Ink coverThe publisher of Ink Calls to Ink has folders of stock photos for their authors to use in creating promotional materials. They have a pretty amazing selection to work from and they’ve done a great job curating it. But in creating character intro posters to seed the launch event on Facebook, something dawned on me. I write some atypical characters.

This was particularly apparent with two characters: Juliet and Franklin, the Steadfast Soldier.

While I was able to eventually find an image that worked for Juliet, it was not without compromise. It’s not difficult to find stock images of teenaged girls. But Juliet is not your typical teenager. She’s been living on the streets of London by the time the novel starts, a frequent Heroin user continually trying, and failing, to poison herself. She keeps herself covered up as much as possible, and while still pretty, she’s not the kind of teen girl you typically see gracing the covers of urban fantasy novels.

But I found something that could work. Perfect? No. But no one gets perfection in this messed up world anyway, so we take what we can and move on.

The real challenge was the Steadfast Soldier.

Also homeless, he has a certain earnest, rugged charm. There’s no shortage of stock photos of attractive men in varying degrees of ruggedness and undress. But for the life of me, I couldn’t find any that were missing a leg. I’m not saying that there are no stock photos in the universe showing a one-legged veteran. I would almost guarantee that something like that has to exist somewhere. But it’s not sexy. It doesn’t sell books. So it’s not the image that would automatically be curated for book promotions.

The sad truth is that the disabled are severely under-represented in speculative fiction.

And honestly, I’m not entirely sure why that is.

Why, in genres where werewolf clans battle ancient vampire lords, where humankind can fly to the far reaches of the galaxy to encounter alien civilizations, where boy wizards and dragon-riding girls can challenge ancient evils, why is it so difficult to imagine a hero with a disability. Genre fiction already requires leaps of imagination to make pig boys into kings. Why is level heroism reserved for the classically able-bodied?

I guess I’ve never really understood that. In fact, in one of my first novels, Greetings from Buena Rosa, the main character spent the half of the book on forearm crutches. And he was strong, capable, and heroic the entire time. It didn’t define him but it was still an integral part of where his life was at that point, something he was still struggling with. It didn’t occur to me that a disabled Mexican detective was an anomaly in urban fantasy. Then again, he had a trigger-happy panda sidekick, so everyone had their own stuff to deal with.

The very first incarnation, the short story “Ink Calls to Ink” I knew that there were two conflicts: Goldilocks vs. the Bears and a third party vs. the situation of Goldilocks and the Bears. I honestly have no idea why I chose the Steadfast Tin Soldier to be that third party. I knew that the Fictional Personae were homeless and that there is an epidemic of homeless vets. (As of 2013 there were approximately 9,000 homeless ex-service personnel in Great Britain, making them about 1/10 of the overall homeless population.) And living in a city, I am no stranger to seeing injured vets on the street. I figured soldier Fictional Personae would be a good point of view character to explore the pointlessness of violence for the sake of violence and cycles of retribution.

Having grown up on the Hans Christian Anderson stories, the Steadfast Soldier just sort of sprung up as an immediate front runner.

And now, having lived with him in my head through that story, all the way through the novel and beyond, I’ve grown quite attached to Franklin. (Anderson didn’t give him a name, so he had to give one to himself.) Because he’s an amazing character, defined by his strength and resolution, his steadfastness, if you will. Not by his perceived limitations. And yes, I treat the fact that he only has one leg as a limitation because it has some very real consequences and challenges. But all good characters have limitations that challenge them. Overcoming challenges is what makes them heroes.

And if you think he’s going to let his limited mobility stop him from challenging a group of racist punks trying to assault another Fictional Personae, then you’re in for one hell of a surprise.

Ink coverIt all started with Mary Poppins.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.

Put a pin in that. We’ll be back around.

My dad was a librarian. More than that, he was librarian whose real passion (other than books) was Existentialism, notably Jean Paul Sartre. But it’s hard to pay the bills with philosophy so he got his library science degree and got a job at a college in a small Colorado town when I was three years old.

So it’s really not a surprise that I grew up loving books. I had this unpainted chipboard bookcase, five shelves, just packed with whatever books suited my fancy. Does anyone remember the Harvard Classics? I had the Harvard Classics “Shelf of Fiction,” all twenty volumes, black hardcover volumes packed with more stuff than I realized until I looked it up on Wikipedia just now. I think ours were originally published in the fifties if I remember right, but they were in great shape. And I’ll be honest. I loved books, but I didn’t have the most general of tastes. I consumed some volumes while others went untouched.

