Thursday, July 31, 2014

On the Tenth Day of Launchmas...

... I was monstrously late in posting, because any illusions I had of doing this whole thing in an orderly, professional fashion have long since been set on a fence-post and shot for target practice.

But you know what?  Apparently that's okay, because apparently, some fresh new folks on the Internet have been reading my posts and thinking that I and/or my book sound kind of fun.  I can't even tell you what a relief that is.  I'm still nervous, because not very many people have had a chance to actually sit down and read the book yet (and who knows if it'll live up to the hype?)  But this whole "putting yourself out there" thing has way more intense than I ever imagined it would be, and I am so, so happy that my firstborn word-child might actually make some friends at kindergarten.

Anyway, if you're just now joining us from further corners of the Internet, here are the relevant points:

I have a guest post up at The Author Visits today, called Book Launch Bingo: Debut Author Edition.  It's about what it sounds like - a little reflection on the emotional ups and downs of the whole putting-it-out-there process, and what goes into getting people excited about your book.  I even made a bingo card and everything! 

Also, as a reminder: The Author Visits is also hosting a giveaway for a signed copy of One Night in Sixes.  It's only got about a hundred entries so far, so if you would like to read this book for the low, low price of zero dollars, get your name in the fishbowl ASAP!

Otherwise, the map-colors are coming in nicely, and at that red-lit house at the far side of the island, Sil has found himself a high-end card game, with strange company and an irresistible wager...

The fellow produced an antique silver snap-case, such as one might employ to keep one's finer cigars. Sil half expected that to be his principal offering, but all expectation crumbled as the dandy opened the case to present a multicolored array of gleaming, lustrous fine pearls.

The mother Sil had so casually mentioned to Vuchak had lived in a house of eighteen rooms, supervised a staff of sixteen to twenty, and brought to her marriage a three-hundred-acre estate... and yet she owned just one genuine white-pearl necklace. They would have buried her with it, if it hadn't been auctioned to pay the debt.

And here, now, her last-born accident of a son might very well end the night owning more than she ever had. These were jewels of every size and color — large and small, round and irregular, black and pink and blue and cream — and therein lay all the beauty of that rarest saltwater currency. There was no shaving or counterfeiting that kind of money, no tiresome scratchings or weighings needed to assure the purity of that sort of wealth, and no inflation or devaluation when Nature Herself was the master of the mint.

Then the dandy seated himself beside Sil with no end of pleasantness in his expression.

"Well-met, Master — Halfwick, is it? An absolute delight — call me Faro, if you like — and if I haven't said so already, it is so rare that we receive guests of both means and manners. Really, it will be a splendid evening, and I am so much looking forward to seeing these fine horses of yours..."

He smelled of pomade and lily-water and something else under all his beauty-regimen, something that had hardly sooner reached Sil's nose than set it savagely itching, prickling down his throat and into his lungs, informing him with his first stifled reach for the handkerchief that he would be gambling on two fronts with this arrangement here...

... but there was no wiggling out of it without forfeiting his place, no begging off without advertising that he was nothing but a childish amateur out of his depth, and no doubt about whether to excuse himself or how.

Indeed, the only question remaining was what it would be worth to go back to Calvert, having turned his miserable fly-biting herd into so many perfect, shining pearls.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

On the Ninth Day of Launchmas...

... well, I'll be honest: I almost didn't MAKE it to the ninth day of Launchmas, because yesterday was so incredible and so overwhelming that I was hard-pressed not to collapse to the floor and prostrate myself, Wayne-and-Garth style.  "I suck!  I'm not worthy!"

Fortunately, there are those who disagree!

First of all, my inordinately talented fellow-author, Beth Cato, graciously interviewed me on her blog - and it was a GREAT time.  Contained within: True Grit, ruminations on the anatomy of a great name, all the fun you can have with a dead skunk, and what is the deal with that Stuckey's out on I-40, anyhow?

(BTW, if you're thinking that you've heard of Beth Cato before, it's probably because she's the author of that one book about war-clerics and airship murders and cheese-eating cat-gremlins - you know, the one you can't possibly wait until September to get your hands on?  It's called The Clockwork Dagger, and the first chapter should tell you everything you need to know about what's going on top of your TBR pile!)

I am also positively gibbering with gratitude, because John Scalzi, He of the Red Shirt, has loaned me the soapbox over on "The Big Idea."  Watch as I recount the metamorphosis of my book from Full of Tropey Stereotypes to Hopefully Not That!  Marvel at the concept of "culture magic" and communal X-Men powers!  Thrill as I hide under the bed from the resulting slew of comments!

And from the Department of Something Totally Different:

My gracious hosts over at (a.k.a. Hogwarts for Word-Wizards) kindly solicited me for a blog post - something about the craft of writing or writing techniques, that kind of thing.  What just rolled hot off the press today is called Positions of Emphasis: the Funky Rhythm of Killer Prose - or in other words, how to structure your sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters so that your words have maximum impact.  (And if that sounds good, don't forget that my Loft class, "Perfecting Your Prose", is only six weeks away - and positions of emphasis are just the beginning of the great time we're gonna have!)

In the meantime, the inks on the map are just about done - which is appropriate, because while Elim's looking at the same town as Sil, he's seeing something completely different.

