Friday, March 28, 2014

Computer Angst

Yesterday I forgot that I couldn't plug the griddle into the outlet next to the stove. When I do, it overloads the circuit and trips it, and that is the circuit my old, ailing computer is hooked up to. About three minutes into making Breakfast for Dinner, the music on the computer cut out, and so did the little light on the griddle. Shoot.

We haven't turned the computer off for nearly two weeks, because we were afraid it wouldn't turn back on. To my surprise, it started up like a dream. I moved the griddle to the other side of the kitchen, flipped Spotify back on and forgot all about it.

Last night before I went to bed, I made myself a little To-Do list. I was going to include it, but decided it was too boring. So instead, just believe that it was an awesome to-do list, which would prove for once and for all how truly productive an individual I am.

When I got up this morning, I went downstairs and walked past the computer. How odd. The little green light was off. Why would my husband turn the computer off when he told me that it needed to stay on until we bought a new one? I hit the button. The computer roared to life--for exactly 2.7 seconds, and then the light shut off I tried it again. And again. And again and again and again.

It's dead.

Before you feel too sorry for me, you should know that I have a laptop. I'm working on it right now, as a matter of fact. But when I tried to hook my good keyboard to it, the cursor went all weird. It went behind the letter I was typing instead of in front of it. That is a lot harder to get used to than you would think it would be. So I'm using this keyboard that was never meant for serious typists. In spite of everything Nina taught us about taking care of our bodies, I am currently giving myself carpal tunnel.

 Nearly everything on my list requires a computer, and not just any computer, THAT computer, with all the right programs loaded and all the passwords gloriously automatic. Who can clean a house without Spotify playing in the background? Not me. I finally took "Download Spotify onto my phone" off of my other to-do list, you know the one I'm talking about--the list of things I need to do, but never get around to.

 Then the kids came home, and we had a long moral debate about whether minecraft or my writing career was a more compelling reason to use the laptop. I'm currently winning, but only because we have a wii. (Wow I'm sounding like a stellar mother. In my defense, it's raining and about 35 degrees outside).

We have carbonite, so I'm hopeful that I will just be able to type in a password and find out that my pictures, unfinished manuscripts and entire life is automatically downloaded right to the new computer. It seemed so perfect when we didn't need it, but at the moment it is sounding too good to be true. I'll keep you posted.

Instead of the post I'd scheduled, I'm treating you to this post to remind you of two things:
1. Back up everything. RIGHT NOW.
2. Technology is amazing. So are face to face interactions. I'm going to go have some right now.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Submission Systems and Rejectomancy

I know, I'm talking about rejection again. But if you write and submit short stories this is something you're constantly dealing with and depending on the market, rejectomancy can be anything from a fun game to pure obsession.

From the Urban Dictionary: Rejectomancy - The art of analyzing a rejection letter (particularly one received upon submitting a short story to a magazine) in order to elicit a positive or self-assuring message hidden therein.

However, with modern electronic submission systems this definition is only half the equation. Add to this great tracking sites like the (Submission) Grinder and you can obsess about your subs until the cows come home. Note: The Grinder is a free service, though I encourage anyone who uses it regularly to donate a few $ if they can.

How, you ask? Well, let's start with one of the best submission systems around. Clarkesworld not only sends you a confirmation that they got the story, when you follow the provided link you can see the status of your sub and know exactly where you are in the queue. The staff there have excellent response times. Just last week I subbed a story at 1pm on Wednesday. It started at number forty-two (not as lucky of a number as I'd hoped), by the evening it was at thirty-two. Then they dared to go home for the day. The next morning I moved to number twenty-one quickly and then it showed rejected by 11am. I got the email stating that about an hour later. I also know that the system shows if you've been held over for a second round. You can't get more efficient than that.

Some places use a similar system without the number in the queue. Asimov's, for example. The flaw in their system comes from the fact that sometimes pieces move from 'received' to 'under review' and stay there for a really long time, or they go straight from 'received' to rejection. With those inconsistencies, it becomes somewhat more difficult to obsess about check when you might receive the expected response.

And then there are some places where you simply e-mail your submission. Some of these have auto-confirmation, some don't. Personally I much prefer getting a confirmation. I hate the idea that after waiting ninety days I might query only to find that they never got the submission. But with the email sub, there's no way to know where you are in the process until they decide to contact you. The same goes for hard copy submissions, though those are becoming very rare. I will only go to the trouble of printing something out and putting postage on it for Fantasy and Science Fiction, because I'd love to list them on my cover letter.

It's this last group where the (Submission) Grinder comes in. You can see how recently a given publication has been responding to submissions. If you use their tracker, you also know how long your sub has been there and you can watch your little purple dot march across the graph making its way through red towers of rejection or approaching the green peaks of acceptance. You can see if submissions newer than yours have been responded to. Of course, this leads to the question of whether your story has been passed up or if it's just with a slow slush reader.

The Grinder also shows in shades of orange and red when your subs have exceeded the normal response time for a market. I currently have four orange submissions out of twelve. Two should be on the cusp of a response, both of which I'm foolishly hopeful about. One I know is in the final round and I'm well informed with the editor's status on the project. The last orange sub is something I may withdraw but the story is older and I don't have too many pro places left to send it.

Rejectomancy comes in when you have a sub that's near the usual response time for a publication and you check its status several times a day, either through their sub system or using the Grinder to monitor other's results. Theoretically, you should be writing new material, not worrying about the stuff that's already out until you actually get a response – and if a story gets rejected, turn it around and send it out again.

That's a nice theory, but when all that data is just a click away, I can't resist. For some publications I'd be embarrassed if I knew how many times I'd actually checked in a day. That's where the line between game and obsession gets blurry. The rush is sort of like buying a lottery ticket. You know your chances may be slim but it's worth it for the opportunity to dream.

How much Rejectomancing do you do?

PS: I promise my next post won't have anything to do with rejection. It might be about visiting the Space Shuttle for my birthday, but as Yoda said, "Always in motion, the future," so we'll see.

