The Best Series Award may only be in its second year, but it’s quickly become one of the more interesting categories at The Hugo Awards. And this makes sense, given how much beloved speculative fiction is part of a series. The 2018 nominees house several selections that I have personally enjoyed including Marie Brennan’s Memoirs…
When it comes to the Hugo awards, the category that I get the most excited about is Best Graphic Story. As someone who really enjoys comics, I see this as a wonderful opportunity to highlight some of the best titles of the previous year. 21 more words
If you enjoy superheroes, supervillains and the complications that arise when secret identities get in the way of your love life, I’d urge you to check it out. It’s available to purchase in print and ebook on amazon. You can also add it to your to-read list on goodreads.
Red and Black‘s origin story is a complicated one, mostly because it’s difficult to pin point its beginning. I originally came up with the character of Dawn in 2005, when I was twenty-years-old and playing the (sadly discontinued) MMORPG City of Heroes. Using the game’s impressive character creator, I crafted a heroine with unrealistically red hair, and began to wonder about her. In no time, I had given her an origin story, antagonists, and a love interest. At the time, I was a huge fan of web comics, and dreamed about posting Dawn’s story online one page at a time,
The one problem? I couldn’t draw.
So Dawn’s story was shelved. And seriously THANK GOD, because Red and Black version zero was objectively terrible.
Years passed, and I focused on other writing projects, including a completed young adult fantasy trilogy. Those projects ended up going nowhere- although the act of writing a shit ton of words and receiving feedback taught me a lot. Then, in November 2014 I began working on a fantasy novel for NaNoWriMo. It was called The Twin Kingdoms and far more ambitious than anything I had ever attempted before.
It also ambitiously failed.
Horrified by the thought of losing NaNoWriMo (all my previous attempts had ended in successes), I scrambled for something to write during the second half of November. This brought me to Dawn’s story, which had evolved from the truly terrible version I had come up with while playing City of Heroes, to something more grounded and real. I even gave it a name, Red and Black, after the colors Dawn wore. In no time, I discovered a vital missing piece. This wasn’t just Dawn’s story after all, but the villain/love interest’s as well. With the character Alex playing a much larger role, I ended NaNoWriMo a winner (technically) with several chapters completed and a vague idea of where I wanted things to go next.
And when I say vague, I mean vaaaaague.
Red and Black suffered many stops and starts before I was even able to finish the first draft. In desperation, I begged my husband to let me read him several chapters aloud (the idea of emailing him an incomplete, flawed story was just too horrifying). He agreed and patiently listened to the first third of a book over several weeks. Newly motivated, I finally got my shit together long enough to put the finishing touches on the first draft of Red and Black.
Then I realized that I needed to throw out the final third of the book, a prospect that seemed unbearably painful.
At least until 2016, when my friend Kim asked if I wanted to join a writing group. I had done writing classes before, but never something like this, and was excited to try something new. I also saw it as a possibility to knuckle down and do some serious surgery on Red and Black. The feedback and encouragement I received from the amazing women in this group was just what I needed to bring Red and Black to the next level. I sent it out to additional beta readers, hungry for more feedback, and excited about the novel’s future prospects.
Until I hit another dead end, the realization that I didn’t want to traditionally publish the novel. Self publishing, while an appealing idea, just wasn’t in my budget. I found myself frustrated, my writing (the sequel to Red and Black) directionless as a result.
Then I saw a posting for a full time library job that I was qualified for. A job that would be a noticeable step up financially, not just for my writing career, but for my life in general.
Multiple rounds of professional edits and one professional cover artist later, and Red and Black wasn’t just a file on my computer, but a book (well, and uncorrected proof) resting in my pale, freckled hands.
