I’m now in high school hometown of Claremont, kicking back outside with my laptop and writing on the novel, albeit not with any particular intensity at the moment. Write a paragraph, be mellow for a bit, write another paragraph, rinse, repeat. I’ll pick up the pace soon, but for today I’m happy to go at a slower pace. It’s been an enjoyable time in California so far.
That’s all I have for you today. Hope your day has been enjoyable as well.
There are many ways in which small indie presses and large traditional presses differ, and in this Big Idea for the anthology Farther Reefs, co-editor J.S. Fields identifies one that you might not expect. What’s this difference? Read on!
J. S. FIELDS:
Okay wait. Hear me out. As someone who writes in both traditional and small press/indie spaces, it absolutely fascinates me how adult speculative fiction handles sapphic characters based on the perceived market. Big Five SFF, particularly sci fi and space opera, almost never market the work as ‘lesbian,’ f/f,’ or ‘sapphic.’ Instead the story takes the lead, and the characters just happen to be gay.
Small press and indie tend to lead with the pairing, which can help the smaller audience find the books they’re after. In these spaces, ‘f/f’ tends to come first, and the type of story, romance, sci fi, etc., tends to come after. Sapphic books in indie spaces can therefore sometimes have an easier time finding their niche market, but directly targeting a niche market comes with its own downfalls. In particular, lesfic is currently experiencing a schism within the ranks: what does it mean to be a lesbian / what counts as ‘lesfic’?
Camp A, generally of an older generation (but not always!) remembers when lesbians could only be in books if they were tragic. They remember ‘kill your gays,’ they remember having to fight for women-only spaces. This camp tends to cling to lesfic being women who love women (bi women need not apply unless they’re ready to renounce men), wherein we define women as cis women whose biggest gender feels revolve around the butch/femme dynamic.
Camp B, trending towards younger generations, question why trans women are not more represented in lesfic. They wonder where nonbinary lesbians fit in, why intersex individuals are not represented, indeed, whether the term ‘lesbian’ itself is truly inclusive, as it can erase bi and pansexual women. The term ‘sapphic’ is increasingly embraced by this group as an inclusive look at the more traditionally understood term ‘lesbian.’
When the idea for a sapphic, speculative fiction anthology first came to me a few years ago, I was more interested in embracing the quirky tropes of the lesfic genre (lesbians on boats! Lesbians but also dinosaurs! Space lesbians!) than anything else. As stories came in and I got to read more on the depth of the sapphic experience, it became increasingly apparent that those at the margins of traditional lesfic were hungry for representation. There are thousands of books now featuring cis, white lesbians having adventures and sexcapades. Trans lesbians? Ace lesbians? Nonbinary and intersex sapphics? These stories are much harder to find.
My dreams for the first anthology changed. I still wanted EXCITING PLANT AND FUNGAL ADVENTURE but, quite suddenly, inclusion stood at the forefront. I led the anthology with an editorial note about how we defined ‘lesbian,’ in the broadest and most inclusive way possible. The response was enormous. The anthology hit #1 across several Amazon categories. Reviews were glowingly positive. It just kept selling. For a group of authors and their editor who had just set out to write some fun killer plant stories with inclusive views of lesbianism, we were blown away.
It was with great delight then, I put together Farther Reefs, my second installment of sapphic adventure. This time I’m leaning into my all time favorite sub-trope ‘lesbians on boats.’ This time I’ve also broadened the contributing authors, expanding the included writing styles and representation. It is such a joy to contribute to sapphic speculative fiction literature not just in terms of broadening the tropiest of spec fic sub-genres (what if the stories had mermaids and pirates and tentacles and power play?) but to do so in a way that helps the most marginalized in our community feel like they, too, belong in sapphic spaces. After all, if we can believe in sentient space fungi, mammalian mermaids, and sexy tentacle creatures, trans lesbians, intersex and nonbinary sapphics shouldn’t even blip the radar. This is a chance for us all come together under a unifying cry: spaceships, mermaids, fungi, and breasts are all very cool.
Author David Walton offers us a glimpse into the past, the far past, in his Big Idea for his newest novel, Living Memory. Can the past be able to shape the future? Walton has thoughts!
Admit it: You wish you could ride a triceratops. As a child, I would have handed over my library card for the chance. Every kid longs to see a brontosaurus at the zoo, or touch a velociraptor’s feathers, or watch a pterosaur the size of the space shuttle soar overhead.
I’m no longer a child, but I still long to see the world when fifty ton giants shook the ground and predators with teeth like railway spikes downed prey the size of armored tanks. As adults, however, we know that no matter how many Jurassic Park movies we watch, we never will. Those magnificent animals are gone.
But what if we could remember?
I started Living Memory with that childlike dream: Imagine a complex chemical that, when you smelled it, would launch your mind into the experience of a dinosaur from more than sixty-six million years ago.
Wait. Hard stop. Come on, David. Wake up and get a grip. You write hard SF, and this is the stuff of pure magic! How could such a chemical exist?
I once read some writing advice that said if you’re stuck with an idea, just dig yourself in deeper until you find a way out. So here’s another whopper for you: What if just before the Cretaceous asteroid hit, a species of dinosaur evolved with sapient-level intelligence, like us?
