A Baby Shower I’m Not Dreading

Baby Showers are at the top of the list of torturous, anxiety-triggering social obligations I can’t always get out of. However, for the first time maybe ever, I’m actually looking forward to one.

What is different about this one?

Two things:

  1. The parents chose not to find out and reveal the baby’s sex.
  2. It’s a co-ed event.

Very few people understand why I hate showers so much. Women who don’t like showers or who have social anxiety think they understand. They don’t. Social anxiety is definitely part of it, but not more than it is part of things like house warning, weddings, funerals, and birthday parties.

The last time I walked into a baby shower, I literally felt like an alien. I may have been born with a female body, but I have never felt like a woman inside. Online, I call myself non-binary or gender-fluid, but I almost never talk about this with people in the face to face world. Anxiety silences me nine out of ten times I could broach the subject with family and friends.

I’m not going out of my way to hide it. I just can’t talk about it out-loud.

I never feel like i belong at ladies-only events.

Thankfully, this shower isn’t one.

However, there is another reason I’m looking forward to this one: No one knows what the baby’s sex is.

At all the past shower’s I’ve attended, the has mother known, so before the baby is even born, people are forcing gendered stereotypes on them.Girls are pretty,princesses, clad in pink and flowers. Boys are handsome princes, ladies men before they can walk, wearing blue, clothing decorated with tools and trucks. The kid wasn’t even born and was already being told that girls are pretty and fragile like flowers where boys are tough and practical.

It will be refreshing to see what people gush over when they can’t lump the yet-to-be-born child into the girl or boy piles.

This time, when I was shopping, I didn’t feel like I was being subversive or grumpy for going out of my way to find gender neutral baby clothes, or for just buying diapers without even looking at the registry.

I still bought diapers, because babies poop a lot. Every new parent needs diapers.

However, I actually had fun looking at baby clothes. As I scrolled through  Star Trek, Deadpool, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, and Harry Potter themed onesies, I laughed. I smiled. I had fun thinking of how the parents would react to opening a shirt inspired by their favorite characters. I was shopping for things the parent’s liked without worrying about gender stereotypes.

Let’s face it, no matter what sex babies are born, they all go boldly with maxim effort in their diapers.

Whether you have a boy or girl, poop is coming!
 

Note: This post is just my opinion about baby showers. I am not saying everyone has to agree with me or hide their baby’s gender. I am not in any way commenting on how people should raise their children.

 

 

 

Cover Matters: Part 1

I love the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” because so many things are not what they appear. A restaurant with a run down front may have the best food in town. A person’s physical gender may not reflect whom they are inside. A great book might he hiding behind the worst cover art ever.

Books are judged by their covers.

If I am browsing books, whether it is in a store or online, without knowing what I’m looking for, the cover is what will make me slow down and read the blurb. I’ve always known covers are important, but it wasn’t until I was knee deep in the world of indie publishing that I realized just how vital a good cover is.

 

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 6.32.56 PM.png
A screen shot of cover’s on NineStar Press’ home page on Aug, 11, 2018. The day I wrote this post, not the day I first found the website. 

Covers matter: I’ve judge whole publishers by them.

 

After deciding to start querying my novel, Power Surge, to small publishers, there were many other factors that went in to picking which publishers to query, but cover art was a big one. Did the covers catch my attention? Did they all look the same? Were they more than just some font slapped over a photo? Did they relate to the content described in the books blurb?

Almost two years ago, NineStar press requested one of my manuscripts through #DVpit. The first thing I saw when I opened their website were covers for their new releases and for books that were coming soon. I liked what I saw: lots of color and unique font. It only took a quick glance to decipher which books were romance, fantasy or science fiction. Had I landed on a page filled with awful covers, I might not have gone on to do more research, submit my book, get revise and resubmit, shelve that book, send them something completely different, and have it accepted.

Covers matter: They keep me motivated.

Copy of Like Birds.jpg
Like Birds was my first NaNoWriMo win. I’ve revised the cover as many times as the book. Currently, the book is shelved. 

 

The first time I officially participated in NaNoWriMo and created a profile for my project, I was surprised to see a place to upload a cover. Why would a book that hasn’t been written need one? Not wanting to leave it blank, I threw something together, and then I understood. The cover wasn’t fancy or professional, but it was a concrete image – a mock up of what a story could be if I got it out of my head and onto a page.

