Monday Earworm: Dar Williams (and February Events)

Hey, look! It’s an earworm for your Monday! Woot!

I’ve made a few forays outside of the Hamilton soundtrack lately, but my kids keep pulling me back to it. (I’m not complaining.) And lately I’ve been dipping a toe back into the music I listened to in my twenties. Dar Williams was — and remains — one of my favorite thoughtful singer/songwriters. Enjoy this sweet, intimate, informal rendition of her “When I Was A Boy.”

So what else is happening this fine February in Authorland? I have a couple of big and excellent events coming up and would love to see you there if you’re in the area.

Tuesday, February 19th, FIX Coffee Bar in Houston — I’ll be reading, along with Fady Joudah, at the Poetry FIX series hosted by Mike Alexander. Should be a super fun night!

Saturday, February 23rd, BrazCon in Manvel (very near Houston) — Imagine a cross between Comicpalooza and Teen Book Con, and you get BrazCon! Last year this was one of the best, most well organized events I attended, and I’m thrilled to have been asked back this year. Well worth the half-hour drive to get there! I’ll be on a panel about writing and ideas and such, as well as signing books most of the day.

More events are coming up in March in Houston and Austin; look for those details here soon, but you can always find them on my regular website which hosts my event calendar.

Want me to come visit your book club or writing group or Creative Writing class or favorite poetry and wine bar? Drop me a line and let’s work out the details!

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To Help With Your New Year’s Resolution To Read More Books…

Just chilling on the couch, you know, like ya do.

Remember when I mentioned yesterday that I’m trying to read more books for fun? Are you in the same situation? I can help with that…

You might have heard that Odeon Press picked up Finis. and released a 3rd edition of it. It’s looks slightly different and has more back matter — but the content of the story and the illustrations are identical. I still have some copies of the 2nd edition on hand, however, and I’m doing a giveaway right now in exchange for honest reviews. These reviews could be on Amazon or Goodreads or your book blog or anywhere else that publishes reviews!

Did you know it takes fifty reviews before Amazon will put your book into their searches? It does. Finis. has about sixteen reviews last I checked, and I’d love to bump that number right up!

So if you’re interested, please let me know, and I’ll happily mail you a copy. You can leave a comment here on this post, or email me at forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot]  com (putting “FINIS. giveaway” in the subject line), or ping me on social media.

Thank you!

Happy New Year! (Also, Have Some Turn-of-the-Year Ritual)

Happy New Year! Now that all the time zones are in, I think we can safely say ciao to 2018 and look eagerly forward to 2019.

As a creature of habit, I appreciate the measure of structure and stability that routine and ritual provide, and at this time of year, I enjoy indulging in a little bit of year-in-review. I also tend to make public my writing resolutions for the new year, as if publishing them will help hold me accountable. (I mean, sometimes that works.)

So here we go!

On Sappho’s Torque this past year, the most popular posts, hands-down, were the ones in which I shared either my or other people’s poetry. In April, to celebrate National Poetry Month here in the US, I curate a poem-a-day series. It has been going strong for several years now and remains one of the most popular features on my blog. Here are a few of the other top posts — ones which had nothing to do with poetry — this year:

My Little Free Library
What We Say, Or Don’t
The Pep Rally I Cannot Forget

Interestingly, that last one is from 2015, but it always makes a big splash again during high school football season.

A couple of years ago, I made a commitment to read more books just for fun, and doing so has improved my quality of life exponentially. I became a writer in part because reading has been one of my absolute favorite things to do since I was very young; I loved reading stories and felt compelled to create new ones. Teaching and parenting tend to drain away one’s free time, and so reading just for fun (like other things I did for self-care) fell by the wayside.

Disregarding one’s self-care generally doesn’t end well.

