Monday, September 28, 2020

Horror Christmas Kick Off!

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!

Cue Andy Williams's slightly creepier older brother, because it's almost the most wonderful time of the year (for horror fans.)  That's right, Halloween, a.k.a Horror Christmas is just under five weeks away, and if the Hallmark Channel can start playing Christmas movies on October 22 (don't ask me how I know that...seriously, just don't ask) then clearly I can start celebrating all things pumpkin spice on September 28.

This year I got to ring in the creepy season with an event I've spent almost seven months planning.  Not seven months because it was particularly logistically complicated, but seven months because of the goddamned epidemic.  I had planned to host a book signing at my balloon store in March of this year.  That fell through, for obvious reasons.

But, after much vacillating back and forth and discussions with my partner and crew, we finally put together a virtual listener mailbag episode of The Horror Show With Brian Keene...three weeks after the podcast was unexpectedly retired.

Yeah, has anybody else found 2020 to be a weird fucking year?

Anyway, the reason I wanted to share this with you pretty ricky-tick is a time-sensitive one.  For the first time ever my store is selling an item which can be mailed anywhere in the US.  Normally we only do local delivery.  But in honor of our guests, you can pick up a Horror Show-themed balloon pack here.  I know people in the horror community are always looking for new and exciting things to fill the house with during Horror Christmas, and these creepy (and in some cases, glow-in-the-dark) balloons are just the thing.  But!  Only while supplies last.

And as for the Q&A itself, it was a blast.  There were special guests, there was some light ribbing, all the stuff you've come to expect from The Horror Show, except you can see everybody's faces.  You can watch the whole event here or in the embed below.  And if you want to see all the balloon sculptures featured in the event in all their creeptacular glory, you can find them on the event page here.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Prolific Cynthia Harrison

I’m honored and excited to introduce to you Cynthia Harrison, author of not only extraordinary crime novels, but women’s fiction, and a thriving blog which she writes in the midst of her husband’s retirement, and a change of scenery from Detroit, Michigan to St. Pete, Florida.  

Cynthia credits her love of reading and writing to her parents who introduced her to various genres and most importantly a diary. 

As early as junior high school Cynthia was a successful writer, finding her articles on the front page of the school paper, offered her incredible validation, and unexpected popularity. She says, “something in my brain clicked with being a writer and being popular.”

“Writing is like breathing,” says Cynthia, she starts her day with writing and ends her day spinning stories in her head, “it’s essential to my mental health as I keep a journal with all the problems, sorrows, and joys of life in my real world. Once I see something in print, I can usually figure out how to handle the first step to fixing it. I have brainstormed my way out of a lot of fixes. And I’ve gained clarity and courage just by writing out my woes.” 

Cynthia wrote a couple of fantasy novels when she was in a spiritual period, working out how the afterlife would look from various sources. She explored concepts of reincarnation, life choices, and all those lessons we fail to learn, “and that's how I got my fantasy novels.”

Her primary audience is women entering midlife, some find her through her blog, Cynthia Harrison in St. Pete, and others are just fans of her work. She enjoys a strong network of writer friends who discuss writing, read each other’s books, and cheer each other on. Cynthia hopes her books, “make people feel like they’ve got a friend and maybe laugh a little.”

Working as a teacher, Cynthia attempted to connect with other writers, she asked a coworker, "what writing project did you work on this summer?" and he said "Lesson Plans," and it was not the name of his book. She decided she would have better luck joining conferences, and organizations like Crime, and Michigan Sisters in Crime. She also belongs to a critique group, “just four of us from way back, and we yammer about writing all the time. It's bliss. It's my heaven.”  

Cynthia stirs away from politics and pandemics when she writes, she doesn’t want to offend readers or force them to relive a difficult time, but on occasion, her tweets reflect her political views.   

Research is vital to Cynthia’s work, especially the crime novel genre, she recently attended a Writer’s Police Academy, “it's like college for cops, taught by cops, private detectives, and FBI agents.” She has a huge library of books on the psychology of deviant behavior, including murder. Honestly, I don’t know how she sleeps at night.

Cynthia says, “I do have a friend who was an FBI agent and she reads through my FBI stuff and helps me get it right. I asked if a female agent would keep her gun in a purse or a holster and she said ‘female agents do not carry handbags."  

She used to write wherever she could set up space, but now that her sons have grown up and moved into their own lives, she has her own writing room painted “ardent coral” and full of books. “I love it and I use it.” It has a comfy chair with an ottoman where she creates her drafts, revisions happen at the desk, and her son brought her a Lucky Kitty from Singapore and she taps his paw to make it swing for good luck. 

