Category Archives: books

My Gratitude Book

Spider Road's New Collection of 4 Novellas & Bonus Flash Fiction

Spider Road’s New Collection of 4 Novellas & Bonus Flash Fiction

The first collection that I have curated since becoming a working mom comes out in less than two weeks! I am thrilled! And I am also a little nervous, very proud and pretty gosh-darned tired. I can’t wait for y’all to read the four unique and suspenseful novellas in here.

This book has been a literary journey taken with four talented writers who are clever, determined, responsive and willing to “kill a darling” word or two. I admire writers who take risks. I enjoy the work of authors who put a truly new slant on a satisfying standard. As an editor, I am grateful to writers who respond to questions about work and requests for help with promotion with consideration and enthusiasm. I recommend the fiction of these four writers. I also recommend hiring and/or working with these four writers if you ever get the chance.

The reader’s bonus flash fiction section makes my heart happy. The award-winning flash pieces featuring complex female protagonists will move readers. The editor’s bonus is that the award-winners and judges involved are also good people.

Another bonus-becoming a working mom has been amazing, gratifying, and humbling. We got my wee son into a wonderful Montessori program. Then he promptly picked up all the independently minded & skill building germs there, and he got the croup. Then he stayed home to get healthy and gave all his sweet boy germs and snot to Mama. So, as I watch the release of this wonderful book approach from behind my tray of chicken soup and vials of antibiotics and bronchitis-battling steroids, I want to thank some of the people who helped and are continuing to help Spider Road Press midwife this great collection into the world:

The writers. Skilled and brave souls all.

The Spider Road Press 2015 Kickstarter donors who generously funded the production costs.

The designers who did such amazing work. Heidi Dorey’s cover and David Welling’s interior design bring the stories to life.

Kessika Johnson-Spider Road Press worker bee and role model for caring working moms everywhere.

My husband! I can’t write the foreword to a new book and change diapers at the same time. Thanks, Papa Steve!

SRP’s deft consultants Lilia Fabry and Vi Moore.

My writing critique group. For every time I said, “Thanks for the feedback on my flash fiction. Can I ask you for a reader’s opinion on….” (Insert new idea about book design or book promotion).

The talents at SkipJack Publishing. For learning all the the nitty gritty, only sometimes pretty, truth of indie publishing. And then generously sharing it. And sharing it. And always being open to exchanging ideas.

The Houston Writers House & The Houston Writers Guild. For all that they do to support local presses and emerging writers.

Writespace Houston. For maintaining a creative haven.

The stellar, crunchy, loyal Goddard College MFA in creative writing community. For more than I can say in this list.

Jody T. Morse-for bursting onto the Spider Road Press scene with talent, an open mind, creative ideas, and enthusiasm just when the book launch process sped up. Girl, I owe you a bottle of wine for weathering the storm with humor and grace.

Our beta readers-both generous and honest.

Enos Rusell-eBook style whisperer. And a patient, patient writer pal.

My family & close friends. For all of your love, loyalty and support. If good karma counts, y’all will be rewarded with champagne and cheesecake in the next life.

EQ Heights Cafe- For fueling the process with mocha hazelnut lattes & good vibes. And for being so nice to my messy wee son.

As I snuggle under the multi-colored quilt my friend Amber made my husband and I as a wedding gift, and dream of boxes of fresh-smelling books, let me say to everyone on this list, everyone I’ve forgotten, and all my fellow lovers of books…

 

Thank You!

 

If y’all are interested in supporting feminist, indie publishing and great fiction by preordering Approaching Footsteps, please visit Spider Road Press: http://spiderroadpress.com/book-store/ 

 

 

Guest Blog: Birth of An Intriguing Novel

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Spy novels? Aren’t they a bit macho? Until recently, that’s what I would have said if a woman writer told me she was excited about writing a novel about espionage. I would have thought of male characters and car chases. I would’ve noted the loyal male readers (like my dad). I would have argued that novels in which the political operatives and terrorists crash into the emotional lives of everyday people, such as Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation, made for a better read.

