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Spring Things & Summer Plans

The last couple of weeks I have been busy writing, preparing for conventioning,  doing the conventioning, and writing posts about that. All the same I did wedge in some recreations. Of course I did.

Books:

More Grace Burrowes Regency romances. These are tremendously fantastical. Plots are nicely tangled, Our Heroes not only come equipped with all the usual Heroic Attributes, but they also understand hygiene and contagion control,  exhibit saintly patience, and have wondrous modern attitudes about social & sexual equality. Truly, they are so far from any real historical human realities that they might as well have dragons and psychic powers, but no. They stick to the best romance standards–family secrets, misunderstandings, and social tensions–and more importantly avoid all the annoying and/or rage-inducing tropes. None of the no-means-yes

They’re like comfy fleece blankies for my brain.

Thanks to the con I have some excellent new authors to try out (not sure how I missed Claudia Gray, but I have catching up to do!) plus I found out that both Josh Vogt and Tracy Korn have new novels out I need to buy.

Movies & Television

One Million Ways to Die in the West. Wow-howdee, this was bad. I enjoyed much of it and laughed at many inappropriate things, but it’s a patchwork of jokes–some good, some horrible misses– that don’t play well together.  It’s as if Seth McFarlane said to a bunch of A-List actor friends, “Hey, let’s put on a show! I have a bunch of funny gags based on Western tropes. Now all we need is a plot.” Only none one came up with a plot. Or else  too many people did. It has that committee feel common to many modern Hollywood productions.

Passengers. I can see why critics didn’t like it, but I was not disappointed. I outright liked it. It was visually lush, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence both did  solid jobs with their characters, and the story skimmed past the questionable premise quickly and lightly. (Colony ship with NO ONE awake? Hrrrmmmmm, okay… The scriptwriters dealt with the most problematic aspect of the plot (no spoilers)  better than I expected from the set-up too, which was a pleasant surprise.

Feud. Continues to please me.

Detours:

I drove. All the way from Chicagoland to Indianapolis. This was the first Major Test of my foot bones since I broke them driving up to WisCon in…2014, I think.  I did a dress rehearsal drive up to central Wisconsin earlier this year, and that success convinced me this was worth a try. I mean, the worst that could happen would be new stress fractures, and I know how to treat those now, so…

The gamble paid off. I had a great weekend, I sold books, and I got new art — a new gargoyle for my Grawlix notebook by Buzz, and a neat take on Valerie from Afua Richardson. They’re both fantastic artists, and I love both new additions to my collection.

That’s about it. In fits and starts I continue to art forward.  I’m doing character profiles and an outline for a new project that requires such things, Heartwood is plugging along, and I have decided I am definitely going to fork out the ducats to make Rough Passages happen as a shiny-polished properly formatted print book this year.

Now I have to contact some epic-awesome people and get quotes on custom services. And I learned at this con that the same company does FABULOUS banner design, so I may get one of those too.  Plus I have an idea for the new business cards I want to do myself.

Just have to keep the energy up and the momentum going. Chug-chug-chug-chug-chug.

Ah! Pics. Right.

First, Afua Richardson’s take on Valerie, the main character in Extraordinary and a supporting character in Heartwood.

Valerie Wade art

Valerie Wade Artist: Afua Richardson

Second, Buzz’s take on Grawlix, the gargoyle from my (prize-winning) short Up On The Roof. These are phone snaps, I’ll get scans into the character art folders eventually.

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Grawlix in a mood. Artist: Buzz

glitter butterfly

March things roaring and bleating

I’ve been posting these media consumption updates at least once every couple of weeks for more than a year now. It’s almost a feature. I’m possibly more pleased about that level of consistency than I should be, but pleased I am, all the same. Here’s the latest.

