Wednesday, December 06, 2023

IWSG: Reviews and Kudos


It's time for the final Insecure Writer's Support Group post for 2023. You can learn more about the IWSG on their website or Facebook page.

Our hosts this month are C. Lee McKenzie, JQ Rose, Jennifer Lane, and Jacqui Murray.

Here's our question for December: Book reviews are for the readers. When you leave a book review, do you review for the Reader or the Author? Is it about what you liked and enjoyed about your reading experience, or do you critique the author?

As an author, it's hard for me to read as a pure reader, especially since I spent many years reviewing other people's work in an online writing workshop. This is part of the reason I seldom write reviews. I worry any comments might be perceived as critique and might invite retaliation by other authors. I mostly use Goodreads to track what books I read and occasionally to read other people's reviews.

I do make an exception for fan fiction. Fanfic writers write not for profit, but to share their passion with their community. Kudos and comments are a key motivator for fanfic authors, so I do feel obligated to leave them. Any comments I make are about the reading experience; comments aren't the place to critique the author.

Do you review other authors? If so, what's your reviewing approach? Feel free to share more in the comments.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Olga Ulbrich, 1932-2023

Sometimes things are happening beneath the surface that you don't see until it's too late. We found that out the hard way this month. My mother, Olga Ulbrich, was admitted to the hospital in late October for dehydration. A couple of days later, we found out that she had Stage 4 liver cancer. It had already metastasized from elsewhere in her body, but we never found out where it had started. She was admitted to hospice on November 11th and passed away on November 19th. She was 91. Here's a link to the funeral notice; her obituary hasn't been added as of the time I'm writing this post. Attached is a photo of my mother from when I was a baby. She's on the right; my aunt is on the left, and my great-grandmother is holding me in the center.

Although I'll probably post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group next week, I plan to take the next few weeks off. My final post for 2023 will cover my reading challenge.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Gods of Writing and Stories

A recent show on Disney Plus (I don't want to identify it in case of spoilers) saw one of the characters become the God of Stories. In this situation, the god took on responsibility for maintaining the multiverse, allowing a multitude of stories and different lives to flourish. I really like this idea because in my Season Avatars universe, there is a goddess who calls Herself the Grandmother of Stories. She is one of the primary gods of the Hidden Archipelago, but Her interest in stories draws Her to events around the world so She can witness historical events. (She not only provides story recaps for the reader but also appears in the climax of the series.) The Goddess of Stories grants Her Avatars gifts with language and public speaking, and one of them will feature in the next book in this setting (it's tentatively called Avatars Abroad.)

Inspired by the show and my work, I tried to come with an actual god or goddess of stories from mythology. I'm not sure there's one devoted specifically to storytelling. The Egyptian god Thoth is associated with writing; when I visited the British Museum in 2006, I brought back a small statue of Thoth (pictured) and offered him my leftover English money. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough of a sacrifice to jumpstart my writing career, but there are plenty of other gods also associated with language and/or intelligence (see this list from Wikipedia.) The Greek Muses are probably the best known goddesses associated with creativity, but plenty of other pantheons acknowledge the importance of creativity. Here's one such list. It includes Hindu and Japanese deities in addition to some of the more well-known ones. 

Do you have a "patron muse?" (As a Beatles fan, I consider John Lennon my muse since he also was a writer.) Can you think of any other deities who might be a god or goddess of stories? If so, feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Old Story Drafts/New Tumblr Account

The other day, while I was looking for a document, I came across old printed drafts of some of my novels. I even found a copy of the very first novel I attempted to write. I used to save drafts as ways to prove I was the original author of my work. However, most of the stories (except the first one) have been published, often in versions quite different from the drafts I've saved. I've glanced at lines here and there, but I don't intend to hold on to these drafts anymore. I intend to shred them when I have time. I also found some poems I wrote in high school. Some of them make me cringe now, but a couple of them weren't too bad. I'm not sure what else to do with them, so I might publish them on my Tumblr account. If you use it, I'm smua70 there.

Do you keep printed copies of your old drafts? Why or why not? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, November 01, 2023


How is it November already? With a new month comes a new post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Learn more about them on their website and Facebook page.

Our hosts this month are PJ Colando, Jean Davis, Lisa Buie Collard, and Diedre Knight.

Here's our question for November: November is National Novel Writing Month. Have you ever participated? If not, why not?