Even worse, right? A dinosaur civilization can sound pretty ludicrous—we imagine tyrannosaurs in tuxedos or stegosaurs sitting down for tea. But is a dinosaur civilization really any more ridiculous than a primate one? Is there some rule that dinosaurs couldn’t develop big brains and symbolic language? It’s mammalian prejudice, pure and simple.
Ah, you say, but why is there no evidence of this dinosaur civilization? Where are the cooking pans and pot shards? Where are the jewelry and weapons and building foundations? The answer is that my dinosaurs didn’t have any. Their technology didn’t follow a primate development path; like us, their culture followed their biology. Specifically, my dinosaurs had an exceptional sense of smell. It was their primary form of communication.
As a result, instead of iron and bronze, their technology started with the chemical and shifted into the genetic. And if smell is your primary form of communication, how do you create a written language to pass information to the next generation? Why, you develop a chemical that can use scent to store memories, of course.
Voila! Justification for my dream. But a technology doesn’t make a story. Characters make a story. So:
Meet “Easy Prey”, an aptly named dinosaur who’s at the bottom of every pecking order but discovers something no one else knows: an asteroid on its way toward Earth.
Meet Samira Shannon, the modern day paleontologist who discovers their remains. An Ethiopian orphan adopted by white missionary parents and currently working a dig in Thailand, Samira doesn’t fit in anywhere or have a spot that really feels like home. Despite that, she’s carved out a place for herself, excelled in her profession, and is stubborn enough not to let others push her around instead of doing the right thing.
And meet Kit Chongsuttanamee, a Thai paleontologist who discovers the ancient memory chemical clinging as residue to a very well-preserved fossil. He also discovers that the chemical can do a lot more than give immersive dinosaur shows. That revelation brings the unwanted attention of every national government to their dig site, eager to control the power it can give them.
If you breathed in the last memories my dinosaurs ever stored, you would see the day of the asteroid, when spears of red-hot glass rained down from the sky and whole forests burst into flame, when the ground heaved like ocean waves, and the sky darkened with rubble and smoke as the very air burned, and there was no place to hide.
The story of the dinosaurs is a tragedy. We know how it ends already. But what about our own story?
This was my big idea for Living Memory: a technology millions of years old that can store and replay memories, and the people—on both sides of the sixty-six million year divide—who must choose who they will be when faced with a coming cataclysm. Disasters tend to strip off the veneer of civilization and show people for who they really are. Like the passengers of the Titanic, will they risk themselves to rescue others, or will they trample everyone else to save themselves?
In Living Memory, humanity finds itself on the brink of war and facing an extinction threat every bit as dangerous as the Cretaceous asteroid. To survive, we might just need some help from the distant past.
Living Memory – Canada: Amazon.ca
Living Memory – UK: Amazon.uk
Flying into California yesterday I saw something I’ve not seen before: the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, which focuses the sun’s rays to generate power. I knew it existed but I’ve never seen it before with my own eyes. It is very bright, which is how I noticed it in the first place.
In other news, hello, I am in California, visiting friends and family and then this weekend going to my high school reunion, which is also my high school’s centennial celebration, at which I am also getting an award. Which is pretty neat if you ask me. California is lovely and it is nice to be back, for a few days at least.
“The book was better than the movie!” What about when the book was inspired by a movie? Hugo Award Winning author Mary Robinette Kowal talks to us today about what inspired her to write her newest novel, The Spare Man.
MARY ROBINETTE KOWAL:
The Thin Man in Space — That’s what The Spare Man is. Not the novel by Dashiel Hammet, mind you, but the films that follow Nick and Nora Charles as played by William Powell and Myrna Loy. I adore these films. If you haven’t seen them, they’re about a happily married couple who solve crime with their adorable dog Asta. They were made in the 1930s are are often lumped into the noir category but are really murder comedies.
I wanted to write a murder mystery that was a playful as the films, also starring a happily married couple and their small dog. In space. I am a science fiction writer after all.
This is one of those novels where the pitch came first and then the characters and then I had to find the story itself. To do that, I watched all six of The Thin Man movies and started paying attention to the way things were constructed. The films are… uneven, shall we say. The relationship between Nick and Nora (and Asta) is always charming because of the actors, but some of the mysteries are so convoluted that they don’t make any sense.
In the good ones, every suspect has a connection to the deceased and a motive. There are clues that are easily misinterpreted until another clue puts them into a different light. And there are oddball characters that seem to exist only to give a sense of whimsy.
And, of course, a murder.
With those elements, I turned to one of my other favorite tools — inversion. I really enjoy taking a piece of a story and turning it to its opposite. In the films, Nick is the detective and Nora is the spouse who wants to participate in sleuthing but isn’t allowed.
Sure, I could have gender swapped the characters, but that still means the detective is doing the detecting. I’m more interested in stories in which a competent person is put in a situation where their competencies are irrelevant. That meant that my Nora — Tesla Crane — is still an heiress. Her Nick — Shalmaneser Steward — is still a detective. My Asta — Gimlet — is still a dog.
But let’s invert some things. Shal is placed in a position where he can’t investigate, even though he’s a detective, because he’s arrested as a suspect. Tesla has to investigate, but I strip her of her power — money — by having her travel incognito. That in itself is an inversion, because Nick and Nora are both famous within the world of the films.
And in my novel, Gimlet (the most perfect of dogs) is a service dog so she has self-awareness and discipline that her inspiration lacks.
When you watch the film and then read the book, you’ll spot one other inversion which is related to the murder itself. That is a giant spoiler, but I’ll just say that I’m really proud of that murder.