Books

Silence Fallen Patricia Briggs. Many books into the series, I’m still enjoying it.   Even switching from first to third person between chapters was tolerable,  made fun by chatty explanatory blurbs from the main character. True confession: I cheered when a new POV character showed up 3/4 of the way into the book. I do that even though writing guides all say it’s a huge no-no, but guess what?  It works great.

Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins Of the American Republic Matthew Stewart. I may be gnawing on this one for a while. 450 dense pages with another 125 pages of footnotes. Super fascinating “things that get glossed over in American History Class” stuff. I read a certain page count per day like homework, but I always go over my quota because it’s hard to stop once started.

Spoiler alert: digging into the writings & the formative readings of the Founding Fathers reveals they were mostly not big fans of Christianity. To paraphrase a couple of paragraphs (the prose is super dense) The American ideal freedom of religion traces back to the Founding Fathers’ desire for freedom from religion, specifically from Christianity.  Amazing stuff. Packed with enough citations to give me lots of further reading too.

And some fantasy Victorian-era romance fluff to balance out the Tome Of Learning: So You Want To Start A Scandal, Tessa Dare. Phenomenal dialogue and pacing.

Movies

Deepwater Horizon. LOTS better than I expected, especially after the disappointment of Sully. It stuck to the event, not the aftermath. They took a tremendously complicated scientific & engineering situation and explained it well,  portrayed people present for the crisis as flawed but sometimes also heroic, and then skipped out before the backstabbing and finger-pointing started.. Could it have been a huge screed against corporate greed and a saga of ecological disaster? Surrrrrrre, but Humanity vs Nature made a much better movie.

Captain Fantastic. I have no idea why I reserved this one. Oh, wait. Viggo Mortenson. Right. I won’t analyze its premise or message. It wouldn’t stand up well to analysis. I enjoyed it all the same. I can enjoy problematic things.  The casting director is brilliant for finding six kids of varying ages who could all hold their own on-screen with Viggo. Names to watch.

Hell & High Water.  It was…well done. Not my kind of story for fun, but holy catkins, Chris Pine is not just chiseled and pretty, he can act. That’s a thing I know for sure now. He more than held his own with Jeff Bridges. Bridges & Gil Birmingham were an epic cop buddy pair. And that is all I will say.

Television

Grand Tour. Spouseman and I have embarked on a new  “watch TV together” series. Car fun. Vrrrroom. GT is the new Amazon-Prime version of BBC Top Gear with the original hosts, who got fired/resigned (it was a Big Thing, google it) Unlike American Top Gear, which I found unwatchably dull, this show keeps the lighthearted spirit of the original with a fun twist of changing locations every week. I think the title acronym being GT is no accident since it’s a car nerd reference, a nod to the world-traveling aspect, AND the initials for Top Gear backwards.

I hope they lose the NASCAR driver replacement for the Stig, not because he’s bad, but because he’s obviously Jeremy Clarkson’s running stupid-Muricans joke and it was grating on my nerves after one episode. Clarkson’s bullying obnoxiousness gives me heebie-jeebies in general, but he’s hiding the meanness a little better in this incarnation than in later seasons of TG. So far.

Feud. I didn’t turn off the TV fast enough after watching some recorded show and got sucked into this mini-series. I regret nothing. It’s delicious. Bette Davis & Joan Crawford and the production of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?  Period costumes, dramatic spats, and tons of scenery-chewing = great goodness.

Series of Unfortunate Events. Hee. I don’t care if it’s targeted at children. It has Patrick Warburton as a narrator, and a fabulous parade of talent hamming it up in heavy makeup and wild costumes. Then there the storyline wreathed in glittery vocabulary words, Dahl-esque social commentary, and pointed lessons about human frailty. Best of all, it never assumes its audience is stupid, which is one of the things I loved best about the books.

And that’s a wrap on my creative-things intake summary. Of course there’s creative output too. All this inspiration has to be exhaled. I put it in books mostly. You can order my published work on Amazon and at all the other usual online retailers, or  take free peeks at all of it under the blog menu mysteriously labeled Books.

