Comoffit, Poopypants

The following is a kick-ass review of KRICKET, written by Goodreads user Mel. I’ve decided I’m not going to wait to die to commission an obituary from her.

I usually avoid dystopians, be they zombie apocalypse, plague, nuclear holocaust… you name it, I avoid it. I’m not a sunny person, okay, if you ask me, after things have disintegrated to say 4/10 on the quality of life scale, I don’t understand why these people don’t just top themselves and get it over with.

What possible value can they still find in life, when they have to spend that life on the run, eating garbage to stay alive, getting in shootouts and fistfights and that all day every day? You’ve already got a gun, there, friendo, what are you waiting for?

There’s that other kind of dystopia, though: the Big Maybe, you might say, where things are pretty terrible, but there’s still a chance they’ll improve. The GP has won the Get the Crap Kicked Outta Ya Contest, sure, but even if it’s down, it isn’t quite out, yet. The Handmaid’s TaleV for Vendetta1984.

And, as another example, Penni Jones’s Kricket

You might be tempted to believe that Kricket‘s a product of the current sociopolitical climate down in the US, but I read an early draft of it, years ago, when the world didn’t seem as scary as it does now. When we weren’t as scared. It was a funhouse mirror prediction, then, and it’s genuinely remarkable for that, you know, we’re not there yet, not exactly, but nobody is going to read this book and think comoffit, poopypants, that could never happen.

What sets it apart from many other books in the genre is its workaday humanity, you know, the author doesn’t content herself with showing a series of forgettable, interchangeable characters subjected to her world’s atrocities, and nor are the atrocities all she shows. She’s built the world–built it very well–but she’s built the people living in it with just as much dexterity. 

Some of the time they’re fighting, on whichever side they’re on, but sometimes they’re just eating pancakes, or having a smoke. It’s often in the small moments that character is revealed, after all. The private moments. You don’t really get a sense of yourself when you’re busy at work, but stuck awake in bed at 2am? 

Um yeah.

Not just the titular protagonist but all of Jones’s characters are fully-realized, flesh and blood, not just nametag automatons to be shuffled from scene to scene as the story unfolds. They have history, layers of it, none of it predictable, and that’s what drives the story, far more so than the world they live in, though the richness of that world is an achievement on its own, just familiar enough to be upsetting.

It’s a world I cared about, reading it, people I cared about. I’m sure you will, too. 

Contextual Wieners

The following is my favorite ON THE BRICKS review, written by Goodreads user Mel. If I die before her, I really hope she writes my obituary.

Okay, so for a while here in Canada, there was this show on OUTtv called Sex and Violence, all about (fictional) social workers and their clients–mostly women but sometimes men fleeing from abusive situations–and the halfway houses those clients lived in, and the people who ran them. And it was generally good, okay, it was realistic and unflinching and it told its stories with tremendous humanity, from all sides. 

But, um.

Increasingly–I mean it was always thus with this show, but then increasingly–there were buckets of wieners; tons of wieners; piles of wieners. Not out of context, I’m not saying that, just, whether it was rape or murder or kidnapping or slavery or whatever, sooner or later there’d be at least one sexy young hardbody just standing around, wiener akimbo.

And the thing of it was, in order to make this titillating, oftentimes even the ugliest, most violent scenes were presented in a sexy sort of way. Not in the WHAMMO! jarring way where you were feeling sexy but now it’s ruined–for effect, like–but more like “We don’t think you’d be watching this program if you didn’t get to see you some spray-tanned wieners.”

But I wasn’t watching it for the wieners, okay, they were nice enough in their way but mostly I was in it for Olympia Dukakis’s boozy, kung fu fighting, sex-positive, octogenarian wig enthusiast.

(And the storytelling.)

And okay, so like sometimes you have this friend whose ritual Airing o’ the Grievances feels a little bit silly to you, you know, the world is crumbling into dust all around you and she’s like “I didn’t hear that guy who plays the harmonica outside Falafel Magic tell me to smile till I’d already passed him, so I didn’t smile, and now I’m being targeted for harassment by the entire homeless population of British Columbia.”

