The Joy(and Horror) of Author Photos

My old author photo; this is me on the battlements of the Tower of London!
My old author photo; this is me on the battlements of the Tower of London!

I had a more serious post planned for today, but with the constant stream of horrors we call news in 2017 I thought we could all do with a little bit of fun. So I’ve decided to share a story about author photos instead.

The time for a new author photo

The advice on when to change your author photo is mixed. Some authors take one amazing photo at the beginning of their careers and never change it. Others get a new author photo for every book. Still others suggest getting a new author photo every 2-3 years, so fans can still recognize you as your face changes.

There are two reasons why I decided it was time for a new author photo. For starters, my debut YA fantasy novella, Keeper of the Dawn, is coming out this spring(exact date still pending). I wanted an author photo tailored to the genre I write in, one that looks almost like it could have been taken in a fantasy world.

Secondly, it has been about two years since I took my last author photo, and in those two years I’ve changed a lot. It doesn’t necessarily show in my face(although my cheeks are a little chubbier), but I feel like the picture above no longer accurately represents my personality. Over the past two years I’ve grown more serious about my career, and my dreams have grown much larger. I wanted a photo that shows these changes.

Creating one image for two identities

One of the biggest challenges for me was that the photo needed to represent both my fantasy novels and my freelance writing. This meant I needed an image that was professional without being too modern. As a freelance professional who works from home 98% of the time, I don’t own a lot of business clothes and most of the ones I have no longer fit.

What I do have is this beautiful coat, which I inherited a few months ago:


Combined with the sweater underneath(also inherited, because that’s the best way to get clothes), this is the perfect balance of professional and fantastical. Of course, this outfit meant I had to do one of two things: overheat like crazy, or go outside. My house is made of lovely red brick, so I decided to take it outside.

This presented two new problems. You see, I live in Canada. Toronto is one of the warmer parts, but it’s still Canada. Which meant that not only was it cold, it was also already getting dark by the time we got outside. We do have lights outside the house, but they run on motion sensors and one of them was broken.

So we spent hours outside, putting the flash in every place we could think of and eventually hauling out a second flash. We got a lot of pictures like these:

SLK_9678 - Copy

And a lot of pictures like these:

Don't I look like I'm about to murder someone? Plotting, folks, plotting
Don’t I look like I’m about to murder someone? Plotting, folks, plotting

And some pictures that are cool and artsy but not at all what I was looking for:




Luckily, I did also manage to get the perfect author photo:


Getting the right photo took us far longer than it should have, and by the end everyone was freezing(well, I was only kind of cold; that coat is wonderful), but it was also a lot of silly fun. And out of all the author photos I’ve ever had, I love this one the most.

*All photos taken by my friend Alex Kennedy

What do you think of these photos? Have you ever gotten a professional head shot done? Tell me all about it in the comments section below!

Book Review: Timeless by Crystal Collier

timelessI’ve already reviewed Moonless and Soulless, the first two books in the Maiden of Time trilogy by Crystal Collier, and now it’s time to discuss the third book, Timeless. Timeless is by far the best book in the trilogy, but before I explain why, I’ll let the blurb tell you about the story:

Time is the enemy. In 1771, Alexia had everything: the man of her dreams, reconciliation with her father, even a child on the way. But she was never meant to stay. It broke her heart, but Alexia heeded destiny and traveled five hundred years back to stop the Soulless from becoming. In the thirteenth century, the Holy Roman Church has ordered the Knights Templar to exterminate the Passionate, her bloodline. As Alexia fights this new threat—along with an unfathomable evil, and her own heart—the Soulless genesis nears. But none of her hard-won battles may matter if she dies in childbirth before completing her mission. Can Alexia escape her own clock?

Spoiler-Free Review

I liked the second book better than the first, and Timeless is an even better book than Soulless was. Alexia has grown from a rather frustrating teenager into a woman I have the utmost respect for, and throughout the book her character grows even stronger and more impressive. She is faced with enormous challenges and overcomes them all with grace, despite also being rather pregnant.

The vivid visual details of every battle scene are exquisite, forming a movie in your head. The emotional turmoil Alexia goes through is deep and confounding. The things you–and Alexia–learn about the Passionate and the Soulless are both fascinating and disturbing.

Timeless is not the kind of book you devour in a single sitting, at least not if you want to understand its nuances. It is the kind of book that makes you stop every few chapters to run through a series of questions in your head. All of these questions are answered in the final chapters of the book, along with many questions from the previous books.

All in all, I loved this book and I would give it a 4 out of 5 stars.

You can purchase a copy of Timeless here.


Spoiler-Ful Review


I’m going to do my best to not be too spoiler-y because I want things to surprise you, but I do want to talk in a bit more detail about the story of Timeless. The most interesting thing about this book is that in many ways it is a direct reverse of the stories in the past two books. The Passionate are a rather long lived race, and in Timeless Alexia mentors many of the characters who mentored her in her own time. She helps them grow the way they helped her grow.

When I reviewed Soulless I discussed the often questionable nature of her relationship with her lover and eventual husband. Many of his behaviours seemed manipulative and kind of creepy, but in Timeless all of these behaviours are explained when he meets her in the thirteenth century: he couldn’t tell her anything about knowing her before without creating massive problems with the timeline. This was a masterful piece of writing that left me quite happy with both the character himself and his relationship with Alexia.

So once again, I would like to give Timeless a 4 out of 5 stars.

Purchase your copy of Timeless today!

*All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links and I received a free review copy of Timeless from Crystal Collier

#Ownvoices Author Interview: J. S. Fields

Ardulum-FirstDon-f500Today’s author, J.S. Fields, has written a science fiction series that plays with gender and sexuality in some very interesting ways. I’m thrilled to have her here today to discuss the first novel in that series, Ardulum, First Don.

Blurb for Ardulum, First Don:

Ardulum. The planet that vanishes. The planet that sleeps.

