Monday Earworm: B.o.B. (feat. Bruno Mars)

I love this song, and every once in a while it earworms itself in my head. Now it can do that for you as well.

In other news, sorry not to have posted one last week. We had…um…some weather, and I didn’t have power. Fortunately, all those power-grid shenanigans led to your getting one more chance to sign up for my class on building stories through character, which has been rescheduled for this coming Saturday afternoon! There is still room in the class, but do sign up soon, since registration will close early Friday. You can learn more about the class and sign up for it here.

A Rescheduled Event…

OMG the weather in Texas this week. Ordinarily I would be happy as ever about it because snow is my happy place. Unfortunately, the ironically named Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) messed up bigly here, and this week has been…challenging. We (at my house) are okay, especially now. But OMG. Maybe I’ll share the harrowing tale with you later.

So I have good news and bad news.

Bad news: today’s “How Characters Drive Stories” class I’m teaching through Writespace has been postponed because of this week’s extraordinary weather events and ensuing infrastructure issues.

Good news: It has been rescheduled for next weekend! Saturday, February 27th, in the afternoon this time (1:00-4:00), so all you not-so-early risers will have another chance to take the class now.  😉

Registration should be opening back up soon (CLICK HERE FOR IT), but if you want to sign up and find this link is closed, let me know and I’ll hook you up.  🙂

In Which I Tell You, Giddily, About A Class I’m Teaching, Which You Might Be Interested In…

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be teaching a three-hour fiction writing workshop on Saturday, February 20th through Writespace in Houston. The class will be happening on Zoom, though, so anyone can do it from anywhere with an internet connection! You can expect a generative workshop aimed at developing character as a pathway to building great stories. I hope you’ll consider taking it if you like writing, or tell someone you know who might be interested. This class is open to all levels of experience.

Here’s the course description:

“Have you ever written a story that just didn’t quite connect with its readers? Or have you ever finally found its resonance only once you were already three or four drafts in? One good way to captivate your readers from the outset is to begin with compelling characters. In this generative workshop, we’ll use tools from popular culture, narrative craft, and literary analysis to kickstart (or revamp!) your story with characters that seem so real. Come see why character drives plot, no matter the genre, far more than the other way around. Be sure to bring your preferred writing utensils (journal and pen, laptop, legal pad and box of sharpened pencils, etc.), a description of your favorite character from a book or movie, and an eagerness to look at character from a variety of angles. You can expect instruction, discussion, writing time, and the opportunity to share (if you wish) what you create in this class.”

The cost for this three-hour workshop is $45 for Writespace members and $60 for non-members before February 15th; after that date the price goes up just a bit. Class is capped at 15 students, so register for it sooner rather than later! You can do that by clicking here.

And if you want to see my faculty page at Writespace, which includes an excerpt of my fiction and some real student testimonials, click here.

Please help me spread the word about this course?

Thanks so much, and have a good weekend!

2020 Blog Year in Review

Happy New Year! (May it not suck!)

As I generally do annually around this time, I’d like to present a few factoids about how things went on Sappho’s Torque this past year. I wrote 111 new posts on the blog in 2020. Many of those posts were part of ongoing series, which are always both fun for me and hugely popular among my readers.

Almost 5,000 people visited the blog this past year, and while the vast majority are in North America, we had a very strong showing from UK, too, as well as India, Germany, and Australia.

I had hoped to boost my blog subscriber count up over 1,000 this year, though I didn’t quite make that. But all the writing goals I made for 2020 were well before we knew a pandemic was going to to interrupt our lives, so I’m not going to beat myself up about all the posts I meant to write but didn’t quite get around to yet. (They’re still on the docket for the future, though, so my guess is you’ll see some of them in 2021.)

There was also the matter of my releasing a new book this fall, and that took up quite a bit more time than expected, especially what with myriad covid-related delays of one sort or another. I did, however, write about a dozen flash fiction pieces this year, which is a new form for me, and which did not appear on the blog because they are on submission elsewhere first. (Writers have to make a living, too, and this blog doesn’t pay very well at all.  😉  So those pieces are hopefully destined for paying markets. Don’t worry, when they get published, you’ll hear about it!)

I like to look over my stats to see which posts are popular among the readers here. Many of the most popular ones are series-based pieces, such as during April’s Poem-a-Day series or the various earworms I like to share. But aside from those, here is a list of popular posts I wrote that saw a fair bit of traffic. Not surprisingly, many of them are related to our current zeitgeist or other current events we experienced throughout the year. And then a few of my older essays, which are perennial favorites, made the list again. (And as always, you can see a full list of popular posts here on the blog over all its years by clicking on this page.)