Pretty much every acknowledgments section in a novel makes some reference to how it takes a village to write a book, or something like that, and there’s a reason for it. Yes, the story behind Red and Black involves many, many hours of writing and revising, throwing out shitty ideas, and drowning my sorrows in candy bars and dollar tree hauls on youtube (I don’t drink. What else am I going to do?), At the same time, it’s far more than just my own efforts. Every time I found myself hitting a wall, there was someone there with a sledge hammer, ready to help me bust through. My husband, my writing group, my beta readers, my current place of work, NaNoWriMo, my professional editors, my cover artist, and now, my ARC readers who are posting early reviews on goodreads. These people are my heroes. Because without them Red and Black would not exist.
I hope that I can do them proud.
Here’s a confession: I love watching book haul videos on youtube. Seeing a reader paw through a large stack of brand new books that they can’t wait to dig into is so much fun. And this is despite the fact that I am so not a “haul” shopper myself. I invest in titles that I’ve been waiting on, and will pick up the occasional sale book on kindle, but these tend to trickle in over time, rather than one large gulp. This is why my recent splurge on reading material is exciting, but odd. Apparently, I was in a mood to shop. It was probably connected to wanting to pick up a few presents for myself for my birthday. So, I thought I’d share the fruits of my labor.
The majority of these were picked up as part of a sale on audible (I think the most expensive one was $6.95). So, at the very least, I didn’t break the bank.
Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews (Urban Fantasy)– Clean Sweep is a book that I must have eyeballed at least thirty times. It’s the first book in The Innkeeper Chronicles, which focuses on a woman who runs a small town bed and breakfast that serves as a popular stop for supernatural visitors. This is a concept that I find highly appealing. It’s also not my first rodeo with Andrew. I read On the Edge years ago and, despite enjoying it, never finished the series for some odd reason. Let’s hope I end up sticking with this one for a little longer.
Romancing the Werewolf by Gail Carriger (Paranormal Romance)– This is the third novellas to take place in the Parasol Protectorate Universe by Gail Carriger. I mentioned the first-Poison or Protect–in a recent post about what I read over my vacation, and I loved the second- Romancing the Inventor-even more. Romancing the Werewolf features the long awaited reunion of werewolves Biffy and Lyall, a story that I’ve been eager to delve into for a while. This is will also be my first M/M romance, and it feels nice to be branching out.
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (Fantasy)– Speaking of branching out, recently I’ve been noticing that my reading has been a little to focused on white authors. And this is a shame, especially given how many high quality books have been written by POC authors as of late. City of Brass is one of those. Taking place in 18th Century Cairo, it focuses on a con-woman who finds herself entangled with a djinn warrior. I really like books that mix the fantastic and history (hence my love for Gail Carriger’s books!), so this seemed right up my alley. It’s also been getting a lot of positive reviews from people’s who’s opinions I respect, so picking it up was only natural.
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu (Science Fiction)- I am a huge fan of Wesley Chu’s Quasing books (The Fall of Io can’t come out soon enough!), but I haven’t given Time Salvager, the first in a time travel duology, a chance yet. This is probably due to the fact that I’ve heard it’s not as humorous as the Quasing books, which is one of my favorite things about them. But I’ve been known to enjoy a more serious read, not to mention a good time travel book, every now and then, so I’m really curious about this one.
No Time to Spare by Ursula Le Guin (Essays)– Like every good genre girl, I have read Le Guin’s beloved Earthsea Trilogy, and have even dabbled in her adult work (The Dispossessed), but I have never tired out her nonfiction. My day job involves cataloging books at a library, and when I saw this collection of essays, gathered from blog posts she wrote later in life, I immediately became intrigued. Le Guin was truly one of the titans of sci-fi and fantasy, and I could use to spend some more time with her thoughts.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon (Science Fiction)– An Unkindness of Ghosts, which tells the story of a generation ship that resembles the Antebellum south, is another book that I became aware of while cataloging books. That awareness was flamed into genuine interest when The Sword and Laser Podcast read it for their book club. I recall the hosts mentioning how well the book dealt with a really difficult subject matter. Reading books that make you uncomfortable is never an easy thing, but it’s also important to remember the faults of our past-and to make sure they don’t become the faults of our future (Note- I understand that reading difficult books can be different from people with past traumas that may be triggered). Given that the author was also nominated for a Campbell Award, this seemed like a worthy choice.
