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May 25th, 2016

Sometimes I have dreams that are more story than dream, and those are my favorite. It means my subconscious is entertaining itself. It means my subconscious wants a story. It means I'm still a storyteller, even though I sometimes worry I'm not.

I had nightmares the other night - not terribly unusual. I have stress dreams from time to time; often irritating - oh no I'm so late, oh no my teeth are falling out, oh no I managed to leave the house without clothes, oh no I never went to this class and now I'll never graduate ... I hate those. But this one was the kind I don’t mind having. Because while I was definitely scared during several parts of it, at least it had an interesting narrative.

(Note: dream description coming yes I know but hey it's my blog and it was a cool story.)

It started off the way dreams do, one dream slipping into another; there’s a high school where a girl died, ghosts are haunting it, now I’m driving and I don’t know how suddenly, etc. It all morphed into a holiday feast. The holiday was some sort of amalgamation of Halloween and Thanksgiving, but to honor specific gods. The women gathered were friends and family (fictitious dream family, not my real family), in a big Victorian house on a dark street, and we were observing some of the rituals but not all of them, just family and friends having a holiday. The table in the main room was long, made of a heavy wood, and the rugs on the floor were Persian, the colors all warm creams and burgundies. It was night, the wind blowing through trees, cold outside. The group hadn’t invited one of the usual friends/family, because we kind of didn’t want her there. But she came anyway, as family does, and she was insisting we follow some of the rituals that everyone had given up as weird and old fashioned and superstitious. Everyone was secretly wishing she would go away. No one was rude enough to say it, but we sighed at each other as she brought out her Tupperware and weird food and deliberately obtuse questions. "Are you sure you aren’t going to…" "We can’t afford not to…" We all bit our lips and rolled our eyes.

In another house, some slip-dream away, as dreams do, a dark god is angry with someone for not following the rituals, will kill them for it. The person screams, calls on a different god for help, but who knows if that other god is real, or strong, or cares? There is only this god in front of them, angry, awful, turning them into sand. The person shreds in the wind on a shriek and disappears.

Back to the big house with the women – the uninvited guest pesters all of us, peering into our faces, making us prepare food that no one wants, gather things no one has time to gather. The gods show up. They appear, prowling, suddenly in the house like a fearful quiet before the screaming – a squall of gods, intense and ready to strike. There are a handful of them; they are changeable, tricksters, morphing from form to form to form and laughing and raging and expecting to be honored. We are all terrified but follow our erstwhile friend’s instructions: offer the food, gather the things. One of the instructions from the gods is "gather four stolen things" and everyone runs around the house to find something the gods might consider stolen. The house has a collection of shells and preserved specimens of tropical fish – kind of tattered, kind of old, dry and battered and torn. I pick up shells and fish and tiny statues, hoping I’m not offending my friend/relative whose house this is, but we all have to find four things the gods consider stolen. I don’t know what they mean by stolen. I hope I’m right. I dither over a figurine of a dog. Is the dog stolen? I don’t know. I choose another dried fish. We all rush to bring them the shells and fish and statues.

The gods bring the fish back to life, and we shriek a little, startled, pour the now-live fish into a huge fish bowl/tank that looks like a birdcage, glass or magic behind the bars of the cage to keep the water in. We ooh and ahh over the fish, watch them swim. We pour in more specimens, turning to life before our eyes. The fish are still tattered but swim placidly. The shells become snails and cuttlefish and jellies.

The gods consume all the prepared food, and we’re running around trying to get more food for them, but they’ve knocked a lot of dishes over. We can’t offer them food that’s been on the ground. One god corners me in the kitchen, walking softly, eyes like storms, and I clutch a bowl and babble how we’re trying to get something ready, just a minute, just a minute. They look at me, wistful, sheepish. Are there any potato chips, they want to know.

I’m pretty sure that’s when I morphed the dream myself because I didn’t want to be scared anymore. It was a lot more relaxed after that. It softened, blurred, faded into waking.

I like the imagery throughout that dream – it was so detailed that I can still see the house, the carpets, the crowded knickknacks on the tables, the Victorian sprawlingness of it. The dark shadows and the warm light, the bright yellows and blue stripes on the fish, the red and beige and black of the sand and wind. It was so vivid, drummed into me. I love that in a dream, even scary ones. Unless the scary ones are about spiders. Then no.

When I think of the images, though, none of the faces stuck with me, if I ever saw them at all. I think that’s usual for me with dreams – I almost never see faces clearly. I wonder if that has to do with my slight facial-blindness. There’s something in my brain that just doesn’t register faces properly all the time. The movement of the whole body, the sound of the voice, the corner of a mouth – those register more strongly in dreams, and maybe in my brain in waking life.

In any case, this is the sort of dream that makes me feel like my story brain is working, churning - just wants to let me know it’s back there. It was bored and made something up that imprinted strongly enough to be remembered. Hi story brain. Nice to know you’re weaving away back there, building worlds and ready to rumble. Let’s get together and finish this novel draft, shall we?

TItle is from "Jolene" by The Weepies

March 23rd, 2016

Originally posted on my site.

The navel-gazing writer looks more closely at her navel and realizes she owes a lot to many other authors ... some maybe more than others.

I’ve said before that Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors, and that if there’s anyone that I think my writing is like, it’s probably (hopefully) hers. I reread many of her books yearly or so, and I’ve been in love with her stories since I first ran across them, when I was 13 or 14.

For whatever reason, even though I love it so much, I haven’t reread The Hero and the Crown in many years, perhaps as many as 15 or more. Certainly not since before I started the rewrite of what became A Ragged Magic. And I guess I forgot, if I ever acknowledged, how very much I borrowed or stole of my Rhiannon from that book.

