Silver!

Silver!

I admit, when I started submitting my short stories again last year, I had forgotten about the Writers of the Future Contest. (Which is a real shame, as it’s one of the most important contests out there for speculative fiction!) I stumbled across a reminder towards the end of the year, so I submitted “Everapple.” And this week I received an email with the results:

Silver Honorable Mention!

I’ve managed the Honorable Mention mark in the past, and I congratulated myself on that achievement. (And, don’t get me wrong – it IS an achievement!) But to get one step higher this time? I’m ecstatic. That lets me know my writing IS improving. And it gives me a drive to keep refining my craft.

But the big lesson? Never, ever stop. And never give up hope on yourself.

Review of Cassandra Clare’s Chain of Iron

Review of Cassandra Clare’s Chain of Iron

Chain of Iron by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


As always, Ms. Clare’s ability to transport you back to the world of Victorian England is unparalleled. The details of the clothing, food, and architecture set the perfect backdrop, and you don’t even question the overlay of the Shadowhunter world. The nod to Jack the Ripper was clever, as well, with enough differentiation to keep the book apart and unique. And the ins and outs and intrigue of the social situations? Perfect for the setting – if somewhat tedious at times. (It’s understandable for this setting, but there are times where it bogs down the action and becomes cyclic – and that includes the final chapter) And while the plot lacked a dramatic twist – sorry, Ms. Clare, but I saw the direction you were heading from almost the beginning – it felt satisfactory in its own way. My interest lay in seeing the first threads laid down for “later” volumes in the greater Shadowhunter tapestry. And while a true fan of the series knows what comes next, it’s fascinating to see everything from a fresh perspective.



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Review of Katherine Arden’s Winter of the Witch

Review of Katherine Arden’s Winter of the Witch

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


When Ms. Arden ripped my heart out within the first handful of pages, I expected to scream and throw the book across the room. (And not crying out in horror at that moment was only prevented by my husband sleeping beside me) Never in a million years did I expect her to travel that path after the journey she’d started with the previous two volumes. And there’s no doubt that she takes Vasya – indeed, all of Rus’ – down a dark and twisted road in this book. But the best fairy tales? (Well, any tale, really) They require the characters to fight for their endings. And she accomplishes precisely that. The emotion is so raw you feel it in your bones. And as difficult as it is to turn the pages, you feel compelled to do so. It’s the perfect blend of history and fantasy, and she’s to be commended. My only disappointment is the minor role Baba Yaga plays. She’s such a vital character in Russian fairy tales, and I would have liked to see more of her woven through. But with the sheer beauty of the journey of Vasya, Sasha, and even Morozko? It’s difficult to complain.



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To Thine Own Self Be True

To Thine Own Self Be True

Shelf of books
Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Anyone that participates in SOME form of health program has come across the phrase “self-care.” (Actually, it crops up all over social media these days, so you’ll see it there, too) The notion of taking time out for yourself has gained in popularity recently. It’s an interesting proposition – assuming you happen to have time in your schedule. Then again, I think self-care is supposed to encourage you to MAKE time. And those people are right. You can’t bury yourself in work, errands, and family every moment of the day and expect to keep a stable mental state.

But after that? They get it wrong.

Oh, sure: the idea of bubble baths and manicures SOUNDS luxurious. (No idea what men are supposed to do for their self-care; that never seems to come up, even though they’re included in exercise regimes) But those ideas are horribly outdated. I mean, seriously. When did we go back to the 1950s? It’s a subtle dig to set women back in their place, and I, for one, despise the notion. Also, I don’t find ANYTHING relaxing about either activity.

I’m tall. And the average bathtub? It’s designed for short people. This means SOME part of my body is always out of the water and freezing. I’m allergic to scents, so bath bombs? They’re out (standing next to them in the store causes my throat to swell). Plus, I share a house with Tonks. She’s not afraid of water. Any time I attempt to soak in the tub (not as a “self-care” regime, but usually with Epsom salts or an herbal preparation), she perches on the side and plays in the water – or falls in, and then I have to chase her around the house with a towel. There’s NOTHING relaxing about the process. (And before someone suggests closing the door, that results in frantic scratching and attempts to pry underneath. Again, it’s more stress than it’s worth)

And don’t get me started on manicures. My nails don’t do well under the best circumstances. I admit that I add collagen to my daily superfood shake to attempt to strengthen them, but that’s as far as I’m willing to “baby” them. Nail polish? It never turns out well. I lack the necessary chromosome to paint my nails without making a mess. And there isn’t enough bribery in the world to convince me to set foot in a salon. Chemicals? Are you kidding me? How is THAT supposed to get me calm? (Not to mention that it’s an expense – and one I have to REPEAT?!)

Let’s rethink this self-care thing.

