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!

Have Book, Will Read #19

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May was a mad rush of manuscript revisions, other work, and life being, well, life. The laundry doesn’t do itself just because you’re busy rewriting Chapter 11, though what a neat trick that would be… But in the middle of all that busy, I still managed time to read. Here are a few of my favorites from the past few weeks.

Recent Reads: Tricks and Trips.

I FINALLY READ CROOKED KINGDOM! I’ve been promising myself for a while now that I’d read the sequel to Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, and I actually got around to it this time. Worth the wait!

As Kaz and company strive to right the wrongs committed against them they get sucked down into a deepening spiral of subterfuge, trickery, and intrigue. Beautifully written, the story is well-paced and has enough twists and turns to keep readers on their toes the entire time. And the romances are lovely!

I’ve been wanting to read Holly Black’s work for a while now, and I started out easy with the Magisterium series she’s co-writing with Cassandra Clare. Although I found the books in my library’s teen room, they’re really middle grade, and I think I read the first four in under a week.

The Iron Trial, The Copper Gauntlet, The Bronze Key, and The Silver Mask bring a neat little twist to the ‘teen discovers they have magic and goes to magic school’ formula. I’m not going to say much because #spoilers, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the direction the tale took from the end of Book 1, and this was a refreshing departure from the theme. This is a great series, and I’m looking forward to the conclusion in The Golden Tower, out September 2018.

There’s nothing better than a new InCryptid book, so when I realized that the most recent title in Seanan McGuire’s series, Tricks for Free, was out, I rushed to buy it. We get more of Antimony’s point of view in this one, and plenty more Sam, which made me a very happy person as Sam is adorable.

I absolutely love this series. It’s fun, fast-paced, and light-hearted while tackling some pretty big issues, and McGuire’s world is full of amazing cryptids and characters that keep you invested from page one. If you like urban fantasy and haven’t yet discovered these books, give the first one a try. You won’t regret it, I promise you!

Kelly Robson’s The Human Stain recently won the Nebula award for best novelette, and as I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, this was the perfect moment. The story takes us to a remote castle in Germany, following a British expat who is hired to care for her friend’s nephew.

This gothic horror tale is perfect for a shivery afternoon read (or a nighttime one, if you dare!). Robson’s elegant prose contrasts nicely with the growing darkness of the story, which has an ending that will definitely leave you off-kilter for a good while.

Now Reading: A ghostly conspiracy…

I just started an ARC for Afterimage by Naomi Hughes, out in September 2018. I’m not very far in, but I love the concept and am excited to read on. The story begins with an explosion that leaves the only survivor racing to find out who is behind it all. And the only person she can turn to is a transparent boy who she’s not sure is a ghost or a hallucination.

To Read: Stormy waters, suspense, and insurgence.

Thanks to the Penguin Children’s Fall preview I attended last month, I have a lovely big pile of middle grade and YA ARCs to read. I’m thinking of starting with Seafire, by Natalie C. Parker, the story of an all-female pirate crew. The book has been described as Wonder Woman meets Mad Max: Fury Road, so yes, please!

Another one from the ARC pile that I’m looking forward to getting into The Sacrifice Box, a horror novel by Martin Stewart set in the 1980s, and that sounds like a cross between Stephen King and Stranger Things.

On my to-read list is Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint, which came out in February but I haven’t had a chance to read yet. This is Cole’s first fantasy series, a little bit of a departure from his Shadow Ops world. I love Myke’s writing style, so this is definitely one I can’t miss out on.

I have a LOT of other things on my to-read list, but luckily summer is just ahead. The downside to school vacation is that I’m not sure how much writing I’ll get done. The upside, of course, is books, books, books. What’s on your summer reading list?

The View From The Road

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Last week, I posted this brief thread on Twitter:

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Sounds easy, right? Except that us writer types are a notoriously insecure and self-doubting bunch of people, and this isn’t always easy advice to follow.

Once you’ve been bitten by the word bug and you’ve made it past the first hurdles and learnt a little about publishing, chances are that you’re either going to run away screaming and never look back, or dig yourself in and prepare for the zombie apocalypse long run. Those who decide to stay in the bunker and face the crazy, fascinating, heart-breaking, wonderful world of writing will find themselves periodically adjusting their dreams and goals.

