On the Shelf: Fae, Fae, and more Fae!

And a little blood and dust.

Over the weekend, I attended RavenCon 15, which was my first time at the event. I had purchased a table in the dealer room, and thought it would be a good place to sling horror anthologies. Arriving on Friday, I walked into the room and realized three things:

  1. I was set up across from Falstaff Books.
  2. I was going to be staring at John Hartness‘s mug all Con.
  3. There was absolutely no way in hell my wallet was going to make it all the way through the weekend without dropping a few–quite a few–bucks on books.

The book slinging went well, I got to hop on a panel about indie publishing (thanks, John!), and yes, I did indeed pick up some books. The first was Two-Gun Witch, by this fellow, Bishop O’Connell, whose book, The Forgotten, I had picked up and read before I eventually met him during the DragonCon writing mentorship sessions. The other was In Blood and Duty Bound, by Erin S. Bales, which features the cover that Lynne Hansen posted in her newsletter and that I coveted for my own until John purchased it first. Sigh.

Anyway, I spent most of my time at my booth either selling books or weaving bands to turn into Beltane bracelets or bookmarks and bracelets for the Farmers’ Market. However, when I wasn’t doing that (there were a few slow times in the dealer hall), I tore through O’Connell’s book like a bat out of hell … who was reading … instead of flying … okay, you get what I’m talking about. I finished that book up, and then started in on The Stolen, because I didn’t realize that book was a whole series. I ripped through that and then, on Tuesday had to send him a message asking where the next book is… ANYWAY, that is the blessing and curse of being a voracious reader.

One other quick note … I have posted in previous blogs about books I’ve picked up from Falstaff, and how much I’ve enjoyed them. Spending a Con across the aisle, gazing at their covers, talking with John and his authors, was such a great experience. I am very lucky that Falstaff and John decided to take on the Rick Keller Project, and I know that my books, and honestly, my development as an author, are in good hands.

books lying down

So, here are some thoughts on the books that I read this week:

An American Faerie Tale Series by Bishop O’Connell
This series includes: The Stolen, The Forgotten, Three Promises, and The Returned. Each of the books has its own arc, which is satisfactorily resolved at the end of each book, although each of the books links to the next. Three Promises is a collection of short stories that explores various aspects of the characters and gives a little bit of closure to one loose thread. The premise of the series is that some of the Fae, after years of abiding by “the Oaths” (basically, not to mess with humans), violate these oaths in a big way. In the first book, they steal a child, for example. Other Courts of the Fae, in particular the Rogue Court, join forces with the child’s mother, a wizard (who hasn’t really let anyone know he’s one, and doesn’t know much other than what he’s picked up from his grandfather’s library), and an Irish warrior/berserker to go get the child back. In the later books, we are introduced to further characters and organizations, such as “The Order,” who is … well, those would count as spoilers. Things I love about this series: the rich characters who have well-drawn emotional arcs, a writer not afraid to make hard choices (and make his characters face hard choices), and a gripping plot that deftly weaves the reader from one place to another. Things I don’t love — I want more books in the series!! Like now! Anyway, if you love urban fantasy and magic and Fae shenanigans, check it out.

Two-Gun Witch by Bishop O’Connell
Woof. That’s all I’ll say. This was one tightly-plotted, twisty, turny hell of a ride. Talen is an elf, a member of a race that has been shit on and oppressed since they lost the war to the humans. Along with the Native tribes of the West, they’ve been pushed into reservations. Any elf caught east of the Mississippi will, by treaty, be put to death. Talen works, essentially, as a bounty hunter, except she hunts those who are corrupted by dark magic. When she takes a bounty where the inconsistencies just keep adding up, she finds herself on the path to more than just another job. I’m not going to tell you more, I’m just going to tell you to go get this book and enjoy the heck out of it. I did.

In Blood and Duty Bound by Erin S. Bales
Full disclosure, I haven’t finished reading this book, BUT I will as soon as I finish this blog post. Let me say this–as a kid, I grew up reading long, involved, well-plotted, intense, complex fantasy books. Eddings. McCaffrey. Jordan. Feist. McKiernan. THIS BOOK–well, I honestly have felt like I’m a teenager again, lost in the pages of a fantasy world, turning page after page, caught up in the intrigue, the emotion, the characters, the pull of what’s coming next. This is an ensemble book, so I won’t get too deep into what each character is doing, but suffice it to say, there are many threads interwoven as the events of the book proceed. Like many fantasy authors, Bales moves us from one character to another, showing different places and people who are all working toward their own goals. (Unlike some OTHER fantasy authors–yeah, I’m looking at you, George–I haven’t found a single one to be uninteresting or boring enough to skip their section. Yes, as a reader, I confess, there are some books I couldn’t tell you what happened to a certain character, because I flip ahead. But in this book? No way!) Anyway, anyone who is a fantasy fan should pick this book up (careful, it’s satisfyingly solid in width) and read the heck out of it. Can’t wait for the next one!

