Authors Are Small Businesses, Too

Hello! Here in the U.S. (and perhaps other places too?) today is Small Business Saturday, one of a series of themed commerce days that launch us from Thanksgiving into the full brunt of the Christmas Shopping Season. It is what it is.

That said, did you know that authors are, in and of themselves, small businesses? Small business owners, I suppose would be more grammatically accurate (if not practically so), but the point is that we are entrepreneurs as well as artists. That is a big part of the job of being an author. Not everyone likes it. It’s not the art form we signed up for. But again, it is what it is.

If you are looking for a delightful stocking stuffer (“Take two, they’re small!”) or gift for someone who enjoys reading, you might consider one of my books. As of now, we have no supply chain problems. (Yay!) You can order directly from me (send an email to forest.of.diamonds@gmail.com) and I can ship it to you usually within 1-2 days, or you can order from any bookseller (online or brick-and-mortar).

At the moment, I have four titles available:

Finis. (fiction, Book 1 of the Animal Affinities Series) — Click here to read the first two chapters.

Homecoming (fiction, Book 2 of the Animal Affinities Series) — Click here to read the first two chapters.

The Sharp Edges of Water (poetry) — Click here to read a poem from the collection.

The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest Motherhood (international anthology of writing and artwork for which I am one of the lead contributors)

I’m happy to sign books and get them to you ASAP. (You will pay shipping.) If you order them before December 15th, there’s a much better chance you’ll have them in time for Christmas, if that’s your thing.

Leave a comment here on this blog post or email me at forest.of.diamonds@gmail.com to order them from me directly, but again, you can get all three of my own titles just about anywhere. (If a bookstore is out of stock, have them order it from Ingram.) The Milk of Female Kindness is available through me directly or through Amazon.

Thank you for supporting your local indies!

Fond Regards, Marcus Sedgwick

I was astounded and saddened yesterday to learn of the death of Marcus Sedgwick.

For those of you who didn’t know of him, he was a celebrated author with a list of accolades as long as a swan’s stretched neck. I did not know him well — and in fact spent only one afternoon with him several years ago — but he made a distinct impression on me, enough that learning of his unexpected passing gobsmacked my day.

Many of you are aware I teach Creative Writing at a prestigious high school. One benefit of my program is that we bring in a lot of excellent authors to work with our students, and I met Marcus when he was touring in the US to promote his novel Saint Death and visited my school. We had a lunch and book signing, and then he came in to work specifically with just my high school students. The lunch and signing were pleasant and lovely, and he was pleasant and lovely, but the real impression he made on me happened afterward, in the brief open time between the lunch and my class arriving.

Our librarian and the local bookseller who was sponsoring his visit and one of the parent volunteers escorted him to my classroom, where I was alone and preparing for the next session. He was a youngish man, I thought — in fact only a few years older than I am — but he was walking slowly, with a cane. Our librarian had alluded to some “health concerns,” but I didn’t know what they were. But Marcus was cheerful with a charming British cadence in his voice, gentle and kind in the way that everyone who has mentioned him over the last two days has said. As he sat in a desk at the front of the room, the ladies escorting him said, “It was nice to meet you today. Angélique, he’s all yours!” Then they disappeared from my doorway, and I realized we had almost twenty minutes to fill before my students came in. The small talk lasted about two minutes.

Then I asked if he would like a cup of tea. His face brightened. “You have tea? I would love one, thank you.” I brought over the box of teas I keep in my classroom (several varieties, all high quality brands, because I love tea and don’t see how anyone makes it through a work day without it) so he could select the kind he wanted. (He chose a mint/tarragon blend with no cream or sugar.) Then I left briefly to make the tea while he pulled his presentation up on his computer.

Even after making sure all the technology worked and everything was in order, we still had some time left before my students arrived. That’s when he turned to me and said, “I understand you’re an author, too. What do you write?”

Reader, I was stunned.

It would be a logical assumption to believe that at a school like mine, the person teaching Creative Writing would be an author. In fact, quite a few of our English teachers are also authors. In fact, quite a few of our faculty in other departments are also authors. And by most metrics outside of the school where I teach, I am considered a successful author.

But among all of the dozens upon dozens of authors I’ve had visit my students over the years, he is almost the only one ever to ask me if and what I write. I felt seen in a way I didn’t realize I hadn’t been before. There are countless ways in which I am sometimes invisible to the people around me, but on that day, I was not, and the comfort of that feeling, like a sliver of light, has never left me.

So seeing the news yesterday was kind of tough. I wish the warmest feelings of comfort to his family and friends, whose loss is no doubt immense. May their memories of Marcus bring them peace.