The other major driving force in The Thin Man movies comes via the conversations that Nick and Nora have in their pursuit of answers. When I plotted the novel initially, I figured out who the characters were and how Tesla and Shal could meet them and then I discovery-wrote the first half of the book. Usually I plot things out, but I hadn’t fully decided who the murderer was until I was about at the midway point following the Agatha Christie method of writing mysteries. What’s the Agatha Christie method? She didn’t plot her novels. I know, right?! She gave everyone motive and opportunity and then decided at the end which one was the murderer.
I didn’t go quite that far but I did wait until I had fleshed out the characters before deciding, because I realized that a lot of the fun of The Thin Man comes from the conversations, the banter, and the characters that they meet.
So for Shal and Tesla, I started with the characters, not the plot. Granted, I had to do a fair bit of cleanup after that. But each time I had to adjust an element, I thought about Nick and Nora Charles and tried to bring them into the 21st century. In space.
As I said, the Big Idea for this is pretty simple. The Thin Man in spaaaaaaaaaaaace!!!!
It’s my pal Jim Boggia playing his uke and singing “Everytime You Go Away,” written by Darryl Hall (of Hall and Oates) and popularized by Paul Young. Why? Because Jim’s an excellent musician, and this version is delightful. Enjoy.
There are typefaces that have passed into infamy for being terrible… but in HellSans, there’s one that’s gone just beyond being terrible into being terrifying. And for author Ever Dundas, this typeface is a metaphor, not for awful kerning and character design, but something altogether more sinister and troubling.
I spent my childhood throwing up.
Halloween 1984, when I was five years old, I went guising in our neighbourhood and someone gave me nuts. Oblivious, I ate one. I would have felt a bit off at first, a strange taste in my mouth, then my lips would have swelled. Thankfully, my breathing wasn’t laboured, my throat didn’t close. I vomited, expelling the poison, and there began my journey of countless allergic reactions over the years.
I’m allergic to a very long list of foodstuffs, some discovered through tests, most discovered the hard way, but that moment when I was five years old and ate that nut, HellSans was born. It just took me almost forty years (and a lot of vomit) to translate that moment into art, the main catalyst being a colleague’s misuse of a typeface.
I went into work one morning to discover a slew of emails from a colleague all written in Comic Sans. The next day, I found another colleague doing the same. That evening I said to my husband, “It’s spreading, like a disease.” I immediately wrote a scene for what became HellSans.
In my early twenties I fell ill with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) and in my thirties I fell ill with fibromyalgia. I clung to my Comic Sans-riddled office job, desperately trying to hang on, making myself more and more ill by the day, dragging my pained and exhausted bodymind through the hours, collapsing at home, and doing it all over again.
Eventually, admitting defeat, I handed in my notice. But then what? What if you can’t work? Who are you then? What is your worth?
But maybe those are the wrong questions. Maybe I should have been asking:
What if society doesn’t work for you? What if you fall through the cracks of capitalism and find yourself in a dystopia?
The symptoms of M.E. and fibromyalgia include chronic pain as well as sensitivity to light and noise. I remember thinking about these symptoms and my numerous allergies and saying to someone, “Sometimes it feels like I’m allergic to the world.”
What if that was the case? What if you were literally allergic to society?
I ran with that, took “what if words could kill”, mashed it into visceral reactions to art and design, continued via food allergies and the pathos in being made sick by something that should be nourishing, leapt into political sloganeering via graffiti: “society is making you sick” and “capitalism is killing you”, and landed in the chasm you fall into as a disabled and chronically ill person when you can no longer earn a living.
HellSans is set in an alternative dystopian UK, where the population is controlled by its bliss reaction to the ubiquitous typeface. But there’s a minority who are allergic to it: so-called ‘deviants’. The allegory isn’t subtle; the discrimination against those who are allergic to the typeface was directly influenced by the way disabled and chronically ill people are treated in the UK under the Tories, a government who were investigated by the UN for human rights violations against disabled people.
The novel is released as we near Halloween 2022, and I think of that five-year-old, expecting safe and fun horrors, but instead skirting a little too close to death. She expelled the poison, an exorcism she repeated over the years. As a disabled adult, I expel the poison of a Conservative government and a health supremacist society that wants me dead, the poison transmuted into the ink that is now HellSans.
WARNING: may contain traces of vomit, serifs, and revolution.
I’m traveling a lot this month, which means my usual spree of October foliage photos has been interrupted, but now that I’m home for a couple of days I’ll try to get some shots in. That said, while I was in Kentucky earlier this week, I did get this lovely photo of a Virginia Creeper vine doing its thing, and it looks quite lovely. Yes, it’s often considered a weed, but one, “weeds” can be lovely, and two, it’s not my weed, so I don’t have to worry about, I can just take a picture of it.
In the category of weeds that are my problem, here’s some poison ivy in the treeline of my house:
It’s pretty. Don’t touch it. We will probably get an expert to come in and deal with it.
There are a number of mass culture phenomena that came from Japan to the United States and western culture generally, and in Fight, Magic, Items, author Aidan Moher delves into one such phenomenon, that the casual fan might not know had sprung from there at all.
Back in the 1990s, I became a Dragonmaster, flew to the moon on a gigantic whale, and lived inside the dream of a different flying whale. I was a Warrior of Light, and lived a thousand lifetimes awaiting the rebirth of a manmade god. I traveled through time, survived an apocalypse, and saved the Lifestream.