Until next time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Real Life Love Story--Part One

So for the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be telling you guys a story. My story. The story about how I met and fell in love with my hot handsome husband, Darren.

This is the end of that story, but to get a full picture, I have to start at the beginning. The first time I ever fell in love.

I was in elementary school. His name was Chase, and he had dark hair that fell in an exact line above his eyebrows, green eyes, and a cute smile. He sat in the desk behind me in class. I didn't say much to him except occasionally things like, "Here's your paper," or "Would you stop kicking my chair?" He was adorable, and at recess I'd watch him as he played kickball with the other boys.

Then one day, he copied off of my math test. The teacher kept us both in from recess, so he couldn't play kickball, and I couldn't watch him play kickball, and we were in serious trouble.

Well, I was anyway. Chase, the jerk, had told the teacher I was the one who had copied off of HIM, and despite my protests, I'm the one who got in trouble.
Jokes on you, Chase. I suck at math.
In Elementary, I learned that boys could be jerks.

But I still really liked them. To say that I was boy crazy would be an accurate description, but my lesson from Chase taught me to cover my paper better, and to not put all my eggs in one basket, so from then on out, I had a tier system. If you were semi cute, and semi nice then you found your way onto my list, Elementary and Junior High School boys. The roster would change consistently, but I had about five starters at all times. At least until I was fourteen.

By this time, I had learned that boys could do worse things than copy a math test and blame it on you. Much worse things. When you like someone as much as I liked boys, you put them on a pedestal, and as such they were a distant and an unknowable thing. I really liked boys, but I thought of them as almost another species. The idea that they were people never crossed my mind. They were boys.

And by the time I was fourteen, the idea of boys were tarnished by the world I lived in. I'd go for a walk, and check behind bushes for an attacker. I'd have a buddy when I went to the restroom, because you never know. I'd heard of IT happening to girls that I knew and loved, and I knew how common IT was, and part of me was waiting for my turn at torture and scared of all men everywhere.

I knew good men. My dad is a good man, my brother and his friends were good male kids, but boys? Boys were distant and unknowable creatures. I both loved them and feared them, and wanted one of my own.

About this time I started going to regional dances, which in the Mormon culture is a place teenagers 14-18 could go and dance to the music their parents heard in high school, and where the boys would sit and talk about video games, and the girls would hide in the bathroom and cry over the boys who were sitting and talking about video games. I was not the kind of girl who cried in the bathroom. I was the kind of girl who stood near the boys, keeping my face in the practiced eyes-wide, mouth closed, expression that I thought made me look the prettiest, but actually made me look slightly deranged, as I waited for one of the boys on my roster to try to climb to the top of the list by asking me to dance. I did not speak to them, I just hovered, in their vicinity, looking like a crazy person, and also feeling like I was at my prettiest. The boys still never noticed.

That's where I was when I met Anthony. Anthony was adorable. He looked, and I kid you not, like a young Leonardo Dicaprio (This was him, I'm not even kidding) with dark hair, and I was very into this young Leonardo Dicaprio with dark hair. I didn't even see him coming, he literally bumped into me, and then asked me to dance, and I was smitten. Gone was the list. There was only Anthony.

 But I was terrified of him, and didn't say a single word the entire time we awkwardly shuffled back and forth in tiny pointless circles. But I found out from my friends afterwards that he went to my school. Oh, I liked him.  The next year, he was in my History Class, and the teacher, a blessed woman, had set up her classroom so that half of the desks faced the other half of the desks, and Anthony sat opposite me. Technically a few rows to the side of me and a couple seats back, but it didn't matter, because I could see him and he could see me. I tried to do the whole eye flirt thing my friends could do, where you stare at them until they see you, and quickly glance away, but I wasn't very good at it. I'd quickly glance at him, and then wait for him to glance at me, and then he didn't... and then other people in the class started noticing me always staring at this one boy and started teasing me, so then I vowed not to look at him ever again, and then I broke that vow again and again. But I never talked to him. Except one day when he bumped into me in the hall, and put both of his hands on my shoulders and told me (and I quote) to, "Watch where you are going."

Now I'm wondering if maybe Anthony needed glasses.

Anyway, he disappeared as quickly as he came, this cute boy I never talked to. But I was older, and wiser after Anthony. I learned the important lesson, that you have to talk to boys in order to fall in love.

And thus began the Third Age.

We shall call it, the Age of the Friendzone.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Taking Care of You - Guest post for Karen by Nina Niskanen

Taking Care of You 

Hey there Prosers! Karen was kind enough to invite me to write a post for you today.

We were both students of Mary Robinette Kowal - although granted in different classes - and have been meeting online at least weekly for almost a year now, even with the ocean between us. Yes, I live in Helsinki, Finland, in the land of supposed cold (though there hasn't been much evidence of that this winter). I like to write science fiction, fantasy and horror and for fun I blog in both English (at ) and Finnish (for a geek girl community blog at ). I'm so far unpublished but I'm working hard at it.

You can probably guess that I spend a LOT of time in front of the computer. My day job is in software development and I dislike writing longhand so it shouldn't be that surprising that I sometimes get problems with tension and repetitive stress injuries. Since I'm not willing to give up either profession just yet, I've had to learn to be better to my body. Writing doesn't feel like it should be able to cause injuries. You are after all just sitting still and doing nothing much. But that nothing much turns out to be the cause of a whole host of ailments due to the repetitive nature of the work you're doing when you're writing. Kind of like the way continuously walking the same path over and over again wears a groove into the ground. Only in the case of repetitive stress injuries (RSI) the groove turns into inflammation and pain. Since I'm sure I'm not the only one with these problems, I thought I'd share some tips for dealing with repetitive stress injuries and more importantly prevent yourself from getting them in the first place.

