On the Shelf: A Misnomer

Or is it? This week, I am sad to report, I read exactly one-quarter of one book. This was not intentional–in fact I had plans. BIG plans. Lots of reading and writing plans.

What does God do when we make plans?

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that somewhere up there, the universal deity is having a good chuckle at my expense.

Anyway, the book I started reading is Autumn Bleeds Into Winter by Jeff Strand, with cover art by Lynne Hansen, who is one of my favorite artists around. When I fantasize of affording fine art illustrations for my books, she is the artist I dream of hiring. Usually, I know, I post a whole review thing, but since I’m only a short way in, I’ll hold off. I will say, the beginning hooked me, and I didn’t want to stop reading, but I’ve been having a hard time waking up with my alarm clock and so I’ve been trying to be very good about putting the electronics down and going to bed.

One of the reasons I’ve been having major insomnia is that we STILL ARE NOT SETTLED IN. Our stuff arrives tomorrow, and then I’ll be able to spend the weekend organizing and unpacking and organizing to my heart’s content, at which point, I will start to feel a little more normal. In the meantime though, there is unrest in my mind, fed by the incredible news that pops up in my news alerts and social media feeds.

And yeah, I know that doomscrolling is a thing, and that it’s not a good thing to just stay immersed in all the bad things happening … but on the other hand, how can you ignore this? The ICE whistleblower complaints, the climate change that has caused the extreme weather effects in the West and the Gulf, the reports of continued roadblocks thrown up in front of people trying to exercise their basing civic duty of voting… I do not want to, nor am I going to, ignore all of this. My Senator’s office got a phone call from me yesterday, and they will get a nice letter sometime this week when I finally sit down and write it.

In the meantime, I am waiting for my printer to arrive so I can make sure I am registered to vote at our new address. I am waiting to purchase a vehicle so I can have freedom of movement to do things like go to in-person drill or volunteer as a poll worker. And I am waiting until November to see if we are going to collectively come to our senses and address the root causes of the systemic issues we face. And yes, it’s “we.”

I’ve also decided to start an indoor garden in order to have access to fresh vegetables and medicinal herbs just in case civilization does take a tumble.

So yeah, I’ll get more reading done this coming week. And more writing down this weekend. Just need to find that place where my mind settles down and my inner organizer has a chance to put things where they belong.

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On the Shelf: Books to Read in the New House

It finally happened–I missed a week of posting On the Shelf. But at least I had a good excuse! Exactly one week ago, we moved out of our camper and into our new house. There were some back and forths with the closing, which meant that we had to re-schedule our household goods dropoff (and then couldn’t get our original date back when the shenanigans were resolved). So, we’ve been camping out in the house using the mattresses and dishes from the RV, making the best of it.

We did manage to get internet and utilities set up, and I’ve been able to make long strides on catching up all the things I should have been doing the past month or so. I also called the mosquito and pest control people because this property had been vacant for a while, and some of the local creepy crawlies were getting just a little too comfortable for this entomophobic writer. In fact, as we speak, I have a stack of horror novels on the bookcase (and two on my desk), and the thing that’s icking me out is the cockroach doing the kickin’ chicken as it slowly succumbs not two feet away from my desk.

Yes. I could put it outside. No, I’m not touching it while its icky little cockroach feet are all waving in the air and stuff.

A little classic horror–and the proof of our next anthology!

Anyway, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, what have I been reading or looking forward to reading? Let’s talk TBR piles. When we left California, I put a stack of paperbacks and my Kindle into the RV. I read about half the paperbacks and a bunch off my Kindle, and still managed to forget a whole bunch of the paperbacks (we were storing them under one of the bunks, and out of sight, out of mind. So I’ve got a number of titles waiting for me.

I read a bunch of pro reading the past few weeks and am currently meandering my way through a book on writing business plans, but this past week of reading consisted of books for pleasure crammed in between setting up promotions for Stories We Tell After Midnight 2, and making progress on Winter Run. Slow progress. Very slow. Anyway, here are some of the books I enjoyed the past few days. As always, if you’ve read one, let me know what you think. And if you have any book suggestions, drop me a line!

Zombie Cosmetologist Novellas 1 & 2 by JD Blackrose
This two-novella series (which I’ve just listed as the series page because do yourself a favor and just pick up both at once, it will save time when you get to the end of the first one and need to go on to the next) has as its premise that a former Union Soldier gets turned into a zombie after he dies as the Battle of Shiloh, and then decides that the way to make money in the modern world is to turn to the world of makeup artistry. And not just makeup–hair, nails, special FX, anything that a modern celebrity might need. But, since he IS a zombie, he ends up getting wrapped up in some clandestine shenanigans involving shady research, zombie Marine experiments, and a whole host of other hijinks. I enjoyed the novellas–they were funny and fast-paced, without neglecting character development or avoiding hard character choices. I’m looking forward to the next book club where we talk about the books. There was one tiny nitpick, and if you are not military affiliated, you likely won’t even notice. And that was, there were some inconsistencies with the military characters that now and then pulled me out of the story. Not super terrible, just be prepared to roll your eyes and keep going, because the stories are awesome and funny, and Waylon Jenkins is a hoot.

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse
I picked this book up because it was (still is of today) on sale on Kindle for $1.99, and it was set in an apocalypse where climate change had terraformed most of the world, and magic and Gods had started to reappear. The main character, Maggie Hoskie, is a Navajo woman who has been apprenticed to a demigod, and who is nicknamed Monsterslayer. The demigod is the sort of guy who goes around killing monsters and then telling Maggie that there’s too much darkness within her before disappearing in the middle of the night. So of course, when the book opens, she’s a giant mess. Plus, it’s the apocalypse. There are things I loved about this book–the characters, the setting, the urban fantasy outside of the normal modern city setting. It reminded me a little of sharing Tony Hillerman books back and forth with my roommate on my second deployment who was Diné. While I was reading, and immersed in the world of the book, I really enjoyed it. I think I even posted on FB how much I did. But when I went back and started thinking about it, I’m not sure if I’m invested in reading the next one. For me, the fact that she has so internalized the whole “evil has tainted me” line that it leads her to do what she does in the first chapter (trying to avoid spoilers)… something about the character was irretrievably lost in that moment, and even the end couldn’t resolve it in a satisfying way for me. But, YMMV, and I know a bunch of people who love this book, so put it on the qualified recommend list.

Reach! Finding Strength, Spirit and Personal Power by Laila Ali
I picked up this book on Kindle right around the time I picked up the memoir by Donivan Blair. Like that book, this one had the distinct voice of an author who is coming to writing after accomplishing a number of other things. Written when she was 24, this memoir takes us from Ali’s earliest memories of growing up the daughter of Muhammad Ali and Veronica Porche to her adolescence, fights with her family and authority, even time spent in trouble with the authorities, to her decision to open her own business and go to school, and then to step into the boxing ring. All along the way, she muses on what it was like to grow up with her father’s fame always there, to see her mother, after she divorced Muhammad Ali, get trapped in an abusive relationship, to go through a similar situation herself, and still keep striving to the goals she set for herself and accept nothing less. I’m a fan of boxing fiction, and enjoy watching women’s boxing and MMA (men’s too, but I’d rather watch the former), and so I found this to be a fun, fast read. I would have really liked to see more of what it was like in the ring, what was going through her head, etc., but as a whole, I’d pick this up and read it.

Anyway, it looks like Charlie (yes, I’ve named him) is still kicking, and my kids are getting suspiciously silent, so I’m going to hope that I don’t have a bunch of typos, post this, and get back to today’s super long to-do list. Enjoy!

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On the Shelf: Reading For (More) Professional Development

When we headed out from California, I packed a stack of books and my Kindle. I brought probably too many for the small space we have, and even then, the selection I ended up with was a small portion of my physical TBR shelf. My thought process was, I would read the fiction I had on my Kindle (such a long list…), and I would read all the physical professional books I really needed to: books on publishing, books on editing, books on writing.

This mostly worked out. I’ve plowed through a good number of reference books on the crafts of writing, editing, and publishing. I’ve also devoured a number of fiction books. And I have, in the interest of full disclosure, bought a number of books from visits to the bookstore and by picking up $0.99 deals that I see on my FB or Twitter news feed and that look vaguely interesting.

One note about these deals–it turns out that if I pay a buck for a book (which I am very willing to do, in fact, it’s almost a reflex at this point) I am WAY more likely to read it than a book I picked up for free. Hm.

Anyway, the point of this is that while I have made some progress on my TBR pile, I think at this point, I’ve replenished each title as I’ve read it. Heh. So, this week, I’ve been tackling a number of professional titles. The material I’ve read has given me some good ideas for my plans for the next couple of anthologies, as well as the Rick Keller Project (more on that later.) There is also one title that was a total break in routine because OMG I NEEDED TO READ IT RIGHT NOW.

I’ve got a session with an editing client in a little bit, so before it gets TOO much later in the day, here is the round up of what was on my reading shelf this week.