 

 

I Had A Review Published In Literary Mama!

So today the new issue of Literary Mama came out, and it includes a review I wrote for Kristen Bird’s debut novel, The Night She Went Missing.

Literary Mama is one of the oldest literary journals featuring the work of writer-mothers in existence. Every issue features poetry, reviews, profiles, fiction, and non-fiction. 

In case you’d like to check it out — and I so hope that you will — here is the link to my review of Bird’s excellent novel. Please feel free to share it widely.

And while you’re over at Literary Mama’s site, be sure to read the whole issue. It’s filled with excellent work, as always!

 

A FIRE TO LIGHT OUR TONGUES

Hello! I have some very exciting news! Two of my poems, “Magdalen” and “Epiphany,” have just been published in A Fire to Light Our Tongues: Texas Writers on Spirituality. This anthology had a long road to publication.

It began before covid times and one of the women fiercely behind the project actually passed away before she could see the book in print. But it is out now, and filled with poetry on the ever-shifting nature of spirituality and how we interact with it, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Other poets featured in this book include Naomi Shihab Nye, Rich Levy, Robin Davidson, Robert Okaji, and Kevin Prufer, just to name a few. The anthology contains two parts, “Pandemic Time” and “Contraries,” and within “Contraries” are the following themed sections:
Belief and Doubt
Good and Evil
Love and Hope
Known and Unknown
Truth and Beauty
Joy and Gratitude

This is a beautiful book, and I hope you’ll give it a look. You can even get it, at least for a time, at a 20% discount with the code “TCU20” at this link to TAMU Press. (Don’t use the quotation marks when you put the code in.)

I’m seriously excited about this. We’ve waited a few years for this book to finally come out, and it has definitely been worth the wait!

Charlie’s Angels Raffle and Livestream

Hey there! I want to show you something excellent:

These are the tickets so far for the raffle I’m doing this week in support of Charlie’s Angels, my family’s campaign to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Get your donations in before tomorrow (Wednesday) night so be included in the raffle. Each $25 donated gets a ticket — which means if you donate $100 you get four tickets, and if you donate $250 you get ten, and so on. I’ll be doing a livestream Thursday evening to pick the winner of this raffle, who will receive a signed and personalized copy of Jayne Pillemer’s gorgeous children’s book Still Mine.

Click here to read more about the giveaway and to read more about this incredible book, including photos of the cover and interior.

And click here to be taken to my LLS campaign page where you can donate directly.

And thank you so much to everyone who has already donated — and to everyone who will! So much love.

National Poetry Month: Book Spine Poetry

Readers to this blog will remember that I often like to feature Book Spine Poetry here as a fun activity, and now I’m challenging all of you to do it too! 

The idea is to stack books on top of each other so that their titles form the lines of a found poem. For example, here is one I cooked up to put on my Hallowe’en-decorated mantel last year.

The tale of Murasaki:
Cleopatra’s daughter,
witches of east end,
the lust lizard of Melancholy Cove,
tea,
Arabian nights.
Spoiler alert:
any rogue will do.

And now it’s your turn! Spend a little time with your library (or at one) and send me an image of your best book spine poem for a chance to be featured here on the blog later this month. You can email it to forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com, and be sure to put “BOOK SPINE POEM” in the subject line so it’s easier for me to find in my overflowing inbox. (I’m also happy to take any helpful suggestions on how to peaceably achieve Inbox Zero — without metaphorically burning it to the ground, that is.)

Thanks!

Kristen Bird on Writing

One of my friends and colleagues, Kristen Bird, has just launched her debut novel, The Night She Went Missing, and dear reader, it is wonderful. If you like suspenseful mysteries with strong female characters and a compelling plot set in the otherworldly bubble of elite private schools, then this one is for you.

You’ll hear more from me later about this book, but for today, I’m turning the metaphorical microphone over to Kristen so she can drop some immense wisdom about the writing process. Enjoy.

***

Keep Writing
by Kristen Bird

I wrote my first full-length novel as a creative writing thesis for the final project for my master’s in literature, and I queried it in the days when some literary agents still only wanted mailed submissions. That was almost fifteen years ago. After numerous rejections, I didn’t write much. Instead, I did the kinds of things many adults do: I got a real job (teaching high-school English), I paid bills, I went grocery shopping, I endured infertility treatments, and I had three babies in three years—the last two, twins.