Didn’t we all?
My book Fight, Magic, Items: The History of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and the Rise of Japanese RPGs in the West is exactly what is says on the cover: a deep dive history of how an unusual sub-genre of roleplaying games left Japan and reached meteoric popularity in the Americas and Europe. But, it’s also more than that. It’s the history of those games, and also the story of the people who made and played them.
It’s a story about people. A story of creativity, perseverance, vision, and dreams. It’s about how two young artists left their chosen art fields for video games and ended up creating a genre adored by millions. It’s about the kids staying up all night to beat Chrono Trigger, or missing school because they’re crying their heads off at Final Fantasy VII‘s big twist. Fight, Magic, Items is about finding universal human experiences in recorded history, and understanding how who we are shapes what we make and enjoy.
From the earliest inklings of the idea, I had two big goals for Fight, Magic, Items: 1) Write a detailed history about the games and how they became popular in the west, and 2) Make it feel like the reader was sitting at a pub, drink of choice in hand, gabbing with an old friend about their favorite games.
Achieving the first was pretty straight forward—a lot of research, reading, and finding the right narrative thread for the best version of the genre’s history. I did this by focusing on the lifelong journeys of its progenitors: Yuji Horii, who created Dragon Quest, and Hironobu Sakaguchi, who created Final Fantasy. Fight, Magic, Items starts with a look at how they abandoned their dreams of becoming a manga artist and a musician respectively, and how their desire to bring Dungeons & Dragons to Japanese living room televisions created a new genre. As the book closes, Sakaguchi, still making games, looks back at his life and career, wondering if his latest game is his last, and pondering the future of the genre he co-created.
Along the way, Fight, Magic, Items checks in with dozens of creators, and, thanks to wonderful archives like Shmuplations.com, I was able to source incredible interviews that reveal not just what they think of their games now, decades after making them, but also what they felt in the moment. What drove them to create? How did technical limitations force them to come up with clever creative solutions? Why it was so important Phantasy Star featured a female protagonist all the way back in the 80s? It’s a living history, and many of the creators featured in the book are not only still around, but actively making games, and discovering the underlying human experiences provided an opportunity to reveal the creative ingenuity and drive that underlies art of all stripes.
The second aspect—making it feel like a shindig at a local pub with friends—was a little trickier. At its core, Fight, Magic, Items is a very personal book. It looks not only at creators like Horii and Sakaguchi, but also digs deep into what makes this genre so appealing to fans all over the world. To do that, I knew early I needed to center a fan in the narrative, in the same way I centered the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy creators. Fortunately, I knew a very passionate fan who has lived and breathed Japanese RPGs since they first played Final Fantasy VI over 25 years ago: me.
By far the most consistent feedback I’ve gotten from readers since Fight, Magic, Items released last week was that they love how the book feels like a personal conversation, that my experiences, whether about a specific game, or just a shared feeling, are so recognizable from their own lives. I stop short of calling Fight, Magic, Items a memoir, though my personal stories are littered throughout and form the book’s emotional foundation. But, it’s not about me, It’s about the emotional journeys we’ve all gone on as fans. It’s about universal human experiences, about sharing joy, and becoming part of a large community of equally passionate fans.
We didn’t all become a Dragonmaster or fly to the moon. Some of us journeyed through the Algol solar system or fought in the Hokuten. Whatever our path to fandom, though, we all know the feeling of sinking into a story you just can’t put down, and the magical ability of video games to transport us to new worlds where we play an active role in the world. We’ve all shared tips and tricks at school, or finally borrowed the hot new game from our best friend. We’ve helped each other get unstuck against a tough boss and theorized about plot twists and dramatic endings. These are the experiences and feelings that took us from casual interest to full blown obsession, and by placing such fan experiences alongside creator experiences, Fight, Magic, Items was able to become so much more than a 320 page Wikipedia entry with a bullet point summation of the history of Japanese RPGs.
It became a story about people.
And that is because it was around this time, fourteen(!) years ago now, that I switched over to the service to host Whatever. Previous to the switchover I had been beset by issues with the site, stemming from backend hiccups and rough patches that never quite resolved themselves. But once I switched over to WordPress, things have gone swimmingly; the number of times the site’s been down since 2008 can be counted on one hand, and even then it was quickly back up to speed.
This is also where I again recommend that if you are a creator of any sort, but especially a writer, that you maintain your own site, one where people can always find you and where you have control of your content. As the various recent woes of the social media giants have shown us, none of those sites is immune to drama or is going to last forever at the top of the heap, and you will always be the product to them. Have your own site and no matter what happens to them, you’ll always be around. Whatever has been around for 24 years! That’s several generations of social media right there.
I annually recommend WordPress because it’s robust and seamless and easy to use, and because I like it. I have never had cause to regret using the service, and lots of reasons to be glad I do. WordPress doesn’t pay me to recommend it, or hints that an endorsement would be nice, or anything like that. I endorse it because I genuinely think it’s a good service. If you’re thinking of getting your own place on the Internet (and you should!), WordPress is a pretty great place to host it. Here are some of the various packages they offer; see which might work for you.
Back in September, the company reached out to me and said that a few of their recent customers mentioned that they found out about them through my blog post, and they wanted to send me a box of their candy as a thank you for posting about them. So, if you were someone that mentioned my blog post to them, thank you so so much!
