My Writing Process Blog Tour

This is what it’s like when Blog Tours collide.

So while organizing my Virtual Book Tour to promote the April 30, 2014 release of my new novella, West of Sunset, I was invited to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour. Mad props to the very awesome Heather Heffner for said invite. She’s been very friendly and reading about her process was both fascinating and enlightening.

If you haven’t read it yet, you should do so now. No really, go ahead, I’ll wait.

*checks emails, makes lunch, reads a comic book while waiting*

Welcome back. Isn’t she awesome?

I’m both honored and humbled to be included among Heather and some other very impressive authors.

 

 

WHAT AM I WORKING ON?

west of sunset cover

As I mentioned earlier, I’m actually in the middle of another tour of my very own; the Virtual Book Tour of my upcoming book, West of Sunset which is set to be released on April 30, 2014.

Let me shamelessly self plug one more time.

West of Sunset, April 30, great stuff, tell your friends, make me money, good times, good times.  😉

It’s an action-packed urban fantasy novella features two stories that revolve around one Brecken Everett:

“I recalled some sage I once received from two friends, seraphim. They confirmed that the old saying was true. If you ever want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

For Brecken Everett, there’s never a dull moment. When he’s not dealing with a demanding course load and honing his magic as top student at Lightmage University, he’s working as a private investigator and using his skills to protect the innocent from the darkest forces. In two action-packed adventures, Breck demonstrates that outnumbered and outgunned is when he’s at his best:

(Part One): Brecken is enlisted to aid Jacob and Joshua Phoenix; twins who are the last Pyrians, an ancient race of beings who mysteriously vanished from Earth eons prior. Along with their friends Elroy and the seraph Nemesis, the Brothers Phoenix have been on a quest to uncover clues to their past. The biggest clue to date leads them to Scotland where they recover and research a lost relic. After obtaining their prize, it appears as though Brecken, the twins and the others are in for a fun-filled vacation until they receive a visit from a pair of demons with designs on the relic. With Brecken’s aid, the twins are determined to stop the imminent threat, but are also determined to have some fun in the process.

(Part Two): The only thing Brecken wanted to do was get out of Atlanta. Heading to Los Angeles with his best friend, Owen, the vacation would provide much needed surf, sun, partying and relaxation. All is going according to plan until the boys stumble upon a museum heist which is connected to a biker gang of vampires who seek to raise an ancient evil power. Matters get even more complicated with the involvement of a mysterious and formidable witch. Witches, museum heists, arising malevolent entities, vampire biker gangs, even Brecken’s vacations are another day at the office.

In addition to promoting West of Sunset, I’m also working on short story entitled Legacies (title, subject to change). Nicknamed the Silent Assassin/Evil Queen story, this original fic was inspired by the idea I had when I asked the question, What would happen if Once Upon A Time’s Regina Mills crossed paths with DC Comic’s Cassandra Cain. The story is practically writing itself and I am having the time of my life. Much like West of Sunset, this story makes me excited and proud to be a writer.

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HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE

For starters, it’s not written by straight white people for straight white people.

My work comes from a storyteller who is a queer person of color. Tragically, because of the bigotry that pervades the publishing industry, voices like mine are immensely rare. Even in niche queer markets such as M/M slash which are supposed to be aimed at queer males, most of those books produced from that genre are coming from cis-gendered heterosexual white women.

Heaven forbid I feature a PoC as the main protagonist, many publishers would whitewash both the cover and the character.

Author identity matters.

Not only does author identity matter but so does having the freedom and the power to share our truths. Because I’m neither white nor straight, I offer a different perspective and insight that makes my voice unique.

hollowstone-preview

In addition, my stories feature LGBTQ and/or characters of color in primary or key roles. Of the three main characters in my debut YA paranormal novel, Hollowstone, Noah, the narrator, is a black teen and Neely is a white bisexual female.

Brecken, the main hero for West of Sunset, is an overachieving gay black college student.

Not only do I believe in diversity and presenting minority heroes and heroines, but I also strive to present them as complex and compelling characters that debunk stereotypes and tropes that inundate the media and society.

Regarding my writing style specifically, whether I’m writing an essay, a blog post, or a novel, my work adheres to an edict I call E-Cubed. I write with the intent to enlighten, entertain, empower.

For example with West of Sunset, I enlighten my readers and provide them insight with microaggressions PoCs endure in their day to day, I do it in an entertaining fashion often through satire and mockery of evil straight white people (and I know I’m successful when someone tells me they couldn’t put the book down), and I empower other PoCs by showing them how characters like Brecken overcome said microaggressions and come out on top.

And because I write with the mindset that my audience is as smart as me if not smarter, breaking the 4th wall, lampshading, plot twists, and dry sarcastic humor, and snark is par for the course with my work.

Which I’m sure you’ve noticed with this post so far. If not, pay attention, you’re embarrassing yourself.

WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?

To paraphrase Joss Whedon, “Because you are asking me that question.” The rampant racism, homophobia and other isms that pervade the media and society make stories like West of Sunset that much more vital.

Stories matter. The identity of the storyteller matters.

