Out of the Haze, It Oozes

yellowdyeSo there I was this morning, running down the street. My lungs burned. In the distance, a bright yellow fog hung in the air, almost seeming to rise from the macadam. People staggered out of the cloud, coughing and sputtering, skin glowing bright canary.

It sounds like a haz-mat situation, or maybe the beginning of a zombie film. Alas, no. It was the Run or Dye 5K in Philadelphia!

facefullLast year I decided to be a runner. Train for races. Work up to completing a spring triathlon one day when I’m ready. I’m the world’s worst runner. I’m slow. I’m injury-prone. But when you’re writing novels, it helps to have a physical activity to do that makes it possible to get out of your head. So I ran a hand full of 5Ks last year, and this year my husband and I decided to start the season with a fun run–the Run or Dye race.

I’ve long been fascinated by the Indian festival of Holi, and so the Run or Dye festival seemed like a good way to experience it without flying to India (although I’d love to do that one day, too). It’s a huge race. HUGE! The organizers release runners in waves. We were there fairly early, and my wave didn’t start running until thirty minutes after the start. People were still starting the race as we finished and drove off. Crazy!nicole

The race isn’t timed, and no one cares if you walk or run. Lots of little kids. A few people in costumes. Lots of people artfully applying dye powder to themselves before taking selfies in the race start corral. The race wound around Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and around the parking lot, and in addition to the yellow dye gauntlet, there were four or five others, all with different colors being tossed at runners.

And in case you’re wondering, dye gets EVERYWHERE. In your ears, in your mouth, under your clothes, in your sports bra, in your socks! What you can’t see in these photos is that I must have gotten caught in a direct hit of bright orange dye–the entire back of me, including my hair, was a solid wall of orange. Sexy!

In other words, it’s a fun and easy race to start the season, and a good tension breaker.

And now, I write!

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#LV14 Getting to Know You

virgin_widget14So I’m serving as a judge for this year’s Like a Virgin pitch contest. If you’ve not heard of it, unagented young adult and new adult writers with a manuscript that’s never been entered in a pitch contest nab fifty available spots in the competition. Judges choose ten finalists to move forward to round 2 and offer feedback on pitches. Those ten finalists polish up their pitches further, and during round 2 editors and agents may request pages from the finalists’ manuscripts, and writers are eligible to win swag.

Last year several participants walked away with agent offers. Exciting! And that’s why I was so thrilled to get a spot as a judge. It wasn’t that long ago when I hadn’t yet successfully woo-ed my fantastic agent. Pitch contests were really helpful to me, and so it’s nice to have a chance to return the favor.

There’s a great “Getting to Know You” blog hop for all writers, judges, etc. to, well, get to know each other. Their questions and my answers are below.

How do you remember your first kiss?

Drool-filled and awkward. Oh, Jeremy, Jeremy, wherever you are . . .

In all seriousness, it’s very vivid in my mind. The colors are all sort of turned up, like someone was playing with the contrast in Photoshop. I guess all memories are like that, though, right? Sort of etched in and not quite right. I’m pretty sure the awkwardness isn’t exaggerated.

What was your first favorite love song?

My initial thought here was to name a certain Prince song that is only a love song in the most peripheral of ways. Love song adjacent, I guess. But then I remembered my mad crush on Shaun Cassidy. You know, when I was four or five years old. I had his self-titled album, and it was my most treasured possession, along with my plastic, cornflower blue turntable. I would put on the song “Lonely Girl” and clutch the album cover to my chest and pine for poor Shaun. Yes, at the age of five. Because at that tender age, I knew the pain of lost love and heartbreak. Or something.

What’s the first thing you do when you begin writing for the day?

Waking up is a good start!

I like to write early, but that’s pretty much the only ritual I have. I get out of bed, sit down with my laptop, consult my outline, maybe re-read the last little bit I wrote, and have at it.

Who’s the first writer who truly inspired you to become a writer?

I’ve pretty much always wanted to be a writer, so I’m not sure I can accurately answer that. There are four books–one in junior high and three in high school–that really struck me when I read them and made me think about their construction, which is probably how most writers kind of start, right? Those books: SE Hinton’s The Outsiders was my junior high book, and my HS books were Invisible Man/Ralph Ellison, Another Country/James Baldwin, and A Prayer for Owen Meany/James Irving.

Did the final revision of your first book have the same first chapter it started with?

Yes and no. When I imagined the opening of The Trajectory of Dreams, it was always with my protagonist Lela White standing over the bed of an astronaut like a total creeper, watching him sleep and thinking about killing him in the most clinical, detached manner possible after having broken into his house. For me, there was no other way to open that novel, and that opening remained in the final version published by Bitingduck Press. The first chapter as a whole is slightly shorter than the original though–the original included a full flashback of Lela’s experience as a child of seeing a space shuttle disaster; the scene in the final version is quite truncated for flow.