If a scene is giving her trouble Cynthia makes a note of it in her colorful, spiral-bound journal until a solution emerges and then switches back to her laptop. She has to tear these pages out when she fills up her journal because she tosses them in the garbage! “Not in the recycle, in the real garbage, because I don’t want my kids to feel they have to read all my journals just in case I wrote in one of them where I had a million dollars.” Bahaha.  

Cynthia improves her writing skills by writing. “It took a few bad books to even think I could write a novel,” she says she gave up on poetry because she never thought she could be that good, but now she realizes if she devoted ten years to writing poetry, she’d get better. “It takes time and practice. It was such a delight when I clearly saw that my new attempt at writing a book was much better than the previous one.” She takes writing classes and seminars and has been blessed with great teachers. 

“Jenny Cruise is the most selfless writer,” says Cynthia. She met her at a conference and continued the relationship online where Cruise critiqued her work. She helped Cynthia to understand the importance of conflict and tension in a good story. 

Before Cynthia retired, she was a teacher of creative writing at the college level, but she was frustrated with the lack of textbooks available about writing. One day she was reading Julia Cameron’s autobiography, Floor Sample, when a lightbulb went off in her head, and she turned all her lesson plans and notes into a textbook on writing, this was her first book, and the only non-fiction book she’s ever written. “So I was a teacher who wrote in the summer and then teaching gave me my first book. Now I'm retired and I write all the time.”

When asked about social media Cynthia said, “I really love Twitter but it's a time sink so I limit my time there.” She writes a blog post on Monday and posts the link on Twitter, then she reads others who use the #MondayBlogs if the title or photo draws her in. She has connected with many writers on Twitter. She figures if you like her blog you might also enjoy her books. That’s how I found Cynthia and I have enjoyed reading her books and engaging with her blog.

Cynthia's recent protagonist is a retired art lecturer because every murder has something to do with art, she’s an amateur sleuth and police consultant. Cynthia picked art not because she’s an expert but it is intriguing, besides she can easily research art and find books on almost every artist. Her new book, Jane in St. Pete, is coming out on November 2, 2020, but in the middle of a pandemic, it will be challenging to promote her book. She expects sales to be down for this launch so she'll be relying on social media as a promotional tool. For a glimpse into her earlier novels, you can go to Cynthia Harrison in St. Pete

Favorite authors include Jennifer Crusie, Julia Cameron (mentioned before) but also Carl Haiisen. She says, “I read for pleasure and have since COVID been doing a deep dive into historical fiction, mostly regency. I started by re-reading all of Jane Austen, including her new biography. I went on to Georgette Heyer who was not alive during Regency-era England, but her research is top-notch and she's so funny.” She’s read about 50 Regencies since March because they’re a great distraction during these trying times. 

Cynthia is also a huge fan of memoir, Rock n’ roll biographies is a favorite, she recently read Stevie Nicks' Gold Dust Woman. Cynthia's all-time fave is Bob Dylan's Chronicles Part One. She says, “It would be just like him to never write Part Two.” Cynthia definitely reads more than she writes. She enjoys The Bloggess, Jenny Lawton, "her memoirs are so funny." Other favorites include Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, Alice Hoffman, Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, and Erica Jong. Cynthia is inspired by these great novelists and memoirists. She says, “I can't write my memoirs due to family confidentiality, so I write novels and disguise all the people who have spurned and burned me.” A writer's revenge.

Cynthia says, “I have always wanted a shelf of books authored by me.” She appreciates publishers and editors who get her and of course her readers who love her work. She says she forgot to wish for money but warns writing books doesn’t pay the bills. She’s not looking for fame or fortune because there’s a lot of bad that goes along with all that. “I just wanted to write and publish books and have a husband who is happy to let me do just that. So I feel like all my dreams have come true.”

Monday, September 21, 2020

Back Jacket Hack-Job: NOTORIOUS RBG


Back Jacket Hack-Job


The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg


Fuck 2020, amiright?

On Friday, we lost one of the hardest-working, feminist power houses of our lifetime. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought tirelessly for equality and civil rights, and I for one am ready to pick up where she left off.

This, from the back jacket of Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame―she has only tried to make the world a little better and a little freer.

But nearly a half-century into her career, something funny happened to the octogenarian: she won the internet. Across America, people who weren’t even born when Ginsburg first made her name as a feminist pioneer are tattooing themselves with her face, setting her famously searing dissents to music, and making viral videos in tribute.

Notorious RBG, inspired by the Tumblr that amused the Justice herself and brought to you by its founder and an award-winning feminist journalist, is more than just a love letter. It draws on intimate access to Ginsburg's family members, close friends, colleagues, and clerks, as well an interview with the Justice herself. An original hybrid of reported narrative, annotated dissents, rare archival photos and documents, and illustrations, the book tells a never-before-told story of an unusual and transformative woman who transcends generational divides. As the country struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stands as a testament to how far we can come with a little chutzpah.


