Thursday, April 5, 2018

Relent is a Finalist in the Realm Awards!

Yeah, I know, this quick little announcement doesn't make up for my promises to post more often here, but it's what you're getting for now.

My novel Relent, which released July 2017, was announced as a finalist in the Realm Awards, supernatural category. Here's the screen shot of the email:

Eep! My name right there beneath Tosca Lee! 

You can see the full listing of all the finalists in all categories and more info about the contest on the Realm Makers site

I'm so excited and just honored to be selected a finalist! Of course, I'm hoping to go all the way because I so, so adore the award stickers:

Tell me that wouldn't be so pretty on the cover of Relent! 

OK, that's it. Thanks for indulging me!  

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Right When I Needed It

Last night our family finally watched The Man Who Invented Christmas. If you haven't seen it, it's the story of Charles Dickens and his inspiration behind A Christmas Carol. In the movie, the characters appear to him, almost physically, and he has conversations with them in order to learn their personalities and fates in the book. Beastie 2 asked me if that was what happened for me. No, it's not. But much of the rest of his process rang quite true for me.

BTW, I realize the movie is fictionalized. I have no idea how much of it is true. So, when I refer to Dickens from here on out, remember that the Dickens I'm referring to is the movie character only.

Unlike Dickens, I don't keep a notebook with a running list of names inspired by people I meet, but I am often inspired to give characters unusual names I encounter. And characteristics of people I meet definitely show up in my characters, although generally all broken apart and mashed together again in different ways. I also very much have moments of total inspiration where I can't get the words out fast enough, and times where I just feel blocked.

There was a section of the movie that dealt with Dickens receiving advice from friends regarding Scrooge--they insisted he should be redeemed at the end, rather than staying a horrible old miser as Dickens planned. In the end, Dickens was quite glad he heeded their advice (as was Scrooge). I had a similar situation present itself while writing Relent. I can't go into detail without major spoilers, but at the behest of several beta readers, I made a significant change to the ending, a change directly affecting the fate of a particular character, and I absolutely now see how right I was to listen to them!

There was one thing--a continuous string of things, actually--that really struck home with me and made me wonder about the timing of writing. You see, Dickens was inspired by events that were going on around him at the time. Had he started writing A Christmas Carol at any other time, he would not have been focused on the social issues going on. He would not have heard those specific comments from people he encountered that inspired lines of dialog in the book. He would not necessarily have seen even the faces that inspired his characters. He would not have even chosen to write a ghost story had he not overheard his children's newly-hired nanny telling scary stories.

Right now, I'm working on a ghost story of my own. My original inspiration came years ago. I've only made progress in bits and bursts since then, finally hitting the 40,000-word mark just this week. I've been stewing in frustration over it, berating myself for taking so long. I had desperately wanted it finished before Realm Makers last year, yet nearly eight months later I'm still working on it. It's the first time I feel I've truly understood what is meant by the phrase "writer's block." And yet, I know exactly where the story is going, exactly how it is to end. There are just some steps along the way that have only been coming clear one at a time and under specific circumstances.

The most recent example is the most clear, so I'll give you that one. I just hit a point in my ghost story in which the main character, Amelia, is searching for proof that another character is the owner of a plot of land. The librarian leads Amelia to a back room at the library...and there I got stuck. What was this room? Why was it special? Oh, I knew it had to be something unique, but I had no idea what.

Then yesterday happened. I went to visit a dear friend who lives in Plant City, FL. She took me on a tour of the downtown area (where I've been a few times, but never properly explored). While there, poking around in antique shops, I mentioned a neighbor who loves buying old photos. My friend got very excited and took me to the Plant City Photo Archives--a building that houses photos and documents chronicling the entire history of Plant City. The walls were covered with photos, and shelves everywhere held ledgers and binders.

This! This was the room I needed! Granted, it will be a bit more compact in my book, but when I walked into the PCPA, I knew I'd walked into my library's back room. Okay, yes, libraries often have archive rooms, but in my hometown I've never seen one (definitely not in the years in which I've been writing). And this archive is specific to the history of a small town. And, the point, of course, is that I happened upon it at exactly the moment I needed it.

Could I have finished my ghost story before now? I'm honestly not sure. Maybe if I'd been pushing myself harder, I'd have stumbled across another answer. Or, the story would have run a different way and I wouldn't have needed that archive room.

Or, maybe this was exactly how the story was supposed to be, only I wasn't meant to find this place until yesterday.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bye-Bye, Etsy: Jumping Rails is Jumping Ship

You may have noticed something different about my blog. Probably not, because let's face it, if you actually do follow me, I haven't been posting here enough to draw attention to any changes. So, instead of making you guess (if the title of this post wasn't obvious enough), I'll point it out. Over to the right, in the sidebar, there used to be a little button that said, "I sell on Etsy!" I was so excited the day I added that button. I loved that I was getting into my painting and wand-making enough to justify joining the ranks of Etsy sellers. I was so excited to have come up with the name Jumping Rails for my shop -- a name that reflected my tendency to constantly jump from one art form to another.