For those who might not be familiar with NaNoWriMo, it's an annual challenge to write 50,000 words of a new work in thirty days. This requires an average of 1,667 words per day. I've participated twice, once in 2007 (when my son was still a baby; I figured it was a good way to kickstart my writing again), and in 2010. Although I hit my writing goal both times, I never finished either novel. For me, writing at that speed doesn't produce quality work. I suppose I could try to find those drafts and revise them, but I have so many other projects that it's unlikely to happen. I currently have three different stories in progress, though one is consuming much more mental space than the other two and therefore devours most of my writing time.

To those who are participating in NaNoWriMo, I wish you luck and offer you this tip: try writing on your phone. Save your work in cloud storage so you can access it anywhere on any device. I write in Word, so I have the Microsoft 365 app on my phone. Although writing on my phone does occasionally introduce extra spaces and odd characters into my work, I can fix those errors when I'm on my laptop. A phone is much more portable than a laptop or even a tablet.

Time to end this blog post and return to my story. If you're participating in NaNoWriMo, feel free to share a description of your work in the comments. 


Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Restaurants and Revenge: Full Cover Reveal

Just a quick post today to share the full paperback cover for Restaurants and Revenge:
 The actual file was too big to load properly, so I had to take a photo of it. I've ordered a paper proof of the book, so hopefully the paper version will go on sale next month.




Monday, October 16, 2023

Solarpunk Creatures Cover Reveal!

I'm blogging early this week to participate in the cover reveal for the Solarpunk Creatures anthology by Worldweaver Press. (I'll update this post with more information once their blog announcement goes live.) 

I have a short story being published in this anthology; it's call "The Colorful Crow of Web-of-Life Park." It's about an escaped parrot that joins a murder of crows while its former owner develops a bird flu vaccine for wild birds. 

The anthology will be available January 16th, 2024. You can preorder it through the following links: 

Universal Amazon/Apple Link: 

 Paperback pages will take a few more days to appear, but the book will eventually be available in paperback from Amazon, Book-a-Million, Barnes & Noble, etc.

I'm excited to be part of this anthology and look forward to reading the stories by the other authors.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Reader Expectations

I finally caught up with the first season of Ahsoka a couple of days ago. Without going into plot details, my impression was it should have been called a live-action version of Rebels. The impression I had going into the show was that we would see more of Ahsoka's backstory; however, her story seemed to be a minor part of the show compared to Sabine's, Hera's, and Ezra's, let alone Thrawn and the other antagonists. Consequently, I enjoyed the show less than I would have if I'd been thinking of it as another season of Rebels. 

I think it's important to set reader expectations before they start the story. For me, the title didn't set the right expectations for this show, and I have to admit I didn't pay much attention to the series or episode descriptions. Of course, images and book covers also set reader expectations. 

Was there a book or show that gave you a different initial impression than what you had after reading or watching it? Feel free to share examples in the comments.

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

IWSG: AI Stole This Blog

It's hard to believe October is here when it's so warm where I live. The calendar still changes even if the seasons seem to be at a standstill, which means it's time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group post. Learn more about the IWSG on their website and Facebook page if you're not already familiar with them. 

Our hosts this month are Natalie Aguirre, Kim Lajevardi, Debs Carey, Gwen Gardner, Patricia Josephine, and Rebecca Douglass

Our question for October is a controversial one: The topic of AI writing has been heavily debated across the world. According to various sources, generative AI will assist writers, not replace them. What are your thoughts?

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, I'm not a fan of AI. Please refer to the photo below:

If you look at the third line, you'll see this blog was harvested for Google's database for training AI. This was done without my knowledge or consent. There's a copyright notice at the very bottom of this page, so harvesting my words this way should be a copyright violation. Even if this blog is a minute part of the AI database, Google will profit from my free labor, and I'll receive neither recognition or compensation. I know other writers whose entire books were harvested for other AI engines. (So far, I've found no proof my books were affected.) 

Artificial intelligence may be a tool, in theory neutral until used. However, in a world of late-stage capitalism, this tool comes equipped with original sin. The creators of AI steal other people's work in an attempt to replace human writers and artists for profit. AI work has flooded KPD and magazine portals, making it even more difficult for humans to gain recognition. If you consider creativity the peak human endeavor, then leave it for humans. We don't need AI to give us ideas when there so many ideas out there, waiting for the right mind to notice them. And while it might not always be easy to put those ideas into words, it's the struggle that makes writing a calling. We all need to demand tech companies stop embedding AI into everything while making it nearly impossible to escape. We need to demand better regulation of this industry. If we don't, we will lose ourselves.