Now, when I write a first, I stop and make a cover at the first sign of being stuck. When I revise the draft, I make a cover to reflect revisions. Sometime, if I have an idea for a book but am not ready to start, I make a cover for it. At first, my covers were terrible, but they got better, especially when I forked out the money for a Photoshop subscription.

Covers matter: They pay.

Every awesome book cover is made by someone. If the person who they made it for has any scruples, then said artist is getting paid for their work.

For me, cover art started out as pure hobby, but as of right now, I’ve gotten paid to make three of them. It started earlier this summer when Bob Brown posted on the B Cubed Press Projects page that he needed someone to make cover art for Alternative Theologies.

Theology A ModernI was very excited about the anthology. The story I was writing for it wasn’t coming along very well. I drafted a cover for it, emailed it to Bob, and after a discussion about possible revisions, I was “hired.”

It was a long process, at least as time consuming as writing a story, if not more so since more than a couple things had changed in Photoshop since I got out of photography. And while I was pretty good at designing e-book covers, setting the guides and formatting covers for print was a different story. But I did it.

In the end, my story got rejected, but my design is on the cover of a book that is #1 in specific categories on amazon. How much of it is the cover and how much the amazing collection of stories? I can’t say. I like to think it is a little bit of both.

Covers matter: My book has one that I didn’t make.PowerSurge-f500

AS much as I enjoy making covers for my works in-progress, I did not have the opportunity to make my own cover for power surge. That is a good thing.

Of all the books I wrote, I never came up with a concept I liked for power surge, but Natasha Snow, the brilliant person who does the covers for NineStar Press, came up with something much better than I could have.

The only flaw was that she didn’t have access to an image of a model with both the right hair color and body type as the main character in Power Surge. After looking through images NineStar had access to, I suggested model wearing a hat.

When I saw them on the cover, I knew I made the right decision.

Erin never wears a hat in the book.

Harry Dresden never wears hats either, but he wears one on every cover of the Dresden Files.

Covers matter: They make me smile!

Check back in a few days for a post about the process of making covers both from my experiences as an author and cover artist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

COVER REVEAL: Power Surge by Sara Codair

Power Surge finally has a cover! When I get caught up with my revisions for my next novel, I’ll blog about the experience working with NineStar Press’ talented cover artist, Natasha Snow, not just from the perspective of an author but of someone who has also done cover art for a small publisher.

For now, head over to Small Queer, Big Opinions for a sneak peak!

The banner for the blog post isn’t the cover. You have to scroll down to see the actual cover.

via COVER REVEAL: Power Surge by Sara Codair

What I’ve Learned About Pacing from Writing Five Novels.

Pacing is important with any work of fiction, whether it is a novel or short story.

If it’s too slow, readers might get bored and stop reading. If it’s too fast, they might get lost and stop reading. However, thinking too much about it when writing your first draft won’t really help. Work on the pacing when you start revising.

Finding the right pace for a story is part of the writing process. I go through several rewrites and revisions before I get it right.

Back when I was drafting my first two novels, I thought I had to more or less write out every second of the character’s life during the time frame of the novel. Thankfully, with both books, the whole plot took place over a few days. As it was, I ended up with a 130,000 word first draft of a young adult novel, and over 200,000 words for my adult novel.

When I had a friend read the YA novel, she got bored quickly while following the character through 30 or 40 pages of school. Stuff only happened on maybe five of those pages. She told me the descriptions of every hallway, desk, and teacher really weren’t relevant.

She was right. Irrelevant descriptions and conversations bogged the pacing down so much that she lost interested before anything happened.

It took over ten revisions to get the pacing (and other things) right.

First, I went through and cut out scenes that I wrote for me as I was getting to know the character. I cut descriptions of places that appeared once and never came back. I made sure all the description and imagery I kept added something to the overall mood and revealed something about the narrator even if it was very subtle.

However, the most important step was making sure each chapter had a hook at the beginning and end, as well as its own complete arc. I did one revision that just focused on this. As I read each chapter, I summarized it in a few sentences and explained what it contributed to the plot. This helped me see the picture and plan what I needed do to each chapter.

I ended up cutting entire chapters, removing characters from the story, and moving the climax so it happened sooner and just scrapping a whole sequence of unnecessary fights from the end of the book.