It had used to be a fort, once, and it seemed parts of it still were. Here and there, you could still see the sharpened peaks of the wooden stockade that must have originally run the whole way around. There was proof of at least one rightly-made house too – a big white mansion-sized one – and what looked to be a church-steeple tilting to the east, reaching for the civilization that had abandoned it.
The rest was an adobe abomination, rising at least three stories tall in the southeastern corner like a town-sized termite mound. Its clay fingers snaked all around and through even the wooden walls, as if the logs had to be cemented in place to keep from escaping.

But it was what couldn't be seen that choked the last of Elim's dwindling resolve. As he led his string onto the broad dirt path, he looked in vain for any sign of the farms and barns, the fences or road-markers or even the graves of those Brave settlers who had planted their fields and trees and outbuildings here in the time before. It was as if the earth had plain forgotten them, or resented the inquiry of strangers.

That was only proof of what Elim already knew: the outside world was vast, full of wildness and witchery and things that carried off calves in the night, and God promised no safety to anyone who strayed from the good and orderly home He had provided them.

Elim hardly needed the reminder.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

On the Eighth Day of Launchmas... little book went out into the world!

Godspeed, little book!  (and for Christ's sake, Elim, don't look behind you!)

And I can't even talk about what that's like just now - really, I'll just get hopelessly verklempt - but here to help mark the occasion are no less than three fabulous things!

Thing 1:  "Evil" Dan Bensen is back, graciously hosting me for Part 2 of our first epic podcast.  Hear enthusiastic rantings about gender-bending characters and philosophically-fraught alien sexcapades!  Enjoy enlightened discussion of skyscrapers, superbuses, and the Ottoman Empire!  See... Bulgarian Zoidberg?

Thing 2: The dauntlessly cheerful Kristin Centorcelli has undertaken to interview me!  This for me was a surprise and a huge delight, not only because she's so much fun to the square inch, but also because MyBookishWays is one of the coolest book blogs I know.  Go for my cute face, but stay for interviews, book reviews, and giveaways that will broaden your horizons and enhance your TBR pile!

Thing 3: Did I mention that we're doing a Twitter contest?  Check out the One Night in Sixes Hashtag Shenanigans Sweepstakes for your chance to win a $50 gift card!

And maybe it's appropriate that today is the day to display the finished map pencils, because today is also the day that our boy Sil gets his first inside glimpse of Sixes - and it's quite something...!

It was a fascinating place, though.

Hot and headachey as he was, even Sil had to appreciate that much.

As the horse's plodding steps brought Sil further inside the city, he couldn't avoid the grand hotel that dominated the northern end of the island. It was a striking, handsome thing, all elegant white columns and black wrought-iron cresting, clean and stark and somehow immaculately preserved.

The ferryman had called it La Saciadería, a strange word assembled from familiar pieces. The best Ardish would probably be 'the Satisfactory', with a mercantile emphasis on 'factory'. Given how many appetites the place apparently serviced, that sounded about right.

La Saciadería had her opposite much farther down the road, in the ingenious native pueblo rooted in the far end of the island. A full four stories tall at its peak, it spread its free-flowing adobe arms in an organic embrace, a living wall for the southern parts of the island.

As the ferryman had said, this was La Soleada, the Sunny Lady, and it wasn't hard to understand the name. She was home and mother to almost half the local population, who had somehow contrived to make that beige clay sparkle like gold in the searing light. The other tiny details that caught Sil's eye – the paintings, the splashes of color, the dark wooden lines of ladders and the exposed ends of ceiling-beams – testified to the perfect expertise of her architects.

Between these two towering great matrons, the rest of Sixes scattered out in a jumbled compromise of clay and wood and sometimes clay-covered wood, as if the owners wanted to show off their houses' exotic bones for envious neighbors.

Who, for their part, seemed to have retreated inside to wait out the heat of the day, leaving just a few dogs and free-roaming birds to keep the peace. Aside from some turkey-gabbling and the distant cries of an infant, the heavy air hung undisturbed. Sil would be pleased to keep it that way.

The #OneNightIn Sixes Hashtag Shenanigans Sweepstakes

All right, y'all: as of this very minute, I am officially a Published Author.  The book's out.  The guest posts are (mostly) in.  And that means it's time to celebrate!  Grab your Solo cup and 140 of your favorite characters, cuz we're fixing to have us a Twitter party.

The One Night in Sixes Hashtag Shenanigans Sweepstakes

The book, of course, is about a couple of clueless cowboys who go to a weird little border town called Sixes, and end up in a whole heap of trouble. We've all been there.  A crazy night at the bar, missing the last train home, waking up in Vegas to find a tiger in your bathroom - it happens!

So from today (book release day!) until Saturday (launch party - you ARE going, aren't you?), you can enter to win a $50 gift card to Barnes & Noble or Amazon (your choice) - just by sharing your wildest "one night in" stories.  Like this:

#onenightin Fort Worth, we partied so hard that I slept in my car, then got changed in a QuikTrip bathroom before work the next morning.

#onenightin EverQuest, I stayed up literally all night trying retrieve my corpse.  Freaking Dalnir.

#onenightin Minneapolis, I ate double-fried chicken so good, my arteries actually *crystallized*.

