Interview by Mark A. King

Mark asked me some fun questions about Mage and Source and other various topics over on his blog. Read the full interview here: https://makingfiction.com/2017/07/23/mage-and-source/. Yu’ll get to see a few images ideas for Gante, as well as my soundtrack pics for the book’s opening scene.

Enjoy!

 

Seven Questions: Margaret Locke

I’m happy to welcome Margaret Locke to my blog for her third round of Seven Questions. Her latest book is The Demon Duke, a Regency romance with an unusual hero.

As a teen, Margaret pledged to write romances when she was older. Once an adult, however, she figured she ought to be doing grownup things, not penning stories. Thank goodness turning forty cured her of that silly notion.

Now happily ensconced again in the clutches of her first crush (romance novels!), Margaret is never happier than when sharing her passion for a grand Happy Ever After. Because love matters.

Margaret lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia with her fantastic husband, two fabulous kids, and three fat cats. You can usually find her in front of some sort of screen (electronic or window); she’s come to terms with the fact she’s not an outdoors person.

 Read on to learn more!

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1-Margaret, this is your fourth book. Wow! How has your book-writing process changed between Book 1 and Book 4?

I’d like to think I’ve gotten better. Each book has actually proven a quite difference experience:

A Man of Character I plotted out and wrote and re-wrote for four years before publishing it.

A Matter of Time I drafted as a NaNoWriMo project (my first!) in the middle of working on A Man of Character, but I took a year after the first book’s publication to tinker with the second.

I’d written a draft during my second NaNo of what I thought would be book three in the series (what evolved into The Demon Duke), only to realize a different story needed to come first. So, for the first time, I wrote, edited, re-edited, re-edited, and finished a novel, A Scandalous Matter, in six months. I don’t think that’s something I care to repeat – at least not while I still have kids at home!

For The Demon Duke, as I said, I had a draft, but I took more time to hone it, and ended up changing a fair amount, as my skills in writing (or at least my knowledge of better practices) had increased.

Now I find myself back at the drawing board, no complete drafts in my pocket – but I think I have a better sense now of what works and doesn’t work. Though they take time, character sketches, timelines, spreadsheets listing names and characteristics, and loose outlines work much better for me than winging it.

 

2-Which phase of the book process do you enjoy most and why?

 Definitely writing the initial draft. Everything feels new and fun, and I’m convinced I’m hilarious and this book is awesome and everything is perfect.

Until I re-read it. Until my editor reads it and sends me back revisions. The editing phase is not my favorite (read: nails on a chalkboard / chocolate-deprivation level dislike), BUT I’m learning to look forward to the final edits, as I’ve seen the story morph from “best EVER!” through “this totally sucks, who am I kidding?” to “maybe it’s not so bad after all.”

And getting the print copy in the mail is one of the best feelings there is, hands-down. It all feels real then.

 

3-Novels are a tough form, time-consuming and sometimes underappreciated in the world. What keeps you motivated?

Guilt and fear. What, that’s not a good answer? Okay, the characters bugging me in my head, the readers asking for more stories, the pleasure of that first draft – and guilt and fear.

Guilt, because if I’m not working on a book, I’m often wasting vast amounts of time on things like Facebook and Two Dots (okay, yeah, I admit – I do that even when I am working on a book!).

Fear, because what would I do if I didn’t do this? As someone with almost a PhD (I did everything but finish the dissertation) in medieval history from twenty years ago, what marketable skills do I have now?

But also love.

Because love matters. Love stories matter. And I truly do love writing them. Yes, it’s hard work. I still have a lot to learn, still have great ways in which to improve. But when my own eyes well up, my own giggles escape, my own heart aches at a scene I’ve written? When readers tell me they love my books? When I realize I get to do something I love as my job? That’s what truly keeps me going.

That, and chocolate.

 

4-Do your book ideas arrive in your head in a particular way? As images, as opening scenes or sentences, as characters, as conflicts? Tell us a little about idea generation, brainstorming, and how you come up with a story? Once you have an idea, what are the next steps?

