IWSG December Post: Writers Remorse ?

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeDecember 6 question – As you look back on 2017, with all its successes/failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

There isn’t much I would do differently. To be honest, 2017 was filled with more success than failures. Sure, I got about 120 rejections for one of my novels, but in the end, I landed a contract with a great publisher.

If anything, I wish I had gotten brave enough to share my queries in Absolute Write’s query letter hell forum sooner, and had been a little more careful about proof reading some of my queries and samples. I do worry that the 20 or so queries I sent out for one of my projects, Like Birds Under the  City Sky, were a waste because the project is currently shelved until I get into the right mindset to make the necessary revisions. Of course, there is a bright side to this. The editor who sent the R & R requesting the revision works for the publisher I signed Power Surge with.

My only other biggish regret has to do with the Publishizer crowd publishing campaign that I botched this summer and that wasn’t a total waste becuase it got me to complete manuscript #4, Earth Reclaimed, which one of my old friends who doubles as a CP claims is one of the best things I’ve written so far. Of course, the sample chapter shared in the publishizer page was an info dump filled with forced dialogue. I’ve composted and rewritten it several times now, and it is much better. I’m not sure if I will ever try crowd publishing again since I am not very social, but if I do, it will be with a complete and polished ms, not a WIP.

As far as writing goes, 2017 was a good year. However, if were to go into politics, identity, and mental health issues, well, then I would be telling a different story, but I doubt any of you want to hear about all the tiny little regrets I have about awkward things I said in conversations or snarky comments I shouldn’t have made on student papers.

The most important thing to do now is to learn from my mistakes and keep moving forward.

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Book Review: Run in the Blood

Run in the BloodRun in the Blood by A.E. Ross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Run in the Blood is like a breath of crisp, salty air proving you can have sword and sorcery fantasy set in a medieval-ish world without loading it up with sexism and misogyny. And you know what makes this book even better? Quite a bit of the rainbow was represented in a positive light with no one picking on them for being themselves.

I received a free copy from NineStar Press in exchange for a fair and honest review. I want to give it ALL THE STARS.

It had dragons AND pirates!

I was hooked from the first page watching in close third person as Aela engaged in a classic pirate battle and after a sweeping victory, was sold out to a king of a cold, snowy mountain nation.

Instead of forcing the reader to keep track of way too many characters, Ross alternated between three whose actions were closely intertwined, making the plot easy to follow and allowing me bond with and root for all three of them without being a strung along by some other random person’s story.

While a little predictable, the plot was full of fun twists and turns, all narrated by three very distinct voices, though my favorite is definitely Aela’s. The descriptions were detailed but not overdone, and little details, butter tea and spear guns, really brought the world to life.

The end wrapped up the plot’s important threads, but I really really hope there is a sequel because this book was so fun to read.

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Book Review: The Girl in the Tower

The Girl in the Tower (The Winternight Trilogy #2)The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A slow start, an epic middle and a bittersweet end describe The Girl in the Tower.

When I read the first book in the Winternight Trilogy last year, I hadn’t realized it was a series, but enjoyed it enough to request a copy when I realized there was a book 2, and it was on NetGalley.

The opening was loaded with gorgeous prose and historical detail, but it was a long time before I got to read a chapter from the hero’s (Vasya’s) point of view. However, once she showed up in the book, she swept me away like wind from a wild winter storm and hardly let me put the book down an end that almost made me cry.

While the historic setting was detailed and well researched, it was also incredibly frustrating. I wanted to punch almost every male in the story at one point or another for being misogynistic jerks. The difference is the way Vasya was treated when people thought she was a boy versus new she was a girl really captured the sexism of the time period. However, since this book was also laden with magic and folklore, I kept waiting and hoping for that historically accurate sexism to be subverted.

