Measuring Success

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Thanks, Lithub. I know.* (click for article)

One thing that writers always get asked in interviews, and that I’ve now gotten asked myself, is why we write. Embedded in this question is a question of success: what are you trying to achieve with your writing? How will you know when you have achieved it?

I write because I like to write. And I still like to write–so I am successful on that front.

I write because we need diverse books. I want to contribute to a body of literature that gives voice and life to positive representations of queer characters, women characters, trans* and gender variant characters, characters with disabilities, characters of color, characters in poverty and characters who live at the intersections of all of these axes. I try my hardest to do this.

I publish in case the stories I create resonate with others. It’s not that literally no one will read my book. It’s that just a few people will read my books. Look, who reads book about queer elves? Queer nerds. My own people. I’m not writing for everyone. I’m a queer nerd writing books for other queer nerds. So it’s all right by my if almost literally no one reads my books, because for most people my books probably aren’t really going to resonate. Otherwise I would just write my books and let them hang out on my computer.

Am I successful with publishing these stories and books? There is definitely room to grow. Building a readership is a slow business. But it’s happening. Story by story, book by books it’s happening. Reviews trickle in, I get periodic emails from people I’ve never met who have stumbled across my work, who are moved enough to reach out to me because something I wrote resonated. Because they saw themselves in the queerness of my writing. Which is why I wrote it, and why I shoved it out there in the great glutted marketplace of stories all vying for attention in the first place: in case it made someone marginalized by society feel a little more validated.

I write to validate myself. I publish what I write to validate others like me.

Support diverse literature.
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*For further reading about the insularity and false-famousness of the literary world, read this fascinating interview with Nell Zink.

Book Review: SHADOWPLAY

Shadowplay_LauraLam

The middle book of any trilogy has the hardest job to do: it has to complicate the overall narrative while still being its own book. Bad middle books feel like filler; hundreds of pages of marked time between two cliffhangers. Good middle books walk the fine line between staying true to the story you fell in love with in the first book and twisting it enough to keep you interested in reading the next installment.

Shadowplay, I am happy to say, is a good middle book. As the second book in Laura Lam’s Micah Grey series, Shadowplay opens after one crisis and ends with another, but the path between them never feels like filler.

The events at the end of Pantomime force Micah into hiding again, this time with Drystan at his side. Drystan calls in a life-debt from the disgraced magician Jasper Maske to secure a hiding place at the dusty Kymri Theater, and thus begins Micah’s second adventure. Again, Micah goes into hiding. Again, Micah takes on a false identity. But the difference in Shadowplay is that he does so in plain sight. And at night he has a place to return to where people know who he really is and accepts him for that. I loved that nuance.

One area ripe for exploration that was missed, though, was Micah’s new identity. In the city of Imachara, while outside on the street, Micah wears a small piece of Vestige which makes him appear to be Temnian. In the book, Temnian people are coded as people of color; visibly foreign and visible different—“from the colonies,” mistrusted. As Sam (Micah’s name when passing as Temnian), Micah should face structural oppression. Unless Ellada is much further along in terms of race relations than we are in the real world, this should probably have been more than a couple of scowls on the street as mentioned in the text. This oversight is compounded when Cyan, an actual Temnian girl, joins the group. She either never speaks of whatever structural oppression she faces or she never experiences any. She seems to have no feelings on the matter that these two White kids are passing themselves off as Temnian. I’m not saying she should be bothered by it, necessarily, but she probably should have had an opinion on it one way or the other. In any case, there is a potential for this element of the book to rub readers of color the wrong way since Micah is literally using race as a costume for large sections of the book without any substantial reflection of what that means.

That said, I did truly appreciate that in Shadowplay Lam began to unweave Micah’s intersexuality from his apparent special abilities around Vestige*—which become more pronounced in this book. We learn more about that in Shadowplay; the Phantom Damselfy herself becomes a prominent character with a name and a history and a future. We also learn that there are others with similar abilities in Micah’s world. It’s confirmed more than once over the course of the book that it may just be coincidence that Micah is intersex and has these abilities. Micah is allowed to be just Micah.