The image that represented Jumping Rails.
But two days ago, I closed my shop. Jumping Rails is no more.

"Why?" you ask.

The biggest reason is that I'm tired of paying listing fees for items that don't sell online. They sell, sure, but in person. It's not like I'm off doing art shows every weekend or anything, but the few I do per year are the places where my art sales happen. Online, not so much. It may have looked like it because I used an Etsy app to mark off the things I had listed when I sold them, but those sales did not come about because of Etsy. So why should I list them there at all? Why pay them fees for what I'm doing myself, in person?

Am I blaming Etsy? No. Well, not exactly. I do think they've allowed certain products to be sold there that don't fit with their original vision and that has made the marketplace a bit unwieldy. And there are just so many sellers now. But I take full responsibility for the fact that I've done very little to promote my shop. Art is something I love, marketing is not. Which actually ties into another life decision I've made but won't go into in detail here. Suffice it to say, I've come to grips with the fact that my art and my writing must be hobbies right now because homeschooling my now-teenagers takes top priority.

What I want to say is, I'm not just giving up on art, and I'm not going to stop having my art available for purchase outside live events. You can follow me on Facebook and see the work I post. If something suits your fancy, message me. I always have matted prints of many of my paintings (4x6 prints in 5x7 mats) for $10 including shipping, and generally if I don't have one on hand I can print it quickly. You can purchase various sized prints of some of my work on FineArtAmerica.

So, while Jumping Rails has jumped the Etsy ship, I've not left completely. And maybe someday, things will have changed (either with Etsy or with me, or there will be a whole different ship to board) and Jumping Rails will be revived.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Angels in Fiction

How could I discuss angels and not use a weeping angel?
Also, ironic that the Bible always refers to angels as male,
yet they are usually depicted as female in art.
Well, it's finally happened. I've been called blasphemous. Okay, no, let me restate that: Someone on Facebook said that stories involving romance between humans and angels is blasphemy. The comment was part of a discussion that was at least partially in response to my novel, Relent, which features  Simone, who is half-angel. Despite the Bible going into very little detail about the nature of angels, many (most?) Christians believe that angels and humans cannot, um, join in that way.

Imagine the response if the conversation moved into other parts of the story. Like the fact that it was Simone's mother who was the angel, when angels are always referred to as male in the Bible. Oh, and Simone's closest relationship for years is with a demon named Wraith. No, they're not lovers, more like best-frenemies, but he is the person she turns to when everything hits the fan.

To be honest, I agree with the commenter, in the sense that I don't believe any of these situations are biblical. I'm not sure if angels ever take truly corporeal human form. And if they do, I've no idea if they can hook up. And if they could, I have no clue whether or not it'd actually make a baby. (At least, not hook up *and* get to stay angels.) I find it very doubtful that any of those things would or could happen for real. The Bible always speaks of angels in the masculine, but I'm not sure angels are gendered at all. And I absolutely don't believe angels and demons could be friends, or even frenemies.

But Relent is a story. It's fiction. It's pure "what if?" My intent was never to be biblical about it. Relent is not a Christian spiritual warfare novel a la Frank Peretti. It's not an attempt in any way to create an accurate account of angels and demons in our very real world. It's hyperbole, an exaggeration. It's an illustration of someone having the worst happen--part of them falling as an angel falls, beyond redemption. It's allegory using actual Christian creatures as though they were mythical/fantasy creatures.

Many Christian readers are fine with the idea of vampires or werewolves or Elves finding redemption because they're pure myth. But angels and demons are real. I get it. I really do. But I've created my own lore in Relent. Yes, God is God, and heaven is heaven, and angels are angels, and demons are demons; but I take vast artistic liberties with all of it because I want to tell a specific story with a specific message and I need it to step out of reality to do what I want it to do.

No, I'm not going to spell out that message here. That would defeat the purpose of me writing the book. The whole point is to go about it through story, a speculative story. The whole point is to take everything out of reality as we know it and look at it in a different way. And to be honest, if you're someone who feels that all of those things have to stay rooted in reality in fiction, this novel was not written with you in mind as a reader.

And that's OKAY! It really is. I knew there would be Christians out there who'd have serious issues with Relent. Just as I'll likely have non-Christian readers who balk at certain elements as well. It's what happens when you refuse to write inside the box.