Really, there’s only one thing it needs to say:

Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time. Take that step, BE the change, by order of the Honorable Notorious RBG.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Accountability Challenge

 Earlier this month I saw editor Angela James talking on Twitter about a free accountability challenge she was running for the month of September. Hmmm...accountability, you say? I eyed up my incomplete and overdue manuscript open on my laptop - blocked by Chrome, which had 4 tabs open, none of them writing-related - and thought, "Well, why not?"

Angela sent an introductory email and invited participants to join her Facebook group. She then broke us into smaller groups for daily check ins. I'm not a fan of Facebook groups for productivity reasons.

But for accountability reasons? Well...I'm going to be there anyway, right?

Now, I don't know about you, but I have author friends I chat with every day. We check in, encourage each other, talk about plotting, marketing, name it. But what we don't do? Hold each other accountable. I have one good author friend who tries, but she's a good friend at the end of the day. If I get cranky and ask her to back off, she does.

Reporting in to strangers, on the other hand? It's just what I needed apparently. One of the requirements of the challenge is to establish a check-in routine. Mine is to check in Monday through Friday, with weekends off. I've written every day of the challenge and have made more progress in September than I made all of July and August. I'm on track to finish this book, you guys. Words that I honestly wasn't sure I'd be able to say. Possibly ever. (Kidding, not kidding)

I'm sure there's something to the whole "back to school" feeling of September. And the fact that my son is actually back in school in person (long may it last). But if I don't meet my goal during the day while he's gone, I'm making up the time in the evenings, which I haven't done in months. Because, well, it's all about accountability, right?

What about you? How do you hold yourself accountable? I need strategies for when this 30-day challenge is over and the next book needs finishing, so tell me all your secrets!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Talking Avatar: The Last Airbender with Victor Catano

A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! Mary here, and I'm joined today by fellow author Victor Catano. You may remember him from the #AStarWarADay posts that fellow ATB blogger Karissa Laurel and I did a few months back -- in case you missed 'em, here are Part 1 (hosted by Karissa) and Part 2 (hosted by me). Today, Victor and I are talking about Avatar: The Last Airbender, a 15-year-old animated kids' show that's seen a recent resurgence in popularity since it hit Netflix earlier this summer. That the show was made for 12-year-olds didn't stop Victor and me; as sci-fi/fantasy authors and geeks, of course we had to dive in and see what all the fuss was about.

For me, I had to know what all my fellow geeks -- and more than a few fellow authors -- were raving about (and had been raving about for years). What was this show that was so amazing, it has a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes? What cartoon could be so perfect, not a single critic spoke ill of it? 

Well, it turns out, one with lots of heart, tons of adventure, solid world-building, and intricate storytelling. Was it perfect? Of course not -- nothing is. But it was well worth the watch.

Below is my discussion with Victor about the show. SPOILERS ABOUND. 

Avatar: The Last Airbender (A:TLA) has seen a new surge of popularity thanks to Netflix. Its cultural staying power shows that it's more than just a kids' cartoon. Having watched the whole thing, what were your overall thoughts on the show in general?

Avatar was one of those shows that I’d always heard about but had never gotten around to watching. I think it just came out at the wrong time for me. Had it aired 10 years earlier when I was in college, I’m sure I would’ve devoured it the way I did Batman: The Animated Series. I kept hearing how good A:TLA was, but never really had time to wade through Nickelodeon to find it. But since it came to Netflix (and since I have soooo much time now!) it seemed like a great time to dive in.

And my first impression was: This is ok.

Perhaps having been sold on some hype about the GREATEST ANIMATED SERIES EVER I was a little slow to warm to the pilot. Aang is very much a kid early on. Sokka hasn’t yet become the “meat & sarcasm” guy we love, he’s a real jerk early on

But after a couple episodes and once the characters got established, I was on board. Aang's childlike nature becomes a strength, tethering him to humanity as he gets god like powers. Sokka - as I heard described in one YouTube video - literally has the misogyny beaten out of him.

And that’s great, because the series evolves into an incredibly detailed and complex world, that describes the rise of fascism, government denials and secret police, morality of revolutions, and some of the best animated combat you’ll ever see. So, glad I stuck with it through a couple rocky episodes

Interesting! I, too, had heard of all the hype beforehand and was skeptical going in, but I was drawn into the show from the very first episode. I think it's because I generally like kids' entertainment (well into adulthood, I'm still the first to rush to theaters to see the latest Pixar offering) and have a high tolerance for the kind of "kid stuff" that many find grating (I thought Aang was adorable, and while Sokka was annoying, I just rolled my eyes and accepted his annoying-ness as the consequence of watching a kids' show. Besides, he doesn't get away with any of it).

