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!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Medicine For the Dead - Cover Reveal!

All right, you guys.  We've done "ludicrously excited."  We've done "ecstatically exhausted."  We've even done "unexpectedly sad."  Now it's time to set your dial for impending awesomesauce, because Medicine for the Dead, the sequel to One Night in Sixes, now has a cover, a blurb, and a date.

Are you ready?

Are you sure?

Here it is!

cover by the devastatingly talented Tomasz Jedruszek!

Aw, just look at Vuchak - what a cheerful ray of sunshine he is!  But what's that?  Are those blood-stains on that rock there?  And who's that curled up in the wagon?  Here's the official scoop:

Two years ago, the crow-god Marhuk sent his grandson to Sixes. 

Two nights ago, a stranger picked up his gun and shot him. 

Two hours ago, the funeral party set out for the holy city of Atali'Krah, braving the wastelands to bring home the body of Dulei Marhuk.

Out in the wastes, one more corpse should hardly make a difference. But the blighted landscape has been ravaged by drought, twisted by violence, and warped by magic - and no-one is immune. Vuchak struggles to keep the party safe from monsters, marauders, and his own troubled mind. Weisei is being eaten alive by a strange illness. And fearful, guilt-wracked Elim hopes he's only imagining the sounds coming from Dulei's coffin.

As their supplies dwindle and tensions mount, the desert exacts a terrible price from its pilgrims - one that will be paid with the blood of the living, and the peace of the dead.

"My face!" I hear you cry.  "Damn you, Tex, you've rocked my face off again!"

Well, re-stick your kisser and limber up your left-click, because Medicine for the Dead is coming out on March 31st.  You know what to do.

 Add to Goodreads

(No B&N or Indiebound yet, but hopefully the wait won't be too long.)

"March?" you may say. "What am I supposed to do until March?!"

Well, I have no doubt that you have a rich, fulfilling inner life, but I will do my best to keep you busy!  This week, you can find me at:

Mary Robinette Kowal's "My Favorite Bit" - in which I wax ecstatic about language, alternate history, and obscure video game references

Melissa Lenhardt's Author Q&A - and yes, I DO have a superhero alter ego, and no, it has nothing to do with fried haggis!

The North Lake College News-Register - because I don't know if you know this, but NLC raised me up from a tiny Texan sproglet into the planet-smashing success I am today.  Go for the article! Stay for the secret writing tips, and my not-so-subtle love-on for the community college lifestyle!

In seriousness, though - you know, maybe I will get to be a big somebody someday (planet-smashing or otherwise).  Maybe someday putting out a book will be business as usual, and reviews will come pouring in, and I'll have people @-replying me so hard and fast that I won't hardly be able to keep track of them, much less stop to answer them all.

But right now, today, I'm still small and new - and that's its own kind of wonderful, because it means that I can see, notice, and appreciate every little thing y'all do to light up my life.  At this stage of the game, every book-photo you post is a joy.  Every "it was awesome!!" tweet is a delight.  Every review is a milestone.  Thank you guys - ALL you guys - for sharing me and my fictional friends with the rest of your world.  I am so excited to add to it!

Don't be too hasty. I can get you better revenge. This one has already killed one of their most valuable men, and these two have been fooled into taking him home to Atali'Krah. Sell our goods, but let us go on our way: we will take him to infect the children of Marhuk in their own home, and begin a new plague.