Monday Earworm: Florence + The Machine (and My DFWCon Wrap-Up)

I’ve been a little absent on the blog this past month or so because I’ve been traveling quite a bit for my writing. You’ll hear about some of my trips a bit later because I’m also on book deadline and neck-deep in edits for two projects. Wheee!

Last weekend, though, I attended DFWCon in the Dallas area, which is my favorite writing conference ever. It’s the only one I still make sure to attend every year, and it was recently voted the Best Writing Conference in Texas, so there’s that. (You can already register for next year, by the way, and the super early bird price lasts until July 6th. I recommend it. Just click on register and choose the 2020 option from Eventbrite.)

Aside from pitching to agents and seeing a bunch of my friends who don’t live in Houston and having the chance to network with other people in the writing industry, a good conference gives me the opportunity for professional development. Sometimes this means classes on craft, and sometimes seminars on the business side of writing. (I don’t want to give away too much just yet on projects in the works, but there’s a strong chance you’ll find Instagram and a podcast in my future.)

One of the highlights of the conference this year was meeting and hanging out with this guy, whose blog is one of my very favorites. His books on writing craft are also top-notch fun.

Chuck Wendig is really excellent.

Among the most fun classes I attended there was Liara Tamani’s Poetic Prose, a subject I hold near and dear as a cross-genre writer. She talked about what makes lyrical prose stand out and gave us some exercises on how to create it ourselves. Although this is a subject I already know, I liked having the exercises to jumpstart my creative voice at 8:00 on a Sunday morning. I may be super conversational on the blog in an earworm post, but crafting lyrical prose in my more formal creative work is fun.

On the way home from Dallas, this song came on my iPod, and when Aaron commented on its layers, it occurred to me that some features in it are a pretty good example of this kind of writing. What’s your favorite line in this song? Leave it in the comments!

Also, if you have any favorite Instagram accounts or podcasts, leave those in the comments too. I’m interested.

 

 

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Just a Quick Note About This Weekend…

Hey there. This is just a quick post to tell you about two fun events I have coming up this Saturday in Austin, Texas, so if you’re in the area, please do stop by!

First, I’ll be speaking to the Austin Poetry Society that afternoon. Among other poetry- and writing-related goodness, I’ll talk a little about my recent Kickstarter experience and also lead a poetry writing activity. Come join us at 1:00 at the Carver Branch Library (1161 Angelina Street, 78702).

Second, that night I’ll be reading and signing copies at Malvern Books. Nia KB will be sharing the stage with me. Our reading begins at 7:00, and the address is 613 W. 29th St., 78705. Here’s the Facebook event page for it.

Both events in Austin are free and open to the public. I hope to see you there this weekend!

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!

Three New Treasures For Your Reading Self

I’m neck-deep in coordinating author events (maybe even a mini-tour!) and working on a new novel right now, and honestly, all I’m listening to these days is the Hamilton soundtrack, so the Monday Earworms are a little thin on the ground. Sorry about that — we’ll get back to them soon, I promise. In the meantime, what are you listening to? Tell us in the comments!

I want to take a moment to highlight three exceptionally worthy projects just made available. Give them some love, won’t you? I think they’re great.

(And stay tuned to the end of this post for a few more exciting newsy bits.)

***

TWO BLOCKS FROM EMANCIPATION by Casey Fleming

This new blog project by essayist Casey Fleming bravely addresses emancipation in many forms, including on the subject of race. Casey is one of the most compelling essay writers I’ve ever read; she even did an outstanding guest post here years ago for the Fashion Friday series. Here is a brief excerpt from her site about the nature of this new project itself:

To live two blocks from something as wonderful as emancipation–as an ideal, a psychological space, a lived reality–is to live in the border between what’s possible and what’s yet to manifest, between what America aspires to be and what it is. Living on the border is always disquieting and dangerous. Some of us take up permanent residence there, and we must risk speaking from that painful proximity to liberation.

I encourage you to check out Casey’s essays and follow this new project.

***

UNDER THE FLICKERING LIGHT by Russ Linton

Russ Linton hit the scene a number of years ago with his sci-fi debut Crimson Son, a book which defied typical conventions of the sci-fi/super-hero genre and gave us not just an endearing snarkster extraordinaire in its young adult protagonist Spencer, but also a series set in a compelling literary universe.  This new book stands alone but jumps far forward in time to the year 2300 in Spencer’s world, when AI overlords have made some…modifications to our human landscape. Russ has also written some really original fantasy as well. Check out his website for more about his books and his current entertaining and meaningful nomadic adventures in the real world.

