Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Getting in the Zone

May 6 question – Do you have any rituals that you use when you need help getting into the ZONE? Care to share?

Truthfully, the best way for me to get into the zone is writing with other people. Under normal circumstances, one of my favorite things to do it to meet up with a writing friend at a cafe, catch up over pastries and beverages, and then settle in for a nice writing session. Since both sitting in cafes and socializing is canceled for the foreseeable future, I have had to compromise.

Zoom is currently the best tool in my arsenal. I’ve been meeting up with one of my regular writing buddies almost every week, and Cat Rambo has been hosting writing sessions on Zoom for her Patreon supporters and members of her Discord community since the pandemic began. They are well-attended, and it’s nice to see the same faces on a regular basis. She’s set up a really nice format for the medium, and it’s a great community! It doesn’t always get me all the way into “the zone,” but it’s 1.5 hours of writing time that I would not have otherwise managed, which is pretty darn good, especially right now. While I would prefer to be in my favorite cafe, these writing sessions are the next best thing.

Other news

Cat Ladies of the Apocalypse is out! My physical copy arrived in the mail on Monday, and it’s absolutely beautiful. This is my first anthology publication, and the first time I have seen my fiction in hard copy. It’s been a strange experience, to have this happen during a pandemic, but it’s a weirdly appropriate time for a book of semi-hopeful stories about the end of the world.

How are you all doing? I’m looking forward to reading some of the answers to this month’s ISWG question from other people! Maybe it’ll give me the inspiration to create a decent writing ritual of my own.

What I’m Reading: April 2020

I wish I had meaningful advice to offer on getting through this dark time. Things are scary out there, lives and livelihoods are both in danger, and I don’t have answers for you. All I have to offer are some of the books that I’ve been reading, that are helping me to stay sane

The City We Became, by NK Jemisin

This book is amazing, which comes as a surprise to exactly no one who has been following the Hugos the last few years. This book is much lighter than her Broken Earth trilogy, but no less bitingly insightful. It’s a love letter to New York City, and giant middle finger to the xenophobia of HP Lovecraft, and I can not recommend it highly enough. She does things with language here that made me laugh out loud with delight.

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez

haven’t read much middle grade fiction since I stopped working at a bookstore, so if I hadn’t read this for a class (Writing the Other: Deep Dive Into Description, which I highly recommend to any other writers out there), I would have missed out on something really fun. Hernandez deals with some heavy themes (loss of a parent, Diabetes, and a sick newborn), but somehow never loses the fun of this story.

I intend to reread this once I’ve gotten farther in my study of Spanish on Duolingo, to see if I can parse any more of the Spanish dialogue. The story is perfectly understandable without that – anything important is explained by Sal in his own voice – but I think it would be fun to do.

The King of Next Week, by EC Ambrose

This is a quiet novella, about a dreamer who marries a djinn, set shortly after the American Civil War, in New Hampshire. It’s everything I want from a historical fantasy: strong details to ground me in the time period, and enough magic to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar. It’s a little bittersweet, but it will make you think without breaking your heart.

Adventures of the Incognita Countess, by Cynthia Ward

This novella reminded me of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but much more sapphic. It’s a delightful blending of Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and a few other classic works of British fiction from the time, all converging on everyone favorite doomed vessel: the Titanic. The narrator starts off with some frustrating prejudices, but is disabused of them by the end. It’s a fun adventure, a send-off on classic horror, and a love story.

I’ll stop here, since I doubt anybody wants to know everything I’m reading right now. I hope you are all safe, and warm, and fed. Take care of yourselves, and each other.

The Cats Story Bundle

Exciting news! My short story, “A Witch for the Chrome Furies” has been published in Cat Ladies of the Apocalypse! Right now, the anthology is only available as part of The Cats! Bundle, but it will eventually come to exist as an individual ebook and in hard copy.

What can you expect from Cat Ladies of the Apocalypse?

Cat Ladies of the Apocalypse riffs off of the trope of a lone hero wandering through a post-apocalyptic wasteland with his loyal hound. Here, we see women taking control of their destinies and making choices to build a better future out of chaos. These stories are as much about relationships – between women and their cats, but also between and within communities – as they are about grim determination. When we were writing these stories, none of us knew how very timely the anthology would become, but we need stories of hope and survival and community right now.

Who wouldn’t want ten different cat books?

But even beyond my obviously biased favorite, this book bundle is a great value. You get ten different ebooks that feature cats, in a variety of genres, touching on romance, mystery, speculative fiction, and straight contemporary fiction. If you forgot to stock up on books before life turned topsy turvy, this would be an easy way to get new reading material into your hands without having to wait for shipping.

This bundle is just so. Many. Books. And so many cats! This is a particularly good deal if you like short stories, as seven of the ten books included are anthologies or short story collections. Sometimes, shorter fiction can be good for times when the real world is a little too high stress, since any fictional conflict will be resolved pretty quickly. But if you’d rather really sink yourself into a single world, the cat bundle still has you covered, with an entire twisted fairy tale romance trilogy, and two different murder mysteries.

Feel better about the world by contributing to charity!

The book bundle also let’s you contribute to a good cause. This bundle gives you the option to donate part of your payment to Ablegamers, a charity that helps people with disabilities to get custom controllers and other assistive hardware, so they can play video games. If there’s one thing that I hope we have all learned from the current pandemic, it’s that video games and other forms of entertainment are necessary outlets for mental health. Videogames can also be powerful tools to combat social isolation. Those of us who are able-bodied are only going to be isolated for a limited time, but many people with disabilities are curtailed in their freedom of movement and access to entertainment on a regular basis, and deserve access to the same tools that the able-bodied are using right now.

