Wednesday, December 31, 2014

And the Award Goes To...

Y'know, one of the nice things about getting older is that you get a lot more leeway with your holidays.  Sushi on Thanksgiving?  It's all good.  Christmas in October?  Smoke if you got 'em.  Sleeping right through V-Day?  It's YOU-Day, baby.

So since I'm a big grown-up lady who can do what I feel like, I'm ditching all that 'goals' and 'resolutions' New Year's stuff and throwing a big 2014 awards party right here on my couch.  (Spoiler alert: all the winners are me.)

That's not creepy in the slightest - don't you agree, Madame Le Flour?

So without further ado, here are the 2014 Texies.  And the nominees are...

Best Thing, Personal: My sister's wedding, hands-down. Well, more like hands up, turn down for what?  I can still remember when she moved out in high school, and I was so sure that that was it - nuclear family over, happy days done. But she stuck around, and her adventures have brought so many fabulous people into our lives that we would never have known otherwise (including one especially dapper dan!), and every time I think the family can't get any bigger, cooler, or funner, it mutates again.  This year, it blew right the hell up - and I blame her for that.

Best Thing, Professional: The big book launch, of course!  Not just cuz it happened (book published, in stores, real deal, yay) but because it was nothing less than a giant literary barn-raising, with more terrific people than I ever imagined.  It's a weird feeling, signing a book for somebody you are almost positive won't actually like the story, but that just makes the moment its own kind of wonderful.  It's kinda reassuring, knowing that this person can be thrilled and proud of you for doing the thing, no matter what they think of the thing itself.  An author can have a million fans of their actual work, but there is a hard cap on the number of people who can love you like that - and I'm pretty sure I'm already pushing the limit.

Worst Thing: Well, my father in law died unexpectedly earlier this year.  It was kind of a first-time experience for me and the Dude, though obviously way harder on him than me. He is terribly missed. 

Hardest Thing, Professional: There's a feeling that's hard to nail down, which I talked some about last week. And I think what it boils down to is this: putting your first book out is kind of like getting out into the world after high school or college. As long as you're in development, you get all those soaring speeches about your limitless potential, bright future, etc. etc. etc. - but the fact is, as soon as you get out there and choose something, do something (however awesome it is!) you are no longer the great exciting wild card.  You are officially a Known Quantity.  And I don't think there's any way to avoid being a little bit sad about that.

Though cake usually helps.

Hardest Thing, Personal: Being married. And before anybody's monocle drops in the champagne, no, we're good. Nobody is sleeping in the car or shacking up at the Val-U Lodge. But this year really whacked us upside the head with the realization that you seriously do have to keep working at this marriage thing all the time, because the two of you are changing all the time. Sometimes it's just really fuckin' hard. And if that seems like a weird thing to admit on a public blog in front of God and everybody, you might check out a great article about this very phenomenon - it's called Facebook's Last Taboo.  (I kinda think we might do better if we DID talk about this stuff more, to be honest. Moving our collective business online is great and all, but it makes it deathly easy to start believing that you are sailing your lonely failboat through a sea of unbroken perfection, and that's true whether we're talking about mommy-crafts on Pinterest, author news on Twitter, or relationship issues anywhere.)

Luckiest Thing: Being married. Yep. There's a million decent guys in the world, but to date, only one who's saved me from total enchilada meltdown, makes me laugh 'til I cry, and chivalrously cleans the cat's eye-boogers on the regular.  It's a hell of a job, and I'm so lucky he keeps turning up to do it!

Dumbest Thing: Staying up all night trying to beat a deadline... twice.  Truly, mine is the dumbest of asses.

Most Epic Thing: Going to WorldCon.  Seriously, y'all: I was not prepared for that level of fun.  I had a three-day endorphin hangover after the fact.  Maybe it just felt way more intense because it was the capstone for a whole summer of wild extremes, but it was such a feeling, to start some relationships and Pokevolve others, and to spend a long weekend in a seething mass of people who were all there to enjoy something.  It was every con I've ever been to, dialed up to 19, and I can't WAIT to do it again.

And that's our show! I'd like to congratulate all the winners, and tell myself how much I earned all of these wonderful accolades.  Thank you, me: you are truly the light of our times.

Oh, but in seriousness: I do want to finish by taking a moment to remember some of the people who aren't making the trip into 2015.  This has been a big year for hashtag tragedies - you know, for the people who should still be here right now, and whose stories I hope you've already heard and acted on. But I also want to remember the people who didn't make the news - ones we tried our hardest to keep with us, and couldn't hang on to. Join me, if you would, in pouring a digital libation for Jay Lake, Eugie Foster, CJ Henderson, and Spider Robinson's daughter, Terri Da Silva.  Better yet, read their books and their blogs, so that we can keep their words and ideas with us.

And actually, if you have somebody you'd like to add to that list, please feel free to include them in the comments here. The way I see it, we've got an exciting new year right around the corner, and more than enough headspace to bring our dearly remembered along for the ride.

And now I think of my life as vintage wine from fine older kegs
From the brim to the dregs - it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Biggest Deal Ever

Y'know, when you're a kid, everything is THE BIGGEST DEAL EVER.

Not getting a cookie = biggest deal ever.

Christmas when you're four = biggest deal ever.

Middle school crush = biggest deal ever.

High school breakup = the catastrophic, world-ending bigness of this deal cannot be overstated.