To test my work, I asked critique partners and beta readers to let me know when they got bored or bogged down.

Eventually, I got the novel down to about 71,000 words. Each chapter had an arc. There was enough description for the reader to picture the setting without slowing the action. That description set the mood and even helped readers get to know the character. All that meant that the readers stayed hooked. They didn’t get too bored or too lost.

The process of starting with too much happening to slowly, then cutting back and changing things worked well. That novel is under contract with NineStar Press and scheduled to come out in October.

However, it was slow, tedious process, and I’m an impatient person. Now, I seem to have the opposite problem.

My last two novels started as drafts I banged out in four to six weeks for NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo. They short and rushed, skipping over descriptions and the types of scenes I thought I’d just end up cutting.

Having to go back, add more details, and slow things down was the same amount of work, if not more work, than having to cut thousands of words from the manuscript, and during the process, I was not nearly as invested in the characters and world as I had been with my earlier works.

Currently, I’m submitting pieces novel-in-progress number five to a critique group. Even though I go through each chapter and fill in the gaps I see before sending it, I’m still getting feedback from readers saying it moves so fast they struggle to follow transitions, can’t fully picture things, and don’t know the characters enough to really care much about what happens to them.

In early drafts of books four and five, the overall plot and arcs are much clearer than they were in books one and two, but that doesn’t matter if the readers don’t care about the characters and get lost in the transitions between scenes.

Thinking I learned enough from my first books to know what scenes will get before I write them was a bad idea. All it accomplished was producing a book that moved so fast readers couldn’t get into instead of one with fully fleshed characters moving at a snails pace.

After drafting and revising five novels, I’ve learned that pacing isn’t something that I should think about while writing my first draft. It’s something that happens in revision when I have a concrete grasp on the characters, plot, setting, tone, and story. The pacing develops as I examine each chapter under a microscope and then look at how it fits in the big picture. Seeking feedback from critique partners and beta readers, and then listening to them when they say where they got lost or bored hones the work’s pace.

In order to have a well paced novel, writers need to be patient. They need to trust their process and not rush it.

 

 

Book Review: Omen Operation

There is a lot to love about Omen Operation, and a few little things that bugged me.

The plot was exciting — a group of young adults (main character is about 19) break out of a secret camp where they were training to fight back against a viral outbreak / apocalypse that never happened.  On the run, the group learns who was really training them and why. While that is all going on, their feelings for each other get messy and tangled.

I enjoyed the pacing — burst of action interspersed between lulls of character development and making out. It kept me turning the page while leaving plenty of time to get to know the characters.

There was a good sized cast. The main character was strong and and angry and beautifully flawed — just the kind of person I wanted to root for through the book. The other characters were similar with their own quirks, but I had a hard time keeping track of all of them at some points in the book, which surprised me because the pacing was steady, not rushed. Even though there were definitely a few moments where I mixed a couple of the side characters, it didn’t detract too much from the overall experience.

This may seem like a small thing, but what bothered me most about those book was the idea of vaccines being used to infect people with a “virus.” Getting into too much detail about what happened in the book will spoil it, so I’ll refrain from summarizing it. However, I get antsy about anything (fiction included) that might add fuel to the anti-vaxxer movement.

Brooke’s prose were gorgeous as always, and they manage to convey more emotion in one page than I could express in a year. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating about my lack of emotional whatever. But the point is they are a master at writing raw, angsty emotions onto the page.

Combine that emotion with some action, tangible tension, and a cliff hanger, and you get a reader who can’t wait to pick up the next book. 

Click the image to find Open Operation on Amazon, or click here to preview the kindle version.

Book Review: Ruin of Stars

Ruin of Stars (Mask of Shadows, #2)Ruin of Stars by Linsey Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free electronic copy of Ruin of Stars, the sequel to Mask of Shadows, in exchange for an honest review.

Mask of Shadows was good, but Ruin of Stars is still ten times better.

The plot in Ruin of Stars was complex and nuanced. It didn’t follow a trope like it’s predecessor; it was more completely driven by the characters wants and what got in their way.

Sal’s drive for revenge has aligned with the needs of the queen, so Sal is sent out to kill the rest of the people on their list. In the process, Sal encounters betrayals, loses someone they care about, and discovers something that changes their world. Being any more specific than this will give too much away and ruin the book. Reading through it was like untangling a tight not — difficult at times, but so satisfying when it was done.

