Category Archives: Books

What Teenagers Write About is Weird

Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?

When I was in the fifth grade, heavily influenced by multiple readings of The Secret Garden and The Little Princess and my own deep desire for Kirsten, I wrote a short story for class about a Victorian-esque pauper girl who coveted a doll in a window at Christmastime. Naturally, that porcelain beauty was bound to sustain her more than bread or soup or central heat, so a kindly young mother who had lost her own daughter to illness made everyone’s dreams come true by adopting the child and buying her the damn doll. Appealing narrative for an 11-year-old with no disposable income, right?

I think of this story now and then, and remember that my fifth-grade teacher told my parents I was writing at a college-level. I thought that was a bit of a joke until I taught college, and then I suspected for a hot minute it was an insult, but still. She was an incredibly supportive teacher and the first in a long line of teachers who indulged my love of writing fiction.

Even at 13, I recognized the need for [REDACTED].

In the seventh grade, I wrote what I realize now was basically erotic friend fiction – though with far fewer butts and a whole lot more dystopian wasteland. This was the first long-form piece I ever wrote, beginning with a natural disaster that conveniently swept all of the adults out of the picture and allowed me to populate a post-parent fantasy land with my peers. We foraged for food, crafted weapons, built shelters Island of the Blue Dolphins-style, and even relocated from Ohio to the beach, where I was able to introduce new characters from my class who had been presumed dead. Why? Because it took me months to write this thing and I was crushing on somebody else by then and needed a reason to write them into the story.

Teenagers, man.

The best/worst part is honestly that I shared this, chapter by painstaking chapter, with my English teacher. She was so nice about it that I wonder now if she even read it, or if she just felt sorry for the girl who repeatedly had her name slandered on the chalkboard by some of the same boys she was writing about. If I could go back in time, I’d make them eat those pages. Or just kick them repeatedly in the shins.

But it was easier at thirteen to retreat into a world whose boundaries I could write and rewrite, whose conflicts were of my own devising and whose resolutions happily followed a linear narrative. There is still an element of joy in controlling a world when I’m writing – or at the very least, trusting that when I’m not in control I’ll reach a suitable ending.

And at least the most embarrassing things I’ve ever written and will ever write are behind me.

I hope.

Author SOS

I’ve had a lot of questions recently about how book sales are going, and the honest answer is, I have no idea.

The even more honest answer is, it’s not really about the money.

Folks ask where they should buy the book so I get a better cut, and truly, it doesn’t matter. People want to help and I think that is amazing, but even checking my book out from the library – or requesting that your library order it if it isn’t in the system – would help me out. The best thing you can do for me? If you liked my books, recommend them. Review them. Loan your copy to a friend. If you can’t afford copies but want to read, ask me for one and I’ll loan you mine. Really, really.

Because it’s not about the money right now. it’s about reach.

I wear this necklace when I want to feel brave. Like today.

I will get paid, eventually, but I have no delusions about how much (not much). And while I absolutely believe that writers ought to be compensated well for their work, and that making a living writing is often the end game, that’s not where I am right now. I work full-time and will likely continue to work full-time for the foreseeable future. I like what I do, so I’m okay with it. Writing for a living isn’t something I can dream of until my books are in more hands and heads.

So, if you want me to keep writing and creating, share. Your thoughts, what you liked, what you didn’t like, what you wanted to see more of, what you want to read next. Tell me, and tell the readers that you know. Share your copies with friends and family who you think would like them, too. Review, please, on Amazon and Goodreads.

This is a pretty bold cry from me in response to the love I’ve felt following the publication of my second book. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like to ask for help even when I really need it – missed out on a critical life skill there, I know – but this is how you can help me, if you want to help me.

And if you don’t or can’t or forget or won’t, that’s cool, too. No one book is for every person, and we’re still friends.

Top 5 Influential Childhood Reads

Every writer was a reader first. Have I said that before? Probably.

But beyond the logistics of that necessarily needing to be the case, I imagine there are for all of us books we read in our youth that made us love stories, books that through the act of reading unlocked the desire to storytell within us. I’ve often wondered, especially after a rigorous six years of studying literature, what makes some writers pursue genre fiction and others more realistic avenues. I know I have, at least, read and loved books of all kinds, both as a young person and as an adult. But even the more literary short stories I wrote in graduate workshop always had a dreamy element, odd angles and awkward edges that made it harder to get by, to be taken seriously, to make the necessary social and academic connections with my more literal-minded peers.

In thinking about the books that moved me as a child, I wonder, what was it about these that made me the writer that I am, stubbornly, today?