And part of that's because your brain hasn't pupated yet, and you're still working on things like impulse control and executive function.  But I think a lot of it's because everything just feels SO MUCH MORE EPIC when you're experiencing it for the first time - you know, there's no precedent to fall back on, no "well, this is like that other thing that happened that other time" to help you put things in perspective.  (This must also be why we unabashedly LOVE the stuff we read/watched/listened to when we were kids, back when everything was brand-new and there was no such thing as a cliché.  I love many things, but nothing will ever match the savage virginal ferocity with which my 15-year-old self loved Sailor Moon.)

Except maybe for Youkai Yume's Sailor Ponies.  Be still, my throbbing ovaries.

I kinda feel like we don't make enough allowances for that in adulthood.  There's this prevailing opinion that by the time your prefrontal cortex is fully up and running (when you're about 25), you should pretty much have all the emotional training you need to deal with your life.

The thing is, though, the first-time stuff keeps rolling off the line.  First marriage.  First real job.  First kid.  First major illness in the family.  First death in the family.  First kid leaving home.  And even though you're trying so hard to do a good job piloting your grown-up mecha, it all still feels like the biggest deal ever - because it's all still totally new.

All of which is to say, I'm sorry for falling off the planet over these last couple months.  No, no dire secret tragedies here - I just got into this weird, nasty funk, and it's taken me awhile to discover the source of the River Angst.

See, when we were launching Sixes this summer, I tried REALLY hard to get it all right.  Guest blogs, con appearances, Twitter things, Facebook things, launch party, the whole nine yards.  It went great - better than I could have ever expected.  I didn't manage to do everything, but I had a fantastic time. 

Things got kind of backed up in fall.  Commitments and deadlines piled up, and I fell off the promotional wagon altogether.  Sales and mentions nose-dived.  By winter, I was totally wiped out - and then the "best of 2014" lists started rolling out, and I came down with this awful cocktail of bitterness and exhaustion and guilt.  Bitterness because my book had disappeared without a trace, exhaustion because I was too dang tired to contemplate another round of the "look at me, aren't I wonderful?" schtick, and guilt because A) I knew I hadn't done everything I could to help myself, and B) it is incredibly stupid and petty to get bent out of shape about stuff like this.  (I have a book that is published and in the actual bookstores, and another one on the way.  I AM the 0.00001%.)

The funny thing about these biggest-deals-ever is that you can KNOW that they are really the smallest of the small stuff - lepton-like in their #firstworldproblems insignificance - and still not be able to get past it.  The best you can do is keep your mouth shut and try really REALLY hard not to channel your inner Dudley Dursley, throwing a fit because you only got 36 presents this year. 

But then a happy thing happened last week.  Sixes got a great mention on SFsignal's latest Mind Meld (thanks, J! You are the queen!) Then a couple of days later, 4 out of 5 stars from the San Francisco Book Review.  And yesterday - this one's totally lighting up my life right now - a place of pride on a book blogger's Best of 2014 list.

And that just, like... I don't know, totally parted the clouds.  I realized that it was never really about wanting the big prizes or winning All of the Buzz.  Almost without exception, the people in the running for those are people who've invested years - decades - in the craft and the community. I might still throw my name in the ring, but I have not put in NEARLY enough hours to be a serious contender.  That's all right.  That's really as it should be.  I think more than anything, I just wanted assurance that I don't have to keep pushing every single second in order to keep my name out there, that I wrote something that can stand on its own - you know, that people who don't know me at all can still pick up my strange, dense, offbeat little book and find good things in it.

And I almost didn't post this, because for all that we praise the inner child, you're really not supposed to show the world your inner two-year-old... but I've talked to several other writers lately who are all in different stages of the process, and all going their own special kind of crazy.  It's a wonderful, peculiar business that we're all lucky to be a part of, but the thing people don't talk about much is that there really is only one way to stress-test a submarine... and you don't know where your weak spots are until you go deep enough for something to spring a leak.  That's normal - all part of growing into a big strong grown-up author - but you can't fix it until you figure out where the water's coming in.  I expect that's true for other things, too.

So all of this is to say that you, upstanding sophont that you are, are almost-certainly doing a great job of adulting - but if you ever do catch yourself feeling massively, disproportionately irrational about something, and can't implicate any of your usual suspects, it might be worth checking to see if maybe you aren't having a first-time-induced biggest-deal-ever.  They sneak up on you long after you've taken charge of your own juice and naptimes.

--"I don't mind dragons THIS size," said Mother.  "Why did it have to grow to be so BIG?"
--"I'm not sure," said Billy, "but I think it just wanted to be noticed."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Retweeting is Not Enough

Well, this really hasn't been a banner week for race relations in America.

Marissa Alexander took a plea bargain to avoid a potential 60-year prison sentence for firing a warning shot when her estranged husband assaulted her.  Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler thought it would be funny to make watermelon jokes when presenting Jacqueline Woodson with the National Book Award.  Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old boy, was killed by police who mistook his toy gun for the real thing.  And then, of course, a St. Louis County grand jury made the statistically exceptional decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the shooting of Mike Brown.  EDIT: And manslaughter charges have just been dropped for the officer who killed 7-year-old Aiyana Jones during a botched police raid. 

So really what I should be saying is, this has been a god-awful week for black people in America.

I should mention that my Twitter feed blows up pretty reliably for every social shitstorm: Wendy Davis' filibuster, the Israel-Gaza conflict, #YesAllWomen, GamerGate, and so on.  And thanks to the magic of the retweet function, it's an eye-opening education every time: I get to hear from the most amazing, eclectic assortment of people - folks I never heard of or would have known to follow - because their voices have been signal-boosted around the world.

