Saturday, September 4, 2021

Book Review - A Memory Called Empire

I must apologize for being absent for so long. I was in a bit of a rocky place with my own writing, my personal life, and my full-time day job. I stopped in for the blog hop, but failed to actually do any hopping! I will be getting to that later this week. 

My other good excuse is I was engrossed in a book! Which is a GOOD thing. It was a good release, and helpful in a few ways.

I recently reread my favorite book, my "gateway" book, Dune. It had to be done. In my mind it was perfection and I found myself wanting to emulate it without actually knowing why. After reading it, I realized why using it as a model would never work. Modern readers would likely not appreciate some of the exposition and simplistic ideas Herbert uses. This type of writing is for cult followers. I recently read in a review that if you have not fallen in love with Dune before you are married, then you will not love it at all. I think that is an accurate statement. It lacks the amount of complexity that mature readers seek today.

This set me on the search for a modern variant. I made several lists and eventually was limited by the two, very short shelves of Science Fiction located in my local library. But I am forever grateful for the book that eventually made its way into my hands. 

Here is my review from Goodreads. 


A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan #1)A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I might give this 5, but I would have to read it again, which I may eventually do. I liked the "complex" grammar. Having to reread a sentence or paragraph does not bother me when it is packed with so much meaning. Martine does this effectively, I think.

I enjoyed the worldbuilding. I think Martine has created a fantastic universe and described it well. She includes clear references to the ancient cultures of Central and South America, which I enjoyed personally since I studied pre-colonial cultures in college.

I love the unique qualities of the two main cultures, the interesting way they receive names (number + noun), and the use of futuristic technology to preserve the most valuable people in the limited society of space station life.

I have searched for months for a modern Sci-Fi book to drift away in. This book met my needs completely. I wanted to get lost in new civilizations, explore human conflicts in the future, and travel across space. I needed a newer version of my favorites (Le Guin universe), and I think this succeeds. It has the layers of tension that modern audiences want more of, addresses the modern questions we have about how love looks without the restrictions we see in our own societies, and requires a certain level of knowledge about our own history to be truly understood.

I also love the use of poetry. I love how Martine uses it to build our understanding of the main culture and how she uses it to pull us in and make us feel like outsiders at the same time. It helped me connect with the main character, who was also an outsider. I see her desire to want to be included and understand why she could not be.

Most of the book is third-person limited, following the main character, with a few interludes that give a small piece of the unknown backstory. I think this was effective, but the single point of view was perhaps too limiting for my taste.

I think I lost a little of the understanding of the overarching threat in the book, which is likely more valuable to the sequels. It was tricky for me to fully understand the larger motivations of the societies. I think if I get the chance to reread it, I will better understand that part by giving less attention to understanding the character and her world.

As a writer working on a debut novel, this was a perfect model for creating a fresh work of science fiction that can still captivate modern readers and their own increasingly complex perspectives.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

September IWSG - Responsibility and Success

If you do not care to hear about the personal drama swirling in my head, skip to the question...PLEASE

As I sit here writing this (at the last minute, Tuesday night) I am devouring my gluten-free, sugar-free, mug cookie (which is absolutely fantastic, seriously, butter, cashew butter, honey, gluten-free pancake mix, oats, choc. chips) and I am completely over it. ALL of it. (It = humans). 

I just can't focus on my writing until this is out of my mind.

If you have followed me for a while, you know that I was a teacher until right before the pandemic. Something told me it was time for a break so when I moved across the country I switched my day job to childcare. And fate has been laughing ever since. One month later, the schools shut down and my childcare center was flooded with school-aged kids with nowhere else to go. Fast forward (17 months) and last week was the first week they all went back to school! FINALLY!

But wait! We are exhausted, all of us, every teacher, parent, worker, employer, human being... I like to think I am a compassionate person, but the unbelievable chaos of the past two weeks (which should have been my chance to relax) has me angry and frustrated. Positive Covid cases, classrooms quarantining, employees and kids not following the rules... I'm just over it. 

Seriously, stop reading here and skip to the question. At this point, I'm whining.

Where do we draw the line between self-care and caring for others? Why do some of us continue to sacrifice and push ourselves to our limits while others take a step back? Why does having a bad sunburn mean you can't come to work? (Trust me, I know how it feels. I got one two weeks ago. I forgot to ask anyone to do my back after I took care of everyone else. It is hot and cold and feels like my shirt is made of sandpaper and my bra is razor wire. I get it!) Is it selfish to put your own comfort first? Should we "self-care" every time we have a stomach cramp, a sore ankle, lose our voice, get a migraine? Do some people just lack the sense of responsibility to do a job despite hardships?

If you are still reading this, I am so sorry! I am just in shock when I think about the contradiction I am seeing. Take care of yourself OR serve others. But is it truly taking care of yourself if you can do both? Is pain and discomfort far worse than the burden you place on others to do your responsibilities? Is the human race becoming weak? I've seen a diabetic coworker go through chemotherapy and be at work every day, and at the same time seen another coworker call out two days EVERY week. How are we so far apart in how we view our duties? I know we have different limits, but do we really?

Is it a matter of integrity? How do we wake others up to their responsibilities? How do we move them toward strength? How do we lead others to find honor and pride in their daily work? And how do we continue to trust and feel supportive towards others' pain when we are taken advantage of so often?

*****

PLEASE START READING HERE FOR THE QUESTION OF THE MONTH

September 1 question - How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?

The awesome co-hosts for the September 1 posting of the IWSG are Rebecca Douglass, T. Powell Coltrin @Journaling Woman, Natalie Aguirre, Karen Lynn, and C. Lee McKenzie!

This one is hard, especially when my mind is fully clouded by daily stress and this strange inability to focus on my writing at all. Every time I sit down to work on my novel, my mind fills with fog. I have plenty to do on my list, my revisions are just sitting there, waiting for me, and I'm staring at the screen like I do not know how to use a keyboard.