THATC was the first book of McKinley’s that I ever read. I was going through a dragon phase, (luckily there was a pretty heavy dragon fad on and I could get a decent number of them, not as many as horse books, but still quite a few…). I don’t remember where I picked the book up, but it was the mid 80s, and it had a dragon and a woman on the cover, and I bought it (for $2.95, thanks for the allowance Mom) knowing nothing more about it than that. I didn’t know that The Blue Sword was written first (although chronologically 2nd), and I didn’t know anything about other stories by McKinley. Just the fact of the dragon, and the woman, and the fire. I loved it. I devoured that book. I reread it time and time again in the first years I had it. I bought other books by her, and loved them, but I read that first, THATC, every six months or so I think. At least until I got Beauty, and still probably at least once a year until Deerskin came out, and that one was my favorite until Sunshine. (Sunshine still reigns as my favorite, but maybe when Pegasus is complete, that will be my new favorite world. It has that potential. Every McKinley book sits pretty high up on my favorites list, but some hit closer to my personal list of everything I ever wanted in a book than others.)

When I started writing ARM the first time, when it was still just called “Witch” in the files of my secondhand, already-old computer, and I was in my early 20s and I wasn’t sure it was going to be a novel yet, I sort of knew I was using Robin McKinley as a primer for how to write a story. I knew that I liked the poetic manner of McKinley’s prose, and her way of going deep in the protagonist’s head, and the way her stories fan out from this pinpoint in that point of view and expands, but never loses that deep thought. I knew that I emulated a lot. But I hadn’t realized, until I reread THATC again just recently, how much I stole from her protagonists.

Rhiannon is more than half Aerin, I think. Her confusion and fumbling for answers, her mistrust of herself, of her power, of the people around her, even when she loves them. Her stubbornness, her tendency to be both too pliant and not pliant enough, her tendency to just *think* too much; even her hair. (Although I noticed recently that I gave Rhiannon that hair, the red rippling hair I loved on Aerin and always wanted for myself, and then immediately chopped it all off and dyed it brown and made it into the curly mess that I myself had at 12, and hated. Ah, the twisty ways of the subconscious.)

It’s a little surprising the way that McKinley’s prose has … imprinted on me. Or maybe not, considering how often I reread her books. She has a very particular voice, a voice that I brought myself up as a writer on, and maybe it isn’t a shock that her type of protagonist and type of situations would sit in my head and take up residence. But it was a small revelation to me, in rereading one of my comfort reads, that I haven’t allowed myself to pick up in some time, how very much I recognize my own protean writer-self. Or at least, how much I recognize that protean writer-self me stole from another, much more accomplished, author.

I must offer my most humble compliments and, um, maybe apologies to Robin McKinley, for making me the writer I am today. I’m not sure she’d recognize her prose in my writing (or that anyone else would), but I sure do. And I can only thank her for being always herself, and for writing stories and protagonists that make me want to curl up and read again and again. I only hope my own stories are half as good.

Title is from "If I Could Write," by Sam Phillips

February 5th, 2016

I’ve been absent from this here blog for a couple of months. I can only tell you that life is full of hijinks and mundanity and all of it takes up time. I suppose technically I could tell you more but it's really not all that interesting from a blogging standpoint. But I have a plan, of sorts, to keep things bloggity rolling in here a little more regularly. On the non-bloggity life side of things, I have been writing, and dancing, and doing the things that need doing. Such is life.


I have a Sort-of Sekrit project I’m working on that will be revealed Real Soon Now (TM). It involves several people, and a lot of planning, and some dorking out about random stuff, and it should be a lot of fun. With any luck, we won’t be the only ones who think so.


But for today’s post, I think I will talk about books I’ve been reading over the last couple of months.


I am a voracious reader. Yes, yes, many writers are. I am not special in that regard. But as it’s winter, I’ve also been hiding out a little when things get too full of stuff, or stuff gets too full of things, because that’s the way I stay sane. Mostly I read books in my own personal cat-and-blanket fort when this happens. Oh, let’s be honest. I’ll do that just as easily when I’m not overwhelmed as when I am. But when overwhelmingness happens, it’s extremely likely to find me curled up with cats and blankets, seriously not hearing a word anyone says, hey this book is good. So I thought, well, why not post about a few books I’ve been reading lately. Note: this is not all of the books I’ve read recently. I don’t have that kind of time, to talk about all of them. But I feel like highlighting a few is a good idea. (I also will write up some reviews on Amazon and/or Goodreads, because that’s how you help a writer’s career, other than buying their books.) Here, in no particular order, are some of the books I've read recently. They are all fantastic and I highly recommend any and all of them, and other books by these authors.


Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older - excellent YA urban fantasy. Great characters and a lot of action. Go for the zombies and sarcasm, stay for the super-cool magic. Or vice-versa, whatever floats your boat. Here are kids being realistically kids in a very real Brooklyn background, while magic and family and magical family type stuff is all going down. The main character is kickass. Also this is a very thorough takedown of gentrification and white-savior-ism. I loved it, and I've loved his other books as well. I'm about to read his next one. Highly recommend.

The Bollywood Bride, by Sonali Dev - Contemporary romance. (In case you didn't know, I read a lot of romance. I read it because it is good and fun and people get HEAs (that's Happily Ever Afters, for those of you who are not in the know) and who doesn't love a little angst where people get HEA at the end of it? And so much if it is so well written, and human relationships are important to everyone's life. So if you were feeling snobbishly above icky girl stuff, you are wrong and confused.) Anyway, I honestly could not put this one down. These characters are loveable and flawed and I heart the precious, precious cinnamon roll of the hero, and I want to hug the protag until all the hurt is gone. Young love parted, people trying to save one another but getting it wrong, lovely family stuff. Fantastic romance, will read again.

Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson - I guess this is a sort of memoir? Ish? If you follow The Bloggess, you know what it is, and you've probably read it. It's heartwarming, funny, and it makes me feel way less alone in my weirdness. My weirdness is not the same as Jenny's, but that doesn't mean it doesn't crosshatch over. If you want to take a look at a woman who's making her illness and her difficulties work for her instead of against, at least as much as is possible, read this book.

Level Up: A Geek Romance, by Cathy Yardley - Contemp romance - OMG THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD! I'm not even the same kind of geek as these people, and it felt so at home. If you like geeks, romances, people who work too hard, people who have trouble relating to people, and people fighting for - and winning! - equal treatment stories, this book is for you. If you like to heart characters and cheer them on, this book is for you. Seriously, I love it so much. Another I will definitely read again.