What are your thoughts on using AI? Whether or not you agree with me, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

September Writing Update and Cover for Restaurants and Revenge!

Only three more months left of 2023. I still have so many projects I want to work on but so little time. Hopefully now that the annual recertification audit for work is over, I'll be able to use some more vacation time. I'll need it to clear some of these projects listed below:

Short Stories: I have one short story currently on the market, and I just finished reviewing my short story author proof for the forthcoming Solarpunk Creatures anthology.

Restaurants and Revenge:  I just got the cover for Restaurants and Revenge! Expect to see the ebook coming soon to the major distributors!


I'm about halfway through the next book in the series (Bubble Tea and a Body), but it's currently on the backburner.

Season Avatars/World Avatars: Once I finish up Restaurants and Revenge, I can focus on The Season Between, a collection of short stories that will bridge the gap between the Season Avatars and the sequel World Avatars series. I'm currently drafting the first book of the World Series, Avatars Abroad, which will feature mostly new characters. I'm also trying to plot the overall arc of the series. I know how I want it to end, but getting there is always the challenge.

Good Omens: Confession time--the main characters of this show have taken over my brain (in case that wasn't obvious from some of my previous posts). Yes, I'm writing fanfic about this series as a way of coping with the Season Two finale. Hopefully Season Three won't take another four years to air!

What projects are you working on? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Characters/Scenes Living in Your Head

How much do you think about the characters from your stories? For me, some of them (like the Season Avatars) take up more of my attention than others (like Abigail from my cozy mystery or characters from my short stories). For me, the more I think about certain characters, the more I want to write them. Sometimes it helps me plan scenes so that they actually flow when I can write them down. Other times, it helps me get ideas for events, but it's still a struggle to get the words out. Just some random thoughts at the end of a long work day when it's easier to write about writing than actually writing.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

An Author's Afterlife

My husband and I have been working on planning our estate. It's relatively easy to find a lawyer to prepare a will, a trust, and other documents; however, these types of documents don't discuss intellectual property like books and copyrights. Honestly, I'm more worried about what's going to happen to the stories I wrote as opposed to what happens to my book collection. Fortunately, there are some resources out there to help authors, particularly indie authors. In particular, when I searched for resources, I found one author referenced repeatedly: Michael L. Ronn. Here are some discussions with him on various websites:

I've also chosen to order two of his books dealing not just with an author settling her estate, but a guide for an author's heirs. I won't get these books until after this post goes live, so it'll be a while before I can determine how helpful they'll be. I have done some initial steps to deal with my intellectual property by making a list of my published works in a spreadsheet. I've also created folders to gather current editions of my self-published work and the associated cover art. 

Ultimately whatever happens to my stories after I die will depend on how much effort my heirs (which will most likely be my husband and/or son) are willing or able to put into maintaining my work. It's hard to tell if there will be any interest in my work in the long term. Nevertheless, if I'm going to spend hours writing, editing, and promoting my work, I would like to give it as much opportunity to connect with readers as possible.

Have you started thinking about your legacy as an author? If so, and if you have any advice, feel free to share it in the comments.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Happy Birthday, IWSG!


This month, the Insecure Writer's Support Group celebrates its twelfth birthday. If you're not familiar with them, you can learn more about them on their website and Facebook group.

Our hosts this month are Sonia Dogra, J Lenni Dorner, Pat Garcia, Sarah at the Faux Fountain Pen, and Meka James.

Here's our questions for September: The IWSG celebrates 12 years today! When did you discover the IWSG, how do you connect, and how has it helped you?

I don't remember when I discovered the IWSG, but I know I've been participating for a couple of years at least. I learned about them through Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog. (Alex has been kind enough to appear on this blog, host me on his, and comment regularly. Thanks for your thoughtfulness, Alex!) Participating in this group has allowed me to connect with other writers, though unfortunately real-life obligations make it difficult for me to follow and comment on other blogs these days. 

If you're reading this post as part of the IWSG, thanks for stopping by, and enjoy the celebration!

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Writing Update

 Here are a few quick notes about my current writing projects:

I'm still waiting to hear back from my cover artist regarding the cover for my cozy mystery Restaurants and Revenge, the sequel to Murder at Magic Lake. It's been about six weeks, so it might be time to follow up with them. I've got about 30,000 words written for Book Three in the series, which will be titled Bubble Tea and a Body. However, I haven't had much time to work on that lately, since I've returned to my Season Avatars world and started a couple of unrelated short stories to boot. 

