Review: In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

This is another book I read just after it came out. That was some weeks ago but I’ve been thinking about this book ever since. This review will have spoilers.

The Borderlands aren’t like anywhere else. Don’t try to smuggle a phone or any other piece of technology over the wall that marks the Border ― unless you enjoy a fireworks display in your backpack. (Ballpoint pens are okay.) There are elves, harpies, and ― best of all as far as Elliot is concerned ― mermaids.

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Review: The Black Tides of Heaven (The Tensorate Series) by JY Yang

It’s not often that I get to read a book when it just came out but I waited for JY Yang’s Tensorate series with great anticipation. It sounded like just my thing. This review will have spoilers.

Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as infants. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While Mokoya received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, they saw the sickness at the heart of their mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue as a pawn in their mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond they share with their twin?

Continue reading Review: The Black Tides of Heaven (The Tensorate Series) by JY Yang

On Writing Diversity

While I write, my main question is always: “What will make this story more interesting?” It’s not like I’m trying to meet a quota or anything; I just find diversity more interesting than a lack thereof. That’s from my own experience. And, of course, I do always have the option not to. But diversity is interesting to me.

There’s merit in narratives about people struggling with their identity, but those aren’t the kinds of stories I want to tell. Which doesn’t mean identity is absent from my stories, it just isn’t the main conflict. This reflects my own experience. I also think narratives about people who aren’t straight/cis/White/able-bodied and -minded/skinny/etc. should not be limited to conflict over their identities.

Because, to be frank, I’m tired of Asian characters’ conflicts being purely about their heritage. Like the age-old microaggression, “Where are you from— no where are you really from?”, requiring that all Asian American narratives be about their origins, and struggling with their heritage, is like saying “you must feel like you don’t belong here (because you aren’t white).” Which is patently untrue. We have every right to feel like we belong. And part of that is being able to read fiction about ourselves, and not being shoehorned into the role of the perpetual foreigner.

It’s hard to find fiction with Asian characters that’s #ownvoices—I’ve found more than a fair share of Asian characters written by white people, whether they “do it right”* or not. There’s also the difference between literary, upmarket, and commercial fiction. While it’s not exactly easy to find stories about Asian Americans, it’s a sight easier to find literary (see: Joy Luck Club, The Samurai’s Garden) and upmarket fiction (see: The Ghost Bride, Shelter) with Asian protagonists than commercial genre fiction (I can’t think of any, but if you have recs I’m all ears). Which doesn’t mean it’s hopeless; there are writers like Zen Cho, Aliette De Bodard, Ted Chiang, and Ken Liu, all of whom are excellent. But the fact of the matter is, I can name all of them and count them on one hand whereas there are countless white writers of commercial genre fiction.

*According to Ellen Oh, “Libba Bray, Laurie Halse Anderson, Shannon Hale, Martha Brockenbrough, Miranda Paul” and “Ryan Graudin and Leza Lowitz”. I have not read any of these authors and so cannot comment.

In commercial genre fiction, the plot drives the story, not the characters and their inner conflicts. I’ve seen hardly any genre fiction starring Asian American characters. When I was writing Witchstone, in which the protagonist, Cal, is Chinese American, I could have written about feelings of isolation with regard to being American born Chinese, or the fight against cultural or familial tradition as so many others have written. Instead, I decided to write a story about a more external conflict: A hunt and a murder mystery. Cal’s identity conflicts don’t drive the story. Cal’s biggest concern is the world around him, not anything internal.

I chose to write Witchstone this way because characters are more than their identities. It’s reductive to write diverse characters whose only conflict or effect on a story is related to what they are. It’s another form of stereotyping. The point is, their goals and motivations should be as many and varied as characters who are white/straight/cis/able-bodied and -minded/skinny/etc. The point is, craft your characters with intent, knowledge, and sensitivity. The point is, diversity is important—not only the diversity of the characters but the diversity of their narratives.

Author Interview: Tami Veldura

Tami Veldura is the author of Dawn Patrol, a short 10k M/M romance about a surfer and an artist.

Sie says: “It’s going to be the first in a series contemporary stand alone stories set in the fictional Washington state town of Tidewater. It’s scheduled for release on July 28.

