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What happened to the blog?

Once upon a time I had a blog that I actually updated. Then I ran out of true things to write, so I settled for writing lies and trying to get them published. If you’d like to read my ramblings though, here they are.

I may blog a little more, but only if the stars align, the wind blows a certain direction, and someone recites the correct chants.

If you’d like a more active version of me, I can be found on Twitter and GoodReads. Thanks for reading!

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Happy Thanksgiving & Reading!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! Awhile ago on Twitter, I got on a soapbox about Indigenous People Day: instead of celebrating Christopher Columbus for having the worst directions and kickstarting a genocide, I pointed out media and resources about and by Native Americans. I think Thanksgiving is also a perfect holiday to celebrate Native American media, so below are all the links I previously tweeted, here in one place for your perusal.

Novelists:
Sherman Alexie: http://tinyurl.com/oe7ls56 His YA work, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is a Native American literature classic. I also like his movie Smoke Signals.

Leslie Marmon Silko: http://tinyurl.com/ns6x5ml Ceremony will make your soul cry.

David Treuer: tinyurl.com/navtoe6 He was a Mary Routt Professor of Writing at Scripps College in 2011. Scripps promo’ed, yo

Poets:

tinyurl.com/cesegn4 This article features 10 Native American poets and poems. A solid primer.

Nonfiction:

tinyurl.com/qzxo8xt I was lucky enough to be a part of the Scripps College Humanities Institute: Continuing Invasion: Resistance, Resilience, & Re-Invention among North American Indigenous Peoples. These speakers blew my mind and changed my life

Video Game: 

http://store.steampowered.com/app/295790/ Never Alone is an atmospheric puzzle platformer game featuring the stories of the Iñupiat, an Alaska Native people. Over 80 tribe elders were consulted during the game’s creation and overjoyed with the result. Plus, the Arctic Collection has additional downloadable content and soundtrack.

And as a bonus, here are 20 more Native American authors you need to read, according to OED. That’s all I’ve got for now. What are some of your guys’ favorites?

Writing Goals Check Up!

Since the sixth month of the year has passed us by, it’s time to review how we’re doing on those new year resolutions we made back in January. It really feels so long ago now.

  • Continue doing an hour a day on Twitter—while I do take days off, I consider this goal completely on track!
  • Finish 6th draft of The Bound Chronicles—done! I finished draft 6 in March. I sent the behemoth to betas, and two have gotten back to me.
  • Continue querying & seeking an agent—after implementing the betas’ edits, I will start this again
  • Figure out GoodReads—done! You can check out my profile here.
  • Research potential marketing plans for The Bound Chronicles—reviewing this goal now, it seems a bit premature. Actions are percolating in my brain, but I haven’t written any down. Dunno if those count then.
  • Take on more editing clients—yes! I signed up for the Editorial Freelancers Association and I’ve worked with many more lovely authors through there.
  • Blog once a month—I owe one more post besides this one, but overall I’ve been keeping up!

How about you? How are those writing goals going? I feel like I’m really progressing my writing career this year and that makes the artist in me quite happy.

Horse Writing Tips: Grooming

These are two different types of curry combs. The green one is for everyday use, and the rider rubs it in circles against the horse's fur in a massaging motion. The spiky one is specialized to get more fur out, and the rider lightly drags it in the direction of the fur.

These are two different types of curry combs. The green one is for everyday use, and the rider rubs it in circles against the horse’s fur in a massaging motion. The spiky one is specialized to get more fur out, and the rider lightly drags it in the direction of the fur.

Hello! Welcome to another tip for writing horses, or in this case, the care and keeping of them. Before riding, before even putting all the horse’s tack on, every rider grooms their horse (or they hire a groom to groom the horse for them, so they can jump on like in the movies). Grooming gets rid of your average mess of dust, but it’s also important for the horse’s safety during riding. And it feels good! Like with grooming people, grooming horses involves brushes, sprays, washcloths, and goops. I’ll give you an introduction to each common tool.

First thing after hitching the horse to a post (or what have you), riders use a curry comb. Curry combs stir up the dirt stuck in the horse’s fur. Like other outside dogs, cats, and deer, horses grow extra fur during the cold months and shed during the warm ones. When they’re shedding, riders use curry combs extra to dislodge more fur and speed up the process. Also, sidenote: if a rider is grooming a horse before a performance, they often skip using a curry comb because they want the horse to look at clean as possible. No need to make that any more difficult.

