Friday, June 22, 2018

My Favorite Fairy Tale, a Blog Hop Party

Greetings, fairy tale explorers! Welcome to my portion of the fairy tale blog hop. I hope you have a good time exploring different authors this week, and I hope you find something new to delight you (better yet if it’s me!).

Thirteen fairy tale authors have gotten together to talk about their favorite fairy tales. Follow the links at the bottom of each blog post to hop to the next author’s website. Collect our favorite numbers to total up at the end and enter to win a print collection of our books! (There are several anthologies, debuts, and even an ARC for a BLINK YA book you can’t buy in stores yet!)

Favorite fairy tale? That used to be an easy question. “Beauty and the Beast,” of course. In college, as part of graduating with university honors, you had to write a thesis paper. I wrote mine on—you guessed it—“Beauty and the Beast.” Oh, I ate, drank, slept, and read that story for several months. So many different versions, with lots of contemporary ones. And the picture books! So many picture books. (Despite all this, I sadly left some ridiculous gaps, so please don’t ask me about Villeneuve’s version. I’m still embarrassed that I didn’t read that.)

Which was my favorite retelling? Definitely not the Disney film. I like elements of the Disney, but I can’t escape feeling like Belle is stuck up and just really not the Beauty that I wanted her to be.* My favorite version was easily Robin McKinley’s Beauty. And then, when I wrote my own (currently shelved) novel-length version, that was my favorite.  

I love “Beauty and the Beast” for its story of redemption, which was in fact what I wrote about. Here’s the TL;DR: The story is about more than falling in love with a beast. It’s about the power of seeing people truly and how that changes them—and us. There you go, about 64 pages summed up in a sentence (64, by the way, is 2^6; I love powers of 2, which is why 16 is my favorite small-ish number).**

But to make another long story short, years have since intervened, and the luster has faded from dear Beauty, the Beast, and all their incarnations. Asked today, I would be much harder pressed to answer, but I’m leaning toward “The Six Swans” (so much angst! so much sacrifice!) or “Diamonds and Toads” (my favorite theme—how gifts can be curses, and vice versa!). I even have a flash version of “Diamonds and Toads” here on the blog, if you want to check it out.

Which probably explains how I’ve ended up starting a novel based on a character from each of these tales. I love these characters so much, and if I can do even a little justice to who they are, you will too (someday).

So that’s it! Thanks for coming by. Now go visit Alicia Gale and find out what she has to say. If you’ve already been to all 13 stops and collected everyone’s favorite number, then go enter to win the grand prize.

As an added bonus, if you’d like to be included in an additional drawing (for an individual copy of Unspun), go to my Facebook page, follow me, and leave a comment letting me know what your favorite fairy tale is and why.

For an additional entry to my individual drawing (only available after Sunday, the 24th), go to Timeless Tales magazine and read some of the Snow White issue, which features my super-fluffy (and somewhat out of character for me) “The Nanny Job,” then come back to Facebook and tell me what you think of Snow White stories (doesn’t have to be mine).

And finally, if you just can’t wait and want to make sure you get a copy of Unspun, it’s on sale just this weekend. Go forth and purchase and enjoy!

Happy reading, all!

* On the other hand, in junior high I used to walk home from school while reading a book, and a boy I had a crush on called me “Belle” one time (just after we almost collided), and that felt like a compliment, so... mixed feelings?
** Which may also have something to do with why I’m a geek. (And yes, 16 is the number you’re looking for in the blog hop.)

Book Review: Blackthorn and Grim series, by Juliet Marillier


Note: This review is about book 1 (Dreamer’s Pool) and book 2 (Tower of Thorns), sort of combined. I haven’t read book 3 (Den of Wolves) yet, but I’m looking forward to it. While I think you could probably read book 2 on its own if you really wanted to, I don’t think it works well as a stand-alone.

TL;DR: Read the clean rating section. If that doesn’t stop you from wanting to read these books, read them. If you’ve read and liked Marillier before, read them. If you like complicated characters with horrific backstories who are nevertheless doing their best to live reasonably decent lives, read them. They’re great.