SF/F writer Jo Zebedee, after asking writers on Twitter, Facebook, and internet forums, brought out this great blog post on writer aspirations, where the many different responses led her to conclude that not only did the goals and dreams reflect where a writer was in their journey but also that, for every step reached, there’s a new one ahead. Perspective is not only necessary, but crucial, and so is taking time to celebrate the steps you’ve already climbed, rather than just dwelling on the ones to come.

Not long after Jo’s blog post, a comment on the SFF Chronicles forum, by author Stephen Palmer, touched briefly on envy. I think that a certain dose of healthy envy goes hand-in-hand with a writer’s goals and aspirations. Being able to look at someone else’s success, wish them well, but also say to yourself I want to get there someday can be a powerful motivator. Emphasis on healthy envy: as long as you use that as a push to grow in your work, looking up to other authors and using them as inspiration is never a bad thing.

The problem with comparing your writing career to other people’s, is that there will always be someone who is already there, at your next goal, or who has managed your dream achievement. It’s easy to get discouraged, and to think your work will never be that good, that perfect. But I think that sometimes we forget to look back and see how far we’ve come. I’m incredibly proud of my published novels, but sometimes I find myself dismissing the hard work I’ve put in and the stages I’ve reached when I get too stuck on looking ahead at the next big goal.

That stone in the Twitter thread? I bought it for exactly that reason: to remind myself just how much I’ve accomplished already. Do I have objectives, dreams, and lofty aspirations? Absolutely. Do I sometimes feel a quiver of envy, a touch of ‘I’d love that to be me’? Hell, yes. All this keeps me going and fuels my passion for what I do. However, commemorating how I got here, one step at a time, is just as important.

Celebrate your path. Take joy in what lies behind, especially when the way ahead looks daunting. And keep writing. You’ll probably never reach the top of the mountain, because there will always be a higher peak to climb. But the view from the road can be pretty darn satisfying if you take the time to look around.

Poconos Retreat, Part II

(Continued from Part I)

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Our last day dawned soft and gray, drizzle misting in from the hills around us. Luckily the weather had no impact on everyone’s enthusiasm, and after another amazing breakfast (seriously, Highlights, do you not want us to ever leave?), we gathered once again in the main room in the Barn to watch the faculty talk us through some of the (anonymous) first pages and illustrations that attendees had sent in. I’m always fascinated at these events to find out just what an experienced editor will pick out of a fragment of text.

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Mealtimes at the Barn

We broke up into workshops after this, and I chose to hear agent Kira Watson talk us through scene development. We looked at the difference between ‘core’ scenes and ‘bridge’ scenes, and how to avoid the so-called ‘fluff’ scenes. Kira told us that each scene should make a difference, even if it’s a bridge scene, and not just be there to fill space. I’m looking forward to trying her flashcard exercise!

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Kira Watson talks us through scene essentials

The final keynote was given by picture book author Tara Lazar. Tara’s speech was joyous and uplifting, even when talking about personal obstacles, and was just right for sending us home all fired up to get back to creating. She both began and ended her talk by reminding us that “there is no divide”, and that authors are just people like anyone else.

We sat down for a last lunch (with a huge round of applause for chef Amanda and her staff), and then said our goodbyes to all our new (and old) friends, and then it was time to take off my name tag, grab my bags, and drive the three hours back to Connecticut.

 

Our printed schedule ended with Master Yoda’s words: “That which you seek inside you will find.” That may be true, but all of us at the 2018 Poconos Retreat found plenty in each other, too, and in the inspiring words of our weekend mentors.

 

 

High points for the weekend:

  • Location, location, location. And did I mention location?
  • Star Wars references everywhere!
  • Great faculty choices: everyone was kind, generous, and friendly, full of wisdom to share.
  • Good attendee vibes. Everywhere I turned I was met with a smile and a friendly face. I returned home with lots of nice memories, and plenty of new Twitter and Instagram contacts, too.
  • My awesome roommate, Tina Holt. I was a little worried about sharing a cabin with a stranger, but Tina was a star. #TeamCabin20
  • Okay, I won’t mention the food again, but I loved the ‘help yourself’ hot/cold drinks stations set up all over the place. And the baskets of snacks, too. (Oops, did I just mention food?)
  • The Eastern PA SCBWI crew: Kim Briggs, Alison Green Myers, Lindsay Bandy, and Virginia Manning. You all rock, thanks for organizing this tremendous weekend.

 

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.