SF thrillers, SF romance, and straight science fantasy, full length novel or shorter, so many choices…

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The Good, the Bad, and the …

Been a while since the last one of these. I haven’t read or watched as much as usual in that time because I have been busy making stuff and dealing with life detours of one kind or another. Now I’m gonna bore y’all with the making as well as the consuming.  Just fair warning. Skip to the end for reviews and snark.

On the making side:

  • A delayed book project  is back in action! Dawnrigger Publishing (me) will be releasing a friend’s fantasy picture reader for kids ages 6-9. The meeting with my new collaborator (Hi, Deb!) and the author was a smashing success. We have plans and materials collected, and we’re off & running…over three months after I’d hoped to be starting major work, but hey. Started.
  • One of my favorite short works, Roundup, is closer to independent publication. Originally published in an online magazine, it will see daylight as a sale piece. Then I will do a print + ebook collection of all the Rough Passages stories, with introductions, a chronology and other extras. And audio? I hope so.
  •  I made a cover for Roundup, and I kind of love it.
  • On a good day I can look at the progression of my homemade covers (Powerhouse–> Lockdown–> Nightmares–> Roundup) and I can see I have learned a thing or two about graphics.  I’m far from great, but I could be convinced I don’t suck.

Roundup 4 titles

But wait, there’s more making!

  • Two scenes finished in Heartwood (how I wish I could share, but spoilers…) and another begun. It’s at 33k words and still growing, and I can see the path to the end now. Novel-length, here I come!
  • The two Restoration Series novels stalled in beta revision…may be stalled in beta indefinitely. In case they never see print, I want to thank my beta readers somewhere.  I am deeply grateful for your time, effort, insights, and helpful suggestions. The stories are infinitely improved by your input, even if  I never make them good enough. THANK YOU ALL.

The detours…The happy sparkles are many in this latest episode of My Exciting Days, but the dark facets of the life disco ball haven’t disappeared.

  • Spouseman is 2/3 of the way through his”abundance of caution” radiation therapy, and he’s feeling the effects, plus I’m feeling hedgehog-caregiver proxy exhaustion. The cancer prognosis is good for the short term, but the long term is uncertain, and that’s a whole herd of break-dancing elephants living in our emotional space.
  • Lately insurance/ employment fears have grown larger, as have the long-term financial ones. (poor Spouseman worries that I will end up living out of a grocery cart with a dozen stray cats to feed someday. I have no legit counter-argument. It’s a fair point. I mean, he’s wrong, but worry doesn’t always care about realism. )
  •  Friends & family members are struggling in many ways, but I have been too self-absorbed with my troubles  to support them the way a good human would.
  • I’m losing Facebook friends & page follows in a steady drip, but I am nigh-incapable of sending requests to boost my social media reach. Too painful, too much juicy panic. One possible new FB friend isn’t worth losing a day’s creative work.
  • crap book sales lately. I’m not promoting, brand-creating or networking properly.
  • zero book reviews in three months. No sales, no reviews. Basic arithmetic.

…so I stress a lot. But hey. I walk this crooked path with eyes open. There are costs associated with choosing eccentric stubborn egotism over a good, solid professional career-building business model. I accept the potential consequences, up to and including dying homeless and covered in cats. (edit to add: don’t forget to read that last part in a dry, facetious voice. It’s my form of a joke.)

Today there are good things. Tasty food. Words. Spouse cuddles. Cat snores. Fuzzy socks. And lots of distractions. Moving forward. Not sprinting, no, but moving. The road goes ever on and on and all that.