Rating: 4.5

Clean rating: PG-13 definitely. Largely for thematic elements (there’s some pretty majorly violent/awful backstory for both our main characters, including rape, torture, injustice, and various other horrible events). The backstory is neither glorified nor described in depth, but it’s pervasive in how these characters experience life. The books are not light, fluffy reads, though I also didn’t find them dark and depressing.

Book 1 also has some sexual content that I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I don’t like reading the sexual elements (though there was not a lot of detail, and it was all told in a very repressive tone by a character who clearly didn’t approve of his own behavior). On the other hand, whereas some sex scenes are just thrown in for fun, the couple of incidents in this book are absolutely integral to the storyline.

So while I can’t recommend the books to various of my friends and family who I know share similar values, I have loved them and will continue to read them.

Short summary: Blackthorn is a healer who is too angry to want to heal anyone anymore. When she’s given a chance to escape a terrible situation or die, she takes the deal that lets her escape, even with some conditions on her freedom that tend to ... chafe. Grim is big, strong, and loyal to Blackthorn. He’s got his own ugly past to deal with. Together they get drawn into complicated challenges to help people who may or may not deserve help.

Blackthorn and Grim’s characters and growth create the series arc, along with some mysteries from their pasts. The individual challenges create the individual book arcs.

What I liked: Oh, Marillier. It’s probably easier for me to just skip to what I didn’t like. But I’ll hit the highlights here.

Blackthorn. Grim. Although I think I like Grim a little better. He is not my usual kind of character; I tend to like witty, funny, clever—though not obnoxiously charming. But Grim is wonderful. He’s strong, determined, steady, kind, loyal. The revelations of his backstory throughout book 2 didn’t surprise me overmuch, but they gave such lovely depth to him as a person. I kind of want to hug him—except that would be super weird, because he’s also kind of this huge ogre sort of a fellow. It would be kind of like hugging a slightly friendly rock.

Blackthorn, for all her thorniness, is a lovely character too. Not the sort of person you want to sit and chat with (she would hate that anyway), but reliable and stronger than she thinks. I like how we see both of them slowing growing and changing and softening. Plus, without giving spoilers, I love what happens with the characters in the end of book 2. It made me happy and sad and yelling-at-the-characters-for-their-idiocy all at the same time.

As with the other Marillier I’ve read, the writing is exquisite. The storytelling is excellent. The twists worked—though I figured out what was likely to happen with large parts of the plot, there were plenty of surprises along the way. And the stuff that wasn’t surprising was still an enjoyable journey.

What didn’t work for me: Ummm... I’m thinking... Okay, I do admit I would have preferred some sort of workaround for the sexual content in Dreamer’s Pool (although I giggled just a little bit every time the character mentioned his “manhood”).

I was about to go on a bit about how I had no idea how to pronounce stuff. But then I saw that book 2 had a pronunciation guide that I just missed. Oops. I listened to the first one, so I got pronunciation of names like Flidais (Fliddiss) and Emer (eh-ver!) and Laois (leesh!) from that. But in Tower of Thorns, I spent the entire book wondering how I was supposed to pronounce Geilèis (ge-lace, apparently). So I guess I can’t complain about that now.

Last words: I recently had a friend do a critique for me on some stuff I’m working on, and she compared the writing to Marillier, and I kind of wanted to reach through the computer and hug my friend and then do a little happy dance. If my stories could one day be classed even remotely close to Juliet Marillier, I would feel like I had won at all the things.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Book Review: A Bit of Magic, a fairy tale collection

A Bit of Magic: A Collection of Fairy Tale RetellingsOverall rating: 3.5­­ stars

In case you missed it, fairy tales are my thing, so I was already sold on the idea of another fairy tale collection. Because I’m not really sure there can ever be too many. Most of these stories were based on fairly well-known tales, but there were a few lesser-known as well. On the whole I really enjoyed this collection. There were a few stories that didn’t speak to me, as is always the case in a collection, and there were a few that I really loved.