I don't tend to say anything myself.  Partly because I find social media tediously stressful whenever I use it as anything besides a newspaper.  Partly because Author Training School teaches you to play nice and get along, because the Internet is forever and the world is watching.  And partly because I'm either worried about appropriating victimhood within a group I belong to (for example, what right do I have to shout about sexual harassment when I've never been sexually harassed?), or else - as this week, when it's about a group I *don't* belong to - anxious not to speak out of turn.

We feel that a lot, don't we?  Whenever we are members of the dominant/majority group, there is always that urge not to be seen as insensitive, bigoted, or tone-deaf.  Maybe you don't want to be attacked for saying the wrong thing.  Maybe you don't feel qualified to render an opinion.  Maybe you are worried about speaking over the voices of the people who are most affected by the issue at hand.  Regardless, in this age of "like", "share", and "retweet", it is easier than ever before to let a one-click "yeah, what s/he said" do the talking for you.

But the National Book Award foul-up last week let me hear a really interesting case against that.  Here, let me re-blog-tweet it for you (and then advertise this post on Facebook for a veritable turducken of media incest):

(Please note that I have curated this page above - for the unabridged version, I recommend following @djolder himself.)

It's a hell of a proposition, isn't it?  Maybe it's just surprising to me because I've steeped for such a long time in the 'Hippocratic' school of social activism: don't tone-police, don't concern-troll, don't speak for, over, or above marginalized voices, and definitely, definitely don't make your feelings their problem.  "First, do no harm" sounds good until it turns into doing nothing, which is actually harmful.

But at the same time, this conversation up here was also a big relief to read, because it says so explicitly what maybe I should have realized a long time ago.

That EVERYbody struggles with this stuff, first of all.

That getting it wrong is as inevitable as it is survivable, secondly.

And most importantly, like... you know, doing the right thing is not like making a box of mac 'n cheese.  There is no such thing as a clear, unvarying, universal set of instructions to follow.  Doing the right thing is uncomfortable, messy, and different every time, because the issue at hand is different every time.  In fact, the only place where consistency seems to congregate is in the act of doing the *wrong* thing - that is, in saying little and doing nothing.  Maybe consistency itself is at the root of the problem, via those pattern-hungry urges we have to make everything fit into a reliable narrative - to treat everything we experience according to the same set of four-legs-good/two-legs-bad mental protocols.

So from here on out, I aim to do a better job of speaking up.  And here is my first exhortation: resist the pattern-spiders, people.  Fight them as hard as you can.

Love the NRA?  Ask yourself where their open-carry fervor went when Tamir Rice and John Crawford were shot for even appearing to exercise their 2nd-amendment rights.

Think this Ferguson mess would be better if we'd voted in more Democrats?  Gotta deal with the fact that the prosecutor on the Darren Wilson case (not to mention the state governor and the president) is a Democrat.

Big on men's rights?  Can't sit this one out: the overwhelming number of black boys and men who are incarcerated or killed by police, *especially* for appearing 'threatening', makes the problem of gender profiling incredibly clear.

Feminist at heart?  Definitely can't sit this one out: not only does a movement advocating equality for everyone need to stand up when it's men's turn on the institutional chopping block, but it also has to acknowledge that those deaths and convictions above are still being perpetuated by white feminine finger-pointing.

I'll stop here, because snark is unbecoming, and you wonderful people have almost-certainly done more than I have (which is again, shamefully close to nothing.)  But you get my point: we are biologically programmed to look for patterns, build a worldview around them, and then sort out everything we encounter in a way that fits that vision.  Making changes to that framework - demolishing bits we've realized were wrong, making new additions, remodelling the existing parts to fit together in a different way - is uncomfortable, messy, and different every time. know, kind of like doing the right thing.

Anyway, I'm going to do a long-overdue right thing, chip in for Ferguson, and get me one of Daniel José Older's books.  Good luck in your own striving for rightness, y'all: it's a hell of a challenge, but one we can't afford to sit out on.

"The worlds within and without the Veil of Color are changing, and changing rapidly, but not at the same rate, not in the same way; and this must produce a peculiar wrenching of the soul, a peculiar sense of doubt and bewilderment."

Monday, November 17, 2014

On Xenolinguistics and Snow

Guys.  Guys.  I am reporting live from a third-floor window in Ohio, where there are *multiple inches* of snow on the ground.  This is not a drill.

There is snow ON THE SNOWMEN. 
Up is down. Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is strength.
There are many wonders in this foreign land.  In the past three days, I have driven on ice (and not died), attended services at my New Favorite Church (and not not-cried), paid a toll for driving on an Interstate (and felt Eisenhower rolling in his grave), parked on the lawn like a mannerless double-wide Visigoth because I couldn't see the curb for all the leaves, eaten insanely delectable quorn kimchi, gotten from somewhere to somewhere else in less than ten minutes, and experienced firsthand the power and majesty of a well-tuned ukulele.  This kind of thing is liable to happen when you work with a linguist who is smart enough to craft languages for your books, but dumb enough to tell you where he lives (and let you spend a weekend living there too.  Thanks, Jason!)

And y'all, I'm just so geeking out about all the wordomancy we did together.  I love that the fishmen have a human racial slur that translates to "belly button".  I love that Vuchak uses men's speech and Weisei doesn't, and now I know what that sounds like.  I love that ei'Krah now has words for deer-haggis and the drowning song and a "bite the bullet" expression that sounds like AND means "suck your teeth", and even though 95% of my readers will never notice or care, *I* know all those things are there, and someday somebody is going to discover them and love them to pieces.