The only drawback of being a well read kid is encountering teachers who want you to read at the district’s level rather than your own. Our district’s 8th Grade reading list was boring as dirt and I refused to read it on principle. By that point I was already reading Catch-22 off my dad’s bookshelf. I really didn’t feel the need to revisit Huckleberry Finn yet again. My clashes with that teacher were the stuff of legend, and I expect to meet her on the field of battle in Valhalla some day. But that’s the story for another day.

Point is, man did I ever love me some old books.

Flash forward to the summer of 2002. I was gearing up to run a Role Playing Game (RPG for the cool kids) over the summer, something I visualized as a three-part epic summer blockbuster. To that end, I asked my players to envision a favorite movie hero to join in this crossover to end all crossovers.

My friend Susan picked Mary Poppins.

That’s when things truly went delightfully Meta. It forced me to confront the structure of the world we were playing in. If these fictional characters were, in fact fictional yet still able to function in a shared space, what did that mean? How would that work and what implications would that have? Beside the obvious being that Mary Poppins would make a kick ass spy, of course.

So I ran the game, but the world that had started taking shape because of those questions continued to bubble in the background. I figured these fictional characters, these shipwrecked Fictional Personae, would have a difficult time adjusting. That even with whatever skills they possessed, it was a tough transition. They didn’t exactly have references you could call. There were already a ton of people out of work. Real people. Resources to deal with the situation wouldn’t be available forever. And after a while, the novelty would wear off. Yeah, life for a Fictional Personae must be rough.

Oh, and naming them Fictional Personae? That was kind of an in-joke. I always do extensive outlining before I write any novel, and at the front of the outline I list all the essential characters with notes about them. I’ve been calling all my characters Fictional Personae for over a decade at that point.

A few years later I wrote a short story about the Steadfast Tin Soldier, Goldilocks, and the Three Bears. I quite liked it. It got published on the Wily Writers Podcast in 2009 (and republished in Night Mantled: The Best of Wily Writers in 2011). In reading the story for that initial recording, Editor Angel Leigh McCoy insisted that there was a novel in there. I didn’t see it. It was just a story. One little story about how there aren’t always happy endings for fictional characters.

Not a novel.

That was crazy.

I had a full outline written in less than a week.

Because she was right. There was a novel there. But maybe not the one she thought. The novel of Ink Calls to Ink gave me the chance to rectify a few raw deals. Removed from the context of their story but fully aware of the text, were these characters necessarily the heroes or villains that the texts made them out to be? If given a second chance, what would characters like the murderous scorned wife Medea do with it? How much blame does Judas deserve for the events of his story, and what would he do for a chance at redemption? What would Don Quixote do without a horse, windmills, or his Dulcinea? Would Juliet embrace life or, with Romeo nowhere to be found, become a suicidal junkie? With the memory of building and losing Camelot fresh in mind, what kind of leader would King Arthur really be?

More to the point, did they have the free will to find out for themselves, or were they slave to their texts and the ink in their blood?

I’ve always seen myself as a bit of an outcast, an underdog, a misfit. I identify with those kinds of characters. And I’ve always loved the characters who stand up for a belief bigger than themselves even if it destroys them. So to play with some of literature’s misfits and see if they could find the hero inside themselves was a dream come true. Of all the novels I’ve written, Ink Calls to Ink is my very favorite.

Ink Calls to Ink comes out in July from CHBB Publishing and will be available in print and ebook wherever you buy books, online or in your neighborhood–though you may have to have your bookseller order it. In fact, I’d sincerely love if you ordered it from your local bookstore, but you do whatever works for you.

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Six Desert Island Jazz Essential Songs

Posted: May 19, 2015 in Music
Time is never on our side.

Time is never on our side.

In my formative years growing up, my dad didn’t listen to popular music. A former musician himself (sax and clarinet), he had a fondness for classical and jazz. I was that kid who recognized the Dave Brubeck tune in the Tom & Jerry cartoon when I was ten just by benefit of osmosis. When I finally moved out and started buying music for my own collection, one of the first CD’s I bought was Jazz. And I still go back to it on a regular basis.

But I know Jazz confounds some people. They don’t know where to start, or what’s good, or what they might like. And that’s fair. There’s a lot of it out there across a wide range of styles. For instance, I’m a sucker for the West Coast Cool Jazz school, but I range outside of that as suits my whims. I find it stimulates the brain and doesn’t distract when I’m getting writing done.

