Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My Next Con

One of my favorite things about becoming a published author has been the opportunity to participate in cons. For any readers who aren't quite as geeky as I am: "Con" is shorthand for "convention" as in groups of people with similar interests getting together to partake, talk about and enjoy their hobbies. In this case, we're talking about science fiction/fantasy conventions in particular, where superhero novelists can talk superheroes with other superhero geeks with impunity. In other words: heaven!

There are huge cons like Comic Con International that even make the regular TV news, and there are medium sized and smaller more niche ones across the country. I have limited funds and time, so mostly I've been trying to "break into" the ones more local to me. I've participated in Atomacon, Illogicon, and now: Con-Gregate!

I'm really excited about going to Con-Gregate. If you are anywhere near High Point, NC, you should come, too!

Here's a preview of the awesomeness I get to be a part of and who my playmates will be:

Friday 15 July: 2:00 p.m.
Terrible Reasons Not to Include Diverse Characters in Fiction, with moderator Stuart Jaffe, Special Literary Guest AJ Hartley, my friend and fellow Literary Marauder Darin Kennedy, and Emily Lavin Leverett. The title says its all on this one, I think.

Friday 15 July: 4:00 p.m.
How to Introduce SF/F to Kids Under 13, with moderator Angela Pritchett and Jason Gilbert. As the mom of a tiny geek, I'm looking forward to sharing what we love to read and getting some new titles for our TBR in return.

Friday 15 July: 6:00 p.m.
Developing Characters Beyond a Single Dimension with moderator Glenda Finkelstein, Paula S Jordan, Darin Kennedy, and Larry N. Martin Even minor characters still need to be characters and not just cardboard cutouts. We'll talk about how to do that.

Friday 15 July: 8:30 p.m.
Southern Voices Book Launch Party with David B. Coe, John G Hartness, Stuart Jaffe, Chris Kennedy, Cheralyn Lambeth, Gail Z Martin, Michael G Williams. All of us have recent new releases and we're getting together to celebrate our new books together. Come find your next read!

Friday 15 July: 10:00 p.m.
Java and Pros  with John G Hartness and Gail Z Martin (and coffee!) A quieter moment with only a couple of authors in the room.

Saturday, July 16: 10:00 a.m.
Superheroes and Why We Need Them with moderator Maya PreislerJohn G Hartness, and Steven S. Long Superhero stories have been around a long time. We'll talk about some of the reasons these stories endure across generations.

Saturday, July 16: 4:00 p.m.
Superheroes and the Law with moderator Steven S. Long, and Edward McKeown  To what degree should superhero characters be accountable to the law?

Saturday, July 16: 5:00 p.m.
Signing with Alexandra Christian an author of mostly paranormal romance, dark fantasy and horror. A self-proclaimed “Southern Belle from Hell,” Lexxx is a native South Carolinian who lives with a ghost hunter and an epileptic wiener dog. She's a fellow Broad of Broad Universe and a lot of fun to boot. Come by and say hi to us!

Saturday, July 16: 8:00 p.m.
Broad Universe: Rapid Fire Reading with Alexandra ChristianJohn G Hartness, Paula S Jordan, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Gail Z Martin, Misty Massey, Janine K Spendlove, Leona R Wisoker. What I LOVE about RFRs is the opportunity to hear a piece of several different books all in a single sitting. It's a book smorgasbord!

Saturday, July 16: 10:00 p.m.
Writing a Series: the How and the Why with moderator Gail Z Martin, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Janine K SpendloveLeona R Wisoker. Writing a series is a different critter than writing a single volume story. Come hear about why and how we do it.

Sunday, July 17: 10:30 a.m.
Tag-You're It with moderator Sharon StognerDavid B. CoeMelissa Gilbert, and Darin Kennedy. In this writing craft session, we'll talk about ways to make attribution clear in dialogue without drowning in "saids."

Sunday, July 17: 1:0 p.m.
Gender and Gender-fluidity in the Genre with moderator Sharon Stogner, and Maya Preisler. Life in the twenty-first century has come with new definitions of gender. Let's talk about depictions of gender in speculative fiction and how they are changing.