Yoga Bunny is one way to stay

  • Learn to work two-handed

    This is not an ideal solution if you've already got an injury (you might end up with RSI in both hands and that is just buckets of fun, let me tell you). But consistently using the mouse alternately with both of your hands will help you at least keep injuries at bay for longer and more likely prevent them from happening in the first place. At first it's awkward, frustrating and downright evil trying to work with your alternate hand but if you persist it's going to get easier and over time it will start feeling natural. I'm right-handed and I have a right-handed vertical mouse at home so I use my mouse at the day-job left-handed. It always confuses my co-workers which is a nice added bonus.

  • Remember to stretch

    There are very few ways to overstate the importance of stretching. Doing stretches regularly can mean all the world when it comes to avoiding injury in static work like using a computer. This video includes some very good stretches that you should totally be doing regularly. And I do mean regularly. Most studies say that you should be taking a small break at least every hour, though that can be really hard during the flow. Some studies go as far as saying that you should step at least a couple of steps away from your desk every half hour or so.

  • Head to the gym

    I'll let you in on a little secret; I'm lazy as all get out. I hate going to the gym because it's boring and takes time and all that jazz. But it turns out that paying attention to your muscle tone is incredibly important pretty much anywhere but especially in office work because there's little to no job-related mobility involved. I don't mean that you need to become a fitness junkie but going to the gym once or twice a week is just making sense. And don't just focus on your arms and shoulders either. It turns out that leg, butt, lower back and abdominal muscles totally play a part in your posture and how much static work your body can take. Yoga is also good for this purpose and my favorite free option is Yoga Bunny

  • Ergonomics is important

    You may have heard this before but it bears repeating; you can't just work any way you please. You're not twenty or less anymore. Unless you are twenty or less, in which case: congratulations! You can probably still get away with working in positions even cats would find improbable. Enjoy it while it lasts. But for the rest of us, we need to pay attention to the posture we work in, no lounging on the couch to write! The best rule of thumb is that any time you're actively fighting gravity with any single part of your body, you need to find a better position. Immediately if not sooner. Your hands should be at about a 90 degree angle and your eye-line more or less directly ahead. Down is better than up unless it's too far down at which point you're going to be hunching to see the screen and that's bad. Cleveland has helpfully provided a chart you can use to check your own ergonomics.

  • Getting gear

    You can probably guess by now that if you have the money to burn or are crafty on your own, there is all sorts of gear you can get and make. My own favorite is the standing desk. I use a Salli adjustable desk partly because I got it (relatively) cheap and mostly because it's made by a Finnish company. You can pretty easily set up your own standing desk from the materials you have on hand or available cheaply, just as long as you get creative. You can also get a whole host of ergonomic mouses and keyboards. I use the Evoluent VerticalMouse and Microsoft's Natural Ergonomic Keyboard. There are lots of options out there and it's a good idea to at least go see them in person before making any sort of purchasing decision. What works for one might not work for another. Basically, whatever helps you relax your muscles better while you're at the keyboard is good.
A lot of people have also had very good results with dictation (Terry Pratchett and Kevin J. Anderson being the most famous among them) but so far I haven't yet taken that step.

Thanks to Karen for letting me share this all-important message to you and thank you all for reading. Remember to take care of yourself!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bits and thoughts about books

It's been a while since I talked about great length about books. Perish the thought! I haven't read anything earth-shattering in the past few months, so here are some short thoughts and notes.

I finally read Delirium, and I was kind of underwhelmed. Part of the problem was that the dystopian setting is all too familiar at this point, and another was that I couldn't get how society would make such a drastic and radical change. A lot of people hate prologues, but I think this is one book where a view of the tipping point would have served the story well. But the real issue for me about sympathy with the main character. For the first half of the novel, Lena has thoughts about love that are, in her world, completely understandable. But we as the readers know her reasoning is completely flawed and incorrect. Even though Lauren Oliver does a good job of showing why Lena would think this way, I was missing a connection to Lena and her views that would allow me to sympathize with her more completely. I'm not explaining it well, but there you go.

Should I read the other two books in the series, or just look up the plot on Wikipedia?

E. Lockhart is my new favorite teen contemporary author. I loved The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and The Boyfriend List. Her characters feel more like real teenagers than most books (painfully and hilariously so), and her plots are far from ordinary. See? Frankie Landau-Banks was nominated for the National Book Award AND the Printz Award. (I've done very well reading books recommended by those awards; it's how I discovered E. Lockhart (and John Green said she was one of his favorites)).

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Debate Club.
Her father’s “bunny rabbit.”
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.
Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.
Frankie Laundau-Banks.
No longer the kind of girl to take “no” for an answer.
Especially when “no” means she’s excluded from her boyfriend’s all-male secret society.
Not when her ex boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places.
Not when she knows she’s smarter than any of them.
When she knows Matthew’s lying to her.
And when there are so many, many pranks to be done.
Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.

Speaking of John Green, I just noticed that The Fault in Our Stars has 11,000 reviews. With an average of 4.8 stars. Wow. I mean, if you're looking for any evidence that you should read a book, there you go.   

Did you know that advanced mathematics could make the basis for an awesome, creepy middle grade/YA novel? Me neither. But it worked. And now I know what vampire numbers are.

Another recent read. The characters and the concept wasn't particularly new. But this book served as a reminder to me that just making your book fun can carry you far. This won't make my top ten list at the end of the year, I'm so in for the sequel. And the inevitable movie adaptation. 

Speaking of movies, there were two big YA trailers released this week: Maze Runner and The Giver. Both trailers look amazing, though I'm not 100 percent sure about the free bonus romance they've added into The Giver. I'll probably still go see both, because Dylan O'Brien and Meryl Streep, respectively.

I am not, however, planning to go see Divergent. Mostly because I'm still bitter about the third book (all of it, not just the ending), but also because it only has a 35 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What a shame that the filmmakers apparently screwed it up so much. It had such great potential for a movie, my personal bitterness aside. Blargh.