Although I finished the main story in the Season Avatars series regarding Chaos Season, a magical weather storm that mixes up the seasons, I still love my heroines and want to spend more time with them. I also want to explore the implications of the series ending and let the world modernize somewhat. So I want to write a spin-off series called World Avatars, which will allow me to introduce new characters and revisit old ones. I have a sense of the main events, but I have to decide how many books they will need and how to plot each book as a stand-alone story and part of the overall series. Although I don't have much time to write on my lunch break, I use the time to jot down notes for the series.The first book will be titled Avatars Abroad and will feature a quartet of mostly new characters exploring the country next door. Before I publish that, I'll need to publish another short story collection, The Season Between, set between the two main series. Ideally, I'd like to publish Restaurants and Revenge first before working on the collection.

As for the short stories, they're "for the love" projects, so I only work on them after I've written at least 500 words on Avatars Abroad. Hopefully when they're done, I can return to Bubble Tea and a Body. Two is probably the maximum number of projects I can write at once, especially when I'm juggling so many other things (work, parenting, daily chores, etc.). I definitely keep busy!

What projects are you working on? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Yellowface and the Writing Life

Every month, I like to do a diversity read, a book by someone from a different background than me. I consider it a way to support diversity and grow as a human being by experiencing other existences vicariously. Ironically, R. F. Kuang, the author of Yellowface, doesn't want people reading her work just because it was written by an Asian author. Her book, which is about a white woman author who steals a manuscript from her dead friend, Athena (a superstar Asian author), is also a send-up of the publishing industry. It shows how the system of elevating a few carefully chosen authors as tokens of diversity hurts writers of all backgrounds. However, for me, the book also illustrates the perils of being too much of a "career author."

June Hayward, the narrator of Yellowface and the author who steals her friend's first draft, is one of the most self-centered characters I've ever read. She has no responsibilities, no genuine relationships, and no interests other than chasing writing success. She's addicted to reading about herself on social media, whether it's good or bad. Even some of the ways in which she tries to give back, like establishing a scholarship in her friend's name and mentoring other young writers, are done to enhance her image. June not only fails to grow as a person during the events of the book but becomes even more racist and self-obsessed, able to write about nothing but herself yet expecting the whole world to be waiting for her words.

As I said before, this book is a satire, and June is meant to be an extreme. However, she does show the importance of maintaining a healthy balance in one's writing life and in life in general. Given that her interactions with the real world are minimal, it's not surprising that she suffers writer's block partway through the book. Even Athena mines other people's experiences and uses them nearly unchanged in her own work. It's important to have experiences of your own to inspire you and real-life knowledge of things and interests you can combine to create a unique story. It's also not healthy to seek out all of your self-validation online or base it on winning other people's attention. While I do find useful things and even a community on Facebook, I'd rather spend more time reading and less time doom-scrolling. After all, there's more to life than being an author.

Despite my comments on Yellowface, I'm still interested in reading one of Kuang's other books, Babel: An Arcane History. Part of that is yes, I still want to read diverse authors, but also because I'm interested in the premise and have heard good things about it. Hopefully the characters in that book will be more well-rounded.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Off-Earth: Ethical Questions and Quandaries for Living in Outer Space

Traveling and living in space will pose a variety of technical challenges, but there are plenty of other social challenges that space will pose. Who owns space? How will workers get paid? How will we handle reproduction in an environment with limited resources? To start considering these questions and their answers, I recommend reading Off-Earth: Ethical Questions and Quandaries for Living in Outer Space, by Erika Nesvold.

Nesvold starts the book by acknowledging that some people may wonder why we should go to space when we still have so many problems to fix on Earth. There are a couple of reasons why we should start planning for space anyway. The first is that developing the technology needed for space travel may help us improve the situation on our planet. The other is that there are people and companies determined to get into space, so we need to plan accordingly. Attempts to regulate space internationally have had limited success, so we need to learn how to do so quickly.

Each chapter of Off-Earth raises a different question. (Some of the examples are listed in the first paragraph.) At the beginning of each chapter, Nesvold describes three scenarios, some based on history, others set in the future, about the topic. There are plenty of historical examples where exploration and exploitation of resources and people led to tragedy. If we don't learn from these examples and set up regulations/customs/laws before we establish lunar settlements or asteroid mines, we'll only repeat our mistakes.