I would have been wrong. Yes, you should read Edna O’Brien’s excellent novel. But no, spy novels are not just about macho thrills. Case in point, Houston author Mel Algood recently published a gripping, sarcastic, violent novel about espionage and revenge, Blood on the Potomac. I had the pleasure of reading it as it progressed and loved her jaded female characters and their twisted humor. Mel joins us on the blog today to give her impressions of birthing her first book.

The Birth of Blood On The Potomac

Matthew Hale, ex-navy SEAL, joined Erebus at his friend, Jack’s, insistence. Now Jack has been murdered and the newest member of the private spy organization, Samantha Locke, seems to be the key to uncovering the truth behind Jack’s death. Samantha Locke, rogue assassin, has one goal in life, to find her father’s killer. Blackmailed by Erebus to work for them in exchange for the identity of the woman she’s hunted all her life, Samantha finds herself falling in love with her hunky handler,Matthew Hale. As they sift through the web of lies, their passionate attraction draws them closer together. But can they ever truly trust each other? Will their love help them find the truth, or will it tear them apart?

The story of Samantha Locke and Matthew Hale took time to reach readers. Which made the night of my book release even sweeter. The night started off as many spring evenings in Houston-pouring down rain. Thankfully by the time my handsome man Israel and I made it to Gratifi Kitchen and Bar, in the heart of Montrose, the water abated. The weather reminded me of my personal experience while writing the novel. There were pitfalls, and a fair share of challenges, but after three years, my novel was finally available to the reading public.

I was excited when I saw that the menu had named a drink after my debut novel “Blood On The Potomac,” which proved delicious. The venue was crowded, and when I read scenes from the novel there were gasps and laughs at the right times from the audience.

The people that joined me on the evening my novel was released ranged from old friends, fellow writers, and avid readers that were excited to start reading. One of the attendees-a college student and talented author told me that after I read the infamous ‘roof top’ scene in the ‘Looking Glass’ chapter she “couldn’t stop reading even after you did. I just had to find out what happened next!” Gratitude swelled in me that so many people came to support me.

The most memorable moment for me was when someone made a toast to me, easily one of the people who has known me personally for the shortest amount of time. Sherrie along with several of my co-workers from Green Apple Salon- Montrose, http://www.greenapplesalons.com came to the event just a few blocks from our salon. I was elated that they attended-a friend mentioned that no one from my previous salon attended any of my previous, yet numerous, writing events. My fellow hair stylist, Sherrie, stood up, and tapped a knife against her glass. She called the room to attention and began to speak. Her words were moving, and the night was long, thus I can’t quote anything for sure other than how she concluded her toast of love and admiration with “you are a true artist, Mel, and we love you.”

Knowing that others appreciate your gift for the written word is the greatest gift I’ve ever received. Thank you to all my friends, family, and the readers that attended any past or future event-without you I’d be telling stories to myself. Thank you for helping me bring Samantha and Matthew into the world.

You can purchase my debut novel Blood On The Potomac on Amazon or from Inklings Publishing at www.inklingspublishing.com. Check out updates on my blog, melalgoodauthor.com, and follow me on Twitter @MelAlgood.

Graphic Novel Review: “Blacksad”

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Philosophical Noir, Neo-Nazis & a Tough Feline Hero

A graphic novel has to tell a damn good story to garner my attention. Until five years ago, the only graphic novel I really admired was the powerful Holocaust story Maus. Boy, was I missing out on a rich, diverse genre. Mystery fans, take note of Blacksad, an unlikely gem. Even if you’re not “a graphic novel person.” Canales and Guarnidno anchor their exciting yet philosophical graphic novel of danger and passion by depicting a surprisingly complex feline protagonist in both text and illustrations. This is not a story for kids. Both the ideas and the illustrations are for readers at least 16 and up. Yet, even in translation, the author and illustrator convey that Blacksad is much more than a noir-style anthropomorphized detective trying to solve two intriguing murders, a kidnapping, and the disappearance of a nuclear scientist. P.I. John Blacksad uses all of his skills to seek his own brand of justice; he’s both a fixer and a thinker.

