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Author Interviews, Guest Posts, Announcements are scattered throughout the week as they occur, so stay tuned!

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sanders Signs New Series With Zharmae!

(download PDF of press release)

B R Sanders Signs New Fantasy Series With Zharmae!
A Tale of Rebellion promises action, romance, and more elves!

DENVER, CO. 7 Oct. 2015 — Following on the critical success of their novel Ariah, the Zharmae Publishing Press has signed B R Sanders once again! Set in the same rich and diverse fantasy universe as Ariah, this series explores new corners of that world, new tensions and new characters.

About A Tale of Rebellion
The humans of Elothnin went west, hungry for wheat and space, but the elves were already there. When the humans burned the elves’ homes, the elves rebelled. For forty long years the rebellion smoldered, but the elves have been beaten back into the gnarled forest, forced to rely on guerrilla tactics and strange bedfellows.

Rethnali has only ever known the rebellion. Born and bred to it, raised by a great elvish general and now a captain herself, Rethnali’s whole life is ruthlessness and strategy. Over the course of four books, Rethnali’s will is tested. Some friendships fray and tatter; surprising new ones blossom. She puts herself and her soldiers in danger over and over again, all in the name of winning back the lands stolen from her people. Sacrifice–what will she sacrifice to see this rebellion through to its end? And who will she be once all those sacrifices have been made?

BRSanders_HeadshotAbout B R Sanders
B R Sanders is a genderqueer writer who lives and works in Denver, CO, with their family and two cats. Outside of writing, B has worked as a research psychologist, a labor organizer and a K-12 public education data specialist. B’s previous novels, both set in the fantasy universe of Aerdh, are Resistance and Ariah.

B is social!
Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Newsletter

About The Zharmae Publishing PressZH_web_logo
The Zharmae Publishing Press is a Pacific Northwest based Independent Publisher. We
aim to deliver stories with depth, that cut to the heart, and appeal to everyone, from Science Fiction to Memoirs and everything in between.

Zharmae is social!
Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook

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Disrupting Publishing Linkspam: 10/6/2015

It’s that time again: that time every week where I round up links to articles written by marginalized people pushing back against oppression in publishing. I’m aggregated as many marginalized voices as possible from as many vectors as possible, and the more intersectional the better. As always if you’ve read something I missed please link it in the comments.

“Reflections By and About White People” by Donna Miscolta in The Seattle Review of Books

People of color account for 33 percent of Seattle’s population, according to 2010 census figures. How much enjoyment will this often marginalized group receive from an anthology in which nearly 90 percent of its writers are white?

“Writing Better Trans Characters” by Cheryl Morgan for Strange Horizons

There is such a thing as “cis gaze”; that is, a book can be written because cis people are fascinated by trans people. They want to see us doing those weird trans things that they think we do. Or they want to see us as victims that they can feel sorry for and rescue.

“The ‘Acceptance’ Narrative in Trans YA” by Vee S. for Gay YA

The problem is, the cis protagonists don’t actually work through their transphobia. While the “acceptance” narrative takes the cis character to task for being “mean,” it doesn’t challenge the transphobic beliefs or actions of the character. It doesn’t call out their judgement, fetishization, or objectification of the trans character. It doesn’t challenge the notion that trans men and women aren’t really men or women; that trans people are pretending, or putting on an act; that it’s ok to be wishy-washy on pronouns.

“Normalizing Marginalized Identities in Fantasy and Science Fiction” by Malinda Lo

There simply are no black-and-white answers to writing fiction with characters who are traditionally marginalized, and the first thing writers should do is accept this. Whatever choice you make as a writer can be questioned by readers and critics, especially when it comes to writing diversity, which has often been done poorly and thoughtlessly. Again, whatever choice you make can be questioned, so it’s important to think carefully about why you made those choices, keeping in mind that your book is yours, and your duty as a writer is to be true to the story you want to tell.

“Becoming My Own Audience” by Dahlia Adler for Queer Romance Month

Sometimes what happens when you write queer YA is you realize you are really getting into writing queer YA. And you are feeling a weird, dull ache when you write certain scenes and realize you’ve written yourself into places you never expected. That you’re writing wish fulfillment you never thought would be your wishes.