Besides my own sessions, there are *tons* of other sessions on cosplay, fandom, and all things sci-fi and fantasy. You can check out the full schedule by clicking on the banner. Come play with us!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Flash Fiction: Escape

In one of my online writing communities (+Writers' Discussion Group on Google Plus), there's a weekly writing prompt. I *love* writing to prompts. When I'm writing something that isn't my main project, it feels like playing and playing is a great re-charge to my creative process. I don't participate every week, but I always look at the prompts. I've even had two of the pieces I wrote for a WDG writing prompt become publication credits! (Michael's Miracle on Acidic Fiction and Contamination in Dark Matter, p. 14).

I really liked this week's prompt. It was an art prompt, from a piece called "Boundless" by Yummei and the piece I got from it. Here's "Escape" by yours truly:



Books can take you places, they said. Mina thought it was a nice metaphor, the journey of the mind, walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, escape. But she’d read plenty of books in her life, and not a one had actually moved her through time and space, other than making her lose track of time so she had to find a space to hide from her mother’s wrath when she got home late.

That was, until today.

She’d fallen asleep in the bean bag area of the children’s section of the library, curled up between two of the chairs in a little fort she’d constructed of pillows and books. They must have closed without noticing her. She was alone in the library.

Her mother was going to pitch a fit.

Mina crawled out of her hiding space and stretched, wishing she had a snack. She’d be lucky to escape a hiding when she got home. She certainly wouldn’t get anything to eat before she was sent to her punishment.

Since she was already in trouble, she figured it wouldn’t hurt to rummage around a bit. Maybe one of the librarians kept some food in a desk drawer or something.

She padded through the familiar rooms made unfamiliar in darkness broken only by security lights. She passed the story circle already set up for the next day’s reading, an extra-large edition of Where the Wild Things Are in the librarian’s chair and a bucket of monster puppets tucked beneath. She went into the forbidden area behind the check-out desk and rummaged through some drawers looking for food. There wasn’t any.

But there was another room behind the desk area. Pale blue light spilled out beneath the door. Mina expected it to be locked, but she tried it anyway. The knob turned easily, and the door fell open. The room was lined in floor to ceiling bookshelves. A glowing globe of the world sat on a star patterned platform at the center of the room. There was a stack of books on the platform and Mina sat beside the pile and spread them out to look. There were no words on the covers. Nothing to indicate what stories they held.

She opened one, startled when a flash of light illuminated the room. She threw her head back to escape the painful brightness and saw that the ceiling had become a starry night. She wanted to think it was a painting, but the stars swirled and moved with life. She peered back down at the pages of the book and saw that there were no words on the pages. She closed it, and the starry night ceiling disappeared, becoming again a smooth white surface ornamented with a mobile of the solar system. She opened the book again, ready this time for the flash of light. When the starry night appeared again, she grinned. Laying the book carefully aside, still open to the blank page she had chosen, she grabbed another book from the pile.

She closed her eyes when she opened this one, and was greeted with a lapping sound, like water sloshing in the bathtub. When she dared to peek out, she saw the floor surrounding the platform was covered in water lapping in gentle waves. She turned to look out the window and saw that it was as if the entire library were underwater. A school of fish spiraled by, turning to peer into the window with their broad, flat eyes.

Excited now, she opened the third book. A wolf materialized and padded towards her. Mina scooted back, her hands poised to slam the book closed. The wolf looked her in the eye, and she wasn’t afraid of him. She felt instinctively that he was there to protect her. When he laid down, presenting his side to her, she didn’t hesitate long before she settled into the curve of his side, and stroked his gray fur while she looked at the still swirling sky.

Her gaze bounced between the apparently blank books and the worlds they had opened. Finally she stood and spoke to the wolf. “Take me home with you,” she said.

Wordlessly, he stood, paced to the corner of the platform where his book still lay open. He looked back over his shoulder and then stepped into the pages and was gone. Mina carefully closed the other books and put them back where she had found them. And then, she followed him.

The room remained as she’d left it, fish swimming outside the window and the milky heavens swirling above. No one was there to hear it when the room sighed, satisfied.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Drink the Lemonade!
I had a big disappointment a week or so ago. I found a great job that I applied for an internal transfer for. I really thought I'd get it. From my perspective, it was a perfect fit--capitalizing on my experience and skills and giving me an opportunity to grow and rediscover my enthusiasm. Just imagining myself in the new role carried me through the tortuous weeks of standardized testing that we finish the school-year with, like the light at the end of a tunnel.