 It varies. For A Man of Character, it was the opening question, What would you do if you discovered the men you were dating were fictional characters you’d created long ago?, that launched the whole thing. From that question, I mused on what kind of men someone would fantasize about at different points in their life, etc., and sketched out a story.

I think characters come to mind first, and then I imagine what might befall them, or who might suit them best. For example, Amara, the heroine from A Scandalous Matter, evolved as a reaction of sorts against my first two heroines. Both Cat from A Man of Character and Eliza from A Matter of Time were rather circumspect in their sexual attitudes and behaviors. I decided I needed a female character more driven by physical pleasure, and along came Amara.

For The Demon Duke, I knew what his affliction would be, and I knew who his physical inspiration was (Ian Somerhalder of Vampire Diaries fame). From there, I brainstormed on how his struggles might shape his life—and his reaction to love.

I’ve sketched story ideas out in great detail and I’ve done a more pantser approach where I make up everything as I go along. I’ve learned I do best when I let ideas percolate in my head and then eventually write them all down and plot things out. I do tend to have different ideas about different books pop into my head at any given time, though. I guess those characters don’t always care that I’d like to proceed in clear, linear fashion, thank you very much!

 

5-You have been recruited as an experimental space traveller. You are allowed to bring only what you can carry in a small backpack. What do you pack?

 May I bring along Hermione’s Bag of Holding? In which I could stuff, you know, a T.A.R.D.I.S.? No? Well, then, I suppose I’d want a camera with a massive amount of storage, water, pain meds, chocolate, a Kindle, battery chargers, a pen, paper, and a cat.

 

6-It turns out that your experimental space ship has malfunctioned, and instead of traveling through space, you’re traveling through time. What era/year will be your desired destination? And why?

I knew you were going to do that to me! I certainly would like to visit Regency England, to see if it was anything at all like the society we read about in novels (both Austen and modern romances), but tops on my list would be ancient Rome. I’d really love to see it in its heyday. I’d also want to visit Charlemagne’s court, and that of Otto the Great, and go back to learn who built Stonehenge and why, and zip off to Renaissance Italy, and maybe colonial America.

But I think I’d want to be like Scrooge – just popping in and out, invisible. Because a) I wouldn’t want to mess up history, and b) I’m really fond of air conditioning, and I’d eventually run out of chocolate.

 

7-Tell us a bit about your next book (or books)?

 Next up is The Legendary Duke, the second in my Put Up Your Dukes Regency series, based loosely on the Arthurian legend of Gawain and the Green Knight. It’s been years – since grad school days – that I’ve studied Arthurian lore, so I’m really looking forward to that, especially since the third book in the series, The Once and Future Duke, also has Arthurian connections, as you might have guessed from the title.

Oh, and somewhere in there, I want to write book four in the Magic of Love series. Because Sophie Mattersley needs her story told.

Thanks so much for hosting me, Emily!

Learn more about Margaret on her website: http://margaretlocke.com

Get The Demon Duke now on Amazon or at other outlets:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

iBooks

Kobo

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Behind every good man is a great secret.

Banished to Yorkshire as a boy for faults his father failed to beat out of him, Damon Blackbourne has no use for English society and had vowed never to return to his family’s estate at Thorne Hill, much less London. However, when his father and brother die in a freak carriage accident, it falls on Damon to take up the mantle of the Malford dukedom, and to introduce his sisters to London Society–his worst nightmare come to life.

He never planned on Lady Grace Mattersley. The beautiful debutante stirs him body and soul with her deep chocolate eyes and hesitant smiles. Until she stumbles across his dark secret.

Bookish Grace much prefers solitude and reading to social just-about-anything. Her family may be pressuring her to take on the London Season to find herself a husband, but she has other ideas. Such as writing a novel of her own. But she has no idea how to deal with the Duke of Malford.

Will she betray him to the world? Or will she be his saving Grace?