Capable, Blacksad scares off a stalker for a famous actress in a manner that is firm and “efficient.” Both the text and the illustrations, which reveal a gun flashing and a teeth baring panther, keep the reader engaged. I certainly agree that Blacksad could handle any villain when he “puts his mind to it.” In an unusual twist, Canales and Guarnidno further stress Blacksad’s ability to dodge lies and bullets by portraying him as able to circumvent both family drama and neo-Nazis as he tries to return a kidnapped girl to her dedicated teacher. Guiding the reader from solving murders into a battle with Neo-Nazis seems unlikely, but the author and illustrator pull it off with ease. That’s because you believe that this man- er, I mean cat -Blacksad is worth following. Furthermore, the author and illustrator highlight not just the panther’s ability to land a punch and solve a case, but also to think deeply. They render one of Blacksad’s reflective moments as he discusses the unfinished train station in a racially divided suburb known only as The Line. Drawn in black silhouette against a snowy sky, Blacksad notes that the unused train station remains “an image of what could have been, but never was” in the poor suburb.

I recommend Blacksad to fans of both noir fiction and graphic novels because the author and illustrator work in concert to create a feline hero as real and complicated as any human being. They use text and artwork to communicate both Blacksad’s streetwise problem solving and his deep meditations. Discover this unique read yourself: Blacksad by Juan Diaz Calales, illustrated by Juanjo Guarnido., an published by Dark Horse Books is available on Amazon and in indie bookstores and some comic shops. Become “a graphic novel person” for a little while and you’ll enjoy it.

Ongoing Passion: The Joys and Challenges of Writing A Series

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What’s so special about writing a series? Today I sit down with a best-selling author to find out exactly that. Affable, talented and driven, Pamela Fagan Hutchins is a pro at writing best-selling romantic mysteries featuring engaging characters. Her fans can’t wait to see what will happen next to her feisty heroines. I gave my sister one of her mysteries for Christmas two years ago, and now she looks forward to a P.F.H mystery every birthday and holiday! Engaging series are satisfying to readers (like my sister) and sometimes easier to sell to agents and publishers. But how do you keep readers hooked and keep telling a tight story??]

Pamela, what are the two best things about writing a series peopled with strong characters?

Readers engage with and follow characters far more than they follow an author who told a good story. So if I can write a great character or characters, the reader will develop an attachment, even a relationship with that character that they want to continue. Think about the success of authors like Sue Grafton with Kinsey Milhone or Janet Evanovich with Stephanie Plum. Their characters’ names are as well known as the authors.

As an author, I enjoy sitting back down to start the next book in a series with strong characters. I look forward to spending time with them, to seeing what trouble they’ve gotten themselves into, and—most of all—to seeing them grow in the latest installment. Give me a series with strong, complex characters who experience authentic personal growth in each installment, and I’m yours forever.

You teach helpful workshops on creating great scenes and authorpreneurship. Imagine that you taught a class specifically about crafting an exciting fiction series. What challenges would you point out to writers?

Each book in a series needs to be able to standalone on its own merit, so it’s more important to write one really great book than a series. I find my readers don’t like to be “forced” to read the next book either. They want to feel compelled from within to read it, rather than having a cliffhanger where they don’t know the ending unless they continued. I also find readers who read my books in reverse order or start in the middle. The only way that’s possible is if your books can standalone.
Readers expect that if you use a character they’ll appear again in later books, if they don’t die or go to prison. Write characters with the potential to play further roles down the line, then use them in interesting ways. Readers welcome them back like old friends, or hiss and boo when the villain reappears onstage.
Series writers must not repeat themselves in terms of plot, but they must absolutely be consistent on the details of their characters and worlds. Keep a style sheet/series Bible to keep it all straight. You’ll thank me later.

Can you think of themes common to the books in your current series? For example, readers & reviewers have noted that the themes of transformation, tenacity & grief reoccur in my stories in Trail Ways Pilgrims: Stories and Our Space. Which issues do you rest from book to book?