Neek makes a living piloting the dilapidated tramp transport, Mercy’s Pledge, and smuggling questionable goods across systems blessed with peace and prosperity. She gets by—but only just. In her dreams, she is still haunted by thoughts of Ardulum, the traveling planet that, long ago, visited her homeworld. The Ardulans brought with them agriculture, art, interstellar technology…and then disappeared without a trace, leaving Neek’s people to worship them as gods.

Neek does not believe—and has paid dearly for it with an exile from her home for her heretical views.

Yet, when the crew stumbles into an armed confrontation between the sheriffs of the Charted Systems and an unknown species, fate deals Neek an unexpected hand in the form of a slave girl—a child whose ability to telepathically manipulate cellulose is reminiscent of that of an Ardulan god. Forced to reconcile her beliefs, Neek chooses to protect her, but is the child the key to her salvation, or will she lead them all to their deaths?

Can you tell us a bit about your novel, Ardulum, The First Don?

The planet that vanishes. The planet that sleeps. When Ardulum first appeared, the inhabitants brought agriculture, art and interstellar technology to the Neek people before vanishing back into space. Two hundred years later Neek has joined the Charted Systems, a group of planets bound together through commerce and wormhole routes, where violence is nonexistent and technology has been built around the malleability of cellulose.

When the tramp transport Mercy’s Pledge accidentally stumbles into an armed confrontation between the Charted System sheriffs and an unknown species, the crew learns the high cost of peace – the enslavement and genetic manipulation of the Ardulan people. Now a young Neek, outcast from her world for refusal to worship ancient Ardulans as gods, must reconcile her planet’s religion with the slave child whom she has chosen to protect – a child whose ability to manipulate cellulose is reminiscent of the ancient myths of Ardulum. But protecting the child comes at a cost – the cultural destruction of her world and the deaths of billions of Charted System inhabitants.

That was the actual snippet from my query for the first book in the series. Ardulum, the first don, is the first in a three book arc that explores the hard science of cellulose with some unusual telekinetics thrown in. At the heart of the series is the relationship between two women, one a religious outcast and the other a genetic relative of the gods the outcast has tried so hard to ignore.

What part of the story came to you first?

I wanted to explore a world where cellulose is the primary polymer of interest. In my field, I get to see a lot of technological advancements before they ever hit market, as well as discuss cool technology that is right around the corner. In the past five years or so, cellulose has really dominated these conversations, from cellulosic food printers (soon, people, sooner than you think), to computers that are simple cellulose weave screens that can roll up and slide into your pocket. If technology carries on like this, we might soon be living in a world where we rely on cellulose for every electronic ‘thing’, and possibly even for space travel.

So I built this world, imagined it, fleshed it out, and then realized that, like planting tree monocultures, having only one polymer control all tech was a recipe for disaster if something could manipulate it. In reality that something would probably be wood-rotting fungi. In fiction, it’s more fun if it’s a humanoid. The series was born.

At what point did you realize you were writing a series?

I realized this was a series after the third chapter. I originally conceived of the book with Neek (our primary protagonist, named after her planet…it’s complicated) and Emn (the telekinetic god/slave) being around the same age, and having romance be a central theme. That did not work from the beginning. Neek had too much baggage from being kicked off her homeworld, losing contact with her family, and being known throughout the galaxy as THE heretic. She wouldn’t trust adults, certainly not ones that looked like these mythological gods she’d sworn for the past ten years didn’t exist. That meant I had to backtrack. Who would Neek listen to? Who would she trust? Probably no one, but a kid could get under her skin.

Having Emn start as a child destroyed any option for romance, but did get Neek to interact with her. There was so much story to tell, however, and having to backtrack meant I needed more time, both in terms of storytelling and in terms of Emn growing up, so I could get to the areas I really wanted to explore. Completely unplanned, Emn’s lifecycle (for her species, the Ardulans), is broken up into three ‘dons’, and that coincides nicely with a trilogy. It seemed a good place to cut each book, once I realized I needed more than one.

How much planning/research did you do before starting the first book?

I had zero outline. In terms of research, I’m a scientist and I work with cellulose, so I guess you could say I have my undergrad, master, PhD, and post doc, plus all my time as a professor invested in it so…fifteen years?

What is the hardest part of the writing process and how do you make it easier for yourself?

The hardest part of the writing process for me is strong emotional development in characters. I can be a guarded person, and that often comes out in my characters, especially in first drafts. I use an extensive system of beta readers to help me pull the character emotions forward. It often takes five to six rounds of edits before I can drag them out and onto paper.

Your series has several alien species, most of which have three sexes. How did you create these species?

I’m nonbinary, and it always frustrated me in fiction, especially science fiction, that all the species seemed to be straight up female/male. Humans aren’t even just female/male, so really this concept is more alien than not. In the first book I wanted a gentle introduction to different sexes and genders. The cellulose part is hard enough for people, so I figured adding neopronouns to that might be a bit much.

Book one has an agender species, which was easy to create as there are plenty of examples even here on Earth of asexual reproduction. The trinary gender structure of the Neek people from book one was actually based heavily from my time living in Thailand. The Thai people have three established genders (you could argue for a fourth, the ’tom’, but I saw far fewer instances of this one so am less familiar with it), and the history and culture surrounding the kathoeys is fascinating. I did not want to copy this gender, but the dynamics of a three gender system have stuck with me over the years, and I wanted to explore how something like that might develop in other species.

The quad genders that are introduced in book two and carry through the rest of the series are my attempts to address parts of my own non-binary status. These four genders stem from the same two sexes, ‘male’ and ‘female’, but differentiate based upon preference. I wanted species with more fluidity to their sexes and genders, and while I don’t spend a great deal of time discussing the intricacies of sexual and asexual reproduction amongst species, they are there, and visible to the reader. Most importantly, a gender binary is never assumed, nor the norm, in any of the three books.

You also have a bisexual main character. Did you decide to make her bisexual at the outset or is this simply how the character developed?

Neek was most certainly always bisexual. Her character was clear from the beginning, as was a great deal of her backstory. She is a woman who knows what she wants, has strong opinions (and strong language), and fights for her views, often to her own detriment. Her sexuality is actually never really discussed in book one, but does come into play in book two.