The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter by Michael J. Sullivan (Fantasy)– This is the fourth book in the Riyira Chronicles, a fantasy series that focuses on a duo of mercenaries and their exciting adventures. Interestingly enough, I’ve already read books one and two of this series (The Crown Tower, and The Rose and the Thorn) and have the third book (The Death of Dulgarth) already on my kindle. So far, I’ve found the series to be a nice blend of both fun and serious moments-which is something I try to achieve with my own books. Hopefully, having book four waiting in the wings will convince me to read book three!
So that’s my haul! I What should I dig into first?
Thanks to situations largely outside of my control, I just went through a fourteen month stretch without taking a vacation. And let me tell you, even as someone who enjoys her day job THAT WAS NOT EASY. People (myself included) benefit from taking the occasional break. And while holidays help, I do enjoy getting to take more than just a day to myself every now and then. This way, I can indulge in things that I don’t always have time for.
And lately, that’s included reading.
Don’t get me wrong, I still read more than your average gal, but as we move closer and closer to Red and Black‘s publication date, much of my reading time has been taken up with things like contacting reviewers about ARCs. So when I finally took a break last month, I decided that I wanted to dedicate some hours to reading.
Of course, compared to some of the other “what I read over vacation” posts, this one is going to look a little stingy. But given the other things I did this vacation (which included dedicating plenty of time to writing related activities, traveling to a concert, and getting WAY TOO MANY MOONS on Super Mario Odyssey), I’d call this a pretty good list. So let’s get into it.
Poison or Protect by Gail Carriger (Steampunk Romance)– Gail Carriger is best known for her widely popular Parasol Protectorate series, but did you know that a couple years back she went hybrid? Poison and Protect is the first of her self published novellas, which takes place in the same universe as the rest of her writing. Poison and Protect focuses on the character of Presha from the Finishing School seires, but all grown up. And let me tell you, this trained spy has seen some shit. In Poison or Protect, Presha takes on an intelligence job that brings her face to face with Captain Gavin Ruthven, a big Scottish man that she can’t help but be drawn to. Gavin feels the same, but is rightfully cautious, given Presha’s reputations as a murderess.
Poison and Protect has pretty much everything you’d want from a Gail Carriger book such as humor, steampunk, action, and paranormal elements. Only this time the romance has been turned up to eleven. Despite the fact that Presha was not always the most likable character in the Finishing School series, you really end up feeling for her this time around, and Gavin was an appealing love interest. I’m quite happy I checked out this novella, and already have another one by Carriger loaded up on my kindle.
My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris (Mystery/Pulp Horror)– Ten-year-old Karen is an outsider who relates more to the monsters in her favorite stories rather than the kids in her class. Then her upstairs neighbor is murdered and Karen finds herself pulled into the case.
I feel like I’m cheating a little, including My Favorite Things is Monsters on this list as I read the majority of it in the week proceeding my vacation. But I’m glad I ended up taking my time on it, because this graphic novel is quite dense. On top of being a murder mystery/homage to pulp horror, My Favorite Things of Monsters explores the concepts of family, art, disease, sexuality, and the issues related to race and prejudice that occurred in Chicago during the 1960s, as well as in Germany during the holocaust. On a visual level, My Favorite Things is Monsters is quite striking. Told as if it were Karen’s personal journals/sketchbooks, the illustrations are detailed and rich, yet not always conventionally attractive. The graphic novel does venture into some very trigger-y territory (including pedophilia), and is very much only half of a story (volume 2 is coming out soon!), but the results are something special. I read this for a column over at Speculative Chic and I’m very glad that I had that opportunity, as I’m not sure if this would be something I’d pick up on my own.