You see the pattern?  These can be literal or figurative, real-world places or not.  The only rules are:

1.  You must use the "#onenightin" Twitter hashtag for your entry to be valid.

2.  You can write as many as you want, but only your first three entries will be eligible for the contest.

3.  The deadline is midnight CST on Saturday, August 2nd.

4.  The winner will be randomly chosen from all valid entries, and announced on Sunday, August 3rd.  The winner will have one week to claim the prize (I'll need your email address to coordinate the logistics.)  If the winner doesn't respond, I'll do a second random drawing and choose a new winner.

5.  This contest is open to players 18 and older, in any country where it's legal. 

So go!  Do it!  Have wild life-changing experiences, and then tweet about them - because if there's one singularly appropriate way to celebrate this book, it's by chronicling some catastrophically memorable moments...!

#onenightin Sixes makes the hard man humble...

Monday, July 28, 2014

On the Seventh Day of Launchmas...

...I have not one, but two fun things to share with you!

First of all, my terrific good buddy and #SFFpit mastermind Dan Koboldt is hosting me over at his blog today.  It's a post called Finding the Love in One-Star Reviews - in which I confess a nasty little pastime of mine, and talk about the peculiar overlap between the people who over-the-moon LOVE your book, and those who flung it across the room in frustration and disgust.

(And like, go for the post, but stay for Dan - as if his own work as a bona-fide one-alignment-shift-from-supervillainy geneticist isn't enough, he's also hosting other experts to help expose and correct common errors in the technical aspects of sci-fi and fantasy, and I can't recommend it enough.  This week's entry is about horses!)

And then!


And then you absolutely must head back over to The Author Visits, because today the first half of my interview is live!  Not going to lie, you guys: I've really enjoyed this whole string of guest posts and interviews so far, but this one is a special favorite of mine: Veena and I talk about the inspiration behind One Night in Sixes, working with a professional linguist (hi Jason!) to create languages for the different people in the book, and somehow I even managed to work in a mention of twitching butt-muscles.  It's immense!

(And while you're there, don't forget to sign up for the giveaway at the bottom of the page - somebody's going to win a signed copy of the book on Saturday, and it just might be you!)

Meanwhile, our man Elim has made it across the river and into native territory - but not unnoticed.

As the last disturbed eddies finally disappeared, a pale face emerged from the river. Its unblinking black eyes watched as the two-colored man first spoke to the horse, and then let it follow him as calm and surely as if he had ensorcelled it.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

On the Sixth Day of Launchmas...

...a wild giveaway appeared!  The Author Visits is generously hosting me for a whole week, AND giving away a signed copy of One Night in Sixes to one lucky winner.  So head on over there and hitch up your britches - the contest is only running until Saturday!

As for me, I'm finally home after an AMAZING weekend at ArmadilloCon, where I made more new friends than I can count (which maybe isn't saying much at the moment, cuz I'm REALLY tired.)  What I CAN count is the number of people who came out to my ludicrous 9:00-on-a-Saturday-night reading (which was about 3% reading), because they humored me for the sake of this fun picture here:


The short story is that it was a hell of a time, and I am hella tired.  I will leave you with map phase six from the phenomenal Gillis Björk, and take my happy self to bed!

And as for Our Heroes, Elim has steeled his resolve: there's no going home without Sil, and no catching Sil without crossing that river.

It was this thinking that ultimately found Elim and Molly standing up to her fore-cannons in that fetid-smelling water.  Minnows and little silvery pupfish darted about her knobby ankles as he tried mightily hard not to think about what kind of furry trout or fishmen might be living down there.

Because the alternative was to give up and go home, to look Will Halfwick straight in the eye and say
Well, he was free, white, and seventeen, and I reckoned he could do what he wanted.

Elim turned in the saddle, squeezing an easy creak from the leather. His freshly-unstrung posse had lost no time planting their noses in thick clumps of bluegrass, leaving their tails to fend off gnats and stoneflies. "You-all wait here," he said, fixing a stare at Two-Pie in particular. "Don't make me come catch you when we get back."

Then there was nothing to do but get on with it. "Well, Miz Boone," Elim said at last, "let's go fancy-dancing."

With that, Elim nudged Molly forward, and the two of them moseyed in to make the water's proper acquaintance.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

On the Fifth Day of Launchmas...

... I was a panelist at ArmadilloCon!

Had a great time today with "Space Westerns" and "Perfecting Your Locations."  I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if SDCC is the Caesar's Palace of conventions, then ArmadilloCon is Cheers. It's just really great to shift gears over into the slow lane, hang out with some really fun book-people, and spend the weekend with what feels like 200 of my best friends.  I'm in hog heaven.  (BTW, if anybody from AC is reading this right now, come find me at my reading at 9:00 tonight - I'm thinking less reading and more chatting about fantasy, Westerns, fantasy Westerns, and all the fun you can have writing dialect for fishmen.  It'll be grand!)

And you might enjoy this next bit if you went to that Perfecting Your Locations, panel.  Our man Elim has made it to the border - the Etascado River - with all those yearling horses in tow, looking for Sil.  At the moment, he's as long on foreboding as he is short on clues.

It was a toad-colored thing, slow and withered by drought, and went sidewinding through a streambed as wide and dry as a sloughed-off second skin. Elim approached its crusty banks with full respect as he organized his posse for a drink: this here was the end of home – the end of Eaden itself – and that over there was wild country. Elim couldn't have said how far across its fifty-yard girth his right to live ended, and would not be caught leaving so much as a wet boot-print in the sand.