A:TLA is a unique show in some ways because it's clear that the creators knew from the beginning that they had exactly 3 season to work with, and so were able plan everything ahead of time like it was one long saga, with set-ups and pay-offs, rather than making stuff up as they went along (ahem, new Star Wars). I found it really interesting how the show evolved from Season 1's more typical fantasy-quest-type of adventure to Season 2's deeper explorations of specific places to Season 3's almost static setting that focused more on character growth. Personally, I loved that even small moments from Season 1 paid off in Season 3. What did you think of the overall arc of the show?

Loved the arc! It does have a real Star Wars feel to it, with Book 2 being the strongest overall and 3 being the weakest, although Book 3 is a stronger finish than Jedi.

It’s very cool how threads planted early on are allowed to develop, especially with Aang’s approach to violence and confrontation. Aang is raised by Monks who teach non violence, which he adheres to, except when he gets into life threatening trouble. Then he can take on the Avatar State, a super powered form. However, early in the series he can’t control it and he’s horrified at the damage it causes. This plays out in the finale (spoilers, but why are you reading Avatar analysis if you haven’t seen it yet?)

For three seasons, Aang has been gearing up to fight the Fire Lord Ozai. Every character expects him to kill Ozai. They’re depending on it, so the war can end. But Aang doesn’t WANT to kill anyone. The monks taught him all life is sacred. (And this is where a 12 year old protagonist pays off. He’s young enough to believe in this sincerely) But even his past life Avatar spirits are telling him to end the fire lord! The fire lord is a killer who maimed his own son! But the show respects Aang’s beliefs and It sets up a terrific internal struggle for him

And it’s pretty heady stuff for a tween-geared show to do a 1984 style critique of North Korea and communist China.

There is no war in Ba Sing Se.

Like a lot of fantasy, it’s loosely modeled on that LOTR archetype. Group of adventurers go on a quest and do the thing and defeat the guy. But there is a ton of backstory and world building here that just makes it amazing.

Agree that it follows a Star Wars-y arc where Part 1 is the initial fun adventure, Part 2 becomes deeper and darker, and Part 3 tries to tie it all together but feels like the weakest installment. I've noticed this arc with a lot of trilogies (including the ones I've written) and I'm starting to wonder if it's inevitable... but that's a discussion for a different time. 

I will say that while I appreciate what A:TLA was trying to do with its ending, I wasn't entirely sold. I felt that Zuko backing down from confronting the Fire Lord because "That's Aang's destiny, not mine" felt a bit too dependent on predestination, and Aang's ultimate ability to solve all his problems with a superpower he'd never displayed before (taking the Fire Lord's powers away, thereby keeping him alive while neutralizing the threat) felt a bit deus ex machina. But then again, this is a fantasy epic, so a little deus ex machina might have been inevitable (Lord of the Rings sure embraced those).

Let's talk about characters! Which character did you most identify with, and why? And was this also your favorite character to watch?

Hmmm...I'm a middle aged guy with a beard who likes to read and drink tea. Who could I possible identify with in this show?

Yes, I stan Uncle Iroh. The wise, kind uncle with an endless supply of dad jokes is exactly who I'd like to be in my old age

Zuko is fascinating to watch, though,. He stars off as a pretty one-note villain. (Must catch Avatar to reclaim my HONOR!) I joked during our Hamilton watch party: who says it more? Hamilton and My Shot or Zuko and HONOR?

But he has such a great arc as a character. Starting off as the antagonist trying to catch the avatar, he breaks away from the Fire Nation to pursue his own path with Iroh. (And I love Iroh's take on destiny. You don't HAVE to do this, even though your family has drilled it into you.) Then, when he has a chance to save Aang from his evil sister, he instead joins her so he can reclaim his spot in his family, but betraying his uncle. Finally, he does the right thing and commits to team Avatar in the end.

Unlike other redemption arcs, this one depends on Zuko acknowledging that the Fire Nation did a lot of bad things. And the others are rightfully suspicious of him! Especially Katara! So it's not the typical we forgive the bad guy because he's cute kind of deal. (Right, ReyLos?)

And the scene were Zuko apologizes to Iroh and Iroh hugs him makes me tear up each time I watch it.

But there are so many great characters here! Funny Sokka! Maternal Katara! Kick ass Toph! Hapless Cabbage Guy!