The highlights, for me:

“Reed Girl, Fire Girl, Cloud Girl,” by Lynden Wade. Nothing truly unexpected happens here, but I just kind of loved watching these characters travel together and discover love. It had me from the get-go. This one had a really strong traditional fairy tale feeling too, which I loved.

“Bluebeard’s Wives,” by Mae Baum. Kind of the grittiest story, but that’s to be expected from a story that involves Bluebeard, am I right?* I loved setting this tale in the modern world and with a different explanation of the Bluebeard mythos. But really, it was the ending that sold me—it was so deeply satisfying to me. I just kind of cheered internally. “Take that!” However, this isn’t a story that I think most of my family and friends would appreciate quite so much. There was just something about it that made me happy.

“The Thief and the Spy,” by Katelyn Barbee. For me, absolutely the highlight of the collection. The rich setting of the piece, the main characters and their personal quandaries and struggles, the magic woven into the story so seamlessly that it just feels like a part of their world rather than an additional afterthought. I also loved the variations from and similarities to the various versions of “Cinderella.” Like the slight change in the arrangement of Asha’s family (there’s only one evil stepsister; the other is on her side), the explanation for why Asha’s dresses keep getting prettier, why she sticks around, etc. Just a delightful romantic read with a lot of other stuff going on in it.

Clean rating: PG mostly, but some PG-13 stories, largely for fairy tale-ish violence or for thematic elements (you just can’t get away from Bluebeard, remember). “Bluebeard’s Wives” and “Goodbye, Gigi” had the most, as I recall.

I received an ARC from the publisher, but my opinions were not influenced in any way.

* Please note my utter inability to use slang, even in writing. Because I just couldn’t imagine myself typing “amirite?” without laughing at how I sounded so very not like me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

After the Excitement, Back to the Grind

- a post about writing

Well, in case you missed it, the anthology I am a part of came out last week. If you’re interested in all the gushing excitement, just read the last couple posts. It was a fun day/week for our little anthology, and its opening day was really amazing. So much excitement! So much checking of stats! So much fangirling when this happened:

Okay, sure, his book has been in that general area forever, and we only hit it for a little while. But still, it’s one of those little moments you just have to enjoy.

Now a week has passed, and we’re past all the first hoorahs. And suddenly it’s like my writing is in a vacuum. I’ve been spending the last several months on almost weekly deadlines—short story contests, submissions, materials to submit for the upcoming Storymakers conference, final proofs for Unspun, etc. Now I have this gigantic lull.

I think this is where writing is hard for some of us. Somehow I manage to pull out some impressive feats once in a while when I’m backed up against a deadline, but then in the in-between spaces it can be hard to feel properly motivated. But these in-between spaces are where a lot of the real work happens.

So we have to find ways to motivate ourselves. It’s different for everyone, but we have to find what works for us. One thing I’ve got right now is an amazing accountability partner—we check in with each other every week on goals and plans. It doesn’t keep me perfectly in line, but it helps me to remember, “Hey, if I spend five hours binge-watching reality cooking shows, I’ve got to go tell LaChelle I was a total spaz. Maybe I’ll just write for five minutes... and then binge watch.” (At least I wrote first!) I’m also trying to practice building in deadlines (like most short story markets have deadlines, so I’m trying to write to some of them). I have friends who create their own reward systems—new shoes, new books, a bowl of ice cream, etc. There are lots of options out there!

So if you’re like me and you need some extra motivation to keep writing past the really exciting moments (first ideas, first drafts, publications, etc.), go find it, implement it. Not every moment of writing has to be filled with joy and inspiration, but I think we can find a lot more lasting fulfillment as we practice writing through the grind as well.

P.S. Here is your subtle reminder that if you read and enjoyed Unspun (or even if you read it and didnt enjoy), we as authors would be thrilled if you would write a review on Amazon and Goodreads. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Cosmically Cool Katherine Cowley*

* Dorky alliterative title because I can.
Why, yes, I am really terrible at getting good photo lighting.

ONE DAY UNTIL THE OFFICIAL RELEASE! (Also, if you want to buy a copy and havent yet, tomorrow is the perfect day to do it and benefit us authors. Amazon likes it when there’s an uptick in purchases on a single day.)