After the curry, the rider uses a hard brush, aka a brush with stiff of “hard” bristles to sweep up all that riled up grit. Like the curry comb, riders do not use the hard brush on the horse’s legs or face. Those places are too delicate, and, to accommodate this delicacy, riders use the soft brush.

The hard brush. These things last forever. I've had this one since I bought Penny, over ten years ago

A hard brush. These things last forever. I’ve had this one since I bought Penny, over ten years ago

Next, riders use this tool called a hoof pick to pick all the dirt, stones, poop etc. that’s stuck on the underside of the horse’s hoof. See, human feet aren’t like horse hooves. Human feet stay flat on the ground, while a horse’s hooves are a bit curved. That’s why junk gets stuck up in them, which is understandably painful, especially if it’s a stone. Hoof picking is the most important step in the grooming process, because it removes any potential stones. Even a tiny pebble can cause a horse to go lame.

After a hoof pick, a rider can paint a horse’s hooves with hoof dressing. Hoof dressing acts like a moisturizer and helps keep the hoof from cracking during dry weather. If a rider’s going out in mud and wet weather, they would not put on hoof dressing. If a hoof becomes too moist, fungus and rot and overall bad stuff can go on.

The last(ish) step is to spritz fly spray on the horse. Riders also spray the stuff on cloths and run the cloth around the horse’s face, inside the ears, neck, barrel, butt, and legs. Fly spray does what you think: it keeps flies away. There are lots of different brands, from eco-friendly marigold mixes to outright poison that kills flies within one second of contact. Flies are a serious problem in the horseback riding community, since flies thrive on dirt, animal warmth, and poop, and it would take a whole ‘nother blog post to explain different ways of dealing with the buggers. Needless to say, I hate flies.

The soft brush. These definitely don't last as long as the hard brushes.

A soft brush. These definitely don’t last as long as the hard brushes.

After the fly spray, a rider is ready to put on a saddle and generally tack up. They can also brush out the horse’s mane and tail (and there’s a plethora of detanglers, hair moisturizers, and other products to help with that). That requires a regular old hair brush, but usually riders buy one specially designed for horses since the hairbrush must be extra sturdy to survive the procedure.

Huzzah! Grooming is a simple horse activity that can loudly show your characters’ states of mind: do they brush briskly, harshly, or lazily? Are they methodically picking out the hoof, or are they attacking it? Do they let others groom with them, or is it a solitary activity? It all depends on disposition and temperament.

Happy writing and see you in June! I hope you enjoy the pictures in this post. There are a lot of them and they’re fun to take!

A hoof pick. These come in a variety of different styles and colors, but I like this one best. It's really sturdy.

A hoof pick. These come in a variety of different styles and colors, but I like this one best. It’s really sturdy.

Hoof Dressing. This is Rain Maker brand

Hoof Dressing. This is Rain Maker brand

A horse hair brush. These also tend to break a lot and need replacing, despite the extra sturdy-ness of the design.

A horse hair brush. These also tend to break a lot and need replacing, despite the extra sturdy-ness of the design.

An aerial view of my tack box! A tack boxes are popular places to store various grooming supplies

Bonus: an aerial view of my tack box! A tack boxes are popular places to store various grooming supplies

Baby’s First CampNaNoWriMo

Greetings from a Camp NaNoWriMo Winner! This April I promised to write/re-write magical creature-centered short stories that have been knocking about my head for awhile, some of which I mentioned in my 12 Days of Blogging last Christmas. I delayed this blog post so I could tell you about the full experience, now that April is over.

Pre-April, I did a lot of pre-April things. I signed up for Camp on their website and set my word count goal for an ambitious 50,000. I thought, why not? I’m not going to do 50,000 if I don’t set it there. I planned to outline my stories and polish off one or two a week. I would finish drafts of three short stories and two novellas. And it would be awesome.

What a marvelous castle-in-the-air. Really too marvelous, so instead of doing all that, I decided to “pants” aka write on the fly (or “write from the seat of your pants”). Pantsing is hard. I have a newfound respect for pantsers. You have to constantly be inspired and listening to your characters and there’s no easy checklist of events to move the story forward. I couldn’t do it. I growled in frustration. I broke up with my manuscripts, only to come crying back. I broke down and wrote outlines.