Should I ever write a prequel to the series, I would love to explore Neek’s early interests across the spectrum. There is no taboo for sex between consenting adults in any of the alien species encountered in the books, which allows for a real freedom of exploration with characters.

How would you like to see representation change in the next five years?

Honestly, if we could just see more QUILTBAG characters in general, I’d be happy. I understand straight authors may feel uncomfortable writing them, and I get that. I’d be uncomfortable writing a m/f sex scene. That doesn’t mean, however, that these characters shouldn’t be a part of every narrative. It isn’t hard to make a secondary character have a same sex partner, to be androgynous, to have no romantic inclinations, etc. QUITLBAG characters don’t have to be all the protags all the time, but they SHOULD be represented, especially in space-themed science fiction where aliens are involved. To assume that the female/male dynamic is the only option is completely ridiculous, and only further isolates QUILTBAG youth and adults.

If you could give an aspiring writer only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Finish that first draft! You can’t do anything until draft zero happens!

What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?

Ardulum, The First Don is being edited and will release February 27th, 2017. Second don will release August 7th, 2017. My project for right now is Third don, which is still going through beta reading. I have another series outlined which utilizes mushrooms, my other passion, within a fantasy setting. It might be a while for those books, however. I still have to live my life as a scientist and professor, and manage all those pesky science publications and books as well.


JSFieldsJ.S. Fields (@Galactoglucoman) is a scientist who has perhaps spent too much time around organic solvents. She enjoys roller derby, woodturning, making chain mail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans. Nonbinary, but prefers female pronouns. Always up for a Twitter chat.

You can pre-order a copy of Ardulum, the First Don here.


#InkRipples: The fun of choosing a subgenre for your work

inkripplesblueandgreen-1Today I’m joining the wonderful Mary Waibel, Kai Strand, and Katie L. Carroll for this month’s #InkRipples posts, and we’re talking all about genres, the categories we use to organize media.

With my first book coming out in just a few months and a long line of projects preparing for self publication in the next few years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about genre lately. So much time that I’ve actually had four completely different ideas for this article(and I may well end up writing at least one more article about genres).

For me, genre has always been easy. I am a fantasy writer who dabbles in science fiction and the occasional horror. These are genres I know well, genres I’ve loved as long as I’ve been reading.

What is more difficult is choosing a subgenre. There are dozens of subgenres within each genre. In fantasy, the genre most of my work belongs to, there are over 40 different subgenres(at least according to Wikipedia, although I had never heard of half of these before I looked this up). And most of my books take influence from several subgenres, most notably high fantasy, dark fantasy, grimdark, and medieval fantasy.

So what do I do? Well, sometimes I cheat. If you asked me about my debut novella, Keeper of the Dawn, I would tell you that it’s “alternate world fantasy bordering on the line between YA and adult fiction”. In fact, that’s how I would describe most of my work.

This usually means I can conveniently avoid having to pick another subgenre; YA is considered by many its own subgenre(which I think is bizarre, but that’s my opinion), and “alternate world” usually conjures a distinct image in people’s minds.

Now, technically all alternate world fantasy is high fantasy, but high fantasy typically brings to mind images of dragons and elves and incredibly powerful magic, things that only exist in some of my worlds. Moreover, the term high fantasy is deeply associated with Chosen Ones on epic quests, and while I do write these things on occasion, I don’t feel comfortable associating my overall body of work with them.

In some ways this will make my marketing life difficult. There is certainly something to be said for writing consistently in a specific subgenre. The more exact your genre is, the more exact your target customer becomes, making it easier to create highly effective campaigns. People who are fans of a specific subgenre are often incredibly dedicated–look at the sheer number of steampunk cosplayers and creators–and if you choose the right subgenre, you can make a lot of money from a small fan base.

In other ways, writing a variety of things is a much better choice, both for maintaining my personal interest and for building an actual career. It allows me to reach different customers at different times, and many readers are willing to leap from one subgenre to the next for an author they love. If I ever choose to open a publishing house and welcome other authors, my variety of work will also allow prospective authors to get a feel for what I like.

All in all, I believe subgenres are powerful tools for authors and readers to find each other, but I don’t think we should try to force ourselves neatly into one subgenre box or freak out when our work blurs the lines between a variety of subgenres. Many of the best stories already do.

What subgenre do you most like to write in? To read in? Let me know in the comments section below!

When you feel like the world is about to end

explosion-123690_640If you pay any attention to the news, you’ll know that the developed world seems to be on a catastrophic and awfully fast-moving downward spiral. The UK is run by an extremely conservative party bent on leaving the EU, no matter how much it screws up their country. America is run by a tyrant with the temper of a four year old boy, and even though both parties spoke openly about what a bigoted asshole he is during the election, the vast majority of American politicians are meekly bowing their heads and accepting the destruction of the democracy they claim to love so much.

Here in Canada, things are marginally better. Our government doesn’t resemble a dumpster fire. Our prime minister isn’t trying to turn this country into a dictatorship. Funding for the arts has actually increased, and the free press remains free.

Unfortunately we’ve reached a point where global politics are so awful that Trudeau, who in all reality is a very average politician, is being treated like a bloody saint. When you’re standing next to Trump, you can do no wrong. But Trudeau has failed to keep many of his promises–most importantly the promise of election reform, which is the best way to keep our country from following in America’s footsteps–and I’m not confident that he has the courage to stand up to Darth Orange.

To be honest, I’m not confident about much right now. When the last leader of the Soviet Union says it looks like we’re on the brink of another world war, and I am intimately familiar with the number of nuclear bombs available, it’s hard to believe in much. Some days it’s hard to believe we’ll even reach the end of 2017 without causing a nuclear winter.

This reminds me of something an older relative said to me a few years ago: “we laugh at those old bomb drills now, but in the 60’s, we really thought the bombs could drop on our head at any moment–it’s no wonder we fell in love with drugs and rock and roll”.