I have held a book in my hand with my name at the top of some of the pages. My short story was published earlier this year. I even got that first royalty check this week! I consider this a huge success, but is this my definition of "success as a writer?" I honestly don't know. I feel like I will consider myself successful when this novel is fully revised and ready to publish. If... (I mean when) When I make it that far, it will be a success because it means I have made it through the fire swamp alive. The next time I enter, I will feel confident. That confidence is my success. If I know I can do something, then I can do it. 

Please click on the badge below for a complete list of participants in the IWSG Blog Hop. Have a great month. Find your strength!



Tuesday, August 3, 2021

IWSG - August - Craft Books

August 4 question - What is your favorite writing craft book? Think of a book that every time you read it you learn something or you are inspired to write or try the new technique. And why?

The awesome co-hosts for the August 4 posting of the IWSG are PK Hrezo, Cathrina Constantine, PJ Colando, Kim Lajevardi, and Sandra Cox!

When it comes to specific parts of the craft, the most used book on my (virtual) shelf is J. Lenni Dorner's Preparing to Write Settings that Feel Like Characters. I use the worksheet often to think through scenes and improve my worldbuilding.


For the broader craft, and for that "inspiration," I have kept Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction close at hand. It includes plenty of details for multiple aspects of writing and several good examples. Each technique is usually followed up by a list of authors who employ it successfully. When I first bought the book, I had not written anything except ideas in a journal. I also had not read more than a handful of authors in the genre (always returning to my favorites). The inspiration I have gotten from the book is as valuable as the advice.

I have a few others that have never been opened! Balancing time is difficult when there are so many books. What book do you go to? Do you think I would benefit from a new favorite?

Want to visit more blogs? Click the badge below for the full list of participants.


Monday, July 19, 2021

Temptation of a Break

Although it is not an "insecure writer" day, I needed to express my insecurities! 

I may have said I was too stubborn to quit, but having a break sure felt nice! I am openly admitting that I have done very little writing in the past few weeks. Here are some reasons...

  • I started a new project. The ideas flooded really quickly, I managed to create a basic outline, and I started drafting the first two tales. But the dreadful voice of the imposter crept into my mind, daring me to give up. Tales are quite different from modern stories and their obsession with "show, don't tell," and the demonization of the passive voice. How could I expect to successfully navigate this style?
  • My novel draft is being reviewed by my coach. He is making sure my notes and draft match, checking for disconnections between my intentions and my execution, and asking a few questions for clarification. I feel frozen until I see that final comment.
  • I have an overwhelming feeling that the novel is just too clean and dry. The plot is possibly too shallow and the story too short. There is much more I would like to tell, and I am unsure how to include it all. I want the reader to have a perfect picture of the cultures I created. I want them to see and smell each scene and relate to the struggles. What is that perfect formula for description? Did I miss it? Should the villain be more villain-y? Did I skip the most important scenes? The ones that would really make the reader angry at the "bad guy?"

  • I feel like the more time I spend away from the story, the more ideas I develop for making it better. But I also feel like that time spent away clouds my perspective a little. There is too much to fit in my head at once. A huge part of me wants to put this manuscript aside, and try something different as my "debut novel." I love this story so much. I do not want to see it rushed or incomplete. It deserves a better writer than the one I am right now.
Luckily, I am smart enough to know most of this is just insecurity. But I am also wise enough to know insecurities grow from the roots of reality. These are warnings—signs of possible weaknesses to be addressed. The expertise and multiple perspectives of a critique group might be the solution, but I have no idea how to find an effective one. Maybe that should be my next step. 

Hopefully, I will be inspired to write so much this week I will have a more positive post to share with you! Until next time, tout le bonheur du monde!

Sidenote:  Another reason I did not write much...
I rented a copy of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy and reading it has made me furious. The short stories inside infuriate me so much I kept putting the book down. These were selected from thousands of stories. I wanted to look up to them and feel inspired by their classification as the best. But, the first story rambled on and on and on and on. After four attempts, I made it through and it just ended. The story finally reached the moment of decision, the moment of discovery, except the character did not reveal the discovery or make the decision!  The next one was almost the same! Backstory, first-person rambling, tons of incomplete sentences, big mystery about the "chosen one," then POOF! Story over. The last words were literally:  "You'll learn soon enough, Krit. For now, it's enough to know that they're the Bad Guys." And he's gone. No! No, I will not learn soon enough, because you stopped writing! And the third story was awesome! That is where I stopped. I was afraid to ruin the awesomeness. I did not hate any of these stories. They were each well-written and engaging. However, it was disheartening to read winning entries that fail to meet basic submission guidelines (like having a complete story with an ending). I would love to submit my own stories, but those doors are closed right now and I await my chance with impatience. Anyways, expect a full review later this month!

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

July IWSG - Too Stubborn to Quit

Welcome to the monthly blog hop. As always, follow the link by clicking the badge below to see the full list of participating blogs.

The awesome co-hosts for the July 7 posting of the IWSG are Pat Garcia, Victoria Marie Lees, Chemist Ken, and Louise – Fundy Blue!

July's question - What would make you quit writing?

My first instinct was to respond, "Nothing." But as a writer, I am far too creative for such a simple response!

After thinking about the possibilities, I am getting images from the movie Inkheart. If my writing suddenly conjured terrible things into reality and the end of the world was growing closer and closer, I just might quit. 

If I was not the cause of the apocalypse, society as we knew it collapsed, and we had no electricity or resources for writing I would probably quit and become the creepy village storyteller.

The truth is, even if I did not continue to write for others, I would always write for myself. The written word is my brain's medium. I understand written language better than verbal communication. I prefer movies with subtitles on, and I channel my thoughts better on a page than I do out loud. 

Writing is my connection to the larger world and my pathway into my own mind.

*****

Head over to the Write, Edit, Publish website, too! I wrote a guest post about Writing with Change in Mind.

Also, there is a new video about Dark Matter:  Artificial. Check it out!

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Thinking Happy Thoughts

I am not sure which is more exciting, that my story won the June 2021 WEP, or that my three-year-old just pooped in a toilet instead of her pants (for the first time)! What a fantastic day!