But is it blasphemy? Heresy? Feel free to think as you wish. I won't take it personally. I also won't push you to read Relent if any element of it makes you uncomfortable. That wasn't my goal in writing it. And honestly, I love that the whole idea has spurred a discussion, and I have enjoyed reading all the comments (which I unfortunately can't share here because it's a private group), and I look forward to even more viewpoints on the topic.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Black Friday / Cyber Monday Book Blitz

If you are looking for some awesome speculative fiction ebooks to load your Kindle, Nook, or other devices, check out THIS PAGE on Lasers, Dragons, and Keyboards. You'll find fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, urban fantasy, steampunk, for ages middle grade through adult, including these titles:

For these and even more, go now! Click, click, click
Promo prices only guaranteed from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, but may be active before or after, so head on over and grab some early deals. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

From Costume-Hating to Cosplay Happiness

When I was a kid, I only ever dressed in costume for Halloween. And that consisted of going to the local Kmart and picking out one of those plastic suits that went over your clothes and tied at the back of your neck like a hospital gown. They came with a matching mask--a mask that had eye holes in the wrong place and tiny little "nostril" holes you could barely breathe through. So, you ended up breathing through your mouth a lot, which meant your breath condensed on the inside of the mask.

Image result for halloween costumes from the 70s

BTW, that is just a random photo I found online. I have no idea who those kids are. I grabbed the image, though, because it looks so, so much like the photos of my brother and I when we were kids dressed up for Halloween.

Add to all the misery above the fact that I lived in Florida, where it's either steamy-hot or wet-cold in October, and you can understand why the only thing that excited me about Halloween was the candy. And why I didn't exactly jump on the cosplay bandwagon until very recently.

Sure, I went to a party with my husband once where we dressed as cave people, because cheap and easy. Many years later I found a witch's dress on clearance and snagged it, and I've worn that to a couple of Halloween events. But both are so far away from what we know as cosplay today.

Five years ago, though, was the first time I for realz cosplayed. I dressed as River Song for the award banquet at the first ever Realm Makers conference. (You can read about my experience making her gun holster here.) After that, I went with Professor Trelawney from the Harry Potter series. (A great excuse to use one of my handmade wands!) And my favorite was the year I dressed up as a gender-bent Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors, complete with handmade Audrey 2.

Audrey 2 now sits proudly on my dresser next to my answering machine. Wish I could teach him to answer the phone and scare off telemarketers.

No, that's not where he is now, but this is a better shot. 

The past two years I've gone a bit more...generic. At last year's Necronomicon and this year's Realm Makers, I just dressed in Medieval clothing. And then at this year's Necronomicon, I decided to go very basic Steampunk.

Yep, I had to sneak in a little plug for the anthology, Victorian Venus, that contains one of my short stories.

Anyway, you might notice, although probably not, that the shirt I'm wearing for my Steampunk outfit is the same one I wore as Seymour. That's because I'm a firm believer in re-purposing. I'm also all about thrift shop bargains for costumes, which is where the shirt came from. As did the Steampunk boots, Seymour's vest, my dress for Trelawney, and the hideous purse I used to fashion the holster for River Song's gun. (Again, check out the link I gave you for details on that.) Most of the other clothing is from my closet or the clearance rack. It's really the hunt that makes this fun. And frustrating at times.

My favorite part, though, is the prop-making. In every costume, I have something completely made from scratch.

For River Song, it was the holster.
For Trelawney, it was my wand.
For Seymour, it was Audrey 2.
For the Medieval outfit, it was the cloak. (And technically a staff that wasn't in the photo.)
For the Steampunk outfit, it was the gun that I made from a dollar store ray gun:

Unfortunately I didn't take a pic of the final-final product. Once I got into costume at Necronomicon, I stuck a tea light (the base of which I'd spray-painted to match the gun) on the end.

So, now, it's on to the next idea. What will that be? Oh, I'm not telling! But in a few months, when it's all finished, I promise there will be pictures. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Shakespeare's Sonnet

One of the coolest characters in Toch Island Chronicles is Gregor's cat, Shakespeare. The reason he's so cool is that he's a real cat. My best friend's cat. This is Shakespeare:

Unlike humans, cats don't get offended by being portrayed in stories exactly as they are. Cats are not humble, and don't pretend to be. The Toch Island Shakespeare is 100% the same as the real-life Shakespeare. He looks just like this. He demands the same kind of attention. He fully knows his awesomeness.

Sadly, the real Shakespeare passed away a few months ago. And ever since, I've had an idea blossoming in my head. You see, he's Shakespeare's namesake--the person Shakespeare, that is. And that Shakespeare wrote sonnets. His most famous is Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st;
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

If you're not familiar with the meaning of Sonnet 18, it's basically Shakespeare telling his love that she is more beautiful than a summer's day, than all of summer really--and not only that, she is unlike summer because summer will pass away, but she will not, because she has been immortalized in this very poem.

Kinda like Shakespeare the cat in my books.

So...I present "Shakespeare's Sonnet."

Shall I compare thee to the mythic beast?
Thou art more regal and more loved than they.
Their greatness reaches summit at thy least;
Thy greatness, words alone cannot convey.
A dragon's slay'd by mortal hands of knight,
A unicorn is but a horse with spire,
A griffin, nothing, lest he be in flight,
And phoenix dies and births from ash and fire.
But thy eternal magic shall not fade,
For it is registered forevermore.
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When pages of a book contain thy lore.
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives Toch, and Toch gives life to thee.