Ack, I almost forgot about this book!
 Despite the fact that it slipped my mind (which I blame on my long, long work day today), this was one of my favorite recent reads. Anyone here who loves romantic YA definitely needs to read this (looking at you, Melanie and Sheena). I wish I'd known when I read it that it was a one-off rather than the start of a trilogy (there are two other books the authors are planning, but they're going to be about different characters). 

Upcoming reads:

Because I keep hearing good things                            Because Sheena loved it.
about Bacigalupi. 

Because that cover. Wow. Also, the Book Smugglers gave it a 9, which is super rare, so I'm sold. 

This book looks at Frankie Landau-               Won a paltry one award, but it 
Banks' two  awards and scoffs.                  was the Nebula. Also, it happened   
 The Book Smugglers gave it a 10,               to be sitting visibly on the shelf 
which I think they've done to a grand            at the library, so I decided to 
total of a dozen or so books in the              give it a try.
history of their blog.

In closing, I would like you to know that this is a real thing. 

Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one. It’s not as if she had much choice. Her parents were trying to eat her.

Now it is 1894.
In the wake of her trial, Lizzie has changed her name to “Lizbeth Andrew,” and she’s bought a house on the other side of her oceanfront hometown—a sprawling Victorian mansion called Maplecroft. Her inherited fortune has been invested in a terrific library and laboratory, installed in Maplecroft’s basement; and from this center of operations she observes and researches the supernatural foe that so hideously transformed her parents.
Someone has to. And no one else even suspects what’s truly happening. No one knows that just offshore lurks an ancient god, starved for blood. Its agents are masked, and eager to kill. They are ready to invade.
But one woman stands guard on the shore between the ocean and Fall River. She has seen the dark forces of the Atlantic firsthand, and she has no illusions. Every night she hears the tide bring messages of madness, apocalypse, and monsters.
And she is ready to meet them all. With an axe.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why Disney's Mulan is an Awesome Heroine

Okay I've been a bit on a Disney kick lately on this blog, but I promise I’m almost done with it, and I’ll move on to more adult topics, maybe Game of Thrones (which is as far from being kid friendly as you can get).

After writing my post on Frozen and The Evolution of the Disney Princess, someone pointed out to me that Mulan wasn’t listed.  It was an oversight, but on further thought, I realized that to me Mulan really isn’t a princess movie. 

It is more than the fact that Mulan isn’t a princess nor will she ever become one.  Mulan’s story is more akin to the archetype hero’s journey (think Star Wars and Lord of the Rings) than the typical Disney princess movie.  Perhaps the same argument could be made for Frozen since Anna is trying to save more than herself but her kingdom, but I think that Mulan fits the hero’s journey a little better.

I’m not going to discuss the hero’s journey today because I’d rather focus on the character of Mulan, and what the movie does right for feminism. 

Of course I’m not the first to look at Mulan from a feminist point of view, and there are several great articles written on this topic both with positive and negative views of the movie.  Here are a few that I found interesting.

I fall on the more positive side.  I think Mulan as a great feminist role model, and that the movie has a lot of positive messages for our girls and boys.  One noted criticism is that some of the lyrics of the songs like “Please Bring Honor to us All” and “A Girl Worth Fighting For” have very misogynistic messages, and they do.  The lyrics are so over-the-top that it is clear to me that they are used to establish the very patriarchal society.

 I can see the concern that young kids might not catch that, but my feelings are that actions speak louder than words.  Seeing Mulan take on supposed masculine roles and save the kingdom sends a stronger counter-message to those songs.  There are also a lot of stereotypes of both men and woman and Chinese culture which are all valid criticisms.  Clearly, the movie Mulan isn’t perfect, but the character Mulan, herself is really awesome and here are a few reasons why.

Mulan doesn’t diss on the other women or on her cultural.  Too many time when a female character goes against gender roles and social norm, she has some sort of disdain for the female roles in her society or is enlightened enough to see that women shouldn’t be constrained by them.   The problem I have with this especially when stories are set in historical time periods is that the character is given a modern viewpoint.  Most people accept the culture that they live in.  I’m not saying it is unrealistic for someone to challenge it, but they should buy into it on some level.   It is unrealistic for a character who comes from a repressed culture to completely embody modern beliefs. 
Additionally, having a character sneer at the gender roles of her sex is also somewhat demeaning to the traditional roles that women have played throughout most of history.  I’ve discussed before about how society elevates all things considered masculine and devalues all things considered feminine, and that to me is a big problem with patriarchy.  Stories that present strong, feminist characters that do this are buying into the patriarchy culture that masculinity has more value than femininity.
But Mulan does not do this.  She sincerely wants to fulfill the role society has asked her to play and bring honor to her family.  Only she doesn’t fit that part.  This has always been the problem with rigid gender roles.  While no one ever perfectly fits into them, there are some who can’t fit into them at all.  Mulan is one of these.  She is not trying to lead some sort of feminist revolution but just struggling to find a place society where she can be valued for her own strengths and not the ones society thinks she should have.

Mulan is not a tomboy.   Not that I have anything against tomboys, but a lot of times, female characters fall into two categories.  They are either the prissy, princess-type or a complete tomboy.  Real people do not fall nicely into categories, and Mulan doesn’t either.  She doesn’t have the grace and poise of a lady, but she isn’t a sword-playing martial arts expert either.  In fact, she struggles to be a soldier and does not initially have the athleticism she needs early in her training.

What she does have is smarts.  She is clever, innovative, intelligent, and brave enough to speak her mind, traits that are better suited for a leader and detrimental to the passive role that society expects of her.  So while she doesn’t quite fit into the ideal female role, she also doesn’t perfectly fit into that male role either.  Like most of us, she is a mishmash of feminine and masculine traits. 