As I read, my understanding of my favorite characters grew deeper and more complex. They had me rooting for them, hating them, and crying for them, sometimes all at once.

The prose were well crafted and lyrical, making the feelings and emotions of these characters so clear I could almost feel themself. I always appreciate writers who can do this because it is one of the things I struggle with most when it comes to my own writing.

More detail was giving to the politics of the world in this book than in Mask of Shadows. That helped me understand some of the hatred and the motives for it that motivated several characters, including Sal. Erland culture was definitely explored in more detail, including not so subtle descriptions about appearance and ideology that made me think of the Erland lords as Nazi-inspired.

All the descriptions of being gender fluid and of how it felt when society doesn’t acknowledge that rang true to me. Like Sal, I’m “fluid” and “in-between.” At times, I felt the explanations of Sal’s gender identity and of other characters’ gender identities and sexualities to be a little too heavy handed. At some points, the description of it seemed to overpower other aspects of the story, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I may have been reading thinking “obviously, that is a valid identity,” but I forget that there are probably ten times as many readers who know very little about not really being a man or a woman, but something in between. In my own work, critique partners and beta readers have said I don’t explain it enough, so what seems like too much for me may not be for the readers who need to read and learn from this book.

For once, I was actually surprised by the ending. Just when I thought I knew exactly how it would turn out, something changed, and I think the epilogue was best part. But I won’t spoil it — so pre-order the book, and read it as soon as you can.

Haven’t read Mask of Shadows yet? Check out my review of it here.

 

Book Review: Our Dark Stars by  Audrey Grey and Krystal Wade

Click the image to find Our Dark Stars on Amazon.

I received a copy of “Our Dark Stars by  Audrey Grey and Krystal Wade on NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. A combination of the cover, the pitch “Firefly meets Sleeping Beauty” caught my attention, so I requested the book. I enjoyed reading it, though I don’t think it lived up to being compared to Firefly.

The chapters alternate between Will and Talia’s points of view. Will is captain of a scavenger ship trying to regain his place in the military after letting a rebel ship getaway. Talia is an exiled princess who spend 100 years in a cryo-pod after her family was defeated by rebel mocks. The mocks are androids whose artificial intelligence evolved until they were sentient, human-like beings.

As Will decides what to do with Talia and she comes to realize that the roles of humans and mocks have reversed in the past 100 years, the book did raise some interesting questions about AI and ethics, contributing to a conversation science fiction novels have engaged in for decades. While I enjoyed that aspect of the book, I was a little let down by plot and character.

Talia was too much of a cliche modern princess — arrogant and tough. Will was also a stereotype captain who didn’t quite have the same vibrant personality as someone like Mal or Han Solo or Peter Quill. His crew was interesting, though I wished the narrative had focused on them a little more. At first, the two main characters seemed to much like science fiction archetypes, but they did grow on me as the book went on.

The plot, while not bad, was also a let down. After two or three chapters, I knew exactly how it was going to play out. There were a few things that seemed like they were meant to be surprises, but set up made them way too obvious.

The ending was exactly what I expected, though it came a little too easy so I was pulled out of the narrative wishing Talia had to work a little harder in that last chapter.

Despite its flaws, I did enjoy reading it, and like always, as a writer, I learned from reading and reviewing it. Finding the right balance between making twists too obvious or too shocking is tough. This book is a good example of leaning a little too much to the obvious. It is also a warning of the dangers of comparing a story to something it won’t quite live up to.

Had it been advertised as “Sleeping Beauty in Space with Salvagers Instead of Dwarfs” I might not have been so critical of the cast.

Check out a preview of Our Dark Stars here.

https://read.amazon.com/kp/card?asin=B0795VWGDC&preview=inline&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_Lz4pBbWXRSF96&tag=shatteredsmoo-20

A few words about “Butter is Not a Dress”

I don’t write a lot of poetry, and I only share a fraction of what I do write. Every once and a while, I come up with a piece I am very proud of. One of those pieces is featured in this anthology.

When speaking with people, I struggle to express my gender identity and how I’ve always felt like I inhabited some space between man and woman. This poem explores that in the context of how it affects the way I dress, and the internal struggle I go through every time I change my clothing.