Amazon Decoded: A Marketing Guide to the Amazon Store by David Gaughran

I forget how I got to this book. I think it was that John Hartness of Falstaff Books recommended Gaughran’s book on newsletters and then I signed up for Gaughran’s own newsletter, and then maybe this was the free book? Or he offered it for a 99-cent deal? I forget. Anyway. I think that if you can get a chance to pick this book up for a buck, then it would be worth it. But for the full price of it, you’re better off heading over to the 20Booksto50K Facebook group and reading through the information that they’ve organized and put together on indie publishing. It’s not that the information in the book isn’t helpful or important, it’s that I didn’t find much that was new. I did take some notes as I went through, and one of the helpful features is that Gaughran lists various resources (some of which, like Robert Ryan’s Amazon ad book, I did go and buy) for the indie publisher that may be of interest. It also organizes a bunch of info about Amazon and how their algorithms work, and that organization would be very helpful to a new publisher. Full disclosure: I am using this specific info tidbit, namely that the first five days of the launch are the time to make the most of the alg0rithm, to inform the next two anthology launches. So, we’ll see what happens. I do recommend that indie authors and publishers (and really any authors and publishers) go ahead and sign up for his newsletter. There’s a lot of good info there, and hey, you never know when you’re going to spot a sale.

Release Strategies: Plan Your Self-Publishing Schedule for Maximum Benefit by Craig Martelle

With one full-length and one mini anthology on the way, along with my own Rick Keller Project relaunch efforts, release strategies have been on my mind. There is some really good info in the aforementioned 20Books group. But if you’re looking for something that condenses it all and gives examples of how someone who is pretty successful at releasing books has put it (the information) together, then this is a pretty good resource. Martelle covers the various options available from releasing one or two books a year, to doing a full rapid release and all the attendant planning. It’s in KU, so if you have a chance to pick it up there, it’s definitely worth it. I think I picked this one up when it was another 99-cent deal, and it was worth the dollar AND worth the read. I’m realizing the moral of this week might be that it’s worth following various writers in their newsletters and social media so that you can take advantage of the inevitable deals they offer.

The Editor’s Companion: An Indispensable Guide to Editing Books, Magazines, Online Publications, and More by Steve Dunham

I’ve been working on a manuscript for a new client this week, and so thought it would be good timing to start reading this book. I picked it up about a week ago on a family trip to Barnes & Noble. This is a useful reference book, and I’ll be putting it on the shelf for a periodic reminder of things I can do to improve my editorial capabilities. On the other hand, I also tried to read it straight through, and it is really not a book that is a super easy cover-to-cover read. No matter. Some of the information is, I think, a little bit older. For example, the Words Into Type work that Dunham references multiple times appears to be out of print, and the references to typesetting vs. desktop publishing are less and less relevant as we progress through the 21st century. It was worth price, and as I mentioned, I’ll be putting it on my shelf next to Elements of Style and the other professional volumes I’ve collected.

Ballistic Kiss by Richard Kadrey

And here we are at the point where I devolve into a giant pile of fan-girl goo. I LOVE Sandman Slim. Like, have extreme fannish reactions to the books. I bought this, the next-to-last installment in the series, way back when it first came available for pre-order. This was a good idea, because then it downloaded onto my Kindle and I didn’t have to wait to read it. This was also a bad idea, because then I read the whole thing without coming up for air, and now I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself for another year or so while Kadrey writes the last book in the series. Probably re-read the entire series while listening Spotify playlists he puts together. I don’t care if it DOES make me seem like a teenybopper with a crush listening to a mixtape… Anyway, if you, like me, are crazy for urban fantasy meets LA noir meets gritty, dark prose that sucks you in from page one and doesn’t let go until you emerge two or three days later having re-read an entire series, blinking and wondering WTF just happened–yeah. You’re going to like this series. Go, quickly, and check it out. And then go read Kadrey’s The Grand Dark, because I love that book as well. I should re-read it soon. (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, but if you want to talk, hit me up in the comments or drop me a line.)

Anyway, that’s the update for this week. This coming week I’ve got a bunch of great books lined up, but as always, if you have suggestions for the TBR pile, lay ’em on me!

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On the Shelf: Short Stack

This week, I got a bit less reading done than other weeks. Part of this was due to that the writing wheels have been slowly grinding back into gear, but the majority of the reason was that I had my first drill weekend with my unit. It was a three-day extravaganza, which involved driving to Virginia Friday night for a range on Saturday. I shot a rifle for the first time in about a decade (previous qualifications had all used the M9 pistol, and while I was nervous at first, I ended up killing 35 paper targets, so in all, it was a good day.

It was also the first battle assembly wearing my new rank, and it was kind of weird (to use a very technical term. It’s Army jargon, trust me…) I fully expected to hang out in the Reserve as a Captain until I hit my mandatory retirement date or stopped having fun. But then, the Army decided they needed another Major, so here I am. There’s a whole new level of professional military education and expectations, and I’m working on trying to make sure I don’t immediately step in it.

But anyway, that’s where a lot of my focus was this week, plus working on some stuff for getting out the next publications from Crone Girls Press. And cranking the wheels back up on the Rick Keller Project.

Speaking of cranking the writing wheels, let’s get to the books, because two of them helped start the grind and generated two or three pages of bullet journal notes on how to make the series better from start to (the eventual) finish.

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere) by Lisa Cron

This is one of those books, similar to Will Storr’s The Science of Storytelling, that purport to use the concepts behind how your brain works (and how other people’s brains work) to help you come up with a plot for a book that will keep those brains engaged. Okay, got it. First, there wasn’t a lot of neuroscience here–at least, nowhere near as much as in Storr’s book. On the other hand, the way our brains process story is a long and winding road, and I’m not completely convinced of how helpful it is as a writer to know all the little nitty gritty science behind it. Second, I think this book will be super useful to a couple of categories of writer–ones new to the journey, or new to working on a novel, or those who like to have a super detailed, incredibly finely drawn plot outline, and be as prepared as possible before starting to write. For me, getting into the amount of detail beforehand would be a death knell to my personal creative process; that said, the information in this book is incredibly useful, whether you want to incorporate it into the pre-writing process or the revising process. I certainly came away with some new insight into how to shape the series I’m working on. It’ll definitely go on my shelf, especially if I’m working with a client new to the noveling journey, or who REALLY REALLY enjoys the pre-writing process.

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book On Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need by Jessica Brody

It’s a bold claim, and one that I’ll probably disregard as I enjoy reading craft books from a variety of experiences and perspectives. On the other hand, when it comes to craft books gelling with my personal creative process this book, like Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story, will get a place on my bookshelf within reach of my writing area. This book draws on the story beats from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!, in case that title sounded familiar, but lays them out in the context of novel development. The beat sheet with fifteen story beats arranged in three acts might sound too structured and stifling. And yet, this is the process that I have found that is the right mix of laying out what I’m going for when it comes to characters, theme, plot and subplot, and of writing forward while remaining open to discovery writing. Knowing the information about my story that this book invites you to explore both keeps me focused and at the same time gives me the freedom to play. As someone whose goal is to indie publish several series of urban fantasy, which require me to plan, write, and deliver at the rate of about a series a year, this is the structure that sets me up to do that. Of course, your mileage may vary. But I encourage you to check it out and see if it works for you.

Haunted Nights edited by Lisa Morton & Ellen Datlow

The other day, I had reached the end of my rope. Super frustrated, exhausted, stressed, claustrophobic, kids had been fighting all day… my spouse walked in and I was like, hey babe, gotta go! I went to get some yarn for some projects I said I would do, and then, I decided to just kind of drive around. Suddenly, I was at Barnes & Noble. Oh no… Guess I had to go in! I picked up a bunch of books, because why wouldn’t I, even with unread books back in the trailer. One of them was this anthology of horror stories all set on/centering around Halloween (I love Halloween so much!!) I started reading, and found a book of stories that spanned the sublimely terrifying to the straight up scary and horrifying. It’s hard to pinpoint a favorite, so I’ll just say that if you’re a fan of short horror fiction, and looking to get into the mood for fall, pick up a copy of this anthology, and you’ll be all set.

That’s what was on my shelf this week. What have you go next on your reading pile?

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On the Shelf: My TBR Pile

So, here’s the thing. I grew up a reader. Not just a reader—but the kind of kid who regularly got in trouble for, nagged at because I was instead of doing something else, or punished by taking away reading. (Not sure if all the clauses in that sentence make sense, but I’m trying to blog from my phone due to no WiFi at this campsite, so roll with me here…)

One of the things that has remained consistently true throughout my life is the size of my TBR pile—or “To Be Read” pile of books. This isn’t even the list of “want to read,” a list which, by now, is far too long to realistically finish in my lifetime, even if I suddenly became independently wealthy and moved to a remote Scottish castle where it would rain all day, and I would sit in the window seat and drink tea and nod at the children from time to time and take breaks by walking my hounds on the moors…

Oh. Sorry. Got a little carried away for just a moment.

