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!

Author Interview: Frank Martin

2017 is already off to an excellent start and today I’m thrilled to introduce my first interviewee of the year, Frank Martin of Burning Willow Press. His first book is actually two stand alone novellas published together and it sounds delightfully creepy–but don’t take my word for it, learn it from Frank!

The Blurb

What happens when an overbearing family drives a teenage girl into the arms of a mysterious, pale stranger? How can a high school junior explain having strange dreams of a Nazi concentration camp after being bitten by his neighbor’s monstrous dog? And who will win when two iconic creatures of the night clash on a desolate WWI battlefield? Dive into a world of werewolves and vampires with SKIN DEEP and ORDINARY MONSTERS, two standalone stories featured in a dual novella from author Frank Martin. And don’t forget to check out the bonus comic short HORRORS OF WAR found in both ends of this doubled-sided work of pulp and terror.

Can you tell us a bit more about Skin Deep/Ordinary Monsters

Frank: Both stories essentially revolve around young adult relationships. Skin Deep follows two sisters, Jessica and Laura, who are very different from one another. The older one, Jessica, is an artist while Laura is a track star. But they both held certain resentments towards their parents as teenagers. Jessica learned from her mistakes and grew past them, but she’s afraid Laura is going down a similar path. The question of the story is whether or not she can stop Laura before she does something she’ll regret. Ordinary Monsters follows Liam as he uncovers a familial secret his best friend Eric is hiding that dates all the way back to World War II. The two boys are close. Very close. But they aren’t family, and Liam is forced to decide whether or not Eric’s dark secret is worth embracing or running away from.

Me: It’s amazing how many of our fears stem from our relationships–both with ourselves and other people. I can’t wait to see how these relationships unfold in the book!

Which story did you write first?

I wrote Ordinary Monsters first after being inspired by a World War II documentary. It took me over ten years to write. Skin Deep, on the other hand, took me about ten weeks. Writing is funny sometimes, isn’t it?

Me: Every project is different–and sometimes we simply aren’t ready to write the ideas we have right away. Tackling big historical events like WWII can be especially tricky.

Why did you decide to publish these two novellas together?

I wanted to put together more than just a book. I wanted to put together a complete experience. I was inspired by the Grindhouse double feature from a few years ago. It had two movies and a series of 70’s inspired trailers. I wanted to do something similar, so I put together a double-sided print book with two stories and two short comics. And I figured what better monsters to pair up then the iconic two: werewolves and vampires.

Me: That’s awesome! I love double features and I can’t help the sudden urge to do something similar…

How did you find Burning Willow Press?

I was friends with Kindra from before. So when she and her husband started BWP I knew they would be open to such a wild and crazy project.

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

Don’t be afraid to take chances. You’ll never know when an opportunity will turn out to be a big one unless you follow through on it.

Me: All too true. We can’t know what will be a big deal until it already is. 

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

I’m currently working on a fantasy/sci-fi trilogy about floating cities. Tons of characters and action. I’m on book two now and it’s been a blast to write.

Me: Floating cities? Sounds badass. I can’t wait to read about them.

Thanks, Frank, for the insights into this awesome project!

Frank Martin is a prose and comic writer that always enjoys exploring new genres and mediums. He has an urban fantasy anthology series Modern Testament currently published by Insane Comics. His debut horror novel Skin Deep/Ordinary Monsters was also recently released with Burning Willow Press. Frank lives in New York with his wife and two kids.

Facebook: facebook.com/frankmartinwriter

Twitter: @frankthewriter

Amazon Author Page

My 2017 Writing Playlist

harp_attack_2_cd_iconAnyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I obsessively listen to music while I’m doing… Well, pretty much everything. I have mild tinnitus and it’s rather distracting, plus the right music gets me into the zone for whatever I’m working on.

Now, up until 2016, I listened to the same thing constantly while I wrote: the Lord of the Rings complete soundtrack by Howard Shore, which might be the best soundtrack ever created(except for maybe The Hobbit soundtracks, which are also godly). This was great and I still listen to it all the time, but something else happened in 2016: I transitioned to working entirely from home. And I spent an incredible amount of time writing and editing books.

I’ve always listened to other things while I did paid work–usually some kind of rock and roll or metal–but this year I found myself needing to increase the size of my fiction writing playlist or change it altogether. The soundtracks simply weren’t doing it for me anymore. So I set out on a grand journey of musical exploration.

During my search I focused on music that combined fantasy elements with the guitar I love so much, and I’ve found some incredible albums to get me through 2017. Note that most of this music isn’t actually new, but it’s new to me.

Check out these albums in 2017:

1. Who You Selling For by The Pretty Reckless

This one is actually the most recent–and the most surprising–addition to my list, having only come out in October 2016. I’ve liked The Pretty Reckless since I discovered them a year and a half ago, but this album is the only one I like enough to listen to while I’m writing. It’s got a rather eclectic song list with several different sounds but a common theme of powerful lyrics, and it really shows the range of Taylor Momsen’s voice.