I’ve been publishing since 2010, cut my teeth writing fanfiction and fantasy roleplay, and this will be my 16th story published either through a press or self. I’ve released books with NineStar, Less Than Three Press, Bottom Drawer Publications, DreamKeeper Publications, and I have a short on submission with Dreamspinner.”

What’s your writing process like? Are you a planner or do you fly by the seat of your pants? A little bit of both?

I’m 100% a planner. Ideas start on their own file in a folder I call the Idea Box. If they have legs they’ll be moved to one of my penname folders as I develop an outline. By the time I have an outline finished I know if I want to submit the story or self-publish it, which may be dictated by content. The drafting part is hardest for me, so I try and write the story in one big push, handing it over to my editor right away. I really enjoy revision and editing, though, so I take my time once I get the story back, massaging it into something great. Then it’s off to the proofreader, the details are formatted, and it’s published!

What writing program do you use and why?

I write either in google docs (outline, ideas, notes) or (drafting). 4thewords is a gamified website that rewards wordcount as you do battle against monsters with loot. The story progresses as you move through the quests. I ADORE this website. I’m so glad a friend of mine found and told me about it!

What do you read for inspiration?

What I read depends on what I’m writing or outlining. I’m currently about to draft a science fiction military story so I’m reading The Intrepid Saga by M.D. Cooper, which is a hard military scifi quartet. (I’m loving it) My Patrons get a regular serial story featuring vampires that’s dark and twisted.I recently went on a very dark binge and read through Dark Silence by Katze Snow and Susanna Hays, Spoils of War by Hannah Walker, the Beautiful Monsters trilogy by Jex Lane (much adore!), Call the Coroner by Avril Ashtton and Kraken by M. Caspian (heart eyes!). I have KU so I get a lot of my reading chosen through Amazon’s suggestion list.

How do you unwind?

Reading, videogames, and browsing the internet are my go-to hobbies for relaxing. I’m working through Slime Rancher on PC, Horizon Zero Dawn on PS4, Wolf Among Us on Xbox One, and Pokemon X on my nintendo handheld. I can spend an entire day browsing Imgur, Tumblr, and Pinterest if I let myself XD

Which do you prefer: happily ever after, happy for now, or rocks fall everybody dies endings?

I prefer MURDER which makes for awkward romances, let me tell you. I had a conversation with my writing friends about a marriage scene that followed a big dramatic fight. Would a dead body in the background be a total mood killer? The dead body was not a popular idea. Ok, what about half a body? I was informed half a body was NOT better. So… there’s no body. 🙁

Do you write better in sunny weather or rainy weather?

Sunny sunny sunny! I have clinical/seasonal depression and even an overcast day can really get to me. Thankfully there’s a cheerful cafe in a nearby inland town that I love working at, so I can get away from the coastal weather if I need to. I’m very open about my mental health, I chat about it regularly on twitter.

What social network do you use most often and why?

Twitter! I love twitter. I use it constantly and I’m always looking for interesting people to follow and talk to. Come find me: @tamiveldura. I usually end up chatting in long threads when something interesting happens in my life to make reading easy.

Elias lives for the waves. He’s been surfing off the Tidewater coast since he could crawl, and the connection he’s forged with the ocean is fundamental. Every morning he shares a ritual swim with the local pod of dolphins. Elias is desperate to find a way to express what the sand and the sea mean to him, and local artist Theo could be just what he needs.

Theo’s art has helped him move mountains. It granted him freedom from abusive family and supports his quiet lifestyle. He’s ready for more. So when muscle-bound Elias commissions him for a mural on his bedroom wall, Theo has more than one reason to take the job. It’s time to reach with his heart, an easy thing when Elias is so eager to share what’s in his.

Water is essential when painting, and color is what brings the ocean to life. Elias and Theo were made for each other. It’s only a matter of time before Tidewater brings them together.

Available at Amazon Kobo B&N Smashwords

Continue reading Author Interview: Tami Veldura

Author Interview: Brenda Murphy

Brenda Murphy’s most recent release is Sum of the Whole, a contemporary F/F erotic romance. You can read the blurb after the Q&A.

What times of the day are best for writing for you, personally?