So, because I feel like it, here’s Six Desert Island Jazz Essential Songs that I keep coming back to again and again.

Dave Brubeck QuartetStrange Meadow Lark 

From the album Time Out (which was the Frampton Comes Alive or Thriller of its generation), if you had one Jazz album in your house growing up, chances are it was this one. Strange Meadow Lark, which has a lovely, long piano intro before Desmond kicks in with the alto sax is just the epitome of Cool Jazz for me.

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis ArmstrongIsn’t This a Lovely Day

On their own, they are legends of Jazz. Together, they were magical–honey and vinegar. The formula is simple in concept but brilliant in execution: Ella sings an intro, Louis sings the song, then Ella repeats with Louis playing flourishes around her. Break for a trumpet solo, and then they reprise together, their voices blending into the sound of perfection.

Miles DavisSummertime

From his 1958 album Porgy & Bess which was arranged by pianist and Jazz legend Bill Evans, this is my personal favorite Davis track ever. It makes me think of sitting on a NYC fire escape to try and catch a breeze in a hot summer, neon flickering in the darkness. This song made me want to live in a city and have adventures more than any rock song I’d ever heard in my life.

Bill Evans TrioMy Foolish Heart

Speaking of Bill Evans, I’m so bewitched by this guy. His trio, this incarnation in particular, was absolute perfection with Larry Bunker on drums and Chuck Israel on bass. Give me rain, a cozy seat at the window, and turn on the Bill Evans and I’ll be there all day and night. The way he coaxes a tune out of a piano never ceases to astound me. And the other guys in the trio back him up like they have psychic powers. If you come away with an appriciation for any jazz musician you didn’t know before this, I’d hope it would be Bill.

Johnny Hartman & John ColtraneLush Life

Johnny Hartman is the best Jazz baritone you’ve never heard of. He’s like liquid velvet. Simply the best male Jazz vocalist I can imagine. This song comes from an album which paired him with legendary sax player John Coltrane for one of the best jazz albums of all time.

Gerry Mulligan SextetMorning of the Carnival from Black Orpheus

Ok, I’m putting it out on the line here. If you can find this album anywhere, buy it. You will not be disappointed. Unless you don’t like Jazz at which point I commend you sir or madam for making it this far. Opening with the song Night Lights which almost made this list, it also features this amazing Bossa Nova riff on a track from the soundtrack of Black Orpheus (which you should find and watch). Mulligan is from the West Coast Cool Jazz school, and one of the premiere barritone sax players around. This track sizzles and always makes me smile.

Will of HopeYou know what I love more than discovering new authors with diverse voices? Pretty much nothing.

That’s why it’s such a delight for me to be a stop on the blog tour for Will of Hope.

Elle Carlton hasn’t seen light in nearly eight years…until now. When faced with the chance to find Kaleb, her missing love, there’s nothing she won’t do. Her determination knows no bounds except one: he’s not on Earth. Elle will have to leave everything she knows, and embark on a perilous journey from our world to Acryen—a realm where nothing is as it seems and truths are lost in all the lies.
In a land where dragons once ruled, magic is the ultimate weapon and kingdoms are on the brink of war. Prophecies are coming to life, and creatures unlike any other are emerging from the shadows. Elle only desires one thing: to find Kaleb. But, what she doesn’t know is Acryen has its own plan, and you cannot fight what’s already been written.

The first of what I hope to be many more books in the Acryen Series, Will of Hope is a great option for readers looking for the next big YA fantasy. It has a smart, well crafted and diverse cast of characters, clever writing, believable romance, and some great fantasy world-building. You can find it on Amazon by clicking on the picture of that damn gorgeous cover above, or on the title. Or you can find it on Amazon UK here.

And I’m such a fan, if you leave a comment below and share the link, you’ll automatically be entered to win a copy of Will of Hope.

About Yasmin Fazli:
Yasmin Fazli is an undergraduate college student studying biology to one day fulfill her dream of being a doctor. Little did she know, the small stories she used to write in middle school and high school developed into another dream she couldn’t live without. In the beginning of her senior year of high school, the idea of Will of Hope, her first novel, was born. It took on a life of its own, and it turned into something she couldn’t put aside. When she finished, she was so in love with the story and how the characters grew that she felt the need to share the happiness it brought with everyone and anyone. Still living the life of a college student, Yasmin works in a research lab, is apart of the Delta Gamma sorority, and fills her life with snowboarding and bouldering.
I’d also suggest following Yasmin on her various social media presences because trust me, she’s a new author to follow.