I was very excited to receive this offer from them, because not only did I enjoy their Pride Box that I posted about, but I also enjoyed their Wishing Star Box about a month later. I didn’t post about that one because I shared it with two of my friends, but I will say it was super good and had some really great flavors like white peach and black currant, lavender and coconut, and blueberry.
Moving on, they ended up sending me not just one, but two boxes! One was their Tea O’ Clock box, and the other was their new Halloween set, Treat or Treat! Which is funny because I was actually planning to buy the tea set one anyway, so lucky me!
Before we continue, I will say that even though I received these products for free, it will not influence my review over them. I am grateful to have received the items, but being truthful about them is important to me, so this is an honest product review!
In my first post over them, I mentioned how cute the rainbow ribbon was on the box. Turns out all the boxes come with ribbons! The tea one had an aesthetically matching brown ribbon, and the Halloween one had a cute sparkly black one.
I decided to try the Halloween box first, so I set up some props to enhance the spooky vibes.
Then I realized you couldn’t really see the flavor card and its descriptions, so I took a closer shot.
As you can see, the ghost is hazelnut and vanilla, the gardenia is coconut and cinnamon, the coffin is sweet potato and pineapple, the aventurine is pumpkin and apple, and the bat is hibiscus and cranberry.
I thought the ghost was the cutest, so I started with that one. You know when you smell vanilla extract and it smells so dang good, but then tastes horrible? Well, this piece tastes like how vanilla extract should taste, like how it smells. As someone who loves vanilla a lot, this was a great piece to start with. It wasn’t overly sweet, but still conveyed that yummy vanilla flavor, and the eyes were extra crunchy.
I tried the aventurine next, and this one also had extra crunchy pieces on top! So that was nice. As for the flavor, it definitely has that classic fall flavor palette of warm spices and sweet apple. I was pleased with this one, as I generally really enjoy pumpkin flavored things.
Returning to the spooky ones, I gave the bat a try. You can probably tell from its appearance, but it was the crunchiest in the box! It was like biting into a pile of rock candy, so it was super satisfying. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the flavor, as I haven’t had many hibiscus flavored things and I generally don’t love cranberry, but this tasted like a fruit snack! It was sweet and fruity and made me think if they had Gushers for grownups, it’d be this.
The gardenia was next, and it was the thickest, most gummy-filled in the box. Besides being coconut flavored, it also had a layer of shredded coconut covering the bottom of it! I thought that was a great touch, both texturally and in terms of flavor. If you don’t like coconut, this one is not for you, as clearly it is very coconut-y. With coconut flavored things, I usually find the issue of them tasting like sunscreen. However, this one did not have that problem at all!
Finally, the coffin. Though this one was a bit on the thin side gummy-filling wise, it had a ton of crunchy pieces on top, and was the largest in size. This one was probably the least sweet in the box, as it had a mild ube flavor, so it was more subtle. Personally, I really like ube. It’s not usually a flavor I can get unless I eat Japanese sweets from snack boxes, so I’m always happy to have it.
So, there you have it! Each piece was a hit, and the special shapes of ghosts and coffins is a really fun touch. If you’re looking for a festive treat, maybe to serve at a Halloween party, this is a great option!
Of course, there’s also the tea box!
I finally had a use for my teacup collection. I realized some of the flavor card got cut off, and the yellow one is a bit out of focus, so again I took a closer shot.
This set had to be the most visually stunning I’ve seen yet! The gold and dried flowers really amped up the presentation.
Getting right into it, I started with the matcha because I’d already had this piece before in the Pride Box. I remember not liking it that much before, but it was a lot more pleasant this time. It was less bitter, and seemed more balanced. I still think it is very pretty appearance-wise, as it was the most visually pleasing in the Pride Box, but it has some pretty strong competition in this box.
I went counter clockwise through the circle, so the strawberry rooibos was next. I’ve never had rooibos tea, so I can’t speak as to how accurate it is, but it tasted light and fruity. This was another one where it makes me think of a grownup fruit snack, in the way that a charcuterie board is a grownup Lunchable. The dried flowers didn’t add anything flavor-wise, but were a fun addition nonetheless. Overall, I liked this one!
Next was the Thai tea. Y’all know I love some Thai iced tea. I will drink it basically any chance I get, and I love its unique flavor. This candy conveyed that special Thai tea flavor so well! I definitely enjoyed this one, but also had to brush off some of the flowers, as there were a few too many for my liking on top. Not that they tasted bad or anything, it’s just not something I’m used to consuming.
Okay, now for the one I was most excited for! The chai tea. I drink iced chai lattes almost daily, so I was extra stoked for this piece. Also, I think this one just might be my favorite appearance-wise. I am a huge fan of the gold, and I like the wide teardrop shape. Though I liked the flavor, I wouldn’t say it tasted like how I was expecting. It’s not like an iced chai latte, it tastes much more like a traditional cup of chai tea, like the one in the first photo I took, without all the milk and sugar. It was still sweet but more of a spiced flavor than what I’m used to since my chai comes from Starbucks.
Finally, the earl grey and lavender. This was the biggest piece in the box, and I realized it’s because its actually two pieces! The top one is the earl grey, and the bottom is the lavender. I actually had the lavender in the first box I tried as well, and just like before, it was super crunchy and the perfect blend of sweet and floral! Definitely a top contender for me, as I absolutely love lavender. The earl grey was a mild flavor with a nice touch of sweetness, a great compliment piece to the lavender, but the lavender piece was definitely the star here.
