Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review! HONOR AMONG ORCS by Amalia Dillin!

Soooo my amazing friend Amalia Dillin is releasing another book today! APRIL FOOLS!! (No but really... she really is...)

This one is a bit different from her Forged By Fate series. HONOR AMONG ORCS is a fantasy in the classic Tolkien vein featuring some very well-known and much beloved fantasy creatures, but in ways that turns their tropes on their heads.

The thing that I love about Amalia's writing is how lyrical her prose is. She writes beautifully, but not in a way that feels heavy-handed or overdone. Her writing and characters are still accessible and compelling. And boy, does HONOR AMONG ORCS compel.

HONOR AMONG ORCS is the story of Bolthorn, an orc king/ village chief, and the daughter of a human king, Arianna. The human race thinks orcs and elves and dragons are myth, but it turns out they've just sealed themselves away from humanity to avoid war and exploitation. When Bolthorn comes as an emissary to Arianna's father, instead of dealing with him, the king locks Bolthorn away. Arianna, oppressed by her cruel dad, finds something appealing about the orc trapped in a mirror, and together they forge their way not only out of her father's grasp but all the way to the land where the elves and orcs live. Except it turns out their biggest enemy has yet to be faced, and it will surprise them all who it is.

This book sounds impossible from the outside: a story where the orcs are the good guys, and a human falls in love with one-- but much like the pan-theistic world of her Forged By Fate series, Amalia manages to craft not only an amazing, believable, and interesting story, but characters that will make you root and laugh and cry and want to punch the bad guys for them.

I also love that the skeleton of the book feels familiar-- it is orcs, elves, and humans after all-- but the plot is super twisty and keeps you guessing until the very last page! And! It's going to be a series!

Go pick it up at Amazon today! And, as always, if you enjoy a book, the best way to help the author (besides buying it) is to leave a review of your own.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Saying Things I Shouldn't: Why good-old, dependable sameness is hurting readers

Disclaimer: I am currently gestating a small human. So my usual levels of Snarkiness and General Low Tolerance are even more amped up than normal. I'll try to be nice but my apologies in advance if anything outright offensive creeps in here.

Second disclaimer: I am but one reader, but others I have spoken to recently are feeling the same way.

Third disclaimer/ request: Hey, comment on this post and tell me how you feel? I'm genuinely curious

The other day, I was visiting Barnes and Noble's significant YA section when I had a terribly sad realization.

There wasn't anything on the shelves that I wanted to take home with me and read. The same was true of many other areas of the store. Everything I picked up felt very been there, done that.

Now, I'm not going to make any sweeping statements about how "YA/ publishing is dead" or, "everything out there sucks", because, though I've heard them elsewhere, neither of those are true. But I do think there is a fundamental problem in the industry, and I don't know if there's a fix for it.

See, as much as industry folk say not to chase trends, we are ALL guilty of this. Writers, agents, editors, pub house sales teams, the people who buy books to put on the shelves at bookstores... we ALL do it. A few years ago, the shelves were full of paranormal romance (still are, frankly), and sometime roughly after TWILIGHT I grew sick of it. I still bought a few books here and there, but when I came across something Fresh And New, it was like seeing the light after being stuck in a cave for ten years. It was like finding an oasis in the desert. It was like a cookie after months on a diet. (Okay, I said I was pregnant... food is a big deal to me right now). Books like THE SCORPIO RACES and ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD and ACROSS THE UNIVERSE opened whole new worlds to me (killer ponies, light horror, and sci-fi, specifically).

Then came THE HUNGER GAMES, and I, like much of the rest of the book-world, fell in love with that place and time. But the problem I started to realize was that I didn't want to read any other dystopian. After finishing the HUNGER GAMES series, I was good and pretty much done with it.

And yet, when I walk into B&N, the shelves that aren't filled with paranormal romance are now filled with dystopian books.

This gives me, as a reader, that overwhelming sense of disappointment as I stare at the shelves, looking for that new, special tale to take me away. Because when everything is the same, nothing stands out. And for me to spend ~$20 on one book these days, it better be good.

My tolerance for trying new writers is also pretty low now unless I already know them from online or their cover grabs me and won't let me go (see: THE SELECTION, a semi-dystopian I likely wouldn't have picked up if it weren't for that gorgeous cover). This is because the writers that I already follow have new books coming out in their series, or new series altogether, and at least with them I can get excited about those books, those new worlds for me to explore.