Shadowplay is excellently paced and explores a different part of Elladan culture than Pantomime—magic shows and seances. I, actually, am fascinated by the historical spiritualism movement and the practices of debunking seances, so this was an oddly perfect match for my interests. Between Micah’s Phantom Damselfly induced visions, magician training, and tracking down people who are tracking down him, there is plenty of plot to go around. There are double agents. There is a slow-burning, very sweet romance, but not before the trauma of the ending of the first book has to be dealt with and processed by both Micah and Drystan. There is the question of Micah’s weird abilities and the potential and the danger they pose. And there is a hell of an ending and the questions it raises

I cannot wait for Masquerade**.

4 stars

* If Lam’s interactions on twitter are any indications, and I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t be, she appears to be a lovely and reflective person.

**Also, I the behind-the-scenes story of the third Micah Grey book is a pleasure in and of itself.

Roundup: June 15-June 21, 2015

Black whalers in New Bedford, MA

Black whalers in New Bedford, MA

Paperbacks, Sales, and Free fiction!

  • Want Ariah in ebook format but haven’t gotten around to picking up your copy? Now is your chance! In honor of the recent SCOTUS ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, Ariah is available for $1 here until July 1st. Support queer love; support queer books!
  • Or, maybe you’ve been holding out for a paperback copy of Ariah. Well, you’re in luck there, too! Ariah is now available in both ebook and paperbook formats over at Amazon (though neither of those are on sale, FYI).
  • Also in honor of the SCOTUS ruling, I compiled three of my short stories–all F/F, all with happy endings, two of which feature characters of color–into a FREE collection called #LoveWins. You can download it here in mobi, epub or pdf: http://tinyurl.com/lovewinsstories

Ramblings Around the Web

Writing Update

  • The Search crept from 64k to 67k. Both Sorcha and Shayat miss each other, but neither will admit it (cue Dawson’s Creek theme song).
  • I started a short story tentatively titled “The Two Voyages of Pippin Tripp” and knocked out 3K words out of it. I probably have about 2k in it to go. It’s a retelling of pieces of Moby Dick from the perspective of Pip, the young Black cabin boy who goes mad. Sidenote: the history of Black whalers is utterly fascinating.

#LoveWins Sale! ARIAH available for $1

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The Supreme Court voted today to make gay marriage legal across the entire country. In honor of this momentous occasion, my publishing house, Zharmae Publishing Press, is having a sale on several LGBT titles, including Ariah, via https://payhip.com/tzppbooks.

The sale is running until 7/1/2015, and you can get an epub version of Ariah for just $1!

Support queer love. Support queer families. Support queer books. #LoveWins

A Typical Week

click image for source

click image for source

I’m not a full-time writer. I don’t make my living off my books, and I don’t even wish I did.

I write fiction, but I also work full time. And I’m a parent. And I have two live in partners. And I have friends. And I have have to manage my mental health and physical disabilities*. And I have to, like, eat and sleep and exercise and stuff, too. And do errands and get groceries and feed my two cats. I also watch tv and read books and play video games, too, on occasion. And write this blog.

So. I have been asked before how all of the aforementioned things get done. The short answer is they don’t all get done all the time. Something usually gives. Maybe I get All The Things done, but I don’t get enough sleep that day. Or I manage to do the laundry, but I live out of the laundry basket for the next week.

The long answer is everything is juggled. I have juggled things so long, now, that they are routinized. Here is how it gets done (writing stuff is bolded):

A Typical Weekday:

  • Wake up at 5:30am
  • Walk to the bus stop at 6:00am; catch the 6:12am bus into Denver
  • Write on the bus on my morning commute. Usually I can get somewhere between 600-900 words down. I sometimes tweet about my adventures in writing on public transportation using the #BusWriting tag on twitter @B_R_Sanders if you’re interested in what that’s like.
  • 7ish-8:30ish: work out and shower at the Downtown Denver YMCA
  • 8:30ish-4:30ish: work at my day job
  • Catch a bus home (time varies) and do more #BusWriting (so another 600-900 words).
  • Get home, and hang out with the family. Post to any extraneous ongoing creative projects (currently, the Supernatural Haiku Project). Put the kiddo down around 8ish. Said kiddo likes to tell me absurd lies about her day (“Today I ate a tree.” “No you didn’t.” “Yes I did.”). Eventually, she falls asleep.
  • I turn in soon after to either watch a little TV by myself or read a book. I need a lot of sleep to function well, so usually I’m asleep by 8:30, 9:00pm.