Bitch Planet, vol 2: President Bitch by Kelley Sue DeConnick. Artwork by Valentine De Landro (Science Fiction). And here’s the second graphic novel I ended up reading for that same Speculative Chic column. Bitch Planet is a really gritty series about a dystopian world where woman who go against the grain are penalized. Some are even forced into a planet sized prison (hence the title, Bitch Planet). President Bitch is the second graphic novel in this series, and I probably should have re-read volume one before diving in as I found that I had forgotten about some key characters in the meantime, which resulted in an uneven reading experience. Still, President Bitch was a fascinating read. It takes time to delve into the history of one of it’s characters before really pushing the story forward (there’s even an exciting prison break/riot sequence). Volume two also has some solid trans representation. I will continue to read this series with volume three.
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss (Gothic Horror/Mystery)– I first became interested in The Strange Case of the Alchemists’ Daughter after it was positively reviewed over at Speculative Chic. Now that I’ve read it, I can see why it’s received so much praise. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter tells the story of the daughters of many of the prominent characters from classic gothic horror/Victorian mystery novels. The story begins by focusing on Mary Jekyll (the daughter of the infamous Dr. Jekyll from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde) who, after the death of her mother, find herself destitute. While going through her meager finances, she stumbles upon a terrifying truth. Her father may have had a second life.
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is a delightul read that should appeal to fans of classic stories such as like Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Frankenstein, and more. It was fascinating to see how these different classic tales intersected, and the narrative that was then woven from all of these various threads. I found very easy to care for the cast women and girls that came to populate these pages. regardless of any previous investments I may or may not have had with the books they were based on. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is the first book in a series. I will be reading book two.
Level Up by Cahty Yardley (Contemporary Romance)– Tessa Rodriguez is a dedicated coder who has big dreams of becoming a video game engineer. Unfortunately, her introverted nature holds her back from both professional and personal success. When she finds herself on an impossible deadline (design a mobile game in three weeks) she must learn to reach out to others for help. In the process, she might even find love.
Level Up is a super cute geeky romance novella by one of the authors of the Geek Actually serial. In fact, the themes explored here are so similar to Geek Actually (female friendships, the difficulties face by women in nerdy career fields, strong POC representation, geeks falling in love) that I had to wonder if one inspired the other. The romance in Level Up is sweet and steamy (even if the events surrounding their first kiss were a little unbelievable), the pacing is swift, and the characters are all around lovable. Level Up is the first in the Fandom Hearts series, and it looks like multiple characters introduced in this book get their stories told in future installments. I look forward to checking them out.
So that’s what I read over my vacation! Interestingly enough, while I was typing this up, I began to notice a unintentional theme: monsters. We have books about literal monsters/the daughters of monsters (The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter), a character that identifies with monsters (My Favorite Thing is Monsters), a monstrous society (Bitch Planet, vol 2) and a heroine who has committed monstrous deeds (Presha from Poison or Protect).
It’s kind of funny how trends can emerge like that.
1. Red and Black Gets Covered
2. Would you like to be my hero? Consider reviewing my superhero novel Red and Black!
3. Renegade Supervillians, Demon Summoners, and Y2K: My Best Books of Spring 2018
4. Red and Black Chapter 1
5. Ant Man and the Wasp Reviewed — Speculative Chic
6. Big Changes, Big Magic: A Review of Bookburners Season 4 — Speculative Chic
7. Red and Black Chapter 2
8. Roundtable: Our Guilty Pleasures — Speculative Chic
9. Red and Black Chapter 3
10. Reflections on Year 32
Phew. For a time of the year that’s supposed to be all about rest and relaxation, I certainly had a lot to do last month. Red and Black is coming out in just eleven days (::breaks out into a cold sweat::). In preparation, I’ve been seeking out ARC reviewers, updating the layout of this website, sharing sample chapters, and researching blogs for potential stops on a tour. And that’s on top of my regular blogging duties and Camp NaNoWriMo.