And of course, there's where this leaves me as a writer. I've always tried to pursue the elusive Originality in my own work, writing the books I felt were missing from the shelves. But how fresh is too fresh? And am I taking it too far? I admittedly have trouble narrowing down genres on my own books. My latest, if I could get away with it, is a YA western fantasy romance. But there aren't any shelves out there that have that label, so I've got to narrow it down.

It also makes me feel like the odds are simply unsurmountable. I'm swimming against a current of dystopian and contemporary romance and still perfectly comfortable in my little pod of fantasy and timeless love, but if I can't find the kinds of books I want to read on the shelves, is there any room there for the kinds of books I want to write?

There's already so much working against us writers. So many people I know and admire have overcome at least the Agent Hurdle recently, and some even the Book Deal Hurdle, and here I still sit, five years after finishing my first MS, feeling like I never did anything at all. Wondering if my writing is too weird for the industry. If I just don't have the spark.

That, I think, is why (aside from growing life), I just haven't had much energy to write lately. I'm having an existential creative crisis.

There ARE a few books I'm excited about coming in the next few months/ year, and I won't miss the chance to get someone else excited, too. (In no particular order, and forgetting a few, I'm sure):

THE ONE, the last book in THE SELECTION series-- it's like the Bachelor, but with a prince instead. Oh, and rebels.

TALKER 25, by one of my earliest online writer friends and former co-Alliterati, Joshua McCune. Dragons, that is all.

NEVER NEVER by Brianna Shrum, a fellow Pitch Wars survivor from 2012. The story of how Peter Pan and Hook became enemies.

WINTER, the final book in the CINDER series, by Marissa Meyer. Sci-fi fairy tales at their finest.

DAUGHTER OF THE GODS, by another of my earliest online writer friends and also former co-Alliterati Stephanie Thornton. Ancient Egypt, Hatshepsut, drama... LOVE.

HONOR AMONG ORCS, by yet another good writer friend Amalia Dillin-- a fantasy with orcs and romance!

You may notice a theme. I know most of these writers, but also their books are pretty original.

What do you think? Are publishers turning you off as a reader by playing it safe? Or do you want more of the same once you find a trend you love?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What To Do With Yourself After #PitchWars Is Over

Whether you read my last post or not, you're probably here right now because you're participating in #PitchWars (or maybe hoping to get into some other contest) this year.

It's been a year since my own Pitch Wars experience. I've learned a lot since then. I also, I think, made quite a few mistakes. For one thing, I let my lack of success in the contest get in the way of my writing. I'm STILL struggling to get over that.

For another, I stopped working on new things, dragging all my old manuscripts out for another trot around the block. There's nothing inherently wrong with this except that maybe there's a good reason they all were in the drawer in the first place? I guess I thought I could fix them if only I tried. Maybe I can. Maybe someday I will.

But for me, the joy of writing has always been in the Shiny New Idea. Whatever captures me at the moment is the journey I want to be on at the time. I LOVE getting Shiny New Ideas. Except for the last year, I didn't. I had one idea that I really loved. To put that in perspective, usually I get about 4-5 Shiny News in a year and have to pick and choose between them.

But I'm not blaming that on Pitch Wars, or anything else I did last year. I'm blaming that on me.

Anyway. Back to the part about you. Whether you get a lot of requests today or not, or whether you get an agent in the next week/ month/ six months, or not, here's the thing:

This contest (or any other) does not define you. It does not define your writing. It does not mean you will make it, or you won't. I've seen people in contests get 10-15 requests and still not have an agent a year later. I've seen people get 1 request and find the agent of their dreams and a book deal and so on and so forth.

That thing people keep telling you about publishing being subjective? They are not broken records, nor are they just saying that to make you feel better. It's SO TRUE. Nothing can be everyone's cup of tea. I know people who didn't like the Harry Potter series, for crying out loud.

Today they are judging you on your pitch and first page. Not even what you would send in a query letter. That is a very, very small portion of your work to make decisions on.

But, just making it into the contest means there is something special about you. THAT is a success. No matter what happens today and tomorrow, you've done something incredible. Rest on that for now, and try not to let the agony of waiting get to you. (As The World's Most Impatient Person, I am well aware of how that feels).