You can't love any of our cool new language stuff until Medicine for the Dead comes out next year, but here is an amazing thing that you can love RIGHT NOW.

You see, there are not one but TWO genius linguists living in this Midwestern house of miracles, and the one who didn't stay up 'til 1AM crafting past-particles with me was in fact freshly returned from the SETI Institute, where she gave a presentation on xenolinguistics.  That is a great, smart, scholarly-sounding term for a thing that we actually know nothing about – namely, alien languages.

But let me tell you: just because we are wallowing in ignorance doesn't mean we can't have a phenomenal conversation about it.  I'd often thought about the Han and Chewie problem – you know, what it would be like to have mutual intelligibility, but lack the anatomy to actually speak the other person's language – but Sheri brings up an even more dire possibility: what if we just don't have the brain-wiring to understand each other at all?  Like, think back to Helen Keller, and how enormously difficult it was for her to first realize that the sensations she experienced with one hand were linked to the signs that Annie Sullivan spelled into the other.  As Sheri says, we need that "oh, that's what we're doing here!" epiphany before we can connect the things/ideas/actions/qualities to the sounds/signs/smells/colors/temporal-disturbances that name them.  The notion that we would have trouble communicating is not a new one to me – but the idea that we might not be capable of realizing that someone is trying to communicate just blows my mind. 

After all, people who can't speak or write or sign in the usual way have been enormously creative in finding ways to communicate with the muggle world.  Think about Stephen Hawking's voice synthesizer, or Jason Becker's grid-alphabet, or the book Jean-Dominique Bauby wrote by blinking his left eye.  So many times, we have moved heaven and earth to connect with each other – but none of that can happen until we realize that there is another mind to connect with.  (And now I'm thinking of Odo from Deep Space Nine – an infant shapeshifter whose natural form is a fluid, and who spent years being tortured by a curious, well-intentioned scientist who never realized that the goo in the glass was a sentient life-form.)

Though there is always hope for the next generation.
Anyway, this-all isn't meant to sound as gloomy as it does: after all, anticipating challenges is a great first step to recognizing and overcoming them.  Definitely, definitely check out Sheri's presentation for all the wonder and wisdom that this blog post is so lacking, and stay for the questions afterward.  Should animal communications ever count as language?  When it comes to intelligent life in the universe, is our sample size really n=1?  If it's so cold that wiper blades routinely freeze to their windshields, are humans flaunting God by living here?

I'll work on that last one and get back to you.  Stay warm in the meantime, e-friends – I'm off to go learn how to wear a scarf!

Do you like it?  Does it smell good?  Does it have teeth?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Out of Ink

It works like this. In my eternal quest for productivity, organization, and spiritual fulfillment, I keep this giant whiteboard calendar on my desk wall, where I record not only my appointments, but also what I actually DO with my time.  Thusly:

The secretary and "no whining" sign are unfortunately less effective.

It's not a perfect system, but it helps me partition the abyss of wasted time that my good intentions would otherwise fall into.  I also got these cool see-through markers to help me color-code the calendar.

It's not just a marker: it's an erasable ink missile delivery system.
 As of today, here's where we stand:

Red ink (writing and related fingers-at-keyboard activities - blogging, critiquing, so on) totally out.  Does not write any more.  Black ink (events) also totally out.  Green (paid jobs) and blue (wifery and household things) nearly full up. 

And that is pretty much how I've spent my time this year: hell-for-leathering the writing/socializing/doing part, and ignoring everything else.  I don't regret it, but I am a very particular kind of tired. 

Which is why I think I will have to enjoy NaNo from the sidelines this year.  Really wanted to do it, but I'm just about out of ink, gas, and juice.  (Also why I've totally fallen off the face of the blogosphere this month - if anyone missed me, please know that you are my favorite.)

BUT.  We all know that I would feel horribly lonely and unloved if I didn't have at least a few more gigs between now and holiday hiberation, and I'm delighted to say that this month has no less than three:

I will be at the Saginaw Public Library this Tuesday the 4th for their Annual Author Reception.  If you're in this neck of the woods, stop by at 6 - the name of my talk is "Building a Better Bookshelf", but I'll let you in on a secret: it's less about the shelf than the books on it, and less a talk than a collective discussion and literary pep-rally.

Likewise, for those of you in the greater Toledo area, I'll be up at Grounds for Thought in Bowling Green on Thursday the 13th.  This is a one-of-a-kind coffee shop / bookstore / community house, which is graciously having me out for a reading from 7 to 9 PM.  (No, don't worry - there won't be nearly that much reading!  Given my penchant for turning everything into a social occasion, I strongly suspect there will be a lively discussion there too.)

And finally - the crowning glory, here - I'll be doing my "Dialect to Die For" class at Winter Wheat at Bowling Green State University on Friday the 14th.  And I know what you're saying: "But Tex, I already saw that one at DFWcon, and plane tickets are so expensive!"  To which I say, "Yes, but what you have NOT seen are my secret weapons, Jason and Sheri Wells-Jensen, and their class on creating constructed languages."  So if you want to know how they do it on Star Trek, get some Priceline help from Bill Shatner and come on out!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Is That a Saguaro, or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

Hello again, Internet friends!  Going to try to keep it short this week, as your intrepid reporter is once again on the road, reporting live from an undisclosed location.