At the end of the book, Nestvold discusses how we as a species can start discussing these questions. One thing we should do is to look to non-Western societies for possible solutions. For example, people living in the Arctic have experience with extreme environments like the ones in space. We could learn from them, but we shouldn't just appropriate their knowledge but make sure they're included in space exploration. One group Nestvold fails to acknowledge are science fiction writers. We have experience creating thought experiments about alternate societies in space. If authors consider ethical questions in their works, we can influence the development of real space societies, hopefully in ways that will be sustainable and beneficial for all.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Ineffable Husbands and Reincarnating Wives

I liked reading the book Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman when it first came out, and I enjoyed watching the adaptation of the book (Season One of Good Omens) on Amazon Prime. However, I didn't expect to be so enthralled by Season Two, which was released at the end of July. Then again, who can resist the perfect marriage of demonic love and angelic cruelty in that final episode? I haven't fallen for a fandom like this since the Beatles Anthology aired in November 1995 and I had "Free as a Bird" stuck in my head constantly. I binged Season Two of Good Omens in three days (which is quite fast for me, but it helps that I can now stream shows on my tablet while I'm cooking or washing dishes) and just finished watching Season One before starting Season Two again. I can't get Aziraphale and Crowley, the Ineffable Husbands, out of my head. I think part of that has to do with how much they remind me of two of my own characters, Lady Gwendolyn lo Havil and Jenna Dorshay, the Spring and Summer Avatars in my fantasy Season Avatars series. (Of course, my writing ability is only a fraction of what Pratchett and Gaiman brought to the table! Credit also belongs to Michael Sheen and David Tennant for portraying these characters and their relationship so brilliantly.)

Like the angel and demon, Gwen and Jenna are opposites who get on each other's nerves but know they can rely on each other. Gwen is a cool intellectual noblewoman, and Jenna is a passionate farmer's daughter. Both of them have magic granted to them by the deities they serve: Gwen gets healing magic from the Goddess of Spring, and Jenna is blessed with plant magic by the God of Summer. Like Aziraphale, Gwen is driven by duty, while Jenna shares Crowley's enjoyment of pleasure. Gwen and Jenna aren't immortal, but they are reincarnated over and over with their magic and memories intact. In previous lives, they were male and female (switching gender between them) and married to each other. However, after Jenna was responsible for a tragedy in their previous life (see Chaos Season), they both came back as women. Although their culture has Victorian-era technology, their country has a more liberal attitude towards homosexuality. Women can have relationships with each other, but those who do so serve the Goddess of Fall, not Spring or Summer. It would be scandalous for Gwen and Jenna to act like Fallswomen when they serve Spring and Summer. I don't want to say too much about the current state of their relationship, but it's obvious by the end of Summon the Seasons, the final book in the Season Avatars series, that they're not getting back together in the near future.

Something that is different between the two couples is that Gwen and Jenna are embedded in other relationships that affect their own. Unlike with Aziraphale and Crowley, Gwen and Jenna work with other Season Avatars who understand their situation. In fact, Ysabel and Kay, the other half of their quartet, often moderate when Gwen and Jenna fight with each other. Gwen and Jenna also have responsibilities toward others that keep them from acting on their relationship. Gwen is an only child, so she has a duty to create and raise heirs to manage the family estate. Jenna was married, widowed, and left with a young child before she even met Gwen in Scattered Seasons. The pair have several things they need to resolve before they can get back together as a couple. I do know where I want them to end up, but I haven't charted out the path of how they get there. Part of the fun of writing for me is discovering that path.

As for Aziraphale and Crowley, I have some ideas about what might happen to them in Season 3, but it'll take a 100-Lazarii miracle to give them a happy ending. I hope Neil Gaiman can give it to them!

Have you ever encountered a very popular character or characters who reminded you of one of your own characters? Did you change anything about your character as a result? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. 

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

IWSG: Second-Guessing Your Work

 Summer seems to leave as quickly as it comes. Here we are at August already, which means the school year will be starting soon for many children. Of course, we must mark the new month with another post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. If you're not already familiar with them (though I assume most of you reading this post are here because of the IWSG), you can learn more about them on their website or Facebook page.

Our hosts this month are Kate Larkindale, Diane Burton, Janet Alcorn, and Shannon Lawrence.

Here's our question for August: Have you ever written something that afterwards you felt conflicted about? If so, did you let it stay how it was, take it out, or rewrite it?