What was it about Meg and Charles Wallace and their world(s) in A Wrinkle in Time that so appealed to me? A Wrinkle in Time is probably the first example of real science fiction that I read as a child. From the lasting image of Mrs. Who explaining traveling by tesseract to the mistaken jaunt to the world whose gravity nearly crushed the group to the haunting sameness of the world where her father was imprisoned, there was realized for me so much potential for strangeness and horror, but with a real heart beating between the turning of pages. I wanted more.

I recently tried to re-read Anne of Green Gables with the intent of getting to my later favorite in the series, Anne of the Island, and I was shocked to learn how little actually happens on the page. I remember Anne as adventurous and bold, dreaming with her and feeling as near to her scrapes as she was. But really, the reader is so much more like Marilla, merely hearing about these wild things that Anne has undertaken off the page. She comes home from a day at school or an afternoon in the fairy grove with Diana and tells Marilla, and be default, the reader, all about it. There’s very little actual doing to be read, and I wonder now if Anne isn’t in part to blame for how close I like to be to my narrators. I want to write each touch and taste of the world and invite the reader to taste and touch, too. Anne remains vibrant as ever despite the narrative choices, which is surely a testament to what a strong and likeable character she is.

The Island of the Blue Dolphins is the first of two orphan stories on this list, and really only one of many I devoured as a child. The quiet strength and resourcefulness of the main character was always a wonder to me as a child, and I loved all of the details about how she navigated her solitude, what she did, ate, made, and built, and how. I haven’t re-read this book as an adult, but I don’t remember her feeling sad or sorry for herself, but rather reckoning with what has happened to her through action – moving forward, rather than dwelling on the past. She was competent and serene and strong, and I wanted to think that I could be just like her, if I had to be.

The main character from The Secret Garden was, conversely, not serene. She had edges and angers that I liked, and a willfulness to take whatever she could from the hand she’d been dealt that greatly appealed to me. Also, there was just something so romantic about an English country house and the idea that a young woman alone could discover and conquer its secrets. I liked that she and the boys challenged and changed each other, and that they could each, in their own way, find happiness.

I also feel like it’s a hallmark of readers of my generation to still look for doors in hedges. Even my husband does it.

My love for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Magician’s Nephew are nearly equal, and I think it’s because they both stretch beyond the boundaries of Narnia as know them in the rest of the books of the series. The memorable fountains as doorways to other worlds in The Magician’s Nephew is such a treat that it’s one of my favorite things lifted into Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, and reaching the very edge of the horizon in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and being irrevocably changed by the experience was powerful and wonderful. We weren’t church-going when I was a child and the nearest I came to salvation was someone passing me a coloring sheet outside of a grocery store with a little prayer on it that I could say and “be saved,” so the religious overtures in Lewis’ works were always lost on me. What Lucy and Edmund and Eustace, and Digory and Polly and the others, experience was purely magical and human, and I reveled in it.

What about you? What were the childhood classics that shaped you?

See You on the Other Side

My first book was first published nearly four years ago, and it’s been with me in one form or another for far longer than that. There have been a number of instances since that have made me feel like a “real” author, but honestly, with the launch of my second book newly behind me, a signing at my favorite local independent bookseller is the realest.

I love signings and I’ve written before about how conflicted I feel when I listen to other authors read and discuss their works, when I throw my money at them for a signed copy and some swag. I’m an avid reader and fangirl, and that’s not something that’s like to change, ever. But getting to be on the other side of the table, even once, it gives me thrills just thinking about it.

If you’re in Cincinnati or near to it, I hope you’ll consider stopping in and saying hello. I’ll be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at Rookwood Pavilion at 7 PM, discussing and signing both books. I’m going to be making buttons at our local library’s MakerSpace to give away, and I’ve also ordered cookies that will change your life. And, of course, there will be books!

Two Trick Pony

It seems foolish to dream for years (and years and years) about becoming a published author only to have pretty serious impostor syndrome once it finally happens. Despite continuing to write and being under contract to deliver the sequel to The Hidden Icon, I’ve felt with only one book under my publishing belt like a one trick pony.

But today, I guess, I can do flips and kicks. Can jump fences and braid my own mane? I don’t know. What sorts of tricks do ponies do? I’d probably honestly be the sort that just munches oats and lazes about.

While The Dread Goddess has been cropping up on shelves the last few days, it is now officially out in the world. You can buy it. You can read it. You can worry the pages thin, or use them for découpage projects if you don’t like how I’ve handled something. I’m thrilled to share it with you, and to continue Eiren’s story.

I do hope you like it. I loved writing it.

You’re a Wizard, Harry

I traveled to Orlando in February for work and I absolutely took advantage of being down there to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time. And my goodness, friends, it will not be the last.