I can disclose this cactus, though. It is super freakin' weird.
Anyway, here's all the latest from the Tex Files:

I will be presenting at North Lake College's annual Arts & Literary Festival next week!  This gig is especially near and dear to my heart. I've attended a lot of schools, but NLC is my spawn point, my Hogwarts, my ancestral alma mater. If you are lucky enough to live in the Irving area and have daytimes free, check out all the A & L festival - they have an amazing lineup, and it's all free to the public.

I am also delighted to say that I've been accepted as a speaker at The Mid-American Review's Winter Wheat Festival!  This is kind of obscenely exciting, because *not only* am I going to get to go to Ohio (AND SEE REAL ACTUAL SNOW), I'm also going to have near-fatal amounts of fun with my supreme arch-linguist co-conspirator Jason Wells-Jensen and his posse of language-constructing, uke-tickling adventurers.  If you or a loved one are going to be in the greater Toledo area November 14th-15th, come treat yourself to a back-to-back lineup of dialect and conlang and all the writer knowledge you can handle!

Digitally speaking, I'm featured over at Lawrence Schoen's Eating Authors this week. It's not only a perfect example of an ambiguous modifier, but a great excuse for me to tell the tale of the dinner that broke me.  (Full disclosure: the phrase "cheese-smothered fetal dachshunds" also worked its way in somehow.)

And finally, the endlessly effervescent Laura Maisano lit up my life with a stellar review of One Night in Sixes.  This is kind of triply delightful, because Laura is NOT ONLY the senior editor of Anaiah Press (aka somebody who reads for a living) AND the mother of a very active toddler (aka somebody who has a whole lot of non-reading demands on her time), BUT ALSO my sworn rival: her first novel, Schism, has just been picked up for publication in 2015 - and I already know it's going to blow the barn doors off.  Quick, help me congratulate her before jealousy drowns us all - and get ready to hear plenty more of her name before we're done!

(You will also hear more about sinister cacti, big-ass balloons, cheerful tube-dogs, and a whole passel of arid autumn delights, just as soon as I get time to write about them. Pics included.)

You better watch out for those man-eating jackrabbits, and them killer cacti. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Romancing the Gold; Going the Distance

Did you feel a tingle in the air this morning?  A slight but fundamental shifting of the balance of the universe?

That wasn't indigestion, my friend - today is truly an exceptional day.  Because today, Carolyn Williamson (writing as Carolyn Rae) has had her first fiction book published: a romantic suspense novel called Romancing The Gold.

"Romantic suspense?  That doesn't sound like your usual."

It isn't!  In fact, it's more like my Never Have I Ever (though I fully intend to correct that, starting with this one here!)

But let me tell you why this is A Thing.

See, Carolyn is a founding member of my workshop, the DFW Writers Workshop - which opened in 1977.  And when I visited NTRWA last week, I found out that not only is she a founding member there too (since 1983!), but they've named their most prestigious award after her - the Carolyn Award

And no, your math ain't wrong: she's been at this for over 35 years.  I don't know what she was doing back during the disco craze, but I can tell you this: I've seen her at DFWWW pretty much every week since I joined. Organizing the read list. Bringing little goodies in. Standing up during every call for submissions and rejections. And - here's the key point - always, always reading something new.  She hasn't just been taking up space on the roster since the Carter administration: she's been working full tilt, flat out, to go the distance and make the dream happen.  Along the way, she's published cookbooks and articles, learned and taught, raised a family and travelled the world. 

Shoot, I remember last year, when this book was first picked up for publication.  How we cheered!  How excited we were for her!  ...and how astonishing it was to hear her stand up, less than a month before its release date, to announce that the publisher had gone out of business.

And let's be real, guys: when your three-decades-overdue ship finally comes in, only to sink at the dock, you would be well within your rights to hurl your Underwood into a bonfire and crawl into a bottle of Wild Turkey.  Not Carolyn.  She went with us to IHOP, ordered herself a big ice cream sundae, and then got right back on the wagon.

And here we are today. 

Y'know, my friend Shay said something really wonderful a couple of weeks ago - about how you need other writers, not just to help you get where you want to go, but also to show you how to be where you already are.  How to thrive at your current milestone, and keep pushing forward to the next one.  For me, Carolyn is both.  When I get to be her age, I want to be as legendary as she is - to have that diamond-bright reputation as an avatar of service, passion, and perseverance (and if people want to name an award after me, I won't say no!)  But I also want to emulate her cheerful, dauntless resilience, right now, today - and we at DFWWW are so lucky to have that modelled for us, every Wednesday night of the year.

Maybe you are not that lucky.  Maybe you don't get to hang out with Carolyn like I do.  Fortunately, she's on Facebook and has a blog - and as hard as she's worked on it, I strongly suspect her book is as exceptional as she is.  I don't know about you, but I can't wait to find out.

A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Aggressively Excellent

Hello again, Internetizens.  This is later than I meant it to be, because I've been flakier than usual lately.  Getting the Loft class up to cruising altitude has been a bigger job than I expected (though a fun one!), and end-of-the-month deadlines are looming.

But just to fill you in, the past week-and-a-half-ish has been me doing basically this --

-- with almost-uniformly-fantastic results.  Everybody at Benbrook and the NTRWA meeting was so damn good, and I feel so lucky to have not only had my own schtick so well-received, but to have gotten the chance to see them in action too.  I've always enjoyed getting in front of a live studio audience, but these days it feels especially essential, both career-wise and for my own sanity.