All in all another great box!
It’s hard to say which box I liked better, each had some really delicious pieces. And as much as I love the Halloween one for being festive, I also love the tea set one because I adore tea parties and collect teapots and teacups. Having nice treats at tea parties is a must, so definitely consider adding this box to your next one.
I can’t wait to see what set they come out with next!
Which set looks better to you? Which flavor would you have liked to try? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!
Oh and I replied to some comments on my last post, be sure to check and see if I replied to you!
Author Jason Denzel knows the challenge of enticing readers to one book — but what about an entire trilogy. With this Big Idea about the final installment in his Mystic Trilogy, Mystic Skies, Denzel is going to give it a shot… and be sure to check out the book trailer at the end.
At long last, an ending.
Trying to convince people to check out your debut novel is hard. Trying to pitch your second book is even harder, especially when it’s the middle child of an unfinished trilogy. So now, with the release of Mystic Skies, the third and final book in the Mystic Trilogy, I’m finally able to discuss the Big Idea for the whole series.
Namely, that this is a generational saga that spans decades. It explores the long life of a lowborn woman who dares to defy law and tradition in order to unveil a magic inside her heart. The books barrel through her adventures, but they also explore the heartbreak, pain, and devastating challenges that come from living a long life in a world that rarely has your back. The main character, Pomella, is a woman striving to be heard from the very beginning. Gone is her boundless youthful energy from the first book, replaced now in this concluding volume by tempered patience and a desire to care for the few remaining people in her life.
One of the important ideas throughout all three Mystic books is the idea of lineages. I love exploring the idea of what we leave behind: what’s important to a person? What defines their legacy? If we could go back and change things, would we?
The first novel begins with Pomella trying to become an apprentice to a master living in a mystical forest. Now, sixty years later, she’s on the other side of that relationship, trying to guide somebody young and special to her through a world that’s betrayed them. Pomella is not blameless when it comes to the world’s darker state. Her actions and decisions from the previous books have had real consequences. Like all of us in life, she has to live with those choices. But unlike us, she has the power to re-experience them and perhaps, just maybe, once more make a change that can benefit people.
It’s been a long road for Pomella, as it has for me. I’ve written before, in the Big Idea for Mystic Dragon, about how the upheaval of my life influenced the darker tone of the second novel. In this third book, Pomella and I crossed the finish line as weary companions. She helped stabilize me during those difficult times. Her strength was modeled on the persistently valiant women in my life. I’m delighted that we finished her story, and now I invite you to join us and experience the full story together.
Watch a book trailer:
This motley assemblage of very large beasts greeted me at the bar I went to for an aftershow meetup, following the event with me and Andy Weir in Louisville. The bar, appropriately enough, was called Kaiju, and was possibly the hippest bar I’ve gone to in years. Which is admittedly not saying much as I don’t drink and almost never go to bars outside of convention spaces. But even so! Cool place, nice toys, got the t-shirt.
Tonight I am in Lexington, interviewing Neon Yang about their new novel The Genesis of Misery. We’ll be at the Joseph-Beth at 7pm. Please come say hello to us!
Look, up in the sky! It’s not a bird, or a plane, it’s… squid gods? Author Brandon Crilly gives us a look inside his newest novel, Catalyst, and what it means to have faith; especially in something you can see.
When I was a kid, I grew up with two very different family branches. My dad’s side: devout Catholic. My mom’s side: Christmas meant presents and turkey. Since my dad was the rebel of his side, I grew up given the choice to decide my faith (or not), leading to a very observational relationship with both religion and spirituality.
I flirt a bit more with the latter every year, and faith has always fascinated me. Why people believe what they do. The signs people look for. How they explain phenomena when it feels like more than luck or coincidence (something I experience more and more). Where and why people disagree on matters of faith.
On Aelda, where Catalyst takes place, both religion and belief are complicated by the gods coasting across the sky at some point every week. Aelda was about to burst open at its core until the Aspects arrived (that would be the giant squids on the cover!) and encased the world in an atmospheric bubble so that life could go on. The Fracture and Salvation, most people call it centuries later, and that’s about the only thing people can agree on. I love epic fantasy that features gods, like Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen or Hanrahan’s Black Iron Legacy, but I knew I didn’t want gods that occupy specific roles in a pantheon where everyone knows who they are, what they represent, and which ones you can trust or not.
Early in my worldbuilding, I envisioned the Aspects as four parts of a separate whole, working in tandem like a collective. Presence. Hidden. Vital. Catalyst. Though they connect telepathically to people on the ground, offering a sliver of their power to a select few, there’s never a real conversation – more an exchange of feelings and impressions. Which meant thinking carefully about how that would affect belief systems and organized religion over time, and a lot of fun coming up with different interpretations of what the Aspects embody, based on geographic location, culture, history and more. Someone might pray to the Presence as Passage for a safe journey via windship; or maybe they believe the Catalyst as Protector is more responsible for that. I’ve got a chart dotted with interpretations that never get mentioned in the book, simply from having fun tweaking meanings to be just different enough that it would make sense for some group to be worshipping them somewhere.