Mulan uses her own strengths to succeed.  While Mulan does eventually become a good soldier, it is not her fighting skill (which is average at best) that helps her save the day but rather her brains.  I love this.  She becomes a hero because she embraces who she really is instead of trying to be something she is not.  
Mulan acknowledges or own her self-serving interest.  Mulan comes across as very self-sacrificing.  She dresses up like a man to take her aging father’s place in the war.  It is all very noble.  But my favorite part of the movie is after she is discovered and cast out of the army and humiliated, she takes a good look at herself, and realizes that she did this not just to save her father but for herself.  What Mulan truly wanted was to prove to herself that she was worth something.  
Mulan is one of my favorite heroines.  She isn’t perfect.  She isn’t some sort of symbolism for feminism.  She feel like a real person who is struggling with society expectations and trying to find a place for herself to bring honor to her family and her culture.  I think she is amazing.
So what are your thoughts?  Do you love Mulan?  What do you think makes a great heroine?


Friday, March 14, 2014

Life Begins at the Edge of Your Comfort Zone

I started writing for The Prosers way back in December 2011, and this was my first post. I've been thinking a lot about my comfort zone for the past few days, and how, when you are already living your dreams, sometimes getting out of your comfort zone can mean doing the same things you do every day, but taking the time to do them better. That's where I'm at right now. So here is my pep talk to myself from way back in 2011:

(This is the spot, but this is not me!)
There is a little known oasis in the middle of the desert in southern Utah. To get there, you hike through hot desert sand, cacti and some pretty big bugs. It's beautiful, but frankly, it would only make me grumpy if it wasn't for the water waiting about a quarter of a mile in. From there, you splash through a stream into a narrow, sandstone canyon. Eventually you'll come to a deep pool of water with footholds carved into the cliff above it and a rope attached to something just out of sight. After you climb to the top, you can either keep going to the next pool of water, or you can leap off into the water below.

When I was in college, I went hiking there with some friends. In my own mind, I will always be the girl who has to stand under the waterfall, the girl who sloshes through the water instead of taking the trail if given half a chance. But there was something I did not yet know about myself way back then. I am also the girl who is deathly afraid of heights. Not knowing this about myself, I was determined to jump into the water. After all, that is the kind of thing an adventurous water lover would do, right?

However, I climbed up to the top foothold and froze. The rock of the ledge I was precariously perched on jutted out much farther than I had realized. I suddenly remembered the story my dad often told me about a friend of his who dove into shallow water and was now paralyzed from her neck down.

My sane, dry friends were waiting to leave, but I knew that one way or another, I would never forget my choice that day. It was a character defining moment. I have no idea how long I stood there, staring down at my beloved water and the nasty cliff surrounding it, but finally something inside me snapped, and I leaped off... Such a rush! My heart sang for the rest of the day!

On cliffs and being a writer...

One day, about four years ago, I boldly declared to the world that I was an author. The last time I'd been that brave was right around the third grade, when I told anyone who would listen that I was going to be a professional swimmer/ballerina/archaeologist/teacher/whale rider/but-mostly-author who traveled the world with her husband and six children.

Calling myself an author took a lot more courage once I was a grown-up. It was labeling myself something amazing--something I didn't really feel like I deserved to be yet. Declaring that I was an author was like jumping off that cliff. Once I'd said it, I had to be it. And I've loved every minute of it.

I've met a lot of remarkable people as an author. It's one of those perks I simply wasn't expecting. And when a couple of those remarkable people got together with some other obviously remarkable people and started a blog called The Prosers, I was really happy for them. But I was also kind of sad. You know that feeling when you find out that a good friend just got hired for your dream job? It was like that.

You don't have to look very hard at this blog to know that these women are going places. They are talented, funny and determined. And here I am, grabbing onto their coattails! Thank you for letting me join the party, ladies. When Sheena offered me the Saturday spot, I was thrilled. But there I was, right back on the top of the cliff again. "Start thinking of your first post," she said. "You post on Saturday." 


THIS Saturday? As in four days from now? Somehow, in my head, I was imagining a spot several months from now, after they'd interviewed all the other available candidates and argued amongst themselves about whether or not I was the right fit. 

Sometimes, life is that way. Living in my comfort zone is--well, it's comfortable. Promising to have a blog post every week for the foreseeable future starting right now is not so comfortable. But life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.

(Again, this is not me. Hopefully, that is obvious, but you never know.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

When Rejection Hits Hard

First, I would like to say how happy I am to have been invited to join this great group of writers in contributing to The Prosers blog. In a field where rejection is so common, to receive an invitation is refreshing, and flattering.

Speaking of rejection, I got one earlier today. Not a big deal – I knew the story wasn't a brilliant fit, but I had stuff at all the other pro markets and I needed someplace to send it. Besides, I believe it's the editor's job to reject the story, not mine. You never know what might catch an editor's fancy.

After writing for a while, you tend to get a thick skin regarding rejections. You realize that it's not personal and it's not always because there's fault with the story. And yet, sometimes there is one rejection that stings. And that rejection kicks you in the slats and it hurts no matter how much logic tells you it shouldn't. Worse yet, this is the rejection that takes you down the evil road where you start doubting your abilities and wonder if you'll ever sell anything ever again. Once you're on that road, it's easy to avoid writing because you're afraid it'll all just be crap anyway.

So what do you do?

Keep writing is the pat answer, but it's not always the right one. You might need a day or two off for an emotional reset. That's okay as long as you don't do it with every rejection, or stay away too long. The writing muscles in your brain get rusty fast without regular use.

But what if you're having trouble getting back to it? Then I say work on your writing without actually writing. Outline that story idea that's been simmering, do some research, write a practice scene or free write if that's to your taste. It all counts – don't let anyone tell you it doesn't. At some point, the words will catch and your characters will speak to you again and the next thing you know, you'll be writing up a storm. You'll have forgotten your doubts because you know the next thing you write is going to knock 'em dead. And if it doesn't, tough. Because you're going to write something great after that. You're going to keep improving and writing and submitting until the editors sit up and take notice. The next rejection that stings? You're going to work through that too because you know it's just part of the process. There is only one thing you can't do.

You can't quit.

Being a writer is a long slog filled with rejection, but when someone laughs or cries at your words, or comes into work late because they had to find out what happened to a character you created out of thin air, you'll know it's all worth it. Keep writing, keep learning and you will get there.