But the land beyond was so exactly like the land before, both stretches of wild autumn savannah as matched and identical as two halves of a ham sandwich, that Elim could understand perfectly how the first white men here had reckoned they had as much right to the one as the other, and helped themselves right to it.  It wasn't until much later, long after they'd made a whole blood tributary out of this tired old water here, that anyone had started talking about borders.

Unfortunately, their most devil-minded descendant seemed to have inherited their slippery ambition. There was no sign of Sil anywhere.

Friday, July 25, 2014

On the Fourth Day of Launchmas.... true love gave to me: primo-quality picspam!

The fabulous Erin M. Hartshorn has allowed me to decorate her blog with a photo essay I call The Freshwater Fishmen of Tucumcari, New Mexico.  And y'all, seriously - if you need an editor or just some damn fine fiction, go smell what Erin's cooking over there.  I promise you haven't seen it before!

In the meantime, Sil has made a break for the border, leaving his stunned partner and a dozen horses in his wake.

Elim tightened his hold on Molly's rope, realization dawning brighter with every non-starter that occurred to him. Couldn't leave the herd to go tearing after him: there was no guaranteeing they'd still be here when he got back. Couldn't go tearing after him with the herd; it was as good as inviting a wreck. Couldn't just whip out his rifle and nail the little runt at fifty yards, tempting as that was.

Couldn't show up home again without him.

"Well, shit." Elim's grip slackened along with his outrage. Sil no doubt figured it was a clever plan, and Elim would be the first to admit as much – just as soon as Sil felt he'd made his point well enough to come back and settle down to business.

But Elim and Molly watched in vain as Sil dwindled to a black spot in the distance, and then disappeared. 

Elim sighed. "Well, Miz Boone, I expect we'll have to fetch him before he mislays himself."

Molly mouthed her bit, and raised no objections.

So Elim obligingly collected the purse and the papers, assembled his troops, and then set himself astride his big bay mistress to start her out at a sensible jog.

It was an orderly, sustainable gait to use for leading their little posse out of town, a natural choice for any reasoning fellow.

Now, what you'd use to catch up a snotty, arrogant, spoiled son-of-a-bitch, clock him clean off his horse, turn him over your knee, and then heat his frail hide one lick for every mile he'd ridden you out along his damn fool way - that would be a whole different gait.

And Elim felt mightily keen on trying it out before Sil made it to the river.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

On the Third Day of Launchmas... true love gave to me: a great excuse to spam you with cover art!

My good buddy J.K. Cheney is having me on for today's edition of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the NYT Bestseller List.   If you've ever wondered why there seem to be three versions of my cover running around on the Internet, here is your chance to unravel the mystery!

In the meantime, the map-work continues apace:

And as the town begins to take shape, so too does Elim's understanding of Sil's intentions...

Sil looked up at Elim. A sleepless night had deepened the shadows under his eyes. "Well, I was just thinking," he said. "I'm sorry I couldn't sell the rest of the horses for you-all, but really it isn't reasonable to take them across the border."

Well, thank God he'd cured himself of that notion. Elim led Molly out behind him. "Right..."

"So," Sil paused to slip the toe of his left boot through the stirrup, "I think the best thing will be to take them back to Boss Calvert and let him decide how to handle it." He hefted himself up and over the saddle. "And as for me personally – I don't think I've had my fill of traveling quite yet. In fact, I rather think a change of climate might do me good."

Elim stared up at Sil. "What."

Sil gave Actor a quarter turn, the reins light and loose in his hand. "I'm going on west."

Elim stiffened. "The hell you are."

But today the warning in his eyes and voice had no effect. Sil leaned forward over the saddle horn, so exactly-despicably like himself. "Well, Elim, the thing is... you can't stop me."

Oh no he didn't!  Tune in tomorrow for the next exciting episode of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Two Idiot Cowboys.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On the Second Day of Launchmas... true love gave to me: an interview at the Qwillery!

(He also voted for Sixes' cover at The Qwillery's July 2014 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - and if you were inclined to do likewise, I'd be much obliged!)

In the meantime, here is phase two of the Map of Ages - in which our heroic cartographer, Gillis, has begun transforming my pitiful scribbles into something with order and shape.

And as the town begins to take shape, so too do Sil's intentions...

Sil turned over, closing his eyes to stave off a claustrophobia that had nothing to do with the cramped quarters, and listened to the deep, regular rhythm of Elim's breathing below.

Easy enough for him to snuff the light and pass out. Easy enough for the whole lot of them to spend their lives picking paddocks and pulling weeds and pounding fence-posts, hoarding their pennies and steeping their offspring in bootless piety and backbreaking labor in anticipation of the day when they themselves would be planted with the turnips.

That was all these rustics wanted – that was everything they understood – and any free-thinking soul who lived too long amidst their squalid contentment was going to drown in it like a fish in stagnant water.

Not Sil. Not like this. He belonged back east, back home, where beef came in a tin and fish didn't, where
y'all was unheard-of and your grace wasn't, where people bleached their hair and powdered their faces and only hid their talents to avoid embarrassing those poor low-bred souls who hadn't any of their own. It had been twelve long years, but if Sil pressed one ear to the musty pillow and covered the other, just so, he could almost make Elim's faint snoring into the sound of cold salt waves crashing against vast stone walls, and hear sea-birds in the rasping of the crickets.

That world had a place ready and waiting for him – all he had to do was get there.

