Category Archives: Writing

Fantasy Casting Book of Icons

When I had time for journal-based roleplaying games, one of my first and favorite things to do in developing a character was to think about what they looked like. I loved scrolling through icon collections of lesser known actors and actresses, or beloved familiar faces in unique roles, and choosing just the right person to play my version of Padma Patil or Eddie Carmichael (had a soft spot for roleplaying Ravenclaws, even though I’m pretty sure I’m a Gryffindor). Anyone who has ever played in one of these games, or ever seen a movie that’s been woefully miscast, knows what it’s like to see someone playing a character who is just all wrong.

Strangely enough, picturing my characters is not something I do much in the beginning. Maybe it’s because all of the shit I gave myself as a young writer for describing what people looked like by letting them look in the mirror, or because I immediately drop any book that tells me what a character is wearing or describes their “tresses” within the first 10 pages. Still, I know that it’s important to have a few details to go on, and that usually those details belong somewhere in the beginning of a book.

Writing in first person presents a unique challenge when conveying what your main character looks like, but I’m particularly fond of how Eiren describes herself and her siblings in the first chapter of The Hidden Icon, when looking at her mother she,

“… studied the vault of bones beneath her skin, like mine the color of the honeyed beer she and my father enjoyed, the taste of which had always paled considerably when compared to the thrill of pilfering some from their reserve.”

I wish now that I’d had resources like Writing with Color when I was working on the first book, because it’s incredible. Even though it’s fantasy-land, it’s important to check assumptions and language when it comes to writing characters of color. For me, Eiren has always been a brown girl, and I hope that she was always for readers, too.

We don’t get much else about Eiren in the first few chapters, beyond that she’s a small woman, made smaller by the challenges of living in exile. Again, she sees herself in comparison to others, this time, when she observes Morainn rising from a chair and feels,

“… weak as a foundling child. Morainn had eaten well and stretched her legs in the flower of her youth, and I’d spent the last five years living like a rodent in a cave.”

I did give Gannet a little bit more structure in the beginning, though, even with half of his face obscured for the reader and Eiren both.

“The man wore a half-mask roughed of some metal fitted to his features, riding the bridge of his nose and curving back to his ears. It was the mask I saw and little else, registering but barely the sandy hair, the thin, blank line of his lips.

He was less formidable in proximity than he had been at a distance. I could not keep from studying his face as the moment lengthened to discomfort, the rough lip of the mask below his cheekbones, splitting his brow above. His hair strayed from where it had been smoothed back, softening his unnaturally muted expression.”

Despite the fact that I have a lot more to go on with Gannet’s description, or maybe because of it, he’s always been harder for me to point to a real person and say, that one. I don’t think he’s traditionally handsome, and I picture him with a wide, expressive mouth that would probably be goofy on someone who smiled a lot. His nose is severe because frankly, I like noses.

And Eiren, well. She’s beautiful but melancholy, too. She’s also never had cause to pay attention to how her hair or body is dressed, allowing an innocence to persist in her appearance that might not otherwise for someone of her age and experience.

Most recently, I’ve been pairing these two together in my mind and feeling pretty confident about their potential.

Sonam Kapoor is just the most glamorous usually, which I feel like works for Eiren’s sisters but not so for her. But when I saw her in Saawariya, I just felt like there was a dreamy quality about her, an intense grace and depth that felt right for Eiren. As for Austin Butler, his model face is all wrong for Gannet and I would never have looked at him twice if it weren’t for a laundry-filled Sunday when I decided to give The Shannara Chronicles a watch. Dude has got so much more going for him when he’s walking and talking and, you know, emoting.

And not to bribe or spoil folks or anything, but if you’re interested in seeing a bit more of Gannet’s face, you should probably make some time to read The Dread Goddess.

So, what do you think? Who would you cast? And what about Morainn, Antares, Imke, or Jurnus? Clearly I ought to give them a think next.

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.

Meet Ramona

I’ve been working on something a little different.