Rejection is not the end; it is the opportunity to show your work to another editor. And another, and another…

Monday, March 10, 2014

Spoilers Abound And I'm Not Even Sorry.

I've never written a sequel before, and I had no idea that the biggest trial of writing a sequel was not randomly shouting spoilers to anyone who has read the first one. Especially since right now I'm so giddy about a few particular spoilers my head might explode, (and that would be bad because I just fixed my hair.) Whenever anyone asks, I just look at people with my eyes open wide and my hands out to the side, and say between clenched teeth, "It's really good."

I can't write anything on my author page, or my facebook page, or any of it either, in fact, I can barely write anything on here. I started writing a post about writing a male POV and how that translates into my feminist head, and didn't get a paragraph into it before realizing that, nope can't say any of this. Even the word misogynistic is a spoiler. I started writing a different post about the very first story I ever fell for, and a paragraph into it, I was so bored I deleted the whole thing. It's the whole first love verses the current love thing. Whatchagonnatodo. I can't hardly read anything else either. I look at books and don't move. And my poor house. You can bet if I'm not motivated enough to read that I'm not motivated enough to clean.

All I can do is freaking write this book.

Hopefully that comes across in the text, and it makes everyone obsess the way it has us, but right now I'm like spoilers abound in everything I say.

But right now all I can say is... Holy crap, people. It's really good.

There's a chance I'm in First Draft Blindness stage. Anyone else suffer from this affliction? But I don't think so. (because Delusions of Awesomeness is the first sign of First Draft Blindness) 

And the cure to First Draft Blindness is a few awesome beta readers, (Shout out to the betas.) a clear headed second draft revision, and reaching the words... The End. Those beautiful/sad/heartbreaking words that I can't wait to reach so I can communicate with the real world and not have any spoilers I can't accidentally spill in casual conversation.

Also, hey look at the blog. It turned pretty.

But here are some spoilers that I'll share because you seem very interested. No. Just randomly surfing the internet? I don't care. Get interested. It's that awesome.

Nope can share any of that. 

All I can really share is this. 

It's not enough, but it's also way too much.


Start the obsession. Alchemy (book one in the Prophecy Breakers series) is out now and only .99 cents.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Some recent book reviews, because to be a writer, you must love books

Isn't that the truth? That to be a writer, to want to labor over stories and words and sentences and meaning and themes and truth and the hard realities and the wild fantasies…you really have to love reading books, too.

I find as an author myself, reading informs my work in subtle and overt ways. There have been times when I can't read a certain book because the project I'm working on at the moment is too close in theme or content (e.g., last year when I was living with my father's cancer and writing my novelette CANCER GIRL, I knew I couldn't read John Green's THE FAULT IN OUR STARS because it's about a girl with cancer. I both was too raw emotionally to read his telling, plus too concerned that I'd accidentally co-opt his writing style or thematic treatment. Now I'm still being a big baby about picking up the book. It's been six months since we lost my Dad but it still feels too close…)

But other times, like after reading THE LAST UNICORN, which due to some fluke and horrible oversight of my schooling I had never read before…I found all kinds of interesting similes and metaphors slipping into my writing. Things I had never thought to compare before suddenly seemed easy to compare. Peter Beagle makes the most amazing comparisons throughout the book, and I found myself nodding vehemently more than once. That's magic, right there, when an author can inspire me to write better/work harder/put more into my own work.

So with that as a long-winded preamble, I invite you to read a few of my recent book reviews. These are posted on Goodreads as well. (and I welcome the follows! If you're into reading YA and Middle Grade speculative fiction I need you in my corner!)

First up - THE DREAM THIEVES, by Maggie Stiefvater which has been reviewed elsewhere on The Prosers… (we've all been a bit obsessed with this series…)

So difficult to review this book….it is, in short, excellent, amazing,
wonderful, fantastic, and the best of all that is literature. 
I read The Raven Boys last year (about 12-13 months ago) and it was one of my favorite books of the year. I've recommended it right and left. Something about how the book *feels* just…it just feels wonderful to read it. You feel very enmeshed in the lives of these interesting and earnest kids, none of whom are perfect though two of them are perhaps less damaged than others in the cast. 
So the prequel to this book is excellent and well worth a read. But this book just kind of blew my socks off. It's the kind of book I DELAYED finishing…by a longshot (partly because I got sick and was mentally out of it - I didn't want to finish when I wasn't fully "there." It's too good a book for that.) I didn't want to finish because now I have the problem of WHAT DO I READ NEXT??? Wah! :( 
Okay, specifics…for any kid readers or gatekeepers - be aware that there's a number of curse words (mostly uttered by two characters, and it's completely in character for the two) and some alcohol use by minors and some drug use by minors (mostly a side character, but one character uses a sleeping pill type of thing to do the dream-theiving the story title alludes to.) From my perspective this is only for the mature readers, but it's a completely fine book for mature readers because it really opens up into thematic content about personal responsibility, identity, loving yourself, family bonds, friendship bonds and relationships (and how in your teens those sometimes become stronger than family, depending on your family), etc. There are some really wonderful messages about learning to accept yourself with your faults, though you have to get through some mucky stuff with a drug-abusing side character to see that. 
I strongly recommend you read THE RAVEN BOYS in close connection to this book. I read them too far apart, and it's not that I had trouble figuring out what was going on - the author is far too skilled for that, but I felt like I was missing out on cool stuff that I would remember if only I had more recently read RAVEN BOYS. It bummed me out to the point I borrowed Raven boys from the library and may just read it now because I don't want to leave the world Maggie Stiefvater created and these people and their kind of complicated but awesome relationships and connections to one another. 
Just read this book, please. It's set in modern-day Virginia and touches on magic and paranormal but is much much much more than that. 