For that he needed money, enough to pay Calvert's stupid asking-prices and buy a one-way stage ticket with the remainder.

And at the end of the day, it didn't really matter where he got it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On The First Day of Launchmas...

All right, y'all: as of today, we are officially one week from launch.  That is pretty dang exciting (or else this giddy, queasy feeling in my gut has a decidedly more sinister chicken-salad origin.)  From today until the book launch party on August 2nd, my intent is to do a daily blog post, with fun tidbits from the book itself, as well as from around the web.

So here to get us started is my terrific buddy Daniel Bensen, who not only rules the Kingdoms of Evil with an iron fist, but has also recorded my enthusiastic rantings with the studious patience of Jane Goodall.  Check out part 1 of our podcast here - it's twelve magical minutes of deep discussion on Euro-centric history, Howdy Doody, the Gondwana supercontinent, and the delicate art of creating fantasy cultures without being an imperialist butthead.

But I can't be all "look at me, look at me, look at me now!" without giving you something to look AT, right?  Preposterous!  Here to solve that problem is my cartographer-in-crime, the watercolor wizard called Gillis Björk, of Lingonberry Maps notoriety.  He's not only created the map you'll find inside the book, but has spent weeks working on a full-color poster-style map that I TOTALLY can't wait to show y'all. 

This was how it began: as a clumsy hand-drawn diagram that I sent to him and said, "please, can you make this not suck?"

Happily, the answer was "yes."  More on that next time! 

For now, I'll close with a snippet from Sixes: just a cowboy, his hat, and a majestically feminine set of nostril-hairs.

Elim squatted on the ground in front of the gate, the morning sun already warm on his back, and chewed oats while he waited.

He liked waiting, though. There was a holiness to it. Waiting was admitting that yes, you had done everything in your humble power - ate, dressed, packed, fed, raked, tied, bridled, and saddled - and entrusting the rest to God.

The dull thump of hooves in the dirt behind him ended with a wet blast of heat down the back of his neck. Elim looked up into the moist and cavernous nostrils of one Molly Boone.

"I know," he said, "but it ain't going to hurry him along any faster, is it?"

Even so, Elim pulled his hat off before it could tempt any nibbles and leaned his head back against the gate planks, at peace amidst the smell of old leather and new manure.

It was the horses that did it to him. It was altogether difficult to get worked up about anything when you had the sun warm on your face, a pair of hairy lips browsing your forehead for salt, and a herd at your back whose greatest concern was the flicking of an occasional blow-fly.

Even if you hadn't sold them like you were supposed to.

Even if your partner was a willful wild-minded yearling with a dirty mouth and a head full of arrant balderdash.

Boy, Elim reminded himself. He was just a boy.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Swan Song for Anonymity: Five Secret Advantages of the Unpublished Author

Hey y'all!  Things are heating up around here, in all the best ways.  Two quick things on the book front:

1.  I was monstrously mistaken in what I said previously: the US release date is and has always been July 29th.  Eurasia has always been at war with Eastasia.  And Amazon has always been a shameless two-timing prevaricator.

2.  The UK launch date has been pushed back a couple weeks, date TBA.  There was a printing error that necessitates re-printing and re-shipping the book, and believe me - it is TOTALLY worth the do-over.  (Many thanks to our benevolent Thompson clan patriarch for the catch - I owe you big, Uncle S!)

Anyway, tomorrow begins the Twelve Days of Launchmas, which is to say, the countdown to the book release party on August 2nd.  I'm excited about that - got a lot of cool stuff lined up - but before we get into that, I kinda wanted to do something to close out this past year I've spent in "pre-publication" mode.  Suffice to say, it's been full of ups and downs (more ups than downs!), and I have learned one hell of a lot. I don't think I have the time or clarity to talk about that yet, but here in the meantime is a re-post of one of my favorite articles - one I originally wrote for the DFWcon blog last year.  Basically, it's called

Five Secret Advantages of the Unpublished Author

because while I was out trail-blazing and socializing over the past year, I asked a few authorial celebrities a question:  “What is special and wonderful about being an unknown?  What do you miss about being new and unpublished?”

Here is what I found out!

1.  You can write whatever you like.  Nobody has any expectations of you.  This was the gem of wisdom that dropped so suddenly from Deborah Crombie at her DFWcon 2013 keynote address that I almost missed it.  How true it is, though!  When you are new, you have perfect freedom to carve out your own niche – the blend of genre and style that is uniquely yours.  Nobody is going to refuse to pick up your steamy fantasy romance because your name is John Grisham and all anyone wants from you are murders and lawyers and sometimes murdered lawyers.  You will never again have this golden opportunity to shape your voice, your brand, and your identity!

2.  You can attend conferences and conventions solely for your own enjoyment.  I had a new appreciation for this one after chatting with J.K. Cheney, who had no sooner staggered in the door from her eleventeen-hour drive from Oklahoma to San Antonio than was due at a panel, and then a meeting, with a dinner date lined up afterwards, and… you get the idea.  When nobody knows who you are, you can be whoever you want – go to the events you like, hang out with the people you enjoy, and quit when you get tired.  That’s pretty liberating.

