#KrakenFriends2018: THE BALLAD OF THE BEANSTALK by Amy McNulty

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Hi friends! Did you hear about the Kraken Collective Anniversary Sale? We’ve got 19 books on sale featuring awesome queer heroes, and each of them are only $.99! Not sure where to start with all these stories? Take the #KrakenFriends18 quiz, and see which queer hero you get!

It is my distinct honor to feature two of the participating authors on my blog–Amy McNulty and Lauren Jankowski. Today, we have Amy McNulty. Her book, The Ballad of the Beanstalk, is out now, and is a very cool retelling of an old fairy tale. Keep reading for an excerpt of her book and an interview with her!


About the Book

Title: Ballad of the BeanstalkBallad of the Beanstalk_3D Cover
Release Date: April 11, 2017
Publisher: Patchwork Press
Genre: YA Romantic Fairy Tale Fantasy

As her fingers move across the strings of her family’s heirloom harp, sixteen-year-old Clarion can forget. She doesn’t dwell on the recent passing of her beloved father or the fact that her mother has just sold everything they owned, including that very same instrument that gives Clarion life. She doesn’t think about how her friends treat her like a feeble, brittle thing to be protected. She doesn’t worry about how to tell the elegant Elena, her best friend and first love, that she doesn’t want to be her sweetheart anymore. She becomes the melody and loses herself in the song.

When Mack, a lord’s dashing young son, rides into town so his father and Elena’s can arrange a marriage between the two youth, Clarion finds herself falling in love with a boy for the first time. Drawn to Clarion’s music, Mack puts Clarion and Elena’s relationship to the test, but he soon vanishes by climbing up a giant beanstalk that only Clarion has seen. When even the town witch won’t help, Clarion is determined to rescue Mack herself and prove once and for all that she doesn’t need protecting. But while she fancied herself a savior, she couldn’t have imagined the enormous world of danger that awaits her in the kingdom of the clouds.

A prequel to the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk that reveals the true story behind the magical singing harp.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33526191-balladofthebeanstalk

 

Interview

Amy McNulty Author Pic

Amy McNulty

Hi Amy! Tell us about yourself as an author. What kind of stories do you tell? And why?

Hi! Thanks for having me. I’ve always been drawn to YA stories, particularly those set in fantasy worlds. Most of my YA books thus far are fantasy (though I write contemporary romances under a different name, too). I love rooting for complex, romantic fictional relationships, so most of my books have a strong romantic element as well. I also love strong-willed (sometimes to the point of stubbornness) lead characters, so I write a lot of those.

 

Clarion is the featured character in BALLAD OF THE BEANSTALK. Can you talk a little bit about her and what makes her tick?

Clarion is going through a rough patch in her life. She’s tried of always being taken care of by her friends and lover, and she’s ready to break away on her own. She wants to go on an adventure and be the one to protect those she loves.

 

What drew you to this story?

I’ve always wanted to do a fairy tale retelling or prequel/sequel, and I never would have expected Jack and the Beanstalk to be the one that called to me. But I was watching an adaptation of the Jack and the Beanstalk story and was struck with the idea of telling the origin of the singing harp (which sometimes appears to be part human in certain adaptations). The story snowballed from that idea.

 

What do you have coming up next? How can fans and readers stay up to date with your work?

My next release is Fangs & Fins, Book One in my new YA paranormal romance/urban fantasy series, Blood, Bloom, & Water. It’s out May 1st and it’s got high schoolers, vampires, and merpeople. Visit my website to learn more (http://amymcnulty.com/).

Excerpt

Elena grabbed Clarion’s hand the moment the men were out of sight and pulled her Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00030]inside her room. A maid was unfolding gowns and spreading them out on top of Elena’s bed.

“Thank you, Mariah, that will be all for now,” said Elena, clasping her hands together. “Clarion will help me. You’re needed in the kitchen.”

Mariah hardly looked up from the floor as she passed, but Clarion swore she spared her one scathing look, as if she knew she was responsible for the swap in jobs—or worse, she knew exactly why Elena had dismissed her.