My purpose in life is to being a bard. Storytelling is my gift and it is my burden; my blessing and my curse. I write to stay sane.

Yes, you read that correctly, I write to stay sane.

Yes, this is me sane and on a good day. Try not to look too shocked.

I would have an easier time not breathing than not writing.

Because I believe in my purpose, I work tirelessly to hone my craft and to use them to bless others, which goes back to my E-Cubed principle of writing to enlighten, entertain and empower.

 

HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?

Blood, there’s usually lot of blood. A few dark rituals, a few offerings. By the third revision, probably some excessive adult language, by the fifth revision, lots of violence with my furniture as the recipient. *nods convincingly*

Actually, the process usually starts with an idea for a plot or a character. Over the years, I’ve found that inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of sources. I’ll brainstorm for a few days and then begin to jot down ideas; a quote that’ll come to me, a hilarious surprise twist. I pose questions to myself such as what truth is being presented with this character’s arc? Who are the other players involved? What are their journeys?

Once I have enough of a rough idea to map the key bare points of the story, I begin to work on an outline. Outlines allow me to work out many of the logistics of the project. When the outline is developed, I begin working on the roughdraft. As another author once said, the computer has been the greatest invention for writers since the eraser. While I love working on my Macbook or iPad, often I’ll pen the story in a notebook and then transcribe them to my laptop. By doing that, I go through one revision right there. Another technique that I’ve adopted is to brainstorm on the wording and phrasing of the prose between my writing sessions. That way when I do return to writing, I’m riding on a wave of momentum.

I usually know when I have a special story on my hands because I find myself transported into their world, living the adventure with the heroes. I’m there with them like an invisible silent observer chronicling their stories. It’s my theory that because I’m having an intense and wonderful time experiencing the journey, that fun and enthusiasm translates over into the prose.

Once the story is written, I step away from it for a few days or so. When I return, I polish and revise and once I think it’s ready I start making the submission rounds.

While one story is being published, I embark on my next adventure to chronicle. 😉

 

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Interview: Amaya Radjani

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To say that fellow Amaya Radjani is one of my favorite people would be a vast understatement. In fact we constantly joke that we’re each other’s sibling from another maternal figure. When her latest novel, Tainted, was released, I knew I wanted to sit down with her and have a long chat on her new book, her creative process and all that other geeky writer stuff. I knew the Middle Child Press co-founder would have plenty to say and everything said would be nothing short of brilliant.

DRU:  First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. Second of all, congrats on the new book Tainted. I’ve started reading and my God is it intense. Before we get to Tainted, let’s go back for a moment. Corruption, your debut novel. How did it feel having a title under your belt?

AR: It feels amazing; like I’ve sucker-punched a mountain or kicked a planet out of orbit.

DRU: Looking back on your journey from then to now, what stands out for you?

AR: Sometimes I can’t believe I wrote the book.  I re-read certain passages (usually near the end) and I tell myself that I sat down and I wrote it and I know I sat down and I wrote it, but it feels like someone else did.  In a way, that’s true, because when I’m under the control of the muse, I am not myself.  Or maybe I am who I truly am when I’m being directed and the person you’re talking to right now is the interloper.

What stands out for me is knowing that the book took a direction I didn’t plan and the muse abandoned me until I came to grips with certain things.  Once I did that, she returned and I finished the novel.  It was very cathartic and I knew that I laid certain demons to rest with Corruption.

DRU: Cathartic writing and laying demons to rest, I know exactly what you mean on that score. From Corruption to Tainted, how would you say your writing has evolved?

AR: My vision and scope have broadened.  I’ve become experimental with the arrangement and structure of my books.  I play with margins and fonts and spacings to emphasize mood, tone, flavor and atmosphere.   Books look the same once you get past the cover.  It’s the standard in publishing and that’s fine.  But I realized that I don’t have to follow those rules.  Owning my own publishing house frees me to do whatever the hell I want and with each passing day, I realize more and more how important that is to me.  I don’t have to conform to anyone’s standard; I just need to satisfy my muse.  And trust me; it ain’t easy satisfying that bitch.

DRU: Were there any lessons or experiences you learned from Corruption that you applied towards producing and promoting Tainted?

AR: I learned that I’m more likely to write my books in the early part of a calendar year and publish them in the latter half of the same year, and from there I developed a cycle as a way to keep track of my progress.  For Tainted, I learned how to make a book trailer, and it was a fun experience.  It helped me to visualize the book in a different light and focus on what I thought were the most significant aspects of the stories within.

DRU: So for your sophomore project, were there specific objectives you wanted to accomplish?

AR: Not particularly.  I just knew it would be different, but I didn’t know how much until things started coming together in the ways that they always seem to do.  But when I knew the book was done, I was satisfied that I did everything I needed to do.

DRU: Do you feel you accomplished said objectives?

AR: Yes.  I work and work until I hear the muse say “Stop.”  And I stop.  I have to be satisfied with everything at that point because touching the manuscript after I have been directed to stop will ruin it. I’ve made that mistake before and one time was all it took.

DRU: So shifting over to Tainted, tell us about this incredible book, who the players are and what’s at stake.