And the finale to Marie Lu's excellent LEGEND trilogy:
I liked this better than Prodigy, the middle book of the Legend trilogy. This book again
alternates between Day and June point of view chapters. It takes their story broader than we've seen before, with a trip to Antarctica. I would have liked to see even more set in Antarctica, as the environment and cool sci-fi elements of Lu's imagined world were brighter and more interesting than the dark and frustratingly dystopian world the main characters live in most of the rest of the trilogy. I would have also liked to see more depth given to the Colonies' governmental system based on corporations, something I think the author dipped into but didn't explore adequately to pit the styles of governance against each other. 
Instead, this story is fundamentally about a boy trying to do everything to save his brother, and trying to come to terms with his feelings for a girl who has caused his family deep loss in the past. This is where my biggest frustration with the book comes from, as I feel that the June/Day romance could transcend the past that the author uses as a wedge between them. I am perhaps hampered by having read each book in the trilogy quite a distance from the other. It could be reading the three in a row or with less time elapsed between would lead to a different take on the emotional beat here, but I felt the romantic plot difficulties were ones that were recoverable instead of wedge issues as the author portrays them. 
I do have to say after some significant dissatisfaction with other Dystopian trilogy endings, this one at least was satisfying, albeit a bit of a head-scratcher. At some point the two main characters will have to have a reckoning….but so be it. At least the principals survive the storyline, something other YA Dystopia authors don't seem to care to do. (Or have them survive but with so much psychological damage that they're hardly the same people, as was true at the end of Mockingjay.) 
Still, Lu's writing style sparkles throughout, and she keeps the story moving through small but exciting turns of events and various meetings and re-meetings of the main characters. I did enjoy this book and will continue to look out for Lu's writing in other venues, as I believe she is one of the contemporary voices of YA. 
Content warning for those reading this review with an eye toward recommending it for children. The main characters do have sex, although it's done with a reasonable "fade to black" YA sensitivity, but there's no ambiguity about what transpired. It's that scene that makes me recommend this only for mature readers, probably age 12/13 and up, 7th grade and up.  
THE TESTING by Joelle Charbonneau
Isn't this cover excellent?
I really enjoyed this first novel from Joelle Charbonneau. I thought the main character was likable and believable. The setting was interesting, the idea of having to genetically re-engineer plants to survive a blighted landscape is a bit of a twist on the usual dystopia "struggle to survive." 
Like many other reviewers, I found many similarities to The Hunger Games, however, I felt this book compared more positively in virtually all ways. It is a "survival of the fittest" style challenge (The Testing) that young people must go through, but most are excited about the opportunity and looking forward to it, even as the challenges up the stakes and kids die. The main character is a mostly hopeful sort, a glass-half-full, plucky and determined. I contrast her with the main character of HG who is hard to get into the head of, hard to get to know. It's a deeper immersion here in The Testing, I believe, and thus it makes it easier to root for the character fully, without the conflicted feelings I personally experienced when reading HG. 
The love story is a little simpler, which I actually liked. I get tired of authors writing in love triangles just to up the dramatic tension. Sometimes there really aren't competing beaus and confused girls who don't know what's in their heart. Or, the only confusion is "do I like this particular guy or not?" instead of "Do I like Dude A or Dude B better?" 
I also thought the ominous overbearing governmental agency was a little less dramatically bad in The Testing, which makes for some more ambiguous feelings about it on the part of the character, which I found a little more interesting a dynamic. I found myself really puzzling over what the motivations of the government could be, whereas in HG I found myself revolted by the bad-as-possible-then-they-killed-my-dog style of forces of antagonism. Too much. This is more subtle. In general I think The Testing is a more subtle book, plays its hand a little more lightly, but in a good way. 
I really enjoyed this book but from reading reviews it seems to me to be a love it or hate it kind of book. From my perspective it's a fine book for grades 7 & above, and below that if they have some familiarity already with Hunger Games or similar ilk. The Testing does feature a few tiny sips of alcohol, a fair amount of kid death, and later on some kid-on-kid violence that gets a little gory. The main character maintains her own moral code throughout, though, which I think is a little more straightforward than where you get by books 2 and 3 in Hunger Games. 
 EYE OF MINDS by James Dashner:
A new series from James Dashner, who's well known for the Maze Runner
series. I enjoyed this book, it's a virtual-worlds set story, of the cyberpunk ilk and gave me a vague feeling like I was reading a Gibson or Stephenson book, without the extra brain warping those two SF/cyberpunk giants do. It also felt a little like Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline), though much quicker and shorter. 
The pace was very fast. That raises to me the one limitation/downside of this book. It feels as though the characterization was sacrificed in service of a quick moving plot. I found it a little difficult to really connect with the main character, which is what usually carries me through a book. He was a bit too much of an "everyman" and it was difficult to find reasons why THIS story was happening to HIM of all people. 
However, because it's in an interesting setting and moves fast, the book kept me turning pages regardless of my reader engagement with the character (and that's not something every reader cares about, either.) 
The main mature content in this is violence. I found it a little less bloody/gory than the first Maze Runner book, in part because any of the real violence or blood happens in the VirtuNet, which we know from the very beginning is not the real world. There are some creepy bits that might scare some readers. It is certainly no worse than others of its ilk like Hunger Games (and less bad in ways because it's not kid on kid violence.) I think this book would be fine for mature readers grades 5 and up. Particularly great for any boys who are into video games, since that's an underlying theme of the book and the main character is male. 