Morning is best, but I take what I can get. I have kids so I have to be flexible. I usually write from 9:00am until about 1pm. My brain is cooked by then so I eat lunch, answer email, do social media, etc. I hit the gym before picking up my kids at school. This is pretty much my routine during the school year. Summer time the kids are home with me and I work when I can, but average about an hour or two each day.

Do you write to a playlist?

Yes. It focuses me and when it starts up it is like the starting bell at a horse race, my brain knows it is time to write. It also helps shut off distractions. I have wicked ADHD and music is one of the best ways to focus for me.

Do specific stories/books have specific playlists? Do characters?

Yes, each book has a playlist and each character gets a theme song, and then the rest of the music is chosen to reflect the action/mood of the work. I spend as much time choosing a theme song for each character as other people do choosing a photo for their character sketch.

How do your friends/family/pets handle your writing schedule?

My wife is very supportive, she is an academic and a writer too, so we get how the magic works and work together to give each other time to write. My kids are young but they understand about writing time, although I schedule most of my writing around their school schedule. What is really gratifying to me is the way they will sit next to me and work on their own creative projects.  

Who supported your writing first?

My wife. She has always been my number one fan.

Do you have a group of writing friends? What’s that like?

I have an eclectic group of friends who write including academic, non-fiction, children’s literature, horror, romantic fantasy, and romance writers, traditionally published, hybrid, and indie published. It is great, because even if we don’t write the type of stories we all get the struggles and are able to support each other.

How emotionally entangled do you get in your writing?

After I finished my last book,  One, scheduled for release in November with NineStar Press, I found myself missing the characters and their world. I wanted to start a sequel just so I could hang out with them again. The only solution was to start another novel so I could play with new characters.  

Do you have to have specific conditions in order to write? What’s your work space like?

HAHAHAHA. No. I have kids. I do have an office, and I use it, but I can write anywhere, and have because I listen to music while I write. One of the best things about ADHD is hyperfocus, which means when I’m into what I’m doing you could blow the room up around me and I wouldn’t notice.

About Sum of the Whole, Brenda says: “I once described it to a friend as Pretty Woman with BDSM and lesbians. It is my first novel. It started out as a short story for an edited collection that was rejected. I had a good friend read it and she made some suggestions and that is how Sum of the Whole came to be a novel. Rejections are hard but this one had a happy ending. If it had been accepted it might have taken me longer to have a novel published.  I have been very fortunate to have had rejections that offered helpful suggestions and/or requests for revise and resubmit.”

Jaya Pomroy falls desperately in love with Sarah while vacationing at an exclusive BDSM pleasure house. Unwilling to become Jaya’s possession, yearning for independence, Sarah refuses to leave with her and they part after a bitter fight.

Six years later they meet again. Fighting to leave her past behind, but unable to resist her attraction for Jaya, Sarah agrees to try again. Jaya has to cope with new rules and new roles. When a former client threatens to expose Sarah, Jaya risks everything to protect her.

Can their love survive in the real world filled with vengeful ex-lovers and deadly secrets?

Available now from NineStar Press and Amazon.

On Burning Out

I just finished four novellas consecutively in about as many months, each hitting about 20k words. This is, of course, more than I’ve written since I was 16 give or take. And now I’m encountering burn out.

What is there to say about burn out? It sucks. Especially after finishing four long (for me) projects. There’s temptation to try to power through it. But that’s not even possible. The words just won’t come. It’s possible that this is just my depression rearing its ugly little head again. It would suck if that were the case, but at least I would actually be able to do something to prevent it. Kind of. Mostly I just have to ride it out and see what happens. With any luck, I solve the problem before my edits come. If I can’t then I’m in for a world of hurt.

So, what to do when burnt out? Read, I guess, but I’m too spacey to read. Draw, if I could, but my drivers are all dead. Study, maybe. Work helps, kind of.

I guess I’ll go to the beach. Hang out with friends. What do normal people do when they burn out?

On Doing Better

Ask yourself three things you must always ask yourself before you say anything: 1) Does this need to be said; 2) Does this need to be said by me; 3) Does this need to be said by me now.