And I thought you might like to take a peek.

She’d had the dream again.

Within minutes of waking, Ramona’s hands were pawing over the mess on her bedside table, skimming her glasses, her phone, upsetting two books splayed open, kissing like lovers. Her fingers found the roll of tape she’d left there the night before and she was up, eyes squeezed shut as she moved by touch in the dark to the wall opposite her bed where she’d drawn the map.

Lines drawn in thick, black permanent ink spidered from the window to her bare, aggressively tidy desk. Structures had been meticulously trimmed from a variety of magazines and discarded books and taped against the wall in various places, some labeled, others awaiting identification. Ramona gently peeled one labeled ‘Bazaar’ from the lower left quadrant of the map and placed it several handspans further right, next to another clipping – a squat ruin she’d cut out of a tattered National Geographic – labeled ‘Arena.’ The snap as she tore a new piece of tape was startling in the silence, and only after she’d made the adjustment did she open her eyes and turn on the light.

The harsh fluorescent glow further illuminated the stark, impersonal dormitory: bed pushed against one wall, built in wardrobe and desk opposite, door and window with its navy drape squaring off like combatants. The rug underfoot was cheap and thin, the curtains and bedspread worn but without personality. The wall with its world realized in marker and college scraps was the only thing that felt like it belonged to Ramona, and she’d have to paint over it in less than a week.

She sat down on the edge of her bed without a sound, reaching for her glasses and her phone, checking her face, checking the time.

4:07 AM.

Yesterday it had been nearly 6 AM when the dream woke her.

It wasn’t always the same dream, it just always was. It was the world as she knew it, twisted, the places she recognized warped and peopled by strangers – or not at all.

Dr. Cutter was interested in the dream. It had been she who had first suggested Ramona keep a journal, sketch what she recalled upon waking, as though getting it all out of her head would keep it from coming back. But it didn’t, and the notebook hadn’t been big enough, anyway. So she’d sacrificed the security deposit on this year’s board and started drawing on the walls.

There was the strip where she and her mother and brother had bought groceries and visited the check advance place to borrow against dad’s upcoming pay day, the taquería where between the three of them they’d demolish an easy conquistador’s dozen.

Ramona had layered clipped photos and crude sketches underneath of the main edifice she’d chosen to represent each place on the map, indicating what was different, what was the same. There were some places she frequented often – her high school, the trailer where she’d grown up, her grandma’s house just down the street, the quarry – and others she’d go months without seeing, sometimes whole years – the labyrinthian downtown, the derelict grocery, the sculpture park. In the park there was a bronze statue of a woman in the center of a reflecting pool, her arms raised in invitation. But when Ramona dreamed of her, the gestures were always different and Ramona had noted this, too: arms overhead like a dancer’s, fists clenched against the stiff folds of her robe, arms absent, hacked off or lost like an ancient Roman statue.

Because it really wasn’t one dream, but many. Ramona moved through them each night, pursuing whatever mad trajectories her sleeping mind conjured. Usually, she was alone. But sometimes she was with her brother, Felix.

Felix.

He’d been the reason she’d gone to see Dr. Cutter in the first place, six years ago, in the weeks following his disappearance.

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?

Whose Icon Would You Be?

You might be an icon if you feel feelings. Or if you don’t. But there’s really only one way to find out.

Take the quiz!

I will not tell you how many hours I spent putting this very simple Buzzfeed quiz together, which uses total guesswork science to determine whose icon you would be, if you were an icon. It was worth every minute to not have to cheat to get exactly who I wanted on my first try.

Though I suppose knowing how to answer in advance is the signature definition of cheating.

But, I won’t spoil you provided you promise to tell me who you got.

 

What the Internet is For

When I read Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet I was so delighted by her descriptions of how she approached marketing and promotion for The Guild, how everything was genuine, personal, and obsessively orchestrated by Day herself. As I stalked around my city on my lunch breaks hanging flyers in Cincinnati’s many coffee spots and libraries about my book’s launch and signing earlier this month, or when I still stubbornly respond to every RT and send thank you emails, I like how close to the work that I feel. I enjoy being a part of a community of writers and readers and dreamers, and growing that community all the time.