And you’re like Kim, there’s people that are dying.

And so then you read Penni Jones’s On the Bricks, and you take in the halfway house, the crack house, the junkies, the jailbirds, the abusers and the abused, broken people breaking other people, rich people, poor people, everybody fudging up every which way, ugliness on top of ugliness, half of it’s pancake breakfasts and the other half’s hot, smelly punches in the baby factory, you too could be a loser, and she doesn’t fall back on sexy sexiness to try to hold your attention, doesn’t use melodrama to jerk your tears, doesn’t pigeonhole people with their behaviour, good or bad… 

It’s a big, broad, wretched story, for everyone involved, but she just… tells it. Spare and matter-of-fact, making no excuses, offering no answers, trusting the reader to draw his own conclusions. 

It could’ve been gross, okay, it could’ve been schmaltzy, swelling orchestra, oozing tears, rending garments, clutching your Prayer Cross gross, a run-of-the-mill fairy tale of redemption in which everyone gets what they deserve, whatever that may be, and the heroine smiles triumphantly through eyes shining with righteousness, certain of her bright future.

Instead it’s honest without getting smurfy about it, no wisecracking antiheroine–saints preserve us from the GD wisecracking antiheroine, staaaaaahp. It’s a bunch of people who were maybe born into bad luck, maybe brought it on themselves, maybe devolved into misery over time. Whichever, here are the cruddy things that happened to them as a result, and here is what they did about it.

No quirky neighbour, no puppy stealing your ice cream cone, no Motown dance montage, just folks, doing the best they can with what they have, and sometimes the best they can is pretty lousy, but whatever, man, that’s life. We all fall down.

There are some wieners. I’m not gonna lie. But they’re contextual wieners. The importance cannot be overstated. 

Creeping up on Bouchercon

In October 2016, my FB newsfeed was full of posts about Bouchercon. It was in New Orleans that year, and it was apparently the best time any writer I vaguely knew had ever had and I missed it. I didn’t know much of anything about Bouchercon, but according to the website it’s the World Mystery Convention, the premier annual event for readers, authors, and all lovers of crime fiction. Since I am all three of those things, I immediately registered for the 2017 Bouchercon (held in Toronto) and talked my friend Libby into doing the same.

 
We loaded up my Jeep and made the trek to Toronto in October 2017 while discussing how to make the most out of our first Bouchercon experience. I was scheduled for a one-minute pitch at the debut author event. The thought of it made me wanted to vomit, so Libby listened to me go over it so many times she could have done it for me, and I probably should have asked her to. We had both registered for the Sisters in Crime breakfast, but otherwise we were going in without much of a schedule. Libby had a single focus: make the most of our first Bouchercon. She made sure we introduced ourselves to other authors, and met people for drinks and dinner. She even snagged LA Chandlar and her friend to go to lunch with us. LA is so nice I couldn’t tell if we were holding them captive or not, but I was thankful for Libby’s drive. The call of an empty hotel room is hard to resist when you have young kids at home. If Libby hadn’t have been with me, I would have spent most of my time ordering room service and watching pay-per-view movies. Libby’s a mom, too, but somehow she had enough push for both of us. When I stood wide-eyed and overwhelmed, she would grab my hand and direct me to a group of authors that she felt we had to meet.

 
This year’s convention is in St. Petersburg, Florida. Libby is going with me again. We registered early enough to get a room at the hotel that is housing the convention. Last year we had to walk back and forth between hotels. It was only a few blocks, but it felt like miles after the third or fourth time in one day while carrying a laptop and books, and wearing shoes that were comfortable until I decided to walk a lot in them.
bouchercon2018

We both got panel assignments this year, something that didn’t happen for either of us last year. I’m moderating my panel, so I’ve spent the last few weeks reading books by the authors on my panel and preparing questions. One of the authors became a friend of mine at last year’s Bouchercon.