Dreaming up interpretations for your squid gods is a blast, but I also needed ground rules and structure for Aelda’s religion(s). One of the reasons I lean more spiritual than religious is because the “organized” part of religion never connected with me, so I also had to be very conscious of my bias when building what essentially became a theocracy – or maybe more akin to Europe pre-Reformation, where rulers ran their realms but still listened when the Pope spoke. Aelda’s Highest Voices operate on a pretty simple principle: when the gods are literally responsible for holding your world together, it’s best not to accidentally insult them. Not every interpretation can be sanctioned, then, and the Highest Voices wouldn’t see that as repression, but as pragmatism for the good of humanity’s continued survival. I’m sure you’re already thinking how that conceit is ripe for various kinds of conflict, since naturally people are still going to question the higher powers and want to practice their own interpretations, trusting that the Aspects are too benevolent to let the world finish exploding because no one can agree on what They think.
I tend to deepen my worldbuilding after coming up with my core characters, and luckily (or tactically – thanks, subconscious!) their goals and motivations dovetailed nicely with this theocratic world of orbital gods and interpretive religion. My shifting relationship with elements of faith shows up in different places, whether it’s people grappling with their spirituality, or questioning the status quo, or debating beliefs and interpretations. Much like how every Catholic has a different perspective on God, I wanted my characters to all have different perspectives on both the Aspects and the Highest Voices, either based on their personal experiences with either or the political and social circumstances where they live.
But the final piece I needed for myself was to not make Catalyst a heavy book. I’m a hopepunk author at heart, and part of that is deliberately injecting fun throughout, sometimes when characters poke at each other about matters of faith. People looking up at an Aspect passing overhead and thinking, Can’t you just be straightforward with us, for once? Maybe? Please?
Naturally, no one expects the Aspects to answer. But even if they did, I wouldn’t count on it making things easier…
If you live in Ohio, are a US citizen and are over 18, you should register to vote. And if you are registered to vote, you should check your registration status to make sure that indeed you are still registered to vote, and if not, to re-register. Fortunately you can do both online here: https://olvr.ohiosos.gov/
Get it done, this is a preeeety important election, folks.
If you’re not in Ohio, but are a US citizen, you should also register to vote/check your registration. Here’s a link to do that: https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote
Vote, folks. There are other things you can do, too, but voting surely is one of the most important ones.
That’s right, you heard it here first! I finally got a chance to try Crumbl Cookies! If you haven’t heard of them, they’re a pretty popular cookie company that comes out with new specialty flavors weekly.
I’ve been watching @gofredo15 do weekly Crumbl cookie reviews for a while now, and this last box he reviewed looked so incredibly banger, I knew I had to try it for myself.
Thankfully, I’m in Minneapolis this weekend, so I didn’t have to try too hard to find one near me! When I got there, there was a line out the door.
I should’ve dressed warmer because it was like 47 degrees and I was totally chilled when I finally got inside. Upon walking in, there are tablets along the wall where you can place your order. They even have chip readers so you can pay with your credit card without even interacting with a person.
The inside is super minimalistic, there’s basically nothing except the wall of tablets and the bakery:
And this logo on the pink walls:
Obviously I had to try all six of their flavors this week, so I got the half dozen box. It was about 4 dollars a cookie. Here’s their cute little box:
And now, the moment of truth:
Holy smackers, those look soo good. And they’re way bigger than I thought they were going to be. The mildly expensive price started to make a little more sense when I saw how much bang you were getting for your buck.
I couldn’t wait to try them all, so I cut a sliver off each one and got to work.
I started with the top left, the Pumpkin Roll. It’s described on their site as a pumpkin cookie topped with a swirl of vanilla cream cheese frosting. I had a feel this one was going to be good, but I was not prepared for how wildly good this thing actually was. It tasted like the single greatest slice of pumpkin pie I’d ever had, with extra sweet creamy goodness from the frosting. It was cinnamon-y, soft, and overall totally delicious. I give this one a 9.5/10, and the only reason I took half a point off is because the cookie texture is actually more like a soft cake and less like an actual cookie. Still tasted great, though.
Moving on, I gave the peanut butter M&M one a try. I can’t remember the last time in my life I had an M&M cookie, but I definitely have never tried a peanut butter M&M one. This one was just okay to me, but I’m biased because peanut butter doesn’t taste that good to me anymore. I used to seriously love peanut butter, so much so I could eat it with a spoon, but COVID changed that for me, and I haven’t totally recovered from that aspect of it. So while peanut butter doesn’t taste absolutely horrible like it initially did after getting sick, it’s still not very good to me. So I can only rate this one a 6/10, but if you’re a peanut butter lover I’m sure you’ll really like it.
Next, I tried the Aggie Blue Mint. Personally, I love mint sweets like Junior Mints and Andes Mints, and mint ice cream, so this cookie was totally banging. The mint frosting on top is actually a buttercream, so it’s extra rich and delicious. The cookie itself had chunks of what looked and tasted like Oreo pieces throughout, and overall was a wonderfully chewy cookie. This one was a 10/10 for me. It is supremely minty, so if you don’t like mint, don’t go for this one.
Following that, I tried their Milk Chocolate Chip cookie, the one classic that they apparently never swap out. It’s hard to go wrong with a chocolate chip cookie, and this one is definitely above average. It was dense and chewy, and the chocolate chips were pretty sizeable. The fact that they used milk chocolate chips instead of something like semi-sweet is really interesting to me, and also quite tasty. This is an 8.5/10 for me, as it’s pretty good, but I make better.