For your first book, which came first: major characters, plot or setting?

Character, I guess, although all three happened almost simultaneously. I was reading Mary Roach’s book Packing For Mars, and the idea of a severely mentally ill woman with extreme masking/coping skills who breaks into the homes of astronauts to ensure they can sleep well as part of her psychosis popped into my head. Astronauts equal the Johnson Space Center, so that automatically means Houston. The full plot rolled out to me over the next couple of minutes. Lela White is really insistent.

What’s the first word you want to roll off the tip of someone’s tongue when they think of your writing?

Warped. In general, that’s probably the first thing people think of when they think of me. It’s likely well-earned. I’m doing a children’s book reading as part of Indies First Storytime Day (a national event that celebrates independent bookstores and Children’s Book Week) on May 17 in Bethany Beach, Delaware (Bethany Beach Books), and the unintentional theme of my readings is people being eaten. I’ll be reading The Book That Eats People and Pierre.

And there you have it. All about me.


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THEM ORANGES: a new short story

I have a tendency to write about food a lot. Maybe it’s because I’m a foodie (okay, a food snob–I admit it), or maybe it’s because food in general is so evocative of other things. I’m super excited to announce that one of my favorite food-related short stories, THEM ORANGES, was published today in the April issue of Jersey Devil Press.

“The sun heated the crown of her head, magnifying the heavy aroma. Another gale led Lettie to the road, and some intuition — a prick of recognition — turned her to the west, to the oak-heavy forest and the barely discernible paths within. She walked, following her nose, the nudges from within her belly. She would eat. She and the baby, they’d both eat.”

Go and check it out, along with the other three stories in this month’s issue. You’ll probably never look at oranges quite the same.

I love the short story that Jersey Devil Press picked up. As you may or may not know, I’m a late bloomer at juuuuuuuust about everything. That includes graduating from college. It’s a long story, but it took me 23 years to take a diploma. What can I say–I’m tenacious. During my last semester there (last spring), I took a creative writing class that concentrated on short stories. THEM ORANGES is one of the short stories I worked on in that class. I credit the instructor and several people in that class with helping to make the story a whole lot creepier than it was. Workshopping is super useful.

A few announcements:

  • Do you live anywhere near Rosemont College in Rosemont, Pennsylvania? Come see me on Saturday, April 26 at the Rosemont College Book Festival. I’ll be in the author tent all day, and I may do a reading of THE TRAJECTORY OF DREAMS as well. If the weather holds, I suspect it’s going to be a gorgeous day to hang out.
  • I’m thrilled to announce that I was invited to Bethany Beach Books in Bethany, Delaware to take part in Indies First Storytime Day. I’ll be reading one or two children’s books there at 2pm on Saturday, May 17. Storytime Day celebrates Children’s Book Week by inviting writers and illustrators into independent bookstores around the country. It’ll be a really fun day for kids, so come out to Bethany Beach, catch a little sun, and have a family fun day!

Hope to see you soon!

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BEA to BookCon: What’s the Difference?

Discontent is brewing, and for once it has nothing to do with the constant snow.

For those of us who love books and/or are involved in the publishing industry in some way, BookExpoAmerica (BEA) is the mothership. It’s a place for discovery–booksellers, librarians, and book bloggers get to find out what titles are forthcoming; and it’s a place for networking within the industry and meeting writers. Last year I attended as a writer. I signed copies of THE TRAJECTORY OF DREAMS on one day, and I took the train back up to NY for their Power Reader Day with a friend. I had a great time, met some fabulous people, and I was able to lay hands on some ARCs that I had an interest in, the vast majority of which I reviewed on Amazon and/or Goodreads or talked about here on the site or on Twitter or Facebook.

This year I bought a ticket to the Power Reader Day only because I don’t have a book fresh out or forthcoming this year. That was a few weeks ago. Today, out of the blue, an email arrived in my inbox telling me that Power Reader Day doesn’t exist anymore. Instead, my Power Reader Day ticket is being converted to a BookCon ticket.

Emma-Watson-Shock-LookWhat? That was . . . abrupt.

The email didn’t really have much information about the difference. Power Reader Day no longer exists on the BEA website. But on the BookCon website, it very clearly states that the BookCon is separate event entirely from BEA, and while you can attend BookCon if you have a BEA ticket, you can cannot enter BEA with a BookCon ticket. But still, not much information about what is different at BookCon versus BEA.