Like abandoned gardens stuck in gothic novels, my stories grew wayward too. My word counts stacked much shorter than expected. In the middle of writing one of my short stories, I realized the characters were interesting enough to merit a novella, and in the middle of writing one of my novellas, I realized I could cut it down to a short story. The other supposed-novella had multiple previous drafts and I spent a day dithering which draft to work from.

My cabin, the supportive being it was, kept me going. They pointed out that 50,000 is much too high for a group of short stories, so I decided to be nice to myself and lowered it to 30,000. I let the stories tell as much of themselves as they wanted to, and set aside more days to simply write. I complained a lot to poet Cesar Reyes and texted ridiculous LGBT scenarios to the Invisible Ninja Cat. And lo, come April 30th’s end I’d written 34,000 words.

Taaaaa-daaaaahhhh! * throws confetti * My cabin was packed with winners, so we squeezed together and threw a digital confetti parade. Lovely stuff. As some of you know from my Twitter ramblings, I do plan on doing July’s Camp and I’m already excited. Quick plug that you may also know I joined Thumbtack, a website dedicated to finding you the right professional for any job. It’s easy to use and I like the aesthetic. If you’re looking for an editor I’m available for hire, and next blog post will probably be more tips for writing horses!

Writing Tip: Passive Vs. Active Narrative Voice

Happy end of March! I hope everyone had a good month, with the extra special Pi Day, Ides of March, Saint Patrick’s Day, and now Trans Day of Visibility! It’s been a weird month for me, wonderful holidays aside: on the plus side, I got to visit the Invisible Ninja Cat and Charlotte Blackwood in Portland, but on the downside a strange stomach illness left me dehydrated and unable to type for more than two minutes. A whole chunk of the month was me distracting Cesar Reyes from his real life by yelling loudly at Joss Whedon’s cruelty watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m on Season 5, and my poor, tiny Iowa son Buffy’s boyfriend #2 Riley Finn has left Sunnydale. Granted, being stuck there was making him a bit bonkers, but who in that town isn’t??

Anyway, in the midst of all the above vampiric chaos, I finished the 6th draft of my novel, The Bound Chronicles: The Christening and sent it off to beta readers. One thing I really worked on this draft is writing in a more active voice.

At the Ventura County Writer’s Weekend I attended, I was lucky enough other writers and professionals look at the first 10 pages of my manuscript. They immediately noted that my writing style was passive and encouraged me to use more active voice. I was (unhelpfully) immediately confused. See, when someone says “passive voice” to me, my brain goes to the grammatical passive voice, where a writer switches around the subject and the object of the sentence. This is a no-no for writers because a) your sentences become super funky very quickly and b) it makes the story feel a bit blasé. For example:

Buffy punched Spike in the face because he smoked ciggys outside her bedroom window. (Active voice)

Versus:

Spike was punched in the face by Buffy because ciggys were smoked by him outside her bedroom window. (Passive voice)

You can read a Grammar Girl’s more specific explanation of active versus passive voice here.

This was not what was wrong with my story. I avoided this grammatical passive voice. I had a passive narrative voice.

The passive narrative voice is when an author overuses the present perfect and past perfect tenses (have/has/had). The writing overall feels flat and, well, passive. The story and characters perform actions in the distance, away from the reader. The resulting prose is grammatically ship shape, but consider this:

Riley has been loving Buffy with his whole heart and soul.

Versus:

Riley loves Buffy with his whole heart and soul.

Didn’t the later sentence have more pure snap to it? Riley loves Buffy in the here and now. It’s a more powerful, set statement, even the first sentence uses “i-n-g.” Consider again:

Buffy has been shutting Riley out emotionally, and Riley has not been developing significant ties to Sunnydale besides her. (Passive Narrative Voice)

Versus:

Buffy shut Riley out emotionally, and Riley did not develop significant ties to Sunnydale besides her. (Active Narrative Voice)

Again, the second sentence has a more pressing feel to it. The hard “t” of “shut” like a door in the face. The despair of the “did not.” The authority of the un-modified, plain verbs.

That’s what the pros thought my manuscript needed, and, boy, were they right. Look through your writing and find some instances of passive narrative voice. Read that section out loud. Now, change the instances of passive voice to active voice. Are you amazed? I was amazed. I could feel my novel improving, one line at a time.

Tomorrow begins my first Camp NaNoWriMo, so the blog post will likely be about that. Wish me luck! Magical creatures, ahoy!

Happy Evil Nemesis Day!