Once the door shut tight behind Mariah, Elena threw her arms around Clarion’s shoulders and kissed her.

Elena marched over to her bed and began making a mess of the careful array of clothes. Clarion fingered her lips and watched her. “Elena,” she began, not sure how to even start this conversation.

It wasn’t like she didn’t love Elena. When Elena had first asked if she could kiss her, Clarion had said she could. Elena was beautiful, and although she’d known her since almost as long as she could remember, although she loved her as a friend first, as someone like a sister… Something had changed between them at some point, and Clarion was just as curious as Elena as to what that might be. But that was months ago—almost a year ago now—and Elena no longer asked. There’d grown an understanding between them, and Clarion wasn’t even sure she really understood.

“Did you decide against that silly notion of wearing your one nice frock?” Elena held up a pretty blue dress made of smooth material that deepened her already deep blue eyes. Her arms fell and her face soured. “Unless you seriously intended to run home and change after a day of cleaning.” She tossed the dress down and picked up another one, this one in golden yellow. “I can’t imagine why your mother thought it suitable for you to help clean for the ball!”

Clarion bristled at Elena’s tone. “Everyone celebrates at the springtime ball. Even those who helped set it up.” It was true. There weren’t enough rich people for the mayor’s family to hobnob with them exclusively. Although that may have been why this neighboring lord and his son were invited.

Her face distressed, Elena lowered the yellow dress. “I didn’t mean that.” She folded the dress over her arm and started scattering the other ones. “That you wouldn’t have come if you helped clean.” She smiled timidly. “It’s just… You’re my friend. You shouldn’t have to clean to earn your respite.”

Her friend? There was some of the confusion beneath the “understanding” the two of them shared. Clarion regarded Elena’s profile as she tossed some of the dresses atop a chest at the foot of her bed. She had an elegant, sloping profile that sometimes made Clarion’s heart beat faster, but it’d been a while since she’d felt that.

Her heart quickened only a little now.

Elena sat on the bed on a small area she’d cleared of dresses. Her usually-proud features softened as she held her hand out, beckoning Clarion to sit beside her. Clarion hesitated a moment, but she did as wordlessly bidden, sliding her hand into Elena’s.

“Father is trying to arrange a marriage between me and that Magnus.” From the way she emphasized Mack’s name, Clarion knew the young man did not have the same effect on Elena as he did on her.

But Clarion’s mind jolted as she pondered it. The two of them together would be the loss of both people—the only two people—who had ever stirred something inside her, something strong, something special.

She felt immediately guilty for thinking that of two people. She removed her hand from Elena’s and folded her hands in her lap instead.

Elena mistook the meaning behind the gesture and grabbed Clarion by the shoulders. “I don’t want to!” She threw her hands up. “I was thankful Father didn’t think any of the boys in town were good enough for his daughter.” She twirled a coil of her silky hair around her finger. “I should have known he would just import me a husband from somewhere else.”

She stopped playing with her hair and spoke hesitatingly. “What if… I don’t know. What if you married Jackin?”

“What?” Clarion choked on her astonishment.

“I know, and I know that Father probably wants to import him a proper lady wife, too, but…” Elena spoke so quickly, her hands fluttering about her face, that she stumbled on her own words and had to pause to swallow. “But everyone knows how Jackin feels about you, and I could see him fighting Father so he can marry you, and maybe just me being married to Magnus would be a good enough family connection—”

“How Jackin feels about me?” Clarion thought back to when Jackin wound up asking Krea to the dance. Krea, at least, had no idea how Jackin felt about Clarion. Frankly, Clarion had hoped she’d just imagined it. Even Elena had never brought it up, never encouraged it.

Although she had reason before not to encourage it.

Short Story Rec: “The Minotaur’s Wife” by Megan Arkenberg

“The Minotaur’s Wife” by Megan Arkenberg is included in the January, 2015 issue of Pantheon Magazine. You can read it for free here.