I'm going to go against the grain and say that I don't care for Azula that much. I find her very one note, especially compared to her two friends - acrobatic Ty Lee and Hot Topic Employee/Knife Enthusiast Mai

Iroh's a great character for sure! Love watching him. And totally agree about Zuko. I was taken aback at the end of Season 2 when he betrays Iroh to reclaim his spot as a favored son of the Fire Nation - I thought his redemption arc was going to be much more straightforward. But I actually love that they had him backslide first before realizing the error of the Fire Nation's ways and joining Team Avatar. Added a whole 'nother level of complexity and made the turn more compelling - he got everything he wanted and chose to turn away from it to do the right thing, rather than letting go of what he could never have, which was where Season 2 seemed to be going at first. He was certainly my favorite character to watch because of how well he was written. Even in Season 1, when he was more of one-note villain, he had little moments where you'd see that peeking through (I think it was the 2nd episode where he has a chance to take down his rival Zhao while the latter is down and chooses to walk away). 

Azula, I felt, was a missed opportunity. There's been a lot of fan analysis after the fact that digs into her a bit more - the favored child who went mad because she couldn't handle the amount of responsibility she was given, the prodigy who pushed everyone away and ended up terrified and alone. One especially poignant one pointed out that Ozai never loved either of his children - he favored Azula because she was a prodigy, and she spent her life thinking her only value came from her abilities and from not being her loser brother (and so she couldn't handle it when he found friends who appreciated him flaws and all, because she thought perfection was the only way to achieve value). This is all super interesting! But it didn't come through onscreen... it took a lot of overthinking after the fact, and I think storytellers should have to do a bit more work than that.

The character I identify with (and who's generally my favorite) is Katara - surprise, surprise. You know I love spunky heroines! And I definitely identified with her mom-like tendencies (her efforts to keep everything running amid chaos) as well as her struggle to master her powers - loved that you got to see the effort she put into learning her power, rather than the power just magically coming to her (ahem, Rey).
We've spent a lot of time gushing over how awesome A:TLA is, and its praise is well deserved. However, nothing is perfect. What were some parts you found lacking?

There are a couple of things with the bending I wish they would have explored more. THere are the four basic elements of course - Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. But some people can refine these abilities and create new subsets! Like Toph just kinda invents Metalbending, because she realizes that metal comes from ore that comes from the earth. And the creepiest thing I've ever seen in a kid's show - bloodbending. Because blood is mostly water, it can be used to control people.

So it might have been cool to look at more of this. Maybe get more into "darker" kinds of bending. I think they get into this a little more in Korra, but I'm only through Season 1 of that.

And while I appreciate the nature of the three season story, it does feel a bit rushed towards the end. They finale is amazing, but there's a real "when do we get to the fireworks factory" feeling in Book Three. Like, there's a whole episode where Aang has anxiety dreams that's largely unnecessary.

But that's pretty minor on my part.

I did have a question for you, though. In this age where so many white VO actors are no longer doing characters of color (Abu on Simpsons, Cleveland on Family Guy), did any of the casting choices bother you? This is an Asian inspired fantasy world bit the voice cast is mainly white.

I'm glad you brought that up! I will say, while I enjoy the fact that this is a non-Western fantasy and the art style is very much Asian (I believe it was animated by a Korean studio), I didn't love how the good guys were more white-passing and the bad guys were more visibly East Asian. For instance, Aang and Katara, while certainly drawn in a way that suggests that they are non-white (Aang being coded Tibetan and Katara being coded Inuit), they're given more Western-looking features than, say the evil Zhao and Azula or even Zuko, who after all, is introduced as your run-of-the-mill scarred baddie. Of course, Aang and Katara are also drawn in a very anime style, so... it's complicated? I also didn't love that the Fire Nation is clearly coded Japanese and the Earth Nation is clearly coded Chinese, evoking World War 2 (that part most Westerners aren't taught about) and depicting the former as evil imperialists and the latter as corrupt bureaucrats without really examining the broader world forces (in history) that helped lead to that. But that's asking a lot for a kids' show. Not dinging it, just pointing out that there's a lot to unpack.

As for voice actors. I am glad that there's a movement away from casting white voice actors as people of color. In a perfect world, anyone should be able to voice anyone, but of course, that's not really the case. White actors are routinely cast as characters of color, but you don't really see actors of color cast as white people. In the case of A:TLA, again, all the good guys - Katara, Aang, Sokka, Toph - are voiced by white actors. I believe only Zuko and Iroh are voiced by Asian actors, and both, while great characters, definitely play into Asian stereotypes (the guy obsessed with honor, the bearded proverb-y wise man). 

Like I said, lots to unpack. The show turned out great, but the fact is, it's an Asian fantasy written by white people for white people. Meanwhile, there's never, as far as I can tell, been a fantasy created by Asian Americans in Western TV (let's leave Asia out of this discussion, as this is an American show).