Indexing: Reflections, by Seanan McGuire - Urban-ish fantasy. The tag line for this series is '“Never underestimate the power of a good story.” Good advice...especially when a story can kill you.' I'm not sure how to categorize it, but if you love Seanan McGuire stuff (and I do), then you'll like these. It's a Kindle Serial, but both full, uh, seasons? are out now, so you can get both books, but only on ebook from Amazon. When fairy tales take over everyone's lives, basically. What happens if the story decides you're the evil step sister, even if you don't want to be? Our ATI Management Bureau team may be your only hope. Full of typical McGuire characters who swear and bleed A LOT and get shit done whether the world is working for them or not. Frequently not. Damn it, world. (I feel like that's something all McGuire characters would say.)

Once Upon a Marquess, by Courtney Milan - Historical romance. I heart Courtney Milan so much! I read all of her books, and I can't wait for more. Her characters are the best. This one is no exception. I love a romance between people who used to love or be friends, but who have parted, and slowly find their way back again. Slow build to trust is my catnip. Also I love terrible puns, and this is chalk-full of them. Go read.

Lord Dashwood Missed Out, by Tessa Dare - Historical romance. Tessa Dare is one of my very favorite authors. If you've ever read any of her Spindle Cove books (which you absolutely should! They are so much fun!) then some characters here will be familiar to you. Here's another couple who used to be friends, but Lord Dashwood, well, he missed out. He lives to regret it. :D It's a novella length, I think. The protag is a woman who writes with passion and determination and wants to have a real career, even though she's (gasp) a woman! Yay! Tessa Dare is wonderful and you should buy her stuff.

Act Like It, by Lucy Parker - Contemp romance set in England. This book is adorable and fun with a lot of hidden depth. A fake romance turns to a real one - always a good time. The writing is great, and the characters are very real and endearing. I really liked the - again - slow build from animosity to trust. Yes, OK, that's a big romance trope, but there's a reason it works. When it's well-written, as this one is.

Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell - YA fantasy. Oh, man, this book is such a GIFT! I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH! It's the best novel that got started as pretend fan fiction of a pretend novel inside of another novel in the history of ever! (It's also possibly the only novel started that way, but I do not judge, I only marvel.) If you love Rainbow Rowell, you probably read Fangirl, which was a fantastic book, in which the main character is writing fan fiction for the Simon Snow books, (loose stand-in for Harry Potter). Then Rainbow Rowell thought about what the Simon Snow story would be like if she actually, you know, wrote it. So she decided to do that. The book Carry On is not the story from the fan fiction, or the story that the fan fiction was based on, but her own rendering of what if she wrote a book about a magic school in England. I don't know what to tell you but that these characters, man. They are amazing. I can't fall in love any harder. Now I want to read this again. If you've ever loved a reluctant, eager to please, confused young hero, a not-so-villainous villain, or girls who refuse to be pigeon-holed no matter their parent's, society's, or whomever's wishes, then you will love this too. READ IT. If you do not end up falling absolutely in swoony love I will be surprised.

Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie - Science Fiction. This is the final book in the Imperial Radch trilogy. I think this series might be my new SF fave. I unabashedly love Breq. I love a main character who has to push boundaries, who keeps going after being brutally thwarted again and again. (Note: I do not want to BE that person. I would definitely not love to be brutally thwarted, please and thanks. But I can ADMIRE it from afiction.) (afiction as opposed to afar. harhar.) This series is brilliant and brilliantly written and I will nominate it for all the awards. Seriously, it's the best. I know some people who were put off by the disaffectedness of the main character in the beginning of the first book, which is fair. But she's, y'know, a spaceship. A person who is a ship, who is no longer a ship for reasons, and she has to figure out how to manage the impossible and also feel and not feel. Jesus, it's so good.

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty, by Christine Hepperman - Poetry, I would call it feminist poetry, using fairy tale tropes. Lovely, haunting, and pointed. I'm happy I got the physical book, so I can put it with my other poetry.

The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renée Ahdieh - YA high fantasy, set over the 1001 Arabian Nights stories. This book is amazing. I absolutely love it. I found the main character to be fantastically compelling, and the storyline is certainly a fresh take for this. What if the monster was forced into monstrousness? Does that excuse it? And who doesn't love a determined, impetuous, smart, kick-ass young woman? Well, I love her. I can't wait for the next book.

Go ye forth and read. I sure am. My TBR pile is ridiculous. Just the way I like it!

Title is from "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles.

December 3rd, 2015

I'm just adding in a quick note to everyone that my book A Ragged Magic is back up for sale on Amazon.com as ebook - for $4.99. Soon the paperback version will be available for purchase, as well. So if you were looking for a little something to read, and you haven't picked it up yet, why not give it a try? Look, it's so shiny!

cropped-1st-signing.jpg

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"Orrin!" I whisper. "Orrin, come and talk to me. Where were you? What happened? Are you all right?" He turns and stares at me, his expression blank. I reach out to touch his arm, and he flinches. "Orrin?" I say, feeling helpless.

"May I help you, my lady," he says, but he doesn’t look at me, only at the air past my ear.

"Orrin, it’s me. Don’t you, don’t you know me?"

"Should I, my lady?" He still will not look at me. I can’t tell if he means he should not know me, or he does not know me.

"Orrin, if you need to leave, to get out, Connor says, he says we can do it. Tonight. We’ll take care of everything. Whatever he’s done to you, we can fix."

This time he looks at me, and I reach for his arm again, but he moves back. The wine in the pitcher he’s holding sloshes.

"Let’s go somewhere we can talk for a moment. Orrin, let me help you."

He shakes his head. "I don’t know you. I don’t know you, and you can’t help me," he whispers. "Just stay away from me. Stay away, do you hear me? I can’t know you." His eyes are fierce.

I hear people coming, and I reach for him again. "Please just come with me," I beg, and then he does move closer, and I feel a spark of hope.

"I’m sorry," he breathes, and then wine pours down the front of my dress as he tips it, stumbling, looking straight into my eyes. "My lady, I am so sorry. So sorry. Please, my lady, please forgive me," he’s saying, and I don’t know what’s happening until I see red out of the corner of my eye.

