February/March Patreon Review

March also marked the one year anniversary of my Patreon! I am so grateful for everyone who’s supported me and my work over the past year. With From Unseen Fire about to debut, I’m going to be re-evaluating and revamping a bit, to make sure I’m offering the content that y’all most want to see. Keep an eye out for a post to that effect!

Signed ARC Giveaway!

It’s the Ides of March! Some of y’all may know that I have a bizarre affection for this day. While working at the ASC, I blogged about it almost every year.

This year, though, I thought I would commemorate the occasion by hosting a giveaway for my own tale of cutthroat politics in the classical world!

Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance at a SIGNED ARC of FROM UNSEEN FIRE! That’s right — I’m giving away one of my precious advanced reader copies, which I will personalize just for you!

But hurry! The giveaway closes March 20th.

Enter Now!

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Pro Feminae

Today is International Women’s Day, and a group of the Authors 18 are writing about what that means to them and how feminist ideals have influenced their work.

I wrote From Unseen Fire long before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements caught fire, but my heroine, Latona, would be all about them.

Ancient Rome was far from the worst time in history to be a woman. You had legal rights. You could own property. You could run a business and make quite a bit of money doing it. Unlike the Greek women, you had freedom of movement outside the house. Raping you was a severe crime (as long as you were a free woman, that is) and punishable by the loss of a man’s hands or genitals. If you were of middling or above social class, you probably got some sort of an education, at least enough to be considered literate. You could hold religious office and earn great respect for it. You could wield phenomenal political power behind the scenes, as women like Cornelia, Fulvia, Livia, both Agrippinae, Plotina, Sabina, Julia Domna, and Helena can attest. And, since Rome had decent sanitation and health care, as well as a plant that was so effective as birth control it was eventually driven to extinction, you were somewhat less likely to die in childbirth than other women before modern times.

So, not the worst.

But not, like, ideal.

You had rights, but you still weren’t, y’know, a full citizen. You couldn’t vote. You couldn’t speak at the public rostrum (except in a few extreme circumstances). You still belonged to a man, usually your father or husband, but if they were both dead, then perhaps a brother or uncle. Only if they all died and the courts couldn’t find anyone to take you on might you be named a woman in suo jure, in charge of herself. You might wield power behind the scenes, but if you came too far out into the open, you were considered a monster of some kind, derided either as mannish or as a succubus. Beating you was frowned upon, but legal. If you were lower-class, your career options were limited; if you were upper-class, they were nonexistant. Wherever you were, unless you were a Vestal Virgin, you were expected to be fruitful and multiply. Rape still, of course, happened, and if you didn’t have more money and influence than the rapist, bringing the violator to court and getting justice could be challenging-to-impossible; if you were a slave, absolutely impossible. Social expectations hemmed in your behavior pretty much everywhere.LatonaAesthetic

This is the world that Latona of the Vitelliae finds herself chafing against. Aven adds the component of magic, and Latona is incredibly gifted. She’s never been allowed to discover just how talented she is, though. Her parents were fearful for her, worrying that if she made her powers known, she would be a target for use and abuse by unscrupulous men. They’re also worried about her emotions; the Vitellians are known for their tempers, and Latona’s elements, Fire and Spirit, can so easily run out of control. They try first to hide her in a temple, but when her mentor dies, the new High Priestess, worried that Latona’s power and influence will outstrip her own, sends her back home. So her parents marry her to a wealthy but unimportant nobody, hoping it will keep her beneath notice. It doesn’t work. As readers will learn in the prologue (so this doesn’t really count as a spoiler), Latona is too fiercely devoted to her family to stand aside when they’re threatened. She uses her magic to protect them from a vicious Dictator — and while she keeps the magical manipulation secret, she draws the Dictator’s attention for her earthly attributes. She considers it a bargain she makes for her family’s lives; we would certainly call it rape. As though that weren’t enough trauma to be getting along with, her relationship with her husband, never more than dutiful, deteriorates after that, from cold and distant to outright emotionally abusive.