All in all, it’s been a great reading week. I’ve just had a blast. Can’t wait to see what next week brings!

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Back On the Shelf!

You know that line in one of the Sex and the City movies, where Carrie declares that she’s been “Cheating on fashion with furniture?” Well, I also have a declaration. I’ve been cheating on reading with plants. *GASP*

Plants, you ask? You, Rachel? Who consistently kills everything green?

Ouch. But, yes. I am on a kick this year to finally realize my dream of having a garden–multiple gardens!–in which I will plant, raise, and harvest vegetables, herbs, flowers, fiber and dye plants, and potentially even a Venus fly trap or two. What kicked off this kick? Well, first, grocery prices. Second, again, this has been something I’ve always wanted to do, but had an inner block about. I’ve always wanted to have the knowledge, ability, and wisdom to use herbs for medicine and health, to grow and eat vegetables fresh from the garden (and save some of the harvest for the long winter months), as well as to grow beautiful flowers and have green spaces in which to sit and create.

This year, I’ve realized, I’m not getting any younger, and so I subscribed to a half a dozen gardening, herbalism, and green/plant witch podcasts, bought a bunch of books on herbalism, gardening, and the like, picked up a bunch of garden stuff like soil and fabric pots and seeds and plants, and got started on learning how to do this stuff. Part of this process was something that one of the podcasts (I forget which, I think it might have been The Backyard Gardens) pointed out–namely, not every plant is going to make it, even for the experienced gardeners, so you shouldn’t be afraid to try different things and find out what works for your available garden space, soil, time, and skill.

Another thing that I realized was that I had always thought about wanting to know more about my family tree and history. I grew up listening to all of these family stories, learning about my dad and mom and grandparents, as well as the family lore, folk remedies, and other bits of wisdom sprinkled throughout the conversations. (For example, I told my mom that I was planting elderberries, and that I read that the berries could upset your stomach. She told me she used to eat tons of them right off the tree–oh, and that one time, she got in a patch of poison ivy (my mom is SUPER allergic to poison ivy) and when she got back home, she mashed up the berries and put them on her skin where she was exposed, and the only bit of poison ivy that was reactive was a thin strip where she missed with the berries.

So, I decided that this year, I am going to begin collecting the family lore. I picked up 23andme kits for me and my spouse, I am going to grab a copy of Dragon (because there’s no way I will transcribe all of the interviews I plan on doing), and I am going to be putting together the Brune-Coombs Circus and Traveling Menagerie Family Archive, Library, and Curiousities. (I’m workshopping the name, let me know what you think.)

With that bit of an introduction, here are the books I finished up in the past week (or two…) Also, you may notice that not all of the links here will take you to Amazon. As much as I love the ease of ordering from the ‘Zon, I’m trying to be a little more intentional about my consuming, and so I’m trying to list either the link directly to the author’s site, or another such as Bookshop.org. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

an old basset hound standing in the sun next to a greenhouse with a citronella plant in the foreground slightly out of focus
I startled Captain, who has taken to napping in and around the new greenhouse. I think he likes the heat for his old bones.

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron
I’m currently in my first of three thesis classes for my MFA from SNHU, which are the last three classes I need for my degree. This semester, I’m buckling down to write 25,000 words, the first 11,3000 I turned in on Sunday. For our assigned reading, we got this book, which I had read a year or so ago, but which I decided to read all the way through again. I’m glad I did. This is one of those craft books that, as I go through it, sparks and spurs all kinds of ideas and helps my brain connect a bunch of creative ideas for books that I’m writing (or planning.) In this last read-through, I pulled out some great notes for my thesis project, as well as some ideas for my horror novel, that I think will really help to make that project better than what I’ve written previously. I mean, I hope to improve with everything I write, and this is one of those books that will help you do that. Next, I’m going to try to look up Cron’s Wired for Story, as that seems like it will also be a good craft book to check out.

Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure Folk Magic from Appalachia by Jake Richards
I’ve got a few books in the planning phases that deal with folk magic and getting back to herbal remedies, and that, plus an interest in history and witchcraft, led me to this book. It is fantastic! Jake Richards practices Appalachian folk magic, and he leads the reader through a seamless narrative of history of family and place, conjuring, folk magic and remedies, and even some “how-to’s” — his stated objective is to record these histories, remedies, and workings so that they will not be forgotten. (This is probably where the catalyst to buckle down and start working on my own family history came from, now that I think about it.) Whether you’re interested in the conjuring or just looking for an interesting read, I recommend this book.