But after all that adulting, I found myself returning to write as a therapeutic outlet. Having an hour to myself to drink coffee and enter another world—one that didn’t ask anything of me—became my escape. From the times my twins were two until they were five, I worked on a historical novel, one that involved tedious—and thrilling, to me—research about the early 1900s in New York City. I would later fall in love with the novel The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wecker because the setting felt so familiar.

Though it took me years to complete this novel, I wasn’t in a hurry. My kids let me sleep (sometimes), and about once every other week, I would scribble away for an hour or two. I knew I was writing that book for me, though I secretly hoped someone would someday read it. That didn’t keep me from becoming fully invested in the querying process when I finally decided I’d revised the book as much as I knew how. When I started querying this second full-length manuscript, I finally began to understand the slow pace of the publishing industry. I would do equations like this: if I send this query to an agent and that agent takes 6-8 weeks to respond before I send it to another agent who takes 3-6 months to respond, how long before I give up in despair?

With that second full-length manuscript, I had a few bites, a few partial requests, a couple full requests. Some agents told me the writing was good. I didn’t believe them because they also rejected me. Some told me that the whole process of querying is subjective. I didn’t believe that either. One night after receiving a rejection from an agent I idolized, I ended up in my bed sobbing, proclaiming that I was giving up. No more writing. No more querying. I couldn’t face rejection anymore.

That lasted a week because, as writers know, we must write.

For my third full-length manuscript, I decided I would be the person who would keep writing and keep querying until something happened. I hadn’t yet listened to writing podcasts in which published authors often talk about not getting published until their second, third, or ninth novel. I didn’t know that could be normal.

If I was going to keep writing and querying, I knew I would have to write a lot faster than one novel every four or five years. I switched to a contemporary setting and voice, the benefit being that I had a lot less to research, and I decided I would write quickly and revise quickly. My daughters were turning six and nine, which was a game-changer in so many ways. I was finally getting consistent sleep, I was eating full meals without a child throwing a tantrum on the floor, and I was getting to have actual conversations with other grown-ups. I was determined to finish this new project, a contemporary suspense novel, in a few months.

The Night She Went Missing is the book that finally landed me an agent and a publisher, and though the process may look fast to some, it’s been a rather slow but event-filled fifteen years in the making. In the middle of waiting to be published, I’ve had three daughters, taught hundreds of students, and built a life with a great guy. Publishing—along with any other dreams—doesn’t come fast or easy for most writers, including myself, so I’ve learned it’s important to enjoy the life that happens in midst of the waiting—and to keep writing, no matter what.

***

The Night She Went Missing by Kristen Bird, 2022 from Mira Books.
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0778332101
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0778332107

photo by Bess Garison

Kristen Bird lives outside of Houston, Texas with her husband and three daughters. She earned her bachelor’s degree in music and mass media before completing a master’s in literature. She teaches high school English and writes with a cup of coffee in hand. In her free time, she likes to visit parks with her three daughters, watch quirky films with her husband, and attempt to keep pace with her rescue lab-mixes. The Night She Went Missing is her debut novel.

My Next Author Event — IN SIX DAYS!

I’m so excited to be featured this coming Saturday at The Twig in San Antonio! Come by the bookshop and see me; I’ll be signing books at the incredible farmers’ market they have there. My event is 11:00-1:00, and the weather is forecast to be gorgeous! Here’s the link to The Twig’s event page for it.

If you’re going to be in the area, come on by and enjoy the very best beignets I’ve ever experienced at this lovely farmers’ market, the super fun and hip Pearl Brewery Complex, and the lovely literary experience that is The Twig Bookshop. 

And here are the books they’ll be featuring for me to sign, along with their blurbs. My guess is you can probably order them from The Twig for me to sign while I’m there, too. Please support your independent bookstores, folks — they are the lifeblood of the publishing industry. I can write all the books I want, but without bookstores it’s a lot harder for you to get them.

The Twig is at 306 Pearl Pkwy, Suite 106, San Antonio 78215. See you Saturday. Wheee!

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Elsa’s family grows more unkind by the week. Her boss, a seven-foot-tall rage demon, has control of everything but his anger. And her cat wants to eat her. Things could be better.

One’s Animal Affinity is a sign of maturity and worth. Elsa’s inability to demonstrate hers is becoming a danger. She has no confidence she’ll ever conquer her Plainness and fears both the wolf packs that prowl her neighborhood and being stuck in a life plummeting rapidly from lackluster to perilous. Fortunately, she has a cousin and a co-worker who know her better than she knows herself and can see through to what society won’t.