BOUCHERCON 2018
My favorite panel last year was the LGBTQ (Reading the Rainbow) panel moderated by Kristopher Zgorski. When I got the news that I was moderating a panel this year, I immediately reached out to him for advice. And he did not disappoint. People like Kristopher are what make Bouchercon so great. I have a larger network of people I can go to for advice just because I showed up. I can’t wait to see what this year’s con will bring. Maybe I’ll stay out of the hotel room without Libby prompting me to!

Interview with Jacob de la Rosa, super star

In March I had one of the most exciting experiences of my writing career: I worked in the writers room of Real American, an upcoming webseries from Perelandra Pictures. The call for screenwriters was on a Facebook page for Michigan Production Opportunities. I didn’t think I actually had a chance of getting the gig, and at first I didn’t care. I submitted because I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. But then I got an email from them, and then a Facetime interview. During this time I learned more about the project, and I started to care A LOT. It sounded so interesting and engaging and timely, and I felt a strong connection to the subject matter. I knew I had to be a part of it. That’s how I met Jacob de la Rosa.
Jacob is a writer, director, and owner of Perelandra Pictures. Along with his producing partner Kathryn Postema, he created the “Nottingham” video for Son of None, which was an official selection of the 2018 Grand Rapids Film Festival. Jacob also wrote and directed 2013’s Break Glass in Case of…., a feature-length film with Doctor Who‘s Tom Baker voicing a lead character.
Real American is nearing production, and Nathalie Galde has been cast as the lead. It’s time to learn more about Jacob de la Rosa.

jacob
The artist at work.

SGSC: Where did you get the idea for Real American?
JD: I was really blown away by how sci-fi shows like Orphan Black and Jessica Jones had these strong female protagonists with their own rich lives and experiences, and I wanted to write a show like that with a Latinx lead.
SGSC: Anastasia is a complicated woman. Was this character inspired by anyone you know?
JD: I work at a news station full of career-oriented, hardworking women, so that definitely influenced Anastasia’s professional life in the series. A lot of how Anastasia lives her personal life, how she feels disconnected from her world and her past, that comes from my own experiences of what it’s like being biracial and passably white. Then I really have to credit you and Jalexia Stoutmyre for your work in the writers’ room, and for pushing to make Anastasia more flawed.

jalexia
Jalexia is not only a writer, she’s also makeup pro, artist, and actress.

 

SGSC: Who is your favorite director? Writer (screenwriter and/or author)?
JD: My favorite directors are Wes Anderson and Guillermo del Toro. My favorite writers are C.S. Lewis, Stephen King, and Michael Crichton.
SGSC: If you could collaborate with anyone dead or alive, who would you choose?
JD: The Dresden Dolls.
SGSC: What has been the most rewarding moment of your career so far?
JD: Recording with Tom Baker for Break Glass in Case Of…is up there. There’s been a lot of rewarding moments with Real American where I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be: working with other writers, meeting Nathalie Galde, and the character photoshoot for Anastasia.
SGSC: What is the single most important thing that people need to know about Real American?
JD: That it’s a story about the very relatable challenge of trying to figure out who you are, but seen through the eyes of an alien in disguise.
nathalie
I hope you’re all as excited about this project as I am. Click here to learn more about Real American or to donate to the Kickstarter campaign to help get it into production.
SGSC

Keynote Speaking Like a Grown-Up

awc2

I remember going to conferences and wishing that I could be one of the authors whom attendees were there to see. I wanted to stand in front of a room of writers and talk about the struggles and rewards, the publishing industry that is sometimes moves like a glacier and sometimes like a roller coaster.

Then I was invited to be the afternoon keynote speaker at the Arkansas Writers Conference. I said “yes” even though my anxiety was screaming “HELL NO!” I’ve led workshops and given very short talks, but a 45-minute keynote speech was new terrain for me.

After doing absolutely nothing about it for a couple of months other than some occasional pacing and nail-biting, I finally started preparing. I was on a read, write, repeat schedule for several days. I sought advice from friends and watched YouTube videos of other writers speaking.

I wrote my speech as honestly as possible, touching on the simultaneous terror and joy of my position. Following the advice of friends who have gone before me, I did my best to be honest and authentic.