AR: It’s a definite deviation from Corruption, that’s for sure.  There are three poems, two stories, and one central set of characters.  There are pictures and bios of six stunning sistahs who represent the female protagonists, a rock band named Pink Cage.  The poems are songs written by members of the band, and the stories feature the women in different perspectives.

The first story, which is actually a trilogy, is about Sereyn, who is Pink Cage’s manager.  Sereyn is a woman who is having a majorly epic identity and midlife crisis.  Someone from her past, present and future comes to help her sort everything out.

The second story, “Mezzanine,” is the central story in Tainted; the reason why the book had to be written.  I say “had” because I did not have a choice.  When the muse dropped that sweet little psychotic bombshell on my head, it was with one directive: WRITE NOW!!! RIGHT NOW!!!

“Mezzanine” focuses on Pink Cage as a rock band and as a family; the sistahs of Pink Cage are actually sisters.  Kemme Thornton, aka “Charm Pink,” has embarked on a whirlwind rebound romance with Keith Marshall, a goofy-looking geek inventor and rollercoaster designer.  As far as Kemme is concerned, Keith is the perfect man and an even more perfect husband…until she stumbles upon his little secret, which forces her to face who she truly is.

DRU: What inspired this story?

AR: I mentioned in my The Next Big Thing blog hop interview that “Mezzanine” is the result of several things clashing at once: the badassery of Alexis Brown, frontwoman of the metal band Straight Line Stitch; the awesomeness that is Massive Attack, specifically, their album and track of the same name, Mezzanine, which I listened to about 200 times; and a renewed crush on a musician I loved as a little girl.  Everything marinated subconsciously and then one day, the muse shat the book on my head.  There is simply no other way to describe how it happened.

DRU: Now Tainted is a far different beast than Corruption. The most obvious is that its spec fic. But it’s also darker and more sexual. Was this a conscious choice or an edict from your Muse?

AR: I should point out that I personally don’t think that Tainted is speculative fiction, which is a term I hate, by the way.  Tainted’s got a sci-fi/supernatural component, but the majority of the book is contemporary.  But to answer your question, it was an edict from the muse.  She said go hard and that’s just what I did.

I am interested in readers’ reactions, especially to “Mezzanine.”  With that story, I went H.A.M.  I’m wondering if people will react the way I think they should.  Probably not, but I haven’t gotten any reviews as of yet, so…

DRU: In your opinion, what is Tainted bringing to the dance that is lacking in fiction?

AR: Ooooh…well…it’s kind of hard for me to be absolute about this, as I haven’t done much outside reading lately.  I can tell you this: everything in Tainted is connected; the poems, the pictures, the stories, the imagery…it all links and loops and forms one cohesive whole.  It has an all-Black cast, most of which are women.   These women are musicians, and they’re not your standard Black girl singing group.  I deliberately made them dark-skinned rockers who wear funky pink hair and bad-ass costumes because that’s not something I personally have seen.  There’s also the personnel component; I introduce you to the sisters of Pink Cage—Zora, Grace, Leseda, Kemme, Torii & Raz—via “chapter” breaks.  There is a chance that I will be visiting them again in the future, and readers may as well know who they are now.  Pink Cage is awesome.

With this book, I tried to explore the abnormal side of love, or love as it is perceived and received by minds less…*ahem,* fixed …by convention and normality.  I also wanted to examine the nature of identity—who we are versus how we are perceived and where and how that line blurs.  I can’t say with certainty that all of this is lacking in fiction, but I can definitely say I’ve never written anything like this before in my life…and I’ve written a lot of stuff.

DRU: So Middle Child Press seems to to be amping it up. You just released Tainted and your partner in crime Ankhesen Mie just released the Selo and Inya series. Was this random happenstance or part of a master plan to take over the world?

AR: Well, of course we plan to take over the world…but as far as the production of these projects, they were completely random.  Tainted wasn’t planned, and neither was Selo & Inya.  But Ankh and I feed off each other’s creativity; we inspire each other and we support each other.  That, my friend, is a blessing, one every true writer needs. I know you feel me on this.  So don’t be surprised if you see an increase in Ankh’s & my production this year.  We’re both writing serials now.

DRU: What’s next for you?

AR: Right now, I’m working on two separate serial projects: Nightingales & the Velimir novels.  I just finished the Nightingales pilot, CRASH!!!, and I’m currently drafting the first episode, cool airCRASH!!! will probably be published this summer, but I’m not 100% sure of this.  I can say with 100% certainty that it will be published this year, and if the muse is kind and God is able (which she can sometimes be and He is), cool air will be as well.

I’m also rewriting the first half of Blade Dancer, the first of the Velimir books.  It became necessary to wrest Sheila and K’avir completely away from anything remotely resembling their fanfiction origins, so they are going to get a completely new and different genesis.  This means restructuring the entire book and introducing new ideas and subplots.  I hope that their fans appreciate my efforts, but I’d like to assure them all that Sheila & K’avir themselves have not changed.

DRU: Any parting shots?