Now, I’ve been in love with rock and roll as long as I can remember(not so much the drugs though), but only in the past few months have I really believed the end is nigh. I try to keep hope, to tell myself humanity will survive this challenging time, that this downward spiral is a temporary backslide on the road to progress. Some days I even manage to believe it. Most days, though, I end up thinking humanity will probably destroy itself–and being angry that it’s happening now, when my career is finally taking off.

Staying the course when everything is awful

I’ve struggled through a lot in the past. I kept writing when my parents split up, when my dad grew sick with cancer and died, when we moved out of the neighbourhood I grew up in, when I went through a series of messy relationships with even worse break ups. Through all of it I held on to my dream, and bit by bit, I grew closer to achieving it. My first novella, Keeper of the Dawn, got signed last year and is supposed to come out this April.

But I am struggling now. My depression is no longer primarily about my own circumstance; the entire world is aggravating my depression and giving me the most intense anxiety I’ve ever suffered from. Everything feels pointless now. Some days I consider giving up all the hard work, getting some terrible minimum wage job, and spending all my free time partying instead. Other than Keeper of the Dawn and another novella I wrote last year, I’m not sure any of my projects will be publishable before world war three breaks out.

Staying the course has never been so difficult, even though I know sharing my stories has never been as important as it is right now. After all, my stories–both the personal and the fictional–are about strong women changing the world, and right now we need to be those women, fighting for what we believe in. So I am pushing through the dread, one sentence at a time, and filling every spare hour with self care activities to give me strength. And I will keep telling my stories, no matter how much it hurts.

Have you struggled with your creativity in recent weeks? Tell me about it–and how you’re getting through the struggle–in the comments below or on Twitter @DiannaLGunn!

#Ownvoices Author Spotlight: RoAnna Sylver of Chameleon Moon

CM 2nd Edition CoverToday I am beyond thrilled to introduce RoAnna Sylver, author of Chameleon Moon, the first novel in a series that blends fantasy and science fiction. She’s been generous enough to share how Chameleon Moon came to be, so please give her a warm welcome!

Blurb for Chameleon Moon

The city of Parole is burning. Like Venice slips into the sea, Parole crumbles into fire.

The entire population inside has been quarantined, cut off from the rest of the world, and left to die – directly over the open flame. Eye in the Sky, a deadly and merciless police force ensures no one escapes. Ever. All that’s keeping Parole alive is faith in the midst of horrors and death, trust in the face of desperation… and their fantastic, terrifying, and beautiful superhuman abilities.

Regan, silent, scaly stealth expert, is haunted by ten years of anxiety, trauma and terror, and he’s finally reached his limit. His ability to disappear into thin air isn’t enough: he needs an escape, and he’ll do anything for a chance. Unluckily for him, Hans, a ghostly boy with a chilling smile, knows just the thing to get one. It starts with a little murder.

But instead of ending a man’s life, Regan starts a new one of his own. He turns away from that twisted path, and runs into Evelyn, fearless force on stage and sonic-superheroic revolutionary on the streets. Now Regan has a choice – and a chance to not only escape from Parole, but unravel the mystery deep in its burning heart. And most of all, discover the truth about their own entwining pasts.

They join forces with Evelyn’s family: the virtuosic but volatile Danae, who breathes life into machines, and her wife Rose, whose compassionate nature and power over healing vines and defensive thorns will both be vital to survive this nightmare. Then there’s Zilch, a cool and level-headed person made of other dead people, and Finn, one of Parole’s few remaining taxi drivers, who causes explosions whenever he feels anything but happy.

Separately they’d never survive, much less uncover the secret of Parole’s eternally-burning fire. Together, they have a chance. Unfortunately, Hans isn’t above playing dirty, lying, cheating, manipulating… and holding Regan’s memories hostage until he gets his way.

Parole’s a rough place to live. But they’re not dead yet. If they can survive the imminent cataclysmic disaster, they might just stay that way…

  1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, Chameleon Moon

So much of this story is actually made of secrets, spoilers and reveals, that I’m going to tell you something else instead. The often-quoted, sometimes-misunderstood arc words, “Everything Is Going To Be Okay.”

Chameleon Moon is a dystopian novel – but it’s a weird one, and not just for the complex polyamorous relationship network or nerdy Greek mythology allegories. It firmly rejects the grimdark, gritty, frankly depressing dominant narrative of recent years, and so do I. I tell you straight up that it really is going to be okay, so that you’re free to experience the full range of emotion. It’s like wearing a seat belt or strapping yourself into a roller coaster. You can’t fully enjoy the ride if you’re worried about actually being dropped.

That doesn’t mean that it’s not intense, frightening, or painful at times. Art – writing included – is ‘the lie that tells the truth,’ and the truth of our lives as marginalized people, especially now, is that we are often scared and in pain. To sugarcoat or give simple platitudes without clarity or commitment would be inauthentic and hollow. It will be okay If we work to make it better, hold onto one another, and refuse to let each other fall.

It’s also one of the most important things in my life, and a more personal work than you might guess.

The quarantined and burning city, Parole, is a metaphor for how living with my chronically ill body and neurodivergent brain feels. I have several genetic disorders such as Arnold-Chiari Malformation, Townes-Brock Syndrome, POTS, fibromyalgia, and other chronic conditions. On the mental side, there’s acute anxiety, depression, PTSD, and a constellation of other fun brainweird things. My body and brain are constantly on fire, and I can’t escape myself. Any minute it feels like I might collapse, crash and burn. But there’s something beautiful inside me waiting to be let out, I have the power to keep on living, and I am not alone.

Chameleon Moon is about a bunch of scared people – all of them LGBTQIA, polyamorous, disabled, neurodivergent, and/or otherwise marginalized – reacting in very different ways to an impossible situation. Everyone is motivated by the desire to survive, and keep the people they love alive. Trauma brings out the best and worst in everyone… and that’s really fun to write. Everyone is also hiding something, whether they even know it or not. That’s even more fun to write.

This book is also named for change, transformation, and entering a new phase. Everything is in flux, everything is in motion, and nothing will be the same. It’s a Chameleon Moon.