Media consumed, for those keeping track:

Books

  • 1636: The Ottoman Onslaught Eric Flint. All by himself. No collaborators, no traveling off to distant lands with characters originally introduced as minor players or in an associated short story. WOO! Cue the big happy dance.  I love the 1632 shared universe, but there’s a 31 flavors issue. (SO many characters and theaters of action, impossible to keep up with all of them equally, and always a few in there that don’t appeal.)   Flint’s solo book started it all off, and his plotting, descriptive prose, dialogue precision,  and political developments always give me the biggest happies. So. A whole new book of just his material? Gobble, gobble, burp.
  • Mr. Impossible & Don’t Tempt Me. More historical romance fantasy by Loretta Chase.
  • Etched In Bone Anne Bishop. Latest in the series. I could call this series a guilty pleasure. The plots skew to the simplistic end of the plot spectrum, and they have problematic elements that make me pull eye-rolling muscles. And yet I feel no guilt. They please me, they are full of cleverness, creativity and immersive everything, and I adore them.

Movies 

  • Logan. Whoo-ee. Damn. Daaaaaaayum. Too bad it took Fox 17 years to get an X-Men movie right a second time, so sad they had to do it by destroying them (again.)  All the same. Wow. Kudos to whichever producer had the tits to insist on pulling off the PG-13 gloves and giving Wolverine the brutal, bloody, vicious showing he always deserved. Way to go out on a high note.
  • Lilo & Stitch.  I super-needed happy tears & ohana. It’s been that kind of month.
  • Sully. I would’ve liked it lots better with less forced NTSB-as-villains bullshit and more  perspectives of the crash and its classic man-vs-environment conflict. I spent a whole walk rewriting the frame story plot for Spouseman in a way that made it less an anti-gov screed and more the heroic celebration it could have been.
  • Manchester By The Sea. I see why Casey Affleck won an Oscar for it, and I can understand the praise it got. It’s a talent festival for showing off moody, atmospheric writer/actor/director/cinematography skills. Alas, Affleck makes my skin crawl, and the nobody-talks-about-it tension building silences…didn’t move me to care.
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Loved its oddness from start to finish. Things to quibble over, yes, but Spouseman sat through it with me, and that says all kinds of good things.
  • The Accountant. Um. It was a good watch for dissection purposes only.  Anyone who gushes, “but it was such an great portrayal of autism!” needs to run a search on “What’s wrong with The Accountant autism” and do some research.The Treasury agents were watchable and fun, but the accounting pretty much sucked too
  • Mechanic Resurrection. Could be subtitled, “Jason Statham Takes Off His Shirt.” So. Much. De-shirting.  Not just “on screen shirtless,” oh, no. I lost count of the number of excuses to disrobe on-camera. Tons of excellent fight action too. Horrible cinema, really, but deliciously satisfying for this viewer.

TV Still enjoying Madame Secretary & Victoria (which is over for the season)  although both left plausibility far behind weeks ago. Supernatural & NCIS stay on the list until the end of their seasons. Supergirl is off the keep-up list, as is Riverdale (too much angst, not enough plot) In contrast,  The Expanse keeps getting better and better, and I have a few series recommendations in my queue to session-watch soon when my brain gets tired.

And that’s a wrap until next time.

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New month, new doings.

Books first

You Are Not So Smart David McRaney. It’s a phenomenal primer on a ton of psychological concepts and logical fallacies that trip up everyone. (I especially like the one that makes people immediately think, “well, not everyone–I bet I’m immune,” when reading the previous sentence.)

It was a tough read, not because it was technical — far from it. It’s adapted from a blog, so the tone is easygoing, congenial, and friendly. No, it was tough because it is written in second person present. You do this. You think that.

Gawdingus, I LOATHE second person present unless it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. Exception, that. Otherwise, it’s a total pain to slog through.  <shudder> If it hadn’t been so damned interesting and if I wasn’t such a stubborn cuss, I would have dropped it like a hot rock after five grating chapters out of forty-eight.

I finished it, and I’m glad. The brain programming tripwires are easier to avoid after getting reminders of their existence. I would recommend it to everyone struggling with family members and friends who insist on unbelievable things.