“It’s not often I get that viscerally emotional on behalf of a fictional character. In a setting of overt fantasy, Angélique Jamail has created some of the most real people I’ve encountered via text in a long time.” – Ari Marmell, author of Hot Lead, Cold Iron and The Widdershins Series

Jamail’s prose is vivid and precise…the implications of this magical world resonate far beyond a seemingly simple story…Elsa’s…story shimmers with allegorical possibilities. It leads one…to reconsider the ways we think about and construct the self, the ways we value and talk about self-realization or self-respect, and to reflect on the ways that it is seemingly both rooted in human and animal nature to fear and distrust difference.” – Misty Urban of Femmeliterate

“A silver vein of irony runs through…fantastic Finis….a witty tale of conformity, prejudice, and transformation, in a world that is disturbing as much for its familiarity as for its strangeness. In a place where everyone is different, Elsa is the wrong kind of different, and that means facing pity, discrimination, danger, and sharp teeth…confront them for yourself; it may just change the way you feel about things…” – Marie Marshall, author of I am not a fish

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Raqia, a teenage girl who immigrated to Texas from Lebanon as a toddler, has felt the subtle pang of loneliness most of her life: she has no siblings, and her widowed father stayed behind when Raqia and her grandmother left Beirut to escape dangerous wolf packs terrorizing the city.

These wolves were not just animals, however. They were also people.

Homecoming is set in a present-day world where one’s Animal Affinity emerges, usually during adolescence, to signal one’s burgeoning into adulthood.

Raqia and her two best friends, Anabelle and Eddie, navigate homecoming at their high school while the threatening undercurrent of wolf packs encroaches around their city. Complicating all of this are two things: first, charismatic Eddie himself is a wolf – though not, he claims, associated with one of the gangs engaging in violent criminal behavior; second, Anabelle’s emotional swings grow more wild as one of the girls begins to evince her Animal Affinity. The balance between this trio – and the friendships which matter in Raqia’s life – are on the cusp of an irrevocable shift.

“A fantastical looking glass on the modern world and the timeless hurdles of growing up.” — Seth Skorkowsky, author of Ashes of Onyx and Dämoren

“With Finis. and now Homecoming, Jamail has created a rich, nuanced world in which the line between human and animal is blurred. The lines demarcating which is which are often used by people to put others in their place. And with a sharp irony, the monstrosity of those with their Animal Affinities is most shown in how they choose to treat their Plain friends and family – that is, by the very human choices they make, not the animal instincts that infuse their characters. These are beautifully written, poignant, and often funny stories, which fans of both the speculative and the literary will enjoy immersing themselves in.” — David Jón Fuller, contributing author to Parallel Prairies, On Spec, Tesseracts

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The Sharp Edges of Water is a book of stories as much as a collection of poems inspired by the rainy concrete plains of Houston and the voluptuous, dynamic terrain of Los Angeles. These earnestly grounded characters are relatable to anyone who has experienced love or loss or joy or transition, but they also sometimes swim in the surreal waters of magic realism.

“For Jamail, loss is the fecund territory complicated by the travails of geographic movement, emotional upheaval, and cultural dissonance and where the poetry sings its best.”  — Sarah Cortez, Vanishing Points: Poems and Photographs of Texas Roadside Memorials (editor, contributor)

“The poems trace a journey of memories built over time, a demonstration of how the mythic unconscious of our childhood maps onto the fragile desires of our bursting bodies. The poems prick open the hard shell of indifference, or endurance, that thick rind the above-world forms on us with all the wounds and cuts and losses of the sharp edges we stumble through and away from.” — Misty Urban, review at Femmeliterate

The Sharp Edges of Water is a collection of superbly crafted poems…poems of faith and freeways, of lies and longing. Angélique sees the details of Los Angeles and love, with a necessity of details we locals have forgotten. As the title implies, you might get wet reading them. Wear appropriate clothing.” — Rick Lupert, author of Beautiful Mistakes and God Wrestler, creator of Poetry Super Highway

2021 Romance Titles Ranked By Heat Level

The last two years when I posted my Reading Years in Review, I was asked to provide more detail on the books I read that were category romance, and that was so well received, it looks like this is going to be another annual tradition here on the blog. (Click on these links to read the 2019 and 2020 rankings.) So once again, I’m providing a list of the romance titles I read over the past year ranked by heat level. For those who might be unfamiliar with that term, it essentially refers to the sensuality level or raciness of the story. There are several technical guides and explanations for how to rate such things if you go looking for them online, but I’ll summarize the widely accepted definitions below.