And I didn't get it. The light? It was an oncoming train.

And I cried. In fact, I still feel like crying, telling you about it here. I'm burnt out and ready for a change, and it burns my biscuits that what felt like the perfect opportunity was denied me.

But I have to go back and keep the job I was trying to leave, unless life surprises me with an amazing offer in the next few weeks. I have responsibilities, so I can't just go away and sulk. So, that means I have to figure out a way to swallow these lemons quickly, or face a year of bitterness next school year. That's easy with sugar, but sometimes you have to make the sugar yourself.

Now, I say that like it's easy, but it's totally not. That's why people who've had a lot of disappointment end up making this face:
I've know more than one teacher whose face got stuck like that, just like Mom always told us it would. I don't want to be that teacher.

So, where do I find my sugar to turn these lemons into lemonade so I can swallow it and move on?
1. Count your successes: In my classroom, I have one bulletin board that is covered in student memorabilia. Photographs, cards, art, certificates. Just little things to remind me that in 20 years in the classroom, I've been on the receiving end of a lot of love. That it's not all vitriol.

On an especially bad day, I even make a list. It can be hard to let go of the really awful thing that happened, especially if it happened at the end of the work day and you're going home with that sour taste in your mouth (lemons without sugar).

But if I sit down and think about it, I can always find something that went well. Maybe I was able to make a sad child smile with some of my silliness. Maybe a student who doesn't usually engage participated today. Maybe one of my colleagues said "thank you" for something I do all the time, reminding me that I make a difference.

2. Know what heals you:  It may sound like a scene from Sound of Music, but think about your favorite things. Even better, do them. Distraction can be healing. You'll eventually have to face the consequences of whatever happened, but, for a little while, it's okay not to think about it. Channel your inner Scarlet O'Hara and think about that tomorrow.
So, tomorrow you'll figure this out. But today, you can run away a little. 

Shoot some things in a videogame, take an extra long walk with your dog, eat something unhealthy and delicious, read a great book, watch a favorite comedy, call your sister and listen to her talk for an hour, build a pillow fort and hide in there, go to a club and shake your money-maker. Whatever works for you. 

The key to this is only letting yourself run away for a short time. We're not looking for new recruits for the Lost Boys here. Eventually, you have to come back home.

3. Pick a new goal: There are other things you want. Pick one of those and take a step towards it. Send out another application. Call that someone you've been trying to get brave enough to call. Pick something to redecorate or reorganize. Audition for a play. Create something if you're a maker kind of person. Learn something new. Haven't you always wanted to know how to play an ocarina?
For me, I'm working on hard on that writing career this summer--I've got a novel to finish and two novellas to write by the end of August. I won't have time to sit around thinking about what might have been in the real world. I'll be too busy working on my new goal by running away to play with my imaginary friends. So there!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

King Kong and Ann Darrow

Given that I'm a gal who enjoys big monster movies, you'd think King Kong would be right up my alley. It's got a giant ape and dinosaurs at the same time, and who doesn't like to see an ape swatting airplanes out of the sky?

But King Kong has always pissed me off. Even when I was a little girl, I hated the story, though I couldn't have explained why. It wasn't just that they killed the ape, though I was and continue to be a softy when it comes to animals. I think it was what the story does with its leading lady. At a subconscious level, I was offended, even when my age was still being counted in single digits.

The story's pretty old (first released as a movie with Fay Wray in 1933), so I don't think I'm spoiling it for you to say that the basic plot outline involves a film director, a young woman, and a giant ape. The ape ends up dying in a fall from a skyscraper after being abducted from his home and displayed in New York City, and with the very last line of the movie, the blame for the entire tragedy is handed to the young woman: "Oh no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast."
Even six-year-old Samantha was going, "What? Um, did you watch the same movie I did? Because I'm thinking Ann didn't actually do a darn thing. How is this her fault?"

In most versions of King Kong, Ann Darrow is tricked into going to Skull Island. The unscrupulous director who hires her as an actor doesn't fully fill her in on what she's letting herself in for, but instead takes advantage of her youth, naiveté, and her poverty, and smooth-talks her into serving his own purposes. It's interesting that the love interest isn't the manipulative director, but the lead actor, who was also bamboozled into going on this ill-fated voyage. I guess even Hollywood knew they couldn't sell that character as having fallen in love, so they brought in another guy.