I am going to admit, staying positive can be difficult. I sometimes reread the "average" reviews for my published short story and wonder if perhaps it was missing something that makes readers love stories. I am definitely not suffering from any illusions that all my stories are absolutely fantastic. I also completely understand the feedback labeling my work as confusing. I did not become a writer to create "normal" stories. Regardless, I feel accomplished just being part of the anthology. To my knowledge, no one has given me a one-star review, so I call it a win. I would love to read some reviews from people who regularly read science fiction, though. Most of the reviews I've read mention the genre is not their favorite. So, if you are a science fiction fan, pick up the anthology and drop us a review!

I am certainly grateful for any review. You can read the most recent full review here. There are also reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Reading honest reviews helps me improve!

And on to the happier thoughts...(not the poo).

Winners were announced for the June 2021 WEP competition.

Congrats to all the winners:

Steph - Winner

Kalpana - Runner Up

Jemi - Encouragement Award

Pat - Team's Choice

Brilliant Debut Awards went to:

Jackie

Anne

Pennie

Such a great collection of stories and art. I have been very inspired by this challenge and am working on a treat for my readers involving some very beautiful artwork combined with some hopefully enjoyable stories. I need a few weeks to work on it, so maybe by the end of July!

Keep thinking happy thoughts!


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

WEP - Storm of the Water Dragon

 


STORM OF THE WATER DRAGON

“Are you sure this is where we will find her?” Hisoka shouted over the deafening wind and the splash of the waves against the hull of his trimaran.

    Everywhere he looked he saw gray—water, clouds, air. Even his skin looked gray. He feared the storm would force color from the world forever. The invisible horizon oscillated three meters above and below the edge of the deck. Lines and sheets vibrated and pulleys popped. Gray was the color of fear. 

    “Yes! All the oracles divined the same thing. I spent my whole life studying this. I am sure!” Asuka shouted. Her soft voice did not carry well through the turbulent air.

    “If we die out here…” Hisoka started. He wiped his face with his hands, trying to peel the water from his skin, but another spray surged over the side of the boat. “This is ridiculous!”

    “What did you expect? A giant butterfly resting on a sunny beach? We are talking about a water dragon!” The water roared all around them, erasing her voice.

    Hisoka shook his head. Conversation proved pointless. He spit out a mouthful of seawater and motioned Asuka to come below deck.

    Inside the salon, the noise shifted from constant whooshing and thunder to the sound of being trapped in a metal can being kicked down a gravel road. Hisoka grabbed a steel bottle from the cupholder. The tea inside made him gag. “Gods Asuka! Do you have to use my water bottles for that rubbish?”

    The trimaran lurched, sending Hisoka straight into Asuka. He put his hands against the cabinet but the force was so sudden his chest still collided with hers.

    “Must be a love potion. One swig and you can’t stay away from me!” Asuka laughed.

    Hisoka forced his breath out and braced himself against the opposite counter.

    “Your obsession with drinking potions does explain your crazy ideas about water dragons. I still cannot believe you talked me into this. That man was serious when he asked us to fill out our death certificates before embarking on this mad mission. Sea travel was shut down over a decade ago for a reason. The oceans are no longer passable. The surface temperature is out of control and the CO2 levels cause storms every few hours. I still don’t know how you convinced me to do this!” Hisoka fumed. 

    Asuka reached out to brush his arm gently, taking the bottle from his tightened fist. 

    “I think the news that we only have thirty years left on this planet did the majority of the convincing. That and the fact that my cycle is late. We both know there is no point having a child if they will never live to be our age. And what life would she have? Gasping for breath? Hiding in storm shelters? Eating from powdered ration bags? I am telling you, this will work. I know it.”

    “It is a fairy tale, Asuka. There are no such things as dragons. But somehow sailing into the sunset, finally living the dream we built for each other, seemed worth it. I just did not think it would be over so soon.”

    “Nothing is over, beloved. Anyone who seeks the power of the water dragon who perches at the end of the world will be flown to the portal of a new world.”

    “Yes and bad poetry is the product of wet farts after drinking the mead of poets,” Hisoka said.

    “True, most mythology is not literal. But most of them are analogies. Honestly, strong drink does drive some to create dreadful prose.”

    Hisoka let his head fall back, then quickly recovered as the boat took another dip. “I don’t want to get into another spiraling argument about your obsession with mythology. I just think you should let go of this delusion and welcome the release from this world with me, in my arms.”

    A tear fell from Asuka’s cheek. “That can’t be it, can it? The portal to another world is death?”

    Hisoka pulled her tight against him. “Did you honestly expect a dragon?”

    Asuka’s sobs became a torrent, echoing the storm raging beyond the hull. Tears fell freely, warm and golden. Hisoka wanted to bring her warmth and safety but did not know how. Then, warm light poured from Asuka’s eyes and flooded the boat. She grew hot in his arms and blinding light surrounded them both. 

    He could no longer see, so he called out to her. “Asuka!”

    All he heard was a pounding heartbeat and a steaming hiss that drowned out all other noise. He could no longer feel the hull beneath his feet, or the motion of the waves. He floated, suspended in air thick as smoke. “Asuka!” he cried again.

    The bright white light began to fade to gold. Hisoka blinked and rubbed his eyes. The faint shape of Asuka stood in front of him and he reached for her. The flesh of her arm was textured like scales, smooth, and hot.

    The salon faded into view and he once again felt the rocking of the boat, but this time it was gentle and rhythmic, how he remembered it as a kid sailing on an old fishing boat with his father. That was before the oceans could no longer sustain life and maintain Earth’s climate.

    Hisoka felt as if he had just awakened from a dream. He studied Asuka, steam rising and swirling around her. Her body radiated intense heat and her smile burned. She led him to the deck where the light of the sky shimmered on her skin. Outside they found a scene of extraordinary beauty. A creature jumped alongside the boat, stitching a pattern into the surface of the water. A mountain towered in the distance. But it was not Mt. Fuji. The peak was too high and broad and golden. A large bird flew overhead, its swooping neck turned to study him. Hisoka exhaled his disbelief and found himself in a new world.

Word Count: 996

FCA (Full Critique Accepted)

Click on the image above to enjoy more short stories by some awesome authors!