I explore two common themes in trying to write strong characters within a rich setting while still pacing and delivering a pulse-pounding mystery.
The impact of regional history and culture on our contemporary views of spirituality
In Going for Kona—What Doesn’t Kill You #4—the protagonist, Michele, learned of Itzpapalotl, a knife-winged butterfly goddess in Aztec mythology, from her Mexican grandmother. Her father nicknames her Itzpa, and the mythology exerts a powerful influence on her in the novel.
The role and self-view of modern women in family and relationships
For instance, in Heaven to Betsy—the fifth book in my What Doesn’t Kill You series and the 2015 WINNER of the USA Best Book Award in Cross Genre Fiction—Emily loses a husband to divorce and a baby to miscarriage, moves back to her hometown, and begins trying to adopt as a single woman. It’s a confusing and painful time for her, and she has to figure out who she is, at the same time as she has to learn to care less what others think.

Speaking of your current series, your readers are excited that you have
a new novel coming soon. What’s it about?

Hell to Pay is the seventh book in my What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series. In her third and final turn as one of the series’ protagonists, big-haired paralegal and former rodeo queen Emily has her life back on track. Her adoption of Betsy seems like a done deal, her parents have reunited, and she’s engaged to her sexy boss Jack. Then client Phil Escalante’s childhood buddy Dennis drops dead, face first into a penis cake at the adult novelty store Phil owns with his fiancée Nadine, one of Emily’s best friends. The cops charge Phil with murder right on the heels of his acquittal in a trial for burglarizing the Mighty is His Word church offices. Emily’s nemesis ADA Melinda Stafford claims a witness overheard Phil fighting with Dennis over a woman. Before he can mount a defense, Phil falls into a diabetic coma, leaving Nadine shaken and terrified. Meanwhile Betsy’s ultra-religious foster parents apply to adopt her, and Jack starts acting weird and evasive. Emily feels like a calf out of a chute, pulled between the ropes of the header and the heeler, as she fights to help Phil and Nadine without losing Betsy and Jack. It’s a pulse-pounder of a book, but with lots of heart and humor. I love this one.

Your What Doesn’t Kill You character-driven series features strong female protagonists, and readers enjoy the woman’s adventures all the way through to the end of that character’s journey. Do you have any advice to emerging writers about how to keep each new book in a series fresh?

This is actually a really important question to me. I have had series in the past that I fell in love with, but lost interest in after three or four books, because the characters didn’t grow. In series, especially in mystery/thriller/suspense series, we tend to focus too hard on plot and forget that it is compelling, complex characters who readers follow. Give your protagonist and other main characters interesting stories that keep evolving with your series. Personally, this is the reason that I decided to create a revolving cast of protagonists in my fictional world for my series. I only want to write books where the protagonists experience personal growth and development. I’ve capped it at three books per protagonist, which I think of as a three-act structure, where those three books as the three acts in a larger story in that protagonist’s “life.”

Thanks, Pamela! I can’t wait for my copy of Hell to Pay to arrive. And, don’t worry, sis, you are getting a copy for your upcoming birthday, too.

Hell to Pay, and all the fun, fast-paced romantic mysteries in Pamela Fagan Hutchins series are available as ebooks and books on Amazon and ibooks, as well as in bookstores. To find out more, read Pamela’s fun and informative blog (bonus: you’ll learn about her cute baby goats): http://pamelafaganhutchins.com

Exclusive Collection Celebrates Diverse Voices

This exclusive collection features poetry and art by 28 talent women.

This exclusive collection features poetry and art by 28 talented women.

I am thrilled to announce the upcoming publication of a unique, diverse collection of poetry and art by women from all over the world, In the Questions! It is not only an embodiment of a range of women’s experiences expressed poetically, but also the result of generous, skilled poets and artists banding together to help the mission-oriented indie publisher that I founded, Spider Road Press.

Recently, I donated a piece to the Writespace fundraiser anthology, Our Space. I was proud to support this helpful community writing center. Writespace donors were happy to receive the volume, which showcased the writers that Writespace encourages. When I held the book in my hand, a little green lightbulb went off in my brain (what, your mental lightbulbs aren’t green?). To help us forego reading fees, keep contest entry fees low, and pay our staff and designers fairly, Spider Road had planned our own fundraising campaign. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I asked the always gracious Writespace director, Elizabeth White-Olsen, if I could borrow her idea and curate my own collection connected to Spider Road’s October indiegogo campaign. Wonderful poets generously donated the one-time use of their work, and In the Questions was born.

