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.

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

******************************************************************************

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.

Do You Know What Doesn’t Suffer From Supply-Chain Problems?

Happy Small Business Saturday!

I hope you’ve had a lovely Thanksgiving (for those of you celebrating it) or else just a very nice week. Here in the US we have launched ourselves full-force into the holiday season, and the day after Black Friday is Small Business Saturday, a day designated to encourage and buy from small businesses in an effort to shop local and indie. And something useful to remember is that authoring is a business, and therefore every author is a small business owner. (That includes me!)

I have several items that might be of interest to you and yours:

  • My books include Finis. and Homecoming in the Animal Affinities series (urban fantasy), and The Sharp Edges of Water (poetry). I also currently have the international anthology The Milk of Female Kindness–An Anthology of Honest Motherhood available; I was one of the lead contributors on that project, which includes fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and art.
FINIS. (Book 1) – $5.99
HOMECOMING (Book 2) – $5.99
THE SHARP EDGES OF WATER – $13.00
(not pictured: THE MILK OF FEMALE KINDNESS – $15.00)

 

  • I have my zine, Sonic Chihuahua, issues 1-7 in stock. (Click on this link to see what’s in each issue.) These are $3 each and include poetry, essays, fiction, art, recipes, interviews, and fun-and-games. Rejoice in the 90stalgia that is this fabulous and popular zine!
Click on the link above to see the Table of Contents for each issue!

 

  • Poetry art cards, which include my handmade designs and often my poetry on them, are blank on the inside and — with your thoughtful note written in — make lovely gifts in themselves, suitable for framing. Click here to see all 19 designs in more detail. Cards are $8 each.
Click on the link in the description to see the individual cards.

 

You can order all of these items from me directly. You can also see all of these, plus my handmade jewelry and decorated blank journals, at the Sawyer Yards Market on December 11th.

Although you can buy my books Finis., Homecoming, and The Sharp Edges of Water in bookstores — and I hope you will! — you can also buy them directly from me. Just leave a note in the comments about it, and I’ll be in touch with you, or else email me (forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com), and I’ll put your items in the mail to you right away. (I recommend you order from me before December 12th for the best chance of receiving your package in time for Christmas, if that’s what you’re aiming for.) Shipping costs will be as low as I can make them.

Of course you can also get my books from Amazon and Bookshop and other big online retailers. If you’d like to get them from local and indie bookstores — and I encourage you to do so! — I know they’re currently on the shelves at Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston) and The Twig Bookshop (San Antonio). And any bookstore can order it from Ingram if they don’t currently have any copies left in stock. (Interesting note about Amazon: they currently have Finis. and Homecoming on sale, though I don’t know how long that promotion will go for.)

So that’s it! I hope you’ll support your local and indie shops and authors and makers, not just now at the holiday season but all year round. Happy holidays to you! And thank you for your support.

The SONIC CHIHUAHUA: Volume 2, Issues 1-7

Many of you know that after a 29-year hiatus, I restarted my zine, the SONIC CHIHUAHUA, this spring. It has been one of the best decisions I made this year! I’m pleased to report the zine is thriving and growing far beyond my expectations, and that it feeds a part of my creative spirit I wasn’t aware I needed to be fed. It will continue.

For those of you who are not yet subscribers, here is a preview (i.e. a look at the Table of Contents) for each of the issues that has come out this year.

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 1: * Why “SONIC CHIHUAHUA”? What Does That Even Mean??? * The Year of Living Pandemically * apple pie (seriously!) * convo with author Sarah Warburton * a Top 5 List not to be missed! * poetry and art

 

 

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 2:
* A Graduation Message: The Fundamental Lies of Our Culture
* Chocolate Disaster Cake (seriously!)
* convo with Jamie Portwood of Writespace (wide-ranging, and it gets DEEP, yo)
* a Top 5 List not to be missed!
* poetry and art

 

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 3:
* Vacationing in Purgatory: The Spice Lady of Maine
* fiction and bingo
* rainbow trout (seriously!)
* convo with author Adam Holt
* a Top 5 List not to be missed!
* poetry and art

 

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 4:
* The Twi-Moms’ Lament
* yet more fiction
* chocolate chip cookies (seriously!)
* convo with Vali Reinhardt (frontwoman of Black Market Tragedy)
* a Top 5 List not to be missed!
* poetry and art

 

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 5:
* an essay about the day this country shifted
* kittens and fiction
* pasta sauce (seriously!)
* convo with Sean Fitzpatrick (executive director of The Jung Center)
* a Top 5 List not to be missed!
* poetry and art