2. Dreamtale — Literally all of their albums

Do you like metal? Do you like fantasy? Do you like songs that tell a story? Well then you’ll love every single album by this incredibly talented Swedish metal band. They have six albums and most of them are pretty long, and this is definitely the band I listen to most often while writing.

3. Life Screams by Lacey Sturm

Lacey Sturm is the former singer of Flyleaf, a Christian rock band I used to like, and now she’s doing solo stuff. This album has some really heavy lyrics and has proven to be excellent inspiration for certain heavy scenes.

4. Revenge by Iron Fire

I like a couple of Iron Fire’s albums(they have eight), but Revenge is definitely my favourite. It’s also one of their oldest albums, but that’s not really a concern for me. The most important thing is that this music tells a story and is gritty enough for even the darkest stories I tell.

5. The Harp Twins

These twins take all kinds of songs and turn them into amazing harp melodies. Also, they wear awesome costumes and make videos for many of their songs. They have an impressive four albums and show no signs of stopping any time soon.

Do any of these interest you? What will you be listening to in 2017? Let me know in the comments below or by Tweeting to @DiannaLGunn

Author Spotlight: Josh Matthews

book-hell-gateToday’s author, Josh Matthews, is here to share how he wrote his debut novel Hell Gatewhich came out this past October. I hope you’ll find his advice as useful as I have.

Here is the blurb for Hell Gate:

Sixteen-year-old Jason McCreary is living a nightmare within a nightmare. Not only is he trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by demons from Hell, he also shoulders the burden for humanity’s fate as it was his mother who opened the gates in a scientific experiment gone wrong.

In a last ditch effort to redeem his family name and erase his guilt, Jason joins a squad whose mission is to travel to Paris and close the Hell Gate. Once there, they discover an environment more frightening than anything they could imagine and demons more terrifying than they had ever encountered before.

Time is now against them.

Can Jason gain his redemption along with the respect of his peers, or will a new web of lies threaten to rip apart his world and jeopardize his team’s only chance for success?

  1. Can you tell me a bit about your book? 

It’s essentially a story about coming of age during the apocalypse. Jason is trying to figure out who he is as an individual while the world around him collapses. Yet he still must deal with normal teenage angst, the excitement and uncertainty of his first romance, and somehow manage the guilt he feels because his mother caused the end of the world. Jason is going to grow up quickly. Through the series he will learn about redemption, duty, and honor, and will be forced to make life-and-death decisions most adults will never have to face.

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

I developed the entire series around the character of Sasha after I had seen a photograph of a young woman brandishing a minigun. I was intrigued with the idea of a strong, independent female character battling monsters with heavy weaponry, and around that concept the rest of the series formed.

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

From the day I started writing Hell Gate in the summer of 2013 until its publication in October 2016 was three and a half years, however that’s misleading because there was considerable down time in between. It took approximately six months to draft the original manuscript and revise the final version after receiving the beta reads. I then took a year hiatus from Hell Gate as I concentrated on other projects. When I submitted the manuscript for review in late 2015, it was accepted within two months, but I had to wait a year before my turn came in the publication schedule. I spent a month reviewing the manuscript with my editor and working with the cover artist on the jacket.

  1. What was the hardest part of writing Hell Gate?

The hardest part was getting correct the mindset of young adults. Granted, it’s a post-apocalyptic scenario, and all the young adults in the story have to grow up fast if they want to survive. There’s a certain teenage way of thinking I needed to tap into so the story does not come across as an adult pretending to be sixteen. I hope I was successful.

  1. Who are some of your favourite authors?

If I’m in the mood for dark horror, I prefer Graham Masterton, Ed Lee, or Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series. If I’m in the mood for lighter fare, I read Jeff Strand. Other favorites are Brian Keene, J.F. Gonzalez, and Jonathon Maberry. I’m also an avid reader of history, especially if it pertains to World War II.

  1. What are you working on next?

I recently completed the sequel to Hell Gate and have submitted it to Burning Willow Press. At the moment, I’m finishing up the first draft of the third book in the series and am plotting out the fourth, which I hope to begin writing by the summer of 2017.

 joshmatthewsheadshotJosh Matthews is a former New Englander who now lives in north Florida with his wife, teenage daughter, and four lovable but exasperating pets. Josh used to work for the U.S. Government where he had the opportunity to travel around the world and be exposed to numerous cultures, many of which will appear in the Hell Gate saga. He has always been a fan of horror novels and monster movies, and sees the Hell Gate saga as his way to share that love with a new generation of fans.

 

Check out Josh’s blog or buy your copy of Hell Gate today!

Accomplishments of 2016 + Creative Goals 2017

The world in 2016 has been a bit of a shit show(yes, I know I’m being generous here), but I’ve made massive leaps and strides in my writing career, and as much as I am concerned about where the world is headed from here(into fire and brimstone?) on a personal level, I’m extremely excited for the new year to begin. But first I’d like to take a moment to honour all the things I’ve accomplished this year, because acknowledging our past accomplishments is as important as creating goals for the future.