I liked that Vasya put on her pants in the wild woods long before she re-entered human society. It made her character and identity feel more genuine. However, my problem with female characters that “cross-dress” or “pretend” to be boys when live in a society like this makes wonder if they do that because their culture’s view of women is oppressive, or if it is simply because of who they are. If Vasya lived today, would she still want to play the role of a man? Or would she be content a woman?

I’m always looking for books with human characters that subvert gender binaries, but historical fiction can blur or even invalidate that because it is so hard to tell how much of the character’s desire to cross-dress is internal and how much is external.

Either way, I still love how wild and determined Vasya is, curse her when she makes bad decisions, and root for her to in. I can’t see how she can find peace and be alive in the world she lives in, but now that I know it is a trilogy, I am okay with the way things ended in this book, but I do not expect any kind of happy ending where she survives the end of the trilogy.

If you are looking for a darker fairytale or historic fantasy, then you will enjoy this, but don’t pick it up if you want a disney-worthy happily ever after.

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A Review: Gender Identity in Queen of All Crows

The Queen of All Crows (The Map of Unknown Things, #1)The Queen of All Crows by Rod Duncan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Queen of All Crows

When my request Queen of All Crows was approved on NetGalley, I was thrilled to hear that the wait to see what happened with Elizabeth Barnabus and John Farthing would be over. However, my experience reading the newest story in the world of the Gas-Lit Empire was a little different than it was last year. It is impossible to review without touching on how gender is portrayed in it.

Now, I’m more open about my gender identity, and am more engaged in conversations about gender and sexuality. Even though Elizabeth is referred to as “she/he” I’ve always thought “they/them” would be better suited as far as pronouns go. Barnabus was one of the first characters whose gender identity seemed to come close to mine — not really man or woman, but something fluid and in between.

Yes, pretending to be a young man was labeled as a disguise, but to me, it always seemed like it was more part of Barbabus’ identity than a disguise, and I think part of why my review is four-stars, not five, was because of the phrase “disguise herself as a man” being present in the back cover copy and the manly appearance being referred to as a disguise in general. Narratives where a character presents a different gender just for an external purpose sometimes make non-binary and fluid identities less valid. However, the saving grace in this series is that Elizabeth’s “disguise” is so much more than a disguise. And in Queen of All Crows, it becomes even clearer that not even Elizabeth truely understands their own identity.

I read slower than normal, rereading every sentence that hinted at Barnabus’ true gender identity. Some lines made me angry by placing Barnabus’ in a binary, but then there were twice as many that proved my theory that whether the author intended it or not, Barnabus was genderfluid.

The role gender played in this book went far beyond one character’s identity. I could write a twenty page paper analyzing gender in this book. Much of the plot was driven by power and perceptions of power: power over technology and weapons, but more importantly, the balance of power between men, women and those who are both or neither.

As anyone who has read the other books knows, the Gas-Lit empire, is not a place women have much power or agency. However, in Queen of All Crows Barnabus travels to an island made up of all women, which unfortunately, fell into the trope of a complete reversal — women enslaving men, and claiming they are better than them when they are really no different. I was a bit annoyed at this, but even here, the characters did not lack depth, and this little bubble of reversal did seem necessary to the larger plot at work throughout the serie. Since the characters were varied and not all raging idiots, and the description and integration into the world was so well done, I was able to forgive this.

The book did not have too many other flaws. The opening was slow, but once the plot picked up it was difficult to put the book down. The descriptions were detailed and gorgeous. The emotions and tensions high. The characters were tested and changed. The role of power and technology really got me thinking, and at times, I had to stop mentally debate ideas before diving back in. It has all the makings of a classic read that will endure for centuries.

Yes, there are some flaws, but every book has flaws, and this ones just make it more revealing in so many ways. I highly recommend it, but also reccomend you read Custodian of Marvels trilogy first.

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A Review of Love, Hate & Other Filters

Love, Hate & Other FiltersLove, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

I received a free copy of Love, Hate, and Other Filters from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. I rarely read contemporary YA, but thought this might be a good book to use in one of the classes I teach at community college. Reading this book did not feel like work. It felt like “I don’t want to go to work because I don’t want to stop reading this book.”