So this is where the beginning of From Unseen Fire finds her: wound so tightly she’s about to explode. She’s been gaslit into believing she’s dangerous, that she can’t control herself, that her emotions will cause chaos if expressed; she’s been told that claiming her power will only make her prey; she’s been abused and traumatized and has rationalized it all to herself as sacrifice; she has stood by while others were abused because she couldn’t save them without endangering herself and her sisters, though she hates herself for the inaction; she’s unhappy in her marriage and has been unable to conceive a child, and so she worries she’s a disappointment to her patron goddess Juno; she knows, deep down, that she is capable of so much more than the confines of her life have allowed, but at every turn, she gets nudged, coddled, bullied, or outright shoved back inside those suffocating parameters.

Her whole life, Latona has tried to make herself smaller, so that she’ll fit into the world around her.

She’s about to burst.

I think that’s a feeling a lot of women can relate to, no matter when or in what conditions they live.

From Unseen Fire debuts April 17th, 2018; you can pre-order it now from Amazon, B&N, or your local indie bookstore

And be sure to check out these other 2018 debuts featuring women taking action against injustice in society: 

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From Clarissa Harwood: New Novels to Celebrate International Women’s Day

From Samantha Heuwagen: International Women’s Day with Debut Authors

The Mages of Aven: An Ongoing Series

So remember back when I made a list of all 300+ mages in Aven but managed to refrain from naming them all?

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Yeah, well, that’s over.

Not all at once, though! I’m launching a new series on Patreon. 100 words at a time, I’m going to explore those mages. I’ve always loved the drabble format, and I’ve long used it to help me explore new characters and new worlds. In this case, I’m using it to flesh out the world of Aven, and to juice me up for working on Book Two!

I’ve shared the first five of those drabbles on Patreon, available for free to everyone! Subsequent entries in the series will be available to all patrons at the $3/month level and above.

None of these are characters in From Unseen Fire or the rest of the Aven Cycle — though their lives might be touched by those figures. These are the people of Aven, high and low, whom the gods have blessed with some degree of magical talent. Some may have quite a lot of power. Some may have very little. Some may use their talents well, and some may not. Some are allowed to live peaceful, productive lives; some are ensnared by power and politics.

I want to give you a glimpse at all of them, a window into this world — a few hundred windows, really! Short character studies that will, I hope, broaden the idea of what Aven is.

I’m throwing wide the gates. Come on in!

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Read the first five for free on Patreon — and pledge just $3/month to have the rest delivered to you on a weekly basis!

What makes you choose a book?

With less than three months til From Unseen Fire‘s release, on a scale from “high-strung” to “nervous breakdown”, I’m currently approaching “basketcase” and accelerating. From Unseen Fire is starting to actually be read by other human beings. It’s up on NetGalley. There’s a Goodreads Giveaway going on. My publicity team is reaching out to reviewers and bloggers. And while they’re doing this, I’m working on page proofs and finding all of these teeny tiny errors that other people will see. Every error, I’m sure, will result in some hugely influential reviewer utterly trashing me because we didn’t catch that misplaced comma earlier in the process.

20180122_235507544_iOSMy fellow debuts are spinning in these same whirlpools of anxiety and shaken confidence. Those who came before me all warned me that page proofs would make me doubt that I’m even a native English speaker, and wow, they were not kidding. We’re all glued to Twitter and Instagram, seizing any opportunity to promotion. We’re Googling ourselves and our titles obsessively. Those who have reviews coming in on Goodreads and Amazon know better than to look at them but have difficulty prying their eyes away, convinced that a single one-star will forever incinerate their careers. Are we posting about our books enough? Too often? Are we engaging enough? Do we have enough “to-reads” on Goodreads? Are enough bloggers talking about us? Will we get a review from Kirkus or PW? If we do, what if it sucks? If we don’t, does that mean no one will ever know our names? Do our publishers still care about us? Are we asking them too many questions? Or not enough? We’re not supposed to compare ourselves to other authors and we know that, but why does her promo have more RTs??? Every single thing seems life-or-death, and we’re all flailing at each other for comfort, even though it doesn’t so much provide a balm as a momentary distraction from the feeling of impending doom.

And then a thought occurred to me that was oddly calming:

Writers are not normal people.

We’re just not. We do not live in a normal person’s world. Our heads are so deep in the industry that we no longer view books the way normal people do, the way that readers view them. The minutiae sending us into tailspins are possibly not things that a reader will ever be aware of. We freak out because it perhaps gives us a sense of control over an inchoate and unknowable process, but it leads to obsessing over what may turn out to be relative trivialities.