As a teenager, I remember thinking that I wasn’t quite sure I bought into the idea of an afterlife, but if there was a heaven, it would for me be the ability to pass in and out of the innumerable fictional worlds that I loved. I still feel like this would be a pretty boss way to spend the life eternal, however unlikely it is.

But, at least I will die someday having spent time in Diagon Alley. Everything I read before our trip stressed that the meticulous and loving attention to detail in the parks is what makes them so special, and I couldn’t agree more. I wandered and wondered, making time to see (almost) everything. Rowling’s world as imagined in the films is so faithfully recreated I just sat down at one point, nursing an ice cream cone from Florean Fortescue’s and soaking it in. Every shop front was spectacularly eccentric, and once inside, most shops took advantage of high ceilings to extend the world building above patrons’ heads. I was liberal in my abuse of Instagram’s Boomerang feature, capturing parts of the rotations of various animatronics throughout the park.

I patiently waited my turn behind children to cast spells with the ivy wand that chose me – YEAH THAT HAPPENED – my favorite being the slightly sinister chuckles granted by the spells particular to Knockturn Alley.

I rode Escape from Gringott’s and The Forbidden Journey several times each, and the theming while we waited in line was just as delightful and immersive as the rides themselves. I love a good roller coaster, and dark rides are especially lovely for suspending disbelief. By the time I got over to Hogsmeade I was alone, so I didn’t even get to see most of the cool stuff in Hogwarts Castle – good thing I’m going back next year.

I’m not even sure that I can choose a favorite thing to see or do, but I will say that the wand choosing ceremony is a must – I only got to participate because it was just us when we went there right as the park opened, and I went again later to watch another, more appropriately aged individual brought up. My wand was also the only thing that I bought myself, and worth every penny galleon. Wandering the parks casting spells – and finding the secret ones! – is an unparalleled treat. Ollivander’s is honestly probably the most magical shop, though Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes is a very close second. I also loved the puppet show in Diagon Alley, and the ride on the Hogwarts Express was incredibly charming – and surprisingly intimate.

Have you been to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios? What did you love?

 

Author Life Month? Author Every Month.

The author’s photo a day challenge I am participating in on Instagram this month is absolutely sustaining me. It only feels fitting to be sharing it with you at the tail end of Valentine’s Day, as every new day feels like I’m adding a line to a love letter addressed to readers, to Eiren’s world, to the craft of writing. I’ve always had good intentions when it comes to photo a day challenges but have previously lacked follow through. Not so this February.

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The prompt for this one was “killed darlings,” and this was one of oh-so-many I had to choose from. I always write more pretty things of little substance than I need.

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And “where I write,” which I’ve elaborated on before. But I felt this one showed some love to the stickers so rarely seen on the back of my laptop.

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These two were each collages of character inspirations, for Eiren and Gannet, respectively. You can read more on the original posts.

If you aren’t already following me on Instagram, please do. It’s the rare social media haven I can haunt on the regular right now – I feel rather guilty for my prolonged absence from Twitter and Facebook, longer even than was required for the heady rush of editing that consumed my January, and resulted in one of the strongest drafts I think I’ve ever written. Come May, I hope you think so, too.

The challenge carries on through the end of February and I think I’ll be looking for another one after. Any recommendations?

Five Favorite Reads of 2016

I’m not gonna lie, I really killed it in 2016. I always make time for reading, but as a working, writing, mothering adult I don’t usually manage quite so many books. There was a fair amount of escapist reading in there, but I’m still absurdly pleased.

Even if it makes picking five favorites rather more of a challenge this year than in previous years.

The Forbidden WishJessica Khoury’s The Forbidden Wish was a clear winner for me for 2016, though. I listened to it on audiobook first, and then I read it, and then I listened to it again. It has everything I need to absolutely lose myself in a book: a genuinely complex heroine, the supernatural, a rogueish romantic interest, and just enough authentic drama to keep me up at night – and mooning over the story the next day. If you read even one book I recommend this year, it should be this one.

Not surprisingly, Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom were flawless – and I told her so and she tweeted back to me so THAT HAPPENED. Bardugo is a national treasure. Each tremendously gripping and masterfully-crafted in their own right, they hung together in all of the right places and diverged in surprising, delightful ways. I do not typically enjoy books that switch perspectives, but her pacing was spectacular and I cared so much about everyone that I was all too willing to follow her characters anywhere.