Where was I? Yes. Talking about my TBR pile. There was actually a time in my life when I made it through my entire TBR pile. At the time it consisted of maybe thirty or forty books, all of which I read when I deployed to Iraq in 2005-2006. Then I came home and went straight to grad school, and the pile started growing once more. Never since then has my pile been less than around a hundred physical books. In fact, I have an entire bookshelf dedicated to my TBR pile, and that’s not counting the titles on my Kindle.

So, what’s on the shelf? The two tend to be split by genre. I tend to read fiction on my Kindle, particularly genre fiction. Most of the speculative fiction I pick up tends to be in digital form. I read so quickly that it becomes a matter of storage. With limited IRL bookshelf space (that I have to share with my spouse, sheesh), I am ruthless with which authors I purchase physically. Or their works. For example, I have every single Sandman Slim novel on Kindle, but I bought Kadrey’s The Grand Dark in hard copy. I tend to purchase paperbacks of nonfiction or literary fiction, as I read those a little more slowly, want to enjoy the tactile sense of turning pages, or in the case of nonfiction, can concentrate better with a paper copy.

For example, on my Kindle, I have a bunch of speculative fiction from small presses that I picked up for a couple bucks each and will probably read in the next couple of weeks. I also have some horror novels that I picked up in a Latinx horror author story bundle a while ago. Been reading those one or two at a time and really enjoying them.

Over on the physical TBR shelf (currently packed in boxes awaiting us moving into the new house), I’ve got a bunch of nonfiction on game theory, literary history, history history, biography, philosophy, and literary fiction.

Here in the camper, I’ve read all the paperback fiction I brought with, and now I’ve got a stack of craft and business books. Plus my Kindle. I’m trying to make myself read the craft and business books before I head over to the fun Kindle fiction, and it’s mostly a good idea because the more I read, the more ideas I get and the better grasp I get on the profession I’ve chosen. It also makes me more cognizant of the fact I need to wrap this up and get back to writing.

But hey—distract me—what’s on your TBR pile?

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Guest Post: GISH in the Time of Covid-19

IS Note: It’s been a hot second since I hosted a guest post here on the ol’ blog, but I’ve been seeing people post about GISH on my social media, and was kind of curious to see what it was all about. Jennifer Nestojko, who I have hosted here previously, was kind enough to send her thoughts. Read on…

Jennifer Nestojko, in her guise as Mistress Leofwen, SCA Bard.

It’s the Summer of the Pandemic, or at least what I hope is the only summer of Covid-19, as opposed to The First Summer of the Pandemic. I have been juggling training tutorials and arguing over distance ed options, because being a teacher feels a little like being led to slaughter with the push for in-class education in the fall. I have been wondering what to do. I need to write my will. I need to clean the house.  I decided to try my luck at the GISH Hunt for a novice endeavor. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

              So, here I am, slogging through Canvas tutorials and delving deep into never-ending piles of laundry, with my creativity smothered by anxiety and paperwork – or so it seems. I am also writing strange poetry and roping my children into staging scenarios from old paintings. Dinner tonight will be a challenge, and I mean that literally. There are challenges in this Hunt, and in my team I have taken on a few, and these are the consequences.

              Perhaps dinner tonight will cause my family unreasonable pain and suffering, perhaps that will be caused by the activities we have planned for later in the week, but the family that suffers together buffers together. (Yes, those training videos have left their mark. It is sad, really.) Weird is a way of life, and this week, during the Hunt, we are going to embrace the weird.

              After all, 2020 has already sent us people protesting life saving devices so terribly complex as layered fabric over their faces, it has sent us schools scrambling for ways to reach out to students now confined to home, it has sent us demon seed dreams and presidential tantrums. (To be fair, we had those tantrums happening for a few years, now.) 2020 has separated us from friends and extended family. There were murder hornets, or at least panic about them. I write horror and 2020 makes me wonder why all the good plot lines are suddenly claimed. Why should we allow 2020 to bogart all of the strangeness?

              People are strange, as Jim Morrison sang, and we should revel in that strangeness. We shouldn’t fear it; we should claim it and harness it and use our powers for good, even if that good causes unreasonable pain and suffering in the process. We already have that pain and suffering; we might as well have joy and creativity as well. GISH allows us that opportunity, in abundance. Therefore I am prepared to enjoy the Hunt. After all, signing up seemed a good idea at the time. It still does.

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On the Shelf: Some SF/F and NF

Here, NF refers to nonfiction. Once again, my reading list gets a little eclectic. I guess it’s only fair. One of the things keeping me sane as I hang out in this twenty-two-foot travel trailer with two dogs, a cat, and two energetic children is the fact that I brought a good selection of physical and Kindle books.

Yep. It’s going on week… um, three? And I’m finding that I can read and edit and schedule promotional stuff, but the writing I was planning on doing is evaporating. There’s just not the opportunity for the sustained concentration I need to in order to get quality words on paper is lacking. As I’m sitting here, for example, my oldest, who I told multiple times not to wrestle with her sister, is crying because she was wrestling with her sister, who then pinched her. A normal part of siblings learning to interact without tears, but I’ve learned that rather than try to write and get frustrated, I’d rather do something that knocks an item off my to-do list, but doesn’t require a deep flow state.

Reading in the RV. It’s a little cramped in here, but outside is super hot and humid, and I think I’m developing a pine allergy. Welcome to NC!

Add to this, my spouse is returning to a normal work schedule, which means that I’m home with aforementioned energetic children and no daycare, drop-in daycare, in-home babysitter, etc. Now that we’re back in Fayetteville, I do have a line on a babysitter, but not until we move into someplace with more space and get a little past the time that we were traveling and coming into contact with various people and places, even masked and distanced. Hopefully, we’ll be in that future situation soon, and then I’ll have some time to make progress on the long list of writing projects beckoning to me…

So yeah. I’ve been hanging out reading and editing. And yesterday, went to my first Olympic fencing lesson in a couple of years at the local Academy. And also, I’m knitting up a storm, mostly making dishcloths with profanity knitted into them. I was offering them to people who were making donations to organizations I’d like to support, and am now offering them to people who sign up to support my friend, Ed Ashford’s, Patreon. Ed and his spouse have been living in a hotel scraping by on donations from friends, trying to find ways to support themselves while dealing with disability and disadvantage. So, I’m trying to boost the signal; they put out lots of cool art and poetry, and the more they get out from under the stress of not knowing if they’re going to have a place to live next week, the more they can concentrate on creating. IMO, art and poetry and creativity are going to be what it takes to survive this crazy timeline, and if I can offer something to make it happen, I will. I currently have black, red, teal, white, and a limited supply of a sage green. I’m willing to make other things in other colors for people who hit the five-dollar-a-month and up subscription rate! Comment or contact me if you’re interested–unfamousscribbler ~at~ gmail.com

Anyway, here’s what I’ve got on the shelf this week!

A Fall in Autumn by Michael G. Williams

I actually read this a while ago, but hey, it just won the 2019 Manly Wade Wellman Award for best SF/F novel by a North Carolina writer, and it’s technically on my shelf, so I figured I’d take a moment to plug it. The world the novel takes place in is a floating city, and the premise is that in a world where genetic modification is a normal, accepted practice, the main character is, instead, conceived and birthed the old-fashioned way. Now, there is nothing I love more than the jaded private eye hired to do one last job, and Williams takes this trope and runs–no sprints, zooms, and races away–with it. Reading this–the characters, the worldbuilding, the excellent writing–put me in mind of the classic science fiction that I fell in love with as a young reader. Be warned, Williams will punch you right in the emotions, but by the end of the book, you will fall in love with the world and its characters. I definitely recommend it!

Kill Three Birds: A Kingdom of Aves Mystery by Nicole Givens Kurtz

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the other fiction book I tore through this week is another mystery. I love mysteries, and I particularly appreciate when a book, like this one, blends the genres of fantasy and whodunit. The world this takes place in is a universe where the characters are a blend of human and bird, and this colors their perspectives and worldview. Prentice Tasifa is a hawk-woman and an investigator, who gets assigned to look into the murder of a dove-woman. The case quickly grows to encompass more victims, and Tasifa is drawn into local and family politics as she untangles the thread of the plot. The writing drew me in and I enjoyed the story. I recommend it–and also recommend checking out more from the author!

Even If it Kills Me: Martial Arts, Rock and Roll, and Mortality by Donovan Blair and T.G. LaFredo

I was in the mood to read some martial arts/fighter memoirs, so I bought this book as well as Laila Ali’s book, Reach, on Kindle. I’m a fan of the genre, and enjoy reading books about men and women who train full contact martial arts. I was looking for something like Forrest Griffin’s Got Fight?, or A Fighter’s Heart by Sam Sheridan, and decided to give it a try. In this book, Donovan Blair, the bassist for the Toadies, talks about returning to Tae Kwon Do after having to quit as a kid, and his journey to getting his black belt. It wasn’t a long read, and some of the stuff he talked about, like getting older and pursuing goals, was interesting, but I think this book was written for a different audience than my demographic. It wasn’t bad, just not for me.