Hey Nickelodeon, if you're listening, the animation rights for my Asian fantasy are up for grabs ;-).

We've talked a lot about this show as fans (and nerds!), but of course, we're also both SFF writers ourselves. As an SFF writer, what were your thoughts on the storytelling/worldbuilding aspects?

Right, ideally the part should go to the best person for the job, but that ignores decades of whitewashing in Hollywood.and how the "best" person somehow always turns out to be a white guy who knows the director.

At least it wasn't as bad as the casting of the horrendous live action movie, where Sokka and Katara were translucently white, blond and blue-eyed.

As to fantasy world building, I think you need to strike a balance between careful planning and leaving yourself room to explore. Avatar has some basic rules:(only the Avatar can bend more than one element, these are the only types of benders) but then allows themselves room to break {or bend them, heh} when convenient and yet they still make sense in the physics of the show. (See: swampbending or bloodbending, where water benders use the water inside something else)

And the nations are very well established. The large Fire and Earth nations are the main combatants in the war, while the much smaller Water tribes are on the fringes and the Air nomads are wiped out early on. They do a great job showing how smaller communities are impacted by this 100 year war - like the Clint Eastwood episode where Zuko gets all Yojimbo to protect some farmers from corrupt Earth Soldiers. It's a well plotted series that still allows time for the characters to explore some of the smaller parts of it.

(Also, for Asian created fantasy created on Asian TV, I am a huge fan of the Korean zombie show Kingdom. It's Ran, but with zombies!)

I will say, I often envy SFF movies/TV because I feel like they can get away with more than us prose writers can when it comes to convenient worldbuilding. Like, you don't have to describe how Katara goes from barely able to lift a drop to parting the Red Sea... you just throw in a few cool-looking training montages and show it. Or when Sokka masters swordfighting in one day after another training montage. Seeing is believing and all.
Overall the writing is stellar, of course - I just feel like there were some visual shortcuts ;-).

All righty, we could talk about this all day, but it's time to wrap this mother up! Anything you want to talk about that we didn't touch on yet?

Katara should've ended up with Zuko. Ending up with Aang felt too much like she was dating her brother. (For that matter, Aang and Toph would've been a great couple, too.)

And that's from a guy who HATED the ReyLo ending of Rise of Skywalker.

What a fun discussion! Time for my hot leaf juice!

And yeah, totally unfair that tv & movies can just write TRAINING MONTAGE in a script and we have to find a way to make pages of lessons seem interesting and exciting in a book.

Right?? Totally agree about the romantic pairings, by the way. Zuko/Katara had much more interesting chemistry than Aang/Katara - particularly since Aang's crush on Katara brought out a lot of ugliness that you don't see from him otherwise (jealousy, possessiveness, even a controlling streak), while Zuko's interactions with Katara forced both to grow (Katara's is the trust Zuko has to work hardest to gain; Zuko helps Katara confront and overcome her vengeful side). Aang/Toph would have been fun, I agree! I think part of it's also life stage... Katara very much feels like a high schooler while Aang very much feels like an elementary schooler, and so pairing them up just felt weird. Maybe if they'd flashed forward to five years later, when both are young adults, it could've worked.

Yeah, Aang very clearly is crushing on Katara the way Ia kid would crush on his babysitters. It's puppy love and it just feels like something he'd grow past once Katara wasn't the only girl he knew. And even though she's only 2 years older, she just seems so much more mature. Toph's brashness would be good for ol' Twinkle Toes

Lol!! Yup! Thank you for a great discussion, Victor! And when we've both finished watching Legend of Korra, we'll have to do this again :-D

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Long Wait: A Short, Annotated Submission Guide

Hello to all you lovely people out there. We've squarely hit September. Pumpkin spice may or may not be in your coffee cup at the moment. The supermarket is full of Halloween candy, but no Lysol wipes. And I'm mentally preparing a holiday list of stuff I will buy myself--dependent on the outcome of the presidential election. So, you know, autumnal things.


I decided to blog today about going on submission. It is a truth universally acknowledged that authors on submission do not talk about being on submission, not openly anyway. And why is that? 

To sum up, it's simply not a good look. 

Editors don't want to see potential writers moaning on Twitter about how long they've been on submission, how they've gotten another rejection, or that no one wants their book. It's like when a house sits too long on the market--you begin to wonder what is wrong with the house. Wet basement? Leaky roof? Was someone murdered there? That sorta thing. 

But then if we can't complain on Twitter to anyone who will listen, where do we go to get a semblance of the traditional submission process? I assume, of course, this is after you've asked your agent a bazillion questions already.

