Hi friends and booknerds! It's that time of year again, you know the one. The one where we seem to beg people to tell us what they want and they wait till the last second to tell you and then the thing ends up being sold out, or not in their size, so you end up just getting them a gift card anyway? That season known as Christmas? Well if any of you have family like mine, it can be hard to nail down what to get the people who seem to have pretty much everything, which is why this month's blog post is dedicated to highlighting some amazing small business owners and indie authors that you can introduce your impossible-to-shop-for- family to! I’m just nice like that, apparently.
It’s easy to just pop on over to Amazon and buy pretty much everything on everyone’s wish list, but I am hoping to entice you over to some really amazing small shops and authors as they make for 1. Amazing unique gifts and 2. I have personally either read their books, purchased their products, or seen their work and believe it is worth sharing. Which means, YES! Not all of my holiday recommendations are book related! Some may be book adjacent, while others are even things like getting some custom art commissioned! Pretty awesome, right? Check out the list below and maybe find something really amazing for the awesome people on your shopping list this year:
Awesome Indie books:
Tyffany Hackett: this fabulous human not only writes great fantasy books, I've read both available and adored them if you've been reading my book reviews lately, but she also makes some lovely designs for mugs and stickers, too! I've bought one of her mugs and have gotten my copies of her Thanatos trilogy signed, and you can too! They make great gifts for the avid reader in your life.
Kate Shreean Swed: a fabulous author of sciene fiction, all of which are far future retellings of classic books. Everything from Great Expectations and Phantom of the Opera! The final book in this trilogy also released recently, so you can get either the entire box set, or individual signed books!
Adelaide Thorne: an incredible indie author of urban fantasy. I have read the first book in her series and LOVED it, and she just released the last book in her trilogy earlier this month! So now you can get the whole trilogy!
Becky Moynihan: if you like heart pounding dystopian fantasy with flavors of The Hunger Games, you have to check out Becky's "Elite Trials" series! I read the first book and really enjoyed it; so much so I've purchased the second one! Becky just announced the final book in the trilogy as well, so this is the perfect time to start the series and gift signed books to loved ones.
Anna Vee Art: If you like the print I have of Tomas and Tallis and have always wanted your own favorite character (bookish or video game wise) brought to life with your vision, Anna is fabulous to work with!
Andrew Brown: an up-and-coming comic book style artist! I've gotten to know Andrew over the past few months and he's such a kind soul who is incredibly passionate about his work. He just opened his commissions, too!
AJ Torres: I've had the pleasure of getting to know AJ over the past few months and not only is she a talented writer, but she does the cutest anime style art and designs! A perfect gift idea for the anime lover in your life.
Incredible Bookish merchandise and candles:
Baj Goodson: this wonderful human not only writes creepy novellas (you can get those signed from her shop too, just saying), but she also creates some of the best bookmarks I've seen! PLUS! She also does graphic design if someone in your life was looking to have their brand redesigned, you can gift them that for the holidays, too! Baj does so much, and it's all so lovely, so I highly encourage you to browse her website for all the goodies you could get.
Vitela Witch Craft: I won a pair of really cute gummy bear earrings from this shop and have fallen in love! There are so many cute accessories and fun little things to choose from, that this will make the perfect stocking stuffer for almost anyone on your list.
Lunar Bazaar Candles: The shop owner, Kim, is such a talented human and I've loved every single candle and wax melt I've gotten from her shop. I've bought her products for gifts for others before, and she even made me a custom Tomas themed candle back in the day! Her candles are perfect for the bookworm and witchy scent lover in your life, guaranteed!
I’ve shared a bit with you about my new fantasy series WIP, as well as one of my contemporary WIP’s, “Glass Animals”, that I think it’s time I share a little bit about my OTHER contemporary fiction, which I am currently calling “How Far You Feel”. While “Glass Animals” was hard to write because it was so personal, this story is challenging for me due to its subject matter and my intensely strong desire to get the representation right. It HAS to be done right. Why, you may ask? Because this WIP is about a 30-something, married woman who had so buried and denied her sexuality her whole life that when she discovers the true depths of her feelings for her best friend, comes to the realization that she’s bisexual. This may not sound like a big deal, but it kind of is because there is a lot of harsh stereotypes around bi people, not to mention the depression that comes from feeling invisible, or completely erased if they are with an opposite sex partner. When I talk to my bi friends about this story, they love the concept. They all tell me how important this is to share and tell, but that’s also where the fear and pressure comes in. My fix for that? Intense research.