You can buy the paper back and kindle version on Amazon if you are interested in reading it along with other poems and stories.

 

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Book Review: Salt

SaltSalt by Hannah Moskowitz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Salt is an odd little book. I love the characters, but the plot and the world-building left me feeling a little cheated.

Indi is an orphan and a monster hunter, sailing with his older sister and two younger siblings, looking for the monster that killed their parents.

He is a well developed character with a lot of conflict and emotion depth. I enjoyed seeing the world through his eyes, courtesy of a first-person, present-tense narration, as he grappled with wanting to take care of his siblings and wanting to be free of them.

The siblings were also well developed. They seemed exactly how I would expect a group of kids who grew up hunting monsters at sea to seem. Their dynamics and banter were entertaining, and no matter how much they fought, they had an immense bond with each other.

The plot — the hunt for the monster and Indi learning his role with his siblings — started out okay but let me down in the end. At first, it was just little things.

The kids were sailing around Europe in an age where everywhere on Earth seems to have issues with undocumented immigrants and refugees, and no one caught or stopped them to ask for papers. Eventually, there was one mention of fake ID’s, and even later, fake passports. After that, maybe there was a mention or two of being undocumented and not wanting countries to know they are there. By the time these issues were minimally addressed, I’d already been pulled out of the story by them a few times. It was really too little too late, and since the book was so short, adding a layer of not being caught only would’ve helped.

How sex, alcohol, and smoking are portrayed in YA is important. I had no problem with the fade to black casual sex, but they could’ve mentioned a condom the first time and not waited until the second. Then there was an instance where Indi and his sister light up cigarettes and smoke. There is no apparent reason for it and it adds nothing to plot. All it seems to do is glorify smoking, which is something a YA book shouldn’t do. Alcohol, while mentioned casually, made sense. Sailors drink. They’re in Europe. They’re drinking sparingly. It’s minor and cultural — its well handled. The end of the book was not.

I love happy endings. I love it when the mc gets everything want and has potential for a happily every after, but those endings have to be earned. This book was working towards that, until the last 80% or 85%. The last sequence of events was too quick, too random, and too easy, so that the happy ending didn’t feel earned or real.

In spite of all that, I did enjoy the book. The prose, voice, physical setting and characters were beautifully written. I just got pulled out of the story a few more times than I would’ve liked, and felt let down by the end.

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Book Review: Mask of Shadows

Mask of ShadowsMask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mask of Shadows has been on my TBR list for a while, but it took being on a vacation in a cabin with no internet and inconsistent, minimal phone service for me to finally pick it up and dig in.

Why did I wait so long to read this? I have no clue.

Mask of Shadows has a well-executed gender-fluid character, a fascinating cast excellent world building, and a steady plot.

Most of the non-romance books I’ve read with this much LGBTQ+ rep have been from smaller publishers that specialize in queer fiction, and because they are small, have a limited reach. It was refreshing to read something like this from a somewhat larger publishing house.

The best part about the book are the characters. Sal had a fascinating backstory, and I enjoyed seeing the story’s world developed through the eyes of survivor and their who had their own set of morals — one that was different from mainstream society, but a code of morals nevertheless. I also loved that Sal’s fluid gender identity was what it was and didn’t have any major impact on the plot. The book was about a thief becoming an assassin. Not about being gender fluid. And it was refreshing to see that most of the other characters were so accepting.

Even though I didn’t get to see the world through their eyes, they other characters also had well-developed back stories. I knew just enough about them by the end to understand their motivations, complications, and why they did what they did, but not so much that it distracted from Sal and the plot.

The plot was decent, but not as good as the characters. I’m getting a little tired of reading books where the plots seem like lethal versions of reality TV shows: everyone is competing for ___, only one can get it, and either everyone else, or a lot of the other competitors, die. Hunger Games, Throne of Glass, and Ink and Bone are a few that follow this plot line.

While the tone and characters were very different, the concept of people competing to be a monarch’s assassin was extremely similar to that of Throne of Glass. However, there were some problems I had with Throne of Glass, that I didn’t have with this book. Explaining them would have some potential spoilers, so I’ll refrain. However, if you haven’t read either and only want to read one, Mask of Shadows is definitely the fresher take on the many competing in deadly game for one title trope. It has less cliches and more interesting characters.

View all my reviews