And so, I’m genuinely curious, and truly not for my own selfish promotional reasons, but rather to re-center myself and remind myself of what really matters —

What makes you, Dear Reader, pick up a book? An eye-catching cover? A recommendation from a friend? A good review? Where do you find out about new books and what convinces you to invest both time and money in them?

Goodreads Giveaway!

GoodreadsGiveaway6.pngHappy day! The Goodreads giveaway for From Unseen Fire has begun!

Enter now for your chance to win one of 10 Advanced Reading Copies. What does that mean? It means you could be one of the very first people to enter the world of Aven. Advanced Reading Copies, also known as ARCs and sometimes called galleys, are copies of the book that come out for review before the publication date. It’ll be paperback, rather than hardcover, and it may still have some typographical errors in it, as it’s an uncorrected proof. What it gives you is a chance to be one of my first readers!

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/274280-from-unseen-fire

Why are we giving out books for free? In the hopes that the lucky winners will post reviews, talk the book up, and get other people to buy it! Goodreads also automatically adds a book you enter a giveaway for onto your to-read list, which means you’ll get emails about the release and future giveaways.

Not on Goodreads and don’t want to be? No worries! DAW Books will be running their own giveaway soon, so there will be other opportunities to win an ARC of From Unseen Fire before April.

 

How Cass Gets “Unblocked”

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Today’s prompt for #winterlitchallenge on Instagram was “Tips to beat writer’s block”, and I realized… I have some feelings about that.

For one thing, I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I think if writers are honest with themselves, what they call “writer’s block” is really an excuse. If I’m not writing, it’s not that I’m “blocked”. It’s generally a lack of time or focus. Lack of time can’t always be helped: I’m a human with a life. I absolutely do not ascribe to the maxim that if you don’t write every single day of your life, you’re not a writer. I write or do something related to writing most days, but work, family, vacations, reading, self care — these are all important, too. Sometimes, though, I’m just not making the time, and I have to be honest with myself about that if I’m being avoidant.

When the real problem is a lack of discipline — being unwilling to sit down and do the damn work — that’s worth examining! If I’m reluctant to engage with a project, that’s usually a symptom of deeper problems that need working out before I can continue. See my thoughts on tossing out Book Two’s outline for an example of that. I’d gotten nowhere on that project in a year. Something was wrong. Fixing it meant being willing to rethink a lot.

But, the situation’s not always that dire. Sometimes I just have butterfly brain. So, how do I refocus myself? Here are some of my tips when my attention on a project feels scattered or when I’m having trouble figuring out where the story goes:

  1. Change POV: An excellent tactic for me, because my books are all multi-POV to begin with. There’s a scene in Book Two that I was excited about conceptually, but that I just couldn’t seem to get written. Then I realized: It shouldn’t be from Sempronius’s viewpoint. It was way more interesting through the eyes of his freedman, Corvinus. Voila! As soon as I tried that, 1700 flowed out of me in a single hour. I think this can work even if you’re writing a single-POV book, though. It might not be material you end up being able to use in your manuscript, but writing a scene or a monologue from another character’s viewpoint may help you find what you’re looking for from your POV character.
  2. Move to different scene, earlier or later in the narrative: This is, honestly, my primary tactic. I’m a completely non-sequential writer. It can be messy sometimes, but I cannot imagine trying to write a book in strict chapter order. If I’m not feeling a certain scene on a certain day, I bounce somewhere else. If you are a sequential writer, this may still be worth a try! Dive into a scene that takes place before your book opens or after it closes. Again, you may not use that material in the manuscript, but broadening your perspective may help you see the needed connective tissue in your plot.
  3. Listen to music that inspires you: I am a fanatical playlist maker. I have them for books, characters, moods, all kinds of things, and I often find inspiration in the songs. Sometimes it’s just thematic — I need to write an action scene, so I’m going to put on the Indiana Jones soundtrack. But sometimes I find something more direct. Recently, “The Greatest Show” and “Come Alive” from the soundtrack for The Greatest Showman have given me a wonderful new direction to spin my space opera in.
  4. Impromptu dance party: If you find yourself blocked in the middle of a long writing session, you might just need to move. I like spontaneous dance parties, but do whatever will get your blood flowing! Run around the block, throw a ball for the dog, go for a swim, whatever. Getting the physical fidgets out can help you refocus mentally and creatively.
  5. Take a shower: I mean, c’mon, we all get our best ideas in the shower, right? Step away from the computer and go somewhere your electronics can’t find you. Let the hot water wash over you and let your mind wander.
  6. Go for a drive: A lot of the shower advice applies here as well, though this can also overlap with listening to music that inspires you. I’ve worked out plenty of plot snarls and had scintillating character ideas on the highway. I talk to myself in the car a lot. I even act out conversations between characters, testing out the dialogue and cadence. Just make sure you can either keep it in your head till you get back home (a talent I’ve developed over the years — by repeating it a few times, I can keep about two pages’ worth word-for-word, when necessary) or that you have a way of taking verbal notes! Keep your eyes on the road!
  7. Write a myth/legend in your book’s world: Historical, fantastical, contemporary — we all have myths. They might be religious in nature, they might be urban legends or ghost stories, they might be , but whoever your characters are and wherever and whenever they live, there are stories in their lives, too. Take a step away from your manuscript and write one of those! Maybe even in the voice of one of your characters, as though they’re telling it to someone else. This approach helped me flesh out the world of Aven and its magic a lot. I’ve rewritten the founding myth of Romulus and Remus for Aven’s purposes, and I’ve worked on some of the other great Roman legends as well. The framework I used was Aula telling bedtime stories to her young daughter, Lucia, so I got some character work in as well, but it also helped me flesh out historiography of Aventan culture. (And — I’ll eventually be sharing those stories on Patreon!).

If the problem is that you’ve lost enthusiasm for a project, then you need to approach it a different way. Why isn’t it exciting you anymore? Because if it’s not exciting you, it’s sure not going to excite a reader. Is it the characters? The plot? Does it feel like a retread? You may well need to step away from it for a while to figure all of that out. I have an alternate history project I’ve been working on off and on since 2006, and this is the problem I keep reaching: I get “blocked” on it because I have great characters and a great world, but no plot.

Overall, I would sum up my advice on feeling blocked as doing one of two things: dig deep, or try something new. You either have something bothering you about the story that needs rooting out, or you just need to look at it from a different angle for a little while.

The Turning of the Year

Y’all. 2017 has been rough.

I don’t think that comes as a surprise to anyone. Almost everyone I know feels a bit beaten about the head by this year, and when you look at our political circumstances… Well.

It’s been rough on a personal level, too. In the spring, I made the difficult decision to leave a job I’d been in for seven years and a town I’d been in for almost a decade. There was a lot that I loved about being there. There was a lot that was increasingly giving me panic attacks. Change of some kind was necessary. It was also hard. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest, after all. Finding the energy to make that change required me to dig deep into reserves I hadn’t tapped for a while.

And at first, that change went well. Spending the summer at the beach was restorative. I love being there, I love working at that bookstore, and just being in that environment is excellent for my spirit. Unfortunately, I then undid all the good effects by making a move that I almost immediately came to regret. The past four months have been almost unrelentingly stressful, for a wide variety of reasons. I think with some frequency of a quote from The Handmaid’s Tale: “I feel like the word ‘shatter’.”

IMG_3698Today is the winter solstice, a time for reflection — and a time for hope. Yule is the holiday where I try to focus on shedding what is no longer needed from the previous year and on bringing in the light that will guide me into the next.

Oddly, the song that comes to mind isn’t a seasonal song at all — it’s from The Lion King musical, “Endless Night”. The refrain of I know that the night must end and that the sun will rise is such an appropriate sentiment for this holiday — and it’s a good thing to keep in mind during trying times.

I don’t know what 2018 is going to hold. My book will come out, but Juno knows that’s no guarantee of success. I have irons in a few fires, but who knows what will catch? I’ll be making another move, but will it be any happier than this one?

This is a year when… it’s hard to have hope. In a year when it’s felt like the very act of hoping for something is a jinx, it feels like a waste of effort.

But the night must end. The sun will rise.