I had not chosen to marry you, but I had chosen to become the Minotaur, and to do it well.

Like the other Megan Arkenberg story I’ve written about here, “The Minotaur’s Wife” is epistolary and quiet and desperate. I haven’t read enough of her stuff to know if this is a trend of hers, or if I just happened upon two particularly good ones written in a similar way, but hey, if you want two good, melancholy meditations on doomed love in epistolary form, Arkenberg’s got them for you.

This one involves a drug trade, and queerness, and arranged marriages that twist around to something different over the course of time, and barren houses that slowly fill themselves up. What I love about Arkenberg’s writing in this story is how much of Naxos, the narrator, you see in the details she chooses to write about in her letters. The letters themselves, the construction of them, are as revelatory as her actions.

And this works as a story. Where I would have made this something much grander in scale–probably a duology with all of the backstory filled in–Arkenberg limits the scope to such a tight focus. We only see Naxos and Asterion. She has a keen, clean eye for the core of her story and the details that support it. It feels huge, because lives for those living it is always huge, but she keeps that tight focus, and the story works at its clean length because of it, even though it spans over thirty years of Naxos’ life.

Book Review: THE FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS by Julie C. Dao

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Amazon | Goodreads

Notes on Diversity/Inclusion

This is a book by an East Asian author (Dao is Vietnamese-American) about an all-Asian cast. All characters in the book are people of color, and the worldbuilding in the book, I believe draws specifically from China.*

This is also a book that focuses in on gender, but specifically on cis women. It’s a woman-driven story. Gender and sexuality are complicated throughout–since roughly half of the book takes place in the imperial City of Women, cis men are present, but largely sidelined unless they are eunuchs.**

There is a narrative thread that comes and goes through the book around disability. Shiro is a character with dwarfism, and he is portrayed as being oppressed because he is a dwarf, but not self-loathing. He also has a romance arc. There is also a consort of the Emperor, Lady Meng, who struggles with depression and alcoholism.

TL;DR: there’s a lot of rep along a lot of axes here, so it’s definitely worth picking up!

Content Warnings for Book

  • Physical abuse (Guma beats Xifeng)
  • Gaslighting (arguably Xifeng does this to Wei throughout; this also happens to Empress Lihua)
  • Gore (there is some supernatural and pretty explicit gore that happens throughout the book)
  • Ableism (leveled at Shiro in some places)

Review

The Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao is an origin story for the evil queen in Snow White, if that familiar fairy tale was set in a reimagined East Asia full of magic. Xifeng is uncannily beautiful, but poor. Her aunt, Guma, sees in her fortune a path to power predicated on her beauty, and in their small shack, she trains Xifeng in poetry, music, and comportment as if she was highborn. One day, Xifeng will be empress. It’s just a matter of getting there.

There is much to like in The Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. Dao is excellent at creating tension and unease in her writing. In Xifeng, she gives us a female protagonist who is unflinchingly and unsparingly ambitious. Too often when female protagonists are ambitious, they must also be soft, be likable, be yielding. But Xifeng is none of those things. Xifeng plays for keeps, for herself, and never once does she hesitate.

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Xifeng is maybe the most slytherin slytherin who ever slytherined

There are scenes in the book which are heart-wrecking. There is one scene in particular that happens in Chapter 31 that has stuck with me since I read the book. It’s a reveal scene that flips on its head things that Xifeng thought she knew about her own past and herself. It recasts a character I thought I knew as a reader into something entirely new. It is marvelous.

But, it also completely calls into question Xifeng’s agency for the last third of the book. For the first two thirds of the book I did not question that the choices she’s made are her own. After this lovely and exquisitely written scene, I did. Were the hard, violent choices she made truly her own? Or was she a weapon–a willing weapon, maybe, but a weapon wielded buy someone else? And this is a massive weakness of the book.