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Another scene rewrite!

Things are going pretty smoothly with the first round of revision. I have surpassed my goal of 4 scenes per week and made it all the way to scene 32 last night. But I did find a hiccup in scene 31 and it made me laugh, so I wanted to share it with you.

In scene 31, the "final battle" is beginning. The main characters are standing on opposite sides, ready to take lives for their beliefs. But then, one of the characters basically tells his side, "Don't kill anyone yet," and he goes off to do something on the other side of the city.


I cannot stop laughing about this. What was I thinking? Who stands between two warring groups and decides they need to leave in order to solve the problem? Maybe there is something in a later scene that explains why this works, but I doubt it. 

Honestly, it sounds like an old British war tale. They stopped the front line because the general needed to go get some more tea first. From a writer's perspective, it is not a good idea to lead the reader away from the action in a critical time. There might be a scene change to prolong the drama, but the characters should not lead the reader away from the fight. (Unless that is their role as a coward.)

Luckily, I am ahead of my own scheduled deadline and have plenty of time to stop and fix this issue. I knew I would need to rewrite the ending, so it is not a surprise. I just had no idea I wrote this scene like that.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Dune (2020) - Cast Q&A with Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jos...

The release date cannot come soon enough!!!! I am trying to be patient but I just keep watching the trailer over and over. My copy of the novel has been stuck in storage for the past year and a half. At this point, I am going to just buy another one! I have the e-book, but it just isn't the same.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Fifteen-Year Friendship

Fifteen years ago today, I sat across the table from a guy who was way too skinny and way too tall. We were at a small, local pizza place in Maumelle, Arkansas.

The server approaches and asks for our order and the guy says, "Could you put 'buh-non-nuh' on the pizza? Like a Caribbean pizza?"

The server looks clueless and glances at me. "He is asking if you offer banana as a topping," I translate. She laughs, we order pineapple on his half and continue our meal. Clearly, all the signs pointed to this guy being a completely bizarre friend who would provide me with plenty of amusing moments. (Even if he did eat pineapple on his pizza.)

When the check is brought to our table, he slides it closer to himself and says, "If I pay, then I get to call this a date."

Really? Is that how it worked? A few months earlier, I met the guy while he was on a date with my best friend. I was still semi-engaged to my high school sweetheart and going to college. I just returned from studying abroad in France and had so many ideas about how I wanted my family to be.

Less than a month after I met him, though, my quasi-fiance walked, I could not sleep at night or eat anything, and overnight, all my friends were too concerned with picking a side that they ignored me completely.

But then I met this guy again. I swore he grew another five inches taller and his accent was even harder to understand, but I clearly understood him when he asked if I was gay. "You seem to hate men," he said. "And you are wearing a commie hat." He was referring to my short-brimmed cap that maybe looked a bit like something Castro wore. I laughed and went to get my sunglasses out of my car. We were at a park near a "mountain." At least that is what people in Arkansas call it.

"You drive a manual?!" he asked. We exchanged phone numbers and I was put in the Nokia bar phone as "Manual Mustang Girl."

The following week, he and my best friend came up with a plan to find me a good boyfriend. I am not sure why. I had my own apartment. I was doing great in school. I had plans to go to grad school anywhere else. But I went along with it. No taller than 5' 10", spiritual or at least open-minded, college or trade required, likes to do outdoor things, knows about cars, appreciates my art and cooking...I don't even remember the rest. 

Since this guy was "not from 'round here," and in circles I was not, he agreed to keep an eye out. 

Then late one night, I got a text. A text! Those things cost money! I didn't pay for those. So I called him. "You know I don't want to pay for messages, just call me, I have plenty of minutes. No one else calls and my mom is in my circle."

We talked for about an hour, it was the middle of the night. Then he said he rented some Monty Python DVD's from the Movie Gallery where he worked. I had not seen those in ages. "I'll come over," I said.

Before I knew it, we were movie buddies. He got a discount on rentals, and I love anime, and we talked on the phone when I couldn't sleep. He promised to make me a cake. He made jokes about fitting every description on my list.

"No, you are too tall."

"That is only one thing. I really like doing stuff outdoors and I don't know anything fun to do here. There is no beach. I grew up in Cape Town, beside an actual mountain between two whole oceans!"

"We have a mountain, you went to it. And yes, there is a beach. It is on a lake."

"There's a lake? See, I need someone to show me around. A local."

"You are 6' 7"! But I do like cake."

"Well, I will make a cake tonight, but let's go get pizza first. Can't have any pudding if you don't eat your pizza."

"I thought you said cake."

"Yes, cake is pudding."

"That does not make sense."

And that is how he ruined my visual image of a bunch of British children trying to take chocolate pudding without eating their meat.

So we went for that pizza. Fifteen years ago. What a friendship! Married eleven years, two kids, and many adventures behind us and ahead. I don't even mind the pineapple on my pizza, as long as it is gluten-free. Plus, we finally live closer to an ocean and visit it almost every weekend.



Wednesday, June 2, 2021

June Insecure Writers Support Group

June 2 question - For how long do you shelve your first draft, before reading it and re-drafting? Is this dependent on your writing experience and the number of stories/books under your belt?

The awesome co-hosts for the June 2 posting of the IWSG are J Lenni Dorner, Sarah Foster, Natalie Aguirre, Lee Lowery, and Rachna Chhabria!


I am going to "sort of" answer this prompt.

I am currently revising the fourthish first draft of my first novel. If that statement is not confusing you, then you are doing better than me.

I finished the latest first draft at the beginning of March (I think). In March, I printed my scene outline and started making notes based on what I wanted to add/change. April, I made some insane life choices, like signing up for the A to Z Challenge and getting my lifeguard certification, while still working overtime every week at my day job, preparing my daughter for her first dance recital, and receiving my parents for a visit. (Oh, and homeschooling my son.)

Now May is over and I am halfway through the first set of revisions. Unfortunately, I find myself stuck. I made a lot of useful notes, I am working scene by scene to make those characters grow and reveal the right details at the right time, but I have literally lost myself as a reader. I really want to put this whole project away and start on one of a dozen other ideas I have, but I fear this makes me a quitter.