Seven Questions: Allison K. García

I recently had the pleasure of formatting Allison K. García’s first novel, Vivir El Dream, a story of life in America for Mexican immigrants and their families. It gave me a chance to practice my rusty Spanish as I checked endnotes that translated the Spanish material in the book into English.

Allison is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a passion for writing. Latina at heart, she has absorbed the love and culture of her friends, family, and hermanos en Cristo and has used her experiences to cast a glimpse into the journey of undocumented Christians from Mexico as they attempt to make a life in the United States.

Allison K. Garcia

Welcome, Allison!

1-Pitch your book in three sentences or less.

The fates of an undocumented college student and her mother intertwine with a suicidal businessman’s. As circumstances worsen, will their faith carry them through or will their fears drag them down?

 

2-Is your book indie-published or traditionally published? Tell us a little about that journey.

Indie published. Well, this has been a five-year journey for me! I wrote this book during 2012 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, November) and had been hoping to get it published traditionally in the Christian market. I bumped up against a lot of barriers, mostly because there is not a lot of diverse Christian fiction on the market right now and because this might be one of the first English-language Latino Christian fiction books. Long story short, it’s a new genre, so a lot of Christian agents weren’t sure how to market it (not to mention the fact that it deals with undocumented Christians, which is a hot topic). The secular market doesn’t like dealing with Christian fiction, so I wasn’t able to go that route either. So, after much praying and consulting with other writerly friends, I decided to go the indie route. I felt called to write this book, and I feel the world needs to see it, especially with everything going on right now. Then came the whirlwind of indie publishing, which I am still in the midst of figuring out. Thankfully, I have plenty of friends who indie publish, so they have been awesome at answering my many, many questions during the journey.

3-What are your favorite genres/books to read, and do you think this affects your writing? How?

Well, I love reading diverse books, I find myself drawn to them. And I’m a sucker for classics like the Brontës, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, etc. I love stories about people and their lives and struggles. I love epic fiction, as well. As long as it has a good story with interesting characters, you’ve got me!

4-What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Two come to mind. I love going to my American Christian Fiction Writers conferences and spending time with my local chapter, because they often remind me why I’m writing Christian fiction and get my head back in the right spot.

Also I had a Creative Writing teacher in high school, Ms. Whiting. She said, “Allison, you write, “And then she slowly walked over to the door, step by step, raised her hand to the knob, and twisted her hand to the right, allowing the door to creak open.’ Sometimes you just need to say, ‘She opened the door.’” That has stuck with me.

5-How do you fit your writing into a busy life?

I write and edit in the mornings before my toddler wakes up. I’m up at 5 and he usually is up between 7-8am, so I have a solid 2-3 hrs to write.

6-What is your favorite book that you would categorize as similar to Vivir El Dream?

I would like to say Like Water for Chocolate because of its Mexican culture, how it talks a lot about cooking and has humor and a bit of romance, but also deals with some tough issues.

7-What’s your secret superpower?

The ability to catch a falling toddler in a single bound! Just kidding…sort of…one of my hidden talents is cooking from scratch. My proudest example was making lasagna from scratch…like for real. I made the mozzarella and ricotta cheese, I made the noodles from flour, egg, etc. and I made the marinara from my homegrown tomatoes and herbs from my garden. I felt pretty Italian in that moment! I channeled my Italian ancestors for sure!

So many thanks to Allison for appearing for Seven Questions on my blog.

You can get Vivir El Dream on Amazon here.

Vivir el Dream Kindle cover

Vivir El Dream

Linda Palacios crossed the border at age three with her mother, Juanita, to escape their traumatic life in Mexico and to pursue the American dream. Years later, Linda nears college graduation. With little hope for the future as an undocumented immigrant, Linda wonders where her life is going.

Tim Draker, a long-unemployed businessman, has wondered the same thing. Overcome with despair, he decides to take his own life. Before he can carry out his plan, he changes course when he finds a job as a mechanic. Embarrassed about working at a garage in the barrio, he lies to his wife in hopes of finding something better.