3.  You can write at your own pace.  This is one of many pearls of truth that Gini Koch bequeathed to me.  Actually, her full thesis was closer to, “Write your ideas – all of them.  Write as fast and as much as you can, for any story you’ve ever wanted to tell – get them down on paper.  Because once you sell, contracts and deadlines pile up, and who knows when you’ll ever have that freedom again?”  I’ll be honest – this one scares the dickens out of me.  Writing because you love it is quite a different thing than writing because it’s due on Friday.


4.  Social media is a hobby, not a job requirement or a chore.  This one I got from Rosemary Clement-Moore, with an “amen!” from several other authors.  Granted, even unpublished writers are expected to be building that all-important platform these days, so this one can feel like a weight around your neck before anyone ever reads a word of your writing.  But how wonderful it is to friend and follow just the people who bring joy to your life, post only when you have something to say, and do it all without hundreds of strangers watching and waiting to dissect your every virtual twitch!

5.  You can own your own opinions.  Well, let me clarify.  You always have a right to your opinions, but the more visible you are, the more carefully you need to consider how you express them.  This is something I learned from the great Candace Havens.  Maybe you think Twilight is the biggest load of glitter-crusted horse-apples ever to see print.  All right.  But once you publish, regardless of your genre or audience, Stephenie Meyer becomes your peer – and after you’ve been seated at the grown-ups’ table, it’s rarely a good idea to be seen flinging food at the other guests.   (Actually, it’s best to do your kicking under the table, even when you’re still an unknown.  The Internet is forever, and those caustic blog rants and gif-laden one-star book reviews have a depressingly long half-life.)  For now, enjoy the freedom to read what you like and say what you feel (offline!), without having to worry about who you might be seated next to on a panel, or which backs you need to be scratching in order to get a blurb or a guest post or an ARC review.

And you know what - looking back at this post, I wish I had tried harder to talk to people outside my own advertising demographic (I gather there's a lot of "woulda-coulda-shoulda" in this industry generally).  But I am SO GRATEFUL to these amazing authors for clueing me in to the challenges of the next phase, and helping me appreciate the joys of this one.  I've really enjoyed my year of impending authorhood, and am looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Have no mean hours, but be grateful for every hour, and accept what it brings.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Red and White Wedding

You know, I try not to post too much about my family.  Partly because of the Internet creephat factor, and partly because my family is the biggest single manifestation of Unmerited Grace ever.  They're awesome, they light up my life, and I didn't do a thing to deserve them.   And bragging about that usually feels like spitting in the eye of everyone who is less fortunate than I am (which, given how many wonderful, prosperous, ludicrously talented people I have in my tree, is probably 99% of the planet.)

But as I've said before, this blog is not just a part of my ubiquitous self-promotional engine -  it's also where I put the thoughts that I want the world to know I had, if/when I get hit by a bus.

So here's a notion for the ages: watching superheroes get married is super fun.

More specifically: my sister's wedding was super fun.

By which I mean: these people are super fun.
(as Josh Lemmon's mad camera skills can attest.)
And like, I totally could gush and squeal here about all the fabulous particulars.  A Great Dane running down the aisle in his tuxedo collar, making a panting ring-bearing beeline for the bride.  Rolling fondant in the bathroom to decorate the styrofoam bases for "Despicable Me" minion cake-pops.  Kung-fu lions coming out to dance the Cupid Shuffle.  Ridiculous pictures pouring out of the photo booth all night long.  Signable quilt squares, courtesy of the moms.  Our dad, officiating in all his magisterial splendor.  Life-size James-Bond-style movie posters of the bridal party.

I was "The Dewey Decimator", if you were wondering.
(Meanwhile, Ariana Zhang is and continues to be "The Phenomenal Photographer".)
And of course they didn't need all the fancy flourishes.  Of course we would've had a great time even if we were just hanging out in a field with blankets and porta-potties.  And if "P.S. we're awesome" was the deepest thought I had, I probably wouldn't be writing this here, because that's what Facebook is for.

P.S. we're awesome
(and so is Laurel Houston)

But here is an idea that I hope will resonate beyond the people on our Christmas card list.  Like... you know, in a lot of ways it sucks to grow up as the precocious worrywart.  The toddler terror I felt when watching Sesame Street's "Wet Paint" segment, knowing that paint is toxic and those singing muppets might accidentally swallow some and die, has never gone away.  I still routinely peek around doors with caution, fully prepared to find somebody sprawled out on the bathroom floor.  I still think constantly about what I'm going to do when – not if – something horrible happens to somebody I love.  And right at this exact moment, the pre-book-launch intensity is hitting such a peak that it's really hard not to feel like this is The Biggest Deal Ever, and any failure would be both devastating and permanent.

So I think part of the reason why being with the entire Thompson Army feels so good – aside from the fact that they are just fun people to be with – is that, like... you know, when you're in your daily routine, it's easy to obsess about individual people and events - to think about what-all might go wrong today, tomorrow, and next year.  (Believe me: you have time to think about these things when you're huddled up with your sister and two enormous dogs in the downstairs bathroom while a tornado blows through.)

Here is one such dog, waiting with white cuffs and collar for his close-up.
But when I'm with my whole clan, it's almost like I can see past all that constant near-sighted what-if-ing, and glimpse a future that's "too good to fail".  In other words, I can believe that any individual thing might happen to any individual one of us, but ultimately – eventually – we-the-collective will still be okay.  I can believe that *I* will be okay.   That regardless of anything I might do, or that might happen to me, it will be all right, because my posse - my culture - will continue, regardless.  That is a hell of a relief, let me tell you.