The other issues I had with The Forest of a Thousand Lanterns were structural. I found the pacing uneven. Some sections, like the scenes mentioned above, were a delight to read. Some sections dragged. Dao’s prose is sometimes precise and cutting, and sometimes it’s overwrought. As much as she understands Xifeng, many of the other characters are two dimensional, archetypal. Lady Sun is a character we’ve seen before: an aging concubine using her sexuality and fecundity as a cudgel to preserve her position in a cutthroat, catty women’s world. Empress Lihao is an impossibly demure and forgiving woman, willing to take abuse in order to show that kindness is more powerful in the long run. As interesting and novel as Xifeng is, the rest of the characters are flat.

Because of these issues, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was a frustrating read for me. It is a book of such potential, and it did not gel for me. It explores issues of movement within patriarchal prisons, the idea of beauty as a weapon, the nature of uncompromising women, but the seams show in the writing. It was by turns sublime and mundane. But, this is the kind of book, truly, where your mileage may vary, so I encourage others to pick it up and form their own opinions on it.

Takeaway and Rating

Many, many people loved this book, so I encourage you to check it out! I found it unevenly paced but interesting. If you like diverse fairy tale retellings and sympathetic villains, you might like The Forest of a Thousand Lanterns.

3 stars

*Many of the names read as influenced by Japanese language to me, though, so there seemed to be a generally “East-Asian” flavor with more of a Chinese cultural focus. But the appearance of the random very Japanese names (like Akira and Hideki) struck me as odd since the cultures are not identical by any stretch.

**The eunuchs make up a large contingent of the secondary characters, and I am listing them here as cis men, since they uniformly identified as men. There are interesting, if unexplored, questions about their presence and relationship to the women about femininity, masculinity, and gender.

Short Story Rec: “Baug’s Hollow” by Cathrin Hagey

“Baug’s Hollow” was published in issue 32 of Luna Station Quarterly, and is free to read here.


She found her cottage yard dotted with spring’s first blooms, yellow poppies bursting from the frigid earth, the flag that other blooms would follow. Hen entered the cottage, pushing hard against the well-sealed door, one of Baug’s many gifts to his then young wife. “Heavy door, warm hearth,” was what he had said.

This is a very sweet, very quiet story about a woman who learns that her dead husband was both exactly who and not quite who she thought he was. I tend to read stories with angst with darkness in them, but this is one with comfort and wonder in it, and the warmth of it etched its way into my heart anyway.

I hope that when I am old that I am as patient and curious as Hen, and that I am as open to the strangeness and the beauty of life as she is.

Game Review: NIGHT IN THE WOODS

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website | steam

Playthrough threads:

I covered this game in my #BPlaysGames threads on Twitter. It’s got tons of pics and videos and live reactions. You can find the threads here:

Notes on Diversity/Inclusion (spoilers here):

  • Gregg and Angus are gay and in a healthy and mutually fulfilling relationship. THEY ARE REAL SWEET. IT IS A JOY TO SEE.
  • Mae is bi. Apparently her only criteria for a partner is someone she can wrestle with; someone with the GRRR in them.
  • The whole damn town is poor/working poor.
  • This game is Mental Health Issues City. Mae has depression. Angus is still coping with some nasty childhood trauma. Gregg is heavily coded as having bipolar.

Content Warnings (spoilers here):

  • In terms of plot, there is some definite creepiness, like finding a severed arm on the sidewalk, and seeing a robed and hooded figure run off with a kid at dusk.
  • There is discussion of murder, though you don’t see it happen.
  • Depending on your game choices, you may hear about some really gnarly trauma Angus went through as a kid.*
  • Depending on your game choices, you may get into a consensual knife fight with Gregg.
  • Mae discusses a violent episode from her past related to her mental health where she beat up a kid. This is part of the critical path, so I don’t think you can avoid it.
  • I only did one playthough, so there may be more potentially triggering content that I didn’t see.

Review:

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up Night in the Woods. All I knew was that there was some hype around it, and that it was supposed to be good, and that it featured a cat. From the title, I figured it was creepy.