At it’s most basic definition, what is self-care? Taking time out to give yourself a break. And that doesn’t have to look like anything specific! YOU decide what the free time becomes. And you don’t have to justify it to ANYONE. My self-care? It looks like this:

  • Curling up with a book and reading
  • Sitting down to write something NOT for work
  • Taking a nap
  • Watching nonsense on TV

It’s time that I’m allowing my mind and body to recharge. And that’s what I feel self-care IS. I’m not working, nor am I running around thinking or engaging in chores. My brain stops fretting about the million and one things I’m supposed to be focusing on. Everything relaxes and switches off. To me, that’s what self-care means. And it doesn’t COST me anything. (Okay, with the exception of my book budget, which we’re not going to discuss)

What you do to shut yourself down and reset is an individual choice. And it doesn’t have to fit in with the “normal” definition. If you LIKE baths and mani-pedis? Fine. I still think they’re a subliminal message to shuffle women into the background, but everyone’s entitled to their preferences. However, if you find yourself longing for something else? Then FIND it. Figure out what makes you feel like YOU and go for it. How you take care of yourself isn’t confined to specific rules. What’s important is that you DO carve out those moments.

Do they happen every day? Maybe not. Should you find them every week? Yes. (I admit, I sometimes lapse) You’ll find yourself functioning better when you set them aside. If you need to, write them down on your calendar – and defend them from everyone else! If someone asks why you have blocks marked out? Tell them you’re doing research. (Writers MUST read to survive) Or, honestly, tell them you’re making sure you remain healthy and survive. Because you DO need to take care of yourself. However that happens to look.

Review of Katherine Arden’s The Girl in the Tower

Review of Katherine Arden’s The Girl in the Tower

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Finding Russian fairy tales is a difficult task. Finding retellings of Russian fairy tales that capture the imagination – and weave in the world of fourteenth-century Russia – is something even rarer. Yet Ms. Arden manages to do so. The Bear and the Nightingale was pure magic, and she continues her sorcery with the second volume of the trilogy. You feel the biting cold with every word, and she encourages you to look for chyerti around you. The world she’s created is genuine and vibrant and alive in a way many books based on fairy tales fail. And woven through everything, you get the old familiar (at least to me) tales in a fresh light. My only complaint? The final confrontation fell flat. Vasya’s sudden knowledge of the necklace around Tamara’s necklace – with no breadcrumbs leading to the moment – brushed on a deus ex machina moment. While it played well into the tale (much more so than the original tale of Kaschei the Deathless), the reader needed a REASON to understand the necklace’s existence. Had Ms. Arden but thought through that pivotal moment, the book would have come through as pure genius.



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AK Turns One

AK Turns One

Celebrating AK's first anniversary
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

This time last year, I went from sending out proposal after proposal every day to receiving my first interview and my first contract as a freelance writer. (Yes, there was much embarrassing dancing) And once the excitement (and relief) settled down, nerves set in. What if my feeble confidence ended up being misplaced? Maybe the client wouldn’t like my writing, after all. I could screw up the two-article assignment completely and land myself in the Pit of Terrible Writers. Then what? (Obviously, the answer’s you try again and keep going, but that’s difficult to come up with when you’re in the middle of an anxiety spiral) Those worries circled through my brain as I watched my deadline tick closer. And I went over every word at least twenty times and questioned my ability about ten times per word (not an exaggeration). Then I handed them over, precisely on time.

My client loved them.

And within a week I had a new client with another assignment. Followed by another. And the work kept coming. I gained confidence and rewrote every proposal I sent out – tweaking the language to polish my voice and allow my talent to shine. Scouring the job postings, I considered plenty of different angles. If I felt certain in my knowledge, the proposal went out. Slowly, I phased out my sample articles and replaced them with the “real deal.” Before long, I built my Library and removed the samples entirely. My rating spiraled up with every successful job completion. (I’ve never received less than five stars)

And suddenly? Clients came to ME! As a freelancer, having someone approach you for work is one of he biggest highs. They’ve reviewed your profile, skimmed through testimonials of previous clients, and looked over your portfolio. And they LIKED what they saw. Over the sometimes HUNDREDS of people clamoring for the job, they set you aside and asked for your talent.

Talk about an insane rush!

My workload went from one or two articles a week to three to four A DAY! At this point, I spend my entire day writing and researching. (When AK started, most of my time went to marketing myself and searching for work) I have a full-time client I work for, with several other long-term clients. These are goals I never THOUGHT to imagine a year ago when I started! Hell, I figured the occasional bone tossed my way was a lofty enough anticipation for someone starting from nothing. (NEVER doubt your abilities; you don’t know what self-sabotage may block you from) And while I feel bad over my lack of maintaining a social media presence, I’m delighted that my work (REAL work) takes up so much of my life.

But this anniversary has another meaning: financial goals. Because freelance writing IS my career. A year ago, I set a modest, reasonable goal for the end of the year. Prior to setting up a profile, I devoured books three books on freelancing. And that included the 2020 Writer’s Market. I knew the expected rates for a fledgling writer. And while I edged myself out from the bottom (I KNOW how to write and write well), I stuck to the bottom of the range. Guessing at the number of clients I might see by the end of the year, I wrote out a goal for myself.