So I started carving out the time to read, even if only for ten minutes before bedtime each night. It reduced my stress and improved the quality of my sleep. I incorporated free choice reading into some of my classes; that helped, too, because I did it alongside my students. And then I began keeping a list of the books I was reading for fun each year. I try to read a wide variety of things, but I will also concede that I most enjoy reading books in the genres I write or want to write, and at least half a dozen of the books on this list were for research for my writing or teaching. So here is my list for 2018; you’ll find a preponderance of fantasy and magic realism and poetry, as well as some science fiction, realistic fiction, romance, and comics. These titles are not ranked in any way but listed alphabetically by author. I strongly recommend maybe a dozen of them (starred). (A few of these books were re-reads from many years ago; I’ve also not listed books which I began reading but did not finish, for one reason or another.)

Dawn (Octavia Butler) *
Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)
Close to the Edge (Zara Cox) *
Unleashed (Caitlin Crews) *
When a Scot Ties the Knot (Tessa Dare)
The Mistress of Spices (Chitra Divakaruni) *
Like Water for Chocolate (Laura Esquivel) *
Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
Shadow of Night (Deborah Harkness) *
The Book of Life (Deborah Harkness) *
The Midnight Queen (Sylvia Izzo Hunter)
Justice League: Volume 1, Origin (Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Scott Williams)
At the Bottom of the River (Jamaica Kincaid)
Hallow Point (Ari Marmell) *
His Majesty’s Dragon (Naomi Novik) *
Binti (Nnedi Okorafor) *
Wicked Like a Wildfire (Lana Popović) *
the magic my body becomes (Jess Rizkallah)
The Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan) *
Mala of the Heart (various authors) *

This brings me to my writing resolutions for the new year. Most of my Writing Career Time has been consumed the last few months with finishing up my forthcoming book of poetry, The Sharp Edges of Water. We’re on track still for a January release date, which is awesome, but this process has really taken a long time (as it does). My goals for this year include finding some way to write at least 200 words a day (or a complete poem or blog post). What would be amazing is if I could finish the first draft of the new novel I’m working on, which has really taken a backseat to the book of poetry (as it had to).

But this week, I’ll be getting back to the WIP, and I’m super excited about that! I’m happiest when I’m writing a story I love.

I have a few other resolutions, too, such as hitting 100 rejections this year (which I came close to in 2018, I think, though I wasn’t honestly counting). The idea behind this is that if you’re submitting your work out often enough to hit 100 rejections in a year, you’re bound to get some acceptances. I’ve found this logic to be quite sound: the more I submit my work, the more publications I garner. The main obstacle for me is just making time to do it. (Don’t get me started on the millions of ways the publishing industry makes it a financial, emotional, and logistical challenge for writers to get individual pieces published. We’ll be here all day. I’m in the game and aware of it; that has to be enough for now.)

I’m also looking forward to participating again in the August Postcard Poetry Fest; last year was my first time to do it and it was awesome! And as if that weren’t enough, I have yet another collection of poems which will go into editing later this year. Watch for news on that when it manifests.

I won’t say it’s easy being both a fiction writer and a poet. I will say it’s fulfilling to do both, though, and for me, each type of writing informs the other.

So that’s all for now. I’ll write more later with some fun opportunities you might be interested in. Until then, enjoy the book you’re reading, and if you’re not reading one, find one. It will likely do you good.

Questions People Keep Asking Me (and My Answers to Them)

So people have been asking me several things about my recent Kickstarter and my upcoming book of poetry, The Sharp Edges of Water. Here is a handy guide to some answers, in case you’re wondering these things too! (And please note that it’s being posted here on my blog and on my Kickstarter page.)

I backed your awesome project. Now when will my perks show up?
First of all, thank you! I appreciate the support. Second of all, when you’ll see your rewards kind of depends on which level you backed it at. For those whose names were not hidden from me during the campaign and who backed at a level that included acknowledgement on my social media (Facebook and Twitter), I started those announcements several weeks ago. Now that the rest of the names are available to me, I’ll continue those announcements this week. Everyone who backed at those levels will also be acknowledged, by name, on my blog here pretty soon. For those who backed at the handwritten thank-you note level, expect your cards to go in the mail in the next week or two. All other perks will be coming later, once The Sharp Edges of Water is actually out in print. (More on that in a moment.)

