Books I'm Reading

This past week was a little like Christmas. My Barnes & Noble order hit the door along with a very nice surprise from a fan who only wants to be known as Sean McGivney. Three novels and COFFEE (Yo te amo, Columbia). My most heartfelt thanks to Sean. The coffee has been amazing and the books look to be just as delicious.

But first, a picture of the elusive Mr. Macavity ...

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The Broken Road--a brief excerpt (#SFWAPro)

And finally, the opening for my novella "The Broken Road" is finalized. This means that I have opened the file numerous times, read it, and have not felt the need to rearrange words.

Outside the gilded halls of Antigua, summer wilted the crops in the fields. The lowborn poured their blood into the soil. What grew from those rites couldn’t be named or eaten. Famine was a dirty bitch with rotten fangs, but the hunger she put in a belly bit sharp nonetheless ...

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"The Broken Road" novella update

Nailing the opening and ending of a novel are the two most difficult aspects for me. Those first words are like a thesis statement, and I have to work them constantly to get just the right feel for the novel. 

I'm still playing with the paragraph. It has morphed at least five times in the last week. Each time I open the story to work on it, I read the first paragraph anew and tweak it slightly.

Last week, it looked like this:

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A new look to the website (#SFWApro)

A new look to the website (#SFWApro)

Wow. I knew you guys were awesome, but you just blew me away last week. On Friday, I received an email from Clarion West that we have achieved Tier 3, our $100 goal! As a matter of fact, we shot over the goal and collected $160.00 in donations for Clarion West.

You people simply rock!

What this means is that I am now about to offer up not one, not two, but all three of the tiers to some lucky folks. Here is what I'm going to do:

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A chance to win a Tuckerization in my novella

I'm working on a novella that is due to be finished by August 1st. Over the weekend, I discovered that Clarion West Writers Workshop is hosting a Write-a-thon to help raise money for Clarion West Writers Workshop. For those of you who have never heard of Clarion West Writers Workshop, the organization's mission is to improve speculative fiction by providing high quality education through both one-day workshops and an intensive six week writing program. Clarion West is funded through donations, and of course, more donations means that they can keep their tuition low so that more writers can attend.

I've heard a lot of really great things about Clarion West. Since their Write-a-thon coincided with my impending deadline, I thought I might try and raise some money for Clarion West while having a little fun.

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what I've been reading: The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer

what I've been reading: The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer

A disclaimer before I begin this review: Courtney and I are both former NSB authors, whose debut novels were published within months of one another. Since then, she and I have emailed one another frequently and I consider her to be a friend. That doesn't mean that I will pull punches in my review. It's just there for your information.

For those of you who have not been keeping up with Courtney's Shattered Sigil series (gives a stare worthy of Chuck Wendig), you should be. The first book of the series, The Whitefire Crossing, was a wild romp of a read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and if you want to read my review of The Whitefire Crossing, it is here.

And now, The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer:

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Why you won't see "trigger warnings" here

I dislike the use of blanket use "trigger warnings," especially in academic settings. Yes, I understand that people suffer traumatic circumstances outside of the classroom, and I think it is incumbent on the faculty to say that the next work they are going to examine might be disturbing to some students. Brittney Cooper talks about why this form of censorship shouldn't be tolerated and the instructor's role in guiding discussions.

From a personal perspective, I find it demeaning that a certain group of people believes that I will forever be a victim and constantly being "triggered" into bad memories of traumatic abuse by any- and everything. Everyone who has been abused in some manner goes through a victim-stage. There is nothing wrong this, it is a perfectly valid response to abuse. However, to remain locked in this stage as a victim can be emotionally crippling. There is one stage that comes after "victim" that I don't see people talking about at all.

With constant work and good therapy, most people progress to become a survivor. At this point, the trauma is there, but the trauma no longer controls the individual or their actions. We acknowledge what was and know that it is something that HAPPENED to us, not something that DEFINES us.