At first, as the narrator pointed out in a well crafted, self-aware manner, it felt like Rom-Con, where the geeky girl has to choose between two boys. However, things got more serious as tension grew between her and her parents, and they got a lot more serious when a terrorist attack happened in their state. Here, the book ceased to feel like rom-com and became more literary. Then there was a twist that I absolutely loved and made me think, “yes, this is a book for today, and it is a book so many people need to read!” The end was bittersweet, giving choky feels that only a good book can give.

I love that this book made think while it kept me turning pages. How the excerpts at the beginning of the chapters left bread crumbs for the twist but didn’t fully give it away. I enjoyed how the narrator was a little self-aware, but it didn’t really break the fourth wall because she was a filmmaker and it just felt like how she thought.

My only complaint is that there was one scene when a girl was being attacked by a boy, and another boy saved her. From a romance plot point of view, I can see why the writer chose this. It doesn’t stop me from wishing either the girl saved herself, or her female friend kicked the assaulter’s ass.

I learned a lot from reading this, and I had a lot of fun while doing it. I hope it becomes a bestseller, because it is a perspective so many American’s need to learn to see from.

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The Puppy went to doggie day care for the first time. The staff at Let’s Go Canine shared this video. Even though Tavi is home now, I keep watching it over and over again. He was so excited about all the other dogs.

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I could share more thoughts on dog daycare, but I haven’t figured out what they all are yet, and it’s NaNoWriMo, so I have other things to write about. In the mean time, enjoy the cuteness.

IWSG November: I will win NaNoWriMo!

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeNovember 1 question – Win or not, do you usually finish your NaNo project? Have any of them gone on to be published?

Because I was so into national novel writing month, I completely forgot to blog on the first of the month with the Insecure Writers Support Group Question. Half way through the month and about 27,000 words into a newish novel, I am slowing down.

I wouldn’t say I’ve hit a wall so much as a swamp or a mucky stretch of road. This has happened before. I get my characters past their inciting incident and on their adventure. They are getting somewhere. They are growing, and then I slow down. What was going to write next? What obstacles can I throw in their way? How will those obstacles affect them?

When I should just be writing and letting the characters talk to me, I start overthinking my first draft. As if that isn’t bad enough, I start peeking at works that are supposed to be resting, more polished works that are just a couple rounds of revision away from being sent out to agents, and I start thinking about how rough the writing in my WIP is. It slows me down. I know its bad, and in theory, I know how to get past it, but it never happens right away.

Thankfully, I’ve done NaNoWriMo (and the camp version) a few times before. I’ve completed four novels. When I finish my WIP, I’ll have five under my belt. I’m starting to get a good sense of my process. One way or another, I will finish the book.

In 2015, I didn’t sign up on the site, but I wrote the bulk of a novel in November. I didn’t call it NaNoWriMo officially because I started in Oct and finished in Dec, but since that first draft was nearly 200,000 words long, I am pretty sure I wrote at least 50,00 words in November. Several revisions later, Song of the Forest is 83,000 words and being queried. If you’ve paid attention to any of my twitter pitches, the ones about telepaths, trees and serial killers are for this book.

In 2016, I took a short story that a bunch of editors and cp’s had been telling should be a novel and turned it into a 54,000 word novel. In the end, I was really happy with the way it came out. I got some feedback, didn’t listen as closely as I should, revised a couple times, got more feedback, did some editing and started querying. After a lot of rejections, I got some honest feedback from an editor about the structure of the story, which prompted rewrite I have not yet finished since I was too excited about other projects. My plan is to revisit it in January when I am on break.