May it do so for all of us.

Witches & Warriors: An Anthology

Witches and WarriorsI’m delighted to announce that the Witches & Warriors anthology, in which I have a short story, is now available in both paperback and e-book format!

This anthology of sci-fi and fantasy short stories benefits the Sirens Conference, an annual gathering dedicated to the diverse, remarkable women of fantasy literature: authors, readers, editors, bloggers, librarians, and more. Last year was my first time going, and it was such a dazzlingly wonderful experience. I cannot wait for this year’s gathering, coming up in less than two weeks! Each year, Sirens makes scholarships available to provide registrations across three groups of people: fans of color/non-white fans, those submitting exemplary programming proposals, and those with financial hardships. I’m utterly delighted to have contributed to one of the projects that will support those scholarships!

My contribution, “The Price”, is a small secondworld fantasy featuring a village witch and a devil-may-care warrior. It’s about what you want, and what you’ll do to get it. It’s about how to decide what shape your life will take. It’s about sacrifice, and where you draw the line between giving and giving too much. And it’s about the lingering pain, when the one you love decides something else is more important.

I’m rather proud of it, and I hope that you’ll give it a read, and support Sirens in the process.

No Matter How Your Heart is Grieving: Some thoughts for #WorldMentalHealthDay

When I was a kid, Cinderella would never have made my list of top five Princesses. I loved Jasmine and Belle and Nala, because they were independent and fierce and they wanted things. Cinderella had a nice singing voice and I liked the mice, but she was never a fave.

It took me a long time to appreciate Cinderella.

And honestly, it hit me out of nowhere, on a trip to Disney World in 2014, when the Cinderella at the Princess Fairytale Hall in the Magic Kingdom brought me to tears. I was 10000% unprepared for the experience.

She started off my complimenting my hair (the princesses all loved my hair) and asked if my mice friends had helped me braid it. I told her no, I don’t have mice friends, but I do have a cat friend — but a nice cat friend, not an evil one like Lucifer. And we chatted about how she’s let Elsa redecorate her castle for the winter, though it does mean some mopping up when the ice melts, and how Prince Charming is helpful around the house (moreso, I got the impression, than some of the other Princes). We had a lot of time to talk, because the non-Frozen side of Fairytale Hall was practically deserted first thing in the morning.

And then, for some reason, I told her how much I’ve always liked her song, and how much it’s meant to me, because I’d been through some rough times, but “no matter how your heart is grieving” – and for no readily identifiable reason I started to get a little choked up. So she finished for me, “If you keep on believing, the dreams that you wish will come true.”

Then she gave me a big hug, pulled back, squeezed my hands and looked me right in the eyes and said, quietly and just for me, “I’ve always said that if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough. But you can do it. I know you can.”

And then I somehow managed to get through the posed pictures and around the corner before dissolving into tears entirely, because Cinderella believes in me and my dreams.

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Seriously, in this picture I’m about 4 nanoseconds from Losing It. And I’m definitely not almost in tears now just from retelling the story.

When you’re broken — when your brain tells lies, when depression says you’ll never be good enough or brave enough or strong enough, when anxiety has you certain that no one actually likes you and even your friends are just pretending, when let-downs and betrayals occasionally hammer that message home, when toxic influences have magnified everything bad you think about yourself — just hearing words like those is… well, magic. I will forever be grateful to that actress, who somehow looked in my eyes and intuited that I needed a message of hope.

I went to see the live action Cinderella the next year with way more enthusiasm than I would’ve had without that experience in the Magic Kingdom, I think, and if you’ve seen it, you know it’s a more emotionally nuanced version of the story. I wasn’t the only woman who took away a different message than “marry up if at all possible”. Cinderella had become a story about surviving abuse and managing not to let it destroy the core of who you are.

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A lot of what I’ve had to learn in dealing with my anxiety and depression is remembering things like I am not my pain; I am not the fear and anger that pain causes me. I am more than the bad things that have happened to me. I am worthy of being treated well. I deserve to trust and be trusted. I deserve to feel safe. I deserve to be loved.

I haven’t dealt with it all as gracefully as Cinderella, I know. But I try to remember to Have courage, and be kind.

And there are worse things to think about on World Mental Health Day.