To allow any kind of trauma to define me and restrict my life and my thinking is a straightjacket that I prefer to avoid. That's just been my personal experience.

Also, if you're triggered by anything, don't read my works. I trigger everything, because to hide abuse is to deny its existence, and I'm not into denial. Not anymore.

So you will never find "trigger warnings" here. Remember:

Musings, writing, and a gargoyle ... (#SFWApro)

I might still be scarce around the old blog for a little longer. I'm on an August 1 deadline for a novella, which I'm working on now. Summer has officially begun and with it comes grass and gardening and stuff. Mostly stuff.

With the novella, I am suffering from my usual first draft blues, but those should abate soon. I enjoy using my outdoor gardening time to let my mind drift and work on the story. A few things clicked into place yesterday. Nothing as polished as a first line yet, but I'm getting there.

It's sort of like this weird little garden I have at my backdoor. When we first moved here, there was hardly anything in at all. Now it looks like this:

That is Edgar in the center of the garden.

Here is Edgar up close and personal:

Looking good, isn't he?

Now that the backdoor garden just takes some minor weeding, I've turned my attention to the front garden, which is three times bigger than this small patch.

As you can see, I've already started working around this plot. The hostas came from the giant hosta in the lower right-hand corner. I've spent the last couple of years breaking them up and moving them around. The camellia in the middle was there when we came here, so I've been designing the rest of the garden around it. There are three hydrangeas there now (one is hidden by the hostas) and some phlox. I've still got some minor weeding to do, but considering that everything to the left of the camellia was filled with grass and weeds yesterday, I'm feeling fairly accomplished today. It doesn't look like much now, but I'm hoping that in a year or two, this side will be as full of green and color as the backdoor garden.

It is a challenge to coax something from nothing, to take a blank canvas, and render it alive with color, or sound, or words. I enjoy it though. I've just learned that everything doesn't have to be done all in one day. Growth comes from sustained effort and nurturing.

Which leads me back to my novella. I want it to have a fairytale quality, but I also want it to have a little horror on the side. The challenging part is getting through the first draft and laying out the characters and the plot. Once there, I can fine tune it and bring it to life. That is my favorite part: the final edits.

Yesterday, while my hands worked the ground, my mind worked on the story.

So if I'm not here, then I'll be writing.

Watch for me.

what I've been reading and what they're doing right (#SFWApro)

Last Thursday, I finished my latest work, Cygnet Moon, and shipped the novel and its accompanying submission package off to my agent. Writing a novel is an immersive business for me, especially when I get into the final quarter and during edits. I don't read anything but the story that I'm working on. I do this so that I don't accidentally pick up someone else's voice during my final round of edits.

I restrict my reading to blog posts and research, then once I'm done, I go on an absolute binge of reading. Here are a few books that I've found worth my while:

Preternatural by G.S. Anderson

I once had an agent who offered up a unique challenge: Anyone, he posited, can tell you what is wrong with a story. The challenge is in telling someone what is RIGHT with a story. Find what works, and you can discover writing secrets, which you can then apply to your own writing. That suggestion has remained with me all these years, so when I find myself enjoying an author's work, I start looking for what that particular author is doing right.

Anderson tells twelve unique stories in this little volume, and I had to read it twice to find out what she was doing right, because her writing is so smooth and enjoyable, I found myself reading for fun the first time through.

What she did right: smooth storytelling with skillful prose made me forget to study fiction and simply enjoy stories for fun. Anderson's writing reminded me Stephen King's Joyland. Skillful storytelling with a cool Twilight Zone twist hidden within each tale. I read it quickly--too quickly--and read it again. My favorite story was "The Unicorn" and I hope that Anderson will give us more shorts such as these. If you're looking for something perfect to while away an afternoon, I highly suggest you check out Preternatural.

Those Across the River and The Necromancer's House by Christopher Buehlman.

Over the winter, I read Christopher Buehlman's Between Two Fires. I enjoyed his story and writing style so much that when my daughter gave me a B&N gift card for my birthday, I ordered his other two novels: Those Across the River and The Necromancer's House.