Editing a poetry collection was a new adventure for me. I haven’t considered poetry submissions since my days as a poetry reader on the staff of The Pitkin Review at Goddard College. There are so many different styles of poetry! My assistant editor Kessika Johnson and I learned a lot through the editorial process. We were lucky to be able to work with experienced copyeditor Lizz Schumer. Some interesting and fun issues arose. Consider poets who intentionally reject standard capitalization and syntax in the style of E.E. Cummings. They presented a fun challenge of balancing quality editing with poetic style.

Exclusive to Spider Road Press, In the Questions marries many distinct voices. It also means a lot to me personally – I feel truly blessed to have worked with the poets and artists involved. Spider Road Press is rewarding supporters who donate $25 or more to our indiegogo.com campaign by 11/1/15 with this exciting anthology (among other perks). Please support Spider Road and women writers by donating here:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/spider-road-press-books-by-about-strong-women#/

In The Questions contains many excellent poems, but I want to share one of my favorites, “Hyacinth,” by gifted Vermont writer Eileen M. Brunetto. Enjoy.

Hyacinth

She’d set the house ready,

Whisking away winter‘s grime,
She wiped the windows of our souls clean,
Then poured the used-up water on the roots of a backyard forsythia

Lenten offerings made in silence

I recall the bulb, its fragrance like a prayer Leaves firm, pointed toward heaven
A scent not unlike her own
All my springs ever since

Reading for Guilty Pleasure

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I enjoy school. I tend to understand the rules of going to school: if you attend class and work hard, and don’t have to battle a learning disorder, you do relatively well. If you think outside the box, and write or read something a little different, you don’t do as well, but once you hit university there is a general academic respect for thought and writing. Even odd writing shows effort, which is less flashy than talent, but wins you grudging respect over time. Effort often goes unrecognized in other realms. Over the years, I have become a big fan of amassing academic credits and, if I had the money, I would probably study until my eyesight faded.

I liked school so much that I briefly thought I might want to be a public school teacher. Unfortunately, that’s even more difficult than it looks. Teaching takes patience and stamina that make marathon runners look like wimps. And thanks to a bizarre tendency in some Americans to think that the adage “you get what you pay for” relates to shoes but not schools, young teachers get to work a second job. It’s always fun to bartend or tutor at night so that you can have the privilege of giving one hundred and ten percent to educate American kids all day long. Teachers who are willing to do this, it turns out, are nicer than I am.

Yet the lure of academia never fades. One of my favorite advantages to attending various universities is that universities attract smart people. In them, I meet students and professors who recommend new writers and foreign films and weird, brown and yellow foods that tastes surprisingly good. I love this! The only problem with academia is the supremacy of what a core group of academics, editors and publishing industry types dub “literary fiction.” When I was younger, this generally meant books by dead white guys, but happily that is shifting. Ever sooo slowly. As long as they don’t write mystery, science fiction or horror, some writers of color can gradually sneak into this category.

The disadvantage to “literary” circles is that you have to ferret out the readers who understand that, once in a rare while, a book is so bad that it’s good. Melodramas have their moments. Now I’m not talking about a predictable vampire book peopled with whiny teens expecting boys to save them (ahem). However, deep down inside, when I’m not using words like “impervious,” listening to Billie Holiday and worrying about the ongoing consequences of trickle down economics, I love The Thorn Birds. That’s right, that fat, cheesy book that went on to become an even cheesier mini-series with the androgynous looking Richard Chamberlain. I see a tiny gem of wonder in this sweeping romance set on foreign shores because it completely transports the American reader to a new world. Science fiction and fantasy novels do the same thing, and their popularity endures.

I should hate The Thorn Birds. I loved it when I was fourteen and, thankfully, my reading life has matured. McCullough over-does her prose and uses ten words when three would do. She glosses ever instances of colonialist misunderstanding and all but erases the presence of aboriginal people in the general area where she set her book. Worse still, the book romanticizes the sexual lives of Catholic priests. In some archdioceses, like the one that I grew up in, these sexual lives were not so romantic.