Well, it is creepy, but it also smashed my heart into a thousand pieces and glued it back together about thirty times.

The game starts with Mae Borowski, a black cat person, waiting at the bus stop for her parents to pick her up. But her parents never do. So she has to run through the woods at night to make her way home. Thus starts the journey of Mae the fall she drops out of college and shit starts to slide sideways in the small podunk town of Possum Springs.

As someone with continually unreliable parents, and as someone who grew up in a dying town, I connected with this game on so many levels. I still have friends who work back home in convenience stores, who are scrimping and saving to live somewhere marginally better. The writing in this game is sharp and darkly funny. Mae wants to fail, but she wants to do it somewhere familiar, and somewhere where at least everyone is failing a little. And my generation knows that feeling hard.

I was expecting this to be a short game, but it isn’t. The game is technically a sidescroller, but it’s interrupted by a multitude of minigames that pop up. You can steal pretzels to feed to rats living in an abandoned parade float. You can play your bass–rock band style–at band practice. Depending on who you decide to spend the day with, you can shoot crossbows. Or you can tinker with the fountain at the mostly abandoned mall. Or you can play a videogame called Demontower on your laptop in your room. But you’re never bored.

The rhythm of the game is marked by the passage of days. Mae gets up, wanders around town, and goes to sleep. You get to choose who she hangs out with, whether she talks to or ignores her parents, whether she spends time with her old friends or makes new ones. There are a few major events along the game’s critical path–the Harfest Pageant is pretty great–but otherwise you’re filling in the backstory, and the backstory is delightful. At night, Mae has to tackle her strange dreamscape.

The last third of the game involves ghosts and a cult. I won’t say anymore than that, but the things the game is tackling here are timely and political. The writing remains good. Mae has her friends with her to the end. There is horror, and there is hope.

Takeaway & Rating:

I loved this game. Unabashedly and wholeheartedly. The art is adorable and stunning. The music is great. The writing is some of the funniest and most heart-wrenching I’ve read in a long time. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

5stars

*As someone with a not terribly dissimilar background to Angus, this was somewhat triggering to me. The game does foreshadow that He’s Seen Some Shit and that His Family Sucks, but there’s no foreshadowing when the convo happens. It just happens, and then my Feelings Gates opened real wide and I was just outright weeping on my keyboard.

Short Story Rec: “Firstborn” by Maria Haskins

“Firstborn” by Maria Haskins appeared in Capricious, issue 7. You can read it for free here.


I’m so tired: tired of crying, tired of screaming and begging. The night is cold and silent. It holds no answers, no prayers, no lullabies, no dreams. I am empty, hollowed out, scraped clean. I am nothing: not Em, not mother, not woman, not even human, anymore. I am a smudge of cold and shadow beneath a tree in a forgotten place in an abandoned world.

The best short stories are the ones that take some long-buried part of you, some feeling you forgot you ever felt, and then bring it right to the surface of your heart so sharp and crystallized that it sends you spinning right back in time. “Firstborn” by Maria Haskins did that for me.

Like Em in the story, my kid was born six weeks early. Like Em, the creeping anxieties of new parenthood swallowed me whole. Having a newborn is absolutely terrifying and incredibly isolating, and no one tells you that until it’s too late. For me, I ended up an insomniac who tracked everything in spreadsheets–how much the baby was eating, how often he was peeing, when he was sleeping. All of it. And then my partners intervened and sent me to therapy. And I got slowly better.

This story, about the eerie loneliness and terror of having a new life that only you are caring for, is strange and bizarre and filled me full of old familiar fears.

Book Review: THE GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION by Kameron Hurley

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Amazon | Goodreads

Notes on Diversity/Inclusion

Hurley writes from her own experience throughout, and while this is a book of feminist essays, it is as least as much a memoir. Hurley is a white woman, but she is also queer, fat, and chronically ill. Hurley is well-versed in intersectionality theory, and she brings this lens to her essays throughout.