Of the two, I found myself enjoying the Those Across the River more than The Necromancer's House, but I believe that was more to do with my mindset. Both stories are well worth your time, though, especially if you love horror.

I read Those Across the River in two days. The story is set in post-World War I Georgia when Frank Nichols and his wife Eudora move to Whitbrow, Georgia and learn of the town's disturbing history. Once a month, the town sends a gift of two pigs across the river where the old Savoyard plantation once stood, but the Great Depression is hitting all of the farmers hard, and the town votes to stop wasting its livestock in a ritual that only a few want to maintain. However, it isn't long before those across the river return to take what is no longer freely given.

What is right about this book: everything. The pacing moves at a breakneck speed and Buehlman has a talent for dark fiction, knowing just how much to weave into the story to keep the reader hooked without going overboard into the dreaded school of over-writing. The story is lean, quick, and cuts like a knife.

Unlike Those Across the River, The Necromancer's House jumped between different points of view, which jarred me at times. I had a little trouble getting into the story and the characters, but once there, I really found myself enjoying this twisted take on Baba Yaga. Buehlman's climax and ending were superb.

What he does right: Buehlman takes the time to research his stories, and he puts just enough of that research into the work to give his story authenticity. The balance is absolutely perfect. I'll be watching for more of Buehlman's work.

The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer.

This is the second book in Schafer's Shattered Sigil series and I am currently reading it. I love Schafer's storytelling.

What she does right: Likable characters woven into a good, old-fashioned adventure story with lots of twists and betrayals. Kiran is my favorite character in this story, and Dev is back with style.

I'll be back with a full review when I'm done, but Tainted City is my last fun read before I start work on a new novella.

If you've got a minute and you're reading something good, leave it in the comments. Let us know what you find right about the author's work.

The Neverland's Library Anthology (#SFWApro)

A very short note to let you know that the Neverland's Library Fantasy Anthology is now available from Ragnarok Publications. I have a short story in this anthology, which is more of a traditional fantasy story, one that I enjoyed writing. "Love, Crystal and Stone" was written for my friend Mazarkis Williams, who wanted to know more about the dragon in my short story "Naked the Night Sings." Here's your dragon, my friend.

Fantasy Book Critic published an exclusive excerpt from my story back in October of last year if you want a peek.

There are a lot of great stories in this collection. Tad Williams wrote a beautiful introduction, and I'm looking forward to reading all of the stories this week.

From the blurb:

Dragons, magic, princesses of mighty kingdoms ... elements of fantasy that have carried on throughout the many ages, and yet, may one day be forgotten. Enter and delve into the roots of fantasy, rediscovering the fantastic, and exploring lost worlds. Neverland's Library is storytelling at its finest. This collection of original works will take readers back to that moment when they first fell in love with the genre.

Featuring an introduction by Tad Williams and stories from writers across the spectrum such as Mark Lawrence, Marie Brennan, R.S. Belcher, Miles Cameron, Teresa Frohock, Don Webb, Joseph R. Lallo, J.M. Martin, Brian Staveley, Tim Marquitz, Jeffrey J. Mariotte & Marsheila Rockwell, Kenny Soward, Betsy Dornbusch, Stephen McQuiggan, Keith Gouveia, Jeff Salyards, William Meikle, Ian Creasey, Mercedes M. Yardley, Peter Rawlik.

This is a collection worthy of one's library.

Noble women

On Tumblr, Kate Elliot shared a group of movie posters that I just loved. I wanted to repost one of the pictures here, because whenever I thought of the Sygnosian queens in Cygnet Moon, this was exactly the kind of woman I envisioned:

Cheng Pei-pei as She SaihuaThis is Cheng Pei-pei dressed for her role as She Saihua in the 2011 movie Legendary Amazons. She wears her age like a badge of honor, and she is far more interesting and beautiful than the younger women in the cast.