The Green Witch’s Grimoire: Your Complete Guide to Creating Your Own Book of Natural Magic by Arin Murphy-Hiscock
Can I just say that I really love how these books are packaged and presented? I love the cloth-bound hardcover, the green theme, the layout and formatting … I won’t lie, that’s probably a large part of why I’m obsessed with Arin Murphy-Hiscock’s books. This one, I particularly enjoyed, because even though I’m more of what you might call an “EpiscoPagan” (sticking with my monotheistic roots but super into meditation, plants, celebrating the seasons of the year, candles and mason jars, etc.), I thought there were some interesting ideas of how to set up a journaling practice. Will I call it a grimoire? Maybe, I don’t know. But do I have a dream journal, a plant and meditation journal, and now, soon, a journal to collect recipes, family/folk remedies, family lore, and my own herbal recipes? Why, yes. This book helped me come up with some ideas of how to organize a journaling practice, and that has been helping me to start focusing on putting my thoughts in my creative work and less into my social media (and THAT has helped with my mental state, let me tell you.) If you are interested in this sort of thing, I recommend picking up a copy (it’s also on Kindle Unlimited, if you have a subscription, but again, the tactile aspect of reading this book was, for me, super enjoyable.)

Practical Herbal Medicine Handbook: Your Quick Reference Guide to Healing Herbs & Remedies by Althea Press
I found this, as the title promises, to be a good “quick reference.” There is a quick overview of herbal medicine, a quick overview of the different types of herbal remedies (liniments, infusions, etc.), a quick overview of many herbs and what they treat, and a quick overview of remedies and their suggested cures, broken down by category. If you are looking for something to try for, say, getting to sleep, then you can flip to, say, the lavender-chamomile sleep balm for a recipe that could help. One of the things I found in this book, though, was that many of those recipes called for using an essential oil instead of the actual plant, and I’m looking to use the plants I am growing, so I found that less useful. The other thing was, for example, the book talked about making lozenges, and some of the tips for making lozenges and TOOLS for making lozenges … but was there a lozenge recipe that one could try? No, there was not. Like I said, this is a handy reference guide, but for what I’m trying to look into, it’s not a one-stop shop for finding things to help sore throats or dry skin. It’s a great book to keep on the shelf next to, say, Homegrown Herbs by Tammi Hartung. I may also end up giving it away if someone comes over who is interested in getting started with herbalism and wants a quick guide to what it’s about before they dive in deeper.

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On the Shelf: Empty Shelves…

Did I read, well, anything? This week? At all?

The sad answer is, no, I did not.

At this point, my Goodreads reading challenge is starting to feel a little neglected, my Kindle looks like someone with undiagnosed ADHD has been dipping in and out trying to get back in the reading groove, and my nightstand is littered with the attempts I’ve made to start and finish something.

Ugh. I’m in a reading slump.

What to do when what you want to do isn’t working…

I really do want to read. I want to lose myself in a good book, lose track of time, and just let the characters take me away. There’s so much research I want to do right now–history, and green witchery, and the craft of horror writing–and the more I want to, the less I find myself cracking open the book and just going for it.

This question is not rhetorical. I’m asking in earnest. How do people get back on track? There’s a concept I’ve found in the books I’m reading called “shadow work,” where you dig into your conscious/subconscious to try to excavate the reasons behind the surface problems you’ve got going on. So, this morning, I decided to sit and meditate and think about what’s going on.

Trying to do all the things equals doing none of the things.

AGAIN! I come to this conclusion. But it’s an old conclusion, and this past month I have been consciously working to divest and delegate and accept that not all things will get done. So what else do I need to confront?

Realization 1: I’ve been wanting to read fiction, but every time I sit down to read during the day, I feel like I’m neglecting my work. I’m not doing the edits I need to for the next Midnight Bites, I’m not reading submissions, I’m not proofing the print master for SWTAM3, I’m not making the writer edits for Cold Run … in short, I’m not working.

Realization 2: I’m worried that if I sit down to read non-fiction, it will give me a writing idea. Wait. What? Why am I worried about this? Okay, so, diving deeper, I realized I’m worried that maybe I won’t have something near me to write down this idea. Um … I have a great multitude of pens, notebooks, index cards, Post-It Notes and other implements of writing at close hand. And if those fail, I have my phone notes. Perhaps I’m worried about losing those notes until the time that I need them? Yes, that’s part of it.

Realization 3: These two worries–that I’m neglecting my work and that I might not be able to write down an idea/might lose that idea and so I should wait until I have a specific time set aside for nonfiction reading–are masking the real worry. I don’t know if I’m a good writer or if I will succeed at writing or if my ideas are any good or if I have the craft to pull off the ideas that I’ve got written down on notepads or index cards or Post-It Notes or on my phone.

There’s my problem right there.

Now what?

First, I acknowledged that I am not going to be doing much reading during the day until I catch up on my edits, both for CGP and for Cold Run, as well as my submissions reading. Okay. I accept that, and if it means I won’t be reading during the day, then so be it. After I catch up, afternoon reading will start happening again.

Second, I accept that sometimes I might lose an idea. But, more likely, I won’t because I always have a notebook, index card, phone, receipt, junk mail envelope, whatever, close at hand. If reading sparks a creative insight, I will welcome that.

Third, yes, I’m behind. So I haven’t been able to work on writing like I think I should be able to. But I’ve still been writing–class assignments, blog posts, etc. And my subconscious is still churning away. Yesterday’s shower sparked an entire outline for a valkyrie story. Cool.