Now let’s talk about how nifty Kathy Cowley is!

In the process of joining this project, I let Kathy know that I was willing to do some of the copyediting/proofing. I felt so privileged to be able to help with a little bit of this work, and it meant I got a preview of many of the stories along the way. In doing this, I also got to make friends with Kathy Cowley, and I consider that definitely one of the highlights of working on Unspun. I’d already read and loved some of her flash fiction. (“Celestial Accounting” in last year’s Mormon Lit Blitz was my favorite piece other than mine. It is so good! Also, The Last Bathroom is just the right level of weird-but-fun.) So getting to know her as a person was fantastic.

In looking at her blog again to find links to some of her stories, I made an amazing discovery. Kathy wrote “In Which Eve Names Everything Else,” one of my favorite pieces from a different year’s Mormon Lit Blitz too! I had no idea this one was hers, but people, it is beautiful. Kathy just keeps getting cooler and cooler the more I know about her.

We’d been working together for a few months when she emailed to let me know she would be visiting family in Arlington—and did I want to get together for dessert somewhere in between there and here? Yes! Of course! I will even brave my driving phobia about new places!

So we met up at a restaurant one night and sat and ate tremendous quantities of cheese (no dessert in the end, but the cheese was definitely worth skipping the cake). We talked writing, our latest projects, family, etc. As expected, Kathy is as fun and cool in person as via email and phone (and on the phone she sounds like one of my dearest friends, Sariah). She’s working right now on a book that just sounds so very fun (if I get permission, I’ll tell you what it is).

Kathy took on so much of this project. It absolutely wouldn’t be the lovely book that it is without her. She coordinated people, arranged multiple edits, and probably did about a thousand other things that I don’t know about. Oh, and did I mention she did all the interior design?

Since we met, she has also given me fantastic (and speedy) critiques of a ton of my short stories, and her suggestions have been invaluable in them all. Finding a great critique friend is awesome, and I’m so glad to add her as one of mine.

Anyway, I’ll stop fangirling now. Let’s just say she’s awesome, and when she publishes more books, you should go buy them. Immediately.

The End.

P.S. Her website is down at the moment (stinky hackers!), but as soon as it is back up, you should go check it out.

Monday, April 2, 2018

A True Story (about Unspun)

Now for a true story:

A little less than a year ago, I got an email from Kathy Cowley (whom I did not know at the time). It was an invitation to submit some poetry for an anthology based on what happened after the fairy tales ended. I don’t know if you’ve missed it, but rewriting fairy tales is kind of my favorite thing. But poetry? We are not the best of friends. So this email was both awesome and devastating at the same time. Exactly the sort of anthology I would jump at! Right at the time when I was looking to write more short fiction! Hooray! But poetry. Despair.

Here’s the embarrassing part: I might have cried. Okay, I did cry. Maybe it was hormonal. Or maybe I already knew how much I wanted to write a story for this collection.

Whatever the reason, I spent maybe the next twenty minutes or so trying to convince myself that my poetry skills weren’t utterly awful and that maybe I could indeed come up with a poem. Alas, I knew that was a lie. So I wrote back that tragically I did not write poetry, but if she needed any short fiction, maybe let me know. Pretty please with a cherry on top? (No, I did not write that part.)

I may have kind of done happy dances around the house when Kathy wrote back that she had accidentally sent me the wrong email. She was actually looking for a short story, not a poem.

The wheels started turning. I came up with an idea that quickly expanded into the novel I’m working on right now (and seriously, I’m so excited about this novel—these characters! if I ever used heart-eye emojis, I would do it here—but that’s beside the point at the moment). So that wouldn’t work for the anthology. Then I came up with a couple other ideas that quickly sputtered out. Then I started writing “Breadcrumbs,” which was originally a lighthearted romance between Gretel and the woodsman from “Snow White.” Ha! Lighthearted romance! Not so much.