There’s buzz about it on Twitter, but a lot of people seem unconcerned . . . as long as BookCon is not any different than BEA and what we were expecting from Power Reader Day.

Not to be a downer, but BookCon doesn’t really sound like BEA’s Power Reader Day at all:

[Lance] Fensterman [the guy in charge] said BookCon will have little resemblance to the “power reader” events that BEA ran on the final day of the trade show for the past two years. “It will be a whole new ball game,” Fensterman explained, adding that ReedPop will use its experience building events that appeal to a younger, non-trade demographic–specifically those between the ages of 20 and 35–in crafting BookCon.

Uh, well, okay. Leaving out the part where BookCon basically blows off those over the age of 35, what exactly does all that mean? Neither BEA nor BookCon seem to be answering any questions on Twitter, but an AP article says it will “include panel discussions, podcasts, interviews and quiz shows” and another article [first link] says “publishers will be allowed to give away, and sell, titles from their booths, and from the autographing areas.”

BEA has traditionally had panel discussions and autograph opportunities, but selling booksscully to attendees? Yeah, there has always been a component of sales (both librarians and booksellers placing orders and vendors who sell used books and book/reading-related trinkets), but the big draw has always been free ARCs and free book copies available in the signing areas.* While publishers will be “allowed” to offer giveaways, it sounds as though there’s a bigger emphasis on sales. Eh, that’s not what I go to BEA for. If I want to buy books, I’ll buy books where I normally do–either at independent book stores or online. All the podcasts, interviews, and quiz shows in the world don’t make it worth my while to travel to NY simply to buy books at a convention.

The headliners so far for BookCon–Amy Poehler, Martin Short, John Grisham, and Stan Lee–well, it’s a nice touch, but I didn’t even go to the panel discussions last year at BEA. I had too much fun on the floor looking at all the glorious books that were coming out. And not for nothing, but the only writer in there is Grisham. The BookCon website says there are other authors to be signed. All in all, BookCon sounds quite different from BEA’s Power Reader Day, and the fact that they randomly announced the change weeks after I bought my ticket (months after others bought their tickets) feels a bit, well, wrong.**

I hope I’m wrong about BookCon, and it’s every bit as wonderful as BEA’s Power Reader Day. I also hope that BookCon and BEA clear things up about the differences. Because right now it’s looking a little bait and switch-y.

Thoughts?

UPDATE (3/27/14): A rep from BookCon that I’ve been emailing with is adamant that BookCon will be just like BEA but without the “business-to-business” booths. It’s supposed to be a “greatly expanded” experience. I was offered a refund on my ticket, but it sounds as though there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that Power Reader Day tickets (those bought before the announcement yesterday) will be honored at BEA. That’s a shame. I plan to keep my ticket to BookCon in the hopes that my experience will be as fabulous and wondrous as the rep says it will.

Reaction from others about BookCon/BEA:


*Now, I know that there’s been some friction between librarians/book sellers and book bloggers/readers when it comes to those free copies. The first year book bloggers were allowed into BEA, there were quite a few complaints about how bloggers gobbled up free copies to the degree that librarians and book sellers weren’t able to obtain the things they wanted/needed. Last year there were a few titles that had a limited number of copies, but it seemed like it was done by design. Overall, it seemed like there were an overabundance of ARCs, and everyone got what they needed. I didn’t hear any complaints about it last year, at least.

**I’m hoping the BEA people honor the tickets of everyone who bought Power Reader tickets prior to the announcement today. It only seems fair, especially since it seems as though they’ve set themselves up for a great deal of liability by giving those who bought tickets something far, far different from what was purchased.

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Of Book Giveaways and Low Down, Dirty Blues

Hundreds (thousands?) will enter, only five will win.

Books! I’m talking about books! To celebrate the one-year bookiversary of THE TRAJECTORY OF DREAMS, there are five autographed copies of the novel up for grabs at Free Book Friday. If you haven’t had a chance to get a copy of TRAJECTORY yet, do head over and enter to win. There’s also a short interview with me along with the giveaway that was fun to do.

Speaking of fun interviews, there are also a few other things I’ve done recently I want to share. In my last post I talked about DiversifYA, the effort they make to condone diverse casts in YA novels, and the interview I gave on being atheist. They also recently published my guest post about being a nonprofit fundraiser and its affect on my writing. An excerpt:

No one dreams of being a fundraiser as a child. I dreamt of growing up to be a teacher, a ballerina, Dr. Ruth, a journalist . . . but never once did I think working for a non-profit organization would be the coolest thing ever. Now, having been a non-profit fundraising professional for almost fifteen years, well, it’s the best thing I could have done for myself as a writer.

