So…the First Weekend.

As you know, on Thursday night last week I launched my Kickstarter project in support of the launch of my new book of poems, The Sharp Edges of Water. And now I’m going to give you a little report on how the first weekend has gone.

Um…pretty well.

Kickstarter projects, historically, fund all the way if they reach 60% funding. By historically, I mean 98% of the time. As of Sunday, my book is out of the danger and despair zone. It is, in fact, currently about where I worried it would be three weeks from now. So that’s good! We had an excellent opening and have gotten a little momentum. If you’re one of the contributors so far, thank you! I really appreciate your support! As if that weren’t enough happiness for one author, yesterday Kickstarter marked my book of poems as a “Project We Love.” It was in this exhilarating category with only three other active poetry projects, which, you know, made me feel awesome.

But I know that support tends to come in waves, and I also know that the “close friends and family” surge is winding down, so now it’s on me to hustle this campaign to its end in under four weeks. I’ll be posting updates to the campaign, of course, and those who have contributed to it and are following it on Kickstarter will get those. Some of those updates will be excerpts from the book, artwork, and even a short film or two.

I’m also going to be posting updates and goodies here on the blog now and then. Don’t worry, The Sharp Edges of Water won’t completely take over the blog. You can still expect Monday Earworms and (during October) Witchy Weekends. And I’ll be doing my own modified version of the NaNoWriMo as well, so there’s that to look forward to. (And wow, I’m looking forward to getting back to work on the current WIP, once the 3rd edition of Finis. and The Sharp Edges of Water are out the door. It’s been a busy season, y’all.)

Anyway, thanks for your continuing support of my work. I love what I do, and I love that you’re interested in it, so I guess I’ll keep on doing it!

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Witchy Weekends: Katherine Howe

This weekend let’s chat about some of the witchy work of Katherine Howe. Her debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, was so much fun to read. It contained a lot of the things I love to read about: smart characters, historical mystery, family drama, academic drama, a lush setting, a touch of romance, and an earnest belief in magic. What could be better, especially for this time of year?

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane came out in 2009, debuting at #2 on The New York Times Bestseller List.

Since then, Howe has gone on to write several more books to significant acclaim. (You should definitely check them out.) Her accomplished pedigree in academia — she holds degrees in philosophy, art history, and American and New England studies — shows in the subtle but unmistakable authority of her historical fiction.

And finally, at long last, a sequel to Howe’s debut is on our radar. The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs will hit the shelves in the summer of 2019. I can’t wait!

image borrowed from Katherine Howe’s social media

In Which I Tell You That I (Cannot Believe I) Just Launched A Kickstarter Campaign

I’ll keep this brief because I’m basically zinging with nervous energy right now, but I just kicked off a Kickstarter campaign, which I’ve never done before, to launch my new book of poems, The Sharp Edges of Water. I am so very, very excited — and also? Maybe slightly terrified right now.

Doing this is, frankly, a huge personal and emotional risk for me, and it took quite a lot of talking me into doing it from some of my very close friends. But I believe that healthy professional risks can lead to growth, and so here I am! Wheee! Yikes! ZOMG.

Here is the link to go to my campaign, which ends in about 30 days.

Let me tell you a little about this new book of poems. It is a collection of work that I’ve written over the course of my adult life thus far. Quite a few of the poems have been published before in various places — a proper acknowledgement about this will appear in the back matter of the book — and some of them are brand-spanking-new, written just this year. When I turned in the first completed draft of the manuscript to my editor, the wonderful Sarah Cortez, she took the fifty poems I sent her and culled it down to just over three dozen, shaping them into a relatively cohesive narrative. As a storyteller and fiction writer also, I love this, and I’m truly thrilled with the way this manuscript has turned out.

cover design by Lucianna Chixaro Ramos

Now let me tell you some about the way Kickstarter works, in case you’re not yet familiar with it. I’ve launched this campaign in the hopes that people will become interested in my project and support it. There are many levels at which to give support, and all of them come with rewards, or “perks.” (I guess crowdfunding is a type of investment, as it were.) If enough people support the project to get it to my goal, then fantastic! The project funds and the book gets made! One of the risky things about Kickstarter, though, is if the project doesn’t fund all the way…

It doesn’t happen. No funds at all. Backers don’t have to pay, and the creator sees no benefit.

So yes. It’s a risk.

BUT I am hopeful that we’ll have a successful campaign here! I love this project and am really, really proud to share it with the world. I’ve got an excellent professional team behind the finished product, including Sarah Cortez (the aforementioned editor), Lucianna Chixaro Ramos (the cover artist), and Jesse Gordon (the book designer). They all do amazing work, and I’m thrilled to be able to work with them.

One thing I love about crowdfunding platforms is how they foster independent arts. Indie artists are part of a creative movement that isn’t bound by what marketing departments know are a sure thing, and while that can be scary sometimes, it’s also exciting.

Anyway, I’m at risk now of babbling, so I’ll stop. Go check out my campaign, see what you think. I’ll be grateful if you do. And thank you for supporting the arts!