After Juanita’s coworker gets deported, she takes in her friend’s son, Hector, whom her daughter Linda can’t stand, While Juanita deals with nightmares of her traumatic past, she loses her job and decides to go into business for herself.

Will the three of them allow God to guide them through the challenges to come, or will they let their own desires and goals get in the way of His path?

 

 

Seven Questions: Tamara Shoemaker

Anyone who reads my blog is aware of Tamara Shoemaker, YA author and editor extraordinaire. This woman never slows down, and her tenth full-length novel just came out, the final installment in her Heart of a Dragon series, Unleash the Inferno.

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In Unleash the Inferno, you’ll finally get the rousing conclusion to the epic story of Kinna, Ayden, Cedric, their dragons, and of course, the villain, Sebastian. One of my favorite aspects of this book was the backstory and development of Sebastian the evil king, turning him into a grayer antagonist than you might find in a lot of YA Fantasy.

Since Tamara has answered my seven questions so many times, I focused this interview less on her latest book itself and more on questions other writers might have about how this powerhouse keeps cranking out multiple books in a calendar year while the rest of us flounder along hoping to produce one, if any.

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  • Tamara, this is book ten, eleven if you count your children’s picture book. What have you learned between book one and book ten that you would share with a novice novel writer?

This is cliché, I fully admit, but I also hold the view that there is a reason things become cliché: because they work, they connect. So, this is what I’ve learned: Never give up. I mean, NEVER give up. Not when you come down off the high of publishing your first book, not when you get your first poor review, not when you get your first rejection to a query, nor when an agent says your writing isn’t quite what they’re looking for and better luck next time, nor when a harsh critique comes in from a trusted friend, nor when the pure agony of marketing overwhelms you, nor when you’re tired, nor when you’re sick, nor when you’ve hit a plothole that could swallow a skyscraper.

The discouragements that litter the road of a writer are many and varied and often hard, and it is a career that is certainly not for the faint of heart. But I think almost any obstacle can be gotten over with steady diligence and an attitude of “Never Say Die.”

That’s been my motto since I began.

  • How have you changed as a writer over the years? Is your focus different? Has it gotten easier? Harder?

Some things have gotten easier, some harder. 🙂 When I began writing, I didn’t expect to stick with it. I wrote my first book on a bit of a dare from my husband (he dared me to write a book, so I said I would, and I did). I half-heartedly tried to submit it in a few places, but then I put it away and didn’t pursue it again for several years. In 2012, I heard of a small press that was looking for manuscripts, so I thought—why not? I got my manuscript out, dusted it off, and sent it in. When the company offered to publish it, my dreams and goals increased exponentially in a matter of seconds. I saw myself—a world-famous authoress topping every chart from the New York Times Bestsellers to USA Today’s—gaining international acclaim, and of course, while signing off on movie rights at every Hollywood studio, jotting book after book in my cabin in the woods where I would never, no never, attempt this mysterious thing called “marketing.”

Obviously, the real story is VASTLY different from what I had anticipated, but in some ways, that eases the road for me. Expectations are less when you are less known. My focus shifted from writing for readers to writing for myself—what did I want to see in a story? The independent publishing market swept in and gave me more freedom to do what I wished. I jumped genres from mystery to fantasy, and that’s where I am today. Every step I take presents its own set of challenges, but every step is also rewarding in its own way, because it’s all a part of living my dream. I haven’t topped any lists yet, and Hollywood steadfastly ignores me, but I am writing, I am creating, I am weaving my worlds, and that is important to me.

  • What inspires you when you’re feeling creatively dry?

So many things! My children. My surroundings. Nature. A book I’ve just read. A movie. A conversation with a friend. Music. Dreams. Sometimes I feel like I’ve come to the end of a road (that creative dryness you mentioned), and I realize it’s just a turning, a curve in the road, and something will spark a new thought that I want to explore to its farthest end.