I imagine most submission processes look like this: you write a book. You get an agent. Your agent helps gussy the book up for submission and then comes up with a list of publishing houses that seem best suited for your work. The book is then pitched to those editors, and just like querying agents, the editors can respond that they'd like to read more or pass on the pitch alone. And this can happen in rounds. One author could sell a manuscript in a few weeks, another in a year. Yes, a year. Or longer. There could be an auction where houses bid for your book. Or an offer from simply one. Your book could be snatched up just as it is or after a revision. Some writers won't sell an agented book. Some go on to sell manuscripts they wrote while waiting for responses. It's a crapshoot, really. A good agent will guide you, but in the meantime, you can obsess about the process by clicking on these links.


In this Publishers Weekly article, agents discuss how the pandemic has affected submissions. Spoiler alert: it has, but editors are still buying.

This post by YA author Diana Urban is an honest, upfront look at the arduous submission process. She also provides a ton of additional resources including podcasts and a link to Absolute Write's Next Circle Of Hell thread where you can totally commiserate about the submission process with other writers. It's fair game over there. 

This is a fabulous Twitter thread from Claribel Ortega where various authors comment on how long it took to sell their books. It's always cool to do this after the manuscript has been bought.

In this 3-minute YouTube video, YA author Ava Jae gives a nice overview of the submission process. It's two years old, but not that much has changed. Here's her blog post covering the topic as well.

Lastly, this Reddit thread from three years ago which is still timely and relevant. I may get lost in it myself.

To all of you on submission or to those who dream of submission or to those who are simply curious, I salute you. It's not an easy process, and it doesn't get easier with experience. Or so I've read.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Finding the Modern Cabin in the Woods

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame

I'm currently on vacation in a cabin in the woods. The other night, the power went out for a few hours, and there's no cell service here, so I was literally in the setup for a horror movie. There was no light except flashlights, no Wi-Fi, no calling for help—if a tall, silent dude with a blade was running after me, I couldn't even Google the best way to get rid of him.

It got me thinking about how the horror genre is heavily reliant on lack of technology. For me the other night, it was slightly scary to suddenly not have instant communication with any person in the world, or at least access to the entirety of human knowledge.

Cabin in the woods
Cozy getaway or the place you will most certainly die?

Twenty five years ago, that would be a normal day. Merely walking out of the house was the setup for a modern horror movie. No need to cut the phone lines or slash the tires or summon a storm to block out the LTE; in the 80s and 90s, if I wandered a few blocks from home, I might as well have been in a cabin the woods. Yet, I didn't feel unsafe. 

The feeling of safety changes from decade to decade. That makes horror as dependent on technology and culture as genres that more explicitly need to keep up with modern times, such as science fiction. More and more, horror set in the present day requires tearing down the layers of safety we've built up with technology before any character can be in danger. That can be done in various ways: isolation, sabotage, the technology itself turning insidious, or threats so powerful—or so subtle—that not even Google can save us.

What will happen when technology is even more advanced, and thus even more capable of keeping us safe in any location at any time? The electricity can only go out so many times. We horror authors will have to get more and more creative to set up an atmosphere of danger. We'll have to do our research to keep up with science and technology, and find clever ways of scaring people who may have grown up in a world where it's just not realistic to be scared of anything, because anything scary is taken care of by some android or nanobot or brain upload or whatever.

Alternatively, we can just set every horror story in the 80s. That would work too.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Spotlight on Black Indie Romance Authors
In June, I put together a feature of Black indie Science Fiction and Fantasy authors, because indie SFF is my jam.  But romance is my jam, too, and I wanted to do another feature to promote Black indie authors in that genre as well. As I said in my last post, "The growth of the indie book industry has been due in large part to BIPOC authors who have historically struggled to find fair and equal representation in the traditional publishing industry. In response, they created new means by which to tell and distribute their stories to the masses. Without BIPOC authors, the small publishing and self-publishing world wouldn't have the success, massive selection, diversity, and growing respect it's earning today." This holds true for the Romance genre as well, and I'm excited to share some great authors with you today.

G.L. Tomas is a USA Today bestselling Afro-Cubana twin writing duo and lover of all things blerdy, fearless and fun. When they're not spending their time crafting swoon-worthy heroes, they're battling alien forces in other worlds but occasionally take days off in search mom and pop spots that make amazing pasteles and tostones fried to perfection.

They host salsa lessons and book boyfriend auditions in their secret headquarters located in Connecticut.