Witchy Weekends: The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

Welcome to October and the return of Witchy Weekends! I hope the weather in your part of the world is cooperating. It’s a little warm still here for my taste, but hopefully that will change in the not-too-distant future.

This weekend I’m highlighting a book series that I cannot believe I waited so long to read. Deborah HarknessAll Souls Trilogy consists of A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life. A fourth book, Time’s Convert, focuses on supporting characters from the original trilogy. It just came out last month, and I can’t wait to read it!

Harkness’ writing style is leisurely without being slow; you can tell she must have enjoyed crafting this story. Theme and detail and character development and plot are layered together in such a way that these books are both literary and commercially viable page-turners. They’re longish books but never really felt that way when I was devouring them with glee. I especially appreciated her increasing use of humor as the books progressed, and as the characters grew more comfortable in their intimacy and more human in their growth.

The primary protagonist is the witch Diana Bishop, a professor and historian, who encounters a mystifying, centuries-old alchemical manuscript and a mystifying, centuries-old vampire at the same time, while she’s on a research sabbatical at Oxford. If you have an interest in the paranormal, or in history, or in science — the vampire in question is a very accomplished geneticist — you will probably enjoy Harkness’ work. The three books also form one contiguous story (in the same way that The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King all form The Lord of the Rings). The books take us through different countries and different time periods without ever giving us whiplash. The intended audience for the subject matter of these books, I believe, is adults: even though she might be fascinated in the story, I’m not handing them off to my voraciously reading thirteen-year-old any time soon.

These are the kind of books I want to lose myself in not just as a reader, but in some fantastical existence, to be a character in them.

I can’t say enough good things about Harkness’ work, and I’m not alone: I just learned there’s an entire conference devoted just to the fandom of this series, and a TV series is being made of it, too. (It’s currently in production, yay!)

I hope you’ll give this immersive story a try — and give yourself some patience as it starts. The first book has a slow-burn kind of build, but once you’re in, you just might be gloriously consumed. You’re welcome.

My Grendel Essay — Now Published

I’ve had an essay published in the third issue of New Reader Magazine. On their site, you can download the entire (gorgeous) magazine for free. My essay appears starting on page 54.

The essay is called “Thoughts and Slayers: What We Do About Grendel, Our Oldest and Most Persistent Villain.” Here is a quick blurb about it which appeared in my query letter when I was trying to get it published:
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“Even though “troll” used to mean something a lot worse than “random jerk on the Internet,” Beowulf, the oldest surviving poem in the English language, can still help us make sense of current events. What does an Anglo-Saxon epic have to teach us about mass shootings, immigration, or even Congressional gridlock? Given that sometimes our most daunting monster is the one already in our midst, quite a lot. In “Thoughts and Slayers: What We Do About Grendel, Our Oldest and Most Persistent Villain,” I explore what Beowulf has to say about problems we still struggle with. Centuries after it was composed, I use a combination of social/cultural critique to suggest what we can do about the various Grendels still wreaking havoc among us.”
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This essay was shortlisted at more than one magazine but was selected by NRM first, so they got to publish it. I’m really, really proud of this work and hope you’ll enjoy it. If you’d like a teaser of it, here’s the opening…
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The oldest surviving poem in English highlights much of what we still struggle with, centuries later. It involves a monster who destroys the mead hall, the most communal of settings.

Grendel lives. Sadly, he thrives.

The Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf is a part of our language’s literary canon and cultural heritage, and the poem’s first and most infamous villain remains a threat to us. In the story, Grendel, the monster who attacks the inhabitants of modern-day Denmark, is a vaguely humanoid beast with impenetrable skin who kills and eats the Danes, gobbles them up like jelly beans right in their own mead hall, every night for twelve winters. His monstrosity, however, comes from more reasons than just wrecking shop in the Danes’ mead hall, and he’s still vitally important for what he represents within our society, far removed from Dark Ages Denmark and those who fought against him, or chose not to.

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The epic contains surprisingly little physical description of the monster. When I used to teach Beowulf to ninth graders, I would talk to them about what I called The Grendel Situation and then ask them to draw pictures of him. Mostly they came up with fangy, clawed, hairy, green creatures dripping with the blood of half-Dane corpses. What they could not yet internalize was the abstract evil Grendel presents and the practical, tangible dangers that make him relevant now. They could not yet see that we, too, are living in the mead hall.

(Read the rest of this essay at New Reader Magazine.)

 

Monday Earworm: David Bowie (Who Makes Everything Better)

I first became aware of this song in the movie A Knight’s Tale (which is great fun and uses this song marvelously), and even though I love this song so much I’d never sought out the video for it.

This music video is a touch surreal.

It’s also flavored with some 1930s-era gangster silliness, and I just finished reading the extremely not silly but very, very funny and entertaining Hallow Point by Ari Marmell, and so this is tonight’s earworm.

Hallow Point is A Mick Oberon Job, which means it’s part of a series of books set in Gangsterland Chicago, but the catch is that it’s also urban fantasy, see? Imagine Mick Oberon, this private detective, is also…well…an aes sidhe, an exile from the Seelie court. In the Mick Oberon world, there’s both the Chicago we know and the Otherworld, fae version. If you like your humor sharp and salty, your gangsters authentic, and your protagonists convincingly masquerading as humans much of the time, then you will probably enjoy Mick Oberon.