I think it's quite common for writers to feel conflicted about their work, particularly if they're writing about something political or controversial. One example from my writing career comes from Twinned Universes. In an early draft, the quartet of main and secondary teenage characters experience an episode of casual racism. (Two of them are obviously biracial and one is less obviously multiracial. While they're shopping for clothes, the store owner assumes they're planning to steal from her.) My white editor thought this kind of thing didn't happen, and I rewrote the scene to remove the incident. Several years later, it finally occurred to me that due to white privilege, she wouldn't have personal experience with this kind of racism. I debated restoring that incident but decided it didn't work as well anymore in the revised scene. However, the heroine of my Abigail Ritter Cozy Mystery series is half Filipina, and I do include in this series incidents where she wishes she was blonde or where other people don't believe that she was really born in a small Wisconsin town. 

Have you changed your work due to someone else's suggestion and then wished you hadn't? Feel free to talk about it in the comments.




Wednesday, July 26, 2023

My Take on Barbenheimer

I wasn't into Barbies or most dolls when I was a girl; I preferred books and stuffed animals. I'm also not into military history the way my husband and son are. Nevertheless, I knew we would be seeing Oppenheimer as a family (especially since I'm the one with the AMC app and account). Once I became aware of the Barbenheimer phenomenon, I decided I wanted to be a part of it. Since my husband works on Saturdays, we normally go to the movies Saturday night. I wound up watching Barbie by myself Saturday morning and seeing Oppenheimer with my family that evening. I even wore pink-and-black to mark the occasion, and my manicure was pale pink with black crow nail stickers.

The two movies are so wildly different in tone I don't need to point it out. Barbie was fun to watch, with plenty of pop culture references even I caught. I appreciated the feminism and diversity in it, though you can't fully discuss gender roles without considering non-binary and transgender viewpoints too. I was a little disappointed in the ending, since it didn't commit to gender equality and prioritized body parts over other aspects of being human.

As for Oppenheimer, it's a much longer, more complicated movie, jumping between three storylines (Oppenheimer's life and work, the kangaroo hearing to discredit him, and Strauss's failed Cabinet confirmation hearing.) Of the three, I preferred the main one focusing on Oppenheimer's career and thought the Strauss subplot least relevant, even if it was part of the book the movie is based on. Since the movie is rated R, I expected violence but not the frontal nudity and simulated sex. I'm not sure what my 16-year-old son thought about that. After the movie, my son asked to get the audio version of the book, so he's interested in other parts of the story, at least. We have the paperback too, but I have so many other books to read that I won't be getting to it for a long time, if ever. However, if you want to learn more about women's contributions to the Manhattan Project, I recommend The Girls of Atomic City.

While Barbie is my favorite of the two movies, I'm glad I was able to watch both of them. If you saw either or both movies, what did you think? Feel free to comment below.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Quick Writing Update

I think it's been a while since I posted a project update, so here's a quick summary of what I've been working on recently:

I submitted a solarpunk short story called "Inside, Outside" to Grist's Imagine 2200 climate fiction contest. While I think this is my best submission yet (I came up with the idea early enough to revise this story multiple times), I know this contest gets a lot of submissions. If it doesn't earn a reward, I'll submit it to other markets.

While I was on vacation, I made the last edits to my cozy mystery, Restaurants and Revenge. I've also submitted a request for cover art to the designers of this series. Depending on how quickly they come up with something, I'm hoping to make the preorder available to tie in with a promotion next month for the first book in the series, Murder at Magic Lake.

Now that I'm done with the second cozy mystery, it's time to move on to the next book in the series, called Bubble Tea and a Body. I already have a partial draft that I worked on before being distracted by other projects. I've reread it to familiarize myself with what I already wrote and made some more plotting decisions. Hopefully I can finish the first draft by the end of the year.

Progress on The Season Between, my fantasy short story collection set in the Season Avatars universe, has been slow. I plan to include five stories, one for each Season Avatar and one "ensemble" story where they're all working together. I have decent drafts for the individual stories, but the longer ensemble story is taking longer to complete. I would love to finish this project by the end of the year, but it really depends on how much time I can devote to it. It's been harder to find writing time this year with everything else I have to do. Hopefully I can figure out how to claw back more time for writing and crocheting soon.

How are your writing or other creative projects coming along? Feel free to share your progress in the comments.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Vacation 2023

At the end of June, my family and I took a vacation for the first time in several years. We divided our time between Philadelphia and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. My husband has always wanted to visit Gettysburg, so when we decided to go to Philadelphia, I suggested we add on the side trip. We went on a ghost tour, drove around the battlefield with a licensed guide, and visited several museums in the town. In Philadelphia, our main focus was the historical area, particularly Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Betsy Ross House, and Christ Church, along with the burial ground. We also visited the U.S. Mint, a natural history museum, and Valley Forge. My son will definitely have a leg up for his U.S. History class in the fall! We've already decided our next vacation will be to London, though I also want to fulfill one of my bucket list items and visit Liverpool. Here are a few photos from the trip:


A house in Gettysburg that suffered a lot of damage during the battle (the white spots are repairs)
Recreations of some of the cabins used by Washington's guards at Valley Forge.
A statue of George Washington at Valley Forge.