“Hidden Voices: How Being a Teen in the At-Risk School System Almost Silenced Me” by Kara Barbieri for #WriteInclusively at SCWrite

They saw us as statistics. They saw the black criminal and the white drug addict. They saw the violent teenage boy and the emotional teenage girl. They saw the pregnant whore and the gangbanger father. The illegal immigrant and the child of a family that couldn’t afford the cat-food they called lunch. And slowly, we began to conform to those statistics. Because when someone says you’re broken, or stupid, or dangerous, or irredeemable enough times, you begin to believe it. Slowly, we were molded into the mindset they had for us. Our voices, once loud, were getting softer and softer.

Roundup: September 28-October 4, 2015

click image to play game

click image to play game

Wanderings on the Internet

  • Free interactive fiction alert! Lullabies and Moss is live and playable! Imagine you’re in a forest. Imagine night is falling. Imagine shit starts getting weird. What choices do you make to survive?
  • Psst…this week is Sirens 2015! If you’re in Denver and you’ll be at the conference, come by! I’ll be talking about worldbuilding on Friday, and I’ll be doing book signings on Friday and Saturday. More info on that is here.
  • Hey! My press is publishing free horror shorts all month long! Keep your eyes peeled, because I’ve got one in the pipeline :)
  • All season 2 haikus are up now at the Supernatural Haiku Project tumblr.
  • Also, stayed tuned because there’s a big announcement coming up Wednesday (just FYI).

Writing Update

  • The Search keeps going! I’m definitely in the endzone, and I’ve started making notes about the direction I want the rewrite to go in, but I’ve still got to write this draft to the end. 5k more words this week brings the draft up to 119k words in total.

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Book Review: OOGA BOOGA [contains minor spoilers]


Amazon | Goodreads

FTC disclosure: I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Notes on Diversity (this section has some spoilers):
The first thing you need to know about Gerry Walker’s Ooga Booga is that it’s a book written to interrogate and extrapolate the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. In other words, it’s a book steeped in Blackness. All the central players in the book are Black, and their Blackness is key to the plot: the book literally hinges on genetic differences between Black and non-Black individuals. I…had questions about this, which I’ll get into in the review downstream, but suffice to say the cast was predominately Black. Walker makes a point of acknowledging that Black individuals come in all different skin tones, too, which is another key element of the plot I’ll get to in a minute.

But. The book goes utterly sideways with regard to its representation of queer characters. A prominent character is queer–I thought at first, just a pleasant happens-to-be-queer character– and is revealed to be a classic duplicitious conniving snake-in-the-grass queer character. There was literally no reason for this that I can think of. He was just…the only queer in the book, and he was heartless and evil. Because. Reasons.

Also, there is an Fat Evil Scientist who is at times jolly. FYI.

But. Walker does use the speculative fiction conceits he introduces in the book to explore, with some nuance and respect, the intersections of race, poverty, and sudden dis/ability to great effect.

What I’m saying is in terms of diversity–specifically in terms of intersectionality–Ooga Booga tries very hard. It gets some things right and gets some things wrong.

The Black Lives Matter movement mattered1. It mattered enough, actually, that Black boycotts finally shut things down. Corporations finally noticed the full brunt of Black earning power. A trap was set. Some years in the future, Black people begin to fall prey to a mysterious disease, one that strikes them down, strips them from language, replacing it with something called New Speek–a burst of undulating, ever-changing consonants and vowel sounds that can’t be learned.2 As the New Speekers transition, they are ripped from their homes, taken to camps. They lose their jobs. Reentry to society is troubled at best when they do regain English. And, inevitably, there are shootings. The context Walker sets up here is pitch-perfect. It is absolutely eerie. The first chapter, which chronicles New Speeker Patient Zero–a five year old girl–is heartbreaking.

From there, the book redirects its attention onto Vanessa Landing, a white-passing biracial woman who transitions to New Speek at literally the worst possible moment. Her world comes crashing down around her. She loses her high-powered job and is shunned by her former friends. Her veneer of whiteness is shattered. As she rebuilds her life from the ground up, she does so fueled by righteous fury at how Newspeekers are being treated. She becomes an activist, campaigning for their rights. Into her orbit comes her faithful assistant Fisher Coach, a rising rap star named Perry Ironside (who raps in New Speek as Ooga Booga), and her eventual husband, the dull but immensely malleable Eric Dickerson. From there the plot drifts between very a solid political thriller and a frankly saccharine star-crossed romance.