Craig Ferguson

It’s a tight-wire act to balance authenticity with passion. On the one hand, the further you write from your own experience, the further you get from authenticity. On the other hand, does a lack of authenticity mean something is bad? Not necessarily. The opposite is true too: just because something is authentic doesn’t mean it’s good. And writing about yourself all the time gets tiresome. I don’t think authors should be limited to writing about just themselves or people exactly like themselves. But the truth is, authenticity brings depth to narratives.

Authenticity comes down to experience. You can replicate it through empathy and research, and the judicious deployment of sensitivity readers, but you can only ever approximate it without having lived it first. It’s a lottery of life factors.

This brings up gatekeeping, and who can decide what’s worthy of being called art or not. My policy is write what you want, but be prepared to stand by it. There is certainly a different dynamic to writing a narrative about what you, yourself, have experienced, rather than having to guess what such an experience would be like. Writing from lived experience doesn’t remove the need for sensitivity readers, because no experience is universal. And having sensitivity readers will not protect from bad decisions if they are ignored (nor can you reasonably expect sensitivity readers to find everything). But it is a person’s right to write about their lived experience without censure. And it is the obligation of those who write outside of their experience to write with care. To write respectfully from a marginalized perspective requires a tremendous amount of consideration, research, and revision. To do anything less would be an act of exploitation—of treating identities as costumes.

Which, of course, brings me to the topic of M/M romance and people writing M/M without being male, or gay. Certainly there seems to be fewer people with masculine identities than one would like if expecting authenticity. This is a known criticism of the M/M romance community and the subject of charged debate, often complete with link round-ups and timeline analysis. Our community has a pretty bad track record when it comes to facing the very legitimate criticisms leveled at it. Like an oceanliner, we turn around slowly. But it’s also undeniable that our community is home to a large percentage of queer creators writing romances that are also queer, in one aspect or another. Andeven more excitingour community as a whole has become increasingly open to narratives that aren’t (cis, white) M/M.

I, myself, am not male; however, I do identify as queer (in both gender and sexuality). But, if a gay man tells me that my writing about his experience is inaccurate in some way I must both acknowledge that he is correct that it is not authentic to his experience and realize that I have no right to say otherwise. On the other hand, I do have the right to say this is my story and parts of it are authentic to me. But then I have to do better. I owe it to the community to do better because I am writing outside of my identity. I have an obligation to my readers, and even to myself, to realize when I am wrong and to do better. Because I am better than my mistakes. That’s the key: take criticism with grace and the nerve to own up to your mistakes without letting the mistakes break you down. Without crying foul or playing the victim.

Writers from outside a community who choose to create characters and storylines speaking directly to and about that community need to understand what they are doing. They are adding to public perception of marginalized people, and their depiction has weight. They are also sharing space with creators from that community—and perhaps occupying space that would be better filled by one of them. Writers have egos; fragile ones, sometimes, it’s true. It can be very difficult to face the fact that your critics might have a point, and that authorial intent is not a defence against inauthenticity. Do the work. Respect the community. Listen to those who have lived through what you are only imagining. Learn. Be better.

edited by Vee Orpal

On Getting Published

I just signed a contract with Ninestar Press for Witchstone, my Urban Fantasy/Paranormal novella. The story is about Calvin Chang, a witch living in a suburb in Southern California. It features his ex, Selim, who’s got a fiery temper. But Selim’s not hoping to rekindle the flames of their old relationship. He’s in big trouble. He’s the only witness to the death of the city’s magical Court, which controlled all of the magic in the city. Not only do Selim and Cal have to find the Lord of the city, the only person who can control the violent onslaught of magic that will result from the death of the Court, they must also figure out who killed the Court–and why.

Ninestar Press is very professional so far, and their covers are great. I pitched Witchstone to them after #adPit. Since I accepted their contract offer I’ve been in a bit of a flurry of activity, making my website and creating my Facebook, Instagram, and Goodreads, among other things.

I’m both excited about and a bit fearful of the process of editing. I know Witchstone needs significant expansion but I’m not good at writing on a schedule (although I did once write 20k in the space of two months so there’s that.) I wrote the story thinking that there needed to be more Asian characters, both in queer romance and in fiction in general, so that won’t change. But we’ll see where this goes.