Fourth, yeah, I’m definitely afraid that I suck at writing, OR that I’ll suck at my future writing. I’ve had people who don’t know me, and don’t have any vested interested in pretending to like me or my writing, review my stuff positively, so objectively I know that there is something there. But that little voice at the back of my head who loves to wallow in some impostor syndrome will NOT SHUT UP.

Onward!

Today, I’m going to finish up this blog post, work on this pot of coffee I’ve started, maybe use a shiny rock as a fidget tool, and get this print master over to the formatter. After that, perhaps I will crack a book and read while I work on a knitting project for the weekend farmer’s market. And then — bake a cake for my youngest’s birthday and remind myself of why I enjoy working from home, and that things will, eventually get better.

As I hope they do for you!

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A New Venture

This weekend, I tried something new.

Not a novel experience, given that I’m always up for trying new stuff. However, this was more of a focused trial run aimed at potentially setting up a sub-business for Crone Girls. What I’m looking at is selling handmade craft items at the local Farmers’ Market.

So, how did I get to this weekend, where I spread my rather thin inventory across a table and tried to look like I had more stuff than I did?

Writing, Plus…

So, first, a few classes of my MFA ago, my assignment was to brainstorm what I could do to supplement my writing, both creatively and financially. Some of my classmates had some pretty neat ideas. For me, all I could really think of was offering coaching and editing services AND/OR crafting. I’ve been knitting for over twenty years at this point, spinning for about ten or twelve, weaving for a little while, and beading jewelry for a couple of years as well. In the start of the pandemic, I was exchanging masks for flour to make bread, sending masks to people who couldn’t sew or find any online, and I still make them for my family. So, I make a few things.

However, even though I turned this idea in for my assignment, I just didn’t want to sell crafts online. Shipping is a pain, marketing takes away from my marketing of my writing and just plain fun engagement I enjoy on social media. But, as I realized I had the ingredients to make some fun charms, spooky Halloween fabric to make masks, fun yarn to make soap bags, cowls, and other designs, and of course, my handspuns and jewelry, I started thinking how some of this aesthetic aligns with my writing and with my Crone Girls Press publications.

Enter the Market…

My spouse and I used to visit the Farmers’ Market at the Fayetteville History Museum every Saturday, where we were known as “Captain’s Parents.” (Yes, Captain is our basset hound.)

This picture is from two years ago, but honestly, I could have taken it today because this old boy is currently sleeping on the couch in exactly the same position.

We moved away, and then the plague happened, and now the market is starting to make a comeback. On a whim, I inquired through Facebook how one might go about vending there, thinking that it would probably require a fee and it probably wouldn’t work out. But when I called, they told me vending was free, as long as everything I sold was made by hand or grown on my property (for which I needed an agricultural license) or baked by hand (for which I needed a license to sell food). I assured them that everything was my personal handicraft, and they said, See you Saturday!

Setting Up Shop.

Yesterday, I packed up everything I could possibly sell (including some pieces that I wasn’t intending to sell…), headed over to the market, and set up shop. There were about ten stalls set up, with people selling everything from resin crafts to popcorn and hot chocolate, to local meats and eggs, to fresh vegetables, to charcuterie boards. I met some amazing people, and had a chance to walk around and talk to all the vendors, some of whom, like Ms. Cherry (who makes amazing baked goods!) remembered us from way back when. At the end of the day, I had sold one bracelet and almost every knit item I brought (I have one little soap bag left.) My niece worked the table with me, and as she scoped out the territory, she started planning the salt and sugar scrubs and lip balm she would make to complement the washcloths and soap bags I’m working on.

I’m currently figuring out how I can finish the final edits to send this anthology for formatting, more edits for the next Midnight Bites, catching up on reading submissions, catching up on schoolwork and, oh yeah, making stuff for next Saturday. Someone save me from myself.

But … I’m thinking that the next time I set up with Crone Girls Press at a Con, there will be some horror-themed fabric masks, some charms and pendants, and some skull-and-obsidian bracelets to complement the horror and dark fantasy stories you can find in our books. Stuff like this:

My first attempt at wire wrapping!

I don’t plan to sell my crafts online, but I did set up a Facebook page, Crone Mother Crafts, to share what I’m working on and where people will be able to find us (and Crone Girls Press!) These Saturdays also give me a chance to work on my sales techniques, get out of my introvert comfort zone, and spend some time outside, which I’m always down for.

So, if you happen to be in Fayetteville, NC, on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., come on down to the Farmers’ Market and say hi!

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On the Shelf: Green Witchery

It all started innocently enough. I needed an herb to be added to a brewing process so that my werewolves could get drunk. Seriously. I was thinking about them, and how it would be kind of sad to be a generations-old pack of beer brewers who couldn’t enjoy the effects of their own wares. So that started me down a rabbit hole of gardening and herbs and lore and eventually led to me joining three witchcraft groups on Facebook, plus reading down the rabbit hole of kitchen and green witchery (the latter which was something I didn’t even know existed two weeks ago.) Luckily, there were stops along this rabbit hole all over Kindle Unlimited, and so I happily settled in, reading along, and getting gardening tips, some meditation ideas, and yes, finding just the right herb for a werewolf’s home brew.