Ooga Booga has its strong points. Walker’s analysis of how Black people are corralled and controlled is cogent and full of horror. New Speek is brilliant–a perfect double edged sword, at once potentially dehumanizing those it affects while simultaneously giving them a secret way to communicate and organize resistance. And, really, given the way Black people are already forced to code switch New Speek as an extrapolation is not far off the mark. Ooga Booga is best when articulating these tensions and exploring them.

But Ooga Booga has deep weaknesses, too. I think the book would have been stronger if  it had focused on a secondary character, Cam Ventura, who never regained English after transitioning to NewSpeek. He is forced to run and scramble and organizes Newspeekers from the fringes of society. Vanessa Landing herself struck me as an odd choice–why focus on someone so white-passing? Her claims to to her Black identity in the text are inherently validated by her ability to speak New Speek, but never once does anyone interrogate her light-skin privilege or the fact that perhaps she is adopted by the mainstream as an acceptable figurehead for Newspeekers precisely because of her ability to pass as a white woman. Once in the text Vanessa makes mention of the Black community’s need to address colorism within its ranks, but nothing past that is mentioned despite constant mentions of her light eyes and blond hair and pale skin. This, combined with the reliance on lazy tropes (evil queer, evil fat person) and the constant stream of questions I had about how New Speek functioned and who transitioned and why left me distracted while I read the book. After the extraordinary first chapter I never fully engaged with the text again.

Your mileage may vary. My guess is that some people will read this book and be able to skim right past the tropes that rubbed me so wrong. Some people are not nearly so over-thinky as me and will not have so many questions about why some members of the population transitioned to New Speek while others did not. For those people, this may be a five star book. For me, the strengths and weaknesses of Ooga Booga existed in a near-equal and uneasy balance.

3 stars

1This is clear in the back cover copy, which you can read in the Goodreads or Amazon blurbs, but it wasn’t actually clear in the text of the book until, I think, 70% of the way through. As I read the book, I thought I was reading a sort of alternate-universe book where the events happening were that universe’s version of our Black Lives Matters movement. When it was revealed that no, actually, it was the same universe but the book was set thirty or so years in the future I was momentarily confused.

2The Big Reveal here actually seemed to have more to do with melanin production than African ancestry directly. This raised questions for me–were there dark-skinned Asian individuals who transitioned to New Speek? If the main character, Vanessa Landing, a biracial women who is extremely white-passing can transition to New Speek, then how precisely is it tied to melanin production? I know I’m overthinking this, getting far too deep in the weeds here, but I have questions. And this conception of Blackness kept leading back to a one-drop-rule line of thinking wrapped up in discussions of “melanin production” without unpacking that there are other racial categories that also produce melanin. It just read as clumsy to me, or possibly unfinished.

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On Writing Race While White

alloppressionisconnectedIn my corner of the internet, there is a sense among some that it can be hard out there for a white writer.1 My corner of the internet is one concerned with diversity in publishing, oppression in publishing, and how to dismantle white supremacy in both the structure of publishing as an industry and in literature through characters as representations. The focus is not on race exclusively–race is one axis of oppression, one that intersects with other axes of oppression (gender, sexuality, dis/ability, class, citizenship status, language, size). Shit is complicated, is what I’m saying. But for the purposes of this this post, I’m locating myself as a white person interested in issues of race in publishing, which puts me in a position of privilege for this discussion.2

I’m not writing this post as a how-to for others, but I am articulating this for my own clarity. Take from it what you will.

So. I am a white writer that looks at publishing and sees yet another institution rife with racism. I see writers of color, and I want to support them how and when I can. I listen to the laments of my partner, a woman of color, as she talks to me about how she can’t find any good representation of herself in the books she wants to read, and never could as a kid, and what a weight that is on her.

I am a white writer who, once upon a time, did academic research on racial identity theory, power, and privilege.

I am a white writer who is raising a white child with a woman of color and a white man. That is tricky water to navigate.

I am a white writer who thinks about whiteness a lot. I am a white writer who wants to interrogate whiteness in fiction and in the publishing industry.

But in this conversation, I am still a white writer.

I’ve come to realize in working through my white privilege–which is an ever-evolving thing, a continual thing, you never finish that process–that much of the work on my end is learning to shut up. To stop talking. To be quiet. To give space. To listen.