I backed your awesome project but forgot to choose a reward level. Will I still be able to get the perks commensurate with how much I pledged?
Yes! Unless, for some reason, you don’t want any of those rewards, in which case just let me know — but I am more than happy to give them to you!

I pledged at a level that includes personal acknowledgement in the book itself. What will that look like?
Thank you again! Everyone at those levels will see their name in the Acknowledgements of the book itself. Some of you will be listed as Kickstarter backers, and some of you are also being acknowledged for other personal reasons which don’t have anything to do with Kickstarter. I’ll call you out just once, though.

I forgot to pledge before the deadline — oops! — but still want to join the community around this book. Is there a way to do this?
How sweet of you! (This is actually the question which gets asked the most, believe it or not.) Yes, there is a way, but Kickstarter has already moved into the financial administration phase, and so they recommend you handle this directly through project creators after campaign deadlines have passed. This means that you certainly can still support the project, but you’ll just do it through me directly rather than through KS, and the bonus side effect is that KS won’t take any fees out of your pledge and also won’t charge you for shipping your perks out (if you choose a level that requires that). If this is something you want to do, let me know and we’ll work out the logistics based on your individual circumstances and preferences, but I can generally handle this through a variety of ways. Again, let me know by leaving a comment on this post or by emailing me directly at forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com (with the subject line “Kickstarter Pledge”), and I’ll help you with it.

I noticed (or didn’t notice) that I was asked to answer a survey after the campaign ended. What’s that for, and do I really have to do it?
So glad you asked! That survey is just to give me your contact information so I can send you your perks once they’re ready. It takes probably under a minute or so to fill out and will really help me, so if you haven’t done it yet, please do!

I backed at a level that includes an invitation to the private launch party. Where is that going to be and when? And can I just get my rewards there?
Lovely! I hope you can join us for that. The party will be in the Houston area, but we won’t have a date until the books are actually on their way to me because sometimes publication timelines can be squishy. You will get an actual invitation to the party, though, so watch your mail for that. (And if you haven’t filled out the survey yet, be sure you do so I’ll have an address to send that invitation to!) And yes, I will have the rewards there, so if you want to get yours then rather than have me mail them, you’ll get them even sooner.

So what is the progress on the book now?
Well, last night I finished proofreading the final draft of the entire manuscript. At the moment I’m trying to obtain permission to use the epigraph in the book, which is a quote from someone else, and this coming Sunday is my new author photo shoot with the utterly amazing Lauren Volness of Lauren Volness Photography. This afternoon I’m working on the notes for the book designer, the excellent Jesse Gordon. Once all those pieces are together and sent off to Jesse, we’re in the final phases of production. That will hopefully not take terribly long, and then it’s just a matter of proofing the galleys and ordering the books. SO EXCITING!!

So, those are the questions I got asked the most often, but if you have any others, please just leave them in the comments below, and I’ll answer them as best I can. Thank you again to everyone who backed this project! You’re wonderful and have made my day over and over again.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who are celebrating it this week, and Happy November to everyone else. Cheers!

Odeon Press

I’m pleased to announce that the 3rd edition of Finis. is now available! It was picked up by Odeon Press and contains not only a gorgeous new look (for the print version) but also more back matter, including a preview of the next story set in Elsa’s world. I hope you’ll check it out! You can click through Odeon’s site to find links to buy the new edition.

More spiffy and exciting details about my new book of poems coming soon.

Ten Hours To Go…

I was advised by my friend Jenny, when I undertook this Kickstarter campaign, that it would be “a roller coaster with a desert in the middle.” She wasn’t wrong. After a splashy opening weekend, there were stretches of several days at a time when essentially nothing would be happening, and I would worry that the project wouldn’t fund or that I had done a poor job of the whole mess.