Yet there is something about the setting, the sweeping nature of the novel and its illicit romantic premise that make me love to hate it. Tales of star-crossed lovers, like hot dogs, can be enjoyable if you don’t think about them too much. Nostalgia is certainly part of it. Some women remember Flowers in the Attic or Go Ask Alice (spoiler-not a real diary!) with the same embarrassed affection.

So, I admit it. I secretly kind of love it. And upbeat Kelly Clarkson pop songs. Don’t tell my writer friends.

“Tides of Impossibility” is Fantastically Fun

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Today I’m happy to interview C. Stuart Hardwick, the science fiction author and witty coeditor of the recently released fantasy collection, Tides Of Impossibility. (I’ve been writing about this collection lately because I am thrilled to be experimenting with this new genre and to be included in this diverse anthology.) C. Stuart Hardwick is an L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future award winner who combines Golden Age optimism, adventure, and fun, combined with modern social themes. A southerner from South Dakota, he now lives in Texas with his family and dogs, and has been known to wear a cape.

So, what elements contribute to a great fantasy story?
The best stories are about interesting people in interesting circumstances changing in interesting ways. That’s what we tried to put into Tides. Even when the “people” are witches or fantastic creatures, you still look for recognizably human motivation and growth.

One of the things that drew me to scifi was how readily it skirts reality to act as a lens through which to view ourselves. Fantasy can fly further afield, as it were, and this can give the author even more editorial leverage, but storytelling isn’t just social commentary. Great stories can be heart rending, hilarious, or just plain fun, but what makes us care about them, I think, are characters, relationships, and struggle.

Who are your top three favorite fantasy writers?
I loved the Harry Potter books, and Tim Powers’s On Stranger Tides is one of my all-time favorites. Whether you loved or hated the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the book (on which it was only loosely based) is far better. And to that list I’ll add my friend Randy Henderson, who’s debut, Finn Fancy Necromancy is just plain fun.

What was the experience of coediting Tides of Impossibility like for you? What was the biggest challenge posed by the project?
The biggest challenge, really the only challenge, was finding enough time. The hardest part of editing an anthology is selecting the stories. Kyle was very organized and all the authors we selected were responsive and accommodating, so it was a real pleasure to put together.

Any reader can take something from a good story, but some people think, “Fantasy isn’t my genre.” What can the reader who is less familiar with fantasy fiction expect from this anthology?
I call that the Tolkien effect. So many people loved Tolkien and so many set out to imitate him, that the band of oddball adventures making plans over tankards of ale has become as hackneyed as the line “It was a dark and stormy night.” Well rest assured, modern fantasy isn’t just recycled Tolkien, D&D campaigns, and pixie dust. The Tides anthology offers a diversity of tales, from medieval to surreal, lighthearted to positively dystopian.

It’s a great collection and I’m honored to be a part of it. Thanks for discussing your experience with it. What other projects do you, as a writer and editor, have in the works for 2015?
Happy to discuss it!

I’m drafting a novel that’s a sort of City of Ember meets The Hunger Games, which I hope to have ready to market this summer. In the meantime, check out Galaxy’s Edge magazine, issue 14., where my story appears along with those of Robert A. Heinlein, Larry Niven, Nancy Kress, David Brin, and Alan Dean Foster, among others. Galaxy’s Edge is edited by the inestimable Mike Resnick and filled with scifi and unique and quirky fantasy far afield of the traditional fae and dragon fare. My story, “Luck of the Chieftain’s Arrow,” is a good example, about an elemental spirit that learns about love and loss as the copper it’s trapped in is passed down through human history.

I’ll be sure to check that out. Thanks again.

Tides of Impossibility will be for sale at Comicpalooza in Houston (5/22-5/25) and is available now from Amazon.com.
Coming in April, 2015...

Lessons Learned From an Author-a-go-go

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It has been four days since I returned from my very first trip to Malice Domestic, and I have almost recovered. My brain is swimming with smiling faces and new ideas. I find myself telling any soul who will listen, including a polite dental hygienist who was trying to scrape off my plaque, that I met Charlaine Harris in the hotel elevator. Charlaine Harris! Can you believe it? Imagine my wide, bookworm grin.