Fringe Candy: Polvoron

Posted: May 10, 2015 in Fringe Candy
From the Philippines straight to your heart.

From the Philippines straight to your heart.

I have this friend who makes knives.

Hear me out. I’m going somewhere with this.

See, he used to work for “The Man” doing complicated computer stuff that I couldn’t even begin to understand. Then he and his wife had a conversation about what he’d really want to be doing with his life, and his answer was that he wanted to make knives. Since his wife is also a Maker by nature and their budget allowed them to do that, he makes knives now. Like, truly amazing knives.

Now, the other day he and his wife were checking out this new Asian grocery that opened up near us, and they chanced upon the candy aisle. Knowing my Fringe Candy geekery, they picked up a little something for me–a sampler pack of Polvoron from from House of Polvoron in the Philippines.

The interesting thing is that despite being on the candy aisle I’d normally hesitate to call it Fringe Candy for two reasons. For one, in many ways Polvoron is more of a cookie than a candy. And two, it’s only “Fringe” from my admittedly limited cultural perspective. In other parts of the world, Polvoron is part of a rich tradition that dates back a long damn way.

Let’s start there, shall we?

From polvo, the Spanish word for “dust,” Polvoron appears to have originated in the Levantine culinary tradition of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and parts of Turkey. It traveled across northern African and into Spain during the expansion of the Caliphate in the early 8th century where it took root in the Islamic culture of the Iberian Peninsula for roughly 700 years, give or take. Currently, there are over seventy factories in Spain alone that manufacture Polvoron, and there are variations on the recipe around the world. The Mexican wedding cookie is a more cookie-fied version of the same concept, while in the south of Texas they make Pan de Povo which is essentially Polvoron with anise.

So, what exactly is it?

Imagine the most crumbly shortbread you can. Can you do that? Now imagine it even more crumbly, by a factor of ten or so. Made of flour, sugar, powdered milk, and nuts with just enough oil to hold it together (olive oil in some instances, but beef or pork fat in others–check your ingredient lists if you’re vegetarian or Kosher), a Polvoron is a bite-sized piece of goodness with the texture of a fresh sand castle.

They’re delicate and not too sweet which is a huge plus for me.

The Filipino take on the recipe uses a larger proportion of powdered milk than the Spanish version, and that’s the one I tried. Made by House of Polvoron, it started in 1987 with an old family recipe that was fiddled with until it was perfect and then tirelessly hand-delivered. The whole family took part in the company’s growth, building it into the international brand it is today.

The sampler I tried featured the Classic, Crisp Rice, Cashew, and Cookies & Cream. Each was distinctive and delicious. But again, not really quite like candy. There was something like a raw cookie dough quality, something delightfully…unfinished about them. Of the ones I tried, the Cookies & Cream was the sweetest, but even that was restrained. The rich nuttiness of the Cashew was my absolute favorite, but I’d readily enjoy any of them again. I’m tempted to seek out the Purple Yam or Green Tea flavors for comparison. And for chocolate geeks, they even do a chocolate covered variety that I imagine not only be sweeter but also more candy-like.

If you can find them, they’re well worth checking out, both for flavor and for a chance to dip your toe in some rich history and culture. But treat them gently because they’re fragile as hell. If you’re not careful you’ll just be sucking sweet sand out of a foil packet.

And if anyone can find the Texan Pan de Povo, can you hook a brother up? Those sound excellent.

Guardian Sculpture

Guardian Sculpture

Chances are pretty good that if you’re writing a novel, things have to happen somewhere, right? Maybe your protagonists never leave the building. Maybe it’s some unnamed location, simply The Town, or The City. But inevitably, most writers will be faced with a decision: use a real town/city, or make one up.

I’ve used both techniques in my writing, so, let’s unpack some of the things you’ll want to take into consideration. And, a word of warning, I’m a bit of an urban planning geek. I love cities and small towns, how they work, and their unique character. I find it can be a character in its own right every bit as important as the other support characters in your story.

If you’re using a real location, it helps if you’re familiar with that location. While not entirely necessary (I mean, Stephanie Meyer set the Twilight novels in Forks, Washington without having set foot there and she did okay for herself), doing so presents some challenges. Either you fabricate locations within that town (restaurants, shops, schools, etc.), fake the sensory details of existing locations, or you go light on the sensory details. The first run the risk of pulling people out of the story if they’re familiar with that town, while the third runs the risk of making it difficult for the reader to really engage. Sensory details are huge. It’s important to ground your characters.