This is why when I set up my July Camp NaNoWriMo, I made sure that my aim was modest. Thank God Camp NaNoWriMo, unlike regular NaNoWriMo, allows you to set your own goals. Mine was to work on revising Red and Black 2 for at least thirty hours, which I just surpassed with thirty-one hours. But the really exciting part is by the end of those thirty-one hours, I had not just completed Camp NaNoWriMo but the third draft of the novel.
This is a pretty significant milestone for me, as it’s now ready for beta readers. So have I sent it out to my beta readers? Why would I do that! Isn’t it so much more productive to sit around stressing about what people might think about it? Seriously, It’s amazing how fast I can go from “wow! Look how far this story has come!” while in the midst of revisions to “dear god! This needs to die a slow death on my hard drive!?” once the idea of showing it to other people comes to mind.
My current state of anxiety not withstanding, completing these final revisions was the easiest part of last months work. Finding ARC reviewers and other ways to promote Red and Black? That was more difficult. I quickly found that most book blogs don’t accept self published ARCs or have any interest in promoting indie books. And I get that. As someone who used to run a book blog back in ye old live journal days, I know the drill. Book bloggers are volunteers, not paid professional reviewers, who are often buried beneath the weight of their own TBRs. If they were to accept self published work on top of that, things could get overwhelming. Fortunately, I have an “in” at a couple places that have agreed to let me promote Red and Black but all together it looks like this “blog tour” is going to be awfully short.
Where I’ve had better luck is through goodreads, where I have been rating books since those LiveJournal days. I spent a lot of time going through my friends list, finding people who tend to read books like Red and Black, and politely messaging them, asking then if they wanted to read an ARC. And a bunch of them not only said yes, but they were more than happy to provide a review. As someone who expected to be mostly rewarded, I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude. Between goodreads and a few other people I’ve met through other endeavors I managed to scrounge together a handful of potential reviews. Hopefully, having those reviews up in the early days of release will convince people to give my little book a chance.
On a more personal note, I ended up taking a vacation in July (my first one in almost 14 months) and boy it was it nice to relaaaax. I managed to get a good amount of reading done, and have a post coming up ASAP about the books I managed to finish (spoilers: some really great stuff!). But the most notable thing that occurred was getting to see Lindsey Stirling and Evanescence in concert.
The fact that I, a routine obsessed introvert who is not fond of crowds, bought tickets to a concert that would require me to drives hours out of my way to a stadium that holds close to 20,000 people says a lot about my devotion to these two artists. And you know what? It was totally worth it. This was my first time getting to see Lindsey Stirling in concert, and she put on such an amazing show. While the mixture of dancing/playing is impressive enough in her videos, it’s even more incredible in person. And she played so many of my favorite songs!
The same went for Evanescence, who I have seen in concert, but not for YEARS. I was fortunate enough to catch them on their first Ozzfest back when I was a teenager. Even though the band looks very different now (vocalist Amy Lee is the only founding member remaining) the high level of quality remains. Amy, who said very little during their first Ozzfest all those years ago, now feels more confident on stage. I honestly don’t know how she (or Lindsey for that matter) does it.
But enough for looking back. Let’s look forward to this upcoming month.
Monthly Goals- August
- Release Date– Red and Black comes out 08/13/18
- Publishing- Finishing setting up print copy of Red and Black on amazon (they don’t let you do pre-orders for some reason)
- Publishing- Research amazon ads
- Blogging– Publish at least nine entries in August (includes interview for Red and Black launch)
- Writing– send out Red and Black 2 to beta readers
- Writing– Begin second draft of Red and Black 3 (devote at least 20 hours)
You may or may not notice that this is the first month where writing is not my number one priority. With Red and Black’s publication date in less than two weeks (holy shit!), I really want to make sure that I handle everything correctly. Most resources I’ve checked out say not to bother with paid ads until several reviews for your book have been posted, so I’ll be holding off on those for a bit. Still, it’s past time I started researching the nitty gritty aspects of amazon ads.