Like, I don't want to turn into somebody who can't be happy in my own headspace, but being two months post-publication is turning out to be this weird Twilight Zone of "mission accomplished" mixed with impending doom.  You know, like, the book is out, the Blue Fairy has come down and turned you into a Real Boy / Girl / Non-Binary Individual, and you're happy and everybody's happy for you - but every day the Amazon ranking drops is another day closer to getting your covers torn off and your paperbacks pulped, and there's this weird, sinister anxiety that every day you're not out there being aggressively awesome is a day that you're actively failing.

Or maybe that's just me.  Regardless, when you're as "asynchronous-communications-challenged" as I am, it's a HUGE freakin' treat to get to take your dog-and-My-Little-Pony-show on the road - to get out from behind the screen and wallow in the instant, positive feedback from dozens of your fellow Earthlings, whose facial expressions and body language and question/comments are constantly, reassuringly all but shouting the same message: you are unbelievably terrific, and I could not be more interested in this what you are saying to me.  (I know you can communicate that online too, but trying to be wonderful on the Internet feels a lot like trying to entertain a goldfish.  Like, "are you enjoying this, and would I know if you were?")

Reply hazy. Try again.
So!  In the spirit of not being an anxious wet wonder-wad, here are the high points:

Cowboys and Indians Magazine thinks Sixes sounds pretty cool!  ("an exception in more ways than one" - oh, just y'all wait.)

So does SFsignal!  (This may be the only time I get mentioned in the same breath as Kazuo Ishiguro without "totally doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as" intervening.  Treasure it with me.)

Sixes made it to The Author Visits' Top 5 recommendations!  That is fabulous in itself (I already have a wrinkled yellow copy of TAV's review tucked up under my pillow), but even more so when you know Veena's insane read rate.  Believe me, making it to her top 100 would put you solidly in the 1%.

And - here's the best part - my new best friend J.R. Forasteros has not only read the book, but loved it so much that he's moving to DFW to be closer to my genius.*  So he's probably driving a U-Haul down I-65 right now, but consider this your perfect chance to catch up on the Storymen podcast in the interim - because you will definitely be hearing more about them!
*actually, he's moving here for a job.  But the rest is true.

Which is the perfect segue to my last bullet-point: if you are one of the classy, sophisticated Beautiful People who have read One Night in Sixes, please consider leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads, and/or Barnes and Noble.  Doesn't need to be quadruple-A+!  But while I'm waiting for Oprah to get back with me, your buzz-generating assistance will not only make a huge difference in my visibility, but also date-stamp your hipster cred.  That is a service I'm glad to provide for you.

In the meantime, all you local yokels better buckle your belt and strap on your boots, because FenCon is nearly upon us.  See you there!

I'll catch you yet, my pretties. Oh yes.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Big Idea Book Bloggers - Dorris the Loris

Y'know, I'm still learning about this whole "how to be an author" gig.  How to ask for publicity.  How to manage my time.  How to present myself as the kind of person who totally doesn't make dick jokes at a conference meeting.

But in this business, one thing you learn really dang quick is that the book blogger is your almighty benevolent e-Jesus.  For those of us trying to get people to pay for something we were dumb enough to write for free, there is nobody more potent than someone who's made it their mission to 1) read a metric shedload of books and 2) tell the world about them.  

So in the spirit of gratitude, community, and helping you find books that don't suck, I'd like to spotlight some of my favorites.

As book bloggers go, Dorris (alias Kelly Rennie) is an odd one. For one thing, there are not too many tiny primates doing book reviews - and for another, her blog is not exclusively book-focused.  She covers what she calls "the four Fs": food, fashion, fantasy fiction, and feminism.  Now there's a mixed bag!

dat face!
And actually, One Night in Sixes was something of a mixed bag for her too. Which is more than fair!  Here's the wild part, though: not only was she game for talking to me and my editor about it on Twitter afterwards (which is NOT a traditional post-review activity!) but she then went out and wrote a whole new blog post called Diverse Fantasy: Five Great Reads to Get You Started, with this bewitching premise:

On the one hand, a common statement made in support of fantasy fiction is that it allows us to escape the every day,  the familiar, the humdrum. But if we settle for the same formulaic plots involving white farmboys saving the world with the help of greybeard wizards that spells aside could have walked out of an academic basement at any time in the last 100 years or so, don’t we deserve to feel bamboozled when something new comes along?

Can't lie, guys - that was kind of a mindbender moment for me. I'd never thought of that before - or rather, I'd never considered how easy it is for ANY of us, in any sphere (not just bookworld!) to get accustomed to business as usual... and consequently, to feel as lost and uncomfortable as a road-tripping hobbit when suddenly we find ourselves on the Path Less Taken.  (Exhibit A: me at every non-chain restaurant ever.)

I saw a great post once, which I wish I could find now, about political and social activism.  Basically, it spoke about how important it is to not get so caught up in your cause that you forget the enormity of what you're asking your listener to do - which is to say, to leave behind their old, comfortable point of view, and think in a totally new way.

I expect that's true of books as well.  Like, I don't believe for a minute that we should make that a reason not to reach for the stars and push to the limits... but I can definitely, definitely attest that after you've spent years tromping out in the metaphorical wilderness, it can be hard to come back to civilization and understand why all the comfortable couch-people don't want to come out and skin squirrels with you.  It's not that they're lazy.  It's not that they're chicken.  It's that what you're asking them to do has ZERO relation to any of what they're used to... and it's so, so much easier to get haughty and bitter about that than it is to wash out your beard-fungus, grow some empathy, and think about what you could do to help sweet-talk them out of their comfort zone.