And, to take another Industry Advice Cliche, perhaps most importantly, keep writing. Why? Because you deserve to do that for yourself.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013, or, the Year I Felt Like a Sham

It's really no secret that 2013 wasn't a great year for me.

In fact, I had a hard time hiding how terrible last year was. Lots of professional, personal, and social disappointment made me cranky at best and otherwise morose at worst. I tried to stay away from social media once I realized how whiny I'd become even there, but I also didn't want to be silent, so I still visited now and then.

That could have been a mistake of its own. 

I won't list everything that happened in 2013, even here in this post, because frankly, most of it you don't have any context for, and the rest of it you don't want to know. There are a few highlights I'll mention though, because together they show why, exactly, 2013 was the year that made me feel like I didn't know what I was doing, wasn't worth much, and would never amount to anything.

They also show why, despite all that, I have hope for 2014 and won't ever give up, and why you shouldn't, either.

In January of 2013, the agent round of Pitch Wars happened. (Go check out the blog post tag #PitchWars in the sidebar to understand what I'm talking about). I'd been lucky enough to be picked for the contest in December 2012 by not one but two mentors, and after choosing Cupid-- a truly delightful lady-- we worked hard to get my neolithic Romeo and Juliet manuscript into shape. In my head, I really thought this was it-- my time had come. Two mentors had wanted me so much they hadn't been able to let me go, surely the agents would feel the same way!

Except they didn't. I got a couple of requests from awesome agents, but was mostly ignored. I felt horrible. I'd chosen Cupid, she'd gushed over my work and went above and beyond my expectations to fix it. She'd worked her butt off to help me-- and still did, long after the contest was over, I might add-- and I'd let her down. My lovely, kind mentor.

After Pitch Wars, I entered a different YA manuscript into another contest in April/ May, called The Writer's Voice. I was absolutely stunned when I was once again chosen by more than one mentor and again had to pick. This time I chose Monica Bustamante Wagner. Monica is one of the sweetest people I've had the fortune to work with. She helped me whip my MS and query into shape and once again I headed for the agent round with my head full of stars and my heart full of hope. 

Only to have the Exact. Same. Thing. Happen. Again.

I let Monica down, too. My lovely, kind mentor. 

At this point, I sort of began thinking I was cursed. I mean, come on. But I'm not a terribly superstitious person-- though I do believe in a good story-- so I was a bit frustrated, too. 

I didn't write a lot of new words in 2013 (with one big exception). I spent most of my time re-working and editing my old MSs, mostly because I truly believed in each and every one of those books. Perhaps that was my mistake. 

Perhaps my mistake was deciding I was a bit fed up with waiting and losing patience and breaking the rules by querying more than one MS at a time. Perhaps my mistake was caring so much and not having enough distance from my work to realize that the market was wrong, or the story was wrong, or the voice was wrong, or the category was wrong, or yada yada yada. The feedback I did get varied widely and directly contradicted itself, telling me either everything was wrong with my work or something intangible was wrong with my work.

In my real life profession, I faced many similar situations trying to secure a better position at my zoo. Phone calls, interviews, hope, wonder, joy-- disappointment. Perhaps my mistake was that I could get into the race but not finish it. 

Whatever the deal is/ was, there's no one to flat out tell me what I'm doing wrong. Sometimes, there isn't anything wrong with me or you, per se. Sometimes, there are just better options out there. For all of 2013, I was not the best option. 

But someday I will be. Even if I have to make myself the best option. I have other things I can focus on-- a big change is heading my way this year. I can self-publish and take control of my writing life. I can start my own horse-training business and forget worrying about advancing at the zoo. I have pretty good building blocks in my life already: my husband, my pets, my friends, my family, and most of all, I still have writing. 

I think that needs to stand out: I still have writing. 

At the end of the day, I write for one person. Me. Sure, I'd love to share my work with the world through a large publisher and see my book on the shelves at B&N, but the most joy I get out of writing is just DOING it. I still love all my books because I wrote them because I loved them. 

So no, I won't quit writing even though I feel like a failure. A fake. A sham. Forget that. I'm going to keep writing.

And you should, too. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A New Episode of "L.T. and Pony: Adventures in Equine Friendship"

Every. Single. Year.

The scene: Pony's stall, first cold and rainy night of the winter.

ME: *approaches with Pony's blanket* *lets her smell it* *attempts to put it over her shoulder* I'm going to slowly and carefully put this on you and it will keep you warm and dry.