AR: To all of my new fans, followers and readers, and to those who have been with me since LJ and ff.net, thank you so much for your support.  I am honored and humbled for all the love I’ve received.  I hope that you continue to support and enjoy my future efforts, and feel free to visit me in the Dark anytime.

And to you, Denny, my friend and creative sibling…thank you for this wonderful opportunity.  Your support means EVERYTHING to me and I’m proud to know you.

DRU: Back atcha sis!  😉 

You can learn more about Amaya and her writing at the following websites:

http://www.amaya-radjani.com

http://amayashorties.blogspot.com

http://pinkelegance.blogspot.com

http://middlechildpress.blogspot.com

And Amaya’s books are available here and here

Introducing: A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour

So last week I signed up for this most important event. Why is this important? Aarti explains why.

“I’ve spoken on this blog (and in other forums) about the lack of diversity in fantasy fiction, particularly fantasy fiction of the epic nature.  If epic fantasy has diversity, it is often present in a fashion that mirrors the stereotypes of Medieval Europe, with Viking-like invaders from the North and Infidels from the East and uneasy peaces and petty wars with those that look most like the heroes of the stories.  This is unfair for many reasons that I hope I don’t need to enumerate here.  And of course, there are absolutely amazing authors whose books are populated by characters of every size, shape, color, and species.  But it’s still difficult and frustrating to be a fantasy reader who comes up against the same tropes in every book.  Because while fantasy novels can be, well, fantastic, they can also be very repetitive and tell the same story with different character names.  And I can’t help but think that at least part of the reason is because of the lack of diversity in fantasy book authorship.  Because it is hard to break into the fantasy genre as a new author, generally.  And even more difficult if your book is about a person of color.  And most difficult of all if you yourself are a person of color writing stories about characters of color.

“Did you know that there are more books in publication about people of color that are by Caucasian authors than there are by people of color authors?!  That means that if you are white and write a book about an Indian girl named Aarti and her life in Chicago (and perhaps a fantastical journey to Fairyland) you are more likely than I am to get that book published.  That’s messed up.

“And so a small group of bloggers got together to create an event to fight this.  And, as bloggers do, we decided to organize a blog tour.  For one week in September (the week of the 23rd), we want ALL OF YOU fantasy/sci fi/magical realism readers (with blogs and without) to read a fantasy/sci fi/magical realism novel written by a person of color.  And to write a review of that book.  You know as well as I do that books succeed based on word of mouth and mentions and conversation, and this is where bloggers can help the MOST.  Just read one book.  And share your thoughts on that one book.

I know your TBR list is huge.  I know your commitments are many.  I know that there are so many things on which you must take a stand, and it can be exhausting to make reading a political activity.  But this is so important to me, and I really think it should be important to you, too.  None of us lives in a monochromatic world, and yet the fact that terrifying hate crimes still occur makes it clear that we do not fully understand or trust each other.  And maybe part of the reason is because the media we consume does not accurately reflect the diversity of our society.  And books are such a massive part of the media we consume that we should demand and fight for those that do represent minorities and those that do present the world from a different perspective than the one we are used to.  So please – participate.  You may just discover a character or an author or a setting or a story that will completely change your life.”

So what can you do? A lot of things, in addition to boosting the signal on this excellent event,  you too can read a spec fic book written by a person of color and discuss it on your blog during the week of  Sept. 23.

Need recommendations? We got you covered:

Want to participate, but don’t want to commit to a full-length novel?  Here’s a list of short fiction.

Love YA fantasy?  (Who doesn’t?)  Here’s a list just for you.

Here’s a few more reading suggestions.

And a few more.

And don’t forget yours truly has a little novel entitled Hollowstone.

And like Aarti, ” I am so excited to see what you read and your reaction to it – have fun making a positive difference!”

Norwescon 2012 Report

“A complete stranger has the capacity to alter the life of another irrevocably. This domino effect has the capacity to change the course of an entire world. That is what life is; a chain reaction of individuals colliding with others and influencing their lives without realizing it. A decision that seems miniscule to you, may be monumental to the fate of the world.” -J.D. Stroube

Norwescon couldn’t have been a bigger success for me. I met so many amazing people, networked, and had some really moving and excellent discussions on the panels.

I was blessed to be placed on many of the minority and social justice panels and I got to hear some incredible stories from fellow POCs and LGBTQs. Conversations with both panelists and members of the audience reminded me that we still have our work cut out for us but at the same time some progress has been made. More than a few of the panels were either full or standing room only.

And apparently I was a hit because several people came up to me after the panel and thanked me and wanted to get my info which was both humbling and kinda awesome.

In fact I had one member of the audience tell me that typically young adult and paranormal isn’t her cup of tea but after hearing me speak, she was sold and bought a copy of Hollowstone.

Speaking of which, I’m happy to announce that I sold all of my copies of Hollowstone. Flawless victory is flawless.

And finally, I got to meet some of my awesome Motley Crewmates: [info]loree[info]jeliza[info]drakemonger[info]gement and many other LJ peeps including one [info]lisamantchev who was an absolute hoot on the panels and during the book signings. It was also at the booksignings I had the pleasure of meeting author Satyros Phil Brucato.