I forgot to do that when it came to writing. I got arrogant, I think, like a lot of white writers do, and I dove into the diversity thing with both feet. I have one published story out already written from the perspective of a South Asian girl–it’s called “Beneath the Dane Hills”, and you can read it for free here. I’m not a widely read author, and I doubt more than a dozen of people have read it. I haven’t gotten pushback for it, but that doesn’t mean I got it right. That doesn’t mean that was my story to tell. I’m copping to that here. I’m linking to the story here not for cookies but for call-outs; this is an invitation for people to read it and tell me what I did wrong, where I overstepped, if they feel up to it. Because in hindsight, I don’t think I should have written that story from that perspective.

My thinking was this as I wrote “Beneath the Dane Hills”: why couldn’t the MC be a POC? There wasn’t any reason why not–except that I actually don’t know shit about that lived experience. Oops. And as I drafted the story, Pooja’s ethnicity became part of the story. The racism she experienced wove into the meat of the story. Of course it did–that’s part of her everyday life. But it’s not part of my everyday life, and there’s no way I got the specifics right. It’s just a guess. Pooja is queer, and a baby butch, and from a low class background; for those pieces I could draw on my own experiences. For those parts I know I’m tapping into something real. But her racialized experiences? All I’ve got to go one is research (I did do research) and hearsay. But that’s not enough. Not if someone actually like Pooja reads it and it rankles her because of course that’s how a white writer would write it.

That’s how we get it wrong. We think we know, but we don’t. Even when we really, really

I have social power over writers of color. Me publishing inauthentic MC of color contributes to a white supremacist publishing industry. :(

I have social power over writers of color. Me publishing inauthentic MC of color contributes to a white supremacist publishing industry. :(

pay attention, we don’t know. We don’t know the specificities, the actual wounds that are dealt from living in racism. We’ll never write it authentically; it’ll only ever be an approximation. Do I want to add to the tidal wave of ‘just approximations’ that people of color have vomited back to them over and over again on the daily? I…don’t think I do.

I have three other stories on the market right now that do the same thing that “Beneath the Dane Hills” does. See? I kept doing it. I’m trying to decide what to do with them. Do I wait until they’re rejected, then quietly file them in a drawer? Do I pull them from consideration? Likely they will be rejected anyway. Once they are rejected, then what do I do with them? I had a thought to self-publish them, post them for free, make them available to be read, but at no cost so that they are not taking any spaces from writers of color or profits. But they are still out there, proof that I did do this and available for critique.

There are still ways for me to write about race. And I still should. I tackled issues of race, for example, in Ariah. It was a central theme throughout–Ariah experience racism fairly constantly. Many of the elves are coded as Black (dark-skinned, kinky hair). This is a different way to handle race, though. Its what I think of as the Ursula K. Le Guin spec fic sidestep:

As a young, White, upper-middle-class writer, I chose, in Jennifer’s terms, to play safe. Most of my characters in fantasy and sf are people of color, but they’re in the “future,” or on another planet. Heather in Lathe of Heaven is Black, but it’s in the “future.” Genly Ai in Left Hand of Darkness is a Black man from a future Earth, nobody in the story has white skin, everybody is definitely Other — but “alien” in the sf sense, not in the sense of cultural alienation.

black elves fighting racism! similar to but not the same as Black people's experience of real-world racism

black elves fighting racism! similar to but not the same as Black people’s experience of real-world racism

So, I do this in my Aerdh universe books and stories, and I feel comfortable interrogating racism and its devastating effects through this distanced lens I’m running less of a chance that I’ll step on readers’ toes by getting specifics wrongs like I will in something like “Beneath the Dane Hills” where I’m drawing on real people’s real lived experiences of oppression. The Aerdh universe is drawing parallels with those lived experiences, but there’s not an expectation of a one-to-one match, so there’s less of a chance of a reader wanting to throw the book across the room (i.e. getting seriously microaggressed) when their direct experience isn’t precisely/completely represented.

Note that to do this sidestep well I still have to do my dang research. I still have to read a ton about power structures, how racism develops, how it functions, how its nasty tendrils seep into everything around us. How it manifests in a thousand different ways. I still have to listen and learn from my friends of color. And I still may get it wrong. And if I do I have to take the criticism and absorb it thoughtfully.

I guess, in sum, I can write whatever I want. No one is going to stop me but me. I am trying to write well–both in terms of quality and in terms of ethics. I’ve been asking myself, of my pieces, what space is this taking up? How will a reader of color react to this on finding out that a white writer wrote it? What don’t I know? Given how much, of late, I’ve been rubbed wrong by straight writers writing Tragic Queers what am I writing wrong about race without even knowing it?