ME: Calm down.


ME: It's the same blanket! We do this every year!


ME: For cripes sake. *throws blanket on Pony as she shuffles backwards away from me.*

PONY: *immediately freezes* Oh. That-- that wasn't so bad. *lets me put it on without any further trouble.*

ME: You're ridiculous.

PONY: *looks at self* I LOOK ridiculous. Thanks.

At least by now we can have this exchange more briefly and without the aid of a halter. It's gotten a lot better. But still.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Saying Things I Shouldn't: On BLACKFISH

First of all, right off the bat, I would like to openly state that all opinions expressed in all posts on this blog are my own. But especially this post. I would also like to state that while I have researched the film thoroughly, I have not watched it. 

Now. I know what you're thinking. But I don't want to spend an hour and a half of my time pissed off, so there's that. It's my choice.

I also don't have network television and refuse to support the filmmakers by seeking other avenues. 

Being a zookeeper myself as well as a former employee of a large, well-known aquarium (in fact an aquarium that is EXTREMELY relevant to this topic), I have a lot that I WANT to say about BLACKFISH, and a lot that I won't. I also want to say that I don't personally, on a moral level, 100% support SeaWorld. But I have come to terms with it because of what I'll say below.

I will say that every documentary has an agenda, and this one is no different. This documentary's agenda is an attack on SeaWorld and all aquariums that keep cetaceans in their pools. BUT.

You would probably not even know what a killer whale was if SeaWorld didn't exist.

Our ocean, our planet, is changing at an alarming rate. Since I'm already being controversial I'll just go ahead and close the soap box loop and say that climate change is a really big freaking deal, whether we want to admit it or not. Without zoos and aquariums it would be so much easier to not care about these animals, about what we as humans are doing and have done to them and their homes. 

If you didn't know what a killer whale was, you probably wouldn't have bothered to watch BLACKFISH. 

Zoos and aquariums do a lot of good. We expose people to new things, educate them about things they thought they already knew, get them to care. And it's so, so important that you care MORE about the animals in the wild than the ones in the zoo.

To put it a bit harshly, if it still really bothers you, think of it as a sacrifice of the one for the good of the many. But know that (most) zoo animals do not sacrifice-- they live longer, are healthier, and suffer less than their wild counterparts. They have a steady food source, plenty of mental stimulation, lots of personal space and choices, and, in a good zoo, are never "forced" to do anything. They also have personal nutritionists and doctors, something that most humans don't even have. 

I'm keeping comments closed on this post. No offense, my lovely Google visitors. But I don't want this to turn into a debate. These are my thoughts, take them or leave them. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Craft Fair(s) 2013! And some random art updates

Tis the season, my lovelies! Instead of giving you a huge long narrative about this year's craft fair(s), I'm going to let the pictures (mostly) speak for themselves.

This is a picture-heavy post (obviously), focusing on the work that I've done over the last year and the things I took to the first of several craft fairs I'll be attending this holiday season.

All images in this blog post are of my original art work and belong to me. Click on any of the photos to view them larger.

This is a (very poor, sorry!) picture of a steampunk desk clock I made for Husband's cousin last year. I'm currently working on some more of these, including a wall-clock sized version. I've gotten a lot of ideas and grown as a builder over the last year so I'm really excited to see how they turn out!

I've also really been into tiny paintings, especially, for some reason, animal eyes. The first is my boy kitty's face, and the second is an arctic fox.

Tiny trees in a bottle!

Paper flower wreath made from recycled book pages

Cinnamon dough and quilled paper ornaments. There's a couple tiny top hats in there, too.

A wedding present I painted for a good friend

Paper flower arrangement with burlap petals.

Cartoon animal painting series!

80's gator!

Hand-painted and glitter-bombed glass ornaments

Melted snowmen in glass ornaments

A better picture of the cinnamon dough ornaments. These smell SO GOOD.

Smaller (7") paper flower wreath, again made from recycled book pages.

And finally, the paper bunting I made for a baby shower earlier this year. I kind of love it!

What do you think? I think I've improved a lot. I'm especially proud of my paintings, as up until late last year, I was MOST CERTAINLY NOT a painter. I guess I just needed to find my style!

PS-- if you love something you see here, I take orders! Email me at the email on my contact page for prices and shipping.