So here goes, my 2017 creative accomplishments:

1. Edited Good Bye & Submitted It

Spoiler Alert: I got the contract! Good Bye, a YA fantasy novella I’ve put many years of love into, is set to release in April 2017.

2. Edited Moonshadow’s Guardian & started working with a professional editor

I ended up only getting half of Moonshadow’s Guardian, one of my fantasy novels, edited professionally because I had an epiphany that requires somewhat major changes, but this was a big step for me and I’m confident I’ll be able to self publish Moonshadow’s Guardian in early 2018.

3. Drafted Moonshadow’s Guardian 2

Once upon a time I wrote a sequel to Moonshadow’s Guardian. It then got abandoned for several years. This year, I wrote a completely different sequel to Moonshadow’s Guardian, full of exciting things like civil war. It’s a pretty bare bones draft but I’m quite proud of the story, and I’ve got a bunch of ideas bouncing around for a third book.

4. Embarked on some co-writing projects

I can’t say anything about these other than that they exist and none of them are novels, which is exciting. I’ve learned a lot by experimenting with different forms.

5. Wrote a few short stories

One of them has even been edited multiple times and is currently sitting with beta readers for a second read through. I’m hoping to submit it to an anthology with a December 31st deadline, which at this point is rather ambitious, but doable.

6. Started a new but not new series

2016 has been full of creative epiphanies for me, including a big one about a book I had abandoned for several years. Which involved rewriting an entire mythology and deciding to write an entirely different series of books in the same world first. And probably a collection of short stories. Or three. It’s kind of a big, awesome world.

7. Contributed to an RPG

My first official publishing credit for short fiction came in this year, a setting for Tiny Frontiers: Mecha and MonstersI had an incredible amount of fun writing this setting and I hope to write for more games next year.

2017 Creative Goals

In 2017 one big shift I want to make is to expand my creativity beyond writing. Writing will obviously continue to be my focus and career path, but I want to expand my horizons.

1. Edit Moonshadow’s Guardian into publishable shape & crowdfund publication

Most of the editing that needs to be done is around the final conflict, so I’m confident I can pull this off–and I’ve acquired an amazing team of beta readers who are going to help me do it. My goal is to get all the story edits done by October, run a Kickstarter in October to raise funds for copy editing and officially release the book in February 2018.

2. Rewrite Moonshadow’s Guardian 2 & get to beta readers

I’m hoping to release this book in 2019, so this is my other big editing goal for 2017. The first draft of this book was one of the most difficult I’ve ever written, but it resulted in one of my best drafts, and I can’t wait to see how my beta readers will react.

3. Write first book in the new series

This one I’ve already started, and I’m about a thousand words(and fifty pages of notes) into it. Right now the working title is Navelme’s Story, since the main character is named Navelme and titles always take me a really long time. I’d love to be able to publish this book in October or November 2018.

4. Write, edit, and submit six short stories

It might not sound like a lot, but this is one short story every two months on top of all my other projects. And these are entirely new short stories. A short story generally takes me a few days to write and a month to edit, so this gives me some breathing room and seems reasonable on top of my book projects.

5. Edit old short stories

There are also four short stories sitting on my hard drive that I’m hoping to edit and release as freebies for subscribers to my newsletter. Two of these are in the world of Moonshadow’s Guardian and two are in the world of my new series.

6. Finish at least one of my coworking projects

Obviously coworking projects take a back burner to my own personal career, but I’d like to continue working on them and finish at least one.

7. Make at least one prop per month

One of those coworking projects happens to be a script that we’re planning to film ourselves, and this is the perfect creative endeavor for me. I’m going to start with simple things and move on to more complicated projects as the year goes on.

8. Become more consistent with my newsletter & blog

As I mentioned, this year has been a bit of a shit show, and I’ve been mostly good about keeping the blog together but pretty awful at consistently releasing the newsletter. I’m planning to restructure this blog to focus on shorter posts so it’s easier to maintain.

How I chose these goals

There are dozens of things I want to do creatively. I have half a dozen other novels completely outside either series I mentioned that I’d love to rewrite someday, and there are dozens of other creative skills I’d love to learn. But I ask myself one question about every goal on my list: how will this impact my writing career? 

My career as an author is only beginning. Now is the most important time to focus on big impact goals. This is why I’m focusing on books that are part of series–readers prefer series, especially in the fantasy genre. The projects I’ve chosen are also the ones I believe are closest to the possibility of publication. Yes, I’ve only just started the first draft of Navelme’s Story, but I’ve poured endless hours of love into this world and the characters, and I’m confident this first draft will be my best yet. Also, I edit much faster than I used to, so I believe it’s actually possible for me to get Navelme’s Story into publishable shape by the end of 2018.

How do you choose your goals? What are your goals for 2017? Let me know in the comments section below!