In 2017, I attempted two Camp NaNoWriMos. April’s got me some progress on a WIP, but I didn’t finish it. I tried again in July but ended up switching projects halfway through. I hit the 50,000 word mark, but it wasn’t all for one book. By the end of August, I had finished the book I switched to, but not the one I started. I haven’t returned that incomplete WIP, but will sooner or later.

Right now, I’m working on getting out of the muck for the WIP I’m working on. I will win this month, but I know this YA space adventure is going to need more than 50,000 words. I could get to an ending my 50,000 words then go back and beef up the middle later, or I could keep writing beyond the end of the month until I reach an end of the book. I’m open to either, but I know that if I over think it and don’t just do it, I won’t do either.

One thing I have learned from writing multiple novels is to trust the process. No matter how bad the first draft comes out, revision can make it better. To get through the first draft, I need to just write and let the characters have a will of their own. The rest, the careful plotting, focusing on how the characters change, and careful editing comes in later drafts.

Book Deal = Happier than a Puppy Off- Leash

Power Surge Aesthetic pitch

A visual pitch I made for Power Surge during the last #kidpit. 

This blog post should’ve been up a few days ago, but with storms, a family member’s health issues, and the start of NaNoWriMo, I neglected to write it. However, if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then you probably already know the information I am going to announce.

I signed a contract with NineStar Press to publish my young adult, urban fantasy novel, Power Surge.

Power Surge was the first novel I began writing with any amount of seriousness, but it was the second one I finished. It’s been revised at least about a dozen times, and if you put the first and final draft side by side, I’m not sure the two would have a complete sentence in common.

I started querying Power Surge to agents on Oct. 31, 2016. A little over 100 of them rejected it. I made a ton of mistakes, got some requests, but they all turned into rejections one way or another. Later, I switched my efforts to publishers with a fresh query and freshly edited manuscript. I got more requests, and eventually, I received to offers. On Oct. 30 2017, I signed a contract with NineStar Press.

I have not figured out my exact stats yet, but I had 72 outright rejections, 45 agents or editors whose lack of a reply was equivalent to a rejection, and 3 instances where I withdrew my manuscript because the deadline I set to respond had passed. Of all my submissions, I only had 6 full requests and two partials if I am counting right. However, many publishers, including the one I signed with, have authors submit the whole manuscript up front.

I kept tract of everything in a table in Microsoft word and am now wishing I had just used power point. Eventually, I will organize my data better and get better numbers. I’m going to do this with my other manuscripts before the amount of submissions gets out of control.

If these numbers are right, that means I sent out 120 submissions with a 6.6% request rate for agents and publishers combined. That rate was much lower than the 10% I was told to aim for, but in the end, it didn’t matter. I received not one, but two offers of publication with no agent.

After researching both publishers, I decided to sign with NineStar. People said better things about them in the absolute write forums. They pay higher royalties. I’ve worked with them before on smaller projects. More importantly, I got the sense that the editor I am going to be working with really understood Power Surge and is the right person to help me make it shine.

I don’t have a release date yet, though I am assuming it will be close to a year before Power Surge is published. Even this early in the game, I am confident NineStar Press is the perfect home for Power Surge.

This is the first step on a long journey, and so far, it has taught me that without enough patience and persistence, anything is possible. Right now, I’m as happy as Tavi (my puppy) when he gets to run off leash.

Now, it’s time to get back to NaNoWriMo2017!

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National Novel Writing Month: 2017

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing color, the days are getting short, and it’s almost time to embark on an adventure: National Novel Writing Month.

Last year, I wrote a romantic sci-fi thriller about a hacker and a small town boy on the run from some government contractors. After a few revisions, I thought it was done, queried it too soon, and got a lot of rejections. One editor was kind enough to give me some feedback, and after sending the book out to a few more beta, who agreed that the book needed work, I started a revision, got stuck, and put it in the to be revised later folder.

This year I am going to be more patient. I’m really excited about my project, and want to make sure it’s really ready before I send it out. Luckily, I have plenty of other projects to keep me busy.