First up, The Green Witch, by Arin Murphy-Hiscock. I think this book appealed to me because a.) it connected with me on a visceral “I like shiny rocks and plants” level, and didn’t judge me at all, and b.) it was well-organized, clearly written, and encompassed a wide range of practitioners. Murphy-Hiscock was clear that each witch practices how/where they feel comfortable, and so I didn’t feel like the book was trying to convince me to move to a shack in the woods and live off the grid (I like my computer and Kindle reader). The book did give me some ideas for the indoor plants I’ve been purchasing, as well as the indoor seeds that I started about a week ago. One of the ideas is to keep a journal as a way of tracking what you did and how it worked out. Another idea is meditation and focusing on intentions (using the aforementioned shiny rocks.) Finally, the book dovetailed nicely with another interest I have, namely herbalism, and gave me some ideas about making some sugar scrubs, lotions, and soaps.

Arin Murphy-Hiscock wrote a number of books, including The Green Witch’s Grimoire and Protection Spells, both available in KU. These two are characterized by her wry sense of humor, clear organization, well-laid-out contents, and the feeling that the content is there for those who are seeking it, but it’s not going to try to convince you to approach it one way or the other. As I read, again, I find some ideas that even a rather mundane, non-witch such as myself could find useful. And, one of the characters in a project I’m working on is starting to become clearer and clearer in my mind as I read, so I think this particular reading week is trying to tell me something.

Unfortunately, I’m way behind in my Goodreads reading challenge, so this next week, I may indulge in some horror novellas or urban fantasy series novels. We’ll see. In the meantime, I enjoyed these books and will likely keep them on my Kindle shelf.

As for which herb Rick Keller is going to add to his next batch of kolsch, well … you’ll see!

Peace and happy reading.

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On the Shelf: Down a (Grim)Dark Alley

I won’t lie, it’s been a rough week (fortnight? Month? Year? Take a pick.) Right before Christmas, we had a plague scare with my youngest, Baby Bug. Luckily, she was negative, but she was still pretty sick, and of course there wasn’t any room at any urgent care anywhere. We came back, school started up, and she ended up catching it from her preschool. Luckily, Baby Bug is back to her normal, health, stinker self and is currently with her sister playing Encanto songs on repeat in the kitchen. But we’re not going to talk about … you know. YOU KNOW…

On the other hand, I’ve been able to get some reading done, and really enjoying the reading I’ve been doing. I’ve been diving down the dark fantasy rabbit hole, immersing myself in grim settings and antiheroes. If you’ve got a penchant for dirty deeds and dirty … well, people who live in a storage unit, you really should check out The Jubal County Saga by Bob McGough. It starts with Bringing Home the Rain, and the third book comes out today (and as soon as I finish posting this, I will be reading it from cover to cover on Kindle Unlimited.) The stories follow Howard Marsh, a “Methgician” — and no, I didn’t come up with that term and yes, it means exactly what you think it means. He’s a scruffy, down-on-his-luck addict who lives in a storage unit, next door to an attorney who also lives in the storage complex. The novels take place in a rural Mississippi county, where strange happenings occur and everyone knows to stay on Howard’s Granny’s good side or get hexed. His goals are pretty simple – make enough money to get high, find some female companionship, and stay off Granny’s radar. But underneath it, he can’t help the fact that he is a good man who has gone through some hard times. McGough is an excellent writer, and I am looking forward to diving into the further adventures of Mr. Howard Marsh.

Next on the shelf, I’m making my way through They Once Had Names (The Giftborn Chronicles, Book 2), by Drew Bailey. In the opening of the second book of The Giftborn Chronicles, a character uses the phrase “silver spoon cunt” as an expression of affection and then plunders the corpse of the first book’s antagonist for blood to save said Silver Spoon’s life. And that is why I haven’t been able to stop reading Drew Bailey’s second novel-length foray into grimdark. I picked up his first book, The Royal Nothings, based on the description “The Walking Dead meets Game of Thrones,” and to be honest, I am not the biggest fan of either of those, although I really enjoy zombie books and grimdark action adventure and actually enjoyed this series more than either of them. However, if you do happen to be a fan, and you wish there were more books like them, then you need to grab these right now. (Bonus — they are available on Kindle Unlimited!)

So, what’s to like, other than Drew Bailey’s really colorful way with words? I’ll start with the zombies. They are not your typical living dead, but they are both true to the traditions of the creature as well as a new way of portraying them. I’m not someone who normally gets scared at zombie creature features, but these scenes had me speed reading through them, unable to put them down. Next up — the characters. Not a single one without flaws, but also, most with some redeeming quality that gets their hooks into the reader and gets you caring about what actually happens to them. If you happen to enjoy complex, forthright, flawed women (which, surprise, I do), then you will find several in these pages. Wish you could read some grimdark that actually portrays queer characters outside of the “kill your gays” trope? Yep. Here you go. The plot was complicated but fast, and moves the reader along quickly, but still knows when to let them catch their breath. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I will say that if you are looking for a new series that scratches the grimdark itch, then you’ll do yourself a favor by giving Bailey’s series a chance!