You can fix some of that with research, but honestly no amount of research is going capture the entire location you’re writing in. Take for example Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim novels, Chandler’s Big Sleep, Brett Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero, and Tim Powers Expiration Date. All of these are set in Los Angels, yet none are the same Los Angels. It helps that they’re set in one of the most chimerical of American cities. But ultimately by reading these books, we’re seeing the city through the eyes of the author and their protagonists. The city speaks to them, and through them to us, in very different ways. Ultimately, none is more “accurate” than the other.

So, why use real towns or cities at all? Well, the short answer is that you can tap into a city’s mythology, draw story ideas from it’s history and public perception, and use what people already know or think they know for a kind of literary shorthand. This literary shorthand lets you skimp a bit on certain aspects of the world building for expediency, and conversely, you can play against that for some interesting results. That makes using a real city very attractive.

As for towns, honestly, I’m not sure why you’d want to use a real town.

Here’s the thing. I have a difficult time understanding what benefit you have using a real small town that most people don’t know at all and some people know REALLY well (i.e. the locals), vs. a small town where you have total control over what does and doesn’t belong there. Take for example, what was really gained by setting Twilight in Forks that couldn’t have been done setting it in a fictional town? Stephen King has been writing stories set in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine, for decades and it doesn’t seem to have hurt him any.

Creating a town doesn’t have to be that difficult. It’s like a larger scale version of dropping a fictional school in a real city. First, you need somewhere that fits geographically/culturally with where you want to set your story. Pick a bigger landmark nearby, like “A short drive up the coast to Boston” if you want to ground it even further. All we really knew about the location of Sunnydale from seven seasons of Buffy was that it was somewhere near Los Angeles. You don’t have to sketch it in street by street. Think about the scenes in your book. Where do you want them to be? Fight in a bar? Create a bar broadcloth or transpose your favorite, name it whatever you want, and drop it in. Just keep it consistent and keep notes.

Take a good look at sample towns, because there tends to be a similar pattern. The downtown core tends to be along a few blocks a main street for a spine with businesses spread out a block in either direction of that spine with residential beyond that, easy walking distance to most things. Building towns and neighborhoods with cars in mind was something that stared really taking off post WWII which brought us suburbs with newer, tract home style developments and destination shopping centers with big parking lots. (If the hows, whys, etc. of urban planning interest you in the slightest or you just want an excellent look into why cities and towns look the way they do, I heartily suggest you find Urban Design Since 1945: A Global Perspective by David Grahme Shane at your library. It has become a crucial writing reference for me since discovering it.)

Consider why everyone is living there. Is there some kind of industry? A college or a tourism feature? Is it a ranching/farming town, or is it a coastal fishing town? Is it a former mining town that has gotten a second life as an artist community? Did it grow as a stop along a rail line making it something of a regional shipping hub, or did it grow as a waystation along a highway that started to dry up when the interstate went in a few miles away? Make it your own, but consider why people are there and not somewhere else.

I know. It sounds like a lot of work. Especially when you consider that much of this detail could just be for you, a behind the scene look so you know how things work and where things happen. Ideally you won’t be dropping in multi-page descriptions of the local coffeehouse. But if it’s a key location and you’ve done your work, you can drop in a sentence about it here and there and make it feel real. Honestly, I can’t emphasize enough the value of having a notebook handy with you at all times. When I’m in a new place that I think is cool, I’ve been known to jot down a few sensory details about what I like: the floral print on the vinyl tablecloths, the lighting over the bar, the neon sign in the parking lot. These little details can slot into your fictional locations and make them feel more real because the details themselves are real–even if the location is fake.

And the truth is you’re going to be doing a lot of work either way: researching and trying to capture a real place or making a place that perfectly suits your story. Ultimately, you’re the best judge of how you want to spend that time.

Things Change

Posted: March 22, 2015 in Uncategorized
Rainy Spring in Greenwood

Rainy Spring in Greenwood

When I moved into the greater Greenwood area around nine years ago, I fell in love. In fact, this was the subject of a post on this very page just over two years ago. I like neighborhoods. I fell they are what defines a city. But neighborhoods change. It’s the nature of the world that nothing is eternal.

The coffee shop I made my second home was forced to close due to fire, eventually moving to a different location. The game store is gone. The pirate-themed brew pub has been replaced by a sports bar. Two antique stores have closed, one of them still vacant, the other now an organic cafe. The Greenwood Market was bulldozed, the site incorporated into a giant rebuild of the neighboring Fred Meyer store. Change is healthy. It keeps things from stagnating.