A Few Thoughts on This Whole Pandemic Thing and Why I’m Actually Not, Surprisingly, Freaking Out Right Now

Relief Efforts for Beirut

2019 Romance Titles Ranked By Heat Level

Kissing Barbie

Thoughts and Slayers: The Grendel Essay

Achievement Unlocked: Camp NaNoWriMo

Action Dispels Anxiety

Apokalyptein

Later this weekend I will post my 2020 Reading Year in Review as well; I’m pleased to report that I read way more books over the past twelve months than I have before during my professional life! I look forward to telling you about them very soon.

Thank you, always, for reading Sappho’s Torque. It’s a fond little project, and it means a lot to me that people continue to read and enjoy it. I hope to bring you more literary and auditory delight here on the blog in the coming year!

Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” (Part 5)

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while know that in October I have a series called Witchy Weekends, and this year I’m continuing writing a fairy tale. You can read parts 1-4 here. Read on for part 5.

***

The Frog Wish (continued)

“Do you know if there’s any food here?” Eleanor asked after she’d been jogging after Reginald’s hopping form for at least fifteen minutes. At least this activity had taken the edge off the cold. He stopped and turned to look at her.

“I’ve been eating this whole time,” he said, “but my guess is you don’t like mosquitoes.”

“Clever of you.” She just barely prevented herself from snarking about frogs’ legs. “You said sometimes people come here? Humans? How long do they usually stay?”

And did they bring food with them? And did they come of their own volition? And were they trapped here? She had so many questions but didn’t think Reginald would bother answering if they come at him in a volley.

“There’s a market road about two clicks ahead.”

“Market of what? Is there a village around here somewhere?”

“All kinds of things. And maybe? I’ve never seen any settlements in these woods.”

Eleanor looked around at the silvery landscape. Trees as far as the eye could see, and only shadows between them. The trail they’d been traveling wasn’t even well established: she’d had to stop several times to extract pebbles or leafy twigs from her shoes. At least she’d put on sneakers when she started moving the bedroom furniture. Furniture she’d really love to get back to right this very minute. “How many times have you come here?”

“Ribbit.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Nope. Ribbit.

“Fine, don’t answer me. But I really need food, and so far I haven’t seen anything Continue reading “Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” (Part 5)”

Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” Returns

So for the last however-many years, I’ve been doing an October series called Witchy Weekends. Some years I reviewed books or movies, presented songs, that sort of thing. Then in 2019 I began posting consecutive scenes from a story I was writing; one of the characters is a witch. It seemed like a fun experiment, and…well…the story got some really good attention!

But I was also in the middle of finishing up my (at the time) next book — which is out now, by the way. It’s called Homecoming, Book 2 in the Animal Affinities Series. (Click on this link to find out information about the online launch event in a few weeks!) So I put this new story aside.

Well, some of my blog readers have been asking me about that story and have encouraged me to resume it. (Thank you!) So I have agreed! Today’s post is a slightly edited version of the scenes I posted last year, so you don’t have to go look them up. As for the story’s progress, I do have a rough outline of what’s coming next, but also, I am writing this story as we go along. So if you want to leave feedback or speculate on what’s coming next in the comments of each post, feel free. I make no promises about whether your ideas will make it into the future scenes — as I said, I’ve already kind of figured some of that out — but this story is also a fun exercise in plontsing, so.

That said, let us commence with…

 

THE FROG WISH

Eleanor couldn’t stop staring at the frog. A large creature, larger than the palm of her hand, it watched her as she circled the table, following her with its eyes and even turning a little to keep her in its line of sight. Maybe it was aware she was wondering about it? The thought made her a little uncomfortable. In her world, frogs were supposed to be garden animals. They did not possess the intelligence to be inquisitive about people. This one almost reminded her of Lucas, the way he had watched her sometimes from across the room, cocking his head slightly when she did something a little bit interesting. She circled around the table, and the frog’s eyes moved with her in an articulated curve, watching her until she stood behind him. 

The frog lifted itself off its haunches and turned around, squatting once more, looking at Eleanor again. It made a little croak.

All the old stories of princes being turned into frogs by witches flooded her imagination. What would it feel like to kiss one? Slimy, no doubt… What would ever possess someone to try it? She looked over at Moira, measuring dried lavender buds carefully into a plastic bag for a customer.

“Now be sure to sprinkle those in the bath while the warm water is running,” she was saying. “And say the charm I gave you at the same time.” 

The customer nodded her head. “Right. And I have to focus on myself only, not on anyone else.”