And beat it within two months.

So I set a new goal. And then I crushed that one three months later. When the third goal hit the rearview mirror in under a month, I realized I’d underestimated myself. (Please don’t do that. You KNOW you have talent, and you need to invest in YOURSELF) It was time to knuckle down and set a financial goal with WEIGHT behind it. Something that matched the worth I was seeing. I wanted to pay off my credit card. That bill had bent my shoulders for years, and even the certain, regular paychecks of my previous job failed to make a dent in it. If I could eliminate the credit card, then I’d feel satisfied. It felt like a fair challenge.

This weekend? I did it. That boulder around my neck is GONE. This crazy, insane dream I was so afraid to chase after eliminated a “negative” goal from my list. Tell me how ridiculous that sounds! I exhaled the biggest sigh of relief, but I also cheered. My work, my writing accomplished that – in one year. There’s no better anniversary gift than that! (Although the Dinosaur Deadpool my husband got me for the occasion is pretty awesome)

Am I excited with how far my writing’s taken me? Yes, but this post is more than that. I want to inspire you to follow that “irrational” dream you’ve buried. I wasted SO many years making excuses as to why I couldn’t be a writer (yet). I piled dust on top of everything I wanted, turning away from something that made me insanely happy. And in just one year? I kick myself for doing that. Because the drive, ambition, and ability was THERE the entire time. All I needed to do was stand up and declare, “This is what I’m going to do.”

Your dreams? They’re worth it.

Review of Melissa Albert’s Tales From the Hinterland

Review of Melissa Albert’s Tales From the Hinterland

Tales From the Hinterland by Melissa Albert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


What have I craved since the first time I picked up The Hazel Wood? Exactly what Ms. Albert delivered! The background of some of the most prominent and favorite characters from the Hinterlands. Her tales have the bite and grit you want from “modern” fairy tales. The lessons lay buried under acceptable horror. And while part of you screams to set the book aside and walk away, it’s impossible. You’re invested from the moment you start those first sentences. Even as you shudder – or protest the people’s actions in the tales – you build and feel sympathy for everyone involved. (Yes, even the worst) Ms. Albert’s gift is evident in every word. You don’t find damsels or shining knights in these pages – and the world’s better for it. She’s created a thing of utmost beauty, clothed in thorns and blood.



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What Do You Meme?

What Do You Meme?

Meme of cat face
Image by DivvyPixel from Pixabay

Following close behind cat images and cat videos, the internet has turned into a meme-generating machine. And you can’t deny that you’ve shared one or two – probably in the past week. People find images that spark the message they want to share, and they add the appropriate text. Often, one image ends up expressing a variety of emotions and conversational topics. Because pictures? Yeah, that whole “thousand words” thing is genuine.

But there’s more to memes than meets the eye.

Have you ever found yourself taking a few extra moments to study a meme? Not because you feel the original author (artist?) did a fantastic job with PhotoShop (or whatever program they happen to use). No, it’s something more. Maybe it’s the picture. You could care less about the words – even if they make you laugh/think/cry/grit your teeth. The image the person chose bores into your brain and sparks a glimmer of imagination. Your writing brain starts churning out a story the longer you stare.

Or maybe it IS the words. The phrase twists and turns inside your mind. Dialogue for a character? The main theme of a tale? An opening line? The description of the world? Whatever it is, the writing starts flowing. Before you know it, you have a short story, a novella, an entire novel. From a meme.

Sound crazy?

Inspiration comes from EVERYWHERE. And you never know what’s going to catch your imagination’s attention. Is that the purpose of a meme? Probably not. I doubt people are sitting around their computer thinking, “I’m going to help a writer out there get a story off the ground.” (I mean, MAYBE they are. You never know) Does that mean you can’t start combing through social media feeds LOOKING for that tiny bit of inspiration? Of course not. Because memes are laid out differently than simple photos. They include someone’s point of view. And it may differ from yours – which is what you need! It gives you a glimpse into a character’s head. It lays out a world you don’t exist in. And it challenges the way you think.

I’ve pulled ideas from funny memes that turned into horror stories. No, that’s not what the original author intended, but that’s where my brain took things. Because turning things on their head is what writers DO. And I’ve looked at serious memes and made comical stories (one was accidental. You know how characters take on minds of their own). Sometimes the words did it, other times the images, and now and then the two together. But it’s made me look at memes in an entirely new light.

Memes are a GOLD MINE for writers.

Okay, yes, some aren’t worth a second glance. And the ones with grammatical and spelling errors make me cringe. But when I get past that (or mentally correct them), I find fresh ideas to add to my list. And writers NEED ideas. When your brain dries up, leaving you without a resource, you feel empty. A writer HAS to leave themselves open to the possibility of finding inspiration anywhere – even in a silly social media tradition.

(And, yes, that means you can look at the cat pictures and videos, too. You can always add more cat-centric literature to the world)