And of course no trip to Seattle would be complete without an evening out with longtime peeps Cherie Priest and Aric. We hung in the bar and I also had the pleasure of meeting Shanna Germain, Mary Robinette Kowal, Stina Leicht, Keffy and others. An excellent night indeed.

There were many other awesome peeps who I had the pleasure of meeting, too many to list and I will forget someone. But overall, this trip is hands down one of the highlights of 2012 and I’m so glad I attended and was truly honored to be invited.

Thank you Norwescon. You know it’s amazing how one book has already opened up so many opportunities for me and I’m just getting started. If this is a sign of things to come, then I’m more than excited and I’m ready.

After my last panel, an aspiring writer who had been at my other panels came up to me afterwards and thanked me for speaking out on diversity and told me that I had inspired her to reflect on her novel and she decided she needed to include POCs in the main cast. All because of what I had to share.

Not gonna lie….that was kinda awesome.

Oh yes, Darth Vader overstepped his bounds and tried to step to yours truly. He didn’t realize he didn’t have the midichlorians to step to this. Had to lay down the force on Anakin’s candy ass.

Ani are you okay? Are you okay?

 

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Fallen For Trent

If you’re one of the three people on the planet who’s not familiar with Pauline Trent, then I don’t know what you’ve been doing with your life. I really don’t. She’s a talented novelist and is every bit the extraordinary heroine as the ones she writes about in her books.

I recently sat down with Trent and caught up with her on a number of topics: writing, the publishing industry, as well as her latest novel, FALLEN HEART, the third installment of her popular Lambert Fall series.

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The Craft: Author vs. Writer

So my good friend and fellow novelist, Corruption author Amaya Radjani, recently penned a most brilliant piece about when a writer becomes an author based on a previous discussion she and I had.
 
You should definitely stop by and show her some love.
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By Amaya Radjani
 
During a discussion with Denny Upkins, author of Hollowstone, the subject of what we do came up, as it tends to since we’re both published authors. The text of the conversation is as follows…

Me:  “I understand how refreshing it is to connect with like minds.  It’s rare.  Ankh and I are storytellers, which is why we get along so well.  Through her, I met you, and you’re a wordsmith just like us.  It’s so great because we can talk about certain things.  I wish I knew more real authors like us.  I know plenty of writers, but very few authors.”

Denny:  “Girl you ain’t never lied. One of my friends was talking about this.  She’s critiquing my next novel and she stated something that really struck a chord. She said she loved critiquing me because my objective is to tell a great story and not be known as a great writer. Because there’s a huge difference.  I think with us, we’re working towards something more meaningful in our narratives which is why we strive to be great authors because we’re serving an ignored audience that is black women, women of color, POCs and LGBTQs.”

Me: You’re so right.  So right.  Soooooooo right.  I’m more concerned with telling a balanced, solid story than I am with being portrayed as a good writer.  The second can’t happen unless the first does.”

To which Denny co-signed.  This was also a subject addressed in part on the Blasian Narrative as well.  I also discussed this to some extent in my interview At the Bar. After Denny’s and my conversation, I decided to define for myself the difference between an author and a writer.  Now, under no circumstances am I an expert in anything, but I am qualified to express my opinion on my blog.  You may disagree, and that’s fine too. Educational discourse is always welcome.

An author begins as a writer, but then somewhere along the line, the vision changes and becomes all-encompassing.  I knew I was going to be an author by age eight because I saw my name on the spirals of books, and I could imagine what my book covers would look like, and even who would be my publisher (Viking, Scribner, Random House…hey, I was eight).  I illustrated my stories and bound them in 3-ring binders or loose pages glued together with rubber cement.  I included copyright pages and stuff like that because I studied books by other authors.  It was about the story, but then it became about the story and letting the world know about it.  I knew that it would happen one day and I never had a moment’s doubt.

But it was always the story itself, first and foremost.  How to make the words on the page match the images in my mind?  How to interpret what I was seeing into the vocabulary (albeit extensive) of a kid?  How to finish what I started?  How do I end it?  How do I end it?  How do I end it?  These aren’t easy questions when you’re a novice.  You want the words to be perfect when you first put pen to paper. It just doesn’t happen that way.   Nor will you pen a 250-page novel your first time out.  As with all things, the key to getting better is consistent practice and learning who you are as a writer.  I kept writing (and reading) to improve my overall understanding of how to tell a story to completion, and all I wanted to do was get better and better at keeping up with my muse; who if I allow free reign, will always see me through to the end.

Don’t be afraid to solicit feedback, but make sure it’s from reliable sources.  You’ll want to find someone willing to edit your work, and here I stress the need to find another writer who’ll do it (especially if it’s reciprocated).  Do not be afraid if the feedback isn’t positive.  Feedback is essential, and people need to understand the nature of it.  When I wrote my fanfic, I got a lot of “good job, keep going,” responses. I also got a lot of, “This is horrible; you should never write again,” replies as well. Those comments do absolutely nothing for authors.  We have to know specifics: what’s good about the story, what’s bad about it, things of that nature so they can be addressed. And negative feedback is still feedback.  The reviewer may not have liked what we wrote, but what we appreciate is when they can tell us in detail what it was they didn’t like, and what they did like.  Such commentary is what gets us to our next book.  And for authors, there’s always a next book.