The movie was made in 1933, but the 30's also brought us Nora Charles in the Thin Man series, so the year isn't fully an excuse.

I don't know why a giant ape would want young women. You'd think he'd rather have food, or at least another giant ape. But the tribe of people on this island have a tradition of sacrificing a young woman to Kong periodically, and our hapless Ann Darrow is kidnapped, tied to posts, and serves as this year's offering. Given that Kong is never portrayed as able to communicate, I don't know how we're supposed to have arrived at this arrangement, but women as bargaining chips in the games of men is hardly a new thing. Offering your daughters as war prizes or peace offerings goes way back.
Their first encounter is hardly the stuff of romance. Ann screams her head off and tries to get away while the stop-motion Kong makes terrifying faces at her and roars a lot.

Ann's next few scenes are pretty much about her being menaced by one monster and saved by the one who snatched her. I get why the T-Rex and the pterodactyl want her, after all, she's a sizable meal with no armor or spikes to have to chew through. The mythology tells us that Kong is supposed to be smitten and that's why he keep fighting to save her, but it views more like simple possession to me. "Hey that's mine!" There's a part where he removes parts of her dress and examines the cloth, like "what the heck is this stuff?" There's no reason really, other than to make sure we get a nice full view of Ann's trim figure.

In the 1933 Kong, there's no emotional connection between Ann and Kong like there is in later versions. She only looks on him with terror, even when he's saving her from even scarier monsters. No Stockholm Syndrome here. In other tellings, there are these moments when Ann reaches out and touches him gently or tries to make him laugh, because even though her life is in danger, she feels for her captor.

But that ending line really gets me.

This idea that it is somehow a woman's job to tame a man rankles me, even when the man is portrayed as an actual beast--and that's part of what that ending line implies. That toxic idea is part of the whole maelstrom of destructive ideas that create rape culture and necessitate feminism. Men are people, women are people. Why should it be my job to "be a good influence" on half the people of the world just because I was born female? Why shouldn't they be responsible for themselves? If men thought about that "boys will be boys" attitude a little longer, they might be insulted, too. Do we, as a culture, really think our men are little better than animals, unable to control their baser urges?

So, poor Ann Darrow: got duped into taking a journey to a dangerous place because some manipulative jerk took advantage of her poverty and desperation, only to end up kidnapped by a giant ape who kills people and other monsters to try and keep her, and then to be blamed for the creature's death because she's beautiful. Gah! What shot did she ever have?

The movie ends without giving much of a hint of what becomes of Ann after Kong is dead. I'd like to think that she learned to take some agency in her own life instead of blowing wherever the wind takes her. More likely, she married her leading man and cried when he left her. Or worse yet, she was sent to an asylum for her nervous condition and fell apart when they take her on a field trip to a zoo and she saw a gorilla.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Whose Story is It Anyway? Guest Post from LJ Cohen

It's my pleasure to turn over my blog today to LJ Cohen, the author of the Halcyone Space series. I've read and loved the first two, and am anxious to get my eyes on the third.  Check out my Goodreads reviews of Derelict and Ithaka Rising and follow us both while you're there :-)

Whose story is it anyway? Balancing the demands of an ensemble cast.
by LJ Cohen

The novels of Halcyone Space (Derelict, Ithaka Rising, and Dreadnought and Shuttle) tell a story through a large cast of characters. While I have written a lot of novels over the past twelve years, most of them have used a limited set of point of view characters. But when it came to telling a space opera tale, I knew it would need more voices.

Point of View (POV), like other elements of writing, should be a deliberate choice. A large, rambling narrative can be a better fit for a multitude of voices than trying to tell it through one set of eyes. In contrast, a tightly coiled story in a limited setting might function best with one narrator. That is the choice I made in my standalone urban fantasy, Future Tense.  

Future Tense has a lot in common with a thriller in that Matt, the main character, needs to solve the riddle of his own prescient visions before the people he has grown to care about get hurt. I wanted readers to feel Matt’s sense of being hemmed in by circumstance and the narrowing of his choices as the story unspools. Using only his POV helped to accomplish that, as the reader only knows what Matt knows. This heightened the tension throughout the entire novel.