All you enemies out there, groan! Yes, I still declare Evil Nemesis Day A Thing, especially since I’ve been reading books that fit it perfectly. So, to celebrate the day where you give your evil nemesis a gift they’ll remember, here’s some books to get your evil on.

Screen shot 2015-02-14 at 12.59.18 PM

LoveToni Morrison has written the book equivalent of a shade of lipstick to put the fear of God in men’s heart. And by “God” I mean, a woman’s obsession. And by obsession, I mean “thwarted obsession,” which of course means “wrath.” Hell hath no fury like a woman’s wrath. That’s what I’m saying. I’ve never read Morrison before, so I picked up the audiobook of Love with a blank slate. It was bit confusing at first, mostly due to the audiobook format—Morrison has a lovely voice, but POV switch breaks don’t translate well over CD no matter what you’re reading—but I soon figured out that this story focused on the duality of love, how it’s the other side of the hate. With an extra helping of hate on the side. The story centers on all the women touched on by Bill Cosey, a hotel owner with so much charisma it lasts after death. The characters struggle over his estate and memories, fighting and backstabbing each other, and through all this, Morrison explores humanity’s capacity to love, destroy, and, ultimately, powerfully, connect. There’s no denying it’s a beautiful, powerful novel. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but it’s an excellent way to sharpen your inner villainess to a razor edge.

Murder After Hours by Agatha Christie

Murder After Hours by Agatha Christie

Murder After Hours—Also titled The Hollow, this Agatha Christie mystery is a lovers’ nightmare. Hercule Poirot is invited to a country lunch and finds himself in a vicious love quartet. While the characters of Love were openly and subtextually nasty, these four are almost worse because they’re repressed and trapped in their heads. I wanted to shake them so much. Rest assured there’s corpses and while yes, there’s one marriage at the end, it’s only after an attempted suicide, so there you go. Enjoy cackling.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

All you lovers out there, rejoice! And by rejoice I mean curl up with a good book. In the spirit of Saint Valentine, here’s two good book recommendations.

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel’s Dart—Penned by the brilliant Jacqueline Carey, Kushiel’s Dart is the first in Kushiel’s Legacy series. Set in an alternate, fantastical Renaissance Europe, Legacy is separated into two trilogies, the first following Phèdre, a courtesan and spy as she grows and unravels plots and intrigue for the throne. The prose is sensuous and elegant, and Carey lovingly details her mystical world of gods and chosen. As if the promise of political manipulations and BDSM wasn’t enough, the novels globe trot the world, from the upper reaches of Scotland and the southern tip of Africa to kissing Spain and the farther deserts of the Dead Sea. With the travel, there’s A+ diversity with characters of color and LGBT present, important, and fully fleshed out (Phèdre herself is mixed race and pansexual). These books blew my mind. Seriously. It took be two days to re-adjust to this reality after I finished the third one.

The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

The Hundred Secret Senses—Okay, after this book, I officially love Amy Tan. For those loving themselves this Valentine’s, I definitely recommend The Hundred Secret Senses. The story follows Olivia, a Chinese-American who struggles to reconcile her American rationalism with her half-sister Kwan’s stories of ghosts aka “yin people.” It’s a fantastic exploration of heritage and inheritance, what we ought to take from the past, what we ought to leave behind, and what we end up carrying with us anyway. I was definitely on Team Kwan through it all, to the point of sometimes disliking Olivia, but I was always ready for the next page, the next chapter, and the next debate. The plot is rather amorphous to start with, rather like following Olivia’s train of thought as she shows and tells us about her sister, but the reader grasps it quickly. I also heartily recommend the audiobook—Tan reads the story herself and she has an amazing voice.

Twelve Cadfael Novels!

Happy 12th and final day of blogging! For this last post, I thought I would expound The Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters, which I mentioned a couple posts ago.

Beginning with A Morbid Taste for Bones, this is a series of medieval murder mysteries. They follow a typical cozy mystery structure, beginning with a crime and several suspects that get weeded out as the story moves on and the detective investigates. There’s also almost always a wedding at the end, the story wrapped up with a bow and church bells.

But before you all scoff at the idea of formulas fiction and go back to writing your esoteric, dimension-hopping novel on xenosexuality, I remind you that the reason a particular plot structure becomes a formula is because it works. Devastatingly so. To the point where I raced through 12 of this 20 book series, where my mother would steal into my room and root through my things trying to find the next book, where we both become frustrated when a book didn’t follow specs. *shudders* Do not get between my mother and a Cadfael novel. You will lose.