“You wouldn’t want to be unethical,” Moira smiled. She tossed a long braid over her shoulder. “Bad for your karma that way.”

“Got it. Thank you so much!” the customer called as she left the shop.

Moira looked back at Eleanor and grinned. “Some of them are so easy to please,” she said. “Just a few herbs and a decent meditation, and they think I’ve changed their lives.”

Eleanor looked at her friend more carefully, then glanced down at the frog, who’d just let loose a croak worthy of a blue ribbon. It blinked its moist eyes at her then looked away.

“This one of yours?” Eleanor asked, pointing to it.

“Who, Reginald?” Moira laughed. “He’s like a pet.”

Eleanor couldn’t believe she was about to ask it, but–– “Did you make him…?”

“Did I turn him into a frog, you mean?” The amused grin on her face tried hard not to look condescending.

Eleanor felt stupid now even for thinking something like that.

“No,” Moira laughed. “I found him that way. The Goddess has to take credit for that one.”

Eleanor sheepishly turned away from the frog, who croaked again, and followed Moira into the book room for tea and a cozy seat on the sofa.

The book room was Eleanor’s favorite spot in the entire shop. Oh, she liked the garden well enough, and the alcove filled with crystals and jewelry; the shelves lined with large glass jars full of powders and dried herbs fascinated her. But the book room, with its floor-to-ceiling rows of spellbooks, memoirs, meditation primers, and tarot decks, was absolutely the spot to be. Moira had set up a couple of Queen Anne wingback chairs (that might have been worth some real money if she’d reupholstered them) in the corners and a velvet divan under the window, and Eleanor often came in here to read or admire the art on the tarot cards. When things were slow, she and Moira would sit together for a cup of oolong or chai and pretend the world wasn’t a madly spinning maelstrom of nonsense.

Moira pointed to a small wooden box inlaid with mother-of-pearl on the coffee table. “A new deck arrived this week.” She crossed the room to pour the tea.

Eleanor lifted the lid and drew back a dark blue silk covering the cards. An intricate image stared up at her, a wildly overlapping pattern of jewel colors and shapes she couldn’t quite identify, and when she tried to impose some order onto it, the image seemed to shift back into chaos. An optical illusion, she thought. Clever. She flipped the first card over and saw The Fool, cheerfully traipsing down a haphazard path. Nothing she hadn’t seen before, even if the art was vibrant and appealing. She lifted the rest of the deck out of the box and sifted through it. The Major Arcana were gorgeous but easily recognizable, even without glancing at their titles or numbers.

Moira brought two teacups over and sat down. The scent of cinnamon and vanilla permeated the room.

“I still haven’t figured out how you manage such perfect foam without a latte machine,” Eleanor said. Continue reading “Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” Returns”

Just A Little Video With Something Nifty And An Invitation

Self-promotion is the least wonderful part of being an author. (Actually, waiting on various aspects of the publishing industry beyond one’s control is the least wonderful part, but self-promotion is a noteworthy second.)

But I made this video, so I hope you’ll watch it and take heed of the excellent developments therein.

And here’s the link you’ll be wanting after you watch it.

Achievement Unlocked: Camp NaNoWriMo

So this month I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo for the first time. And I won!

Now, you might be wondering a couple of things: what is NaNoWriMo, and what does it mean to “win” it?

NaNoWriMo means “National Novel Writing Month,” and traditionally it is held in November. The idea is to write 50,000 words of a manuscript in 30 days. One might argue that 50,000 words is just the very barest minimum you could have for a manuscript and consider it a full novel, and in some ways one would be correct in thinking so.

There are some generally accepted word length requirements for different types of fiction forms, which can be verified in multiple places on the Internet, should you choose to do so, but for simplicity’s sake, feel free to go with these distinctions:

  • microfiction: under 100 words
  • flash fiction: under 1,000 words
  • short story: under 7,500 words (sometimes under 10,000 words)
  • novelette (which seems to pop up primarily in the various genres of speculative fiction): 7,000-17,000 words
  • novella (which sometimes encompasses novelettes as well): 10,000-50,000 words
  • novel: over 50,000 words

Obviously one will find some overlap here and there, but these are general guidelines.

And what does it mean to “win” the NaNoWriMo? Completing your goal!

You might be wondering how anyone can get that much writing done in 30 days, especially when we have day jobs and (in the US) the Thanksgiving holiday and other things going on in our lives. That’s a totally fair question. For me, as a full-time high school teacher who also has a family and who hosts Thanksgiving, the idea of writing 50,000 words on a single manuscript during the month of November is unrealistic at best (and insane at worst), and my thoughts on that craziness are well documented. And apparently I’m not the only one who feels that way, because NaNoWriMo also now hosts “camps” — such as the one which occurs in July every year.