And sometimes, change hurts.

The first time I went to the Yen Wor Garden, it was for dinner. All I wanted was greasy chicken chow mein. It was pretty horrible. But I found myself between buses craving Chinese food some months later and gave them another chance and got some beef dish…orange beef, possibly? It was even worse. The beef was spongy, like it had been frozen, thawed, then frozen again one too many times. I vowed never to eat there again. The sign that read they did delivery read as a threat rather than an endorsement.

Then a good friend suggested I go there for karaoke some night. Prior to that, I got my karaoke fix at the Baranof across the street, a place that was no less divey than the Yen Wor, but I loved the restaurant in the front, so it was just my place. But unlike the Baranof, the Yen Wor had karaoke seven nights a week. So I gave them a try. That night, the Yen Wor Garden became my karaoke place.

Over the last 3 years, it has become my second home. I know the bartenders, the hosts, and many of the regulars on a first name basis. I’ve shared beers with a broader slice of humanity than I’ve ever met elsewhere. Some of them have ended up, in whole or in part, in one of my novels. I’ve gone to no less than three memorial services in my life, all of them there, all for regulars. I expected my own service might even be there eventually. Morbid, maybe. True, absolutely. In the last three years, I’ve gone there to celebrate birthdays, finishing novels, and just about every holiday on the book. On my birthday two years ago, my best friend called them from Thailand to wish me a happy birthday. And I’ve had nights when we packed the tables facing the bar with people eager to sing. I had my phone stolen out of my pocket there and never considered changing karaoke bars. I cultivated a set list of more than 170 songs, most of which I worked out on the stage of the Yen Wor Garden.

I have coffee shops that are my weekday third places, but the nights belong to the Yen Wor. It is a joy I have come to share with dozens of so-called “Yen Woriors,” many of whom made a regular mid-week pilgrimage there for “Yensday.” We even have matching t-shirts, making this the first organization I’ve represented with matched apparel since my high school gang the Vorpal Bunnies.

So it was with great sadness that I found out this morning that they have been sold and will be closing down in the next 2-6 weeks. Honestly, I can’t say I’m too surprised. While I’ve found things on the menu that I actually enjoy, the restaurant side has always been a ghost-town with a handful of tables occupied at most. And the bar is usually dead during the day and not much busier on most week nights.

It remains to be seen what will take over that space. It’s some small comfort that the footprint of the building is too small for them to put in high-density housing, so it will almost have to be retail or restaurant space. Maybe it will even have a bar with karaoke. But even if it does, it will not be the same.

Things change. We evolve and move on. Life continues.

But if you’ve ever wanted to do karaoke with me at the Yen Wor, your time is running out.

Karaoke starts at 9 every night and I’m 3 block away. Hit me up. Let’s put in some song slips and get a drink that is famously “Yen Wor strong.” Let’s row our boats to shore and burn them. Let’s give the Yen Wor Garden the send out it deserves.

My dressing up as an alien monster days are far behind me.

My dressing up as an alien monster days are far behind me.

Norwescon, the Seattle area’s premiere sci-fi/fantasy convention, is upon us again in less than a month. April 2-5th. No matter how much planning I do, it always seems to sneak up on me. Maybe it’s the fact that its schedule is tied to Easter weekend, and that date shifts around in a manner that will mystify me until the day I die.

True story, my first reminder that we’re nearing Norwsecon season is seeing Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs in the store. So, typically the day after Valentine’s Day.

This year I’m going to be a bit more active than in recent years. in fact, I put together the Horror track which was a sheer delight. And if it all crashes and burns, well, it will be less of a delight. I guess time will tell.

But I’m currently optimistic. We have a good lineup, some great guests of honor (George R. R. Martin and artist par excellence Julie Dillon). I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of folks I don’t see often enough. And I’m staying on site, sharing a room with a dear friend who was fundamental in me taking this writing thing seriously a little over a decade ago.

So, without further preamble, my scheduled appearances, with notes:

Thursday, 3pm (Cascade 9): Worldwide Dead–I’ll be moderating an all-star panel in which we discuss death, afterlife, and ghosts from a non-western perspective. Recognizing that this panel is early on the first day of the convention, I’ve prepared special enticements for those who attend.

Thursday, 9pm (Cascade 9): Horror Cage Match: Short Story vs. Novel–Is there a preferred length for horror? What are the strengths and weaknesses of short vs. long form horror?