Follow them on Instagram:

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I asked G.L. if it was possible to summarize their goals or compose a sort of "mission statement" about their writing and books, and here's what they said: 
When my sister and I started writing romance, we didn't know what we were doing. Should we use this trope? Should we write in that genre? After a few years away from the pen, the only thing clear to us was that we wanted the romances we crafted to feature Black female heroines throughout the diaspora and the partners who celebrate and uplift them.As darker-skinned Black Latinx women, sometimes there’s this feeling we can’t shake that often we’re the last chosen, and we just wanted to write romances that challenged that. We wanted to write kissing books that made our readership feel not just tolerated, but cherished and loved.The thing we love about being indie is that we can write cultures, skin tones, and body types that aren’t always celebrated in mainstream romances. We can put cultures together that aren’t common (Did someone say Rwandan and British-Pakistani???) and through our researching character’s heritage, we can also teach people willing to take a chance on our books something new and exciting.There are also going to be other talented authors doing the same work, but we hope with our unique experience of being Black Latinxs, our efforts shine through in a way that is unifying!

About their latest book:

Luz De Los Santos thought her job was easy.

Being the Sex and Relationship Director of Modern Magazine, no one knew the art of dating and hookups like she did.

When the commitment-phobe Afro-Dominicana gets singled out by her editor to write a challenging column for the coveted, annual Valentine’s issue, Luz is forced to confront her issues about relationships with her newly pitched project.

The Love Bet.

Is it possible to fall in love by the third screw? Maybe.

But she’s not holding her breath once she recruits her blast from the past, Evan Cattaneo to help test her theory.

Evan regrets the way things ended between him and Luz. The girl who charmed him all those years ago was now grown and sexy and has him more than ready to aid Luz in her little experiment.

Only his plans won’t stop at just f*cking her. Nope, he plans to make her fall in love again. It’s only a matter of time before loving between the sheets turns into stealing kisses in the streets.

When emotions get wild and feelings grow deep, will the insecurities of Luz’s past come back to haunt them?

Purchase link:


Rashida T. Williams has been crafting stories for as long as she can remember. Over the years she developed a passion for writing, in part, because it allowed her to combine her two favorite genres: romance and fantasy.

When she's not writing she can be found playing video games, binge watching romantic movies, and looking for any excuse to cosplay. She lives in Florida with her loving husband who encourages all of her shenanigans

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About her book:

Emory hates his job—almost as much as he hates being called “Cupid.” Tasked with spreading love throughout the Earth realm, Emory wields his arrows with reckless abandon and matches couples based solely on their entertainment value. On the same day his impulsive behavior triggers an audit, he accidentally breaks the heart of his most dependable client, Blair.

Blair completely loses her ability to feel love and desire, and as her matchmaker, Emory expects her to be furious. Instead, she agrees to help him salvage his floundering career on one condition. He must find her the perfect man. Emory sets out on a frantic search for her soulmate, and Blair seems to find amusement in the diversion. But as the barrier surrounding Blair’s broken heart grows stronger, she is unable to connect with suitor after suitor, leaving Emory to console her after each failed match.

Emory and Blair’s unexpected bond turns into friendship, and soon Emory finds himself falling in love with the one woman who can’t love him back. In a race against time, Emory must mend Blair’s broken heart before her condition becomes irreversible…and before the audit committee banishes him for this grave error.

Purchase Links:


Dahlia Rose is the USA Today best-selling multi genre author from Urban fantasy to Romance
with a hint of Caribbean spice. She was born and raised on the Caribbean island of Barbados and now currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her life revolves around her five kids, who she affectionately nicknamed “The Children of the Corn” and her husband and longtime love who is also a honorable retired Army veteran.

She has a love of dark fantasy, sci-fi, and the things that go bump in the night. With over seven dozen books published Dahlia has become a reader favorite. Not only because of her writing but her vivacious attitude in talking to her fans online and at various events. Her books feature strong heroines with a Caribbean or African American culture, that is showcased in the vibrancy of her words. Books and writing are her biggest passions, and she hopes to open your imagination to the unknown between the pages of her books.

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Dahlia's website:

About Her Latest Book:

Summer cookoff time! Dae Shaw was going to enter this year and she would be bringing the fire with her Granny Fran's super-secret cookbook recipes. Grannie Fran didn’t mention that the cookbook passed down through the family was charmed. At the cook off, everyone wanted a taste, and the consequences, started with flowers, then cards and unwanted advances rolling in. The drop-dead sexy Councilman, Shawn Kingsley was one of the judges at the cookout and he's one of her suitors. Dae isn’t to upset about that at all.

 But when her nemesis Jane Moore whose food reflected her personality… nasty accuses her of cheating for one and stealing the man of her dream in the councilman. Dae was over it all and was ready to give everyone that damn antidote. But what if all of Shawn’s sweet kisses and caresses were all because of a spell and not because of her? Dae needed to see the truth even if it meant the heart between them would fizzle. She only hoped the cookbook had a recipe for curing a broken heart.

Purchase Link:

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