 

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 6:
* Embracing My Inner Goth (part 1)
* NeriSiren’s Coffee Grotto
* zeitunes (seriously!)
* convo with renaissance woman Christa Forster
* a Top 5 List not to be missed!
* poetry and art

 

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 7:
* Embracing My Inner Goth (part 2)
* NeriSiren’s Coffee Grotto
* turkey (seriously!)
* convo with Aaron Herrick
* a Top 5 List not to be missed!
* poetry, fiction, and art

October’s SONIC CHIHUAHUA

Folks, this past month at school has been BUSY to the point of migraines, but we’re on the happy downswing now, and I’m pleased to announce that this month’s issue of Sonic Chihuahua is finally ready to go! Yay!

Also, marvelous news: my work has been accepted into Zine Fest Houston’s next event in November! I hope you’ll come out and see me and my work in person. It’s my first time to this event and it will be fun to meet other zinesters and see their work! Click the link to get all the details.

I’ve decided to make a challenge, too: if we get to 100 paying subscribers a month, I’ll start publishing brand-new fiction in the zine just for its readers. (As Dr. Stone says, “Get excited!”)

Finally, if you want a copy of the October issue of SC, do let me know in the comments. (Subscribers, yours is going in the mail to you this week.)

Witchy Weekends: Review of WITCH PLEASE by Ann Aguirre

Witch Please by Ann Aguirre is an entertaining paranormal rom-com that nibbles at some important social issues without treading into heavy-handed territory.

Danica Waterhouse lives with her first cousin Clementine in a small midwestern town. They own a fix-it shop and perform technomancy, a form of magic that repairs broken gadgets, appliances, and electronics, for their fellow townspeople. The catch, though, is that they can’t let anyone know they’re using actual magic, because for one thing, they can’t let people know that witches (the actual magical kind who have metaphysical powers) are real, and for another, they don’t want to bring witch hunters onto themselves and their coven. (Or, as they like to call themselves, their “book club.”)

The challenge comes in when Danica meets Titus, a mundane (i.e. not a witch), and they have instant romantic chemistry. And since this book is firmly in the romance genre, working out whether they’ll end up together is most of the plot. But the journey through that plot is pretty fun.

I won’t lie, this book feels like a confection sometimes, and not just because Titus is a supremely talented baker. But Witch Please does begin to explore deeper issues, too, including real-life dangers and prejudices against pagans, bigotry rooted in fear, emotional manipulation within families, and the importance of ride-or-die friendships against the pull of one’s heart.

Other reviews online have made some valid points about some of this book’s features and quirks that are not satisfying for every reader, particularly Titus’ arguably underdeveloped bisexuality and the question of whether the varying gray shades of honesty within their relationship would work well in the real world.

The second book in this series focuses on Clem, and the foundation of her storyline is significantly developed, dovetailing quite nicely with Danica’s in this first book. I haven’t read the second one yet, but since I generally enjoyed Witch Please, at some point I’m sure I probably will.

What fun witchy books have you read? Or entertaining romances? Tell us in the comments!

24 Hours Left…

Hey there! If you were on the fence about taking my Gothic Story Elements class this Saturday afternoon, please note that you have about 24 hours left to sign up for it. (That *might* be flexible, but seriously do it before tomorrow evening.) The course will be conducted over Zoom — and you don’t need your own Zoom account, since you’ll get a link to join at registration — so you can take it from anywhere online.

Writespace sometimes offers discounts on classes at the last minute, and it looks like they’re doing that with mine, woot! If you want that discount code, let me know ASAP.

You can register for the course here.

Here’s the course description, too, in case you missed it before…

GOTHIC STORY ELEMENTS

photo by Bee Felten-Leidel on Unsplash

What do a darkly beautiful aesthetic, #WitchyGirlAutumn, and a tantalizing sense of foreboding all have in common? They can be part of the rich pageant of Gothic story elements that make so many “classic” — or “forbidden” — literary pleasures so deep. In this three-hour generative workshop, we will dip our feet into the chilling waters of Gothic literature to find out what that genre entails. Expect a multi-faceted exploration as we discuss a range of examples in visual art, film, music, and mentor texts. Our writing time will include the opportunity to use these Gothic  elements to begin a story or enhance one you’ve already started. Students will have the option of sharing what they’ve written during the workshop. Come with your favorite writing utensils (a laptop, a legal pad and sharpened pencils, a leather-bound journal and a fancy feather quill—whatever works for you). Let’s kick off the Gothic season in writing style!

All levels of writing experience welcome.