There are places in the book where Hurley discusses and dissects her whiteness, such as in essays like “What Living in South Africa Taught Me About Being White in America” and “What We Didn’t See: Power, Protest, Story.” I don’t think these were the strongest pieces in the book. As with most of us, I think Hurley is better at seeing and deconstructing lines of power and oppression when she is marginalized than when she is on the receiving end of those benefits.

Review

Hurley is a powerful, fiery writer. This is true of both her fiction and her non-fiction. The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of passionate and vicious essays about intersectional feminism as it relates to geek culture and the Science Fiction and Fantasy literature community.

For the most part, the individual essays in the collection are solid. A good handful even sing with truth. The iconic “We Have Always Fought,” a Hugo Award winner in its own right about the presence of women in the military that history has insisted on forgetting, remains a worthwhile read. “Finding Hope in Tragedy: Why I Read Dark Fiction,” while only tangentially related to the book’s theme, was thoughtful and enlightening. It resonated with me as someone who deals with chronic pain issues. “Public Speaking While Fat” is necessary reading for anyone who hasn’t done any real thought about fatphobia and what it’s like to be dehumanized along that particular axis. And of course, there are moments and lines of brilliance scattered throughout the other essays, too.

But there is very little in the way of a unifying philosophy or momentum towards social change through the course of the book. The book is structured like there is–the essays are divided into sections titled Part I: Level Up, Part II: Geek, Part III: Let’s Get Personal, and finally, Part IV: Revolution. There is an Epilogue, but the epilogue is meditative rather than inspiring. There are no clear calls to action. There are no paths forward. There is no revolution in the making here, despite the title.

As a memoir of one woman’s complicated relationship to and convoluted journey through the world of science fiction and fantasy publishing, this is fascinating and instructive stuff. Truly, it is, though it’s reach is somewhat limited to this small and insular community.* Hurley’s understanding of her breaks and her pitfalls is incisive and unflinching. She recognizes when privilege has worked in her favor (not luck) and when oppression has and will always work against her. The essays in which she talks about her evolution from outsider (fan) to insider (award-winning writer) and how that has forced her to change how and what she writes, how and when she engages with the SFF community are enlightening. But again, there is a relatively small number of people to whom that is of interest. And again, she is making observations, not calls to action.

Takeaway and Rating:

As a memoir of Hurley’s experience and journey through SFF writing and publishing, seen through her cutting lens of intersectional feminism and hindsight, this book works. As a book about geek feminism, it is too narrowly focused and does not leave the reader with any clear next steps to implement.

 

3 stars

*Sometimes, we in the writer/reviewer/publisher SFF community, I think, forget how totally insular this community is. There is an essay in the collection, “Becoming What You Hate,” that would be completely and utterly incomprehensible if the reader is someone who simply reads books and doesn’t, say, follow the comment threads on File 770 and isn’t mutuals with People on twitter. So who is the audience for this book? According to the title, it’s feminist geeks of any description. But the inclusion of the “Becoming What You Hate” essay, along with the heavy focus on writing and publishing SFF, really suggests this is a kind of in-group essay collection that got a wider-than-that release.

2018: Writing and Reading Goals

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Reading Goals

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  • I am striving for a book a week this year. Or maybe 50 books total, because sometimes you read a really long book and it takes a little bit to chomp through. 50 books a year! For reference, that is twice as many books as I read last year.
    • Gonna start DNF’ing books that just don’t grab me for whatever reason within the first 20% of the book.
    • Gonna start reading books instead of defaulting to twitter on the bus.
  • Also striving to read 1 piece of short fiction per day. I just plain want to read more short fiction! There’s so much out there, and so much of it is excellent! The time is now.

Reviewing Goals

  • I’m shooting for 35 book reviews in 2017. Look, sometimes I read books with no intention of reviewing them. Sometimes I read books and I don’t even know where to begin reviewing them. 35 is a good, solid number to shoot for. Enough to keep me busy for sure.
  • Gonna try to also review/rec 35 pieces of short fiction this year.
  • And maybe branch out a little? Review some movies and games, too? Other types of narrative fiction, as the mood strikes?