I always do a fair amount of research for my books, even the fantasy ones, but “How Far You Feel” is currently winning the race when it comes to the sheer number of books I’ve gotten from my local library on gender and sexuality. I shudder to think what kind of opinions the poor librarians are forming about me based on my book history there. But I scoured scores of books, took meticulous notes on the history of bisexuality, plus how the orientation fits within the LGBTQA community. I’ve read personal essays about married women who come out late in life and their love for women. I’ve dug deep into how American’s view “real sex” and how damaging such a narrow view can have on pretty much everyone. I’ve talked at length with my friends, dug deep within myself, and I’ve even watched shows and documentaries that deal with the subject matter. Is that enough? I don’t know.
I spent months and months doing this research, both before I even started writing the story, as well as during the process. Chances are, as I continue with revisions, I’ll go back to the library and see if there are new, or additional resources I can get to help me further shape these characters and their experiences. You may wonder why I’m doing all this for a work of fiction; as fiction, I do have a lot of license to just “go with it” and make things up. But not with this topic, not with this story. My characters may not exist, but that doesn’t mean this situation doesn’t, or that there aren’t others who are struggling with the same thing. With coming out to a straight partner, or that partner suddenly being unsure about their own worth in a relationship because of their partners revelation. It’s a complex situation, one that isn’t fictitious and therefore requires more research and dedication then, say, a purely romance contemporary. This should also explain the nervous pressure I feel when writing this story now, right?
My research process may involve a lot of notebooks filled with notes and piles of library books, personal accounts and experiences, but there is always that fear and worry that I’m missing something for the story. It’s the risk every author runs for pretty much every book ever. A man writing a woman, a woman writing a male character, a white person writing a black main character, the list goes on and on. Everyday authors tell stories that may not be their own, or not entirely their own, they share voices that aren’t their own, but if the story is important and worth telling, then it’s on that author to make sure they treat that character, that subject matter, with the respect and delicacy it may require. Which means doing your homework and researching the crap out of the topics you may not know.
Hopefully throughout my research process I have accomplished that, but only time will tell. But take it from me, friend: even if it’s scary, be fearless, tell bold stories!
Hi booknerds, I wanted to share a little bit about my WIP, “Resistor”, with you today and what makes it different from other books in its genre. What is Resistor’s genre? Well, it’s an adult cyberpunk fantasy with science fiction elements! Sounds cool, right? I hope so. Resistor takes place on a world similar-ish to Earth, except that many of the denizens have magic, and there are two humanoid type species—humani (which are what they sound like) and the seersha which are a mash up of the Qunari (from dragon Age) and elf/Drow (like DnD). And while there are plenty of animals and weapons that are similar to Earth, there are plenty that are unique to the world of Resistor—called Eerden.
I think the fact that there’s actual magic in a cyberpunk world is fairly unique to the genre, but it’s the creatures that I think really make it stand out. For example, I’ve created a beast that consumes magic. So if a caster happens to stroll into their territory, this beast will hunt them down and eat them, but will leave non-magical things alone. Since the people of Eerden can harness magic within some of their technology, you have to be very careful what, and who, you bring near these creatures. Which, by the way, look like the stuff of nightmares. These magic eaters are not born, they are made. When enough magical run-off and discarded bio-technology come together in landfills and the like, the magic creates life. It takes all those discarded pieces and absorbs any dead matter nearby and creates this new monster. But there isn’t enough magic to give it much of a conscience, which is why it is constantly hunting and devouring anything magical, to try and fill a void that it can’t possibly fill.