Anyway, I have been working on a new novel and made it a goal for 2020 to reach 50,000 words on it, and my friend Christa encouraged me to do Camp NaNoWriMo with her this month, and we did, and I made it past 50,000 words! Yes!

Is my novel done? Hell no!

And there are a few important reasons for that:

  • first, this novel is probably going to be closer to 100,000 words long when I finish the first draft;
  • second, once I get to the end of the first draft, that only gives me something to then work with;
  • third, the path to publication is long and sometimes winding and definitely has a lot of repeat steps on it (see also: revision and editing).

(One thing that has unfortunately given self-publishing a rancid name is the slew of first-draft NaNoWriMo projects that turn into badly written self-published ebooks on Amazon every January. Ah well. It’s a shame, too, because there are quite a lot of self-published and independent authors who are churning out excellent work, and their marketshare is tarnished by the people who don’t quite fully participate in all parts of the writing process.)

Some brilliant novels got their start as NaNoWriMo projects: one of the more famous examples is Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. If I’m not mistaken, I think I read that she worked on it three Novembers in a row. (Case in point of how really good literature often takes quite a long time to make really good.)

Anyway. I’m just pleased that I managed to unlock this achievement, and I’m going to keep working on the new novel in addition to my other projects. (More on those later.) I’ve created a new goal for this manuscript for August and will keep doing so each month until this manuscript is done.

Have you done any version of the NaNoWriMo? Drop a note in the comments here about your experience!

So, cheers to you. Stay safe by staying home when you can, wearing a mask when you can’t, washing your hands frequently, and paying attention to science over nonsense and legitimate doctors over politicians. All the best.

***

Want to read more of my writing that’s already published? Click here for poetry, click here for urban fantasy, and click here for realistic flash fiction. You can also buy my books at Blue Willow Bookshop and my books and poetry art cards at Ella’s Apothecary, and I hope you will! 

Poem-A-Day: Me, But Also All Of Us

Happy National Poetry Month! I am once again embarking upon my Poem-A-Day series this year, in which I will feature a poem every day for the month of April. (You can find past years’ curations by clicking here: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. Just click on the first one and then click through forward each day of the month for the whole series.)

To start this month off, I’m doing something unusual this year. First, I’m posting one of my own poems, even though I don’t usually put many of mine into this series and even though I’ve actually posted this poem on my blog before. Second, I’m asking you to participate in a poetry game with me over the course of this entire month.

A cento is a poem crafted from the fragments of many sources. I’m sharing with you today a cento I wrote at the Moss Wood Retreat back in June of 2019. One line in that poem is a fragment from a sentence I wrote in a novel I’m working on. All the other lines came from fragments of things other people at that retreat submitted. I added connective tissue to make the whole thing coherent, and there you have it, a kind of a found poem.

So here’s what I want us to do here, on this blog, this year. In a time when we have to distance ourselves from each other physically — and yes, we really do need to be doing this, for a while — I’m asking us to make a connection as a community on this blog. In the comments section of this post, please leave us a poem of your own, or a paragraph you wrote you were proud of, or even just a fragment of some other beautiful writing. And then I will take fragments from your comments and make a cento out of it, and I invite you to do the same. I will start things off in the comments section by posting a paragraph from one of my own works of fiction — an excerpt from Homecoming (the second book in the Animal Affinities series, and which is coming out later this year). I hope you will join in the fun.

Moss Wood Cento
Moss Wood Writing Retreat, 2019

Carnivals always start the same way:
three boys, three sharp-rocked beginnings
grabbing clandestine hand-holds;
spirits of slain warriors speaking from open mouths;
a tarantula stabbed with a stick;
the occasional hint of cabaret music.
Between the border of yellow birch and
the far shore of rockbound pine,
the tether of some other-than-temporal sea
pulls and pulls with the urgency of future demands
on the boy-man stashed behind the garage,
dreadful poverty and sadness floating across his face,
a grunt-crank biscuit in one hand and
a two hundred-year-old scroll in the other.
The memory of children’s cotton candied fingers
keeps his brusque demeanor at arm’s length.
He works in the negative, his pattern
a mystery to me, but a crease between the bridge
of his nose and his eyebrows is the absence
of sailboats long since stored for the winter.
Will we learn something by the weight of them?
He and I will never be young enough
again to think that friends don’t die.
You can keep your emptiness;
all I hear is sirens and defiance,
loud as a burst of gunfire through ghosts.
I’ve stopped believing in magic.
We are all dodging death,
scattered, secluded, incidents of light.