Last but definitely not least, my latest column at BLOOM Magazine went live yesterday! I write a monthly column called Other Bloomer & Shakers that’s all about creative types who got started after the age of forty. Not writers, of course, since that’s what BLOOM is all about. March is T-Model Ford month for the OB&S column. You might know him if you’re a big fan of the low down, dirty blues, but he’s a bit on the obscure side otherwise. Here’s a guy who didn’t pick up a guitar until he was in his fifties, and his first album wasn’t released until he was in his seventies. That’s amazing!

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DiversifYA and Universal Ethics

Diversity in young adult lit is getting a lot of attention lately, and I’m happy to see it. The typical English literature canon author is an old, white guy, and things haven’t changed that much. Yeah, you might see a white woman or a black guy taught in a literature class here and there, but it’s not all that common. In YA lit, it’s slightly different–it’s fairly common for writers of YA to be white women…youngish. And characters reflect that demographic pretty heavily.

DiversifYA has been encouraging writers to bring diversity into their writing by, in part, exploring the diversity of those who write. I’m probably not an obvious choice to consider a diverse person. I mean, I’m just your typical white girl in a lot of ways. But being an atheist means I’m very much in the minority, and so they interviewed me about that. Here’s an excerpt:

I’ve heard that if you study one religion, you’re hooked for life; if you study two, you won’t be religious for long. I read The Bible, The Koran, and several other religious texts when I was in high school. I caused quite a ruckus when I carted around The Satanic Bible for a few weeks. You can imagine the kind of stuff that was said about me after that—it was a small school in a tiny, rural town, and you might know how small towns can be. I followed it up by appearing in class with The Modern Witch’s Spellbook. Oh boy. Just like the saying goes about studying religions, I settled on atheism about that time. And reading a lot of science and history really cemented it for me.

If you’ve ever been curious about atheism or how I feel about writing diverse characters, do check out the interview.

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Snow Day Books

Growing up in the Pocono area of Pennsylvania meant that we always had a lot of snow. Winter meant bundling up like the Michelin man and shivering at the bus stop in front of my house. My mom still lives in my childhood home, a little one-story house on top of a very big hill with a nice view of surrounding farmland and the mountains. Yeah, it was pretty, but when it’s 25 degrees and the hurricane-force winds are whipping through your winter coat, pretty is a poor excuse for warm.

I’ve generally avoided winter sports my whole life. The closest I got to winter sports was the day I threw my metal Scooby Doo lunch box at my brother (you know, because younger brothers are annoying), and it went skimming all the way down that giant hill on a foot-deep bed of ice-topped snow. And of course, I had to march down the road to retrieve it. It felt like it took forever and really cemented my dislike of the cold and snow.

This year has been the winter of my discontent.

As of today, this has been a winter-setting record in Philadelphia, my adopted home for the last 14 years. Today’s snowfall–around 10 inches or so at this point (we’re due to get more tonight)–marks the first time in the city’s history that there have been four 6+ inch snowfalls or more in season. In addition, we are now in the top 5 snowiest winters of all-time. Awesome.

I might dislike the winter, but there’s something good to come out of it: I’ve had more time than normal to read. And I’ve had a great run of luck so far this year as far as books go. So if you’re looking for a good book for a snowbound day, I’m going to recommend the following:

The Fate of Mercy Alban by Wendy Webb. This is timely since February is Women in Horror month. The Fate of Mercy Alban is a very classic gothic ghost story. It has one foot in the contemporary world and one foot in a decades-old mystery and a generations-old family legend about a house. I very rarely find a book that compels me to stay up past my normal bedtime to finish it, but this one did. Wonderfully paced with a great atmosphere, this is a book to read when you’re all alone and the wind is making the windows of your house moan. You’ll shiver and pull the blanket closer around you, swearing you can feel eyes watching your every move. Yeah. Good, good stuff.

The Necromancer’s House by Christopher Buehlmann. Look, Christopher Buehlmann could write anything, and I’d read it. Anything. He’s a poet, and it’s his use of language that makes his long-form fiction so compelling and wonderful. Like The Fate of Mercy Alban, The Necromancer’s House is, well, about a very special house. In this case, it’s not haunted, it’s bewitched. The novel marries old school witchcraft with modern technology in a way that’s really fascinating. The tone of this book is quite different–it’s not a creepy novel. Well, not really. Parts of it are. Interestingly, the real crux of this book is a man’s relationship with his dog. It sounds kind of strange, but it works.

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On Homosexual Panic, the Male Gaze, and the NFL

So I have feelings about this Michael Sam thing.