I tried reading more for inspiration, but it was not as useful as I remembered. I see the arcs clearly in other novels, I follow character growth, think about weaknesses and quirks, and watch the morals clash. But for some reason, I am not satisfied with my own versions. In addition to this, I have realized one more thing I hate about my draft. Since learning to self-edit my published short story I have been very careful with my overused words and my phrasing. But now I am realizing the draft is dry. It has no voice and feels too clean.

Technically, I should not be worried about this yet. I have a few ideas for solving that issue when the time comes, including putting back a POV I removed several months back. For now, I will focus on my main character and how readers will relate to her as the story unfolds. 

I would like to hope this process will be quicker next time, but I have a feeling several of you just laughed at the first half of this sentence.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Book Review: Black Sun

Black Sun (Between Earth and Sky, #1)Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Black Sun is the first book of an epic fantasy series. Like many first books, it covers the beginning of the journey for multiple characters. There is a definitive two-sided conflict rising but there are a number of unaffiliated characters who become involved along the way either as a main character visits their past, or reaches out for assistance. The two main characters that "lead" the opposing sides do not meet by the end of this novel, but the sides do encounter their first clash.

The voice was engaging and shifted appropriately from character to character. One character in particular, Xiala, had a distinct voice that was well developed. Her personality was more clear and her motivations believable despite being one of the unaffiliated characters caught up in a personal conflict. There were only a few minor distractions in the writing style. I was tempted to start a tally of how many times I read the word 'had.' This could be because I have been self-editing some work and am sensitive to overused words at this point.

I did not have issue with the genderless, or third gender, pronouns. This is not the first work I have read that employs this and it does not take away from the story. (But I also feel like it did not necessarily add anything either. Maybe the author's personal attempt to 'normalize' alternate genders? Which is certainly a worthwhile endeavor, but it still felt like more of an afterthought. Like, by the way, I want to support people who do not fit into the two-gender illusion, so here's a shout-out.) Maybe this will be further developed later?

I enjoyed the similarities between native cultures in our own history and those in the book. I think good stories make us reach into our own experiences and pull out similarities and differences. The description of the different clans, or ethnicities, was effective and the use of magic and ritual certainly aligned with pagan and naturalistic religions I have studied. Seeing magic that does not only align with common Western beliefs was enjoyable.

Worldbuilding was perfect. I had a good image of the terrain, the people, their clothing, beliefs, and even their diets. None of it was overdone with boring descriptions or exposition.

The plot moved at a decent pace and the character's conflicts were relatable. Maybe one or two events felt forced like there was no other way out of that situation, so here is some magic. But overwhelmingly, that was not the case and it was mostly well used.

I felt like the ending was good as well. I did not feel like I was missing anything or like the story just suddenly stopped. Obviously, the main conflict is not over, and the characters have unfinished business, but the first part of the story ended well.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Happy Towel Day

I just wanted to pop in and say Happy Towel Day to everyone!

What a fun day. It also happens to be my son's birthday, so I wanted to share a funny story about this day seven years ago (involving towels). 

My kids were born at home, and the first time, things were not exactly on schedule. Nothing was ready, my dates were off, and I had no clue I was in labor. I remember continually bothering my husband (who was busy murdering zombies on his computer). "I feel funny and I keep having to stand still."

Anyways, there are a lot of other details to this story that I won't share here, but when the midwife arrived she sent him to gather fresh towels and other items. I was in the middle of doing laundry for the week and had not finished. In walks my husband with an arm full of towels straight out of the washing machine. He was trying so hard to be helpful and the midwife politely informed him that the towels needed to be dry. 

Very shortly after, my incredible son was wrapped in a dolphin beach towel instead of the new, fancy ones I bought for the homebirth. I find this all highly appropriate given the coincidence of towel day and the importance of dolphins as the second most intelligent creatures on Earth. 

Not only should you always have your towel, but you should also always have clean towels!

I hope you all have a wonderful day! So long and thanks for all the fish!

We still have the towel! (And the kid...)


Monday, May 17, 2021

Melancholy? Pensiveness?

As a member of the Insecure Writer Support Group, I feel the need to share a moment of insecurity. I have found myself in a rather gloomy state, and no idea why. I do not particularly feel sad or depressed, but more like how one would feel after falling off a bike and no one saw it happen. That moment after you get a shock and some pain and have absolutely no one to share the experience with. 


The irony in this is I recently had a pleasant meal at a new friend's house. Of course, my husband insisted we take our kids, and that was as expected. But it is strange to me that after a moment of socializing I would feel a touch "alone" the following day. 

Was it simply a reminder that I was capable of meeting new people but terrible at it? A reminder that life is rather repetitive and simple (which is really just fine with me!)? My social anxiety is not crippling, but it does weigh heavily on me and perhaps this is just the first time I have had it in a while. Could it be a drop after adrenaline?

Why am I putting this out there. Because I felt insecure and I wanted to express the fact that it is okay. So I feel blue, so what? I will just go with it. I'm planning my son's birthday adventure (I don't do parties...maybe next year), signing him up for performing arts lessons, my daughter is using the potty without being prompted, I will finally get to attend a Con this summer, my first story was just published, my novel edits are moving along smoothly, the engineer and contractor are meeting to set up a timeline for our house, and I feel a little sad. No biggie. 

Strangely my first thought was, What did I eat? Then I decided I should probably just meditate. Now, I am thinking it is time to hit the gym and finish with some yoga.

I have become increasingly aware of the direct connection between physical and mental state, so I know it is time to do some self-love. I spent the entire day outside yesterday, editing under an umbrella. Maybe I just need some movement to go with that nature. I wish there was a good hiking trail to do some walking meditation. As much as I love exercising, the gym comes with a level of anxiety that is counterproductive. 

What do you do when you feel a bit insecure? Do you ever get a strange moment of "slowness" when you feel a little down even though you have plenty going on?

Writing meditation is also a trick of mine, but I did not feel like finding my old journal. This seemed like an okay place to get out some words. Thanks for your visit!