Continue reading “2021 Romance Titles Ranked By Heat Level”

2021 Reading Year in Review

Here we are on the last day of 2021, and I’m confident I won’t finish by tonight the book I’m currently in the middle of reading, so I’ll just go ahead and do my 2021 Reading Year in Review post now. In case you haven’t seen these posts in the past when I’ve done them and would like more context for why I write them, please click here for 2019 and here for 2020.

The short version is that I’m happiest when I’m reading a lot for fun. Not just reading student papers (which I can enjoy but which is work), not just reading emails or social media posts (rarely fun, and usually decidedly worse), not just reading my critique partners’ manuscripts (can be enjoyable but definitely uses a different part of my reading brain). Reading for pleasure is actually one of the few activities that I can reliably depend on for a dopamine hit. I love reading when I’m reading something good.

So in an effort to read fun books more, and in an effort to broaden my reading diet, I started several years ago keeping a list of the books I read each year. The listmaking accomplished both of these goals really well. I will admit, though, my pleasure reading quota this year was not quite as many books as I would have liked, nor were the titles on it as broadly varied as I typically strive for. Part of this was because of the overwhelm of my job, which was really something else entirely this year — so I read fewer books overall — and part of it was my apparent need for predictably happy endings in the stories I was reading — so I read more category romance. I also started writing (actually drafting, not just making notes and transcribing random scenes from my imagination) a romance this year, too, so that influenced my choices somewhat. Finally, I took some poetry classes over the summer and am working on another poetry collection; the beneficial effect this had on my reading list was to add more poetry titles.

It’s useful to note that on my list, I will include books I reread, but if I read them more than once in a single year (which happens occasionally, particularly when I’m studying a text), I will list them only once. Books I read but which are not yet published will not be listed here, nor will I list books which I started but did not finish (or do not intend to finish). You might notice that some of these titles are part of one series or another and when I enjoy a series, I tend to keep reading it, even if I don’t typically binge all of the books one right after another. 

So without further explanation, here is my 2021 Reading Year in Review. (I’ll do a little more category analysis after the list.)

Here are some of the books I read. Obviously not pictured are ones on my Kindle or laptop (which ended up being a lot this year), ones that are at school (campus is closed), ones which have gone through my Little Free Library, and ones which I’ve lent out to friends or family members.

All At Once by Brill Harper
Any Rogue Will Do by Bethany Bennett
The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn
An Offer from a Gentleman by Julia Quinn
Meaty by Samantha Irby
Beneath the Keep by Erika Johansen
The Millionaire Booklet by Grant Cardone
Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
You Can Do Anything, Magic Skeleton! by Chuck Wending
The New Yorker Book of Lawyer Cartoons by The New Yorker
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Sugared Game by KJ Charles
The Warrior King by Abigail Owens
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Ten More Poems by James Hoff
Lullaby by Christine Hume
Almost Perfect Forms by Michael Stewart
City: Bolshevik Super-Poem in Five Cantos by Manual Maples Arce
Men to Avoid in Art and Life by Nicole Tersigni
Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
You Can Never Tell by Sarah Warburton
The Cure for Writer’s Block by Andrew Mayne
Funny Business by Kayley Loring
Witch Please by Ann Aguirre
Their Nerd by Allyson Lindt
If She Says Yes by Tasha L. Harrison
Before We Disappear by Shaun David Hutchinson
Dearly by Margaret Atwood
All Together by Brill Harper
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
The Old Cities by Marcel Brouwers
Blame It on the Mistletoe by Beth Garrod

So now for a little light category analysis — and please note that a few of these titles actually fit comfortably in more than one category.

There are 34 books on this list. I mostly read narrative fiction this year, which is typical for me as it is my favorite thing to read, by far. But I also read other genres:
* non-fiction — 7 titles
* poetry — 6 titles
* plays — 1 title
* humor — 4 titles
* graphic forms — 3 titles

Most of what I read is typically considered adult fiction, but I do also like YA. In the YA category, I read 3 titles this year: Cinderella Is Dead, Before We Disappear, and Blame It on the Mistletoe. And while the three YA titles I read this year might also be marketed as YA romance, I’m not including them as category romance because I think the other important plot elements (and in fact, their entire overarching narratives) really do bear more of the weight in those stories.

And that’s it, my reading list for 2021! I had a generally good year for reading, not gonna lie. Watch in the coming days for a post on this year’s romance titles ranked by heat level, which is something a few of you excellent blog readers requested a couple of years ago and which has been a hit every time I’ve done it.

So…what on this list is interesting to you? Have you read any of these titles, and if so, what did you think? Would you like a review of any of these books? Let me know in the comments.