Gantry’s red feast robe glitters as it billows around him, as he grabs for Orrin’s arm. Orrin’s brown sleeve slides up a little. I see patterns in angry red and white, runes to match my own.

"Clumsy!" The Bishop shouts as he shakes Orrin. "Look what you’ve done!"

Orrin begs pardon in a dead voice, his head low.

"I am sorry, lady. My acolyte has ruined your gown."

I curtsey low, feeling Gantry’s eyes burn into the top of my head, and sweat drips down along my own carved patterns.

I glance up to See Orrin’s scars glow a pale amethyst for a moment, see him flinch and gasp.

Servants are coming through the corridor now, bearing food and drink. I choke on words, then stammer, "My Lord Bishop," I say, and stop. What do I say? "Yes, the gown, I, I will go and change," I say, and hurry down the corridor to an exit, any exit. I end up in the front hall, and then run to Julianna’s rooms, my lungs and eyes burning. My hands grip the wall, the stair rails, to keep me upright on my shaky legs.

I was right. The vision was true, and I was right. I start to shudder and cry when I reach the safety of my own room. Oh, Keenan, help me. Help Orrin.

I will have to tell Connor, after the banquet is over. But for now, I just want to hide. I crawl, wine-stained, into my bed and huddle in a ball. Another sacrifice to demons, but his runes burn purple. I remember to breathe just in time to pass out.

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Title is from "Hard Candy Christmas" by Dolly Parton because I just like that song. And Dolly.

Originally Posted on my blog

November 3rd, 2015

I meant to post this up on Halloween. I meant to do several things. I was distracted by a costume party and knitting, in that order. Whoops. And of course, all of the regular things that need doing, such as work and sleep and food. However now I have set of spooky (but not too spooky) book reviews to get to, so let’s get to gettin’. Better late than jolly, I guess.

First up, Haunted Fairs. Who doesn’t love a good "This carousel/amusement park is maybe haunted, that’s probably not good," kind of story? If we’re talking about me, it turns out I only love that kind of story if it doesn’t give me outright nightmares. So I like these stories. (PS Something Wicked This Way Comes, as I recall from childhood, is Too Scary. Too many spiders, for one. But I only saw the movie.)

The first book I shall review today, is actually a series. And it’s less spooky than magic a little altered, and less haunted than well, weirdly possessed. It’s the Archer’s Beach series by Sharon Lee. The first book, Carousel Tides, hooked me quickly and I devoured all the stories I could get my hands on as soon as I knew they existed. Kate Archer has come home to the coastal Maine town of Archer’s Beach, because her grandmother is missing, and they’re about to lose the family carousel. If they lose control of the carousel, then they lose control of the imprisoned souls who are bound into some of the wooden animals. And that would be, in a word, bad. Kate and her family don’t particularly want to imprison those souls, but they haven’t had a choice. And now things are going from bad to worse very quickly.

This series has a very unique magic setup, across dimensions and worlds and times, and a protagonist who ran from magic under a self-imposed exile sentence but has returned and must figure out a way to save herself, her grandmother, the town, and maybe the universe. Not necessarily in that order, but she needs to save herself pretty quick or it’s all going down. The characters in the book spoke to me in a way that guaranteed I would keep reading without pause, and if I find out there are more than the books and short stories I know about, I’m going to get them and devour those, too. Have at. I highly recommend. The second two books are Carousel Sun and Carousel Seas. Magic, mayhem, and a sort-of haunted carousel. Get them get them now. (NOTE it’s not your usual haunting type. So don’t go in expecting ghosties.)

The second book up for review is Wild Ride, by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. Yep, this amusement park is haunted. By demons. Ancient demons who are maybe a little mad at the being bound part, and keep trying to get free. Mary Alice Brannigan is restoring the Dreamland Amusement Park to its former glory, with a lot of paint and polish and hard work. But she hasn’t been told the big secret – the park is a demon prison, and the prisoners want out. She’s skeptical but the magic seeping through is too obvious to keep ignoring, and the guardians are going to need her help.

Ethan John Wayne, the park owner’s son, is a soldier who’s come home to die. But maybe not yet – the guardians are going to need him, too.

Honestly, this book isn’t Crusie and Mayer’s best, but it is a lot of fun, and there’s a haunted amusement park, and Mab (Mary Alice) is suspicious and snarky and smart, which I always like in a protag. I think the writing styles of the two writers don't gel as well here as they should, and the way the stories blend is a bit like reading two different books at once at times. But I really love Crusie's turns of phrase, and her ways of turning an antagonist slightly sideways is still definitely here. The main love story(ies) isn’t/aren’t what you suspect, which I like, and the HEA isn’t quite what you think it’s going to be either, and the magic/demons/haunting is pretty different from the usual fare. (Fare/fair, I’m so clever.) ANYHOODLE I like but don’t love this book, but I have read it at least 5 times, so take that as you find it. Of course, I’ve read almost every Crusie book I can get my hands on more than two or three times, so that’s part of it. (The best Crusie/Mayer combo book is Agnes and the Hitman, which is great.) (Crusie’s very best novel, I think, is a toss-up between Bet Me and Faking It, but I love almost all of them.)

MOVING ON, my very favorite spooky fall read does not have a haunted amusement park, although I’m sure the protag would have found that easier to deal with. The last book on my review list for this month is Maybe This Time, also by Jennifer Crusie. It’s a take/homage to The Turn of the Screw, which is an old-timey spooky read/watch. This book is probably the spookiest of my reviewees, but remember it’s me, so while there is a body count, it’s not viscerally bloody and there is an HEA.

This book is a little hard to describe without spoilers, but I shall try. Andie is trying to finally break off final contact with her ex-husband, North. They haven't seen each other in years, but she wants to pay him back his support checks, and finally get him out of her heart. But he asks her for one small favor. Of course, the favor isn’t small at all – would she please be a live-in nanny for a month for his two wards, children of his cousin, who are living in, apparently unable or unwilling to move from, a mansion in the country. The other nannies have fled, saying the place is haunted. The children are orphans, traumatized, and need someone to help and care for them. North will pay Andie a large sum of money to go and assess the situation. And… the Turn of the Screw adaptation goes from there.