  1. What part of the story came to you first?

The earliest character concepts for Regan and Evelyn popped into my head in 2008, in a hospital waiting room. My dad and I were waiting for my mom to get out of surgery, and I was drawing, trying to keep my mind occupied. I sketched these two out more or less from nowhere, but just had a feeling they were important. I already intended to hang onto them and draw them some more when we got home, because they made me feel so much better. (Like… dare I say it, everything would be okay.)

When we got up into my mom’s room, her roommate’s name was Evelyn.

…I just pay attention to these things. And I’m very glad now that I did.

(Fun fact tho: Cairus Maddox is actually one of my very first… RP characters. I’ve had him since I was 14. Hang onto your old friends, guys! They might end up in a book someday. And even if they don’t, they’re never a waste of time.)

  1. How long did it take you to get from first concept to finished novel?

I’m counting the 2nd Edition as the “finished novel,” since it’s the only canon and fully finished one in my head, so… 8 years since that first thought-seed in 2008. (Don’t give up!)

  1. What was your favourite part of writing Chameleon Moon?

The wild, hectic, exhausting push that was re-writing the Second Edition.

The terrifying floor-dropping-from-under-me feeling, learning that my publisher was closing, my first book was going out of print, and if I wanted to keep being a writer, it was totally up to me. And then everyone around me, family and friends, refusing to let me sink into fear and defeat, reminding me that no, I didn’t have to do it alone after all. Realizing that this was not the end, but a new beginning. A second chance to tell this story, bigger, brighter, truer to my heart, and make everything shine.

Claude Arseneault showing me how wonderful it could be to have an editor who was also a huge fan, helping me bring out story threads I didn’t even know were there, and making everything so much more exciting, deep and real.

Running the cover art contest. Every single beautiful entry, that everyone made because they loved the story and wanted to help me bring it back. Seeing the way Laya Rose brought my characters and world to life, and being able to feel how much she knew and loved them.

Writing the title, and every single chapter name in my own handwriting. (The amazing Lyssa Chiavari actually made my writing into a font! It was supposed to be that! But then in the 11th hour, it somehow broke. So, okay. The show must go on. Every chapter header: my writing, and her digital magic.)

Changing Zilch’s pronouns (back) to they/them. Introducing Celeste, CyborJ, and small hints of Rowan. Writing the songs, “What you Remember” and “Dream Sweet.” Taking out anything I didn’t love, or that didn’t fit with the story’s message of hope in the midst of horror. In their place, adding countless connections, obvious and hidden. Like the ever-growing, unapologetic web of poly love. Realizing that Regan wasn’t the jaded, bitter guy he’d been the first time around, because this time he had people to fight for, and that he loved his life. That’s what changed the book.

Every time I hear that this story helped someone. That they didn’t give up, in writing or life. Or that the 2nd Edition is better, truer, sweeter. Thank you.

  1. How would you like to see representation change in the next five years?

Somebody said today on Twitter that reading CM made them realize how rare it was to see a main character with anxiety. That made me both happy and sad at the same time. I love that readers are identifying so strongly with Regan – that’s one of the most common reactions I get, that he’s super-relatable, which sounds almost funny at first because this is a green, scaly dragon-lizard guy, until you remember that I wrote him largely based on my experiences with acute anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and yes, trauma-induced compartmentalization and amnesia. It means everything that readers can find themselves in him, and Parole’s other citizens. (There’s a lot of me in all of them, too.)

But I don’t want this to be a rare experience. I don’t want it to be special or a surprise. I want disabled, neurodivergent, LGBTQIA, and all forms of marginalized representation to be so common in fiction, and ring so true that we see ourselves wherever we look, wherever we need – and never feel alone, lost, or wrong again.

  1. Who is your favourite ownvoices author right now and why?

I think I read primarily OwnVoices books now, and it hasn’t exactly been a conscious decision, but it’s one I’m okay with. The narratives are rich, nuanced, and real, because they come from our real lives. Sci-fi/fantasy with inclusive LGBTQIA casts and themes tend to be my preferred niche (naturally), and some of my favorite cool people are Shira Glassman, Claudie Arsenault, B. R. Sanders, Kayla Bashe, Kiran Oliver, Bogi Takács, Rachel Sharp, Xan West and Jules Kelley. (I’m reading the ace/aro fairy tale collection Unburied Fables right now, and have loved every one so far in there too!) My TBR pile is vast and a little intimidating, mostly because I’m terrible at finishing even things I really want to, but it also contains Lyssa Chiavari (Fourth World) and Becky Chambers (Long Way To A Small Angry Planet).

  1. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?

TLS cover take 1Book 2! The Lifeline Signal will open up the world outside Parole and the much bigger story beyond the barrier. (Spoiler: It’s got almost as many problems as Parole, and needs heroes just as badly.) Book 2 is set for “Winter 2017,” meaning ideally the end of January or early February, health/spoons willing. Until then, I recommend picking up the short story collection Life Within Parole, and the standalone story You’re Not Going That Way, which takes place directly before Book 2 and sets up the next chapter of the Chameleon Moon series.


Author Bio

tumblr_o4xfcroHqB1qzqxfeo3_400RoAnna Sylver is passionate about stories that give hope, healing and even fun for LGBT, disabled and other marginalized people, and thinks we need a lot more. Aside from writing oddly hopeful dystopia books, RoAnna is a blogger, artist, singer and voice actor. She lives with family and a small snorking dog, and probably spends too much time playing videogames. You can find her on Twitter @RoAnnaSylver or on Facebook. You can also sign up to support her work all year long at Patreon.

Buy your copy of Chameleon Moon today!

*Please note all Amazon links in this post are Affiliate links


Learning to be honest about (my) mental illness

Even the darkest night can be beautifulI’ve been struggling to write this post for most of this week, and it’s not because I don’t have anything to say. It’s because I have everything to say, and I believe every part of this conversation is so important.

It’s because right now, I know many are struggling with depression brought on or exacerbated by current events. I would be lying if I said recent politics didn’t have a negative impact on my own depression.