If I can focus my full & tired brain long enough, I’d like to tell you about the pleasant and brave authors who survived an interesting event called Malice Go Round. Billed as “speed dating with authors,” it was a fun and exhausting session in which we readers sat in groups of six at tables while teams of mystery authors rushed from table to table (with admirable stamina) telling us about their books in rapid fashion. They pitched their books to at least twenty different tables of booklovers. It was an onslaught of friendly writers, interesting premises and clever sleuths. Chatting with the readers on either side of me, I saw that their eyes were starting to glaze over about two-thirds of the way through the event. Certainly our minds were wandering by the end. To remember an author and their novels, we needed more than their smile. We needed their savvy marketing.

As an author myself, I found the various marketing techniques employed fascinating. The room was full of smart writers who can craft a good story. The ones who stood out could also create a good connection. Some had that seemingly natural gift of charisma and eye contact that is so helpful in any sales arena. Some had the kind of genuinely bubbly personality that no professional event, even a grueling one, can suppress. Some roved about in teams with friends who could support them. Some, like Accidental Alchemist author Gigi Pandian, had written interesting articles for First Draft, and Malice Go Round allowed me to connect their byline with a face and a book. And some authors just seemed very, very well prepared. They used materials provided by their publishers (and by themselves) to augment interpersonal experiences. Those were the authors that I tried to pay particular attention to before my synapses got too tired.

For a socially nervous person like me, marketing my stories and myself does not come naturally. I would much rather talk to you about food (did you see that chocolate teacup?), other people’s books, travel, music, liberal politics, my love for We Have Always Lived In The Castle (Haven’t read it? It’s a strange and wonderful little book), Broadchurch, or Orphan Black. So I came away from that author-a-go-go feeling like I’d taken a master class in marketing, if only I could remember it all! The marketing materials that authors and their publishers used to remain memorable varied: lovely sets of recipe cards, convention care packages, chocolates in pretty bags, marker sets, a mystery press’ promotional sewing kit, etc. These seemed well-suited to a mostly female fan convention.

Colorful, high quality marketing materials packaged in an original way (and given in a low-pressure manner) caught my eye. More importantly, they survived in my tote bag, and I could fish them out to remember an author before hitting the book dealer’s room. That is exactly what I did with the bookmark for Jennifer McAndrews’ book Ill-Gotten Panes. I love mysteries, and stained–glass, but I never would have heard of heroine Georgia Kelly and this quirky new series of books without McAndrews’ marketing.

At the end of any event for readers and or writers, I summon my social courage and make a real effort to thank people who are supportive of my books (my readers rock!) or inspire me as a writer. These generous souls make the writing life, a solitary path, warmer and brighter. So here’s a big “Thank You” to the “speed daters” at Malice Domestic 27, who taught me more about marketing. Kudos. Now go nap for a few days. You’ve earned it.

Back Cover Dreams

When I was a tween, mass was a mystical celebration, but the bookstore was my secondary church. The colorful displays of award winners and best-sellers, the crisp pages and new-book smell, I loved them all. I would enjoy the cover art, read the blurbs and then turn over the books to drink in the tempting back cover copy. In particular, I would look at the author photo with a mixture of awe and envy. This author had not only gotten their hair to behave (the daily struggle of my pre-Frizzease existence) in a formal picture, but they had written an entire book. A book that someone liked enough to publish! Novelists and authors of short story collections were just as cool as Blondie, and even a little smarter.

This week I was pleasantly surprised to find my photo on the back of the fantasy anthology, Tides of Impossibility. I have to admit, my inner tween bounced with glee. I write for the love of the story, and because characters keep popping into my mind and nagging at me until I let them run on across my keyboard into my prose. In the long run, it’s about, as Jean Rhys famously wrote, “feeding the lake.” In fact, the fiction containing the most of my love, fear and vulnerability, Trail Ways Pilgrims: Stories, only exists in eBook form, so it has no back cover. As a writer, I know that a little old cover photo doesn’t mean that much. Many talented writers from my Goddard writing program, some far better writers than me, have never been published in any book.

But my inner tween, daydreaming in the bookstore in Harvard Square, delights in this moment.