I enjoyed this book, but have a few caveats/warnings for those unfamiliar with it or considering it.
First, as far as appropriateness for kids - there's some explicit nudity mentioned very early in the book, plus mentions of loss of virginity and sex (with consequences being only shame/embarrassment on the part of the main character because the boyfriend talked, not for any other reasons.) The remainder of the book progresses with very little explicit anything (til near the end when there's some implied sex but not described.) At any rate, all this to say this to me makes this a solidly high school and up book. 
Next, storytelling-wise, this book paints a really interesting world, a very richly detailed one. I was fascinated by the main character and her crossing between multiple worlds - her own and the shop in "elsewhere" where she grew up, and the fascinating characters who raised her. That said, by midway through the book takes a turn and it's almost a different book, telling a different person's tale. Because of this and the overall dreamy storytelling style, it was difficult to get a sense of the structure of the book - the way most books lead you to an increasing pace, speed, need to answer some burning question. The main character is on a quest of sorts, but it's like the author forgot to restate the quest very often, forgot to light the fire under the main character and give us the burning desire to pursue the quest with her. Then takes a left turn and tells us someone else's tale for a while (in flashback-style, since that character's tale happened earlier chronologically than the events of the story), which in my opinion derails the narrative somewhat. 
I still found the book very enjoyable, but be forewarned that it's not a traditional linearly told story. I listened to it on audiobook and enjoyed the voice narrator, who took on several different accents and speaking styles to denote different characters (even though I didn't care for the jamaican-sounding accent she gave Brimstone.) Very good voice talent. 
ALL OUR YESTERDAYS, by Cristin Terrill

Great book examining the kinds of things that would change if you could go back in time and...change yourself and/or those you are/were close to. Hard book to explain as time travel books usually are, but this was a very enjoyable read. It's brutal at times, and there's at least one instance of the f-word and a few other curse words for those reading with children. A few references to sex/sleeping with someone. For these reasons I'd put it up in the higher YA range, teens and up (7th/8th grade at the youngest.) 
But very very interesting and worth a read, I really enjoyed this. Rather than being a big story about all the huge issues a time travel device could create, it's a small story about three friends and their intertwined relationships with each other, their parents, and a few key figures. Definitely one of those books that makes you think. 
MIND GAMES by Kiersten White
This was a read-in-one-sitting book, if at all possible. I read it in two. Fast. The disjointed narrative (it switches between two POVs and a gradually decreasing time interval from the past) makes it a little tricky to keep up with (and something I think many other reviewers had a problem with) but it added to the way the story *feels* which is something of an accomplishment as most writers seem to think the only way they can make a reader feel something is by murdering puppies or parents or shoot...well, that doesn't work so well as my analogy. 
At any rate - the story is riveting. It's a psychological thriller with paranormal components. The main character is hard not to root for, even as she reveals her brokenness over and over (perhaps a bit too much. It is hard at times to bear.) But the lovely thing about this broken main character is that she ends up controlling her destiny. It's difficult to say more without spoilers but I'll just say I have a great appreciation for the arc of the main character and the journey we see her take in what is a short time interval (the flashbacks cover a much longer range of time, but ultimately the main storyline takes place over the course of maybe 2 days.) 
I'd recommend for anyone interested in darker, moodier YA books. Due to the alcohol use and some allusions (but no actual) sex, I'd say this is best for teen readers and up. 

So, I'll be done with what I'm reading soon…any recommendations? :)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cliches large and small

If you talk to Sheena and Melanie about what it's like to write with me, the first thing they'd probably tell you is, "she's allergic to cliches."

Okay, maybe the first thing is, "She's stubborn. Trying to get a new idea past her is like trying to give a cat a pill." But that wouldn't make an interesting blog topic, so we're just going to slide on right past that to cliches.

Tropes can be tough. Many genre readers actively seek out familiar ideas or plots. As previously discussed, I adore stories with girls dressed up as boys, even though I'm pretty sure I've read just about all the places those stories can go.* I'm also a sucker for unique settings (loving Alif the Unseen right now),

But there are other plot devices that I'm heartily sick of. ::cough:: dystopians ::cough:: I almost always stop reading a plot summary if it mentions a thief as the main character (only in part because no one could ever be better than Eugenides or Locke Lamora). Or any story of a long-lost heir. Or a young girl (is it just me, or is it almost always a girl in these situations?) who has a suddenly-appearing power that is (a) different from everyone else's, and (b) is anticipated to have world-changing events.

But lately, I've been starting to pay more attention to the small cliches. The little plot and character devices that crop up again and again in the stories I read. The worst thing is, I have no idea how to avoid them in my own writing. Here are the two that have been bothering me lately.

1. Is he/she telling the truth?????

This is a fairly common situation in fantasy. A person comes up to our hero and tells him a Shocking Thing. And then the character has to spend pages upon pages agonizing about whether or not the person is trustworthy. I've gotten pretty good at skimming these passages.

But I also have no idea how to fix this. You can't have characters go around believing everything they hear without having them being ridiculously naive. And omitting or shortening the explanation makes them seem careless or thoughtless. So, any ideas on how to fix this without the use of truth spells?

2. Magic is real!!!

A universal issue in urban fantasy or any other story where magic is hidden or not well known. There always seems to be several scenes where a character has just discovered magic for the first time. It's worst when it's the POV character, and there have to be several paragraphs, pages, or chapters of that character thinking they are dreaming or hallucinating.

It's a totally understandable reaction. If a unicorn walked by me on the street, I'd probably go straight to the doctor's. Or pinch myself hard. But as a reader, I get ridiculously bored of characters blowing off events that happen because they don't believe this fantasy world is real. Again, any thoughts, or examples of authors avoiding this trap?

What are your least favorite cliches, large or small?

In other news, Getty has made thousands of its images available for non-commercial use! They even come in the form of helpfully preformatted code that gives the attribution for the picture and a link to the source. Here is an article about how to use Getty's images.

*Did anyone else make the mistake of trying to read Defy by Sara Larson? What a disappointment. Never mind the problems with the heroine, I almost quit reading when I found out about the breeding houses. See, all orphaned girls are put into houses so that the king's soldiers can breed future soldiers on them. And this war has already been resource-draining. How does it make sense that they'd try to go for such a long-term strategy for such a disastrous war? Anyway.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Thanks Disney

It isn't that Disney hasn't given us powerful women before.
In fact, many times the most powerful character in the movie is a woman.

Sometimes she is even powerful and beautiful.
But thank you Disney for finally giving our children a powerful woman who isn't evil.
Thank you for Elsa.