This adaptation has spooky ghosts, creepiness, and a lot of snark and heart. The romance is pretty stellar, and the ghosts are creepy, and the children are in terrible danger. I really liked all of it – I like the fallibility of Andie, and her character growth. I like the children, with all of their grit and fire and stubborn ability to cope, if brokenly. I like North, even if he is kind of willfully blind at times, but still willing to try. And I love all of the side characters, who make a screwball comedy out of a ghost story without diminishing too much of the creepy. (And if you’re really thinking about it, especially the ending, it’s pretty dang creepy.)

So there we have it – 3 spooky Fall reads, too late for October, but still Autumn, and this way, if you’re dreading the holly and jolly taking over everything, you can fight it off with another dose of fun but still atmospheric creepy. Happy reading!

The title is from the song "I Am Stretched On Your Grave," which is a translation of a 17th century Irish poem, and recorded by a lot of people. I have Sinead O'Connor and Kate Rusby versions, both excellent.

October 14th, 2015

Why hello there, bloggity! I have a little review for you! Today, I’m reviewing Nnedi Okorafor’s novella, Binti, which I read and enjoyed. There will necessarily be spoilers, because I don’t think I can talk about this without them.

Binti is SF, set in a future where Earth is one of many planets that have interstellar travel. Our protagonist, Binti, is from a Namibian group of people called Himba, who live in a desert area and are known to use a mixture of clay and flower oils on their skin and hair called otjize. (Water is scarce, the climate is hot, and it’s a way to take care of their skin. This part is not fiction, the Himba people do this.) Binti’s family are talented mathematicians who do something called harmonizing. They make harmony through math, is the best I can tell. I’m not sure I entirely understand how it works, but I was willing to go with it. Binti’s family, and the people as a whole, do not leave home, or their land. But Binti has been accepted into an interstellar university, and she decides to leave home against everyone’s wish.

She feels lonely and alone and mocked at first, but she starts to make friends, human and otherwise, on the (living, which is neat) space ship that is taking her to the university.

MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW

The ship is attacked by a group of sentient creatures called Meduse. Binti is able to survive using an artifact she found near her home, that she doesn’t understand, but everyone else around her is slaughtered. She makes her way to her room and locks herself in, terrified and grieving. After a few days, she uses math and the artifact to communicate with the Meduse. She learns they think humans are barely sentient, and that they have come to use the ship to get into the university to attack it and regain something that was taken from them. One of the Meduse who is injured touches Binti’s skin with the otjize on it, and is healed. They want the otjize, but she’s only made so much for her journey, and a Himba without otjize is naked and not Himba anymore, so she doesn’t want to lose it. Binti calls on her Himba and harmonizer heritage to try to negotiate with the Meduse to save both them and herself, and the people of the university. She is irrevocably changed in the process.

This story is fascinating and compelling in many ways, although I found a lot that would kick me out of it. I didn’t understand about the math so much, and I’m not certain how much of that is that it’s math, and how much is that it is only explained so far. (Although, if it were explained, would it be relevant to the story? So there’s that.) I just kept shunting it to the "math = magic" part of my brain, and let most of it go. I found some of the writing style to be not as engaging for me personally as I usually like, but that's a style preference, not a writing issue, and I liked the concepts, and the characters. Binti as a character is very compelling, but I found I didn’t understand about a lot of the world building around her. I’m used to some of that in any fantasy/science fiction story, because worlds are often half-explained and the reader has to extrapolate. But the living space ship and the math as harmony and the number of alien technologies were coming fast and furious and I didn’t quite feel like I had a good grasp on all of it. It felt like it needed more story to get all of those disparate parts in. But I still really enjoyed the story, so I think it’s partly my own preferences for a novel-length work that makes me feel that way. I just wanted more information, and felt like there wasn’t time to get it.

So, basic tl:dr for those who wanted to skip all of the spoilers – Binti is a very intense storyline in a compact package, with a lot of high concept world building that is mostly off screen, so you have to be willing to go with the flow. The character of Binti is wonderful, and I wish I’d had a bit longer with her. I want to know more about the universe that Okorafor built, and more about how Binti is going to fit into it. But it’s not an easy read, although it is a quick one.

Post title is from Dar William's "Mark Rothko's Song"

October 1st, 2015

So, uh. Hi. My September plans for posting did not work, it seems. Do you remember way back in September when you were a young and callow fellow, or at least, I was going to do all of these mini reviews? Well, I was. And I AM! I just sort of fell down a well a bit.

The well was kind of awesome, actually, because I got to run away to LA for a few days and play around with some friends. I went to the backer reward for 'The Reading Rainbow' project that LeVar Burton put on, so it was "Men and Women of Star Trek" reading us stories. Seriously. LeVar Burton, Jeri Ryan, Brent Spiner, Kate Mulgrew, Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes, and several others read us stories, and we sat there and loved it! There was a photo op afterward, at which I was a complete dork and did *not* tell Jeri Ryan that I love her in all the things, but hey, I went, and I had a good time. There was also frolicking on beaches and the Santa Monica pier, and although I got a whopping cold as the wages of my vacationing, it was worth it.

And then, the next week, I got to see DURAN DURAN IN CONCERT! I was still sick (I'm still a little sick) and it probably made it worse, but I went to the Puyallup fair and saw my fave band in concert and they were F&$#ing FANTASTIC! I probably gave myself a whole extra week of crud, staying up late outside and screaming my head off. WORTH. IT.  100% Would Do Again. Seriously they are The Best band live. I mean, they're awesome in studio, but they are a blast live and you should go see them if you can.

So ... that was pretty much September. Work, vacation, sick, go to a concert, more sick, more work, and then it's October.

The news of my own writing is this, at the moment: I am *not* going to be published with another small press at this time. I am working on the reversion of all rights to A Ragged Magic, and I will self-publish it once I have that to get it back out there for sale. If it comes to it, I will self-publish the rest of the series. We're still working out that bit. But I should have ARM back up for sale soon. I'll announce it when I can.

Beyond this series, I have a different series that I have half of the first book written on, that I would like to finish up and start shopping around. And I just today had a story hit me in the head and demand some work, so I may have to make some notes and get some ideas sorted so that it can shut up enough for me to get back to current projects.