Anyway, that’s what’s on the reading deck for this week. I’ve also got some nonfiction going, mostly research into herbalism and green magick for a story I’m writing, but I’ll post about those next week. What are y’all reading?

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On the Shelf: Back On the Shelf

It’s been a minute since I posted one of these, and as I get back into the swing of writing and working and sharing what I’ve been reading, I wanted to post my long-delayed 2021 reading retrospective.

First, I managed to meet my Goodreads 2021 Reading Challenge. I set a goal of reading 150 books, and scooted over the finish line with about 20 hours to spare. I thought I’d built up a bit of a cushion, but when I reviewed the list, it turned out that I had somehow recorded three or four books twice. The list of books from the last week of 2021 includes a bunch of novellas and a couple of books I wasn’t planning on finishing, but decided to gut out the last half or quarter to meet the goal. Overall, though, I really enjoyed most of the books I read, and all that reading spurred good, creative things to happen with my writing.

In 2022, I have set myself a goal to read 160 books. I was thinking about sticking with 150, but I like setting a little higher challenge for myself. If you’d like to hang out with me over on Goodreads, and want to recommend a good book, please do! My reading tastes are pretty eclectic, but I do tend to go all in for urban fantasy and horror. Last year, and this year, I’m looking to finish up all the books I own that I haven’t read, and read more fantasy, as well as indie horror.

And, of course, there’s a whole category of books that I own that I bought for research or work purposes that I need to crack open and get to work on. When I read Marie Kondo’s books, much of what she talked about resonated with me, as far as creating space and using what you have. I also had to collapse much of my personal belongings, including my craft stash and equipment, into a smaller space as we had some family move in with us into what used to be my office and craft space. This was a blessing, because it caused me to go through and evict a bunch of stuff that I wasn’t using and didn’t want, as well as put my books in bins under my bed, on shelves over my bed and on my nightstand. They are within reach, and I’ve been taking some to the used bookstore and getting my fill of horror and fantasy in return!

Anyway, this week I’m working my way through A Weaver’s Garden: Growing Plants for Natural Dyes and Fibers by Rita Buchanan. It’s an older book, which means that some of the language reflects the mid-20th century world in which it was written, but it’s full of incredibly useful information, and fun to read. As someone who is both a fiber enthusiast, a novice gardener, and researching for a future apocalypse novel, it’s a great addition to the reading list. (I also realized that my first few books of last year’s reading challenge were all about fiber and textiles — might have something to do with my recurring resolution to use up all my stash…)

Looking ahead, I’ve also invited some of my fellow readers to share what they are reading lately. I’ve got a couple of On the Shelf guest blogs lined up, and am looking forward to sharing them with you. In the meantime, if you have any recommendations of what I should read, feel free to drop them in the comments or share them with me on Goodreads. Happy reading!

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Ordering From the Social Media Menu

Remember Orkut?” This was a question posed by the title of an article I looked up for this week’s marketing class case study. To be honest, I couldn’t remember this particular social media platform. According to the article, that’s why it went away. (Well, that and the alleged spam accounts and possible criminal activity, according to the article.) Another possible explanation, one put forward by the text we’re using for the class, is that the online culture shifted, users began to want to incorporate video into their experience, and the functionality of the platform couldn’t do it smoothly enough. And, like many other here-and-gone social media platforms, that spelled the end of Orkut.

graphic depicting circles of connection and text reading "connect"

Whose platform is it, anyway?

As a semi-early adopter of Facebook (it was after the “college-invite-only” but before my mother finally made an account), the question always arises of what a platform must offer its users, and who owns the experience. One particular meme I recall was posted by a friend; the gist of the meme was that if you weren’t paying for the experience you were the product, not the consumer. As someone who has dipped their toe into the world of Facebook ads, I think of that meme often. From time to time, Facebook (and the other behemoths of Twitter, Insta, Snapchat, and TikTok) have challenged and broken into the public consciousness, and themselves seen challengers arise. Google+, Clubhouse, MeWe, Discord, NextDoor … and then there are the platforms–like Orkut, or Vkonakte– that see most of their success outside the US.

One of the interesting things about Orkut was that it wasn’t able to scale up to incorporate new features, such as the videos. On Facebook, I’ve often noticed people write about some new feature, or some new Newsfeed design (and as someone running pages and groups, I’ve DEFINITELY noticed some changes in the functions I use to promote my businesses and hobbies.) I’ve also more than once seen people post to Twitter expressing frustration at not being able to edit Tweets, or note that with screenshotting, even if something fades away or gets deleted, it’s never really gone. Who gets to make those decisions for the platform? Probably not the user, but still, once the new features are implemented, we start to use them and figure them out. On the other hand, I hate to say it, but if Facebook still looked the same way it did in 2007 when I started using it, I probably wouldn’t be. For the articles and text case study noticing that Orkut’s failure to introduce substantive innovations and changes led in part to its demise, I would say that’s probably accurate. It’s also one of the reasons why I, as a person who lives and markets on social media, may have dipped my toe in the waters of other platforms, but always seem to come back to the ones that, as frustrating as they may be in their refusal to allow users to participate in the development of their own experience, will still be there in a few more years.