It’s also because so many of these people are fighting for progress, even in the face of tyranny. These people have made it clear that they will not be silenced, that they will stand together and do whatever it takes to create a better future.

But most importantly, I know many people who have put themselves through mental and emotional turmoil to be part of this fight. Over the past two days I’ve seen many incredible images of activism and solidarity, but I’ve also seen dozens of women talk about how exhausting and sometimes triggering the Women’s Marches were. Some of these women spent days or even weeks hyping themselves up for the event. Some of my friends still found the idea too daunting come the 21st.

In some ways, sharing how much the marches exhausted them is the bravest thing these women did. The stigma against mental illness is an incredibly powerful force. It shames us into silence, sometimes so much that we don’t even think about seeking treatment. Often we don’t get as far as admitting to ourselves that there’s a problem at all. We push ourselves to seem normal until we break, and we either find a way to get better or die.

Our stories have power. Talking openly about our struggles with mental illness and the ways we push through the pain, the ways we take care of ourselves and make ourselves better, this is an essential and radical act. It is the first step not only to ending the stigma against mental illness, but also to our own personal healing.

For most of us it is also one of the most difficult things we’ll ever do. When I first started blogging, I didn’t tell anyone I knew about the blog. Partially this was out of a stubborn need to have my first subscribers/commenters not be related to me, but it also allowed me to be open about my struggles.

Inevitably some of the people I wanted to hide the truth from found my work, and I clammed up. I stopped telling personal stories and focused entirely on the writing.

There are all sorts of reasons why people – and authors in particular – choose not to share their personal stories online, but if I’m honest with myself there’s only one reason why I stopped sharing my own stories: I was struggling, and I was afraid to be honest about it. Especially with my family.

I don’t know if there was a precise moment, but sometime in late 2015 or early 2016 I decided the fear couldn’t win anymore. I write fantasy novels I say are for young(ish) adults, and if there’s any message I want to leave my readers with, it’s that they are powerful because of who they are, not in spite of it. And they can change the world, if they are willing to push through the fear.

So here’s the truth: I’m still struggling with depression and suspect I always will be to some extent, but I am pushing through the fear and the pain every single day. The stories I’m working on now are some of the most powerful I’ve ever written, and I am incredibly proud of them, but it’s been slow going because I can sometimes get too immersed in the darkness of my characters.

I’ve also decided that it’s time to start sharing more of my own stories with the world, not just the stories of my characters. These stories may be the most painful of all – there’s a reason I write alternate world fiction – but they matter. Every story is an opportunity to help someone see mental illness in a new way, to see humanity in a new way.

And what more could I hope for than that?

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Soulless by Crystal Collier

soulless1Last month I reviewed Moonless by Crystal Collier and last week I finished the second novel in the Maiden of Time Trilogy, SoullessI don’t really trust myself to explain the story without unleashing massive spoilers, so I’ll start by sharing the blurb:

Alexia manipulated time to save the man of her dreams, and lost her best friend to red-eyed wraiths. Still grieving, she struggles to reconcile her loss with what was gained: her impending marriage. But when her wedding is destroyed by the Soulless—who then steal the only protection her people have—she’s forced to unleash her true power.

And risk losing everything.

Spoiler Free Review

The first thing I would like to say is that I liked this book a lot more than I liked the first book. You’re thrown immediately into a much more interesting conflict which includes one of my favourite characters from the series, and you delve much, much deeper into the world of the Passionate. The main character undergoes a tremendous amount of growth, both in her personality and in her abilities. And we’re introduced to some delightfully powerful characters on both sides.

Most of these differences exist because of the nature of a series. The first book has to do all the groundwork, introducing you to the characters and the world. And the main character usually has a lot of growing to do when a book starts. I never disliked Alexia, but I didn’t feel strongly for her one way or another until very close to the end of that book–it was questions about the world of the Passionate that pushed me through the story.

It’s also worth noting that I’m usually not as interested in stories about characters who get pulled into mysterious worlds; I read a lot of alternate world fantasy with characters whose lives are already shaped by those worlds.

By the beginning of Soulless Alexia has already grown a fair bit and she is deeply in the Passionate world. By the end of the book she is a much stronger character, a woman instead of a girl, and the Passionate world has become more complex and fascinating than I thought it would. There’s some really funky timeline stuff going on, but a lot of the confusing parts have already been explained and I believe it will all make sense by the end of Timeless, the final book in the trilogy.

I especially loved the last scene in this novel, and I would give it a 4 out of 5 stars. 

Sound good to you? Buy your copy of Soulless today!

Spoilerful Review

The one thing I want to talk about with massive spoilers involved is that Alexia’s relationship with her husband-to-be is at times deeply unsettling and I spent roughly two thirds of the book trying to decide if he was a creep or if the history/politics of the Passionate world justified his actions. He’s been watching over her since childhood, is much older, and is both overprotective and secretive. Yes, Alexia has been in mortal danger(which she was deliberately kept unaware of, and I’m not sure how I feel about that either) for most of that time, but it still felt really overbearing, especially in a world full of Edward Cullens and Christian Greys.

At the end of the book Alexia goes back in time. Like, reaaaalllly far back in time. I had actually started to wonder when real time travel happened–Crystal has talked about it in some of her interviews–and it starts partway through this book, with tiny jumps of ten seconds or ten minutes. But things she learns along the way convince her that she needs to go much further back.

The scene of her leaving is incredibly powerful, and it shows tremendous growth in both her and her lover. She is a long way from the girl whose curiosity got her in endless trouble in Moonless. He, on the other hand, actually lets her go.

For me, this was a defining moment for their relationship, the moment where I could definitively say yes, I was okay with it, the story did justify almost all his actions, and most importantly, the relationship is growing in a healthy direction. Alexia may have left him behind in the present, but if she ever gets back there I believe they’ll have a great future together, and that’s awesome. So once again, this book gets 4 out of 5 stars.

Pick up your copy of Soulless today! 

Don’t have the first book yet? Get the set!