Tides of Impossibility benefits the Houston Writers Guild and can be purchased from Amazon.com.http://www.amazon.com/Tides-Impossibility-2-K-J-Russell>
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“Tides of Impossibility” Brings the Fantastic to Life


What elements contribute to a great fantasy story?

That’s the question I posed to KJ Rusell, the talented speculative fiction author and co-editor of the new fantasy anthology, Tides of Impossibility. I had a lot of fun writing my first fantasy story, “Puca Dawns,” which is included in the collection. I wrote it while thinking about how a child whose everyday life is dangerous might confront an unusual, and possibly menacing, mythical being. However, as a fantasy newbie, I sought out my editors to get their take on the genre….

1. Welcome to my blog. In your experience as an editor, writer & reader, what elements contribute to a great fantasy story?

Great fantasy is great literature. If I run into someone in the industry who really harps on how literary stories are better than genre fiction, I like to ask them what exactly the difference is. What makes “magical realism” okay for mainstream literary journals and not “fantasy”? Somewhere in the sea of confirmation bias, the best answer I found was that it’s the intent; in literary fiction, fantastic elements need to be a metaphor for something. Of course the person who gave me that answer thought they were excluding most fantasy, but they really weren’t. Great fantasy lets us look straight at things that less speculative stories have to turn crooked and skim over. Fantasy is an excellent tool for exploring and commenting on reality, and great artists know how to use their tools.

2. Who are your top 3 favorite fantasy writers?

I can’t think of any writer who writes straight fantasy without dipping into horror or sci-fi occasionally, nor vice-versa. For that reason I’d challenge that Lovecraft is my favorite fantasy writer, and a hard counter to the idea that there’s no such thing as an original thought. I think Tolkein goes without saying, so I wont. I’m just going to run away from this question before I start listing off great writers typically associated with horror or sci-fi, like Poe and Frank Herbert.

3. What was the experience of editing Tides of Impossibility like for you? What was the biggest challenge posed by the project?

Stuart, my co-editor, was great to work with, and he really helped simplify the organizational challenges of the job. This freed me to focus more on the actual content. While all of the writers brought fully formed stories to the anthology, a few of them were revised from start to finish before the anthology was ready to go. This is normal: an editor is expected to squeeze as much potential out of their writers as they can, and even great stories can sometimes be better. This is a unique challenge, very different from editing my own stories. I can’t just tell an author to rewrite their story according to how I want it. I have to make the writer see the unfulfilled opportunities and trust the writer to fill them out. This worked out really well, as some of the revisions the writers did were better than anything I could’ve suggested.

4. Any reader can take something from a good story, but some people think, “Fantasy isn’t my genre.” What can the reader who is less familiar with fantasy fiction expect from this anthology?

We open with Elfanticide by Lisa Godfrees and T.J. Akers, and here’s a great example. The story has a very sardonic humor to its characters and plot — a noble who is so annoyed with one particular elf that he convinces the king to exterminate the entire elven race — and it’s absolutely not something that would be funny in a non-fantasy setting. If you tried to set this story in the real world, it would be too political and grim. It wouldn’t work. Godfrees and Akers understand the tools of the fantasy genre and use them exquisitely to make this story what it is. All of the writers in this anthology use the genre to its utmost.

5. Thanks so much! What other projects do you, as a writer and editor, have in the works for 2015?

Tides of Impossibility was produced with the Houston Writers Guild. The HWG is moving forward with starting their own press to produce more work in-house, but I’m not currently attached to any upcoming projects with them. For now, I’m taking a step back from editing to work on my own writing. My big project right now is my upcoming novel, The Dusty Man, which is hitting print in May. My eBook, Atargatis, is now available on Amazon. I am also presenting on panels and at tables at Comicpalooza in Houston next month. I’m hoping to meet a lot of readers there.

Good Book Alert: I was fortunate to read the first half of Russell’s Atargatis in a writers’ critique circle and I highly recommend it. I am not usually a fan of more technical science fiction, but I found the story exciting, well-crafted, and introspective. I can’t wait to see how it ends! Speculative fiction readers, I encourage you to download this intriguing eBook from Amazon.com.