On the Weekends:
There’s no rigid set schedule like the weekdays (man that’s regimented), but there are specific tasks I try very hard to get done every weekend–descending order of urgency:

  • Laundry
  • Grocery store run
  • Blog posts–I try to write the three that need to go up every week and queue them so I don’t have to worry about posting them at work the day of
    • Monday: Roundup of anything I did the week before that wasn’t on the blog
    • Tuesday: something vaguely reflective of what’s going on in other’s people’s work (book reviews, hot topics in the blogosphere, etc)
    • Thursday: something reflective of my own work (writing tips, why I wrote something the way I did, etc)
  • answer outstanding writing-related emails
  • editing any accepted work
  • update the family budget
  • resubmitting any rejected work
  • website updates as needed

So much juggling, but it works. It’s worked for the last few years, at least, and it’s evolved when it’s needed to. But this is how it all gets done (mostly).


*I have a history of depression, and I struggle daily with an anxiety disorder, such fun! It’s worse in the winter, since I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it’s complicated further by occasional bouts of gender dysphoria (I am trans*). All of these are related to my migraines, which are both mentally and physically debilitating and occur often multiple times a week.

Book Review: PANTOMIME

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I have heard nothing but good things about Pantomime by Laura Lam, and the book earned every good word I heard about it. Pantomime tells the story of Micah Grey, who was once Iphigenia Laurus: an intersex teenager raised as a girl who runs away to the circus when her parents decide to surgically alter her to make her ‘marriageable’ against her will. Once on the run, Iphigenia takes the name Micah, passes herself off as a boy, and joins a circus. At the circus, Micah begins training as a replacement for the circus’ aging male acrobat.

Micah’s voice is beautifully written. Lam captures the confusion of adolescence, the way Micah’s gender and biological sex adds to that confusion and isolation, and the anger Micah feels when he realizes that being intersex shouldn’t isolate him from those around him but does. At the same time, Micah begins a relationship with female his acrobat partner, Aenea, while nursing a crush on the White Clown of the circus, Drystan. Micah’s burgeoning bisexuality provides another welcome thread of the book, which Lam handles with sensitivity and grace.

The circus itself is presented as a microcosm, a little world unto itself, full of history that Micah has to learn, and full of possible dangers as well as new experiences to explore. Micah endures hazing. Micah learns who in the circus to watch out for and who is safe. Meanwhile, news that Iphigenia Laurus has run away spreads through town. Some in the circus put the pieces together; some do not. Micah must learn who he can trust and who he cannot. Some learn his secrets, and he learns theirs. The theme of secrets—the power they hold, the destructive force they ultimately represent—is a present all throughout the book. That theme comes to a devastating, heart-wrenching set of climaxes at the end of the book.

Pantomime is fits squarely in the genre of fantasy. The worldbuilding is excellent and doled out in enough small doses to stay interesting without ever being overwhelming. Each chapters starts with an epigraph from some fictional work which provides some context about the Archipelago, the region in which Pantomime takes place. Micah’s past as Iphigenia gives him an education on Ellada’s (his country) history and political relationship with its outlying colonies. Slowly, Vestige is introduced—magical artifacts from some time long past which work sporadically. The circus uses them for entertainment value, but Ellada once used them as weaponry. Micah, for as yet unknown reasons, has a strange and powerful relationship with the remnants of the culture that produced the Vestige artifacts.

Honestly, if there’s anything to critique about Pantomime, perhaps, it’s that last point—by the end of the book, it’s increasingly clear that Micah is, in some mysterious way, special, and that this specialness is tied to his being intersex. This, I’m sure will get extrapolated in the book’s sequels, but I can’t help but think that the book would have been stronger, and would have made more of a positive statement about intersexuality, gender fluidity and bisexuality if Micah had just been…Micah. Not chosen, not magical, just Micah—an acrobat who is complicated and trying to grow up in a complicated world. But all that said, the book was still lovely, and I am very curious about the Penglass, so I’m already halfway through Shadowplay.

4 stars

Roundup: June 15-June 21, 2015

Writing Update:
The Search went from 57k words to 64k. Shayat might have a trans woman love interest, and Sorcha has a crush on a pirate captain.

Want To Have a Book Reviewed? Now You Can!

Do you have a fabulous indie book out there? Are you looking for reviewers? I’ve been there. I know how that goes. Maybe I can help! I’m officially opening up my doors and offering services as a indie book reviewer. Below is an official book review policy and a form for contacting me with review requests.