In a similar vein, there is another magical creation that is a bit of this monster’s opposite. It has so much magic within the discarded pieces and parts it’s collected, that not only does it have a childish conscience, but it has enough raw, magical ability to serve as a battery for its magic type. There are four types of magic in Eerden: water, air, earth, and fire. So this friendly being will boost one, or two, of those magic types exponentially. And while they are friendly, they aren’t always cute, they can be pretty weird looking given they are a mix of organic and inorganic material all formed over left-over pieces of technology.
Cyberpunk is one of those hot genres right now, it seems like, given the new game Cyberpunk 2077 and shows like Altered Carbon. But usually cyberpunk is one of those genres that gets lumped into science fiction and can be easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it specifically. Resistor isn’t all that different in that regard, my world does use science fiction when it comes to body modifications, weapons, and even creating AI housed within various kinds of robots. But my cyberpunk is also very atmospheric, it’s used to show a mild dystopian. A world with a thriving criminal underground run by the most powerful, long-lived, seersha casters who peddle in illegal magic based weapons and technology. Which, is a bit typical for cyberpunk; it’s all very dark with splashes of neon and a seedy underground, but mine is also literally magical.
I’ve read plenty of science fiction and fantasy throughout my life. Science fiction that use fantasy creatures without magic (al la, Dragonriders of Pern), science fiction that creates crazy living experiments (al la Borne), or sci-fi with sentient AI, and plenty of science fantasies that are like Star Wars where there is “science” but it’s hand waved away and doesn’t even come close to realistic, unlike things such as Star Trek. I’ve read a few cyberpunk books as well, and so far, I haven’t come across any that really feel like my story and what it brings to the genre. The closest I can come to thinking of a similar book or series, is the graphic novel “Saga”, but even that doesn’t feel right. But there are so many wonderful books out there, it’s possible I haven’t discovered a book like mine yet. So tell me, friend, is there a book out there that reminds you of “Resistor”?
Hey there booknerds, it’s time I finally answer a question I tend to get a lot: how do I balance all my writing, reading, and my social upkeep alongside, well, life. And the answer is tricky, because I am usually teetering, never balancing. I do try! But I think it’s important to understand why it’s hard to find that balance first, because otherwise I tend to get responses like “Oh, that sounds so nice, working from home! I’d stay in my PJ’s all day”, and sure, that does sound nice, but it’s also not the reality of truly working from home on a permanent basis.
My home has become my office. Everything about it. It’s where I read, where I research new story ideas, it’s also where I craft my bookstagram posts 90% of the time. Because of that, I start to feel this guilt about relaxing, about shutting off and not working when I’m home. Because why would I stop, right? Why am I not filling all those spare moments with things I consider productive for my craft or my business? Because of burn out and depression, friends.
Working from home means I’ve developed this destructive habit of needing others validation for occupying the space I do. I need something tangible to show the world to justify me being home. It feeds into my imposter syndrome (you can learn more about that here or from my old blog post) which in turn feeds into my depression and overall feelings of inadequacy. Which then turns into a vicious cycle of feeling like I need to do more, more, more, because I theoretically can. See what I mean about the teetering vs. the balancing?
But I am starting to learn that the breaks are good. The breaks mean recharging, which means when I do get back to work, I have a plethora of energy and creative ideas that my stories and characters, and certainly you, all get to benefit from. It also means I can get in touch with what’s going on in my life that might need more attention, whether that’s my family and friends, or just my own body. So, then the question becomes what do I do in order to recharge? To silence my imposter syndrome, and start feeling like me and my work are, indeed, “good enough”? I get out of the house.
I know that sounds overly simplistic, and it’s meant to. It is that simple, but also that hard. I’ve gone back to treating the weekends like weekends again, not work days, so that means actually going out and doing something new, or walking through botanical gardens, or even just going out to dinner, but it does mean leaving the house. It also means that I rely heavily on my husband to help me fill the hours with non-work activities, and sure, sometimes that’s just chores, but other times it’s playing video games or watching movies. Point is: I’m not in front of my computer. Plus, whenever I can, I travel. It doesn’t need to be very far—just a few hours’ drive out of town for a weekend getaway works. But being physically too far away from home to where I can’t just go home does wonders for reducing my work and productivity related stress. And, of course, whenever I can I go outside for pleasure during the normal work day, too. Add a little music to my time outside and suddenly, that plot hole I was struggling with is no longer a hole!