  • You are also a freelance editor. What do you feel is different about editing someone else’s work and editing your own?

I think there’s such a thing as being “too close” to a story. When I write my own work, I am so wrapped up in the “nth details,” as I call them, of the world I create, that many times I can’t see the larger picture to know what is missing, or what should be tweaked. I rely heavily on beta readers when it comes to finding those things, but MOST of all, I rely on my editor to see those things (who, I may also add, is a worker of all things miraculous when it comes to literature of any kind).

So, in my work as an editor, I try to be that for other people. Authors get too close to their work; it’s a by-product of the profession, and that’s why it’s essential to get a good editor to help you see the larger picture. When I edit for other authors, I am able to grasp the bigger picture more easily than I can in my own books, because I’m coming at it from the outside of the work, and not inside it.

  • I’ve often noted that you seem like a very diligent writer who stays incredibly focused. I also know you go through phases of the typical writerly despair and uncertainty. How do you get through that and stay on track?

Hearkening back to my answer to question #1: Never give up, never say die. Sometimes, it’s like pulling teeth to make myself sit down and write. Sometimes the words don’t come, and the words I force to come are pure and absolute drivel that have no business anywhere NEAR what one would call a quality book.

I guess I look at it like the difference between a river and a pond. Scum collects on a still pond, because it has no movement. But in a river, the water is constantly flowing; there’s no chance for scum to form on the water’s surface, because it doesn’t stay still. When I’m writing, even if it’s drivel, even if the words are just awful with no quality whatsoever, the creative process isn’t stagnant. It’s still there, and eventually the quality floats on down the river to me, even if it takes a bit.

  • What is the hardest thing about the entire book process for you?

The middle phase: developmental edits. I love the first part: creation. I get to write whatever under the heavens I want to write, because it’s my story, and I can make it happen exactly as I want it to happen. I also love the final part: the line edits. That’s the spit and shine on the hard work I’ve put in. It’s where I see the story start to look like an actual book I’d want to read in a bookstore. It brings so much satisfaction. But that developmental phase in the middle is a bugger. It’s where I see every last flaw in the story, usually huge ones, and I have to go untangle them and rewrite them and rearrange things and cut whole sections and add whole sections and tear the entire story apart so I can put it back together again in a coherent manner. It’s awful. But I couldn’t complete a book without it. 🙂

  • Tell us a bit about your next projects.

I’m currently in process of finishing up a co-write with my beloved editor and friend, Emily June Street, (WHO?) set in an 18th century parallel world featuring music as magic and with steampunk touches. We’ve already co-written another book, set in an 19th century parallel world to the post-Civil War American South, featuring elemental magic and plantations, and we plan to pitch these books to agents at a conference in New York City in August. Meanwhile, I have begun sketching out the plans for a new YA Fantasy that includes between-world travel, fairy tale settings, and of course, my favorite, political intrigue. I’m hoping to begin the actual writing of that in June. I’m also busy picking up freelance editing contracts where I can in all my… you know… spare time. 😉

You all can learn more about Tamara and her writing and editing activities at tamarashoemaker.org

Read Unleash the Inferno!

After the Battle at ClarenVale, Kinna Andrachen unites those who spurn King Sebastian’s tyrannical reign, mustering a rag-tag army of soldiers and creatures to face Sebastian’s far larger Lismarian army. Victory is elusive and allies are scarce, but Kinna’s tenacious spirit cannot succumb to injustice. Her fiery heart must learn to lead

At last mastering control of the four Touches of the powerful Amulet, Ayden finds himself at the center of an epic struggle to destroy the corruption that has tainted the throne of Lismaria for centuries. As time runs out, his options for survival fade, surrendering him to a dark destiny.

Tied to a fate he does not want, Cedric Andrachen resists his inheritance, fleeing the lust for power it sparks in him. As war looms, Cedric faces his choices: will he turn his back on his throne and his kingdom? Or will he enter the struggle against tyranny, bringing the freedom his people have so long sought?