Writing/Publishing Goals

I was really productive last year. Maybe too productive? It got in the way of reading. It also got in the way of taking any time off to like…relax. So this year, when I sat down to make a master schedule of All The Things for my subscribers, I was like……maybe publishing a short story a month and a novel is too much?

I think it might be.

So here are my goals for 2018:

  • Publish A Tale of Rebellion book 2, The Incoming Tide.
  • Put the finishing touches on A Tale of Rebellion book 3, The King and his Makers
  • Return to one of the (several) drawer novels I’ve got and start tinkering with it again.
    • I’ve got a very promising novella I think I’m a good enough writer to finally rework now. Maybe that one.
  • Write 4-6 new short stories. I’m trying to get better at short fiction, and the only way to do that is to A) read a lot of short fiction and B) write a lot of short fiction.
    • I want some of this to be queer fluff. Maybe Ariah-centered queer fluff. That will definitely be a stretch for me, but hey, I’m all about growth.
  • Keep subbing the short fiction that hasn’t found a home yet. One day they will find their homes!
  • Release the first 3 issues of Vulture Bones – I am honestly so incredibly psyched about this project my friends.

Become a Subscriber

A lot of this work will be exclusive to or initially available through the Digital Goodies subscriber package I’m running. You can sign up for this through any of the following platforms and receive (usually) weekly content:

Patreon | Paypal | Gumroad

Subscribers will get the following:

  • Early access to book reviews
  • Early access to short fiction reccommendations
  • Exclusive teaser chapters and excerpts from works in progress (like upcoming novels!)
  • Exclusive short and interactive fiction
  • Videos about the writing and publishing process
  • Quarterly book rec surveys where you can rec things for me to read/review
  • other stuff I haven’t even thought of yet

Here’s to 2018!

 

2017 Year in Review

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WE DID IT, Y’ALL!  WE MADE IT THROUGH 2017!

This year fucking sucked, huh? It was a gross year. Just surviving this year means everyone gets a gold medal. Here you go:

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This here is my 2017 retrospective post. I like doing this to remember all the things I managed to do, even when it feels like I didn’t actually do much at all.

Writing

I was way more productive this year than I expected to be. I didn’t feel very productive at any given moment.

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Published

Novels

  • Resistance – re-released with The Kraken Collective, July 2017
  • Extraction, book 1 in A Tale of Rebellion – released with The Kraken Collective, November 2017

Novellas/Novelettes

Short Fiction

Interactive Fiction

Other Writerly Stuff

  • Did some heavy duty editing on the third book in the Tale of Rebellion series, The King and His Makers
  • Started poking around in a ~brand new universe~ I’m tentatively calling the Soulbroker universe. We’ll see where that goes.
  • Attended Sirens 2017 this year! It was great, and I loved it!!

Reading

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  • Read 27 books this year (fewer than last year)
  • Reviewed 5 books this year (waaaaayyyy fewer than last year)

Overall, my writing productivity went up, but it took a toll on my reading/reviewing. I’d like to find a balance between the two next year, because I like reading and reviewing, and because I feel like I am a better writer when I’m reading more regularly. Reviewing also makes me a sharper, better reader–and a better, sharper editor of my own work.

Recs

Ok, but from what I did manage to read, these were my favorites!!

Personal Life

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  • I bought a house this year!!
  • I started a new job with a much better work/life balance, which is probably why I was able to get so much more writing done.
  • So far this year, I haven’t had a major depressive episode. Anxiety is still a damn mess, but my coping strategies are working, so that’s good. Migraines are still chronic. Seasonal Affective Disorder this year is of a grumbly and restless variety instead of last year’s hibernatory type.
  • I somehow managed to pay down the balance of one of my credit cards. The extra monthly income from writing really helped with that, so thank you, friends!!