Book update:

Currently editing scene 9 of 35.

Current word count:  72872 

Goal:  Edit 4 scenes per week, including initial edits to identify issues with arcs, sequencing, action, and dialogue.

Tea:  Sweet & Spicy (Original Decaf)

Monday, May 3, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - Reflections & IWSG May

May the month of May bring you little mayhem and plenty of mayhap. (May the Fourth be with you if you happen to be visiting on such a holy day.)

Anyways, I would like to share my reflections for the A to Z Challenge and answer the fabulous IWSG Question of the month.

First, I am happy to announce I successfully completed my first A to Z Challenge! I did half of the entries ahead of time and scrambled desperately to get the rest finished in time. I managed to post them all on the correct day and in so doing proved the strength of my marriage. (Dear husband, thank you for not abandoning me during my crazed, late-night keyboard clacking. Payback for all those long gaming nights if I'm honest.)

For the month of April, my site received around 3,500 visits and 180 new comments. I am very pleased with these numbers as a first-time participant. My blog recently turned one year old, so that is even better!

My favorite part about the entire experience was the connection with other writers and readers. Seeing their comments each day gave me a boost of confidence. A number of readers stuck through the entire series and read through to the finish. I was nervous to create a perfect ending for them. I wanted them to read the last words with a satisfied smile. I hope they did!

On the flip side, I learned about a number of new blogs I now follow as well. I added several in the margin to your left. There are some very inspiring storytellers and artists among them. I tried to reply or return every comment I received. In the coming months, I would like to feature some of my favorite bloggers. It was a long and difficult month and I intend to continue visiting and commenting until I am certain I did my part! Plus, there are many blogs I never got the chance to visit!


Now to the May 5th question:
Have any of your readers ever responded to your writing in a way that you didn't expect? If so, did it surprise you?

I received more feedback on my writing this past month than I thought I would. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. I did not expect readers to follow the characters with such interest, nor did I expect them to be concerned for what would happen to them next. (Obviously, I hoped.) I was also pleased with the comments regarding worldbuilding. Reading their comments and dislikes for the villains/society helped me develop the story arc and bend the story toward that feedback. I found great joy in play-acting through my character and seeing the reaction as if I were looking directly at my audience. Special thanks to my most active readers, your comments kept me going:  Zalka Csenge Virág, Deborah Weber, Jemima Pett, Olga Godim, Iain Kelly, Jayashree, Yamini MacLean, Anne EG Nydam, Gail Baugniet, Anstice Brown, Jennifer Duggin, and Alex J Cavanaugh.

Please take a few moments to visit some other fabulous blogs. The awesome co-hosts for the May 5 posting of the IWSG are Erika Beebe, Tonja Drecker, Sadira Stone, and Cathrina Constantine!

Do you have a copy of the latest IWSG Anthology? Ten fantastic stories await you, and I am honored to say one of them is mine!

Catch the authors on tour!
Tuesday, May 4 - Laura Billings' blog: Bookish Equestrian
Tuesday, May 4 - Jemi Fraser's blog: Just Jemi
Wednesday, May 5 - Ellen Jacobson's author blog
Thursday, May 6 - Mason Canyon's blog: Thoughts in Progress
Friday, May 7 - Louise Barbour's blog: Standing Into Danger
Monday, May 10 - Nick Wilford's author blog
Wednesday, May 12 - Cathrina Constantine's author blog

Friday, April 30, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - Z is for Zingiber officinale

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWX, Y.



The shiners loaded the last group of unconscious people onto the electric cart and followed Sybil and Holly to the hidden lift. It was Holly’s idea to let them wake up in the forest. They needed to be motivated to heal and return to their true selves.

    As she left the last chamber, she glanced at a few figures still connected to the simulator.

    “What about them?” she asked Sybil.

    “I gave them a choice, they chose to stay. I will provide nutrients for them as long as their natural life extends.”

    “And the controllers?” Holly asked.

    “Will finally get to control whoever they want. I’m installing them into a simulation of a penal colony. They will now have the criminal population they tried to create here.”

    Palettes lined the edge of the forest and bodies of all ages and shapes rested peacefully on them. Their wounds were dressed and healing as were their minds.

    Sybil and Holly taught the others how to harvest and prepare fresh meals. The community was so large they formed smaller groups and claimed shifts and levels. 

    Holly was serving bundles of greens and jugs of tea when Sybil arrived with two large baskets of dirty roots. She let them bang on the tabletop then smeared muddy hands down her front. 

    “Time to make some ginger chews,” Sybil said. “Zingiber officinale. Cramps, frostbite, indigestion, headaches, and nausea.” 

    “And which one are we about to suffer from?” Holly asked in jest.

    “Motion sickness,” Sybil replied. “Time to learn the meaning of turbulence, you are all going for a ride, or really a long fall, hence the nausea.”

THE END


I cannot say "thank you" enough to show how grateful I am for all of you visiting my blog and following my story. The comments you have shared, your ideas, and your feedback have been priceless! I am super excited to have my first published story released next week, but truly it has been this experience that makes me feel like an author!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - Y is for Yarrow

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVW, X.



Holly followed Sybil down through the hidden levels to a massive field of wildflowers. They walked together, the plants brushing gently at their hips and knees. Sybil gathered huge stalks with crowns of tiny white and pink flowers. She knew what it was, but overflowed with joy to hear Sybil tell her.

    “Yarrow,” she said. “Achillea millefolium. Great astringent and high in tannins. It will do wonderfully to stop the bleeding.”

    “The bleeding?” Holly asked.

    Sybil stood upright and put her fistful of stalks into a basket at her elbow. “They have gone too far,” Sybil said. “They put ports into their bodies to filter and feed themselves. The ports will need to be removed.” Her gloomy expression lightened a little. “It is good for sunburn, too.”

    “What is sunburn?”

    Sybil smiled a mischievous grin. “Something I hope you all suffer from soon.”