Vassa in the Night

Sarah Porter’s Vassa in the Night was a grim, glorious little surprise. I’d read a review that said if you liked weird, you’d like this book, and do I love some weird. But there’s more to it, even, than that. Reminiscent of Kelly Link but with more to hold on to and a far greater investment in the lives of the characters she’s tormenting, I took my time with this one, savoring the strangeness of the world and the hot-beating heart at the center of it.

I read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians a few years ago, and Quentin Coldwater was such a selfish prick I almost didn’t finish the series. While I get he had some growing up to do, I found it so stifling to be limited to his perspective and spent most of the book wanting to throttle him. The Magician King, with Julia’s voice, was a breath of fresh air, and Quentin’s growing maturity was dynamic and believable. The Magician’s Land knocked my socks off, and I am so glad I gave the series another chance.

The Forgetting

The world-building in Sharon Cameron’s The Forgetting was inventive and unique, and I was bound to love a book where writing one’s own story played so central a role. I really enjoyed the narrator and the detail that was put into her culture, and the direction the story took was surprising. I appreciate when books aren’t what I expect, and books that remind me of some of my favorite episodes of Star Trek.

What did you read this year? What did you love?

Under the Covers

My second book has a publication date, a title, and now it has a cover – along with a matching refresh of the first book which will be re-released in paperback at the same time. I haven’t been belting it from the rooftops because I am wildly superstitious. If I celebrate too soon, it won’t actually happen, right?

But, it is happening, so I’m going to make a little noise.

Here’s this first lovely little mystery. I feel so lucky to have seen my first book baby realized in not just one but three separate covers, and this one has a sweeping depth to it that I really love. I also had the opportunity I am sure far more deserving writers have dreamed of: to revisit a few sticky places in the story and make small but mighty edits to a book that was first published three years ago.

The Hidden Icon

I want to go to there.

And here, too.

The Dread Goddess

The Dread Goddess follows Eiren in her flight from Jhosch, from Gannet, and from herself as she attempts to reconcile who she knows she is – a gentle-souled storyteller – with the monstrous dread goddess who dwells within her. There’s more of her world, more stories, identities literally and figuratively unmasked, madness and havoc and kissing. I am extremely excited about continuing her story and I hope that you are, too.

And I won’t be sitting on my hands until their publication on May 30 of next year – I’ll be working on the third and final book, partnering with the spectacular Nita Basu of Diversion Books on some promotional fun times, and blogging and reading and mothering and dreaming. If there’s something I can do for you or questions I can answer about how I am not going slowly insane managing all of these things, you know how to reach me.

Meet Me at CONjuration

I didn’t anticipate returning to Atlanta until next year’s Dragon Con, so I was surprised and delighted when I received a last-minute invitation to CONjuration, a fan-driven convention celebrating all things Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and other magical literature, movies, and experiences. It’s being held November 4 – 6 at the Marriot Century Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

I wonder if we'll get sorted? This lovely piece from rienfleche on DeviantArt is making me waffle about my hoped-for House.

I wonder if we’ll get sorted? This lovely piece from rienfleche on DeviantArt is making me waffle about my hoped-for House.

I’ve scrambled to acquire more copies of The Hidden Icon and also to assemble chapbooks of The Two Sisters to disseminate. I am positively stoked to be sharing a table in the vendor hall – aptly named Diagon Alley – with Lee Martindale, and trying to figure how many goodies I can squeeze into my suitcase along with clothes and a Yule Ball gown. Priorities, friends.

I’ll also be on a few panels.

  • Saturday, 4:00 PM, Tail and Tongue: Don’ t Step on the Worms – Grima Wormtongue and Peter (Wormtail) Pettigrew both get a bad rap. Yes, they were pawns of their evil lords. Yes, they betrayed their own kind. Could they really help it or were they victims, too? Did their deaths give them any redemption or did they just confirm their roles as tragic characters and tools cast aside by their masters?
  • Saturday, 6:00 PM, Stranger Things: The Magical Influences – Drawing from such influences as Dungeons & Dragons, Tolkien, Magic: the Gathering, Stephen King, and the movies made by Chris Columbus and Steven Spielberg, the supernatural, enchanted elements of Stranger Things fairly drip from the screen! The series’ surreal atmosphere is propelled forward by humanity’s lack of understanding of the paranormal. The unknown science is magic!

In addition to some seriously cool programming – really, I don’t know how much I’ll be willing to stay at my vendor table because everything looks so fun – there are opportunities to win House points, live performances, and of course, a Yule Ball. I am also over the moon excited to meet Juliet Marillier, who will be launching and signing her latest book at the event, and whose writing has been influencing and inspiring me for more than a decade.

So, if you’re in the Atlanta area, I don’t think you’ll want to miss this, and I won’t want to miss you.