Even though writing may not be my first priority, it is a priority nevertheless, which means digging into Red and Black 3. This is a horrifying prospect, as I haven’t touched that since before Christmas. Red and Black 3 was a NaNoWriMo project, and I shudder to think of how much work it’s going to need. Ah well, if anything it will help to distract me from how stressed out I’m likely to get over Red and Black‘s launch- which is (still) just around the corner (aaaahhhh!).
Tomorrow is my birthday, meaning that July 30th will be the last day that I will ever be 32-years-old. And looking back, it’s been a pretty significant year. Yes, 31 was arguably bigger, given that I bought my first house, but 32 saw another massive change-leaving my job of seven years for a new position at a new library. And let me tell you, that transition was rocky as hell. Going from a place where my work was challenging, but familiar and comfortable, to a place where the level of challenge was still there, but everything else had changed was a struggle for me, and it took months to fully get on board.
Despite this initial rockiness, I never considered quitting. Part of that’s because full time library jobs are pretty scarce in Maine (when the economy turned south, many libraries chose to break up full time jobs into part time ones to save on health insurance), but a bigger part of that is the fact that I am just too damn stubborn. I’m not saying that I never give up on things (I flake out and throw in the towel as much as anyone else), but it the rewards are worth it, I can be one determined bitch.
One of the perks of this new job was an increase in salary, meaning I was finally able to finance self publishing Red and Black. I won’t get to see the fruits of my labor for another couple of weeks (Red and Black comes out August 13th!), but I still learned a lot from the process. This includes working with two professional editors, finding and working with a cover artist, learning how to format the ebook, and all of the other little things that self publishing likes to sneak up on you.
Deciding to get serious about publishing Red and Black also meant getting more serious about this blog. For years, I would revisit this site with every intention of making it a regular thing, but ultimately drop off after a handful of posts. Not this time. Since late February, I’ve posted two, maybe three times a week. A lot of this has to due with my self publishing journey, which certainly gave me a enough to talks about, but some of it was also due to getting used to regular deadlines, thanks to being a contributor at Speculative Chic (where I still post regularly). Once Red and Black is published, I do plan on switching things up a bit, but that’s a post for another day.
Also on the writing front, I participated in NaNoWriMo back in November, where I wrote the rough draft of Red and Black 3, I also took part in in two different Camp NaNoWriMos- one based around writing a novella, and once based around editing Red and Black 2. And speaking of Red and Black 2. I should have that ready for my Beta readers any day now
But it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses this past year. There were areas where I certainly fell short. Remember that new library job I mentioned? Well it involves a lot more sitting on my ass that I’m used to, which has resulted in a noticeable weight gain. When it comes to combating this, my exercise regiment isn’t terrible (I go for a walk every day), but the real problem is my diet. I eat waaay too many sweets. And let me tell you, once you enter your 30s, all those candy bars add up fast.
Finding a better way to deal with my expanding waistline should be a pretty high priority going forward. Unfortunately, I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to tackle it. I don’t need to be a stick (I never have been), but I’d love to get back to where I was a year ago.
Another thing that I suuuck at is home improvement shit. Tanner and I are the least handy people in the state of Maine (it’s a fact), so we need to hire pretty much everything out. Fortunately, every job has been pretty small/affordable, but that doesn’t change the fact that I procrastinate the fuck out of it every time I need to get things done (in fact-I’m doing it as we speak). I really need to get better at just being a homeowner. Sure, I’ve bee here for a little over a year now, but there are some aspects about it that I still struggle with. Looks like that’s a goal for year 33.
Year 33 will also bring the publication of Red and Black, which means that I’m going to have to get serious about learning about marketing. I’ve covered some ground already (including finding ARC reviewers, as well as grabbing a couple of blog spots) but while every accomplishment feels like well… an accomplishment, I know that I have a lot left to learn. I’ve done everything I can to make it the best book possible, but there are additional challenges on the horizon.
Cross your fingers for me.