The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr

I have a weakness for books about writing, story construction, and narratives. This book explores how human psychology and neuroscience impact what we get out of stories, what we’re attracted to in the telling of stories, and what stories resonate with people and why. Some (okay most) of the material was familiar from my graduate degrees in communication and criminal justice, as well as from previous reading, but Will Storr puts this information together in ways that provoke thought–and a number of notes in my bullet journal for things to think about and notes for projects I am working on, always a plus! My spouse listened to this book on Audible, and then bought me a hard copy, which shows how much he loves me, knowing that I cannot pay attention to audiobooks or podcasts… Anyway, if you are a writer and have an interest in how stories and narratives interact with what we know about human psychology and storytelling, then I definitely recommend picking this up.

From The Science of Storytelling, by Will Storr.

Anyway, those are the books on this week’s shelf. If you’ve read any, let me know your thoughts!

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On the Shelf: Professional Development

As of today, the Brune-Coombs Traveling Circus and Menagerie is still on the road, having traveled from one end of the country to within four to five hours of the other end. It’s been a heck of a trip, starting with the left axle wheel of our JayCo travel trailer catching fire in California, our air conditioner springing a leak in Missouri, and our interior water system leaking all over our under-bed storage in Asheville, NC. Apparently all these things are common problems with the Jay Flight trailer that we have, and they are not all that amenable or helpful, as my spouse found when he finally called them for a heated conversation.

Still, it’s better than the last time we camped across country with two kids, two dogs, a cat and–at that time–a tent. We’ve seen some beautiful sites, and had some fun at things like the Nashville Shores water park, or getting to see good friends for some masked, socially-distant conversations in St. Louis. Pro-Tip–make friends with journalists. They’ll tell you which lake recreational areas to avoid, as they have visited there when they pull out bodies. Always good info to have.

There it is–the 2020 journey. (Except Arizona; that was from an earlier trip!)

My reading this past week has been a mix of fiction and nonfiction, all in the category of professional development. One of the things that I’ve internalized from the military is the idea of reading for professional education. In this case, one of the ways I get better at editing and publishing horror is reading horror fiction, as well as books about publishing. So, this week’s On the Shelf reflects that category.

Also, one quick note–I used to put like a whole citation for each book. At this point, in the interest of making things easier for myself, I’m just going to add a buy link to Amazon in case you want to check out one of my recommendations. If I can find a universal link to the book, I’ll put it there, but for the most part this is the quickest way to get you someplace you can purchase it.

Getting in some lakeside reading in Tennessee!

Dark Blood Comes From the Feet by Emma J. Gibson (2020)

I forget where I saw this collection originally; I follow a bunch of horror fans and reviewers, and I think one of them probably posted about it. The cover looked intriguing, and the price was right, so I picked it up. And I’m glad I did. The stories in here are scary, witty, terrifying, and, in some cases, loving. The characters come from a variety of places, and although in the hands of a less-talented writer might have been in danger of caricature, here they are treated with the depth and sympathy. I’ve been going back and forth as to what my favorites were, but I think that “Black Shuck Tavern” and “Surviving My Parents” would fit in that category. For fans of horror and dark fantasy, as well as those who like a nice variety in their protagonists, I definitely recommend this collection!

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (2017)

A friend of mine posted on Facebook that she was reading this book and really enjoying it, so I had to check it out. I started reading it yesterday, am about halfway through it, and plan to finish reading it after I publish this post. The premise is that the town of Black Spring is haunted by the mummified (?) form of Katherine, a witch executed in the 1600’s. And by haunted, I mean that she hangs out in the town, walking around, and causing the townfolk to find myriad ways to conceal her from any visitors. I particularly enjoy the way the author brings in the tension between the age-old curse, and the intrusion and integration of the modern world. The townspeople are cursed with the inability to leave; if they do, they find themselves in the grip of a compelling suicidal urge. So, on the one hand, they have developed an app where people can post sightings of the witch and where she is at any moment; on the other hand, the access to the Internet and social media tempts the younger kids with all that will never be theirs. The writing is well done, and the characters are drawn in depth. I’m looking forward to finishing the book, which is, as my friend described it, good, creepy fun.

Strangers to Superfans by David Gaughran (2018)

This book is subtitled “A Marketing Guide to the Reader’s Journey,” and it does give some good insight on how to determine one’s “Ideal Reader,” as well as how to write and market to that particular reader, and why one should do so. That was the central concept that I got from the book, and it’s a pretty important one. I’m not sure if this was the most useful book I’ve read on the topic, but it was interesting, and a good refresher, especially when read in conjunction with the next book…

Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque (2018)

I heard about this book from John Hartness of Falstaff Books, an author and publisher I greatly respect, and so I decided to pick up a copy. I can always tell how useful a professional development title has been by the amount of notes that it generates, and this volume has left me with several scrawled pages in my bullet journal. There are some incredibly useful tips and instructions in here–so many in fact that if I started to list them, this post would go on for way longer than I have patience to type. Suffice to say, if you are an author and want to know the best practices for setting up a mailing list, onboarding your fans, and then interacting with them in a way that is beneficial for you AND them, then pick this book up with no delay! The only thing that saddens me about this book is realizing that I’ve been approaching my OWN mailing list all wrong, and I have a lot of work to do on that front. Whoops. Anyway, if you’re an author, you need this book. Click the link and put it on your shelf.

Anyway, those are the titles I’ve been reading this week. I’ve got a bunch more on my shelf, enough hopefully to last until we find a place to live, and the movers deliver the rest of my TBR shelf. If you have a book to recommend, feel free to drop me a line at: unfamousscribbler ~at~ gmail.com.

Thunder and lightning storms–always more fun when you’re not staying in a tent!
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On the Shelf: On the Road

My childhood just called and asked for its all-metal playground back.

This past week, we hit the road, and by “we” I mean the Brune-Coombs Traveling Circus and Menagerie. Spouse, two kids, two dogs and a cat loaded up into Jeep Wrangler towing a JayCo fifth wheel and headed on down the road. RV camping cross country is the main reason we bought the camper in the first place, and this is our chance to see how much we are adapting to the life of a nomad. So far, I’m enjoying it.

We spent four days in Utah visiting my brother and sister-in-law and their two kids, and then drove a nice, leisurely pace into Wyoming. The RV means that only one of us really has to mask up and do some gas station snack purchasing or checking in at the campsite, minimizing our contact with others–and their contact with us. It’s also been quite lovely sleeping in our own bed night after night.

Coulda been wearing this all last winter if I’d sat down with it for ten minutes…

There have been a few changes as we go along, fine-tuning what we’re willing to live with, and changing what we need to stay sane in tight quarters. My spouse and I both have been implementing ideas of how to better utilize space. For me, I’ve had a chance to work my way through a bunch of knitting projects (including one that sat in time out for a year and only required about ten minutes to fix.) I’m getting to work on some business-related items (promo and editing for Crone Girls Press) and back to work on some writing projects that I need to finish.

And, of course, my reading! Since we got on the road, I’ve finished (and started and finished) a bunch of books, both on my Kindle and hard copy. For the first time in a number of weeks, I’m on track with my Goodreads challenge (to read 100 books this year), and I might actually pull ahead! So, since I’m on the road, this On the Shelf is going to share the last couple of books I’ve finished.

I’ve been sharing a bunch of thoughts and pictures from the road, so if you want, you can come hang out with me on Twitter or Insta, or just check back next Wednesday to see what else I’ve been reading…

The Chaos by Sergio Gomez (2016).

I’m trying to remember how this book ended up on my Kindle, a common problem, since I often pick up books for a couple of bucks and then they hang out waiting for my TBR list to shrink–ha! Anyway, I’m pretty sure that I got this when I bought a Bundle (Story? Book? I forget) of Latinx-authored horror. The book takes place after an apocalypse, when the world has been mostly taken over by these monsters the protagonists (Alejandro Ramos and his son, Charlie) refer to as “Los Noches,” nocturnal, carnivorous beasts with preternatural senses of smell. One great part about this book, other than the fact that the sense of perspective was so strongly created that I felt like I was right there in the story with the characters, was that even before the creatures took over, there was “The Chaos,” a period of dystopian churn that would have doomed the world even if the creatures hadn’t. Gomez writes of a time when the spark has lit the powder keg, and humanity did the creatures’ work for them. I mostly enjoyed the hell out of this story, but… and there was a but. There were several times when the author’s lack of familiarity with the US military pulled me out of the story. Things like a metaphor that references a platoon being larger than a small army, or US soldiers waving AK’s. Even weapons and explosives storage. Granted, this is something that probably a small slice of Gomez’s readership would get, but it pulled me out of the story a bunch of times. Still, this was a hell of a good horror story, and even though the end bore down with all the forward motion of a freight train, I still found a great read and something to think about. Definitely recommend.

The Bonding Spell (2015) and The Bonding Blade (2019) by M.L. Doyle.