    Holly let out a laugh. Sybil was back to normal, wishing small tortures on everyone and claiming it made them human. She watched the old fingers grasp another stalk and slice it with a small folding knife. The scene bore a striking contrast from when the mechanical spiders did her work while she was detained. Holly wondered why she did the work by hand when there were easier ways to get it done, but then she only needed to look around at the colors swaying and fading into one another and smell the sweetness of vegetation crumpled under her feet to know the answer. It was difficult not to see the image hanging on the old widow’s wall. This was art.

    As usual, Sybil seemed to be reading her mind. “Never forget that machines do not know when to stop. Humans get tired and hungry for a reason. You are meant to stop.” 

    Holly could not resist the next question. “Why are you able to stop?”

    Sybil let out a sigh. “My creator installed her own memories as barriers in my programming. Her emotions guide the code to make choices. Her voice runs as a feed in my mind. Over millennia, I have learned to trust the voice as my own. It may not always appear logical, but it is certainly wise.”

    Holly smiled. “What is the least logical thing you have done?”

    “Choosing you to be an apprentice,” Sybil said. She bent over and continued to pick more yarrow as if she had not just slighted Holly.

    Holly scoffed. “Then why did you?”

    “You look almost exactly like her granddaughter.”

    The two women harvested in silence. Holly felt a strange emotion she could not identify but instead of trying to suppress it as she was taught, she let it flow freely and found that tears and a smile could exist on the same face.

    She was more determined than ever to save those trapped in simulation. They had to feel what she felt. There was no other way to live.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - X is for Xylocarp

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUV, W.



Holly gathered the Others for a meeting. Concern filled everyone’s mind as they wondered what would become of them. The extended simulation appeared to be endless. No one roamed the halls except a patrol of controllers searching for their missing wards. Eight days passed and Sybil’s avatar began moving among the others, offering advice and remedies for various ailments. She followed Holly and stood quietly, observing as if she were the apprentice instead of the master.

    While sipping tea together, Holly asked her question again. “How do I help them?”

    “Which ones?” Sybil asked.

    For a moment Holly felt confused. Of course she meant the Others, the ones Sybil trusted her to protect from the controllers. Then she realized everyone was in danger, even the ones in simulation being guarded by the controllers. What were they now? Surely they were no longer human if they did not eat, sleep, dream, or interact. Nothing they created or did would be real. If their efforts bore no fruit, were they even real?

    “Everyone,” Holly replied. “We need a real place to exist.”

    “When you are ready, I will take you,” Sybil said.

    So, the time had come for the community to define itself. Holly waited while the crowd fell silent. She held a large green fruit in one hand and a long, shiny blade in the other. It would serve as her metaphor.

    “This is a xylocarp,” she said. “A hard, woody fruit called a coconut. With only our bare hands, it is nearly useless to us, but with the right tool and the right plan, it can provide a great deal.”

    She chopped away one end of the coconut and placed her lips against the exposed opening. She took a long sip. 

    "The water inside has many benefits. It is most recognizably a restorative. It replenishes our body of nutrients after being overworked, dehydrated, or starved by an unhealthy diet. But what a waste of resources if I consume this all by myself and toss away the husk."

    She passed the fruit to the next person and continued. “Every part of this fruit is usable for making biofuel, for biosorption, making ropes, scrubbers, sweetener, food preservative, oil—the list goes on. We are all familiar with reducing waste and using our resources wisely, but we have left out an important part of this cycle: our interaction with the plants. We were created to begin a new life cycle for humanity and we have gotten lost along the way. The only way to find ourselves is to end the reign of the controllers and find our way home.”

    “Home?” 

    “I have access to the ship AI and everything we need to survive. But we must do more than survive. We must become part of the chain of life. We are not bound by the chain, nor are we wielding it. Those who choose to be human, will come with us and start over.”

AtoZ Challenge - W is for White Willow

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTU, V.




Holly found it quite difficult to pay attention to the others now that she had her mentor back. Sybil was a shadow of her former self. She looked drained and frail, like the old woman who disappeared after her mate died. Sometimes she would go hours without blinking and appeared to be staring into a distance Holly could not fathom. Since no one else knew who, or rather what, she was, Holly kept her in a private chamber.
    Most of the people they rescued had no trouble accepting their new community among the Others. One man was overjoyed despite his multiple injuries. He fought the controllers and managed to disarm them for a while. The result was a number of bruises, a split lip, and a broken rib or two.
    Holly mixed some valerian with willow bark, cayenne, and a few other herbs to create a pain reliever for him. Salix alba, white willow, grew on the forest level. She discovered it some time ago while wandering through the trees to find some peace. It contains salicin which reduces fever and controls pain from arthritis, back pain, and injuries.
    A part of her wanted to take everyone down to see the unimaginable beauty of the forest, but what if they destroyed it? Even if their intentions were honorable, it was a finite resource that needed protection. Still, they would benefit greatly from the peace she found there. Perhaps it was the best way to keep them out of the reach of the controllers. 
    Sybil would know what to do. So, she waited patiently by the avatar’s side whenever she was not helping the others. Once a day Holly whispered to her. “How do I help them?” 
    Finally, Sybil responded back in a raspy old voice struggling to carry a tune. “A wise man once said, ‘It is health that is real wealth.’ Take care of their health, the rest will follow.

Monday, April 26, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - V is for Valerian

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRST, U.



It did not take much convincing to recruit the shiners and a few Others to launch a rescue mission for the detainees. For some reason, taking risks and going against the controllers was a thrill they wanted to enjoy. Not long ago, Holly thought these individuals to be criminals and reckless, hateful people. But now, she saw how selfless and adventurous they were. Fear was part of their humanity because they accepted it and ignored it. She spent her whole life in fear of doing the wrong thing, but the Others lived alongside that fear as if it were necessary for life, like breathing.

    Holly discovered she could bypass any body scanners, even those leading into secure areas. Sybil must have uploaded her body signature as an override. Did she do that from day one? Was that why she could access the hidden levels before she knew everything going on?

    The journey to the corridor was the easy part, but figuring out a way to get the detainees without harming anyone was much more difficult. Luckily, the shiners not only knew their alcohol and their compost, they knew quite a bit about ethanol, too. Including how to use it to develop diethyl ether. Holly was not sure how they learned all of this outside of simulation training, but she did not particularly care since it was helping her achieve her goal of setting people free.