Friday, 10am (Cascade 7&8): Overlooked Horror Classics–You all know the huge hits, but what are some hidden gems of the genre? Our expert panel has some suggestions for you. Prepare to take notes!

Friday, 6pm (Cascade 3&4): Denied: A Story of Rejection–I’ll be moderating this cheerful little hour in which our all-star panel will share stories of rejection, perhaps showing that when Cthulhu closes a door, he opens a window. And it’s best to scamper out quickly and not read any ancient tomes on the way.

Friday, 9:30pm (Cascade 1): Reading–Come spend a little time hearing the meanest little story I’ve ever written, “Hell is a Parade.” Ribbons will be awarded for the strong of heart. It’s a very short story, so I’ll have some time for questions.

Saturday, 6pm (Cascade 7&8): When is it No Longer Horror?–I’ve always maintained that the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise stopped being horror with the 3rd movie. We’ve got some industry insiders together to weigh in.

Saturday, 9pm (Cascade 3&4): Why Do We Love Superheroes?–This is going to be a romp. I’m friends with most everyone on this panel, and I expect a spirited discussion with lots of insight.

Sunday, 10am (Cascade 9): Independent Horror: Savior of the Horror Film?–I’ll be moderating a discussion on whether bigger means better or if stronger horror can be constructed free of studio limitations. A perfect way to kick off your hungover Easter morning!

In addition, I will likely be hunkered over notes and coffee around the coffee kiosk in the morning and off and on in the bar, as tradition dictates. I’m always happy to chat.

Come witness the unfettered delight that is Norwescon. I will not be peddling books during this trip, so if you want something signed you would be advised to bring it with you. Or if you have a Fringe Candy you’d like to see reviewed, bring it along.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have panel notes to get prepared!

Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

My dad was always one of the biggest supporters of my writing. A librarian and dedicated student of existentialist philosophy to the bitter end, he read pretty much everything I ever wrote. He always encouraged me to keep writing, keep working on my craft, and more importantly to believe in my passion.

Trust me. This is going somewhere.

When he died in early April of 2005, my only publications had been in the literary journals at school. But that didn’t matter to him. He believed in me. He never lived to see my first story, “Kid Gloves” published in less than a year later.

From time to time, I’ve reached certain milestones and wished he could have been around to see it. I typically shake it off and move on. There’s no changing the past, after all.

So it was strangely poignant when I sold my novel Ink Calls to Ink to Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing last Tuesday. Yes, they’re a small publisher, some might even consider them a niche publisher. But they’re the perfect people to take this novel to the audience I’ve been trying to find for a few years now. Actual release date and cover will be announced eventually. These things take a bit of time, after all. I’m just thrilled this story gets to be told. in part because of the three point of view characters, one of them is a librarian.

Ink Calls to Ink is a celebration of books and the impact of fictional characters in our lives. More than that, it touches on existential themes such as self-determination and what it means to be human. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of my father in this book.

So, as thrilled as I am that my novel found a good home, I couldn’t deny that it was bittersweet. I have yet to really celebrate the sale, despite having spent time with most of my friends, writers and non-writers alike since then. It’s like I hadn’t fully embraced it yet–hadn’t wrapped my brain around “what next?”

Then yesterday, after two separate writing groups, I crossed the street to this little dive named Shorty’s in Belltown where I like to go after writing at Bedlam Coffeehouse. (If you’ve never been to Bedlam, I maintain it’s the best coffeehouse in downtown. Well worth the visit. If I lived in Belltown, I’d be there all the time.) Shorty’s has an old-school arcade aesthetic and a circus clown motif. Both of which are appealing, but the two selling points for me are the Chicago dogs and the fact that they have Miller Hi-Life by the bottle. Call me a cheap date if you want, but Hi-Life is hands down my favorite cheap beer, and it’s uncommon to find it around micro-brew happy Seattle.

I sidled up to the bar, ordered my dog and a Hi-Life, and a few minutes later was served the wrong beer.

Now, I can’t fault the bar tender. It was noisy in there. It was busy. And the names were awfully similar.

Instead of my favorite, I was served a bottle of Miller Lite.

So, here’s a few things about Miller Lite you may not know: finding Miller Hi-Life is difficult in Seattle, but I’ve never, ever seen Miller Light available (though to be fair, I haven’t looked that hard), and two, Miller Lite was my dad’s beer of choice. He once said fancy micro-brews were wasted on him. He knew what he liked, and that was it.

