to go to one, with agent Joshua Bilmes. Joshua answered publishing and agenting questions, and gave the table all sorts of great advice.
  • I’m also sorry I only managed to get to one reading. I love having a chance to see an author engage with their own work. Jane Yolen’s reading was a nice mix of poetry and prose, and thoroughly enjoyable.
  • Informal conversations are definitely one of the highlights of going to events like this. I caught up with old friends, got to meet a couple of online friends in person, and made some new friends. Just perfect.
  • Dogs, dogs, everywhere. The Westin was full of furry companions this year. A shout out to the Mega Floof who sat politely through panels and was a very well-behaved con-goer.
  • From the Writing For Children panel: stories don’t necessarily need a happy ending, but they need a hopeful one. Also, a great debate on what to do with those pesky parents and other responsible adults in middle grade fiction…
  • From the Feminist Fairy Tales panel: a huge list of great book recommendations!
  • From the Marketing Uphill panel, lots of ‘don’ts’: Don’t overmarket; Don’t be boring; and many more… *gulp*
  • Downtime is crucial! At my first Boskone, I exhausted myself trying to cram in as many panels, readings, and events as I could. From the next year on, I realized it’s equally as important to take breathers, chat to people, and just enjoy the con atmosphere. Or maybe take an actual break from the whole thing and go for a walk or read a book in your room for a while. My husband and kids came along to get some use out of the hotel room and pool this year, and I think being able to step away from the con every now and then for family dinner or some much-needed downtime made a key difference.
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Grabbing some family time at Boston’s Seaport

SF/F conventions and writing conferences can be a lot of fun, especially if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone and talk to people, or try new things you wouldn’t usually do. If you haven’t been to one yet, you can always start small: look for local events and meet-ups, and ease your way in. But don’t let fear hold you back! Going to cons has brought me a whole new world of writing friends, including the lovelies who became my local critique group. Who knows what it will bring you?

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Making new friends! Author and bookseller Marc Vun Kannon, who stocked my books for the con…