There are a lot of demands around how to market oneself online and create a personal brand, and I feel grateful to have gotten first involved in an internet before this was a thing. I started blogging in 2001 on Diaryland. I was 18 and it was then, at least for me, about cultivating a voice and entering a conversation. I made friends then that I treasure still now, as I did in subsequent years on Livejournal. At some point, blogging became less about play and more about product, and I’ve always been a little sorry for the change. But social media came along to fill the void at just the right time, and for a few years Myspace, and later Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr, allowed for the same informal socializing online. We shared things. We got giddy about things, and sad, and silly.

The medium changes, but my approach doesn’t.

Thinking about Day, again. She has always felt so authentic to me, and so kind, and that’s exactly what I’ve endeavored to be on the internet. I want people to feel as heard as they would if we were sitting across from each other over coffee. I didn’t grow up with the internet, but it’s been part of my adult life for my entire adult life, which is probably why I balk at folks who are just a few years older than I am, in some cases, acting like the conversations and speculations we’re having online are any less real than the ones we’d have in person. If I’m engaging with you, I’m engaging with you. The same goes, I imagine, for so much of my peer group and folks much younger than me, too. I’m just barely a Millennial – I remember when I was growing up, we were called Generation Y, and I’ve always felt there’s a subtle difference for those of us born in the early 80s, old enough to remember the world before the World Wide Web, young enough to appreciate both worlds as they are.

As a writer and a human with stories to share, I am always going to want to talk to you, learn about you, learn from you. I am going to pursue honesty and whimsy and friendship as ardently in a virtual space as I would in a real one – because both are real.

Don’t you think?

Guilty as Charged

My second book has been out for a week, officially. Pretty weird, right? Here’s how I’ve celebrated.

On Tuesday, I shared a kids’ chocolate shake with my littles. Because there’s no not sharing something sweet when your children are awake.

On Wednesday, my husband went out of town for work, so I ferried and fed and bathed my children sans backup. We watched Reading Rainbow and ate leftovers and I stole a few moments to write after they were asleep.

On Thursday, I read a whole graphic novel before bed.

On Friday, my husband came home. We drank coffee, played video games, and did some writing and reading, respectively, before bed.

On Saturday, I mailed copies of both my first and second books to my parents, along with a late Mother’s Day card and an early Father’s Day card.

On Sunday, I folded a whole lot of laundry. We blew bubbles on the porch, watered the vegetable garden, and went to our girls’ first baseball game.

On Monday, I balanced an unpleasant but necessary errand in the morning by taking myself to see Wonder Woman.

Sometimes being a creator means a whole lot of guilt.

And today, I’m thinking that for as momentous as it seems and as it really is to be authoring, not much has changed or is likely to change for me. I work. I mother. I help take care of my family and my home. I don’t spend enough time nurturing relationships with friends, I don’t read enough books, I never write enough. I will waste time on Twitter. I will never see the end of little socks and undies vomited forth from the dryer. I will bake things and eat them even when I know that I shouldn’t. I will be inspired to write on my commute only to have my ideas flee when I have a moment to devote to them.

I’ll live and love and daydream of living and loving differently.

I’ll always want to be and do better.

I feel like the question comes up a lot, why do you write? And my answer is always the same. I can’t not write. There are days when I wish I didn’t feel the pressure to create, because I’m usually exhausted and only want to relax like a normal human. Watch television. Play Skyrim. Pursue any number of leisure activities without guilt. But that’s not who I am, perhaps especially on days when I wish that’s who I could be.

So, my second book has been out for a full week, and my life goes on. I’m working on something new. I’m obsessively checking for reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. I’m cooking and cleaning up and putting in my 40 hours a week. I am trying.

And that’s okay.

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.