The reviews I have planned for postingness Real Soon Now (tm) are as follows: Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older. When a Scot Ties the Knot, by Tessa Dare. Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. The Book of Phoenix, by Nnedi Okorafor. And because October, Wild Ride by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer, and the Carousel Tides books by Sharon Lee. I think we need some haunted (ish) amusement parks for October, don't you? Yes, that's what I thought you'd say. If I get to it, sometime this fall I also want to review/tout Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo, and the other Grisha books. Because yes. Yes. And I really, really want to read Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor and Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson. Which, of course I will, but will I get around to reviewing them? I will try.

But tonight, I need to get some more of my fiction writing done. I have these projects and these plans. Let's do this, October.

Title is from "Secret October," by Duran Duran. Did I mention I got to see Duran Duran in concert? Because I did. And it was awesome.

August 31st, 2015

It seems weird that the end of August is here. How does time? What is present? So, OK, I didn't get nearly as much done this month as I had planned. In anything. But I do have another review to put up, so I will do that right now.

Very minor spoilers, but I don't think I give very much away. I read it knowing nothing about it but the cover copy and the piece the authors wrote on Scalzi's "Big Idea" post, though, and I liked it a lot.

Continuing in my random and not entirely well-thought-out series of sort-of reviews of books I’ve read recently and liked, I thought I’d talk about another space opera. "Linesman," by S.K. Dunstall.

I didn’t realize until I started writing this sort-of review that S.K. Dunstall is (are?) two people – Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall. So there’s that for a little trivia about the book. This is a book, at its heart, about what happens when we forget the wisdom and ways of the past, in pursuit of the future and modernity. It’s also about being open to things working in a different way than you thought. Have an open mind. Try new things. Try old things. Be open. Don’t be a jerk. (I feel like the last bit is a great message that shows up in a lot of books, but it bears repeating, doesn’t it?)

Ean is our protagonist, and he’s one of the few people who can fix all of the "lines" on a spaceship. The lines are a way of running a ship that are cloned from an alien technology that humans do not truly understand, but figured out from a derelict alien craft that they (the lines) can be used to travel light years in moments. (Line 1 = crew, 2&3 are mechanics, 4 is gravity, etc up to 9&10 which moves the ship through space/time.) It’s been 500 years since humans first started using the technology, and some of what people originally learned from using it has been lost. The basics of how to use them are there, but not everyone knows how they work, or how to fix them if they break.

There are 10 lines, but only someone who can feel all 10 of them can fix all of them if they go out of true. If the lines go out of true, a ship can’t travel safely. The linesmen (line workers? I forget if they used that) are a pretty prestigious group. Ean is a little different from most linesmen. He comes from a poor background, and got a late start into the program that trains line workers. He’s largely self-taught, and sings to the lines. No one who learned in school sings to them. They can either feel them or they can’t but they don’t listen to them. They don’t meld with them the way Ean does. Most other line workers think he’s at least a little insane. They don’t respect him. (He does tend to get lost in communication with the lines, and that does make him someone who appears very odd to others.) When a strange phenomenon that shows up in deep space called the "confluence" pulls almost all of the high-level line workers to investigate it, he is not invited to attend. Which means he’s one of the only "tens" available to be drafted to fix a spaceship that belongs to one of the leaders of a large alliance of planets that is on the brink of interplanetary war.

I don’t know if I can describe this book adequately without rereading it all and going chapter by chapter. It’s intricate and has a lot of political shenanigans as well as interpersonal ones, and things get pretty sticky for our underdog hero. But I can tell you that I truly enjoyed it. It’s extremely well written, with a lot of fantastic characters and some very broad philosophy. I found myself very invested in Ean’s fate, and I was impressed with the level of background and world/universe-building the authors were able to squeeze in without it feeling burdensome. The action is nearly non-stop, but it still feels very thoughtful and deep. And I find the whole idea of the lines and the semi-(if not outright) sentience of the ships really fascinating. I was rooting for the ships almost as much as the heroes. And the ships who had bad crews, or lost crew, I really felt emotionally invested in making them happy. So my childhood of generally anthropomorphizing anything and everything (including toast) came in super handy here, but I think it makes for compelling reading. If you like your space opera with intrigue and shades of gray with an ill-used and misunderstood main character, and a feeling of alien sentience surrounding everything, then you will love this story. The 2nd book comes out in February, and I am very much looking forward to it.

OK, that was a pretty short review, but the shorter version is: Really like it, will probably read again, and I'm excited for the series.

Next up: Fall. I'm going to get a few more of these reviews done, maybe do a Worldcon report, talk about the state of my own books, and more. Hey September, lookin good autumn baby, hey.

August 11th, 2015

Blog, blog, what is blog? I have been neglectful, poor thing. It’s been a difficult month and more, but not very interesting to write about, so I’ve fallen behind. I don't really have any new or fun information regarding my own writing to impart to you, other than that things are still, er, fluid, and evolving, and I will tell you what I can when I can. In the meantime, should anyone like to buy my book, please do contact me at Lindsey@lindseysjohnson.com, and we can work something out.

To make up for not blogging lately, I’ve decided I should write sort-of reviews of books I’ve been reading and enjoying. It seems only fair, to anyone who bothers to check in on this space, to have something going on in it. Hi blog, how ya doin?

Today I’m going to start with “Ancillary Justice” and “Ancillary Sword”, by Ann Leckie. I’m doing them both at once, because since I’ve read them both I think it starts to get tangled up in my head what happened when, and what’s revealed at what time. So, uh, spoilers, is what I’m saying. If you haven’t read them and you’re interested in just my vague, non-spoilery general opinion, here it is: I like these books a lot, and I can highly recommend the series as a sweeping space opera that explores some issues of colonialism and oppression, and also, sort of just by the way, gender. I think it’s the gender part that makes some people angry these books exist, but while the gender part is kind of constant and makes you think, it’s almost by-the-way. Or so it feels to me.

AHOY, SPOILERS BELOW MATEY, READ AT YER OWN RISK, SAYS I.

I will try to keep the spoilers more general than specific, but some things I feel I can’t help but spoil, if I want to mention the books at all. So here goes.