People who need people…

When reading the case study of the rise and fall of Orkut, the emotional resonance was what stood out for me and, I think, what stands out when I think about the platforms I use. It starts at the beginning, when Orkut was building his self-named platform on his lonesome at Google. Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? And then, the fact that the site was so well-received in certain places, showing that it was connecting people who craved that connection in a certain way. Even to this day, people are posting retrospectives about the service (although a follow-up platform, Hello, launched in India, doesn’t seem to have quite the same emotional traction.

For me, as someone who relies extensively on social media marketing, I utilize the platforms that have some emotional resonance for me, as well as for the people who read the books I am writing and publishing. Facebook is my old school stomping grounds, a place where I network and watercooler with other writers, catch up with friends from college, the Army, high school, places we’ve lived, or chat with my family on Messenger. Twitter is where I can slip into the stream of news and thoughts from strangers and friends around the world who share passions and geek out about the same things. Instagram is where I go for wholesome photo content. And although I don’t post to TikTok, I enjoy the short videos and catchy tunes that people post.

To infinity and beyond!

As I evaluate my online presence, both personal and professional in light of the case studies in this text, I have definitely been re-looking at where I spend my time and attention online, and how much and what kind of that time and attention I have to spare. For me, I need to use the platforms that have an emotional resonance for me as the user, for the target audiences (individual, group and niche) that I’m trying to reach, and that also allow me to comfortably interact when someone engages. I also can’t spend all my time online, although I should say, more accurately, that while I CAN, I SHOULD not… This particular case study gives me some food for thought, especially as there are a few new social media platforms popping up for authors, and I’ve been thinking about whether or not to join. I’ll check them out and let you know!

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On the Shelf: Dusting Off the Shelf

This feature has been sitting sadly dormant, waiting for me to remember that blogging consistently is something that a) I enjoy doing and b) probably SHOULD be doing and c) is great for the ol’ NaNoRebel word count. On the other hand, you know what hasn’t been sitting dormant? My reading project!

That’s right. Although I’m currently four books behind in my Goodreads reading challenge, I have been reading steadily at a pace that I have not maintained in years. Maybe it was the challenge? Maybe it is the fact that whenever I dive deep into the reading pool, I notice that my writing-idea brain starts churning, and the creative juices start pumping, and I actually get more writing done. Or…

It could possibly be that I finally got around to purging my bookshelves, took a giant stack of used books down to a used bookstore I had never visited, got $60 worth of store credit, and then spent at least an hour ambling around their shelves and shelves of classic (80s and 90s) fantasy and science fiction. I can’t even describe how awesome it was to be like, oh hey–Stainless Steel Rat! How you been, Harry Harrison? How’s Slippery Jim? (The answer: Just as awesome as I remember when I was reading the series in college in the 90s). Aw, Barbara Hambly… I missed you and your Silicon Mage. Hey, Poul Anderson and Mercedes Lackey and and Patricia McKillip and Tanya Huff and Anne McCaffrey and books with spaceships on the covers and books with dragons and fancy fantasy font on the covers and books that are the third in a series so I get mad, but still enjoy them anyway, and books that are gigantic because they’re all three books in a series…

Excuse me, I’m feeling a little misty here, need to go and put on some flannel and some Converse and smoke a clove cigarette in Washington Square Park and then go to an SCA fighter practice in Union Square Park, I’m feeling so nostalgic…

So many books, so little time. My current nighttime view.

This past week, I dove into the stack, reading The Silicon Mage and Stranger at the Wedding, both by Barbara Hambly. Both of these books scratched that high/alternate universe fantasy itch, with casts of characters, female POV characters with agency, wonderful ways to look at magical systems, and just all around made me feel like I was reading this sort of fantasy for the first time again. Yeah. Nostalgia. Then, I read The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You by Harry Harrison. This series is/was a favorite of mine and my brother’s. In fact, when I posted about it in the family chat, everyone got all nostalgic right along with me. I love the fast-paced, comedy-noir-in-space vibe, and now I want to go back and see if they have any more on the shelf because I want the rest of the series…

Outside of the bookstore, I picked up Hunter Houston and the Molten Menace by Bobby Nash on Kindle Unlimited, which is a tie-in to the Bubba the Monster Hunter series by John Hartness. It’s a fun actioner with lots of twists and tunnels (literally). Nostalgia aside, one of the things I enjoy about the current indie publishing scene is that if you like a series, the author is probably writing in it quite frequently, and doing things like inviting other authors to write in their universe. Which is great for readers who enjoy that universe.