#Ownvoices Author Spotlight: Lynn E. O’Connacht

cover-sfsOver the past year I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about inclusion — I choose the term “inclusion” because I think it’s more honest than “diversity”. Specifically I’ve been thinking about the duty I have as a writer to be inclusive in my work.

One thing I’ve come to believe very passionately is that while including diverse characters and relationships in my books is great, the best thing I can do is support diverse authors, most of whom are already writing diverse books. These authors have often been snubbed by traditional publishing and turned to self publishing or small presses, which makes it even more important to support their work. So this year my interviews are going to focus almost exclusively on #ownvoices authors, starting with today’s guest, Lynn E. O’Connaught, and her asexual retelling of The Little MermaidSea Foam and Silence

Let’s start with the blurb for Sea Foam and Silence:

She warned of the pain. She did.
But no warning can prepare you.
Nothing can.

How could I have known
What it is like on the dry sand?
We just watched.

It’s hard, not being able to ask
Questions, though I have learned some speech
With my hands. ˆ_ˆ

I miss my sisters.

I have made friends here.
I have laughed with them,
Learned with them, played with them.
I love them.

She said I would die if he loves someone else.
Will I die? At the beginning I wanted to. It hurts
So much. Life isn’t easy, will never be easy, but…
I don’t want to become sea foam.

  1. Can you tell us a bit about your book, Sea Foam and Silence?

I’d be delighted to! Sea Foam and Silence is a verse novel asexual retelling of The Little Mermaid. It’s told through the eyes of Maris, our little adventurous mermaid, and is divided into three different parts. The first part focuses on Maris as she tries to understand humans and gradually her curiosity means she feels less and less at home with her sisters in the sea. As in the original story, she loses the ability to speak after becoming human, though I’d imagined it was more down to the fact that, being a mermaid, she’s just never learned to produce human sounds. Instead, she learns sign language that lets her communicate with the world around her. The sea witch turns her human, on the condition that she has a year to find love or she’ll become sea foam. Most everyone around Maris has very specific ideas of what love is, but she just doesn’t understand it at all.

The second part introduces us to Bernhard, the prince. Bernhard is a sex-repulsed asexual and, being the crown prince, is rather beset upon by his family because he’s pressured to marry and produce an heir, neither of which he’s in any way keen on. He just wants to draw and be left in peace, bless him. Though it’s not named as such because neither Bernhard nor Maris are aware of the terms, he and Maris are in a queer-platonic relationship. Bernhard is quite sweet. He’s just not what his family wanted him to be and he’s not sure how to go about giving them what they want while being true to himself.

As for the foreign princess whom the prince eventually marries in the original… Well, she has her own thoughts about marriage as well, but I’ll keep some mysteries about the story intact!

  1. What inspired you to write an asexual retelling of The Little Mermaid?

I wish I could recall the exact details and share a lovely anecdote with you, but I think it just popped into my head as I was thinking about doing short verse retellings. Both in Andersen’s original story and Disney’s adaptation, the eponymous mermaid is a lot more concerned with studying humanity than finding a relationship. So… Why do all the retellings of the tale focus on her ending up in a (presumed sexual) relationship as the way she can stay human? Love takes many forms, so why wouldn’t her love for human life and land be real enough for the enchantment to become permanent as well?

That’s what I wanted to explore with the retelling: the ways in which we take it for granted that when someone says ‘love’, we’re talking about a very specific kind of love. Other forms aren’t less real or less valid, though, and I wanted to write an asexual retelling to explore how that might look. I didn’t expect Bernhard to be asexual as well, though!

  1. How long did it take you to get from first draft to published book?

Oh, goodness, I can’t even recall. I think it depends on how you look at it. Sea Foam and Silence didn’t go through too many revisions after I’d finished it, so in that sense… It took a couple of months, I think? I also serialized it, though, so it took about a year or so to get it published as a book, just because I was still running the serial online.

So… The short answer is: I don’t know because it’s complicated! (Also I’m terrible at anything that involves numbers in any way.) I’d personally stick to an estimate of about a year, though, just because I know that getting the formatting for the book just right took me ages.

  1. What was your favourite part of the writing process for Sea Foam and Silence?

Can I cheat and say ‘all of it’? I had a wonderful time working on Sea Foam and Silence. It was the first time I set out to write a story that included characters who were deliberately written to be on the asexual spectrum, so that holds a special place in my heart.

When I was younger, I wrote equal amounts poetry and prose, but I gradually settled into being predominantly a prose writer. Sea Foam and Silence was the longest I’d spent on writing poetry in some time. It was really lovely to go back to writing poetry and enjoying the challenges that come with it.

  1. As an #ownvoices author, how would you like to see representation change in the next five years?

Great question! Obviously, I would like to see more representation and specifically more #ownvoices representation in general. But I think what I’d really like to see is for mainstream outlets to show more of an interest in #ownvoices indie authors because right now we’re getting largely ignored in favour of traditionally published mainstream books, which makes it a lot harder for us to find reach.

I think most of the indie authors I know who write and publish #ownvoices do so because traditional publishing just isn’t welcome to them, and that’s a sentiment that you see across all kinds of #ownvoices. For a non-indie example: Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s HEX was originally set in the Netherlands. He rewrote the book to be set in the US to appeal to the US market. Joyce Chng is a fellow indie writer from Singapore and she often discusses the issue of traditional publishing rejecting her work because it’s ‘too Asian’. I think RoAnna Sylver and Claudie Arseneault were both asked to tone down their asexual representation by their publisher? I may be misremembering, but they’ve both definitely talked about making the asexual representation in their books much clearer in a second edition after regaining their publishing rights.

So… While I’d love to see publishers be more aware of and sensitive to #ownvoices content in the works they publish as well as seeing them publish more #ownvoices content in general, I’d actually just like more discussions about our works in general and for respected and larger media outlets to take our work more seriously and boost our work in addition to traditionally published books. That would greatly help a lot of awesome indie authors find an audience. We’re good at working together to spread the word of each other’s works, but our reach is only big when it’s pooled. A single Kirkus feature or review could make a massive difference to indie authors. I’d love to see respected outlets approach #ownvoices authors to help boost our work more than they do now. Right now, all I can think of that does such is Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO initiative. John Scalzi offers indie authors a chance to mention their books in comments around Christmas holiday shopping time, but it’s easy to get lost in the crowd of comments.