In the days leading up to the conference, my anxiety level grew to a fever pitch. But here’s the thing: it was totally fine, even enjoyable. A friend told me to remember that the crowd would want me to succeed, and I could feel that vibe from them. My cousin was there for support, which was a giant help. And originally I was worried about toiling the morning away with my nerves getting worse while waiting for my 1:30 time slot. But instead I was able to meet some attendees and sell a few books before I took my turn at the podium. Every person I met was incredibly kind.

Like so many other times in my life, I worried for nothing. It went great, but even if it hadn’t, I would have had something to write about. And really that’s the most important thing.

Flash fiction contest!

Update: a couple of people were kind enough to reblog this post for me, so the contest deadline has been extended to 11:59 tonight (Saturday, April 28). Happy writing!

I found this photograph on neatorama.com. It’s by a photographer named Alena Beljakova.  The artist obviously had her own vision when it comes to what this photograph means. But what does it mean to you?

bunny

Write a story in 100 words or less and add it to the comments below for a chance to win a free autographed copy of KRICKET or ON THE BRICKS (your choice).  I’ll have a couple of guest judges so you guys won’t have to worry about me playing favorites or accepting bribes (I’ll totally accept bribes).

The contest closes on Friday, April 27. Get on it!

It’s time for KRICKET

kricketcover
I got the idea for Kricket during the 2008 election when some fringe folks were claiming that the Democratic candidate Barack Obama was a Muslim and would make Christianity illegal and implement Sharia Law. It was cuckoo-bananas, but it made me think about what would happen if the fringe took control.
I wrote the first chapter ten years ago and walked away from it for a while as I tend to do. I didn’t start really working on it again until a couple of years later. But by then there was a big problem: I couldn’t imagine the intolerance I was trying to write. The United States had become increasingly more tolerant in my lifetime. And I do recognize that this was a perspective from my perch of white privilege.  But LGBTQ rights were on the rise. Medical marijuana was becoming legal. We had a black president whose wife wore sleeveless dresses that showcased her strong arms.  I was too optimistic to buy into my own writing. But I kept going.
I wrote and rewrote.  And then in 2014 a miracle happened: an agent signed me to represent Kricket. I had made it to the Promised Land!
Over the next year, the agent and I went back and forth on edits. But something wasn’t clicking. Project-fatigue (pretty sure that’s a thing) set in, and I wanted to concentrate on On the Bricks. The agent and I parted ways before a single publisher saw Kricket.
It seemed that it was time to put my writing dreams to rest. I’d given it a good run, and I was tired of the ups and downs.
That feeling didn’t last. And soon after, Pandamoon Publishing signed me for On the Bricks. But Kricket was still on my mind. I just couldn’t see a way to fix it.
This is where having a supportive independent publisher in your corner really changes things.
I won’t go into the details of what made me lose my human rights optimism, as there’s really no point. But in late 2016 I knew it was time to make Kricket what I wanted it to be. And I had just the team to help me. One massive rewrite and a few rounds of edits later, this book is finally ready to see the light of day.
I don’t want to Kricket come off as anti-religion, though once it’s out there it is subject to the readers’ interpretations.  The story is a cautionary tale about what could happen if we tried to make religion a requirement. During  Prohibition our own government poisoned alcoholic drinks to teach drinkers a lesson. The government has no business trying to legislate morality. And often the politicians who want to tell us how to live don’t actually buy into what they’re pushing.
At its core Kricket is a story about a single mother trying to make ends meet in a world gone mad. We’re all just trying to do the best we can, and so is Kricket Foster. It’s just that her obstacles include extortion and bootlegging.

 

Waking up from writing

This summer I was tasked with rewriting one of my old manuscripts. For those of you who have read my drafts along the way, it was yet another rewrite of Kricket. I have no idea what draft number I’m on with this thing. I wrote the first draft in 2010, and it’s been a pain in my ass ever since.

My publisher and I decided it was time to revisit this story, which I shelved in 2015 after splitting with my agent. My wonderful editor sent me the suggested changes at the beginning of this summer. One of the suggestions was to rewrite it in first person. I agreed with her assessment and got started.