I’m a big fan of Russ’ work and hope you’ll give it some attention, too.

***

THE SOUL SNATCHERS by Richard Sanford

Richard Sanford is one of the fiction authors over at Odeon Press, which is how I know of him, and his new book sounds really exciting! Here’s the blurb about it:

The Soul Snatchers is a sci-fi thriller about social media addiction and cyber derangement. There’s also a love story, a secret code hidden in a mesmerizing mandala, and Svetla, the Bulgarian rideshare driver.

Tzaro Janssen, a seismologist in a next-gen lab in the San Juan Islands, sees his girlfriend Therica become … not herself. Stories like hers are lighting up media around the globe—psychotic breaks, social isolation, explosive violence. And no known cause. At the center is Therica’s obsession, the mega networking platform Wundrus.

From early reviews:

“The Soul Snatchers is an energetic and entertaining romp through Cascadia … a fast-paced and thoroughly enjoyable science fiction thriller with Sixties throwback touches.”

“I thought that The Soul Snatchers by Richard Sanford was a fascinating and fast-paced read. There was no good reason to put the book down … I am usually pretty good at solving mysteries, but was blown away by this one.”

And here’s a statement about the book from Richard himself:

I wrote The Soul Snatchers to be entertaining, but it also has a point to make about something we’re seeing everywhere—isolation, among ourselves and our kids. Everybody’s hyperconnected, but nobody’s talking.

That sounds both topical and timely, doesn’t it?

***

Now for the promised newsy bits:

I may be adding another reading to my slate for Houston in early March. Stay tuned for details.

I’ve just settled another event in Austin for next month. I’ll be reading at Malvern Books at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 16th. Come join us! Bring friends! Bring acquaintances and other people you want to impress! Or, you know, just bring yourself, and I’ll be thrilled with that.

I’m also looking at doing an event or two in the area of Blacksburg, Virginia. Drop me a line if you’re out that way and want to come do some booksy, writingsy things with me!

More exciting details about these events will be posted on my website as they become available.

My New Book and Upcoming Author Events!

This is going to be a quick post because, wow, it’s a busy week here in Authorland! But a good one. Let’s just get to the news right away, shall we?

The Sharp Edges of Water is out from Odeon Press! Yay!  And there was much rejoicing!

Honestly, I’m going to be so happy to be done with logistical details and get back to working on the new novel that I just can’t even. But for now, it’s all about the logistical details, such as…

Scheduling author events right and left! It’s exciting, even if it’s a lot of work. I hope you’ll come out and see me on one or more of these fun occasions.

January 25, Houston — I’ll be at the book launch for the new Mutabilis Press anthology, ENCHANTMENT OF THE ORDINARY, which contains one of my poems. We’ll be at the Jung Center, 5200 Montrose Boulevard, 77006. Doors open at 6:00, and the reading starts at 7:00. I recommend coming early to find good parking.

February 19, Houston — I’ll be one of the featured readers at the Poetry FIX Reading Series at FIX Coffee Bar, 415 Westheimer Road, 77006. The reading starts at 6:30, and the place tends to fill up. I’ve heard Fady Joudah might also be reading that night — exciting!! — and there is always an open-mic opportunity for audience members to sign up to read one poem if they wish.

February 23, Manvel (very near Houston) — I’ll be at BrazCon once again! This was one of the best events I attended last year, and I’m so excited they asked me back. BrazCon is like Teen Book Con meets Comicpalooza — so much fun, really well organized, and totally family-friendly. I’ll be selling my books there and also speaking on at least one panel (details coming soon). BrazCon is held at Manvel High School (an excellent facility) and gets bigger each year, with thousands of attendees generally geeking out to their literary fandoms. Many even come in cosplay, so don’t be shy! This event goes from 9:00-4:00; the address is 19601 Hwy 6; Manvel, TX 77578.

March 16, Austin — I’ve been asked to speak and read at the Austin Poetry Society meeting that afternoon from 1:00-2:15, at the Carver Branch Library. The address is 1161 Angelina Street, 78702. We’ll be talking about writing, Kickstarter, and some other fun things and just might even do a little poetry writing that day. This event is open to the public, so come join us!

ALSO, since I’ll be in Austin that weekend, I would love to get in another reading or signing for either Saturday night or Sunday midday. Watch this space for more details.

If YOU would like to have me talk with your book group or organization or class about writing — poetry or fiction — I’d be happy to! I’m available in person or via video chat. Contact me and let’s go over the details.

And that’s all the news that’s currently fit to print, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get back to working on that new novel I mentioned. Oh happy day!

 

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.