Sebastian sits, at last, on the Lismarian throne, stolen from him twenty years prior. But now the Rebellion, led against him by his niece and nephew, threatens his security from across the Channel, and the Amulet’s promise of power tempts him into even darker shadows. Ghosts of the past brutalize Sebastian’s present until the lines of reality blur with nightmare.

Flames of war ignite between nations. Peril threatens the Andrachen line.

Who will survive the inferno?

Seven Questions: Mark A. King

I am very happy to welcome Mark A. King to my blog for a round of seven questions, featuring his debut novel Metropolitan Dreams. Mark is one of the founders of FlashDogs, a global community of talented flash fiction writers. His flash fiction stories have been published in a number of anthologies and magazines. Mark was born and raised in London, works in Cambridge, and lives in Norfolk, England.

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1-Pitch your book in three sentences or less.

M.A.K.: In the aftermath of a violent crime we follow the connected stories of an injured nightclub bouncer, an ageing crime-lord, a conflicted police hacker, a traumatised Tube-driver and a vulnerable twelve-year-old girl as they fight for survival, purpose and redemption in the fractured city of London. Along the journey we discover lost rivers, abandoned underground stations, mysterious forces and angels (perhaps).

2-Is your book indie-published or traditionally published? Tell us a little about that journey.

M.A.K.: Indie published. Having monitored the progress (and success) of many FlashDogs on their various publishing adventures, it became clear to me that traditional publishing can be a long, hard and often frustrating experience. Self publishing offers choice, power, flexibility and responsiveness in terms of being able to get the book in front of readers. Some misguided voices that say self publishing has lesser quality, but a fair number of the finest books I have read over the last few years have come from indie authors and traditional publishing is no guarantee that you will like a book anyway, as everyone has their own reading preferences. Indeed, the indie path can often offer a wider variety of material to the reader. Neither is better, it’s just that indie suited me at this time.
The kind and talented host of this blog helped me almost every step of the way, from story transformation through to last minute logo creation. Should you be able to find someone as marvellous, I highly recommend you seek their magic as a priority early in the process.

3-What are your favorite genres/books to read, and do you think this affects your writing? How?

M.A.K.: I enjoy speculative fiction, which covers genres as diverse as science fiction, horror, fantasy, magical realism and new weird. I find myself always looking firstly to ground my stories in the lives of my characters and the journey they on on, but I’m fascinated by the worlds that science, faith and spirituality hint at, which are just beyond our current understanding. So I always try to find an undercurrent of otherworldlyness in my stories (not a real word, but it probably should be).

4-What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

M.A.K.: I can’t remember the exact words, but it was something like ‘Write the way you want to write. Try not to be someone else as there is only one you.’
I’m starting to learn that it’s important to tell the stories I want to tell in the way that I want to tell them. It might sound obvious, but it’s not, well not for me anyway, I’m fairly conformist in my real life, my writing in many ways is an outlet for something more creative.
However, I realise that this approach is likely to mean that I have less success in terms of potential sales.
It would almost certainly be easier to create a firm genre fiction, following the paths of proven formulas, but that wouldn’t seem like success to me. I’ve waited all my life to write a novel. Success, I think, is creating something different and unique, being true to the stories in my imagination and in my heart, and all I can hope for is that readers will appreciate something slightly different and connect with it in some way.

5-How do you fit your writing into a busy life?

M.A.K.: It is incredibly hard. Like many writers, I have a full time job. I have a reasonable amount of responsibility in my job and when I come home there are numerous demands on my time and energy. I juggle a number of social media accounts (my personal one, my writer one/s and the FlashDogs one)–I wouldn’t make a good spy, as this is too many identities for me already. I tend to squeeze stolen minutes and hours between other tasks, or use my work breaks wisely. My favourite writing experience was when I had to drop my daughter at a horse riding experience which was in in a neighbouring county. Too far away to come back home, so I looked at the map and realised that Rendlesham Forest was nearby, so I took my laptop and wrote some of Metropolitan Dreams from the middle of the forest where UFO sightings have been reported (the UK’s very own Roswell incident, only with more witnesses and recorded evidence from military personnel).
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It was a magical place to write from, it wasn’t just the history, but being outside surrounded by the energy of the forest was inspiring in itself. So, while finding time is sometimes hard, it does also lead to wonderful opportunities.