Okay, that’s not entirely accurate. I have feelings about the reaction to this Michael Sam thing. Because, really, homosexual panic never fails to disappoint. Let us discuss.

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said, “Imagine if he’s the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me. How am I supposed to respond?”

Frank Bruni, in an editorial for The New York Times, responded thusly:

Well, a squeal would be unmanly, Mace might not be enough and N.F.L. players tend to use their firearms away from the stadium, so I’d advise him to do what countless females of our species have done with leering males through history. Step away. Move on. Dare I say woman up?

Now, Vilma has since apologized for the comment; however, it doesn’t change the fact that he said it, and it’s entirely likely he meant it. He fears the male gaze.

Interesting.

Is Vilma’s fear of the male gaze–the homosexual male gaze–the same as, let’s say, my occasional discomfort with the heterosexual male gaze? Maybe, maybe not.

I’ve come to accept a certain amount of sexual leering from guys. It happens to all women, regardless of age, body type, etc. We have to deal with it simply to get through our day. We’re taught that it’s normal, it’s biological, etc. In fact, we’re supposed to find it flattering. If we don’t, we’re hags, cunts, lesbians, ugly, butterfaces, bitches, frigid, etc, etc. What woman doesn’t hate it when a man talks into their cleavage? But we roll our eyes, maybe rant about it to our friends, and–as Bruni notes–we move on. We woman up (we have little choice in the matter, after all). But it still feels uncomfortable . . . and kind of gross.

Look, if Vilma catches a teammate–heterosexual or homosexual–salivating over his pecs, he has every right to feel uncomfortable about it, too. That said, his discomfort over the real or imagined possibility of it is no reason to freak out over a gay man’s presence in the locker room or on his NFL team. Why? Because he’s assuming that all gay men will automatically be checking him out in a sexual way. That seems kind of paranoid. After all, I’ve worked with, gone to school with, and volunteered alongside guys all my life, but I know not every hetero guy I’ve come in contact with has been attracted to me or feels compelled to ogle my lady parts. But if a woman were to have a preemptive hissy fit about some guy maybe checking her out in a way she didn’t appreciate, she’d ever leave the house.

But even if every gay guy was ogling Vilma, do we not have to apply normative societal expectations evenly? I’m not saying it’s right, but shouldn’t he just have to suck it up and accept it? Find it flattering? Woman up and move on?

Vilma and his ilk clearly don’t think so. I do wonder how they feel about the heterosexual male gaze as it applies to women. I don’t know Vilma. He could be a perfectly evolved kind of a guy, a guy who treats women with respect and doesn’t think it’s cool to objectify them. For me, it would be interesting to know in light of his feelings (his original feelings anyway) about Michael Sam.

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Happy Women in Horror Month!

Horror generally tends to be thought of as a genre dominated by men–Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Peter Straub. This list of the top 20 horror writers is full of testosterone (and awfully white). There’s not a female among them. Writer Joanna Russ may have lamented the character roles available to the heroine in general and the suppression in women’s writing in science fiction, but I would also say that women who write horror are just as overlooked.

But never fear–there’s a remedy for that. It’s Women in Horror Month!

There are many, many women horror writers who often get lost in the shuffle when we’re talking about our favorite chills. The New York Times noted in 2008 that much of the best horror writing that year was coming from women, and I would say that it was not only true then…it’s been true for a long time. Mary Shelley always comes up when you’re talking about women writers of horror, and sometimes Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Anne Rice ruled horror in the 1980s. But who else?

A lot of women, that’s who.

So in honor of Women in Horror Month, here’s a list of my favorite contemporary women writers in the genre:

Kathe Koja. The Cipher is out of print, but well worth seeking out in electronic form. Holy crap. I had some serious nightmares. Koja has such a way with language and nuance, and I highly recommend giving her a read . . . whether it’s The Cipher, Under the Poppy, or one of her other novels.

Helen Oyeyemi. Have you read White is For Witching? No. That shit is creepy. Pick it up. Her other novels are decidedly NOT horror-y, which makes White all the more fascinating.

Helen Marshall. Okay, get thee to your favorite bookstore and check out Hair Side, Flesh Side. In addition to the novel containing some great illustrations and art, the prose is gorgeous. And the story about the woman with the novel written on the underside of her skin? I get itchy just thinking of it.

Gretchen McNeil. Gretchen writes some really fun, spooky young adult novels, including Possess and 3:59. Being a teen is scary enough, but she makes it even more frightening.

There are a million more women writing in the horror genre who are just as good or better than the guys who get the wider recognition. As a horror writer (and a woman), I hope more and more women in the genre get a whole lot more attention.

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Yay 2014!

2014

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