I heard about “Ancillary Sword” from all the buzz of all the awards it was winning. It took me awhile to pick it up, because my TBR pile is ginormous and I just wasn’t in the mood for space opera for awhile. I still managed to keep spoiler-free, so I knew only that it generated a lot of talk, and that some people were mad because, and I think I’m quoting here, “Ew, girls.” So I thought, well, I’ll have to check that out at some point, won’t I? But I have to admit that when I started reading it, although I found it interesting and well written, it wasn’t grabbing me right away. It wasn’t until the third or fourth chapter that I started to get hooked. And then more hooked. And soon after that, I couldn’t put it down.

This is a small spoiler, but it's set out pretty early in "Justice." The protagonist, Breq, used to be a spaceship. And the way she used to be a spaceship, is that this space colonial society called the Radch takes people from planets they enslave (that they don't just flat out murder) and erases their personality and memories and hooks their consciousness’ together into a whole and hooks them up to the AI of a spaceship. So they aren’t single people. They are units, or ancillaries, of a spaceship. Breq is the only remaining unit of an entire ship when the ship was destroyed. The why we find out later, through flashbacks. But she can’t remember her life before she became ship, which was thousands of years ago. She’s only had 19 years of being a single person, although she does not think of herself as human. And she doesn’t really know how to behave as one, even as she has to pretend.

Bigger spoiler: The driving reasons for what Breq does is because of a sprawling conspiracy by the ultimate ruler of the Radch against what turns out to be another cloned copy (multiple copies?) of herself (the ruler), on how Radchaai society should continue. To continue to colonize, or not. To continue the horrific practice of making ancillaries, to continue to spread and conquer and fight, or to change as a society. The ruler of the Radch is also, through use of cloning and ancillaries, thousands of years old. And as a consequence, not entirely sane.

This is all revealed slowly through the first half of the book. I think it didn’t really start to feel unputdownable until I started to understand the full horror of the situation - both the worlds-wide situation as well as Breq's personal one. I'm not sure if the flashback-forward approach worked in the beginning, because I definitely felt put at a distance from our protagonist. But once I understood some of the full disaster that brought about Breq's current plan (or vague lack thereof), I was hooked, and I connected fully with the character. Breq is not a usual protagonist, she’s not a usual hero, and she was kind of hard to connect to when I was reading her as this mystery cipher who seemed detached. But as I started to get why she acted and seemed detached, all the while underneath all that detachment is a seething mass of unexpressed pain and rage, I started to identify with her, to love her, and to love her evolving if unclear plans to try to make a wrong right. And her sometimes frustrated attempts to right wrongs she just stumbled across, as well.

I know some people who are not of the “Ew, girls” type who didn’t care for this book, just because it didn’t interest them. To each their own taste, after all. But now I absolutely love Breq. I love how she’s broken, I love how she knows she’s broken, she was made broken, the process that made her broke her and the disaster that caused her to be alone broke her more, and she’s decided the only thing to do is to try to right wrongs. I love her unexplored moral center, that just exists and she doesn’t question it too much. I love how she knows her society is horrible but she also sees the good in people who exist within it, and the rotten core, and tries to do what she can to help the rebellion/conspiracy on the side she thinks is in the right. I love how she acknowledges her brokenness is a mirror of the brokenness of the empire, even though she doesn’t really talk to anyone about it.

Man, I love these books. Because I always love protagonists who keep going even when it all seems futile, and whose moral centers, even when they are lost and confused, land on “help people and make wrongs right”. Also I love a seething mass of undeclared and unacknowledged rage. I just do. I love how it builds tension, and I love when it breaks free.

The gender part that has some people very upset, is the use of “she” as the default pronoun. Which is the one area of Radch society I can completely get behind. Gender makes no difference to them, and the default pronoun is “she.” So everyone is referred to with the “she” pronoun, no matter their gender. Which can get Breq into trouble with societies that aren’t Radchaai, where gender does matter. And it can make for confusing moments for readers – one of the first characters we meet, we’re told offhand is a male, but Breq uses the “she/her” pronoun to refer to … him. See, it’s hard to discuss. Because I feel like I should use the she/her pronoun, too. But English does make distinctions, and this character is male. And of course, that means that you don’t know whether or not a character we meet, whose gender is not specified to us, is male or female. And since the default pronoun is “she” then I just decided to go ahead and make the assumption that pretty much all the characters were female unless told otherwise. And I have to tell you, that is a pretty revolutionary way to read. So many space operas I’ve read – even those written by women – have the default character assumption as male for anyone who isn't specifically spelled out as a woman. So all those space opera extras, just walking around doing odd jobs and not really discussed in specific terms, read as male. How many space opera societies are almost entirely peopled by men this way? Most of them. Hell, most books in general that I've read are written that way. To have it be the opposite blew my mind regularly. It did push me out of the narrative from time to time, but in a good way. In a “Holy cats this is weird and awesome” way.

Of course, that is why those whose response to feminism is “Ew, girls” are so angry. How dare we consider the default pronoun to be female, instead of male? How dare anyone change these understood (but arbitrary) rules we have imposed on our world? How dare we explore what it means to define gender as beside the point? Because that’s what the narrative does – gender is meaningless, only the mind matters. I think if this book had been written with a protagonist whose body was male, or if the default pronoun was “they” or “It”, or if the book had been written by a man, I think those who so railed against it would not have been very upset. Which I think proves a point, really. The point it proves is the default male that we live and read by is sexist, and it does change how we think about the world, and that representation really, truly matters. If it didn’t, then this series existing, and winning awards, would not have set people off.

Another thing that is just kind of by the way, is that most of the Radch have dark skin, and dark skin is "fashionable" for the upper classes. So your default well-off character is female, dark skinned, with no obvious (to the reader) gender expression. It's pretty revolutionary, and I had to recalibrate to read it the way it was written.

Something else this series explores is oppression by colonial powers, and the ramifications for the societies that have to live under it, as well as the colonial society itself. The reach of Radch controlled space is pretty vast, and the way they take over worlds is called “annexation,” and there is no resistance allowed, of course, which seems entirely reasonable to the Radchaai. To anyone outside of their society, the constant expansion and death, the idea that these ancillaries exist is horrific – they’ve taken people and basically killed them without killing their bodies, making undead slaves to the Radch who will do what is ordered.