6-How and when did you first know you were a writer?

M.A.K.: I find it odd to think of myself as a writer and I have a cheeky small-boy grin when someone suggests that I might be one. For most of us, writing is unlikely to pay the bills, so for me, it is only ever a secondary role to; being a father, husband, good employee/manager, community contributor etc.

7-What’s your secret superpower?

M.A.K.: What is it now? Or what would I like it to be? If now, then people say that I am generally very calm under pressure. But if I had to choose a real superpower, it would be teleportation. I’d click my fingers and return to the warm sands of Shark Bay on Heron Island which sits atop the Great Barrier Reef. I’d click my fingers again to visit family or friends I don’t see often enough. Click to visit the many friends I have not yet met in different parts of the world.

Many thanks to Mark for answering seven questions!

You can learn more about Mark and his writing at his blog: https://makingfiction.com/
Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Making_Fiction
Get Metropolitan Dreams: https://goo.gl/EsXA3I

My Best Reads of 2016

Every year, I try to read one hundred books. I’ll be closing out this year with a total of 103. Below I’ve listed my top ten, the ones that most stuck with me and moved me. My top reads this year were almost unfailingly harrowing and dark, possibly a sign of the times?

Here are a few diagnostics on my reading, as I do like to keep track of my reading diversity lest I slip into bad reading habits.

Fiction vs. non-fiction: 79/21

Poetry: 3

Male authors vs. female: 31/70

Multi-author anthologies: 2

Books written by PoC: 16

Indie-pubbed books: 11

pre-19th century books: 1

19th century books: 1

20th century books: 23

21st century books: 78

And my top 10 reads for 2016:

Blood & Earth, by Kevin Bales (2016): An unflinching look at modern slavery. One of the key points emphasized throughout the book was the way in which climate change and deforestation are related to the exploitation of people. Chilling, because the problem is so big, and humanity has so little ability to overcome its own weaknesses to fix these massive and likely world-destroying problems. I read this right before the election of Donald Trump, and I was pretty much in a dark hole of depression for weeks. Not sure I’ve crawled out of it yet, but I prefer to be informed rather than not. Required reading for understanding the massive and complex problems of slavery and deforestation and how they are related.

The Fifth Season, by NK Jemison (2015): Complex and fascinating adult fantasy with a well-constructed world and completely new and different magic. Like all the best fantasy, the book explored themes relevant to the world we live in today in symbolic layers.

Undaunted Courage, by Stephen Ambrose (1996): All the well-researched details of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in one well-told tale! My favorite things in this book were the details: men ate up to 9 pounds of meat per day, native women in Oregon wrapped ropes around their legs to create “swelling” that was a sign of beauty and status, squirrels made massive seasonal migrations with millions of animals traveling together. I enjoyed the treatment of the white men involved in the story (not so much any of the women or Native Americans. Although Ambrose did try, he’s an historian of the old-school, and if the historical record did not record much, he didn’t fill in gaps with supposition) I thought this book was, on the whole, a complex and fascinating exploration of a strange and particular dream and how it manifested, and a compassionate analysis of the men who pushed it into reality.

Sold, by Patricia McCormick (2006): A realistic tale of a girl’s harrowing life in Nepal and India, told in verse. This book has been much criticized for being “missionary” in tone, but my feeling is that it was a genuine attempt to explore a real problem and the existing means by which young women sold into sex slavery can get out. Many missionaries do vital human rights work, doing more to help, I imagine, than the folks criticizing the book because a white westerner happened to be the person who helped our main character out of her tragic situation. Yes, cultural differences need to be respected, but girls who are exploited and oppressed by the culture they live in deserve basic human rights, and it often IS well-meaning “westerners” who have the means to help, and in my opinion, that is a moral imperative to do so.