As I really began to write into Gretel’s world, I realized her story couldn’t be that light. She was sent (with her brother, of course) into the forest to die of starvation. By her father and stepmother. Then she was held prisoner by a witch who wanted to eat her. And then she killed the witch instead—by pushing her into an oven. Imagine that for a moment. This was not a cheerful tale I was going to write, and no matter how much I wanted Gretel to have a quick, easy romance, she just couldn’t. But she could still have hope.

So I wrote and revised, had to totally rewrite the ending three or four or five hundred times, and finally here we all are, with a shiny new story almost in our hands. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all comes together, and I’m especially excited because I finally got a sneak peek at Ruth Nickle’s artwork in the book. She did the cover, so obviously she’s awesome, but seeing the interior work made my heart so happy. Her little mermaid artwork! Again, I’m not really big on using heart-eye emojis, but I love that piece so much. Her drawings are gorgeous and evocative, and I think they will add a fantastic dimension to the collection.

Stay tuned for my next gushing post in which I introduce you to how much I love Kathy Cowley.

P.S. Pre-order link for the kindle version here! The paperback will be available soon as well.

Thursday, March 22, 2018


Cover Reveal: Unspun!!!

People! I have been waiting impatiently for the day I could post this news officially. I have a story, “Breadcrumbs,” coming out in this gorgeous anthology on April 10th, and I’m so excited about it. Unspun is an anthology devoted to what happens after the “happily ever after.” There are stories both happy and sad, scary and silly, beautiful and just a little bit crazy. I am thrilled to be associated with them. Here’s the back cover blurb:

Whatever happened to “happily ever after”?
Heroes search for happiness, villains plot revenge, and nothing is as easy as it once seemed. Gretel suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, an orphan girl questions Rumpelstiltskin’s legacy, a monster cat searches for a child to eat, and the pied piper realizes stealing a hundred and thirty children may not have been his smartest idea.
Fairy tales have endured for centuries even though—or perhaps because—their conclusions are often more unsettling than satisfying. In Unspun, eleven storytellers come together to challenge and explore a few of those classic tales. Unexpected twists are sure to provoke both thought and laughter.
Gorgeous illustrations by Ruth Nickle accompany each piece.

My contribution, “Breadcrumbs,” feels like a little bit of a different direction from much of what I’ve written. I tend to write young adult, for starters, and this piece is definitely not YA. Featuring Gretel (of “Hansel and Gretel” fame), it’s a little heavier than my YA work, but I’m so pleased with how it came out, and I hope you will be too.

But more than that, I am thrilled to get to tell you about the stories in this collection. It’s hard to know where to begin. Should I start with the tense, fast-paced “Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter,” by Ruth Nickle? Or with Kathy Cowley’s novella about Tatterhood, a fantastic heroine who rides a goat and fights with a wooden spoon? Maybe I’ll mention how cool it is that I get to be related by marriage to two of the contributors. Sarah Chow’s story about the firebird is delightful, and Chris Cutler’s “Heart of a Thief” is such a sneaky post-beanstalk tale. Then there’s a story about a child-eating cat, a light romance featuring orange dresses and a heroine who’s still figuring out what she wants, a tale of Jewish grieving customs and a magical nutcracker, and a coming-of-age about what happens when you decide to off the evil witch in a rather gruesome manner.

I have to confess, though, my favorite is Scott Cowley’s “The Pied Piper’s Revenge,” which is an absolutely hilarious look at what happened after the pied piper wandered off with all those children. Oh, this piece made me laugh and laugh. My other favorite is PJ Switzer’s lovely poem “The Little Mermaid,” which is just a perfect, gorgeous slice of her life as sea foam (way better, incidentally, than my effort at this same topic last year on my blog).

But though those two are my favorite, I really love this whole anthology. Have I mentioned that I’m excited to be a part of it? You will love it. You should definitely buy a copy (it will be up on Amazon soon). Maybe two copies. Maybe three, just in case. You never know when you’ll need a gift to offer some poor old woman who just happens to be a sorceress in disguise.

P.S. Here’s a link to Chris Cutler’s fabulous reveal as well.
P.P.S. And here’s the purchase link!