Probably. (uh, spoiler)

But what is pointed out early on in the first book, is that the fully human, non-ancillary humans who are Radch are somehow even more horrifying - in that they look at the annexation of worlds as their right. They don’t see anything wrong with creating ancillaries. Or rather, they didn’t used to - now making them is supposed to be illegal and they don't do it anymore. But since all of these ancillaries are just leftover, we may as well use them as long as they exist, right? The ancillaries work with their AIs and obey orders and are horrifying, undead tools who (probably) can't think for themselves. But the humans are still human, in that they act in horrible, inhumane ways to one another due to desire for power, or a thrill, or money, or some combination of all three. The Radch do not consider anyone who is not a citizen to have rights. And they control who is a citizen and who isn’t. And of course, being these people who think their rules and wars and ways of life are entirely reasonable, they see nothing wrong with any of this.

And it is truly, awfully, horrifying. And it is us. Or a certain funhouse mirror of us, but here we are. We are so reasonable. And so horrifying. Those awful things we used to do don’t count, do they? We’re super sorry we did them, but that was a long time ago. And now it’s all better, see? What? It’s not better? How dare you! We are the reasonable people.

It’s so easy to be reasonable when you get to define what reasonable means.

And THAT’S why I love these books, and I think why they’re up for, and keep winning, awards. I've heard some people don’t think the second book is as strong as the first, but I disagree. I think it’s dealing with consequences set up in the first book, and the consequences of Breq getting some of her questions answered, and some of her quest finished, and what does she do now? And of course, the ever-present, justified if not dealt-with, seething mass of unimaginable grief and rage. There’s that, too. And I think “Sword” makes its case that while others have to start to face the horror that is their society, Breq has to face the rage and grief she suppresses and ignores and doesn’t know how to process. She doesn’t know how to process it because she doesn’t know how to be just one person, and she keeps having to learn that lesson. I think going on this journey is fascinating and heartbreaking, and I can’t wait to see how the next book goes.

All opinions are purely my own, and may or may not be what the author was going for anyway. But I get to have my opinion as a reader, and these are mine.

Title is from "Simple Joys" from the musical "Pippin," which I GET TO SEE ON SUNDAY BECAUSE MY PARENTS LOVE ME SO THERE. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME.

June 24th, 2015

Originally posted on my website, lindseysjohnson.com

Hello all my lovelies! I am remiss on the blog once again. It’s a common theme, but I’m trying for 3 posts per month. This month it’s two. Well, I still have a week for a third post, right? It could happen. And I have many things I’d like to say, but these are the quick updates.

I have some news regarding A Ragged Magic, and what’s going on, publishing-wise. Since I’m changing publishers, or rather, my original publisher (Per Aspera) became part of another publisher (Ragnarok) and Ragnarok is going to reissue ARM, that means that the book will be unavailable for purchase from retailers starting July 1st. If you want to buy the book and you haven’t yet, you’ll have to contact me here (Lindsey@lindseysjohnson.com) to set that up, or wait for the reissue, which will most likely be sometime in November. When I know the exact date I will be sure to let everyone know. SO … if you want a permanent and beautiful copy of THIS AWESOME ARTWORK:

A_Ragged_Magic_ARC-front-cover

Be sure to order ASAP and get yourself a copy now at your favorite retailer. Because once that is off the market, and I am out of books, that truly lovely cover by Angie Abler will be a collector’s item. I do love that cover, but I am fairly certain that new artwork will be ordered for the new issue, to go with new marketing, to go with the new publisher. Which is all in service to new, shiny books, that will be ready for your reading pleasure in just a few months. And THEN! Onto the sequel! Which I am furiously writing right now. (Note re: furiously – there’s some swearing going on, coming from me, as I shove some plot around that I came up with that is TOTALLY AWESOME but changes stuff I already wrote, but I swear I am working Very Hard.)

In other life news, the eXit SPACE 10th anniversary dance performance went wonderfully well. We had a blast, we kicked ass, we performed the hell out of all of our pieces, and we had a blast. Did I mention we had a blast? We were very, very sparkly, and very, very silly, and I love all my dancer peeps and I’m still going through withdrawals, even though I’ve been to classes since. Some days when I get to the studio I just want to awkwardly hug everyone a lot. I don’t, because I try really hard not to be too creepy with everyone. It’s a trial.

But here are some photos to prove how much fun we were having.

80s

80s makeup for A Chorus Line. Because Duran Duran eyes. That's why. Bonus sweat from just getting off stage. I aim to make these experiences realistic. PS sweatbands are only sort of helpful. Must be why they went out of style.

jazz it

JAZZ IT! Most of the Jazz cast. We're so proud.

modern selfie

Modern backstage selfie. Aww, dancer love.

Now I’m back to my regularly over-scheduled summer. I keep thinking I don’t have that much going on, and then suddenly I realize that I have something scheduled for every weekend for the next forever and how did that happen, anyway? I’m naturally a homebody and an introvert. I really like people (most people) but I also really need time to sit and process and not do. And by not do, I mean NOT DO. NOTHING DOING. SITTING ON MY BUTT THINKING SOME BUT SORT OF JUST STARING AT ZIPPO WHILE I LET MY MIND WANDER. That’s how I manage my buzzing brain, anyway. Lately I’ve spent too much time on twitter and stuff instead, but I really benefit from staring into space. I come up with plot and character that way, I come up with words that way, I let go of things that are bothering me that way, I keep my keel relatively even that way. So pardon me if sometimes, if I’m over-scheduled, I don’t talk to people too much. My keel is getting uneven and I have to shift sails and look for calmer waters in the ship of my head. Or something. (Sailors, stop laughing.) (Or keep laughing, I live to entertain.)

This is my life. It’s weird, but it’s good. Working on evening out my keel, keeping on dancing, keeping on writing, keeping on keeping on. Happy Summer!

Title is from "Like Real People Do" by Hozier, which I am completely obsessed by at the moment.

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