So were my first efforts at fondant-conjuration. Disaster averted!
And it was a relief, too, to see so many new-to-me faces at the wedding this weekend.  Our family wasn't the only one that turned out in full force for the event: the happy couple had at LEAST sixty people from their martial arts school there - and not as some nice B-list afterthought, either.  They had their own set of wedding photos, a toast from the Master Himself - hell, they were the basis for the whole wedding theme, from the hundreds of red paper cranes to the huge lion costumes draped over the tables.

Dave the Minion was hanging out with the other lion, I think.
Anyway, I'm not personally a member of Team White Leopard, but boy: if what they have is anything like what I have with my writers' workshop, then I feel downright euphoric about this whole collective-mojo hypothesis.  Because then it really isn't all about winning the genealogical lottery.  It's about the people you surround yourself with, regardless of whether you met them when you were in college, in diapers, or in the horse stance.

Or whether you cloned them to create a chaos-horde of giggling, sentient Twinkies.
And even though it might be hard to pull all your people together more than once in a blue moon, their gathering - however infrequent! - is a great reminder that your world is really much bigger than the little ruts of your everyday life... that those huge 3-AM worries you grapple with are probably a lot more handle-able than they seem, because anything that really, massively matters in your life is - almost by definition - something that you won't have to deal with alone.

TL;DR: I'm an anxious pile of wet kleenex, but I know some terrific people, and they make me a special kind of happy.   Thanks for a great time, y'all.  And good job, A² - WAY TO WED.

By executing this contract, the aforementioned parties affirm their commitment to love and to honor, to have and to hold, to sit and to stay, for richer and for even richer, in sickness and in health, for as long as they both shall live.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pro Tips From CONvergence

Pro?  CON?  See what I did there?  Please, hold your applause.

Really though, today's thesis statement is that this is a really first-rate convention.  If you get a chance to go, you really should. 

The staff is amazingly friendly.  Everything is super organized.  And they are serious about inclusivity, access, and providing a welcoming atmosphere.  We're not just talking about a couple of handicapped parking spaces and a "holler if you get the bad touch" clause in the program.  There are "don't harsh the squee" and "safe space" posters everywhere, free sign language interpreters provided (and seeing heavy use!), even separate rooms for dishing up various complimentary goodies - which I'm sure helps with crowd control, but keeping the PB&J station separate from the rice must also be a huge help for people who have to worry about food allergies and cross-contamination.  I'm in no position to say how successful CONvergence is in providing all these accommodations, but I can tell you for a fact that they are serious about offering them and making sure everyone can have a good time.

Best of all, any mental misconceptions you had about all the Klingons and Jedi and catgirls milling around will be obliterated as soon as you sit down for a panel and listen to the thoughtful questions and miles-deep insights they have about the subject at hand.  That is the part that really blew me away.  I have a vision of writers' conferences being "go to learn something and maybe also have fun" and fan conventions being "go to have fun and maybe also learn something", but man - that is DEFINITELY not an either/or proposition.  Not with this crowd.

And oh, what a crowd.

Approximately one-fiftieth of the 6,369 "Skittle-munching meat babies" in attendance

This I think was where I hit the wall.  I've been a pretty aggressively social person for the last decade or so, and lately I've fancied myself the kind of gal who can walk into a room and strike up a conversation with anybody about anything.

As it turns out, that is not true.  Not when the room (or hall, or lobby) is a shifting morass of warm bodies and loud noises.  I wilt.  I sweat.  I think about how amazingly lucky I am that my parents saved me from going to a 5A high school, because I would have drowned in a chum-bucket of pupating humanity.  It didn't help that this hotel is older, with lots of narrow hallways and yellowy lights and over-taxed air conditioners.  It also didn't help that I knew almost nobody.  (I had not realized how much home-turf advantage I've enjoyed at the Texas cons.)

Consequently, I didn't spend as much time at the con as I meant to, and I didn't meet as many people as I wanted to.  But I did have a great time, and I did learn a lot for next year (and oh, there will be a next year!)

So if you, like me, are going to attend your first Big-Ass Con, all I can say is:

But you can be!  Here are some things I learned this weekend:

1.  Volunteering is awesome - especially if you don't know anyone at the beginning.  Signing up to help out is a great way to give yourself structure and purpose, and an easy way to meet people.  Next time, I'm going to make sure I volunteer for multiple areas/departments, so I'm not doing one thing 100% of the time.

2.  Contemplate a costume.  Or maybe not a whole costume, but some cool, visual thing that people can use to start a conversation with you, even if it's just your favorite Firefly T-shirt.  This time, I was trying to look all authorly and professional, so I didn't wear any flair - and I wish I had.  It's the easiest thing in the world to walk up to a Dalek and say "Holy mackerel, I LOVE Dr. Who!  So what do we think about Peter Capaldi?"  And I expect it'll be even more fruitful if there's something about you they can use to reciprocate.

3.  Prepare to be whelmed. By which I mean, decide in advance what you're going to do when you start getting that queasy, cranky, overstimulated feeling, so you can chill out before you get overwhelmed.  I wasn't staying at the hotel, but I enjoyed several self-imposed time-out sessions in my car.  And a trip to White Castle.