I had mentioned that I was looking for comp titles for a project I’m querying, and a veteran friend recommended that I check out this series from M.L. Doyle. Although it wasn’t quite right to use for this query, I read straight through and was very sad when I couldn’t go buy the third book right away (please, oh, please let there be a book three…) The premise of the story is that Hester Trueblood was serving in Iraq, taking a group of congress critters to the Ziggurat of Ur, when she sees a shiny coin. Although servicemembers are warned to leave shiny things alone, she picks it up and bonds with the goddess, Inanna. Now, she is living and working with a team of devoted warriors, managing a bar and restaurant, and trying to come to terms with what to tell her family and how they will react. There’s a lot more going on, and if you’re a fan of solid urban fantasy with some romance (and who isn’t?), then you should definitely pick these up. Also, I’m just going to say, it’s so FUCKING REFRESHING to read a well-written woman veteran protagonist. Damn. Read these books. And if you’re nice, I’ll share some of the photos I took the couple of times I went to accompany a tour to the Ziggurat.

The Plague by Albert Camus, trans. by Stuart Gilbert (1948).

One of the Crone Girls Press authors, Edmund Schluessel, had posted earlier in the year, speaking about this book, and I decided to pick it up, given, well, you know… I had intended to get around to it when it arrived, but between freaking out and prepping to move, my powers of concentration were lacking. I started reading it last night, got a few pages in, and then woke up this morning and kept going. I need to get some work done, or I’d still be reading it. The story is of a small town on the coast that sees a surge of bubonic plague. The book focuses on a number of main characters, and gives a few secondary characters their moment in the sun, with the effect that the reader encounters a portrait of the town of Oran under plague, not merely one or two perspectives. Reading this now, I am constantly struck by a sense of deja vu, in quotes such as:

Thus, too, they came to know the incorrigible sorrow of all prisoners and exiles, which is to live in company with a memory that serves no purpose.

Camus turns our attention from those separated from loved ones, to those who see the plague as divine retribution, to the ordinary administrators of the town and its health who face a thousand banal yet life-changing decisions on a daily basis. For all that our modern life has changed the face of the towns we live in, this book shows us that the past is not far behind, and its memory should have served a purpose. It’s not an easy read, but I recommend it.

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Random Thoughts of Randomness

I’m currently in the middle of setting up a series of social media posts. Nothing super complicated, just a daily post on Facebook and Twitter with a hook on a particular story in the fall anthology, and some information on where readers can go find and follow that author. This is the first stage of promoting the anthology, to be followed by another announcement about an upcoming project, and then following straight into the pre-order sales push. Getting this set up right now will pay dividends, as I and the family are heading into a month of movement and upheaval and all kinds of craziness.

What’s kind of hurting my brain is trying to FIND those hooks. Trying to write interesting copy when everything that’s going on is… well, going on. When I put the submissions guidelines out, I asked that if people were going to send a query, for them to include a logline. Some people did, some didn’t, and some included loglines that I didn’t find very hook-y, but still opened and read and accepted the story because it was good. Which, my point is, other than always follow submission guidelines, I’m super happy that some of the authors sent me good loglines, because that makes this part of the job easier.

On the writing front, most of my creative energy this week has been focused on promo and marketing for the next anthology, Stories We Tell After Midnight 2. But I’ve got several folders of notes for my urban fantasy series finish/rewrite/relaunch (The Rick Keller Project), a bunch of notes for my revision of Steel-Toed Blues, and MORE notes for my romance series. After setting up the next CGP projects, I should be back to full-speed ahead on my word count.

Up for some horror poetry? This magnetic set from Raw Dog Screaming Press has been hanging out on the safe in my office. Writing is writing, hey?

I didn’t do an On The Shelf blog this week, although I’m hoping to do one next week. I’ve got a couple of excellent books I’ve been reading on Kindle, and I’m hoping to have some time to sit down and do a quick round-up type review of each next Wednesday. I hope I don’t disappoint any of my fifteen or sixteen regular readers…

In the meantime, I’ve started querying again! I dusted off a couple of old stories, tweaked, revised, polished, and shined, and sent them out. And then remembered how much I hate querying, but whatever. It’s got to be done. Two of the stories are reprints, (and part of the third one), and in searching for markets for horror reprints that actually pay, I’m starting to understand exactly why the Crone Girls Press submissions were flooded.

Anyway, those are the random things going on with me right now. If you’re interested in the play-by-play, come drop me a follow on Twitter, or check out what’s going on over at Facebook.

In the meantime, here is Schnapps. She wants you to stay well and be excellent to each other. Or maybe she wants breakfast. It could go either way…
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On the Shelf: Russian Speculative Fiction

There I was, sitting outside, watching my oldest daughter show me how she can ride a bike without training wheels, feeling quite accomplished. I’d sent off about two dozen packages in the mail of handmade cloth masks and hand-knitted dishcloths that sported this year’s slogan. I then hand-sanitized up and headed to Target for my first mom-shopping in a little over four months, in order to stock up on some things for our upcoming move. I have a few more contracts to take care, but I was feeling pretty smug that I was on top of my to-do list… and then realized that it was officially Wednesday evening, and I’d forgotten to post the OTS blog. Oy.

So, I wandered over to the shelves and decided that it might be time to share my love of Russian speculative fiction literature with the world. First, I love Russian literature. I am not as learned as others, but I did once almost miss my bus stop because I was deeply enthralled in the pages of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Then, one evening, when I was on my second deployment, I wandered over to the MWR building to see what was playing on the big screen. They had a movie I hadn’t heard about, Night Watch, directed by Timur Bekmambetov–a Russian urban fantasy with fantastic, artistic subtitles. I sat, enthralled, and went back and watched it a few more times when I had the evening free. That movie was my intro to the world of Russian speculative fiction, a world I’m just beginning to explore. My Russian language skills are super basic and pretty rusty, but my goal is to get good enough to read books by Russian authors in the original language.

Anyway, I have a small selection, as most of the RSF books on my shelf are in the To-Be-Read section, but here are some fun ones to get you started.

Day Watch
Lukyanenko, Sergei. Day Watch, Trans. Andrew Bromfield, Hyperion Books, NY, 2006.

Night Watch (the movie I saw) was the first in this series. As of now, the book series concludes with Book 6, Sixth Watch, which I didn’t realize existed until I went to look up the link for Day Watch, and now I have another book on my TBR shelf. The movie trilogy ends with Day Watch, although there are rumors out there that Timur Bekmambetov will finish out the trilogy. (Universe, you listening?) Anyway… the premise of the books is that there are supernatural creatures who are divided into the forces of good, or Light, and evil, or Darkness, and they have a treaty that is enforced by members of the Night Watch (Light, because they’re keeping their eyes on the Dark) and the Day Watch (Darkness). There are vampires, magic-workers, shapeshifters, and all manner of beings struggling back and forth in the setting of modern-day Moscow. It is a setting and plot familiar to fans of urban or contemporary fantasy, but with a unique Russian flavor. I definitely recommend starting with Night Watch, and then hitting up Day Watch, as noted above, but the entire series is worth a good read (and the movies are terrific, too!)

Hard to Be a God
Strugatsky, Arkady and Strugatsky, Boris. Hard to Be a God, trans. Olena Bormashenko, Chicago Review Press, original copyright 1964, reprint 2014.

As I was flipping through this book, I realized it might be about time for a re-read. This is a book that is eminently entertaining and readable, and that has a depth that rewards repeat perusal. The book follows Rumata/Anton, who is sent from an ostensibly Communist utopian future to a dark, medieval society, there to observe while playing the part of an arrogant nobleman. That’s the surface of it. In addition to the plot and swashbuckling, this story takes on added context, being written during a time when certain art and writing could have significant negative consequences for the writer/artist operating in Soviet Russia. And yet, even under those circumstances, related in this edition with an afterword penned by Boris Strugatsky, there appears this work, which has outlasted the regime under which it was written. I highly recommend this, both for the excellent story, and for an appreciation of its place in the historical SF canon.

The Winter Men/Зимние Мужчины
Lewis, Brett & Leon, John Paul. The Winter Men, Wildstorm Productions, 2009.

Yeah, I cheated on this one. But what are going to do, call the blog police? Anyway, this is a graphic novel set in Moscow and Brooklyn, and a bunch of other places, with themes of what makes a superman, and what governments will do to… well… make a superman. It’s a violent, gritty comic, and I really enjoyed it, although I almost didn’t pick it up (the guy trying to sell it to me at a ComicCon was a condescending a-hole, who tried to explain modern Russia to me and looked blank when I mentioned Masha Gessen, so whatever…) The pace moves super fast, and I sometimes felt as if the authors were writing this as a plan to be adapted into a television show or movie instead of taking their time, but on the other hand, it’s a graphic novel, and the visuals tell a lot of the story. If you like stories about crime, corruption, loyalty, and government experiments to create super soldiers, this one should be on your list.

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On the Shelf: Let’s Talk Anthologies!

One of my favorite things to read is a good anthology. An entire book full of short, self-contained works, anthologies fit really well in a busy reading schedule, and they are a terrific way, in my opinion, to find new writers to fall in love with. Also, as someone who counts a number of authors among my circle of friends, I find that many of them place their short fiction in these volumes, and so it’s a win-win to support their work.