As I rewrote it, I found plot problems and fixes everywhere. I ended up scrapping about 75% of the original book. Meanwhile, my kids were home all day and we had company in and out all the time. It was nearly impossible to get it together.

And then I was given a deadline. Obviously I needed that to happen so I would get my work done. But I still struggled with time management because it was SUMMER. I plugged along as best I could, but I couldn’t really hit it until school started back on September 5 (which was only a half day because of course it was). Meanwhile, my deadline was September 12. I wrote when I could, but progress was slow.

My editor took pity on me and granted my request to move the deadline to September 19.

I spent every day from September 6 to September 19 doing nothing but writing except when I slept. Before this writing frenzy, my personal word count record for one day’s work was 2,000. Now that record is 6,000. I learned a lot about myself and what I’m capable of. I went days without showering, I didn’t cook, I didn’t grocery shop, I didn’t clean (but I don’t do a lot of that anyway). I did enough laundry to keep us in clean underwear, but I cut it close more than once. I didn’t have time to obsess over daily news. It was glorious.

The manuscript is out of my hands once again. I don’t know if the overhaul puts the manuscript where it should be. I only spent two days on plot editing, so it could go either way.

I emerged from the writing frenzy on Monday night to an unexpected sadness. I had to get back to my responsibilities again. I had to grocery shop, answer emails, and get back in the gym. I started reading the news again.

It’s easier for me to live my life in fiction, constantly thinking about my story instead of reality. I have to walk out into the sun sometimes to exercise, to see friends, to help my kids with homework. But I think it’s time for me to spend more time in my world of make-believe.

 

 

Anxiety is clogging my brain

I’ve been blocked lately. Historically I don’t stay blocked long, but this time is different. I wish there was some kind of Miralax for the writer’s soul.

It started in October. I had overdosed on news and my creativity started to suffer. I eventually turned a corner in November and started up again. But lost it all in January. Sometimes the words come to me, but not consistently enough to finish anything as quickly as I’d like.

Fortunately the work I have created doesn’t go away. It waits for me while I stare at the blank page or binge watch TV in the name of dissecting story arcs. Honestly though, I don’t know where most of my time goes. It’s slipping away without leaving clues that it was ever here.

I’m currently in a workshop led by the amazing Ariel Gore. Ideas seem to be loosening up again. And May is usually a creative month for me. Hopefully it’s time to turn things around. But first I really do have to turn off the news. I have to let go of the threat of nuclear war, the dissolving relationships with our allies, the civil rights issues, and the threats to the first amendment. But if I do that, I’m not being a responsible citizen. So maybe I just need to compartmentalize. I need to shove all of my worries in a drawer in my brain until writing time is over every day.

Writing is extremely therapeutic for me. So not writing only makes the stress worse. If I’m not thinking about story ideas, I’m mentally listing the items we need for our make-believe basement bunker.

So I’m going to just keep trying. Every single day. My voice isn’t gone, it just needs some help getting out.

Gearing up for a Panda party!

On the Bricks was released by Pandamoon Publishing out of Austin. One of the things that makes Pandamoon different from larger publishers is that we are a close-knit group. This includes the authors, editors, publishers, artists, and PR staff. Thanks to the internet we interact daily. And now, several of us are taking it to real life.

This weekend we are meeting at C2E2 in Chicago. C2E2 is a fan convention for comic books, graphic novels, video games, pop culture, etc. On the Bricks is not typical con fare. But I couldn’t miss the opportunity to hang out with my fellow Pandamoon authors. If I sell a few books, that will be a bonus.

We’re also having a pitch party, so if you’re in the Chicago area and would like to pitch your book in person, stop by on Friday or Saturday. Or just stop by to meet some awesome authors and buy a few books. I’ll be at booth 142 with David Valdes Greenwood, Christine Gabriel, Elgon Williams, Alisse Lee Goldenberg, Meg Bonney, and Dana Faletti. See you in Chicago!