I should just…stop. Unless I’m 100% comfortable, I should stop. There are places to push yourself as a writer, and there are places to stay comfortable. This is a place, I think, where I should stay comfortable, because to write into narratives of real, existing people of color about their own experiences with race3 is to write past those actual people. It’s an intrusion.

I’ll keep reading and promoting the work of writers of color writing their own experiences. I’ll keep addressing it sideways. I’ll keep writing white characters interrogating whiteness. I’ll keep speaking up, personally, about whiteness. But I don’t think I should keep writing stories like “Beneath the Dane Hills.”


1The internet is a many-cornered place. There are plenty of white writers out there utterly uninterested in this discussion and/or unaware it’s taking place. But many white writers are thinking through these issues. Kayla Whaley has a really good post about these issues. The blog Reading While White is excellent. My take on this is that it isn’t actually hard out there for us because it isn’t about us. If we’re uncomfortable, it’s because we’re centering conversations on ourselves that shouldn’t be centered on us in the first place.

2Not At All Interested in denials of white privilege in this space. Just, nope. Not At All Interested in that. Comments are moderated on my blog, and comments contesting that white people have privilege over people of color will never see the light of day.

3That doesn’t mean people of color will never, ever appear in my fiction that is set in the real world. Or that they will be the main characters. I don’t think I should whitewash my fiction; that’s not the answer either. But it does mean that I really shouldn’t write stories about real-world racism when I don’t experience it. I just…I’m never going to get that right, and trying to write that, and then having the audacity to try and sell it when there are writers of color out there doing it a million times better. Fuck. I am so white and entitled and I am sorry.

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Disrupting Publishing Linkspam: 9/29/2015

It’s that time again: that time every week where I round up links to articles written by marginalized people pushing back against oppression in publishing. I’m aggregated as many marginalized voices as possible from as many vectors as possible, and the more intersectional the better. As always if you’ve read something I missed please link it in the comments.

“My Thoughts on ‘What Happened?!’ on YA Twitter on Friday 9/25/2015” by Debbie Reese

My end goal is books that don’t give non-Native children incorrect information. I think Carson’s book does that. Her protagonist pushes back on racism, but I believe the take-away for most readers is not sufficient to undo what she introduces with respect to grave-robbing Indians and measles infected blankets. I believe their takeaway is going to be a subconscious “yeah, those Indians were really savage.” I think that will be the take-away because grave-robbing Indians dovetails with the existing misinformation about who we were, and who we are.

“Criticism of Representation in YA is Essential” by Justine Larbalestier

I’ve heard many POC critics point out that most white writers only feel they can write about race from the point of view of POC. This feeds into the idea that “race” is not something that white people have. We are neutral. We are somehow outside race. Newsflash: no one is outside race.

“Some Thoughts on Tragic Queer Narratives” by C. Lundoff

The tragic queer narrative? Widely available. Very, very, very common. Arguably more common than positive depictions of queer characters and relationships. Books by LGBTQ authors with LGBTQ protagonists who are not tragic queers? Much less common and much harder to find. Every now and then, an out queer author makes it big despite the obstacles, which include “Queer author writes queer characters = autobiography,”  “Queer author, queer books = won’t sell, don’t bother promoting, and of course, “Queer author, queer books, don’t bother picking up for representation or publication.” But those authors  sell better if they write straight characters and they know it (see recent interviews with the likes of Emma Donoghue and Sarah Waters for examples).

“Moving Past Octavia Butler” by Justina Ireland for Book Riot

To always default to a single black woman is lazy, but more importantly it gives the impression of the Exceptional Negro, that there are few authors of color charting the sci-fi and fantasy waters, or that except for a few rare exceptions Black people don’t write sci-fi or fantasy.

“Black Speculative Fiction Is Protest Work” by Troy L. Wiggins for Book Riot

With the specters of death, poverty, and inequality still surrounding African American communities, many African American creators of speculative fiction are illuminating their desire for change in the pages of their literature.

“White as the Default” by Marissa Rei Sebastian for Book Riot

I had consumed hundreds of books, encountered thousands of characters and a large majority of those that were human, or humanoid, were white or white coded. Characters of Color were lacking and many of my favorite series were guilty of having all white characters or one or two token People of Color.