The point here is to keep writing, keep practicing, keep making attempts to get better, including doing research on your subject, characters and plot specifics. Writers write what they know, but it is a measure of growth if you make serious attempts to move out of your comfort zone.  For instance, I never wrote anything other than black women paired with black men because that’s what I knew.  But I branched out and wrote a Blasian novel, and I learned so much; enough that I know I’ll continue down the Blasian path, as well as branch out into other genres like steampunk, mystery, sci-fi & dark fantasy. It requires a wealth of research, but the endgame for me is always a solid, readable novel, and so it’s worth it.  You also need to know the audience for which you write because everything isn’t for everybody.

To this regard, I’m also making a concerted effort to branch out with character orientations.  Never have I read a novel with a LGBTQ protagonist, and Denny assures me that there are very few books (good or bad) with such characters.  I’m heterosexual, and I’m always concerned about authenticity in my storytelling.  My characters believe in having sex, and so intimate encounters are a legitimate concern of mine.  I know that I can do it, but research and time are required to make it believable.  The last thing I want is for a LGBTQ consumer to read my novel and say, “A straight woman wrote this shit.”  The last thing I want for anyone reading my novels is to question their authenticity and/or call them shit.  So best believe I will use every resource available to get it right, including, but not limited to, conversations, interviews and reading books by LGBTQ authors.  I’ve also made a serious attempt at writing slash in some of my fanfic, and have been mightily encouraged to keep going by fans of the genre.  Baby steps, y’all, baby steps…

Another topic is the issue of book covers.  Before I talk about this, I have to make an important point; one which Denny pointed out.  Authors who sign with standard publishing houses typically do not have control over the cover their book receives. The author is at the whim of the publisher, who may decide to use an absolutely horrendous cover that does no justice to the book itself.  The idea that someone else can decide how my book is presented to the world horrifies me enough that I will strive to always maintain creative control.  For those of us who self-publish, this is completely possible.  So I will limit my discussion on artistic book covers to us.

There is a continuous debate on the Narrative about book cover quality.  Since a lot of people (me included) decide whether we want to read a book based on its cover, it behooves the author to produce a quality book jacket.  It’s not enough to photoshop random images and throw up a title…what you oftentimes get is a hot visual mess that detracts from what may be a really good story.  Take a look at some of the book covers on the Narrative and you’ll see what I mean.  Denny has also touched on this very same topic.  

 
When I invest years into the writing of a novel (Corruption took a year; Blade Dancer, 2 ½; In the Pale Moonlight, 3), I will not slack off by getting a weak-ass jacket to wrap my baby in.  I will invest money into getting a beautiful and appropriate cover by a professional graphic artist or a superlative art student.  If you’re a true visionary, you already know how you want the book to look and this last part is fairly easy.

Under no circumstances am I dissing writers.  Absolutely not; I started out as one. As far as I’m concerned, the internal switch that turns a writer into an author does not go on for everyone.  And there is nothing wrong with writing for yourself, which I think most writers do.  I’ve met quite a few who are honest about their desire to write for themselves and only themselves.  They haven’t made efforts to publish because the endgame for them is seeing the story in their head put to paper.  I’ve also met writers who claim to be authors, but are not serious about the craft.  They produce stories, but can’t handle constructive criticism about their work, even though they’ve put it out there for others to read.  They haven’t made strides to protect themselves.  When I ask about specific attempts at novelization or publication, I always get some kind of bewildered or bullshit expression; as if penning the story itself takes care of everything, including sales of the book. Again, somewhere within, that switch hasn’t yet turned on, or probably won’t.  Being an author is about far more than just writing a story.