Because uuuugghhhhh, this series is brilliant. Our detective is Brother Cadfael, a Welsh monk cloistered in the Benedictine monastery of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. His “Waston” is the local town Sheriff of Shrewsbury, Hugh Beringer. Together, this loyal, compassionate team keep crime down and chaos to a minimum, which is pretty impressive considering the stories take place during a historical period literally called “The Anarchy.”

There’s of course a host of other characters, both recurring and not, and all are well-drawn. Peters seems to imbue each character with something very human. Cadfael even seeks out each person’s humanity and uses it in his investigations, but he is always gentle, always honest, and (almost) always willing to forgive. His tender spot for teenagers is heartwarming, and I really would recommend the series to any teens out there. Cadfael is the epitome of the understanding adult teens need in their lives.

Don’t get me wrong though: Hugh and Cadfael are not push overs. There’s battles, sieges, stake-outs, and hostages like in any good adventure. And there’s nothing like the threat of a short drop and sudden stop to get suspects talking, or Vikings that one time I spent the whole book being terrified.

Each novel seemed to explore a different facet of medieval life: vellum-making, monastic politics, noble intrigue, pilgrimages, street fairs, and heretics, just to name a few. The variety and accuracy fascinated and intrigued me, and my mother and I definitely have more of a “feel” of medieval life than before. Peters has an eloquent and strong medieval voice throughout, easing the reader into the past until it’s effortless.

On the social justice front, Peters made a point to not have stock female characters, to give them just as much reason, desire, and conflict as the men. But even more rare, she purposely and repeatedly writes people of color. I nearly shrieked. Not as slaves or solely side characters either. Cadfael’s own son, a knight, is brown and members of the nobility share his complexion. Other characters are more ambiguous in skin tone, so you’re free to imagine them as whatever you like. As for the LGBTQIA scene, you’ll have to wear subtext goggles to find it, but it’s there. You gotta enjoy how much knights throw the word “love” around when talking to their lords or the brothers-that-are-not-actually-brothers-and-are-never-seen-apart pilgrims. Though toeing line between monastic celibacy and asexuality can be tricky, there are some in-text, totally canon instances of monks confessing that they’ve never felt that particular kind of desire. YES.

My misgivings with the series are few and far between, but I do have them. First, this isn’t a series that will yank you in. You’ve got to be patient. You’ll wake up one day and be hooked, but it’s not immediate. There are a lot of times where Peters stops the narrative to describe nature or a character’s appearance, which is a huge no-no in today’s writing market. Sometimes I became impatient, waiting for characters to communicate or have realizations I had 20 pages ago, but that happened only a few times and wasn’t as frustrating as other novels I’ve read.

So, overall, I feel very fond of and charmed by the series. I can easily see why so many historical fiction lovers love it, why it’s still being published, why Derek Jacobi agreed to star in the TV series. I’m glad there’s more yet to read.

Eleven Writing Challenges

Since last blog post was about me writing, let’s get you writing! Here are 11 writing challenges/prompts for you.

  • Write a story set on Planet Claire (“planet Claire has green hair, all the trees are red…)
  • Write a poem with a speaker with a different gender than yourself. For example, if you identify as cis gay male, write a poem where the speaker is a trans man attracted to women. Sometimes this doesn’t affect the poem’s content, but it makes your mind bend and twist nicely.
  • Write a character who casually has a physical disability or is not neuro-typical. Not as a major plot point, but just as a part of them. Think about Katniss’s deafness after her first Hunger Games or Peeta’s amputation. Those didn’t stop them from doing great things, but it was mentioned and present in the book.
  • Pick a song and write a story to go with it. You can directly incorporate the lyrics or just follow the “feel” of the song.
  • Who’d want to kill you? Yes, you, specifically. Write a story where you’re a ghost observing your own murder investigation.
  • Write a story with a speaker who is a different race than yourself. Watch out for stereotypes!
  • Write a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery. (Bonus points if set in an alternate universe).
  • Write a Lovecraftian poem. (Bonus points for non-cliché tentacles)
  • In a surprise twist of fate and paperwork error, a character does not go to the afterlife they were expecting.
  • A science-loving girl is terrified of swords, sorcery, and heights. This is unfortunate as she inherits a dragon.
  • “Don’t you know what happens when you don’t tip the homeless?” “All I had was an orange!”

Please let me know if you take on any of these challenges! And in turn, do you have any challenges for me?