Men Explain Things to Me (2014): Rebecca Solnit’s seminal work about what it’s like to be a woman with a voice in the world. Her essays are always engaging and offer a fresh and unwavering perspective on Feminism today. She is an excellent essayist, able to capture complex thoughts and make new connections in her language.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (1996): This book wins the award for most un-put-down-able this year. Krakauer’s true story about climbing Everest exposes the extraordinary hubris in the mountaineering community, and its fatal and disastrous consequences. This book will also make you think about the moral ramifications of “eco” and “adventure” tourism in a new light. I’ll be staying home to walk in the (very manageable) Marin hills, thank you.

The Gilded Hour, by Sarah Donati (2015): Rich historical fiction about two women supporting the initial emergence of birth control in Gilded Age America. The story was very engaging, but more, I appreciated the deep exploration of the lives of women during this era, and what birth control meant to them, versus what it means to someone like me, who has always had easy access to it. It was, quite literally, a matter of life and death for them—and yet the cultural resistance to allowing them access to it was deep and strong. This book showed the effects of this devaluing of female life in both harrowing and compassionate ways. It made me think about how many women in the world today are still in this exact same situation—unable to choose or control their pregnancies, their bodies literally falling apart with every successive pregnancy, their existing children threatened with loss of their mother with every subsequent birth.

The Painted Bird, by Jerzy Kosinski (1965): A disturbing tale  about how WWII affected a young boy. Reading this book was like looking at a painting by Salvador Dali—surreal and creepy, but almost perfectly executed. When I was reading, I didn’t think I could bear it, and I didn’t think it would make this list by any stretch of the imagination, but the resonance it still holds in my mind confirms it is a read of power and endurance. I need a stronger word than harrowing to describe this one, especially after reading a bit about Mr. Kosinski’s real life.

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah (2015): Another disturbing tale of World War II, though this one was completely different from The Painted Bird. This one is about how war affected women, and I really enjoyed the intimate look at two sisters’ lives in France during the war. Like nearly all the books in this list, this one made me cry, but in this one it was because I was so invested in the two characters’ lives and story (rather than just from all the harrowing realities). If an author can get me to care so much about a character, that’s good story-telling.

Next year I’m going to continue to try to read more non-fiction and diverse literature. I’d like to try to read more work from earlier times.

Here’s a link to my complete Goodreads challenge if you’d like to see all 103 books I read this year: https://www.goodreads.com/user_challenges/3762052

December Goals

Though my goal list appeared short for November, it was actually a really tough and time-consuming list, since I meant to write an entire book (with Tamara Shoemaker) in one month, not to mention continue writing a different book on my own. I stayed very busy. I’m planning to take on a lot for December, too.

In November my goals were:

  1. Continue ToB&L Book 5 revision. CHECK I didn’t get quite as far as I’d hoped, but I did make some good progress.
  2. NANOWRIMO CHECK Tamara and I completed our novel, River Running, in plenty of time. It’s around 90,000 words, and right now we are reading it for the first time, making small revisions as we go.
  3. OtherCHECK My main “other” this month was doing a final line and copy edit on Mark A. King‘s Metropolitan Dreams. I finished the edit yesterday, and this book is really turning into a polished gem! Keep your eyes peeled for it when it participates in the Kindle Scout Program…soon.

 

My December Goals are:

  1. FINISH ToB&L Book 5 revision.
  2. LIGHT Mage & Source revision. Last month I had a first reader take a look at Mage and Source. Now I’ll apply her feedback and revise, with the hope of sending it to editors Beth and Tamara in Jan 2017.
  3. BRAINSTORMING: Tamara and I have another co-write idea that we need to brainstorm. I’m really excited about this one. It involves music and magic and an 18th Century setting of court intrigues.
  4. Other. This seems like a good goal category to keep. I’m sure I’ll have more other to report at the end of the month.