For the Halcyone Space books, that would have been the wrong choice. These are stories that span multiple planets and involve government-wide conspiracies. With multiple plot threads that weave together into each narrative, the stories needed an ensemble cast and a large number of POV characters.

But how to balance the ‘screen time’ that each character gets? Is that even important?

When it came time to give artist’s notes for the covers, I realized that depicting half a dozen principal characters would not only be impossible, but also would be the wrong choice. While, for the most part, all the characters have roles in each book, it’s also clear that each book highlights the arc of one or two main characters. In Derelict, that was Rosalen Maldonado, or Ro to her friends. In Ithaka Rising, the story of the Durbin brothers—Barre and Jem—drove the narrative. And while Jem was the character who starts the plot ticking, it’s Barre who shows the most growth and change. For book 3, Dreadnought and Shuttle, despite being a new addition to the series, Dev—Devorah Martingale Morningstar (and she knows it’s a ridiculous name) takes center stage.

I’d like to say I consciously planned out that shifting and balancing of lead characters, but I’d be lying. Perhaps my subconscious helped, knowing there wouldn’t be a feasible way to give each of six main characters and at least that many secondary characters equal billing and still have a coherent story. 

The other advantage of telling a story through multiple POV is the richness it can bring to describing characters both through their own voices and through another character’s perspective. That’s another way to bring balance to each character. I have always enjoyed the way the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead brings a different understanding to the familiar plot and characters of Hamlet. Seeing the two plays in repertory is a fascinating study of the concept that everyone is the hero of their own story.

Learn more about LJ Cohen and her work by connecting with her online. And don't forget to check  out her books: links at bottom!

Twitter: @lisajanicecohen
email LJ:
Amazon Author page:

Dreadnought And Shuttle
Amazon page:
Google Books:

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

#IWSG: Slumping Towards Publication Day

I've had a rough few months in terms of creating new writing. There are a lot of reasons, all legit, but they didn't matter at the heart of it. All I felt was disappointed and frustrated. Drafting is normally my favorite part--where I get to play in the new ideas and see where they take me.

At a deeply honest level, where you admit what you really believe even when you know you're believing something irrational, I was worried that the fact I was struggling meant I wasn't good enough to do this. If I was "a real writer" I'd be able to juggle marketing, family life, and the day job, while still making progress on the next story.

But after NaNoWriMo, where I made a good start, I was stuck until about two weeks ago. I kept fiddling with the project (the third book in this series), but I couldn't figure out what was wrong and how to move it forward. Even my critique group, which normally has laser-sharp insight that finds the problem for me, wasn't that helpful. They told me what they liked and what wasn't working, but I was still stuck on what to do about the parts that weren't working. I was in a slump.
I can be a very patient woman, but not with myself. Even with all the evidence to the contrary, in my irrational heart, I believe in the power of hard work and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. So, when I was working hard and not getting anywhere, I felt broken. My confidence (normally higher than is probably actually warranted) was shaken.

Then, it came about two weeks ago in a flash of insight. In the end, it *was* one of my critique partners who helped, but it was in a comment she gave me in writing, rather than what she said at the meeting (Thanks you, Sarah!).  Without spoilers: my villain had just made a surprising move, and Sarah said that she didn't buy it, that not enough had happened to Cindy yet to justify the action she was taking. 

And I heard the angels sing and the trumpets play! That's what I was missing: I needed to back up and give Cindy's thread from beginning to end, instead of jumping her in so far along the line. I needed to let her struggle more and have more reason to become afraid so that there was more impact when we get to her surprising move. It's one of those realizations that seems so obvious now that I wonder what the heck was wrong with me that I couldn't see it earlier. 

So, my lesson in all this is to be patient with myself, that sometimes you can't un-slump yourself through hard work and stubborn perseverance. Sometimes the creative process just needs time.

What works for you when you hit a slump?

This posting is part of the Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. To check out other posts by writers in a variety of places in their careers, check out the participant list. This group is one of the most open and supportive groups of people I have ever been associated with. If you write, you should check them out!

If you want to check out my superhero stories, click the covers below. Change of Life, book two of my Menopausal Superheroes series just came out a month ago!