  Washington's headquarters at Valley Forge.

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

IWSG: Ideas and Writing

We're officially halfway through the year! I hope you're having a good one and that you've made progress toward your goals. Since it's the first Wednesday of the month, it's time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group post. Learn more about the IWSG on their website and Facebook page.

Our hosts this week are PJ Colando, Kim Lajevardi, Gwen Gardner, Pat Garcia, and Natalie Aguirre.

Here's our question for this month: Ninety-nine percent of my story ideas come from dreams. Where do yours predominantly come from?

I think we've had similar questions about story inspiration for the IWSG before. When you're starting your writing journey, coming up with ideas may seem overwhelming and intimidating. As my Taoism reading for today says, "Facing blank paper is an artist's terror." Even if you're in the middle of writing, lack of ideas can lead to writer's block.

If you are having trouble finding inspiration, you might want to consider submitting to themed short story anthologies or magazine in your genre (if that is common in your genre, that is.) Working with a theme (like a holiday, setting, or story element), might help you focus your creativity. 

Questions about where authors get their ideas seem to focus on the initial starting idea, the kernel that the story grows around. I have found that I develop my best stories by combining ideas. For example, my first published short story, "A Reptile at the Reunion," was inspired by a theme from a short story magazine and an invitation I received for a college reunion. This combination gave me a premise of someone thought to be dead (the magazine theme) showing up unexpectedly at their reunion. One idea isn't enough for a story; you have to keep adding to it. I kept asking myself questions to develop the character and her story. The premise changed extensively between my first and final draft, and the story wound up being published in a different anthology that sparked the story in the first place.

As you get more experience with writing and develop your own stories, you may find your worlds and characters keep generating ideas for you. I could probably spend the rest of my writing career continuing the series I've already written, but I seek out other projects as well to challenge me. (Or sometimes to give myself time away from my current project.) There is no limit to the ideas and combinations of ideas you can write about. The important thing is to take the idea that interests you and add on to it.

If you've been writing for a while, do you find it easier to come up with ideas? Where do yours come from? Feel free to share in the comments.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Quick Reading Challenge Update

I'm on vacation with my family this week, so this post will be short. We're almost halfway through 2023, which means it's time for a reading update. I've read 103 books so far this year. My original goal was 170 books, but I just increased it to 200. It's been some time since I read that much, so let's see if I make it. 

Here's the breakdown by genre:

Fantasy: 22
Science Fiction: 8
Cozy Mystery: 49
Other Fiction: 2
Non-fiction: 21

I'm one book short, but I'll have more time to track my books in December. I'll post about my trip sometime next month. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

LGBTQIA in the Season Avatars Universe

In honor of Pride Month, I thought I'd discuss how my understanding of sexuality and gender has evolved since I first came up with the Season Avatars and the country of Challen. This in turn has affected Challen's culture and the characters I portray in that setting.

When I was inspired to create the Season Avatars back in the mid-nineties, I thought it was diverse enough to give each of the Avatars a different personality and different class background. (Ysabel is also part of an ethnic minority group.) However, as I became more aware of LGBTQIA issues, my characters started to develop more diversity. Although I originally envisioned my Season Avatars quartet as all straight, two of them (Gwen and Jenna) developed a history of being married to each other in their previous lives--and they still retained that attraction. I consider both of them bisexual, though they have some issues they need to work through (including their marriages to other people) before they reunite.

By the time I was ready to indie-publish this series, I decided the culture needed roles for people who choose not to get married and have families. I came up with the roles of Summersmen and Fallswomen, lay people who dedicate themselves to serving the God of Summer and Goddess of Fall. (It just occurred to me that it may seem unbalanced not to have lay people serving the Goddess of Spring and the God of Winter. However, They are considered to be linked to married people (especially mothers) and older people, while Summer and Fall are considered more interested in single people.) Summersmen and Fallswomen might look after local temples, protect nature preserves dedicated to the Four Gods and Goddesses, and act as healers and teachers for their communities. They may also hold jobs not typically linked to their gender. For example, in the upcoming  short story collection The Season Between, we'll meet William, Gwen's secretary. William chose to become a Summersman because he's aro ace. He boards with his sister in Midpoint (close enough to ride to the One Oak every day to meet with Gwen), and excels at taking notes in shorthand and helping Gwen sort through all the demands on her healing magic.