So, no. I can’t fault the bar tender. in fact, he got a healthy tip. Because clearly he’s a psychic medium.

It’s not every day someone’s dead dad orders a beer for them to congratulate them on their first significant book sale. But if anyone’s dad could do it, it would be mine.


Time is never on our side.

Time is never on our side.

It was a pretty typical Saturday morning writing group–some writing, some socializing, some knocking ideas around. In discussing how some town names are more common than others, a story idea was born.

Well, less an idea and more of a seed. A McGuffin.

And when it was suggested that I write that story, sooner rather than later, I might have snapped a little. I got…defensive. Like, weirdly defensive.

This morning, I figured out why while doing bookkeeping. Not balancing my check book or doing my personal taxes. No, the kind of bookkeeping that is an essential part of being a working author. The care and feeding of creative projects kind of bookkeeping.

Once I broke it all down, I could see why I cracked.

As it stands now, midway through February I have on my docket:

  • My urban fantasy novel Ink Calls to Ink which has been looking for a home for over 2 years now.
  • The pulp sci-fi novel from a few years ago that I recently did a rewrite on that needs one more pass before I send it out into the world.
  • The orphaned urban fantasy/horror novella I wrote last year that was intended to be part of a trilogy. I’ve done two strong passes of rewrites. Now I’m wrestling with whether I want to sell as a novella trilogy or write the other two parts and combine them into a single novel.
  • The first part of the epic fantasy Ravensgate triptych, Rooks and Ravens, which got a solid second draft that wrapped up a month ago. It needs one more edit pass before I consider sending it out, but I might want to find beta readers for it first.
  • The new Cobalt City novel, Thicker than Water that I wrote last fall. I did a second pass on it earlier this month, but will need to do another close pass and need to get an editor to look at it prior to the planned September release. On top of that, I want to get copies out for early reviews, etc. And I need to get the cover and other promotional material ready for it.
  • The SECOND part of the Ravenstage triptych, Redemption of the Yellow Wolf is now halfway through the first draft. It’s what I’ve been spending my time on in the last week. After nothing but editing the previous two months, it feels nice to write again.

Now, keep in mind that Norwescon is coming up the first week of April. I’ll be running the Horror track which includes moderating a panel or three, so I want to do some prep for that. Two weeks after that, I’ve got a writing retreat on the books, so that will help balance things out a bit, otherwise I might be crying right now.

Time is never on our side. There are 168 hours in a week. Once you take out the hours spent at the day jobbery (including time too and from) and sleep, there’s about 50-55 hours in which to cram in everything else. Some of that will be eaten up by basic adulting stuff: minimally some housecleaning, eating, interacting with people that keep you from stepping in front of a speeding bus, and at least a little bit of down-time.

I used to try to write every day. Every. Single. Day.

It was a recipe for burnout. At least for me.

Now, I still carry my notebooks around with me everywhere. I’m constantly jotting down notes for existing projects or ideas for future projects. Sometimes I get scene set pieces. Sometimes I get dialogue. I’m making an effort to do something creative every day. But I can go days without opening up my work in progress documents.

I’m fond of saying that if you try to find time to write, you’ll never find it. Something else will always soak up those hours. You have to make time.

Currently, I spend most of Saturday, from around 8am, sometimes until as late as 6pm, working on my writing. I also write on Sundays, every-other week from around noon until 5pm or so. (I run a D&D game on alternating Sundays, so I set aside those afternoons to get the game prepped and ready for my players). I have a writing group that meets every Thursday for a few hours, and if I’m feeling in the zone I can get a solid 2-4 hours of writing in then. I also have the option of a writing group on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays that I hit when I have the time.

That gives me somewhere around 12 hours of writing time on a sub-optimal week, and around 25 on a really ambitious week. When I’m in the zone, I can write pretty fast. And editing, well, it takes the time it requires, and that varies depending on a lot of factors.

I still don’t have enough time. I’ll never really have enough time. But finding more comes with sacrifices I’m not comfortable making. Day jobbery and commute is kind of non-negotiable because bills have to be paid. I have some flex with sleep, but that’s no long-term fix unless I’m wiling to sacrifice my health and sanity. And there’s only so much I can cut social time before those relationships suffer, and the relationships I have now are too valuable to let atrophy.

So no, I’m not going to write that story right now. I’m not going to write that story soon, even. Because I don’t know what the story is yet. But the seed is there, notated with crisp block lettering in my Field Notes notebook in purple ink. And if the seed takes root, we’ll see. Until then, I have books to work on.