Success, Failure, and Transition

You might have noticed that November — and the NaNoWriMo — came and went without much in the way of updates here from me this year. Back around the end of October, I had really good intentions and a lot of excitement about the project I was planning to work on. But things, sometimes awesome things, got in the way, as things do, and I want to comment on that. I’ve seen several authors online recently discuss how we as an industry don’t talk enough, publicly, about failure. Even the hashtag storms about acknowledging and persevering through failure in the writing industry ultimately turn into humblebrags that make people feel even worse. It can be easy — for me, at least — to get caught up in what I haven’t accomplished, even when I know that’s neither logical nor rational nor helpful. Sometimes I need to recast the way I think about success and failure and the practical realities of them both.

One thing my colleagues and I strive to do, as teachers, is to help our achievement- focused and strategic-learning students appreciate the importance and value of failure as a step in the process to success — but more importantly, also as a step on the path to increased understanding. So many don’t want to pay attention to this. But failure is necessary in order to grow, to learn from mistakes, to winnow away things that don’t work and understand why they don’t, to emerge with a more solid process or product or epiphany, to develop. If we never have to confront the hard stuff, we never really learn how to overcome it.

Okay, so, great. And what does that have to do with my NaNoWriMo this year? Well, I failed at it. I did basically no significant work on my new novel, and part of me feels like an utter failure for that, feels like a complete loser who can’t do anything right or accomplish anything of value.

And as I would tell my students, that’s a completely bonkers response.

A normal one, maybe, because that’s the culture we live in. Because being “busy” has become our toxic but normalized social currency. Because I’m disappointed that I couldn’t carve out half an hour each night to write 350 words and move the story forward. But let’s be honest: November is a terrible time for this project; the only worse month would be December! As a high school teacher and mom, I’m swamped. Routinely on Sunday nights I climb into bed, far too late for how early I have to be up on Monday mornings, and can’t stop myself from mentally ticking off the list of things I wanted to take care of over the weekend but failed to. At some point, I’m sure, I will come to internalize the fact that a Sunday isn’t forty-seven hours long, and then my emotional expectations can catch up to my intellectual understanding of just how much one person can get done in a day.

What all of that calculus fails to appreciate is what I did in fact get done. And therein lies my problem: I’m focused, like some of my students, on the exact wrong thing.

So let’s switch gears away from my failure and talk about where things went well over the last month.

The third edition of Finis. came out, and holy canoli, it’s gorgeous. If you’re looking for a really great holiday gift for the readers on your list or a stocking stuffer for that smart adolescent who likes urban fantasy or animals or both, then you can’t go wrong with this new edition from Odeon Press. The physical book has been redesigned in a lovely way, with a better size and a butter-velvet soft matte cover, and in the back of the book you’ll find a lot of new bonus content, including some nonfiction by me and a preview of the next story in this series set in Elsa’s world.

I finished running my first Kickstarter campaign, and it was a resounding success. (Thank you to everyone who joined the community for the new book!) My project is my new book of poetry, The Sharp Edges of Water. (Click here to view the KS and all of the updates and bonus content posted there.) Some of the backer perks are a little slow rolling out — not behind schedule, but just slower than I was hoping to get them moving — because school has been really busy for me lately. But I’m back to working on those this weekend.

As for The Sharp Edges of Water itself, this week has been all about proofing galleys, making sure everything looks as good as it can, combing through for errors. This book is in production, y’all! And it’s looking wonderful so far. I’m excited to be sharing it with you! The ebook will be available very soon — in time for Christmas — and if there aren’t too many slow-downs in the last stages of production (where we are now), maybe the print version will be as well! I promise to update here when you can start buying it.

So those projects really took up all of my NaNoWriMo time, and I have to give myself permission not to beat myself up over it, even though I didn’t make any progress yet on the new novel. I know I’ll get back to writing the novel as soon as my new book of poems is out. I’ve had to reorganize my priorities and make peace with the harsh time mistress of my teaching job, and that’s okay, too. When it boils down to it, on Sunday nights I have to remind myself to count my blessings. (Because let’s be honest again: that’s the only way I can fall asleep when I’m thinking about that infernal to-do list.)

In the title of this blog post, I promised transitions. Well, let’s talk about that too. The Monday Earworm is going to take a little vacation until the new year, because you know what’s coming up later this week? The triumphant return of 12 Days of Christmas Music That Doesn’t Suck! I know, I know, contain your zeal. I’ve been curating this year’s playlist and have encountered some new music that I hope you will enjoy. And aside from various types of announcements here and there, that’s probably all you can expect from me on this blog until the holidays are over.

And that’s about all I’m going to say about this for today. Have a good one.