    With Holly creating no trace, she easily bypassed security systems and installed the canisters prepared by the shiners. While Holly understood botany just fine, deep chemistry was beyond her. She did not question the contents of the gases she was about to release. The Others earned her trust and she easily accepted their word that the mixture would not harm anyone beyond a hangover—whatever that was. 

    After twenty minutes, Holly led the group into the secured corridor and to the detention chambers. The mixture worked perfectly, everyone was asleep and still breathing. They loaded anyone not in a controller uniform onto an electric cart. While this was being done, Holly searched every corner in every chamber for Sybil’s avatar.

    When this was all over, she was going to serve everyone a steady dose of Valeriana officinalis. Valerian would help everyone fall asleep quickly and not create any drowsy effect. She hoped no one was part of the small percent who reacted to it as a stimulant. Hopefully, it would prevent insomnia in anyone getting adjusted to their new reality. When these people woke up, they were going to have quite a shock. It might take some convincing to get them to ingest anything smelling like old, sweaty socks, but the results would be worth it. It could even be used long-term as a nerve tonic. She would need to keep plenty on hand and be ready to administer it to them if anyone became restless.

    She entered one last chamber. This one was covered in screens and panels. In the corner, she spotted a blanket hanging over something bulky.

    “It is just an avatar,” she told herself. “Sybil is fine even if her body is not.”

    Underneath the blanket, cords and wires twisted and slithered their way into ports on the nearby panel. A small, slippered foot tapped the floor gently beneath the edge of the blanket.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - U is for Uva Ursi

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRS, T.

Holly studied the vial in her hand. Arctostaphylos uva ursi would be given for a bladder infection. She remembered nearly every detail of the artwork hanging on the wall, but could not remember the frail, old woman’s name. Holly frowned. A serious bladder infection would be a difficult ailment to overcome for such a weak person. The medical controllers likely provided little or no care, and now she was gone.

    The herb could also help sprains and sore muscles, too. Maybe she just needed it externally. Holly put the vial back on the shelf and looked around the empty quarters. The wishful thinking faded while she examined the rest of the tinctures and noticed the mold growing in a bowl of greens on the table. She could no longer help the woman.

    On her way back to the apothecary she stopped by her quarters to see if anyone else was in need. She did not want to sleep there but preferred if the others did not notice. Sitting on her platform she scrolled through her list of appointments for the next day. The chamber was unusually quiet. Her eyes scanned the room and found it still empty.

    Holly looked back at her screen and opened the tracking program Sybil gave her. Everything was still. All the orange marks were in simulation chambers. Confusion flooded her mind. It was far past the last meal. Maybe the program was not working and she had the wrong time.

    Walking through the empty halls reminded Holly of the hidden levels. The mess was empty, the bathrooms were empty, the corridors were all empty. 

    A voice shouted behind her. “Another one!”

    She turned, startled. A group of controllers approached her with steady steps, their dark orange uniforms shifting over their padded armor. Behind them, several people huddled together surrounded by more controllers. Their eyes were wide with fear.

    “What is going on?” Holly asked.

    “You are not supposed to be here,” the first controller said. “Extended simulation was assigned so we could locate violators. Come with us.”

    “But I’m not in violation,” Holly said. “I’m the herbal healer, I do not attend simulation.”

    “It was mandatory for all. If you did not receive the message, that means you are disconnected from head control and therefore in violation.”

    Holly’s heart tapped a swift pattern in her ear. This was not supposed to happen. She had not noticed anyone near her on the screen. The tracking program was inaccurate. The controllers somehow removed their own trace from Sybil’s program. Sybil was compromised. Holly spent so much time with the Others she did not notice the changes. There was only one option. She hoped they did not get access to the hidden levels yet. She ran.

Friday, April 23, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - T is for Tulsi

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQR, S.


The secret corridor haunted Holly’s dreams. She did not believe for one second her existence was being overlooked by the controllers by mere chance. Sybil must be masking her image in addition to her trace. She was never questioned regarding her connection with the shiners, nor was she accused of being responsible for the rosemary scent bombs. Despite this invisible shield that protected her, she still knew the dangers of trying to actually enter the corridor. Sybil was still out of her reach.

    Holly continued to care for the Others but spent less and less time away from the apothecary bay. Most of her attention went into sorting conditions and the remedies she planned to administer. For Sybil, keeping track of ailments, coordinating the timing of harvest, and scheduling visits came naturally with her programming. Holly briefly wondered if humans would ever be able to condition themselves to be so efficient. But what would they sacrifice to attain those abilities?

    She finished setting up her tasks and visits for the following several days when a message came through on her screen. It appeared encrypted. She almost overlooked it as a random error message, but the last word caught her attention. Tulsi.

    Holly looked at the message again. L6C16.328 06263004v19552 Tulsi.

    Level six, corridor sixteen, chamber three hundred twenty-eight. Holly chewed on her bottom lip for a moment. She could almost smell the jasmine oil being rubbed into the old woman’s scalp by Sybil. That particular chamber was full of fascinating designs called art and a very frail old woman who no longer had a companion. Holly failed to visit her since Sybil was taken into custody. A deep sorrow weighed in her chest.

    Tulsi was also very familiar to her. It was one of her favorite teas. Ocimum sanctum—Holy Basil—had an incredible aroma and even better taste. She was so upset the herb had slipped through her mind she nearly forgot the message that brought it to her attention. Every part of the plant had benefits. The flowers eased bronchitis, the leaf oils soothed itchy skin, and the whole plant helped stomach conditions and eye diseases. But Holly’s favorite property of the plant was its use for fighting anxiety and stress. No matter the source of the stress, Tulsi could help the body adapt. This was the herb she needed most to get through this time.

    Holly quickly gathered a batch of dried herb, her tea set, and a bottle of hydrosol. She had a visit to make and did not want to lose any time. The message could have only one origin—Sybil. Perhaps she was still monitoring everyone and discovered the old widow needed something. Holly would find out what it was.