I’d also like to see things like Ko-Fi and Patreon become more familiar and acceptable. For a lot of #ownvoices authors, those are a great way to earn much-needed income, but there are people who look down on people who use them.

Basically, I just want to see #ownvoices representation to be more visible and present everywhere. I want to see my field diverse and vibrant, telling all kinds of stories in all kinds of ways. I want there to be so much #ownvoices representation that we can all find something to relate to. Not every #ownvoices book will resonate with a person it’s representing (just look at some of the comments on Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway!) and may, in fact, do harm to another person when its very purpose was to lift that person up. Having more books offering representation allows us to find representation that does work for us and that feels like it was written for us.

  1. Who is your favourite #ownvoices author right now?

Ooooh, I hate questions that only allow me to pick one person, and I’d like to point out that we don’t always write #ownvoices books. Still, I’d like to talk about Shira Glassman and her Mangoverse series. (She’s written other shorter works as well, but Mangoverse is the biggest setting she has.) All the books can be read on their own, though I’d recommend reading them in order so you’ve got all the background building up nicely, and though all of them are fantasy, they each mix it up with a different subgenre. It’s really delightful to see!

On the whole, though, the Mangoverse books are about a geeky Jewish lesbian queen who has food intolerances and her found family. The book feature a range of diverse characters too, that I’ll leave it for you all to explore in more detail. Overall, I think the description most used to describe her work is ‘queer Jewish fluffy comfort reading’, which is entirely accurate, but really does the range a disservice. I just… really want to highlight Shira’s work because it makes the world a much brighter place for me and I want to share that light with everyone else.

Shulamit is absolutely determined to do the best she can to care for her people and her friends. She’s brave, loyal and incredibly smart, albeit more book-smart than practical-smart or street-smart. Those fall to Aviva, Shulamit’s partner, and Rivka, her best friend, respectively. Those three already make up a team of awesome, but combined with Isaac’s might as a wizard and his ability to be sneaky and ruthless in a way that Shulamit isn’t, they’re an unstoppable team of awesome. (Just… do not mess with people Rikva or Isaac care about. It will not end well for you. At all. I heart them.) I just really love how happy this series makes me and others.

  1. What are you working on next that readers can look forward to?

Right now, I sadly feel like my work is progressing at a glacial pace because I’ve recently accepted a job offer in another country and I’m focusing on moving, getting settled, etc.

That said, I’m still chipping away at the first book in a trilogy about the adventures of a demisexual princess and that’s the project I’m most focused on at the moment. I’m really excited about it. I love the voices of the characters and I’m having a blast working on it. I’m just… really slow. And I’d love to be able to publish all three books at once. Ideally with a fourth companion to go with it. It is, after all, a romance, so I’d love to explore the romances starring who are currently side characters as well.

Realistically, once summer arrives, I expect I’ll switch gears entirely to something a lot shorter and quicker. Possibly another verse novel fairytale retelling to accompany Sea Foam and Silence because they’re relatively quick to write first drafts of, compared to a novel.

But for now I’m staying focused on the trilogy! I feel a little bad because I keep talking about it and I’m such a slow writer, but I’m just so happy and excited about it!

Author Bio:

lynn-artMost recently spotted in the wilds of continental Europe, Lynn E. O’Connacht lives on a steady diet of fiction. Her favourite treats are fantasy and soft science fiction. The lynnetbird is more commonly known as the lion-bird as cats have built up a positive symbiotic relationship with her. Sightings of Lynn E. O’Connacht are rare as she is a shy creature, most likely to be seen in the early mornings.

#InkRipples — Who should design your book covers?

inkripplesblueandgreen-1This year I’ve decided to participate in the #InkRipples challenge, a quest to complete 12 themed blog posts throughout the year. Created by the lovely Katie L. Carroll, Kai Strand, and Mary Waibal, #InkRipples is a great way for writers to create a community conversation AND to make sure their blog is consistently updated. And January’s conversation is all about book covers.

I’ve actually been thinking a lot about book covers lately, partially because I’m excited to see the cover art my publisher chooses for Good Bye but more because I’ve decided to self publish most (potentially all) of my other work, starting with a novelette, and that means it’s my job to make sure I have the best cover art possible.

As an indie author I have two options: pay somebody to create a cover, or learn how to do it myself. But in my mind only one of these is really an option–paying for it.

Why do I think it’s so important to buy my cover art?

Good artwork doesn’t necessarily sell books. Cover artists know what the conventions are for each genre. They understand how important it is for their covers to look good in thumbnails. Most also have an extensive collection of stock photography or deep familiarity with at least one paid stock photo archive. This makes it easier for them to find the perfect imagery for your book.

Secondly, I’m not particularly interested in learning how to do graphic design. One of my goals for 2017 is to experiment more creatively, but I want to focus on hands on work–painting, creating wire jewelry, making props. I already spend most of my day on the computer and I don’t want to add to it.

If you’re actively interested in learning how to do graphic design or you’re already comfortable with it, making your own cover might be worthwhile–as long as you take the time to research the norms for covers in your genre.

Buying your book cover doesn’t have to be expensive

A completely customized cover can run you anywhere from $300 to $2500, but your book might not require a completely unique cover. Many websites such as GoOnWrite and The Cover Collection have large collections of premade covers that you can buy for less than $100. Cover artists also frequently offer multiple packages at different price points, and many will format your books too, allowing you to save money by bundling your services.

Writing a series? One way you may be able to save money is to create a cover template for the entire series and have your artist alter the template for every new book, adding new stock photography or taking old images away. If you already have character art for the cover artist to work with this can also bring your cost down.

That said, you shouldn’t be afraid of spending a lot of money on your book cover. If you have the budget for the very best artist, spend the money(just make sure you’re actually hiring the best). Your book will thank you.

Have you thought about doing your own book covers? What about buying premade covers? Let me know in the comments section below!