Challens believe in reincarnation, often saying that they visit the God of Winter between lives. They believe they switch roles from life to life, changing gender, social class, and other traits. Originally, I thought only the Season Avatars would remember their past lives in any detail. However, other Challens might subconsciously remember details such as if they were male or female before and who they had relationships with. It's occurred to me recently that reincarnation may affect the non-binary and transgender people of Challen. Transgender people might remember being a different gender in their past lives and feel more comfortable in their original bodies than their current ones. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to handle this in my world. Gwen's healing magic would allow her to give people hormone therapy if necessary, but it's not strong enough to completely change their bodies from one gender to another. I can see at least one of the Avatars believing people should accept their current bodies while other Avatars wanting to make transgender and non-binary people as comfortable in their own skins as possible. Once a soul develops a preference for a particular gender, should the Four honor that preference? The Goddess of Fall doesn't like men and doesn't let Her Avatars reincarnate as men; is She doing them a disservice? These are questions I'm still trying to answer.

Do you consider diversity in your worldbuilding? If you write science fiction or fantasy, do you handle sexuality or gender differently in your world than we do? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Finding Themes While Reading

One of the books I'm currently reading is called The House Witch by Delemhach (though I may be done with it by the time this post goes live). As the title suggests, it's about a male witch (the term applies to all genders) named Fin whose skill with domestic magic enables him to become a royal cook. 

As I've been reading this book, I've noticed that several sets of father-son relationships are mentioned. There's Fin and his abusive father, the king and prince Fin serves, a family that burdens their male children with embarrassing names to toughen them, and probably more. There's also an important brother-sister relationship. All of these relationships deal with the power imbalance between the people involved. 

Echoing this theme is the difference in culture between the main country, Daxaria, and Troivack, a neighboring country that is planning to start a war with Daxaria. There is little to no love between family members in Troivack; in fact, the sister I mentioned earlier is originally from Troivack and only learned to love when she came to Daxaria. The book is part of a three-part series, and fortunately my local library has all the books. It's just a matter of getting to them, along with all the other books I want to read.

At this point in the series, it's too early to tell if the family theme will be the most important theme throughout the entire story. But it'll give me something to watch for. 

Have there been any themes that jumped out at you in the books you've read recently? If so, feel free to share them in the comments.

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

June IWSG: Alternatives to Writing

Welcome back to the Insecure Writers' Support Group! If you're not familiar with them, you can learn more about them on their website or Facebook page.

Our hosts this month are Patricia Josephine, Diedre Knight, Olga Godim, J. Lenni Dorner, and Cathrina Constantine.

Here's our question for June: If you ever did stop writing, what would you replace it with?

As a working parent, I already have plenty of tasks to fill my time; it's more like trying to carve out half an hour or an hour at the end of the day for writing. There's also plenty of other entertainment options (reading, electronic and board games, and videos) to do if I'm bored. But would they satisfy my creative urges? Perhaps the best alternative to writing would be something like crochet (which I've been sadly lacking the time for lately). Crochet gives me plenty of opportunities to make things, though it's mostly following other people's patterns instead of designing something from scratch. Perhaps the only substitute for one creative endeavor is another. However, as long as I can still nurture my creative spark, the only reason I would permanently stop writing is if I'm physically or mentally unable to continue. In that case, the only replacement for writing is eternal silence.

 What would make you stop writing, and what would you replace it with? Feel free to share your thoughts or blog links in the comments.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

And Just Like That....

I started this blog shortly after I got married in 2005, so if you go way back to the beginning, you'll find posts about my pregnancy and the birth of our son Alex. Well, yesterday, he turned sixteen. Here's his first appearance on my blog....

To yesterday.

Many happy returns, son!

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Book Discovery

How do you discover new books you want to read? For a long time, I was mostly dependent on bookstores and libraries. These days, I most often find books through the bargain ebook lists I subscribe to. I also follow some authors on social media or Amazon so I can pre-order their books. I seldom visit a physical bookstore, but I still thrill at spending some time at my local library and browsing through my favorite sections. I will pick up books if I'm familiar with the author or series, but I'm usually willing to try a book if the description is enticing. I also belong to a local book club, which often gets me reading books outside my typical genres. Although I sometimes pick up books through word-of-mouth recommendations, it's less effective than some of the other methods listed above.

What's your preferred method for discovering books? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023