Note that requests that follow the review process and which are submitted properly through the request form have the best chance of getting a response back!

B’s Book Review Policy
I’m always open to genre fiction (science fiction and fantasy), diverse literary fiction (protagonists of color, protagonists with disabilities, etc), and queer fiction of any stripe.

I am particularly interested in reading:

  • queer genre fiction
  • trans* narratives
  • neuro-atypical protagonists
  • fabulous secondary world fantasy
  • feminist genre fiction

Won’t read:

  • Middle grade fiction or children’s books
  • Christian fiction

I prefer eARCs or ebooks in Kindle (mobi) or epub formats.

How Does This Work?
BookReviewPolicyRequest A Review

Book Review: DERVISHES

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Dervishes by Neal Starkman seems to be equal parts beat novel, radical feminist ethnography, and discarded Woody Allen script with a dash of someones’ physics dissertation thrown in as a garnish. It had a decidedly John Barth-esque quality to it.

The book is structured as the diary of a one Carolyn Anderson: assistant physics professor in Seattle currently facing a crisis in her professional life when her research funding dries up. Carolyn, in a fit of teenage cheekiness, dubs her diary “Lady Di.” The entries are conversational; an ongoing back and forth between Carolyn and her silent foil. Lady Di is a good listener and gives Carolyn the space to dig up her old war wounds. At the time she starts diarizing, Carolyn identifies as a lesbian, but she uses much of her diary to excavate her relationship with Philip Lester, a former lover with whom she never quite got the closure she needed.

In the mode of Woody Allen, the book tries to weave together philsophizing and blase comedy. Sometimes, as with an anecdote about a wayward crab on a beach excursion that starts horrifying and ends bittersweet and funny and revealing a humanity about Philip I didn’t think would ever get revealed, it works marvelously. Sometimes it doesn’t. Always, it’s ambitious.

The philosophical questions that the book wrestles with—that Carolyn and Philip and Carolyn’s current lover, Stephanie, wrestle with—are largely questions of identity and authenticity. To what extent, Philip asks, can one be truly authentic when one pins one’s identity on the prattle of others? If you say ‘I am X’ (a lesbian, a feminist, a socialist, a professor) to define yourself, and take on the trappings of that group, then you buy yourself some comfort from thinking. You buy yourself an in-group. But what is the cost of that?

Carolyn’s current lover, Stephanie, is a radical lesbian, and she veers the other direction. For her, everything is the movement, the community. If you are not fully bought into that, Stephanie seems to feel, then what’s the point? What are you contributing?

Carolyn spends the book spinning between these two extremes. And they are extremes, each as equally misinformed as the other. Philip’s myopia about groups and affiliation leaves him more and more isolated. His insistence that he might be a man, sure, but his refusal to engage with what having been raised as a man and what living in the world as once means drives a wedge between him and his beloved Carolyn as she develops more and more of a feminist consciousness. Stephanie, on the other hand, takes things as given which should not always be taken as givens, and her reluctance to ask questions leaves Carolyn suspicious.

This is, all in all, a curious book. I love that it’s voice is Carolyn’s—a lesbian scientist, someone who is not perfect and does not pretend to be, someone who struggles and questions herself and those around her. But I wish that Carolyn herself had been more front and center. She too often faded into the background for me; though it’s her book, her story, and her diary, it often felt like she was reporting on what other people did around her. And in specific, though she was a lesbian, much of the text was devoted to the autopsy of her relationship with Philip, poor doomed misanthropic unlikable Philip, who all too slowly mansplains his way right out of her life.

Some of this can be attributed to Carolyn herself, perhaps. Maybe she perceived herself to be more passive than she really was. It’s her diary, after all, and there is room to interpret her as an unreliable narrator. But that could also be wishful thinking on my part. I wanted her to take her life by its reins. She does so at the end, but over and over we watch, as ‘Lady Di’, trapped as this brilliant woman (she has a doctorate in physics, come on) gets pushed and pulled this way and that. Her inner monologue as it’s poured out to her diary is acerbic and sharp. I wanted her actions to be as acerbic, as sharp.

But, still, there’s much in the book worth liking. The characters are well drawn—though I would’ve liked more time with Stephanie to have fleshed her character out more. Generally I am wary of men writing from women’s perspectives, but Starkman was a pleasant surprise. Carolyn felt authentic to me.

3 stars