Anyway, back to Dorris!  I'm so glad that she reviewed my book, not just because of the great discussion that it touched off, but also because I might never have run across her blog otherwise - and one glance at her archives proves that when it comes to tussling with big ideas, this ain't her first rodeo.  Some of my belated favorites:

Are we too hard on those upset by the death of public figures?

A rant about folk crafts

'Chubby' chick lit - for bigger women or bigger profits?

So there you have it, folks. I'm confident you've got a dozen awesome book-bloggers already on your RSS feed - but I'm plumb positive that you don't have any fashion-forward, body-positive, librivoracious members of subfamily Lorisinae... and isn't it about time you corrected that?

(I was going to post two more blog-folks here, but this is already so epic that I think we'll let it stand its own.  Tune back in next time - maybe we can make this a regular thing!)

The first key to love is the four L's: love, loathing, listening, and lemurs.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Interview: Beth Cato and The Clockwork Dagger

All right!  So today y'all are in for a treat - because today, I have the pleasure of interviewing the unrelentingly fabulous Beth Cato, author of... well, here, she can tell it better than I can.  Make sure you're sitting down for this, because it's gonna get real.  Real awesome.

Beth Cato
author of The Clockwork Dagger
High Priestess of Churromancy
and fearless corseteer
TT: So I'm obviously at an advantage cuz I already know a little bit about the book, but just to help get the rest of the world up to speed: how would you describe The Clockwork Dagger to a brand-new listener?

BC: I originally pitched it to my agent as MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS on a airship, with a healer as the lead character, and I think that's still accurate. Just add in espionage, a dash of romance, and a temperamental world tree.

TT: Haha, amen to that - if I had a dollar for every time Yggdrasil got on my case...!  But I'm really interested in this idea of having a healer as the main protagonist - it's definitely not something we see very often.  What inspired you to make Octavia a medician?

BC: Healers/white wizards/clerics have been my Mary Sue since I was 11 years old. I fell in love with Final Fantasy II (now best known as the Japanese FFIV) for Super Nintendo and bonded with Rosa, the white wizard. My grandpa had died of a terminal illness a few months before, and the idea of healing magic hit me in a very profound way. Whatever I wrote--or tried to write--from then on tended to explore that kind of magic. I wanted novels with that kind of lead character and never found them. I wrote the kind of book I wanted for a very long time.

(This is Rosa, but also my love letter to Yoshitaka Amano.)
TT: Oh, man, let's hear it for those of us who had our minds permanently altered by 16-bit epic sagas.  But one thing that really impressed me in reading your chapter 1 is that Octavia would not be mistaken for any kind of "quiet gentle hero's girlfriend" archetype.  It's clear that she cares about people and is dedicated to her profession, but she can also be brusque, fearless and direct - definitely nobody's squishy back-row wallflower.  What was your biggest influence in shaping her personality?

BC: I wanted to defy the healer stereotype that you see in so many games and books: the supportive character. The one you keep in the back row, because if the boss monster hits them, they die in one hit. Octavia needed to be passionate. This is a woman who is 22-years-old, but she's spent the past decade in training as a healer, and most of that as a medician and doctor at the front lines of a war. I was inspired by tales of battlefield nurses and doctors from World War I and II. If you're not strong at the start of that job, by golly, you better find your gumption at some point.

TT: Boy, ain't that the truth!  But the other thing that occurs to me is that in fantasyland, you usually just wave your magic wand and everything's all better - no need to dirty your nice white robes.  I see that's definitely not the case in The Clockwork Dagger: the healing process seems to be as ugly and visceral and real as the wounds themselves.  Was that a big factor for you in crafting your magic system?

BC: Yes. I'm big on realism. My agent and editor can attest to that, as they asked me to tone things down a bit and reduce the details!

TT: Holy mackerel.  If the "puppy misunderstanding" in chapter one is the toned-town version, I'm not sure I could handle the rawness of the original!  And speaking of the editorial process, I was reading about how you nearly followed your beta reader's advice cut out the gremlins - and yet they were ultimately what ended up selling the book!   What do you reckon people love so much about cuss-ugly little flying cat-monsters?

BC: *laughs* People love rex cats and pug dogs and all kinds of critters that are called ugly. I just rolled them all into one, made them green, and added some wings. I think it's how gremlins act, too. Leaf the gremlin chirps, purrs, and says a lot without actual English. He's based in part on my belated cat, Palom, who managed to be obnoxious and endearing all at once.

Ah, memories.
TT: Ahh, so he's got some of that "Toothless" magic in him, then - not a cat, and yet totally cat-like in all the best ways!  (Virtual fist-bump for naming your cats after the FFIV Wonder Twins, BTW.)  Actually, speaking of endearing, I also wanted to ask you about your school visit - I know you were super nervous about it, but ended up having a really great time with the junior high students.   How did the kids' interest in you and your book differ from what you usually get from adults?  Was there anything that especially surprised you?

BC: There was a lot of common ground in the questions asked by these kids, grades 6-8, and adults. They often ask what the book is about and where my ideas come from, and everyone asks if my novel will become a movie. I was very surprised and pleased that the kids connected so strongly with my book cover and my character of Alonzo. No one asked about Octavia. Alonzo is described as having nutmeg skin, and bless the folks at Harper Voyager, but they fully supported having him on the cover exactly as he should be. My son's school has varied demographics and strong Hispanic representation. You could see these kids' eyes light up when they saw Alonzo--he looks strong and positive! They need to see more people of color like that on covers.