That’s not how it turned out, though. Like most things in most artistic careers, there are ups and downs and in-betweens, and while being a writer requires a thick hide and persistence, managing a Kickstarter does, too.

I tried not to bombard people with updates while still providing meaningful and interesting content. I tried not to blast about the campaign on social media too much while still keeping it on the radar. These are hard balances to strike, and I’m not sure I got it perfectly right, but then I’m not sure there even is a “perfectly right” for every audience. I can say that I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from people about the way it has been running, and the campaign has ultimately been funded, so there’s that. The whole process so far has been a positive experience.

beautiful cover art and design by Lucianna Chixaro Ramos

At this point, we’re working on stretch goals, which will allow me to take the book “on tour.” I’ve already received a few invitations for events in 2019 in three different Texas cities, so that’s a great start. I’d like to reach a wider audience. So if you were on the fence about joining the community supporting this book, you still have a few hours left to do so. Click here for the link.

Thank you, thank you, thank you so much to everyone who has already done so. Seventy amazing people so far have contributed to the realization of this book, and I’m super excited to share it with you. With any luck — and with what I hope will be a smooth production schedule and process — it will be out in time for the holidays!

 

Witchy Weekends: Frank Sinatra and the Question of Agency

Here’s a cute little song from days gone by. It’s kind of fun to listen to, if you have fond memories of the music of this era.

But there might be more to it.

The premise of the song is fairly straightforward, fairly simple: “You’re an alluring lady, so much so that my attraction to you goes beyond normal, and so there must be something supernatural going on here. But that’s cool, I can roll with that.”

The subtext is also pretty clear: “You’re an alluring lady, and I’m going to enjoy pretending I don’t need to take any responsibility for my actions because of how attracted I am to you.”

I can already hear some of you protesting that I’m making this nonsense up. That I’m ruining something sweet and nice.

Buckle up, buttercup.

You can’t denigrate witches as the ultimate evil predator in league with the devil — a Christian concept if ever there was one — and then also say how lovely and fun and exciting and marvelous and sexy witches are at the same time, unless you do some serious introspection on your particular fantasies and fetishes.

***

In my English classes we spend a lot of time talking about character agency, or (rather simply) the ability of a character to make decisions and enact choices that have consequences, which in turn have bearing on the plot. (You can read an excellent explanation of character agency in stories here on Chuck Wendig’s blog.)

This song suggests that part of the allure of the “witch” in the song is the usurping of the singer’s agency, “[stripping] [his] conscience bare,” and he’s totally on board. But why?

In the current miasma of what passes for public debate these days, some of the more socially conscious have been talking a lot about personal responsibility.

When I taught AP Gothic Lit., we spent an entire unit of study on the heritage of the Witch as a political figure and literary archetype. Fascinating stuff. For a very small taste of one part of this, check out this wonderful article on the archetype of the “sexy witch” in literature.

One thing that comes up again and again is that — in fairy tales, for example — witches are those characters who are agents of change. Sometimes for nefarious purposes, such as the crone living in a gingerbread hut in the forest or a wickedly vain queen. And sometimes their magics lead to positive outcomes: think fairy godmothers and Glenda the Good.

In the Burning Times, “witches” were more often than not women; and more often than not, defenseless other than through their own fierce and fearless agency; and more often than not, opinionated or otherwise empowered in a way that threatened the patriarchy (in whatever form that might have taken, be it political or religious or social). These days one might imagine a representation of the greatest perceived existential threat to the patriarchy might be depicted as a flash mob of women, having the time of their lives bellydancing in the streets, wearing pointy hats.

Others have written on this subject more eloquently and more coherently than I. Right now, so much of this subject is just swimming around in a maelstrom in my brain. ‘Tis the season and all.

Please, discuss. What do you think of all of this?