In Conclusion

I’m still not great at balance, but you know, that’s what life’s about, right? Learning and growing? So maybe next year I’ll stop pushing myself to produce so much and read more. I’ll reinvest in reviewing, because it’s something I genuinely like doing, and it’s a way to give back to the book community. I like analytically engaging with art, figuring out just why I respond to things and why I don’t.

I was super-productive this year! I want to find a way to keep the momentum going without working myself to the bone. I have definite workaholic tendencies that need to be kept in check. There’s time enough to work.

Stay tuned tomorrow: I’ll post some writing and reading goals for 2018.

 

Book Review: WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS by Anna-Marie McLemore

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Amazon | Goodreads

Notes on Diversity/Inclusion:

Something I dearly, dearly love about this book is that it’s a depiction of small town America, but that small town is diverse. There are people of color in that small town. There are people with disabilities in that small town. There are queer people in that small town. And there are transgender people in that small town.

Just like in the small town where I grew up, where, yes, people were queer even though it was in Texas. My town was a mix of brown and black and white and Asian. It was poor, and with that came a bevy of people living with disabilities. McLemore created a story about growing up and surviving and eventually thriving in a small town that felt real and true and representative.

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Content Warnings for Book:

  • Transphobia (addressed and subverted throughout, but it is there)
  • Self harm/suicidal ideation (Sam throws himself in a river and is rescued by Miel. Miel has her own particular brand of self-harm in there, too.)
  • Physical assault (Miel gets crammed into small spaces by the Bonner sisters and gets parts of her body removed by said Bonner sisters, which causes her literal physical pain)
  • Child abuse (like all of Miel’s pre-water tower memories are horrible)

Review:

When Miel was five, she poured out of the water of the felled water tower. Sam was the first person to talk to her, and the two of them have been inseparable ever since. Miel, her hem perpetually damp with water from nowhere, grows inexplicable roses from her wrist and lives with Aracely, who cures the town’s citizens of lovesickness. And Sam works the Bonner’s pumpkin patch and wrestles with his gender day and and day out. When the Bonner’s pumpkins start turning into glass, and the Bonner sisters turn their sights on Miel’s roses, Miel and Sam are faced with hard choices and harder truths.

I loved this book. I have been foisting When the Moon was Ours on anyone who will have it since I read it. It has not one but two of the most sensitive and nuanced portrayals of trans people that I’ve read in a long, long time. It is a rich, living book, and you can feel in every page McLemore’s identity as a Latina writer. The way Aracely’s house is depicted, the language, there is a depth here that truly reflects the need for #ownvoices literature. I took this book slow, and luxuriated in it like you do a hot bath. I didn’t want it to end. As an AFAB* non-binary person, the depiction of Sam, especially, read so true that sometimes it made me tender and raw.

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me reading literally every scene with Sam in it

But there was, perhaps, too many things in the book. Too much texture. Honestly, we could have had one book of just Sam, Miel, and Aracely coming to grips with each other, and entirely separate (and incredibly creepy) book of the Bonner sisters and their weird coffin and glass pumpkins. There are so many good ideas and flourishes here that some get crowded out. Some are not given the space to breathe and develop. It is a book that either needed to be bigger and longer and even more intricate, or sharper and smaller and more precise.

McLemore is a gifted writer. Virtually every character is full of life. The town itself is a character, something living and breathing, a place at once constraining and comforting. This is an essentially character driven book, one about Miel’s uncovering of her past and how it informs her future, and Sam’s solidification of his gender identity. It does both things beautifully. But the meandering plot driving those realizations is an odd vehicle for it. At times, the plot feels absolutely crucial to Miel and Sam’s self-discoveries, but at other times, the plot feels divorced and separate from them.

Takeaway & Rating:

Read it! Read this rambling witchy story of two teenagers shambling towards themselves and love and happiness! Also, maybe brush up on La Llorona first if you’re not super familiar, but then read it, and roll with the book as it throws a million things at you because this is a sweet and tender book I wish I’d had to help guide me to myself as a sixteen year old.

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*Assigned female at birth