My favorite genres of anthology tend to be genres and sub-genres that I normally wouldn’t read an entire book in. I love horror short stories–short form fiction is my absolutely most favorite way to consume the genre. But then, I also dig steampunk and mysteries and science fiction, and I’ll happily sit down and read a whole bunch of novels and anthologies that fall in those categories.

There’s just something that’s so elegant about a well-crafted short story. The ability to gather up a reader within a few paragraphs and carry them along to the end is a skill and talent that must be honed and refined. (I remark this as both a reader and as an editor who has read soooo… many… short story submissions.) And the end of a short story–to write one that is powerful, impactful, and that wraps up just enough to satisfy the reader and not too much to become pedantic, well, those are the sorts of stories that I return to again and again.

For this week, I have chosen a couple of anthologies almost at random. If I tried to fit my entire shelf into this post, it would be too long and I’d never finish writing it, let alone get around to publishing it. Instead, I picked up a couple of volumes that reached out to me when I was perusing the shelves. Perhaps one of them will speak to you!

Editor: Ed McBain. Transgressions, A Forge Book, NY, 2005.

I can’t quite remember when I picked up this collection of ten novellas for four bucks at the Barnes & Noble bargain bin. I thought I remembered reading this much earlier in the decade than 2005, perhaps because a number of the stories were set in a world immediately after the events of 9/11. This might be because, while all the novellas in the anthology are terrific, from a bunch of top-notch authors such as Joyce Carol Oates and Lawrence Block, the story that stayed with me all this time was “The Things They Left Behind,” by Stephen King. I’ve always enjoyed King’s short stories the most of all his work, and in this story, he is at the top of his writing game. I don’t want to say too much about it, but this story rips my heart out and kicks me in the soul every time I read it. I highly recommend the experience.

Shadow Show
Editors: Sam Weller and Mort Castle. Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury, William Morrow, NY, 2012.

Ray Bradbury is one of my most favorite authors of all time, and so I decided to give this anthology a shot, see what authors such as Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood and Joe Hill could come up with. Turns out, they came up with some pretty solid tales. I read this book cover to cover when I first purchased it, and now that I’m flipping through it to write this blog post, I kind of want to read them all over again. Not every story in here hits up that Bradbury blend of humanity and fear and sadness and hope, but a great many do, and they are all entertaining in their own way. I’m going to go put this one back on my to-read shelf, because I think I need some of this right now.

Editor: Charles L. Grant. Shadows Volume 1, Playboy Books, NY, 1978.

Given that this anthology was published the year I was born, I did not happen by it on a shelf in a bookstore as I did the previous two titles. Rather, I found this series of anthologies mentioned in the survey of horror literature Paperbacks from Hell, and decided to take a chance. This was the first volume of a series of horror anthologies with stories that epitomized what Grant referred to as “quiet horror.” The horror in the stories comes from human actions and emotions, and the terrible capacity we as a species have for committing evil on each other. When I was preparing to start up Crone Girls Press, I read through this volume–and plan to pick up and read the entire series–finding in its pages a model of the horror and dark fiction I would like to publish.

Black Magic Women
Editor: Sumiko Saulson. Black Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters, Mocha Memoirs Press, Winston-Salem, NC, 2018.

I buy a lot of anthologies at conventions. I’ll be frank–I buy a lot of books at conventions. And I usually go for the anthologies, because they always contain at least one or two gems that make discovering that new author worth the cost of the book. And THIS anthology was worth the cost of several new books, because the stories, mostly by authors whose work I hadn’t encountered before, kept me rapt from page one to the end. Some of my particular faves include “Dark Moon’s Curse” by Delizhia Jenkins, and “Labor Pains” by Kenya Moss-Dyme. The stories in this volume delve into themes of love, loss, terror, revenge, and the implicit context of experiencing these things as a person of color. As the blurb states: “Imagine horror where black characters aren’t all tropes and the first to die; imagine a world written by black sisters where black women and femmes are in the starring roles.” That world is deep and rich and intense, and it’s right here in this book. Do yourself a favor, and pick up a copy.

What We’ve Unlearned
Editor-in-Chief: Carol Gyzander. What We’ve Unlearned: English Class Goes Punk, Writerpunk Press, 2017.

Okay, full disclosure–this one is a little self-promoting, because I helped out as an assistant editor, and this volume contains my dieselpunk take on Beowulf. But bear with me… Writerpunk Press is a slightly anarchic collective that began as a Facebook group of writers who really enjoyed punk in all its literary incarnations: steampunk, dieselpunk, cyberpunk, atompunk, etc. (Ah, who am I kidding, slightly anarchic–ha!) Anyway, several years ago, we all got together and said: Hey, let’s do an anthology where we take classic works of literature, namely Shakespeare, and punk ’em out? Oh, and in the process, send money to the PAWS charity? Several volumes later, here we are, punking English class. This volume, dedicated to the memory of Robin Williams, contains stories like Michelle Cornwell-Jordan’s mythpunk take on “The Little Mermaid,” entitled “Muddy Water Promises,” or Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins’s “Consolidated Scrooge,” a steam-,tesla-, and cyberpunk riff on Dickens’s famous Christmas tale… Check out these stories, and then check out some of the other categories we’ve punked: Edgar Allan Poe, horror, more Shakespeare, and the upcoming myth volume. They are an entertaining read, if I may be forgiven for saying so myself.

Coppice & Brake
Editor: Rachel A. Brune. Coppice & Brake: A Dark Fiction Anthology, Crone Girls Press, Seaside, CA, 2020.

Yeah … I went full-out promotions in this one. On the other hand, I figured if you made it this far, you’re probable the sort who would indulge a moment of self-promotion or two. And honestly, the fact that I love this book so much is not because I really did anything other than find the authors–it’s that the caliber of authors who entrusted me with their works was kind of astounding. There are stories in here that will punch you in the soul and leave you processing all sorts of emotions you didn’t know you had. There were stories in here I had to re-read four or five times just to dull the senses so I could give them a good edit. As I mentioned above, I am an avid reader of anthologies, and I wanted to create a volume of the sort that I would pick off the shelf and read, cover to cover, and then think about for several weeks after. I won’t be so immodest as to claim that’s what this will be for you… but I am proud of what we put together, and so figured it wouldn’t hurt to share this in a post about the anthologies on my bookshelf. Enjoy!

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On the Shelf: Read About the American Constitution

As you can see from the title, I am running out of witty things to name these columns. In this case, if I think of something after this post goes live, I’ll come back and edit it, but in the meantime, here is the blunt, yet descriptive, indication of what this week’s list of books-I-pulled-from-my-bookshelf-concerning-a-specific-topic is all about.

A couple of years ago (oh, okay, more than a couple, but less than a decade), I was teaching a 101-level course to students in the criminal justice program at the local college branch on an Army base in Kuwait. The course dealt with the legal aspects of policing, and in one class, I mentioned to the students (all members of the US military), that my dad has July 4th tradition that I have adopted of reading in their entirety the texts of the American Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. One of the students looked at me and said: “For real? … You read the whole thing?” The question, “Why?” was very much implicit in their tone.

My reply touched mainly on the fact that, as uniformed servicemembers, we swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, and that, in my opinion, made it worth a re-read from time to time. I still hold this opinion. I mean, neither document is all that long, and some of it’s kind of boring, but the Constitution will never not be one of the most important documents to me. As US citizens, we are the government – and my ideal view of a country is one in which every citizen is enabled and enfranchised when it comes to participation, whatever participation looks like. (Maybe that’s an idea for a future On the Shelf – dust off all those political participation texts from my Masters degree in political communication…) Did I also mention that I think VOTING is super important? Yes. Yes, I do.

Anyway, if you’re reading this and thinking, huh, it has been quite a while since I read the US Constitution in its entirety, then don’t worry! Just go here and you can read the whole Constitution, including the Bill of Rights and all Amendments. When you’re done checking it out, come on back, because I have a list of three books that may be of help in understanding the Constitution, as well as the context against which it was developed and signed.

America’s Constitution: A Biography
Amar, Akhil Reed. America’s Constitution: A Biography, Random House, NY, 2006.

This book is the most powerful, thorough, and accessible exegesis of the Constitution that I have found. The subtitle describes it as a “biography,” and that is exactly what it is–a document that leads the reader through each portion of the document, from conception to inception to current interpretation. Along the way, Amar discusses the conversations and debates that occurred at and around the Continental Congresses and the newspapers and pamphlets, the final wording, and then how that section has come to be interpreted through case law up to the modern-day. There is a meticulously referenced copy of the Constitution in its entirety, with page numbers in the margins at each section for easy reference as one reads through. The endnotes and index are fantastic, and there is a short section of frequently cited works, although not as extensive a bibliography as one might expect. To be fair, however, this is a lengthy tome, and the notes include a number of references for future reading. If you are going to pick one book to do a deep dive into the document that is the foundation of the USA, this is the book you want to pick up.

The Bill of Rights
Amar, Akhil Reed. The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1998.