It won’t make dealing with them any easier, but it will make their positions less bewildering. (and it does suggest coping strategies. Strategy is good.)

Craving: Why We Can’t Seem To Get Enough Omar Manejwala. I hoped this would make a good partner book to You Are Not So Smart, but alas, no. It failed to live up to my hopes in all possible ways.

This is probably an excellent book–the author is clearly knowledgeable, the topic is complex, and every chapter is packed with points worth deep examination (among them the blurry zone between desire and addiction and  which coping mechanisms work)  but it was too busy being dignified to ever be enjoyable.

Worse, like YANSS it was written in 2nd person present, and its tone flirted with condescension when it wasn’t aloof and snotty.  <flops and twitches>  Only sheer annoyance and talking back to the pages got me through it. And I didn’t come away with a single epiphany or even a gee-whiz moment. So disappoint.

Archangel’s Heart Nalini Singh. Fiction recovery book! Latest in a growing series in a contemporary alternate-reality. Angels are real, and archangels, and vampires, and they’ve all co-existed together throughout history. It’s (occasionally steamy) romance, although this one is less explicit than most others. I love the world, the characters and the unfolding history are lovely.

Yeah, that’s it on books. I was busy with other Other Things.

TV

NCIS marathon continues. The rest of the television lineup: Victoria, Madame Secretary, Expanse (woo, it’s BACK!) Gotham, Supergirl, Supernatural, and current NCIS, which I probably won’t keep past the ed of this season unless there are big writing changes.  And Spouseman & I will be giving Riverdale a try as a together-watch as soon as we finish working through Mozart In The Jungle.

Otter Things

Coloring!  Spouseman got me The Sweary Coloring Book for Christmas, my friend Deb donated colored pencils to the cause, and I finally tackled it this weekend. I colored the cover first, and completed two interior pages. The drawings are pretty simple, so it isn’t a technically challenging exercise. It is soothing, though, and it keeps me off Facebook.

I would have colored more, but I learned the cramp way my hand muscles are out-of-shape.  WAY out of shape. Given practice I should be able to work my way up to a page per sitting.

Concert! (Do you like the exclamation points? I’m feeling emphatic for some reason.)  Instead of seeing Resident Evil The Final Chapter or whatever it’s being called–as was tentatively planned — Spouseman & I  went to watch Northwest Symphony  Orchestra play Tchaikovsky, Borodin, and Strauss. It’s our local music organization, and we started picking up season tickets a few years ago when they moved into our area.

Live classical music got much more fun once I stopped stressing about dressing for concerts and made my peace with the reality that I will nod off. It’s a problem with large shifts in psychological arousal. Make me sit still in a darkened room, and I will have to “sleep.”  Fighting the drowsiness until I lose consciousness is uncomfortable and stressful, plus when I lose (and I will lose)  I will drop into true sleep. But if I let myself just drowse off, I will come back alert and energized in less than five minutes.

Stealth snoozing. It worked. Spouseman and I had a wonderful time.

That’s all the all there is until next time.

 

 

My Outstanding Gift Suggestions

 

I could list a hundred phenomenal Christmas recommendations for books, music, movies, and more. But I won’t. The interwebs are swamped with endless Best Of lists already.

Nope, my mission here is simple: showcase books that can’t be found in USA Today, the NYTimes, or in any of the Big Name Guides. Not this year, anyway. <cue inspirational music>  In years to come, we might see these names on big stack displays and movie posters. They’re good enough, they’re great enough, and gosh darn it, I like them.

These select gems are hand-crafted, artisanal, and sparkling with originality. Two series, two debut novels. I’ve read and reviewed them all in detail or in brief. Are they all right for everyone? Hell, no. That’s where your good judgment comes in. I describe. You decide.


51efjymvqblThe Devany Miller series by Jen Ponce: Horror/fantasy/romance. Yes, all three. Yes, really.  Oogy monsters and kickass women are her specialties. Not recommended for arachnophobes. The author writes across several genres. All polished, snappy reads.