Interview with Nnedi Okorafor in Ventures

Now, I was born and raised in the West; thus, I was exposed to the genre of science fiction and its importance to and popularity in society. Nevertheless, I couldn’t relate to these narratives within the books and films because I never saw reflections of myself, my family, my cultures, Africa in those stories. When I read science fiction growing up, I felt more like a tourist in those stories than a citizen. So when I first started to tell my own stories, I didn’t lean toward writing science fiction; magical realism felt most natural. But as I got older and started noticing more whenever I travelled to Nigeria with family to visit family, I started noticing Nigeria’s (Africa’s) futuristic ways. Then I started imagining. Then I looked for novels imagining what I was seeing and imagining and realized there were none. So I decided to start writing some. And because I was exposed to the genre of science fiction, I wrote the stories that I created from my experiences and observations in Nigeria in the style of the genre of science fiction that I was exposed to because I grew up in the United States.

That’s my longwinded way of saying, my being Naijamerican (Nigerian American) played a pivotal role in my writing my flavor of African science fiction, despite the fact that I really had no previous examples.

“The Need For Real, Honest Diverse Books: A South Asian Perspective” by Meghana Ranganathan at S.C. Write

I’ve come to realize, most of these movies and books end up being about white people experiencing India, not Indians sharing their experiences (e.g. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Outsourced). There are exceptions, but I remember my first picture book about India when I was little got me so excited in the bookstore, because it was a book about someone like me. I took it home and opened it, only to find it be about a white girl going to India on vacation and her experiences.

“Five Things I’d Like To See In Urban Fantasy” by Angelia Sparrow

2) Paranormal creatures that fit the demographics. Here in Memphis, we have 10,000 Asian people. But because we have 9000 Vietnamese and only a few hundred Japanese, we would be far more likely to have a Ma cà rồng (Vietnamese vampires) than a kitsune.

“Your Work Matters” by Kameron Hurley

And, of course, this is assuming we’re all on an equal playing field. I get angry, often, at writers I see who are generally talented or not-so-talented white guys, who seem to be floating up through the publishing ecosystem like they shit gold, and it grates on me. You are always going to wonder how things would have gone if you had more advantages: if you were born a guy, or born a different color, or born rich, or had better brain chemistry, or if you were better at parties.

You’ll always wonder.

Book Review & Giveaway: BLACK BEAUTY


Amazon | iTunes | Barnes & Nobles | Goodreads | Book Depository

About the Book
blackbeauty1At Vista Apartment Complex, life drastically changes for four of its residents when they decide to do business with Crazy Jade—the supposed voodoo witch who can grant your wish for a price.

Shemeya wants the confidence to stand up against the girls bullying her at school, but she soon has to choose between keeping her dreadlocs or living a normal life. After catching her boyfriend cheating, Latreece just wants to have the same curves as all the other girls. Ashley will do whatever she can to have “White Girl Flow”, but takes her pursuit too far when she steals from Crazy Jade.

Everyone who comes into contact with Crazy Jade soon learns the true price of her magic—and how horribly wrong it can go.

 Enter the Giveaway!
There is a tour wide giveaway for the book tour of Black Beauty. These are the prizes you can win:

One of Two $10 Amazon Gift Cards(US) or One of Two ecopies of Black Beauty

Here is the link to the rafflecopter giveaway:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

B’s Review of BLACK BEAUTY
Notes on Diversity:
I think a better word for this book than diverse is authentic. This is a book for blerds by a blerd; this is fantasy/horror deeply drawn from and steeped in the lived Blackness. That is literally the crux of all of the stories in this book up until the last two. The reason the book works is because Constance Burris is a Black woman who has lived all her life navigating the treacherous waters of Eurocentric beauty norms.

Virtually all the characters are Black, and they live in a specific locale–one apartment complex in Oklahoma City. The specificities in the book really do add to the authenticity, the reality of it, which heightens the horror embedded in the stories, even as elves start showing up and snakes start sprouting from people’s heads. These stories are deeply, deeply rooted in an intersectional experience of Black womanhood.

Readers looking for representation along other axes of marginalization (queer characters, characters with disabilities, religious diversity) won’t find much here, but the above is incredibly rich.

Black Beauty is a set of connected fantasy/horror short stories tethered together by setting–the Vista apartment complex–and the apparent magical abilities of Crazy Jade, one the complex’s residents. Word gets out that, for a price, Crazy Jade can fix you up. But all of her dealings seem to come off slightly wrong.