TT: Beth, there's not a "Like" button here, but even if there were, I couldn't hammer it hard or fast enough.  That definitely stood out to me too, and I'm so glad to hear that you didn't have any trouble getting a cover that's as forward-looking as the book itself.  One more bookish question, while I'm thinking of it: with both Alonzo and the gremlins, we've touched on this idea that you-the-author can't always know what will resonate with your audience.  But if you were going to make a conjecture, what do you think people will really remember about your book?

BC: If I go by the blurbs thus far, the two stand-out elements are the magical system and the gremlins. The cover gets a lot of reactions, too. At Phoenix Comicon, I had lots of high fives because of it!

Beth's Churro Shortbread Cookies. 
Carbohydrometry at its finest!
TT: AS WELL YOU SHOULD!!  (And I would add that I am definitely looking forward to this new post-World-War-I steampunk world you've devised!)  Last question, cuz it's not every day that I get an audience with the High Priestess of Churromancy herself: did any of your legendary baking passions translate into your book?  Any dirigible donuts or clockwork croissants?

BC: *laughs* Food certainly plays a role. Gremlins love cheese, and that's definitely a projection of one of my great loves. There's also a country named Frengia to the north that's inspired by Canada, and in my kingdom of Caskentia, the Frengian immigrants often manage bakeries that feature maple.

TT:  Oh my gravy.  Well, folks, you heard it here: if you want to see cheese-eating cat-monsters, butt-kicking (and butt-healing!) medicians, airship whodunits and the steampunk answer to Tim Horton's, haste ye forth and pre-order THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER - coming September 16th to a war-torn kingdom near you!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Your Words. Let Me Help You Love Them.

"Okay, Tex. You did the book launch. You did con season. You did the big sequel reveal. Can we stop being excited now?"



Because I have to live with this level of heart-breaking, bowel-cramping excellence EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE - and I'll be damned if I'm going to suffer alone.  Trust me: you have not yet begun to know your capacity for enthusiasm. 

So let's talk about writing.  More specifically, about YOUR writing - and how you and I can make it even more awesome.  Here's what I got on the docket:

Tuesday, September 16th - "Punching Up Your Prose" (express edition!) at the Benbrook Library

Hey, DFW peeps - you know that DFWcon class that you were so annoyed you missed?  Well, it's like I always say: if you wait long enough, the circus always comes back to town - and this time, the town in question is Benbrook, just southwest of Fort Worth.  They have a wonderful library, complete with an endlessly delightful librarian named Cullen Dansby - and just look what he's made for the occasion!

Is that not toe-curlingly fabulous?  I would submit that it is.  Here's the full class description:

If your book were a movie, it would be an instant classic.  A stellar premise.  Unforgettable characters.  Mind-blowing plot turns.   But somehow the words on the page aren’t fully conveying the tension of the tight parts, or the loveliness of the pretty parts, or the shocking-ness of the shocking parts.  In this class, we’ll study the art of changing your writing style and word choice to complement the mood of any given scene – and also reveal handy techniques for turning every chapter of your manuscript into a lean, mean, page-turning machine.

And here's the best part: this version of the class NOT ONLY free to all comers, but also adjoins the Benbrook Library critique group meeting.  Yes, exactly! You come, I do the dog and pony show, we all sit down, you share your work, and we talk about it.  If that sounds like a good time to you, head over to the Benbrook Library's Writing Critique Group page and check out the "Group Rules and Guidelines" to get the whole scoop.  I would love to see you there!

Saturday, September 20th - "Dialect to Die For" at the NTRWA Meeting in Colleyville

Yes, it's that other DFWcon class that you've been kicking yourself for missing!  And this time, it's being brought to you by the letters N, T, R, W, and A.  Here's the deal:

When it comes to dialect, we often hear that ‘less is more’.  So how do you render a good Scottish brogue, or Southern drawl – and for that matter, how can you give a non-English-speaking character a voice that’s distinct but still readable?  In this class, we’ll examine how to represent accents and speakers of other languages in a way that captures their voices without reducing them to verbal tics, gimmicks, or stereotypes.

But who is this mysterious NTRWA? Why, it's these fine folks here!

(and with a posterior as magnificent as that, you KNOW you're going to have a good time.)
And here's the best part: the North Texas Romance Writers of America are offering this presentation at their monthly meeting - and guests are welcome to attend up to two meetings at no cost before being asked to join.  And there is lunch. 

I know, right. NOW you're interested.  So head over to the NTRWA Meeting Info page to get all the specifics -  because as excited as I am to have been invited to speak there, I would be even more enthused to bring some friends!

"Oh!" I hear you say.  "Those sound like fun - but I'm not lucky and special enough to live in the earthly paradise that is the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.  What do you have for me?"


Perfecting Your Prose - the supreme interactive unstoppable kaiju granddaddy of "Punching Up Your Prose" - is going live at on Monday, September 15th

Needless to say, I'm pretty psyched about that.  The online format is awesome, for one thing, and the prospect of getting to actually sit down and work with folks on their writing is super cool.  (Can't do much of that with the traditional drop-the-mic-and-walk-offstage approach!)

Anyway, this class is of the non-free variety, and I realize that six weeks and $200 is not a small chunk of anyone's anything.  So here is a tasty morsel, speared on a toothpick for your sampling pleasure: the video syllabus for the class, illustrating the tempting wonders that await you!

And there you have it, folks.  If that sounds good, head over to Perfecting Your Prose and sign up to put my face in your space. We still have a few slots left, and I would love to fill them up with your fine selves!