With the world falling apart, we all need hope and entertainment more than ever. Cat videos are great, but fairly brief. If you need relief that lasts longer than a thirty second cat gif, check out the cat story bundle for longer lasting relief! But act quickly, because this bundle is only available until April 14.

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Life in the Time of COVID-19

April 1 question – The IWSG’s focus is on our writers. Each month, from all over the globe, we are a united group sharing our insecurities, our troubles, and our pain. So, in this time when our world is in crisis with the covid-19 pandemic, our optional question this month is: how are things in your world?

I almost don’t know how to answer this question. How is my world in the time of COVID-19? In many ways, it’s unchanged. My husband and I already worked from home, and I don’t have kids who are suddenly underfoot and trying to adjust to huge changes. Our recreational activities are curtailed – no more meeting at coffee shops to write with friends for me, and no more long-sword class for my husband – but the basic meat of our lives remains unchanged on the surface. I know that I am incredibly lucky for that.

But life is much more than the surface, isn’t it?

It turns out that I really, really need social contact and external obligations in order to function. My mental health has taken a swift turn for the worse, which particularly sucks because I feel like I only just got onto even footing with that a few months ago. So I find myself mourning that progress, and worried about what it will take to regain it.

I’m frightened. I’m afraid of what will happen if America in general (and Boston in particular, since that’s where I live) does not take this threat seriously. We could lose a lot of lives. I try not to think about that, but the awareness is still there.

I hope that we can use this crisis to build a better society, one where we value people over profit, but I’m terrified that we won’t. I certainly don’t know how to make that happen. I’m looking to see what small steps I can take to create the world I want to see, but it’s hard. That’s nothing new.

But life carries on! I’m checking in with friends and baking. I go for walks and I snuggle my cat, who is finally living her dream of constant human companionship. I’m knitting and reading and getting some writing done.

I even have exciting writing news! I’ll write a dedicated blog post about it soon enough, but I have a short story published in a new anthology, Cat Ladies of the Apocalypse, which has launched as part of a cat-themed story bundle! That runs until April 15, 2020. So if you need cat breaks, you can get ten different cat books, including Cat Ladies of the Apocalypse. I feel a little weird about doing self promotion right now, but I know that I have been craving light reading, so I assume that others are, as well. Cat books might just scratch that itch, so I figure it’s a public service at this point.

I know that I am very lucky to be able to weather this story in comfort and safety. I hope that everyone reading this is doing alright.

Books for a World on Fire: Part 2

Things are hard out there, friends. We’re all struggling with the stress of not knowing how this pandemic is going to play out, with isolation and fear and the urge to constantly refresh social media and read more news articles, because maybe this one will have the answers. We’re tired. We’re strained. And we still need distractions in order to preserve our sanity.

Fortunately, we still have books. I shared some of my favorite light books last week, and here some more.

Three books stacked in front of a window, with a cup of tea resting on top of them, and a houseplant to their right

In Other Lands, by Sarah Rees Brennan

Young adult discovers magical land. Young adult is destined to save magical land. It’s a time-honored tradition in fantasy literature, so it’s no surprise that there are so many books dissecting the trope these days. I love many of them, but In Other Lands is far and away the funniest.

Elliot is the kind of smart-ass we all longed to be when we were younger, the kid who simply can not keep his mouth shut, and is constitutionally incapable of bowing to authority (or anyone else) when he knows that he is right. And while he is generally right about a lot of things, he has the people skills you would expect from the love child of a porcupine and a cactus. It’s problematic.

The plot is loosely woven, following Elliot over several years of schooling. We get to watch him grow into himself and his friendships in a way that is shockingly rewarding. This is probably the spikiest books I’m recommending – there were a few points where Elliot’s inability to keep his mouth shut causes some interpersonal conflicts that pained me in my heart – but it’s all worth it in the end. Plus, there’s some great bisexual representation, which I don’t see very often.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers

A friend described this book as the science fiction equivalent of a warm hug, and I could not agree more! This book contains some of the most emotionally healthy relationships I have ever seen committed to writing.

The ensemble cast (mostly human, but including a couple of aliens who differ from us is pretty important ways) and the episodic story (most of it really is just the crews adventures as they travel to a small, angry planet) both won me over. I found myself binge reading chapter after chapter, not because of narrative tension and the need to find out how conflicts would be resolved, but out of affection for the characters and a desire to spend more time in their company.

This may be the most gentle book I have ever read, and I can not recommend it highly enough if you are feeling terribly overwhelmed.

Heroine Complex, by Sarah Kuhn

Do you like superheroes? Do you feel like superhero stories don’t center female friendships enough? Do you long to see women of color kicking ass? Then you’re going to love this book.

Evie Tanaka and Aveda Jupiter have been friends since elementary school. Now, Aveda is San Francisco’s first super hero, and Evie is her personal assistant. Only, their relationshipsdynamic has not really changed since they were kids. Oh, and the demon attacks that have plagued the city for years are intensifying, bringing decades-old conflicts between Evie and Aveda to a boil.

This book balances effervescent fun, the very real challenges of long-term friendship, and some steamy romance. The characters tend to be over-the-top, but something about their relationships feels very real to me. And it’s the first in a trilogy, all three of which are available right now!

Minor Mage, by T. Kingfisher

I’ve already written a longer review of this delightful novella on Luna Station Quarterly, but here’s the gist of it. During a terrible drought, a village send their only mage to bring back the rain. Unfortunately, Oliver is only twelve years old, knows a total of four spells, and is not exactly prepared for this sort of an epic undertaking. Fortunately for them all, Oliver (and his familiar, a very down-to-earth armadillo) are able to rise to the challenge.

I hope you’re all staying healthy. Remember to be gentle with yourselves, now more than ever.