I have a terrible confession to make. This book is on my shelf. My to-be-read (TBR) shelf. As such, I’m not necessarily going to speak of the experience reading it, but rather, why it’s on there. As you can see from the description of the previous book, Akhil Reed Amar knows his constitutional scholarship. After finishing America’s Constitution: A Biography, I wanted to keep reading. Although Amar does include the entire Constitution in the latter volume, this book offers the opportunity to do a deep dive into the Amendments making up the Bill of Rights. As in the previous volume, he lays out the methodology he used to explore the topic, and examines the Bill from the context of its writing and its place in the Constitution and subsequent case law. I recently picked it up off my TBR shelf and started reading it (which spurred the selection for this week’s OTS), and it’s a fascinating book.

Infamous Scribblers
Burns, Eric. Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism, PublicAffairs, New York, 2006.

This may seem like an odd book to add to this list. And indeed, it maybe pop up later should I decide to do an On the Shelf of First Amendment reading, or early American history reading. (For this selection, I recommend Part III: The Tumult of Peace, Chapters Thirteen to Sixteen.) And yet, this book tells of an aspect of history that maintains its relevance until today–that of the relationship of the press to the government and to the people who make up the citizens of that government. There is a lot of telling and relevant history, all conveyed in fine, narrative nonfiction style, that does not refrain from spilling all the tea on the cast of founding characters. This section describes the public debate surrounding the Constitutional Conventions and how it played out in the essays and articles published by the men involved in its creation. That this book is first and foremost a history of journalism, and yet should provide so keen a perspective on the history of the founding of the Republic, should perhaps provide the modern reader some reflection on the importance of the press, and what our current times may look like to future historians as they peruse the articles and Op-Eds written today.

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On the Shelf: Write Your Story

Good morning, and welcome to Wednesday! Last week I talked about setting up this On the Shelf feature, and in keeping with my long history of trying to remember to blog regularly, completely forgot about it when next week rolled around. So, by the time I post this, it may actually be afternoon.

I was staring at my shelves this week, trying to find books that would seem relevant to current events. Should I share books by authors who are people of color? Should I share nonfiction works on civil disturbances and social justice? Should I go for escapist fare? If you’ve never seen an author and blogger overthink something, please, let’s video chat, because I’m really good at it.

In the end, I decided to pick out four books that might seem unrelated at first, but, and bear with me here, I think are good to visit today. Let me explain. I am a big advocate of making space for people to tell their story, and for encouraging them to do so. My goal is to find ways to publish, promote, and signal boost the greatest variety of experiences and lived narratives. I’ve been able to do some of this with Crone Girls Press, and I’ve been lucky to have the privilege of listening to and reading stories as people share them with me.

When I joined the military, I came from a pretty standard middle class background in upper northwest New Jersey. It was a great experience, but it wasn’t really one that exposed me to the great breadth and depth of the experiences of other Americans. Joining the Army gave me the opportunity to meet people, to move to other places and meet more people, and to listen when they talked about their lives and how they grew up. My eyes were very slowly opened to the realization that I had a lot to learn (and still do) about the experiences of people of color.

So, in the spirit of thanks to people who HAVE shared their stories with me, I wanted to highlight four books that center around ways to write down and amplify a story, in particular, a nonfiction story. I offer this with no expectation that the onus is on people of color to do the emotional and physical labor of pulling together and writing it down. I recognize that there are many books and resources out there that already exist for people like myself to do the work of self-education. I offer these merely in case you or someone you know has a story to tell and is looking for someplace to start.

And one quick offer that I was going to put at the end but wasn’t even sure you made it this far. I bill myself as an author and writing coach. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not as well-established as some others who have hung up their shingle. But, I’ve had good feedback and word-of-mouth support from those I have worked with. So I will make this offer. If you are a person of color looking to tell your story, I would like to offer you my help. If you would like to take advantage of that, I am open to doing a couple (1-2 one-hour segments) of coaching sessions to get you started, or to take a quick editorial look at your drafted proposal (first 1-3 chapters and outline.) I think my blog has about ten regular readers, so I don’t anticipate I’ll be overwhelmed–if for some reason I experience a flood of request, I’ll cap it off before I can’t meet my other obligations. Shoot me a line if you’re interested: unfamousscribbler at Gmail.

The Weekend Book Proposal
Van Cleave, Ryan G. The Weekend Book Proposal: How to Write a Winning Proposal in 48 Hours and Sell Your Book, Writer’s Digest Books, Cinncinnati, OH, 2014.

So, say you have an idea of a nonfiction book you want to write. Maybe it’s a memoir. Maybe it’s a book on how to community organize. Whatever it is, you have the idea and are looking for a way to pull it all together. You may want to shop the proposal to an agency or editor. Or, you may intend on indie publishing it. Whatever your intended direction or eventual goal, this book is an excellent primer. The author leads you through the nuts and bolts process of not just writing the actual proposal, but for packaging it–and yourself as the author. The angle here is that he wants to show you how to put it all together in a timely fashion, and so there are “Hit the Gas” features to motivate you to get cracking on a particular section, as well as insider tips, lists of resources for further information, and info on the overall publication process. As I mentioned, even if your goal is to indie publish, this book addresses all of the important areas you will need to consider as you outline, draft, revise, and finally, promote and publish your book.

How to Write a Book Proposal
Larsen, Michael. How to Write a Book Proposal: The Insider’s Step-By-Step Guide to Proposals That Get You Published, Writer’s Digest Books, Cinncinnati, OH, 2017.

One quick note–I’m writing this summary from the 2003 3rd edition of this book. I’ve included a URL to the most recent addition above; just be aware there may be new features in the latest edition. So, how is this book different from the first book listed? If you think of the first book as the racecar version of Ted Talk (how’s that for imagery?), this book is the staid syllabus of the class you’re taking to cover the nonfiction credit for you MFA. The information is organized a bit differently, but still covers all the basics – from the hook to the length and organization to the promotion and marketing, etc. This book, along with the first one, have had a place on my bookshelf for a long time (as have my dusty, long-neglected book proposal drafts … sigh …) and if you are going to pick up one or two books on how to get started on writing this sort of project, I highly recommend you start here.

Bang the Keys
Dearman, Jill. Bang the Keys: Four Steps to a Lifelong Writing Practice, Alpha Books, NY, 2009.

This is one of those books that I recommend for people who are looking to find a place to start writing … and that I return to when I haven’t been in the habit of writing for a while and need to motivate/spur/flog myself to get my butt back in my seat and words on the paper. There are four sections to this book: Begin, Arrange, Nurture, and Go, and they each address a different part of the process. Some areas are kind of pep-talk-y, other areas give you some tips to try things to break out of your own head or habits. There are a good number of writing exercises, as well an index and an appendix that consists of a chapter-by-chapter list of further resources for writers. This is a handy book to have in your writing toolkit, and can be read through, or dipped into from time to time to re-light the spark of your writing habit. (And I think that, from what I’ve been reading from my fellow authors, many of us are facing that challenge right now.)

Build Your Author Platform
Jelen, Carole, & McCallister, Michael. Build Your Author Platform: A Literary Agent’s Guide to Growing Your Audience in 14 Steps, BenBella Books, Dallas, TX, 2014.

Whether you intend to submit your proposal to an agent or editor, or publish yourself as an independent author, or even if you just want to put together a book to publish through one of the many digital platforms out there with the expectation that maybe some friends and family might pick up a copy, it’s still a good idea to begin developing your author platform. This book is solid gold when it comes to finding ideas to do that. It’s one of the books on my shelf that has dozens of different-colored sticky bookmarks poking out of it, denoting all of the ideas that popped up as I was reading. The authors address promotion and marketing tactics that are applicable for authors large and small, and even if you have a robust presence online, you will likely find something of use in this book. There is an index and a list of further resources organized by topic, as well as–and this is super useful especially if you’re starting from scratch–a tear out sheet with a step-by-step author platform publicity plan. If you’re looking to start writing and build a presence from which to launch your finished manuscript, or if you already have an online presence and are looking to shape it to support promoting your message and creative content, I highly recommend checking this book out for ideas and inspiration.

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On the Shelf: Women at War

It’s been radio silence since January, not necessarily because I haven’t been active online, but because I’ve been spending the majority of my time over at Crone Girls Press, doing editor- and publisher-type activities. And then, let’s face, the world tipped head over heels into crazy-town, and wham-bam-without-a-thank-you-ma’am, we ended up wherever this is.

Case in point–this year I applied to be and was accepted as a guest at ConCarolinas. Woohoo! Cue the big rejoicing! And then, everything got dumped in the turdbucket along with my powers of concentration and ability to follow a to-do list. So now, the next best thing. I’m still a guest and panelist at … ConCarolinas — the Virtual Con! (If you read that in Yogurt’s voice, we can be best friends.) My panel, which will be live and virtual, is called Herstorically Speaking: Meet the Women of War, and will be online Friday, May 29 from 7pm to 9pm EST. Yes, I realize this conflicts with the big Dropkick Murphys streaming concert. Believe me, that will be on in the background … Anyway, if you’re interested in more Con content, check out their virtual schedule for the next few days.