Just go get the book. In fact, start with the first one, Hot Lead, Cold Iron. I’ll wait.

And while you’re waiting on it to arrive, please enjoy this delightful song.

My Little Free Library

You might recall that back in December we installed a Little Free Library in front of our house. To say it has been a successful and positive addition to the neighborhood would be an understatement. I love my LFL and really enjoy keeping it stocked and seeing how the neighborhood interacts with it.

I first learned of Little Free Libraries in 2014 and thought, I want one of those! Not only is the concept AMAZEBALLS but my neighborhood could really use some culture and interaction between people. Gah. I thought having one would make our street a better place to live. I thought maybe it would give me a chance to find out that I had something in common with the people around me. Because while we got along well with our next-door neighbors and across-the-street neighbors, there was pretty much no one else there whom we talked to or appeared to have anything in common with — or frankly, ever saw.

The bigger problem was that it wasn’t the right place for us to be living. We’d been there almost 13 years but hadn’t really been happy there for a long time. With no other kids in the area near our kids’ ages, with few adults in the area close to our age, with an hour-long commute each way each day, and with its being the suburbs (not our groove), we decided it would take more than a cute little house full of books to fix things. So we moved, and the LFL project got put off.

Fast forward to now. We live in a home that’s big enough, in the city, close to where we work and go to school, and have lots of neighbors we love with amazing kids who play with our kids. This is, for us, a happier place. So at the end of last year, we put up a Little Free Library, which my husband built.

It’s shaped like a tiny house — painted blue, because that’s one of my favorite colors — and has a roof painted and shaped like an open book. The doorknob is also shaped like a book, which he created on his 3D printer. The whole thing is so charming. And people come by often, sometimes more than once a week.

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Whenever I see someone stopping at the LFL, I come out to say hello. If I’ve never met them before, I tell them I’m the steward and ask what they like to read. And often they thank me for putting the LFL up and say that it’s been such a great addition to the neighborhood.

That’s all I’ve wanted, really — to make a positive contribution to my community. To get literature into more people’s hands. To make it easy for them to have the occasion to read more books. To put more books in front of people so they say, “Why not?” instead of “Maybe later.” I really think that society is better off when people have more good books to read — and read them.

Countless studies have shown that one of the best ways to cultivate empathy is to read fiction, and lots of it, from a young age. Connecting with a protagonist who isn’t like yourself and caring what happens to that character? That’s empathy. That’s what it looks like, that’s where it can start. And wow, do we ever need more empathy in the world — which sometimes feels like a giant raging dumpster fire, doesn’t it? I admit it’s hard to handle the firehose blast of bad news out there, especially right now. Things are sucking. But as this wonderful post from Heather over at Becoming Cliche reminds us, sometimes in addition to the political activism we engage in, what we have to do to combat the Big Ugly is to cultivate the Small Beautiful, over and over again, in concert with lots of other people, until that Beauty radiates outward and cleanses the rest with its light.

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I tend to rotate the stock for my LFL about once a week or so. So where do the books come from? A variety of places! Some of them are donated to me by authors and editors who are friends of mine, which is awesome! (By the way, authors who might be reading this, I’m happy to put your book in there if you want to send it to me. Leave me a note in the comments and I’ll get back to you.) I also have approximately more books than should be allowed by law in my own personal collection. And since I’ve been told only one room in our house may be an actual private library, I have to confine my books to what will fit on the shelves lining the walls in there, so…

I’m always acquiring new books, which means I have to let go of some of them from time to time. And whenever I end up with duplicates, the duplicates go to the LFL. And when our kids outgrow their books and want to pass them on? Boom, LFL. And when our library at school withdraws books and gives the withdrawn copies away, I go and reclaim as many as I can and share those with the LFL. And two of my colleagues — actually my kids’ own first-grade teachers — recently cleaned out their classroom libraries and gave me a carload of books for very young readers! (Thank you, Dana and Jenny!!!) Sometimes other colleagues and friends bring me books they’re happy to donate, too.

And one of the appeals of the LFL is that it’s a community project, really: the neighbors add books to it as well. They started doing this immediately. I’m so grateful for that and love it; the whole reason I wanted to start a Little Free Library was for the engagement. I love that the people here love my little book house.

So what’s in it? All kinds of things — lots of genres and lots of categories! I have noticed that children’s books are very popular, so I have them in all age ranges. MG and YA tend to get snapped up. Also most popular is adult fiction in all genres, especially mysteries, science fiction, and fantasy. We have poetry in there, a few plays, some books in other languages, and nonfiction. I have noticed that nonfiction doesn’t move quite as well as other stuff, so when that doesn’t get picked up for really long stretches of time, I tend to take it out and save it for later or sometimes donate it elsewhere. Now and then we even have a magazine or two in there.

Do you have any Little Free Libraries in your neighborhood? Tell us about them in the comments!