Anyway, that’s my reading wrap-up for this week. At the moment, I just started reading Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. I’m making good progress on Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow, and I’m getting through my Social Media Marketing text chapter by chapter. I also need to get cracking on some of the reading I’m doing for background for the Rick Keller Project, but hey, look at that fat stack of books up there. I won’t be hurting for something to read. I’ll tell you all about it next Wednesday!

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Remember that breast cancer awareness meme? Forget it.

October is over (sob), and of course I was focused on spooky things all month long. However, on this first day of November, I was reading a case study in my marketing class about the breast cancer awareness meme that infiltrated Facebook, and it reminded me that October was also breast cancer awareness month. One of the things about taking this class in my forties is that I actually remember–and have sometimes participated in–the social media trends and memes that our text explores.

But not this one.

In case you weren’t around then, what happened was that people started writing statuses that had a bit of a sexual innuendo to them. Things like “I like it in the closet” or “I like it on the kitchen counter.” The first one I saw, I kind of thought that maybe my friend was having a laugh, but didn’t think too much of it. A few days later, more and more of these started popping up, with friends posting about all the places they “like it.” And by friends, I don’t mean my whacky, kinky, arty friends. Do you know how uncomfortable it is to see your aunt, or your mom’s friend, or someone who you don’t want to think of in a certain way post this sort of status?

I almost wish I hadn’t remembered this meme so clearly.

So, what was the deal?

If you, like me, are the sort of person who spends more time on social media than you should, then you can probably guess what happened next. A friend messaged me the secret code. It was a copy and paste paragraph that basically said we were all going to raise awareness for breast cancer by posting the location of our purse in the phrase “I like it on…”

Now, I’m as down for Internet shenanigans as the next Gen-X-er who is only slightly aware of what the most current shenanigans are, and can be relied on to use the hip new lingo about two weeks after it’s gone out of style. But, I’m also a communication scholar, and I had a very hard time looking at that paragraph and trying to connect it to any sort of potential tangible results.

For one thing, there was no call to action in this activist meme. In fact, it didn’t even reach for the basic objective of raising awareness, an objective that has been called “lazy” by those who would decry “slacktivism.” In fact, I stared at the secret paragraph and asked how, exactly, a secret code on Facebook would actually connect to people who weren’t aware of breast cancer and make them aware of it if what it looked like was that we were all talking about…well, not about breast cancer.

Get People Talking

I don’t think that this method of engaging with cancer activism is all wrong. Much of social media marketing, whether of your latest book release, a new pair of sneakers, or a cause near and dear to your heart, relies on starting and maintaining a conversation among people who are already familiar with the product or concept, as well as people who may be interested in it once they learn of it.

During the ALS ice bucket challenge, my sister Thea posted a video of her tossing ice cold water over her head. In the caption, she mentioned that she also donated money to the ALS foundation, and offered a link for others to do the same. I have several friends who post occasionally, often around the time of their yearly mammogram, about the need to go get one, as well as the need to do monthly checks. This word-of-mouth can help remind people to go do their self-checks as much as it can help influence them when they’re trying to decide what movie to go see on Friday night.

And Then Shorten the Distance

When the conversation is going strong, that is when people’s interest in doing stuff is at its peak. From experience, I can tell you that trying to get people to do something once the shine of novelty has worn off can be an exercise in frustration. For this reason, I never post book promo without an easily accessible buy link. I always recommend that anyone posting about an upcoming event includes location, date, time and POC in EVERY SINGLE POST. And finally, make it easy for people to do something about the topic they are talking about. Shorten the distance from Point A (Awareness) to Point B (Action).

When it comes to cancer awareness, I have a personal investment. I have lost family members to cancer, and others in my friend and family circle have fought it. Some are now cancer survivors. For me, participating in a vaguely sexualized meme that didn’t connect to action, let alone actually promote awareness, was not an attractive prospect.

Instead, I joined (a few years later when I found out about it) the FxCK Cancer Endurance Club. This organization uses a good deal of social media promotion and marketing, relying on its members to share photos and videos, as well as the link to their fundraising site. I like to share videos of me talking about training and racing, including post-race rundowns and thank yous to sponsors. I haven’t been training much since the plague took me out, but as I get back into it, so will my social media feeds start looking a little more purple and gold.

Here I am after a sprint triathlon earlier in 2021. This is the post-race face of someone who came in dead last, but never quit.

Anyway, this walk down memory lane has given me some good food for thought on how to start these sorts of conversations, but also how to sustain them and translate them into invitations to act–whether to donate to the Fuck Cancer organization, to follow the FC Endurance Club on Insta, to check out the latest Crone Girls Press anthology, or to go get that mammogram scheduled. And it also reminds me that I need to go for a run tomorrow. I’m interested to hear people’s thoughts on the topic, especially if they remember the breast cancer meme or the ALS ice bucket challenge. Did you participate? How did you participate? What made you decide to chime in one way or the other? Let me know!

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