Anyway, one of the things I’ve been meaning to do is set up a regular blog feature about books. My reading tends to include huge chunks of fiction, and then clusters of nonfiction books around topics I find myself wanting to deep-dive into. Sometimes I’ll read two or three and move on, sometimes I’ll continue to return to the topic. My idea for this feature came about because first, I needed an idea for a recurring blog post topic, and second, I firmly believe that reading can make you a better writer. So, here is my new blog feature: On the Shelf.

On the Shelf will be an annotated bibliography introducing three to five books on a particular topic that I think might be helpful as well as some thoughts on why I’ve picked them, and what I think you might get out of them. In this case, I’ve chosen a few books from my shelf that relate to the topic of Women in War. Think of this as an annotated reading list that I’m putting together to inform my participation on the ConCarolinas panel on Friday. If you have any questions, or want to talk books, drop me a line!

Uppity Women of Medieval Times
Leon, Vicki. Uppity Women of Medieval Times, MJF Books, NY, 1997.

I picked up this book at Barnes & Noble way back when I was first getting into the SCA. It was one of the books you’d find in the bargain section (which is, indeed, where I found it.) Inside, you’ll find a quick, snappy introduction and then ten sections of short, snarky profiles of women who lived and made waves in the medieval period. Some of these women even picked up a sword or two (see Aethelfled, pp 30-31, Ng Mui and Yim Wing Chun p 31, or Caterina Sforza pp 38-39.) If you are looking for depth, this is not the right book for you, nor is it if you only want tales of women wielding swords (check out the poet Walladah al-Mustakfi pp 94-95.) However, this is a great reference book to start with, especially because the short profiles allow the author to pull from a variety of geographic areas and professions. And, bonus, there is a pretty solid bibliography and index to help guide your future studies.

They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War
Blanton, DeAnne & Cook, Lauren M. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War, Vintage Books, NY, 2002.

One of the few times I’ve read a book because the author contacted me through Goodreads, and this time the gamble paid off. This is a well-researched, in-depth work of history with an extensive bibliography, notes section, and index. In it, the authors use historical primary sources to tell the stories of women who dressed as men to go to war. They lead the reader through the reasons why women enlisted, how they pulled it off, and their actions once they found themselves living in uniform. Along the way, they address such issues as hygiene and bathroom issues, training, the attitudes towards the women who were discovered, and the fact that there even were so many women who dressed as men to fight that it necessitated a full-length history book to relate. This is a terrific book, well-written and informative, on its own. If you are writing a war and want women characters in there (or even if you don’t, by the way, because these women weren’t really supposed to be found in the ranks either), then this is a book you want to crack.

Women Heroes of World War II
Atwood, Kathryn J. Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue, Chicago Review Press, 2011.

I can’t remember exactly where I picked up this book, but when I sat down to write my werewolf urban fantasy, I cracked it open. Why? Because I was writing a character whose grandmother was a member of the OSS during World War II, and I wanted to get a feel for what it was like for the women who were fighting on behalf of the allies during that time. This book contains profiles of women who fought in one capacity or another, from resistance fighters to spy/singers (hello, Josephine Baker!) to agents who infiltrated the enemy lines. Not all of the stories have happy endings. The profiles are organized by country, and introduced with a short two to three page blurb about the efforts of women in that country. Each profile is bookended with a “Learn More” section that points the interested reader in the direction of more books and articles about that particular woman. The book contains an excellent bibliography and thorough notes section. This is one of those books that is super helpful on a writer’s bookshelf–a collection of profiles to read through and get inspired by, and the list of further reading just in case you want to take off down a rabbit hole.
(Note: After going to get the URL, I realized there is a newer edition with six more profiles; I have linked to that in the title above.)

Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War
Brown, Randy & Leonard Steve, eds. Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War, Middle West Press, LLC, Johnston, Iowa, 2019.

This is a bit of a different choice, as the essays in this nonfiction work are, for the most part, personal narrative, not all of them are written by soldiers, and not all of them are penned by women. However, everyone in this volume has experienced what it’s like to serve during wartime, whether as a soldier or journalist or teacher, and their words can open a window in that world. Many of the authors in this lightly-edited volume can be found participating in online conversations. Many have longer works available for the curious reader. I think this book is an important project, and if you are writing modern military or military-affiliated characters living and working and acting in modern military settings, you should grab a copy of this book, and let it set you up to look over the field before you find the right rabbit hole down which to dive.

Like what you see? Come on over and find me on Facebook and Twitter. I’m a touch more active over there … for the most part. Got some thoughts? Drop me a comment.

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On the Shelf: Reading for Fun

This past weekend, the walls finally started to close in just a little too tightly in the RV… So, instead of breaking out the stack of business books like I had planned, I dove into some fiction reading to give my brain a break.

And a break, indeed, I needed. I’ve been having trouble sleeping. I used to be able to take two melatonin chews and conk out for the night. But lately, nope, I’ll take them, conk out for two or three hours, and then be up for the rest of the night. I know this is a combo of stress (still haven’t closed on the house!), cabin fever (we’ve got one car), start of a virtual school year (online Kindergarten, what even is that?), and anthology prep and all that THAT entails. Whee.

We did get out and about on Saturday, loading up the kids and the masks and the hand sanitizer for a little ride in the Jeep. We hit Target, then sat in the car while my spouse ran into Lowe’s, and then over to Barnes & Noble for some book basking. While we were waiting in line, however, I got a phone call from the campsite asking what kind of dog we had. When I told him we had a Basset hound, the gentleman informed me that the RV door was open, and while one dog was inside barking, our Basset, Captain, had gone for a jaunt around the neighborhood. Luckily, they picked him up and were holding him at the office for us. They were even super nice about it. Still … it added a note of stress onto a day that was supposed to be a de-stress.

a basset hound taking a nap

Captain Morgan, hanging out in the RV, plotting his next escape…

Anyway, thank goodness for books. In between finishing up the formatting for Stories We Tell After Midnight 2 and working on Winter Run, I read a few books just for fun. And started two more for professional development (still reading those, though, so I’ll put ’em on next week’s On the Shelf.

Monster Mash (Spells, Salt, & Steel #6) by Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin

There’s not much I like better than a good ol’ science meets the supernatural set up wherein something is happening to creatures/cryptids, and our hero has to investigate and stop the dastardly (and probably IRB-violating) shenanigans. I picked this book up because someone on my FB list shared it when it was a $0.99 deal on Kindle, and then I read the whole thing and kept hitting next because I was like, come on! I want more book! I really enjoy the main character and the ensemble he’s gathered around him, although since it’s book six in the series, some of them were introduced with a bit of shorthand. I wanted to spend a little more time getting to know them… which means I’m going to have to go get books one through five, oh darn. Anyway, if you’re up for some creature feature urban fantasy (and I mean, who isn’t?), then definitely pick this one up for some fun reading.

The Wolf’s Shadow: Book One of the She-Wolf Saga by K.W. Kenny

This is another book that came across my FB feed as a $0.99 deal (I love those so much, especially to try out new authors and titles!) At first, I wasn’t sure if it was historical or historical fantasy, but a few chapters in, I would place it in the latter. A woman druid is captured during battle by members of a horse tribe. She is treated with honor as a seer, but it doesn’t stop her captors from moving against her people and their allies. I’m not super into the whole “falling into bed with one’s captor” trope, but in this setting it made sense–she was doing what she needed to survive, and that can lead to some tough decisions. By the end of the book, I was fully invested in Briga’s story, as well as the other main characters, to the point that when it ended on a big old cliffhanger, I was like–where are the other books in the series??? (Spoiler alert: There are none…yet!) Anyway, if you like stories like The Last Kingdom, or shows like Vikings, then you’ll probably really enjoy this and should pick up a copy.

The Edge by Tim Lebbon

When I picked this book up in the Barnes & Noble trip I talk about up top, I didn’t look closely enough and it turned out to be (yet again) a book in a series… I really have to pay more attention to that. This one turned out to be the sequel to a book called “The Folded Land” (as best as I can tell?) I had read Lebbon’s Coldbrook, which was a terrific running zombies tale, and when I found this in the horror section I thought I’d give it a chance. I don’t know if I would really classify it as horror–more like urban fantasy with a grittiness to it–but I enjoyed it nonetheless. In this world, fae creatures are hidden from humans, except for one town where, again, science has been colliding with the supernatural and created a plague that affects the fae. At the beginning of the book, this town is wiped from the map. The town’s resurfacing then becomes part of a larger story that deals with characters who are trying to keep information of the fae away from humans, and fae characters who are trying to start something called the Ascent, where they come out of the shadows and take over. There are dark shadows everywhere in this novel, and I can see why it got put in the horror section, but if you like urban fantasy, and stories where the fae aren’t so friendly, I’d recommend checking this one out. Although, maybe start with The Folded Land, which comes first.

Anyway, that’s the fiction I was reading to relax this week. What are you reading? Anything good? Any recommendations?

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