I am by no means an expert at balancing work and life, I am pretty terrible at it most of the time. I forget how to relax. My days are terribly structured from the moment I get dressed until the moment I sit down for dinner. I like order and ticking off those check boxes on my to-do list. But, chaos feeds creativity sometimes and you don’t get that by staying glued to whatever it is your job requires. That’s why me getting physically away from all the things I could do in order to “work” is, right now, the only way I can really balance things. But like I said, I am trying! If you have tips on how to achieve work and life balance, I’d love to hear them!
Hi booknerds, it’s time we talked about the hardest character I’ve ever written. Most people would—rightly—assume that the hardest character to write would be one that is the polar opposite of the writer, whether because of gender, sexual orientation, or the oppression they suffered that the author has never experienced. All of that is hard to do, and even harder to craft a believable, well written character that the author has no first-hand experience with in “the real world”. While that is true of me too, the hardest character I’ve written to date is actually in the contemporary fiction, family saga novel I’m working on. Why is this character so difficult? It’s not because I don’t have any experience with what they are going through, but the exact opposite!
In this particular WIP, the main character’s older brother has Asperger’s Syndrome. This diagnosis is something she is unaware of, so because of the issues that has caused in her childhood, she grew up hating her brother and feeling like an outcast to her own family. This, dear friends, is very close to my actual childhood. My brother has Asperger’s which, if you are unfamiliar, is on the Autistic scale and is often misdiagnosed as ADHD in young children—medicating children with Asperger’s with ADHD medication doesn’t help at all, by the way. People with Asperger’s have extreme difficulty reading social cues; they don’t know when people are kidding or, as kids, don’t understand when other children play make-believe games. Making friends for them is very difficult, so they are often lonely and depressed, and don’t know how to communicate that depression, which means it can often come out as a type of violent anger. Like any mental condition, there is a scale of how severe or benign Asperger’s Syndrome can present itself. For my brother, he had one of the more severe kinds and, as a kid growing up in the 90’s where this kind of thing was barely understood and rarely talked about, figuring out what was going on and how to treat it was a battle in and of itself.
I’m really not looking for pity or sympathy here. The purpose of this particular novel is to educate and to give others who may be dealing with similar issues a beacon of hope. It took me years, YEARS to see my brother as more than his condition and to appreciate that my parents were doing their best with the resources they had available to them at the time. I have, with the help of therapy, healed and moved on with my life and have a great relationship with my family, especially my parents. But, deep down, this was a story I felt needed to be shared, especially now given how we as a society still struggle with treating mental illnesses and showing compassion for those who struggle, and those people who love them despite the challenges.
But writing that was incredibly difficult for me emotionally. I had to go back and rely on my past childhood experiences and dig up painful memories in order to create this character and show why she feels the way she does toward her family, without the reader hating her or her brother for it. Of all the books I have written, some of which are still in the editing phase, this took me the longest to “finish”. It was so emotionally taxing; I had to talk to my family and make sure they understood that while this story was inspired by the things we went through, it wasn’t about them, and I had to make sure that come the end, my readers still felt hopeful and like my main character was going to be okay. There were so many instances where I started crying during writing different scenes that it isn’t even funny. Plus, because it is so personal to me, deeming it “done” and packaging it all up so it can move forward in the publishing process was legitimately terrifying for me! So much of this was my life that the idea of someone picking it apart was something I had to work very hard to mentally prepare myself for.
So while, yes, writing a character that you have no real experience with can be challenging, so can writing a character that is so much a reflection of yourself. That line of fact and fiction got so blurred at times and I wanted to make sure that I was portraying everything truthfully, but that it didn’t come across as villainous. Writing these characters, this book, took so much out of me that it’s taken a long time to get my emotional reserves back to a place where I can write happy, or funny, characters again that I can safely say: writing a character based on me was the hardest character I’ve ever written.