 Jen Ponce on Amazon

website & blog


51ew7cfxtzlThe Saga of Menyoral by M. A. Ray. Foul-mouthed knight and berserker boy, and oh, so much more. Coming-of-Age fantasy. Fast-moving and heart-wrenching. YA friendly if your definition of YA includes PG-13+ sexual content and R-rated language.

M.A. Ray on Amazon

M. A. Ray’s blog


The Wild Harmonic by Beth W Patterson (check out her music too!  Yes, she’s multi-talented!)  Contemporary fantasy/urban fantasy. I would compare it to War for the Oaks, because both have musical roots and a beautifully evoked sense of place, but that’s not fair to either book. The author has short stories in several anthologies and plans more novels.  (and an awesome splash ad.)15267880_10208243872634623_84449978845420988_n

Beth W Patterson on Amazon

Website (with music! And MORE!) 


51m2btzwyatlThe Legacy (The Darkness Within Saga Book 1) by JD Franx. EPIC fantasy.  Viking necromancers. Nuff said, right? Also, portal fantasy. Like your fantasy worlds built big, sprawling & complex, your characters three-dimensional and your plotlines fast & tight? Yeah. Me, too. Get it here.

JD Franx on Amazon


 

Aaaagh. So many good things. Can’t stop. Witty-gritty Life With a Fire-Breathing Dragon and sequels by Bryan Fields. The whole delicious, steamy erotic-funny Lily Quinn succubus series by Natalie & Eric Severine. Noelle Meade’s exploding birds and changing worlds Crucible of Change series,Mirren Hogan’s wonderful Crimson Fire that I technically shouldn’t include because I haven’t finished it, but mmmm good…no…must…stop…

<takes a little break to recover>

Since you read this far, here’s a little story I call Me And Books At The Holidays: A Story. (Because I am an ego monster and everything on this blog works around to me in the end.)


For about six years after graduating from college, I worked part-time teaching high school science & math  and part-time as a pet store manager. Then I jumped off the career train entirely and got a full-time job in retail bookselling with Borders Books & Music.

And ended up teaching again anyway. But that’s a different story.

That first holiday season with Borders,  I got teased thusly by family and friends. “Hah, I guess I know what I’m getting for Christmas this year!”

Every single one of them made that same snarky remark, I swear.

Now, let it be known tolerance for teasing is not my strong suit, not even when I’m well-rested, well-fed, and unstressed. I seldom managed any one of those three conditions during the retail holiday season.  At its best Christmas with Borders was a rush, a thrill ride, and a grueling endurance test rolled up into one, an adventure shared with boon companions who made the labor a memorable joy. At its worst it was all those things smothered under a pall…but I digress. Long story short, I had no tolerance for being mocked about my gifting abilities.

“What did you get last year?” I snarled. (Every time, I snarled.)

“…”

“Did you get BOOKS, maybe? Not a hamster, or a fish bowl, or cat toys? No? Okay, I gave your cats some toys, but I got you books, didn’t I?  Of course I did. That’s what I get everyone. Every year. Why the <many expletives deleted>  would that change now I’m getting a discount? Are you trying to tell me you don’t like books? Did you not like what you got last year?”

“Errrrm. Ha-ha. No. I loved it. You alway pick good books.”

“Damned right, I do.”

Borders is gone, (RIP) but books are still my go-to gifts of choice. And the ones I’ve shared here are ones I am positive will suit someone you know. Because everyone knows someone who likes something.


What do I want for Christmas? Pssh. The same thing I want every year, Pinky. Reviews! I want DOZENS of reviews for Controlled Descent & Flight Plan. Also a pony.

And if I got THREE author wishes, the third one would be to see my book listings in WorldCat (the biggest online catalog of library collections in the world) for libraries in all fifty states of the Union.

But the second wish would still be for a pony.

Happy gift gathering and giving, everyone!