4.  Keep up with the Twitter hashtag.  You don't even need a Twitter account to do it.  It's essentially a live crowd-sourced commentary about what's happening with the con - and it's so much easier to feel connected when you can see/hear a virtual conversation.

5.  Bring a buddy.  Because everybody needs a starter Pokemon.

And now that the con is over, I'm going to hang out with my good buddy Frank for some long-overdue cooking adventures before I jet home again.  Thanks for showing me a grand time, CONvergence - see you next year!

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Happy Convergence

Holy cats, you guys.  I'm in Minneapolis for CONvergence, and I'm already so tired that I might actually die, but I am having the BEST time.  And as sloppy as this post is going to be, I can't let even one more day go without doing a news update.

1.  The DFW Teen Writers Workshop is happening again!  We haven't done one of these since I became a member in 2012, so this is my first one, and I am BEYOND excited.  It's a free six-week workshop for 9th to 12th graders, kicking off on July 12th (and I would be stoked about it even if they hadn't invited me to teach the session on critiquing!)

Anyway, if you have a kid who loves writing or needs to be kept out of the pool halls this summer, please click over and check it out - it should be a fantastic experience for everyone.

2.  One Night in Sixes got a terrific review from Michael MacPherson over at  To say I'm on cloud nine would be a huge understatement.  I can't even tell you what it feels like to get a Tweet out of the blue from some brand-new person who read your book and loved it.  I just can't even.

Oh, but here is what I CAN say: GCE is a new site that's covering a huge array of nerd-tacular subjects, and blowing up like you wouldn't believe.  From an interview with the cast of Sailor Moon to a review of Disney's new Figment comic and news about the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, they already have a terrific variety of articles up, and I'm way interested to see what they do next.  And not just because they obviously have amazing taste in fantasy novels.

3.  Books have officially made it stateside!  They are a real thing now - and they look GREAT.

And like... this is one semester of art history and a whole lot of over-tired emotionality talking here, but I get soggy every time I look at this picture.  It was taken just this afternoon (my amazing agent Jennie took delivery of the books for me and invited a whole passel of us over for dinner at her house, where we opened the box and had much rejoicing.)  And it was SUCH a great evening - that perfect mix of awesome weather, old friends, new friends, and fantastic food.  But more than that, this right here is how I always want to remember this whole writing gig.  Like, the books are there because of the people in my life, photographed with the people (bare toes, tasty nibbles, and happy times included!), and are there at the bottom of the shot because ultimately they are subordinate to those people. 

Like, those cute glossy little paperbacks literally would not exist without some of the people who were at dinner tonight, and a whole lot more who weren't, and as much time as I have spent / will spend on promoting the book, I never want it to be bigger or more important than the people whose invisible fingerprints are on literally every page.  (And man, if you think I sound over-sloppy about this now, you are not even going to be able to handle me at the launch party.)

Anyway, bed now, game face on tomorrow.  Please holler if you're around the con this weekend - it's my first time here, and I would love to meet some new northerly friends!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

On Barber-Surgeon-Wizards and Interracial Siren/Selkie Relationships

Okay, public service announcement.  If you were under the impression that we were buddies, and are now wondering whether that's still the case (because all of a sudden I stopped doing/replying to everything, ever), let me assure you: our bud-ness is as far beyond question as tribbles are beyond cute.  And I am a sweaty, disorganized mess.

But!  No matter how long the to-do list gets, I cannot let this week pass without celebrating two new releases in the SFF-sphere.  Two of my favorite books of 2013 are dropping sequels this week, and I am going to hold you by the scruff of the neck and shove your face into them until you repent share my enthusiasm.


See that one on the right?  That blue hunk of gorgeous is J.K. Cheney's The Seat of Magic, sequel to The Golden City.  And I've blogged about this before, but like... so often, a huge part of a story's appeal is its setting, its atmosphere.  How can we even think about Lilo and Stitch without Hawaii, or Harry Potter without Hogwarts, or Tombstone without, you know, Tombstone?  This is one of those: Cheney has worked like a dog to bring turn-of-the-century Portugal to life (do you know what a Baedeker is?), and it pays off fabulously.  Plus, of course, there are murder mysteries, sinister magic, and secretive sea-people.  You know.  Like y'do.  If you're just casually awesome like that.

BUT THAT IS NOT ALL.  Segue with me, won't you, from "richly beautiful" to "alluringly disgusting."

Actually, "alluringly disgusting" is a great way to describe E.C. Ambrose's Elisha Barber, and so much of what I'm looking forward to in the sequel, Elisha Magus.  Elisha is obviously not the first medieval hero in the fantasy aisle - but it's pretty dang rare that the medic gets first billing in any story, and rarer still that any writer takes such pains to show the real, unglamorous reality of medicine, hygiene, and life in that time - and not just for plot-glorifying shock value (though we love you, GRRM!), but as a mainstay of the plot itself.  E.C. Ambrose just did a terrific podcast with my good buddy "Evil" Dan Bensen on this very subject - which also includes discussion of historical fantasy vs. straight-up fantasy, which is a whole other post for a whole other time.

So here we are with two historical fantasy sequels by two fantastic writers - and what I think holds them together (more than just their release dates!) is the commitment to the historical part of their fantasy - the love and passion and uncountable hours of research that they've poured into their subjects.  If you're anything like me, your to-read pile is in no danger of disappearing anytime soon, but I highly recommend checking these out.  There's no shortage of books in the world, but passion is priceless.