I haven’t written or outlined enough to know exactly where the plot’s going, but I know who my characters are, I know the world, and know that it is totally queer. It’s space opera, and that means there will be whispers of Star Wars, Firefly and Guardians of the Galaxy, but I’m also certain my cast of gender-fluid characters, teenage drama, and  retro flare will make it unique.

Yes, there are space ships, aliens, magic and a quest, but the characters are what will make this book shine.

For now, here is a working blurb and some images:

Dianny doesn’t want to take over Mom’s business dealing in sex and drugs, or wind up like one of the beings Mom employs. However, with ADHD, anxiety, sensitivity to Oomph, and a gender identity their peers don’t understand, Dianny isn’t doing so well at avoiding that path. Dianny isn’t sure if they are relieved or terrified when they find Mom’s club shut down and swarming with federal agents, but they don’t dare disobey the task given to them by one of Mom’s girls: find their father, who is in a prison half way across the galaxy, and give him the Oomph enhanced artifact that the authorities are after. 

 

 

 

Pronoun Problems

Reclaimed story esthetic

Aesthetic of Earth Reclaimed

I’m in the midst of revising a novel (Earth Reclaimed) with a non-binary protagonist. Since this work blends high fantasy with solarpunk and has alternates points of view, I choose to write it in third person. However, several of my beta readers and critique partners have been having a hard time adjusting to me using “they/them” as a singular, gender neutral pronoun.

Readers have suggested I switch to first person, or use something like Xe or Ze. Not realizing it was own voices, one reader even questioned if it was necessary to write the character as non-binary. She meant well, but just because there is a non-binary character doesn’t mean the story has to be about being non-binary.

I knew I didn’t want to write this story in first person, and I couldn’t picture this character CIS, but I did briefly consider a different pronoun.

Before making any decisions, I wanted to see how other writers used neutral pronouns, so I read the first two books of the Ardulum series which used two variations of gender neutral pronouns for aliens who had a third gender. It worked great for those alien characters, but would not suit my protagonist or my writing style for two big reasons.

One:

Xe and Ze are not as neutral as they seem at first glance because they lose some of their neutrality when they become possessive. The writer has to make a choice: does Xe become Xer or Xis? In Ardulum, the author choose Zir as the possessive form of Xe, but when read out loud, it still sounds a lot like Xer or Her.

Some non-binary folks, including me, use gendered pronouns. I use she/her because it’s what I grew up using, and I get overwhelmed when I think about telling friends and family I prefer they/them. I don’t think I’ve ever even bothered announcing to most people that I’m non-binary or gender fluid because it’s a conversation that could turn awkward too quickly. Plus, I don’t like labels and boxes. No matter which one you stick on me, what matters is that I know who I am.

Even though Earth Reclaimed is an own voices story, the main character isn’t me. Serena lives in a future and region where gender is fluid and people are not boxed into identifying as men or women. They are also braver and bolder than I am. I wrote my first draft using she/her, and it just didn’t feel right. Serena needed a gender neutral pronoun, and at least to me, they is more neutral than the others.

Two:

Neutrality is not the only reason to choose they. Xe and Ze do not come to me as natural as they does. Growing up, if I didn’t know whether a person was male or female, I would automatically use they/them until I knew whether they were a she or a he.

Back then, I hadn’t heard of words like non-binary or gender fluid. Those terms may have existed, but they weren’t part of my vocabulary.  I was in my later twenties when I discovered those words and thought “that sounds just like me.”

Identifying with the label didn’t lead me to change the pronouns I use, but that doesn’t mean all the non-binary characters I write have to use the same pronouns, especially of the conditions that keep me using she/her don’t exist for them.

When I write a third person, own voices narrative with a non-binary character, I am going to use they/them as a pronoun. Will there confusion in the early drafts? Yes. However, with careful editing, I hope I will be able to write third person, gender neutral they/them without confusing my readers.