We follow as residents of the apartments fall prey to Crazy Jade, one after another. First Shemeya, who Crazy Jade offers to help to stave off bullies. Then Ashley, who comes to Jade seeking a relaxer for her hair. Andre catches Jade’s bad side after a nasty remark about Black women’s unworthiness. Latreece, like Ashley, comes calling to make herself more attractive. It’s Latreece who finally dislodges Sean, who has a secret, and whose secret reveals the truth of Jade’s power. Then there’s a ferocious showdown. To say anything more than this is to spoil the book.

What I loved about Black Beauty was its ensemble cast. I started with Shemeya, rooting for her, and in her story she’s pitted against Latreece. By the time Latreece’s story comes along we’ve had enough distance and plot from Shemeya that I was open to Latreece’s perspective. She’s still harsh; she’s still a bully, yes, but in her story we learn why. There’s nuance to the characters Burris writes, to the way they engage. There’s a theme of bristling bravado/redemption that stretches throughout, and I, as someone who has a lifelong case of foot-in-mouth disease, can relate to that.

That said, the book went to fast for me, especially the last two chapters. I liked that the ending was messy, that not everything was tied up in a clean bow at the end, but there was a lovely amount of tension and careful reveal in the relationships between the apartment residents in the first few chapters/stories. The last two stories, which are structurally different (in a spoilery way) are full of action and exposition all packed together. I wish there had been a couple of other chapter/stories included in this part of the book to better explain Jade’s motivations, her plans, and let that build and simmer a little longer. Those reveals, I think, needed more space to breathe.

I am deeply curious about what happened after the book ended. I sincerely hope for some follow-up stories in the future. Please say there are follow up stories coming.

4 stars

About Constance Burris

constanceburrisConstance Burris is on a journey to take over the world through fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Her mission is to spread the love of speculative fiction to the masses. She is a proud blerd (black nerd), mother, and wife. When she is not writing and spending time with her family, she is working hard as an environmental engineer in Oklahoma City.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads Author Page |Amazon Author Page

Roundup: September 21-27, 2015

click here to play Dhirnalli

click here to play Dhirnalli

Wanderings on the Internet

Writing Update

  • I am sooooo close to the end of the first draft of The Search. I am getting impatient; I want the draft to be done so I can raze it to the ground and get started with the redraft. Make the book better, stronger, tighter. *Sigh* It’s not done yet, though. Sorcha and Shayat have reunited. Both have some catching up to do.

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Book Review: CLOUD ATLAS


Amazon | Goodreads

Notes on Diversity:
This is another book like The Windup Girl that is what I would call “surface diverse”–as in scratch the surface and all the diversity is gone. It’s wrapped up in a veneer of diversity, but it’s just a veneer. And for a reader like me who craves non-mainstream narratives (because I am marginalized along multiple axes, and I am sick of dominant narratives being shoved down my throat) these surface diverse books really stick in my craw.

There are Asian characters in Cloud Atlas1. There are Moriori characters, though none of them are ever relegated to anything but side characters who must be rescued by an empathic/enlightened white man. There is Luisa Rey, a scrappy ’70s Latina private eye. There are far-future characters who live in Hawaii, who as far as I can tell, are not coded or explicitly raced, but I read them as white.

There are queer characters. Robert Frobisher, a brilliant young composer, and Rufus Sixsmith, smitten by Forbisher. The pair of them star-crossed and epistolary, and ultimately Tragic Queers–one of them suicidal and the other forever pining the loss. I don’t know much about Mitchell, but the narrative strikes me as the straight-person-writes-the-Bury-Your-Queers situation all over again. So, you know, it’s “diverse”…but is it the kind of diversity that really gets us anywhere?

So. The book.

I was expecting to love the book. I love narrative structures; I love audacious books that play with expectations of narrative structure. I knew very little going into David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas except that it was speculative fiction and that it was played with structure. Something about nested narrators.

It does play with structure. In fact, its whole conceit rests on the structure piece–if you can’t go with that, then the book folds up like a house of cards in a slight breeze. If literally any part of the fabulous dazzling structure of the book doesn’t work for you, then the entire book doesn’t work for you, which renders the book not really a book so much as a magic trick, a gimmick.