Review: Corruption

Synopsis: Mahogany Carroll is a unrepentant cougar; Jordan Yoshito is a precocious cub. Jordan’s struggling with finding his way in the world, and Mahogany’s struggling with needing more than just great sex. Mahogany likes her men young and Jordan prefers his women experienced, thus the relationship they enter is supposed to be no more than temporary. But people have a way of leaving their mark on one another long after encounters have ceased, and these two are no exception.
One of the things I like about this story is that while this is a romance novel, the characters are real, flawed, complicated, and organic. Both Jordan and Mahogany are people who I would know in real life.
One thing I enjoyed about Mahogany was that she was a strong woman who never lost her strength or edge once she fell in love or had sex.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that trope played out with female characters, ie: they can’t handle their emotions or that other sexist bile.
Even later on in the story when she faced some serious challenges which would’ve broken most, she soldiered on and you couldn’t help but respect her.
Her relationship dynamic with Jordan was also refreshing and unique. Mahogany was the dominant one in the relationship and was still feminine without being emasculating or a ball buster or the other sexist pitfalls that happen to too many female characters. Jordan was the laid back one who was the beta in the relationship but he was still masculine and was his own man. In short, it was refreshing to see Mahogany portrayed as an unapologetic dominant powerful woman in a positive and respectful manner.
What’s more is that Radjani explains why both characters have the demeanors and outlook on life that they possess.
Another thing that was refreshing was that neither character was looking for a significant other to “complete” them or fix their flaws. Both had successful lives and were living them well and this is a story of how an unexpected encounter with two extraordinary individuals can enrich each other’s lives in a most profound manner when neither expect it.
One could argue age and socioeconomic status but I don’t think those were really factors. Both characters were strong enough in themselves not to allow themselves to be easily influenced by said factors.
Radjani also uses this novel to give a voice to black women as she tackles issues about what they want and what they’re looking for. Too often in the media, black women are on the receiving end of rebuke and denigration and everyone has an opinion and hardly anyone asks black women their thoughts on their lives and their existence.
In Corruption, Radjani makes no apologies in shattering myths about what black women (and for that matter women in general) want.
Women enjoy food. Women like to have sex. Women like to have a lot of sex (as the novel illustrated time and time and time again). Women like to play video games. Many women don’t want to get married. Some women want to get married. Some might be open given the right guy and the right circumstances. Some want kids. Some don’t want offspring under any circumstances. In short, what women want isn’t that different than from what men want.
I also love the escapism. It was nice to read a story about intelligent black women who are successful and prosperous and well cultured. And ultimately that’s not fiction. That’s reality. There are legions of beautiful successful black women who are rocking their careers and enjoying their lives.
While the ending was bittersweet, to me it was fitting and it made sense. I won’t give anything away but it went back to some of the other themes throughout the book: sex, food, love, relationships, romance, friendships, video games, the arts, career, the past, the future: LIFE.
Corruption was ultimately about life. Living it to the fullest, never taking a moment for granted and appreciating every moment of it.
Slim page count and a fast read, Corruption is definitely a novel worth checking out.

Why Twilight Doesn’t Get A Pass

” I should also say that I do not think authors have an obligation to tell moral/ethical stories. I don’t. But if something is problematic or seen as such, it should be fair game to others to call as such.” -Rick Lipman.

So in response to this nonsense, my boy Rick Lipman eloquent and effectively breaks down why Twilight shouldn’t be defended and why Moff’s Law is so desperately needed.

Also, because this keeps getting brought up in discussions about Twilight. Attacking fans for liking Twilight, NOT COOL!

I think the record will reflect that I have snarked on the Twilight and the characters and the franchise on many a day (and will continue to do so). However I keep the mockery to the characters and the story. While I’ve playfully ribbed Twilight’s younger fanbase from time to time, I usually use myself as the punchline to any jokes told.

I have plenty of loved ones who love the franchise who also recognize the problematic elements therein. They also get a kick out of my ranting and raving about Twilight because while important discussions are had, it’s all in good fun. However, I wouldn’t dare attack them for having tastes that are different than mine. Hell I don’t even mock the actors because I understand they’re just doing their jobs……okay, with the exception of maybe Robert Pattinson guy. But come on, that guy is such an easy mark, how can I not?

And for the link-phobic:
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I’m Not Going To Defend Twilight, Sorry
By Rick Lipman

So with the release of Breaking Dawn last weekend, there’s sort of been a renewed fervor on the scrutiny people direct at the Twilight franchise, both the books and movies. As always, much of this conversation centers on the fact that people believe the underlying messages of Twilight to be a bad one to communicate to young girls – who are the book’s primary and intended audience.

However, there’s been a lot of pushback against this lately. People saying the criticisms of Twilight are unfair, that other media does not get as heavily scrutinized, that this lashing out at something that has an overwhelmingly female audience is suspect. That criticizing something women enjoy is maybe not OK.

Twilight enjoys – er, possibly the wrong word – the level of scrutiny that it does because its popularity is leagues ahead of other things that also have Very Twisted And Upsetting Messages. And people talk about those other books and movies too. Trust me, we do. But way more folks are exposed to Twilight, directly or indirectly, and are thus going to have Feelings about it. But we can be mad about two things at once.

It’s always a slippery slope to talk about media in this way, because it seems easy to segue into arguments that I don’t believe to be true, about both society and the media. I am not one of those people who thinks that rap music or rock and roll or video games – or books – are going to have kids walk into their schools with a gun, or hold up a gas station, or try to overthrow the government of an Eastern European country. I don’t.

But to act like the media we consume has no effect on us, and even less on young people – I think is dead wrong.

So let’s break this down into some things I Believe Are True before tackling some of the really loaded stuff that permeates this conversation.

1. Unintentional or not, every piece of entertainment media has a message or messages that it communicates to its audience.

2. These messages may be and often are problematic or upsetting in any number of ways.

3. These messages can serve as a reinforcement of various kinds of cultural hegemony: reinforcing the importance of men’s roles while minimizing women’s; propagating racist tropes or parroting racist behavior without challenging it; reinforcing the default assumption that all people are heterosexual and GLBT folks are both ‘othered’ and all alike in some way.

4. This reinforcement of already fucked-up cultural ideas can be damaging to the people on the wrong side of hegemony.

I’d like to think most people would be in agreement with these few points.

I’d also like to say that I think criticizing Twilight fans or people who enjoy the books is (1) inappropriate and (2) missing the point. My issue is not with the fans. My issue isn’t really even with the books themselves, not entirely.

My issue is that the book reinforces messages that are prevalent in society everywhere, at every level, that I believe are sexist and harmful and that I believe young people are more susceptible to. Saying I don’t give kids credit to be critical or think they have brains is disingenuous, and it’s a lie.

It doesn’t matter how smart you are. It doesn’t. The messages you receive every day impact you. This is why gay kids are killing themselves by the dozens. Because words have messages, and messages can hurt.

My problem is that there is more media around young people – and heck, even people my age, because I’m still young – than there ever has been before. And we are less equipped to handle it, taught to parse it and be critical of it, less than we ever have been.

Too many people believe the romances as depicted in the book to be ideal. Not ‘that’s a neat fantasy but it would suck in real life’ ideal, legitimately ideal. The romances in the book are held up as paragons to aspire to, and I have seen this reinforced by adults, by news articles, by media and meta in WAY MORE PLACES than you think.

Don’t tell me it doesn’t happen. It does. It does.

THAT is my issue with Twilight. And that is why I will never defend it, because defending it against criticism implies that criticism is somehow undesirable. And it’s not; not now, and not ever.

I think people should read Twilight. Concerns of quality aside, I do think people should read it. And I think they should talk about it. Because that’s the only way anything ever gets done, it’s the only way people can process these messages and have the tools and weapons to use against them, and it’s the only way those messages may ever be changed, somehow, some day, by somebody.

Some of the conversations about this have verged dangerously close as saying criticism of the books is criticism of the women who read them. That’s a false dichotomy and it’s playing dirty to make it.

And like I said: People who DO criticize the folks who read them or write Twilight fans off could use a little bit of a love tap from a gorilla, but that’s really not what’s happening here. Both camps have sort of been lumped into one in an effort to stymie discussion, and I’m not okay with that.

Read the books. Like the books, even! But talk about why, and talk about the imperfections and the problems, and don’t let anyone make you feel like you don’t have a right to do so.

You Got That Moxie Baby!!!!

So as many of you know, my novel, Hollowstone, was released through Parker Publishing.

A fine indy press that celebrates quality fiction for readers of distinction, Parker celebrates black, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic literature. In addition, it’s been the home to some world class authors, including the late L.A. Banks.

While romance has been Parker’s tour de force, they’ve recently made a concerted effort to expand and to branch out into other genres through various imprints. I was honored to learn that Hollowstone was in fact one of their first titles for their Moxie line.

Moxie focuses on the multi-ethnic Young Adult stories which ranges from the contemporary to paranormal. These tales explore the young adult’s journey while embracing the diversity of culture.

In addition to Hollowstone, Moxie also some other excellent titles. Excellent titles whose signal should be boosted.

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The Gene Apocalpyse
By Suki Michelle & Carlyle Clark

Global pandemic is raging.

Olivya Wright-Ono’s once loving home has been converted to a hospice for the dying.• Her ability to see auras forces her to witness, with agonizing detail, the vibrant colors of life consumed by malignancy.

The beautiful and troubled, Mikah, is an elite Empath in the ancient Kindred clan, led by the brooding, ever-morphing, monster named Prime. Mikah has learned a terrible truth . . . the plague is linked to Kindred origins. When Olivya sees evidence of disease creeping into her mother’s aura, she has no one to turn to but Mikah. Can he unearth the Kindred secrets and find a cure?•

Can she trust this boy whose power allows him to• manipulate her very emotions? With her mother’s life, and that of the world, in the balance, Olivya and Mikah embark on a quest to stop the Pandemic, only to discover it is far, far more than a mere disease . . .

 

Nascha and the Medicine Man
By Leah Leonard

When her mother is killed by a drunk driver and her grandmother is diagnosed with a terminal illness, Sasha Johnson’s life is changed forever.

With nowhere to go, she leaves New York for New Mexico to live with a father she never knew she had—a Navajo Medicine Man.

Sasha hates her new home but when her grandmother dies, her father is the only person she has left.

As Red Feather teaches Sasha about the Navajo way, she develops her own path toward acceptance in this strange new world, reaching for happiness even as she develops her own frightening abilities—abilities that include seeing and communicating with the Chindi—the spirits of the dead.

 

Coins of Power
By J. A Lesley

Paige loves stories about myths and monsters but she never thought she’d become part of one. When Paige’s crazy Welsh aunt sends her the last in a series of ancient talismans for her fifteenth birthday gift, her whole world turns upside-down.

Cam, the new boy in school has mystical secrets too and when he sees Paige’s birthday gifts he realizes his grandfather’s warnings weren’t nonsense, after all. Danger looms in the form of Balor and his band of sea monsters.

Along with friends Tegan and Jacko, Paige and Cam must learn how to wield their mysterious powers if they are to protect their treasures, their families and maybe even the world.

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Each of these titles are highly excellent, and if you’re like me and think diversity in writing is not only important but long overdue, here’s an opportunity to show your love and support some great titles and some gifted writers.