The structure is intricate and fascinating, unfurling as it does starting in the past, creeping up to the present, then into future-dystopian Korea, and landing in far-future Hawaii before furling up again in reverse, revisiting the narrators from the previous sections in opposite order. Each of the narrators has a distinct voice and tone; some Mitchell pulls off beautifully. For me, the Adam Ewing in the first and last sections worked well, as did the Luisa Rey sections.2 I was emotionally gutpunched by the Frobisher sections, but for the wrong reasons.3

The central piece of the book–“Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After”–did not work for me at all. Partly this is because as someone with a ‘dumb’ accent4 I am particularly attuned to the way certain accents serve as markers of stupidity/class and how writing in dialect by people without those accents serves to communicate that, and this generally rubs me the wrong way. I literally had to grit my teeth to read this section. Partly this section did not work for me because the book should have ended here. We did not need to re-furl after “Sloosha’s Crossin'”; everything that happens after are essentially drawn-out codas, stuck after simply for structure’s sake. The actual plot, what little there is of it, truly ends in this section. All the tiny reveals stuck in the ending codas could have neatly been worked in, as foreshadowing, beforehand.

All this is to say that I do love it when authors play with structure, but only if they have a depth of story to support that structure. Only if their actually doing something with that structure. I’m not certain that the structure served anything in Mitchell’s plot here but showing off. The plot was exceedingly thin, actually, stretched across some very fancy digs. The structure wasn’t enough.


1The Sonmi-451 section is set in a dystopian Korean state. I don’t have a specific enough sense of Korean culture to know if Mitchell succeeded in his representation of Koreans here. I know that Mitchell lived for a time in Japan, and I wonder if he got future-Korea right, or if it’s “Korea” with all the blanks filled in with Japan. I don’t know enough about either to be able to tell.

2We can’t even really sink into the Luisa Rey sections, either, as they are revealed to possibly not to have happened. In the Cavendish sections, Luisa Rey’s sections are revealed to be a manuscript he is reading, which makes me question if she is even real. If a Latina is not real in your story, does she count to your book’s diversity?

3Because I’m queer, basically any queer narrative is going to grab me by the shirtfront and not let me go. I was more heavily invested in Rufus Sixsmith and Robert Frobisher than any other characters in the book even though as soon as they were introduced I had an inkling of where that story thread was going. I strongly, strongly dislike the Tragic Queers trope, especially if it’s written by someone who does not identify as queer themselves.

4Even after years of trying lose it in my youth to make myself acceptably smart I still have distinct traces of my East Texas twang. Not a genteel southern drawl, mind you, but that harsh, chopped Texas twang. The stuff of Dubya.

2 stars

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Cover Tour: THE PINE BARRENS by Veronica Dolginko

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 5.51.01 PM

Cover artist: Anna Kowalczewska

Hi Veronica! Tell us about the cover of THE PINE BARRENS: what are the elements in the cover, and how do they relate to your book?

The cover is a small snapshot of one character in the book who is working with a rebellion to overthrow a Draconian government. She is used as a tool by the revolution to murder high ranking officials because one of the main agitators saw her kill several people around the city and rather than turn her in, he approached her for help. The cover is showing a moment of her disposing of the bodies, which tend to be the only times that her mind is silent.


Anything else we should know (giveaways, blog tour, do you have a website/twitter/etc)?

No giveaways or anything as of yet. My twitter handle is snark_is_free and I can be found on Facebook (Veronica Dolginko).


About the Book
In a corrupt society that once resembled modern-day San Francisco, an aristocracy comes to power with a different way of running things – that is to say, viciously.  All goods are contraband; brain washing is Sunday’s communal; physical punishment is an occupation; and individuality is a mere presumption.  An uprising is underway, but in its midst is a killer.  Does this bold Dolginko creation embody, in some perverse roundabout fashion, the striving of those masses long deprived of a champion?

While The Pine Barrens’ killer is exploring her identity, Connor, a former convict, is finding his own.  In the midst of trying to understand this new way of life and preserve a modicum of dignity, Connor begins to make an impact on the city’s young revolutionaries.  The older man  shows them that they must know who they are and what they want before they can pursue their aspirations.  Does Connor have the strength to help the revolutionaries find, not only themselves, but find their way to Utopia?  Can the revolutionaries change what is necessary about themselves for the greater good of mankind?

The Pine Barrens is a forthcoming novel by Veronica Dolginko from F.W.Fife, an imprint of The Zharmae Publishing Press.

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