The Pink Sugar was calling my name, so I tried that one next. It was super good, but I couldn’t place what the flavor was. I wasn’t sure if just the frosting was flavored, or if the cookie was, too. I thought about it for a while and still couldn’t really say what the flavor of the frosting was, so I looked it up on their website. It’s a vanilla sugar cookie with almond frosting. Apparently it’s a new recipe in which they now use real almond extract! I’m a big fan of vanilla and of almond flavored things (and pink things), so this one was a 9/10 for me. It was almost a little too sweet.
Finally, the most eye-catching, the Caramel Apple. A cinnamon apple cookie with caramel cream cheese frosting, apple pieces, caramel drizzle, and topped with homemade streusel. They say save the best for last and that’s exactly what ended up happening here because wow. The Caramel Apple cookie was so unbelievably good. I thought the apple pieces on top seemed like a weird thing to put on a cookie, but it was actually a genius combination. The acidity from the tart juice of the Granny Smith cut through the rich cream cheese frosting beautifully, and added some great contrasting texture along with the streusel. This one was my favorite in the box, both in presentation and in flavor, and was a totally off the charts 11/10.
I’m so glad I finally got to try Crumbl, and I will definitely be trying them again in the future. I’m hoping they have some really neat holiday flavors coming up.
Which cookie looks the best to you? Are you an anti-mint sweets kind of person? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!
And I look to have parked myself (get it) across from the single largest parking lot on the entire island of Manhattan. Go, me!
I am town for New York Comic Con, and you can see me today at 1pm, as I do a signing at the Tor booth (#3027, if memory serves), and then on Sunday at 3:45, as I do a panel called “The Future is Not Unwritten” with Neon Yang, Jennifer Marie Brissett and Tochi Onyebuchi. That’s a terrific lineup. See you folks there!
Author Nicole Dieker couldn’t solve a mystery in her own life, so she tried to solve one in her newest novel, Ode to Murder. And as her big idea explains, there were plot twists in store for her as she made the attempt.
When I began drafting Ode to Murder, I had just two words in mind:
Stuckness vs. possibility.
Yes, I know that the abbreviation counts as a third word.
I also know that “stuckness” isn’t a very good word — but I couldn’t come up with a better one.
That’s what happens when a person gets stuck, days-weeks-months coagulating into continuous viscosity — and it’s important to note that stuck doesn’t necessarily suck, you can have a good life and still feel, every day, as if you were glued to it.
That was how I felt when I created Larkin Day.
I knew, from attending various writers’ workshops, that the worst thing a writer can do is center a story around a problem in their own life that they have not yet resolved. This is a variation of the whole write what you know thing, of course — and when you write about a problem you are currently working through in your own life, the piece you do not yet know is, of course, the resolution.
The process of solving the problem.
The process by which your characters may also solve their problems.
Like many writers, I decided to solve this problem (the problem of the unsolved problem, not the unsolved problem itself) by giving Larkin a life that was, on its surface, very different from my own — and, just under the surface, just as stuck.
By giving Larkin a different set of externalities — a more impulsive personality, a tendency towards procrastination, a murder to solve — and a similar internal dilemma, I could use what she learns to get unstuck myself! I could get myself a better life and complete the first draft of a cozy mystery set in Eastern Iowa’s Creative Corridor, starring a snarky amateur detective with six figures of student loan debt and a failed theater career! A Miss Fisher for the Millennial generation!
This had serious potential — not to mention series potential.
Like many writers, I was unable to get this particular plot to work. Not in my own life, and not in Larkin’s.
The draft stalled.
If you read a lot of mystery novels, you understand that the best books — and, perhaps, the best Big Idea posts — are set up as a puzzle for you to solve along with the sleuth.
Which means you’re already anticipating what’s coming next, the big reveal that proves you’ve been reading carefully —
Before I could write Larkin’s story, I had to rewrite my own.
This took years. During that time, having no other recourse for resolution, I became resolute. If I could not write this novel, nor any of the other novels I tried writing while stuck, I would continue freelancing. My life would be as compact as a studio apartment, and if I couldn’t figure out how to expand it, I could be content.
I was not content, of course, but I could be.
If you read a lot of mystery novels, you know that the sleuth generally follows an incorrect path first; instincts fail as often as they prevail, especially if one is not paying attention to the details.
It was not content — in occupation or perseveration — that would lead me towards possibility.
It was connection.
In the years between first and final draft, I fell in love. We bought a house and made it a home. I reconnected with friends and family — and with music, which had been my formerly failed career the way theater had been Larkin’s. As I write these words, the man who helped me do all of this is driving us both towards a day filled with expansion — we’re going to visit my parents, take a piano lesson from a composer whom I’ve known since I was five years old, and audition for a choir very similar to the one Larkin joins at the beginning of her story.
My story, including how I took Ode to Murder through its revision process and began collaborating with Alan Lastufka at Shortwave Publishing, continues in the Author’s Note at the back of the novel — so consider it the penulitmate reason to add Ode to Murder to your must-read list.
The ultimate reason is that it’s a laugh-out-loud cozy mystery that Kirkus described as “an entertaining whodunit with a captivating amateur sleuth” and earned a BookLife Editor’s Pick for being “a smart, snarky series kickoff” with a “surprisingly profound finale.”
Sign up for her newsletter to read the first three chapters of Ode to Murder for free.
As readers of the site well know, over the summer I wrote and recorded a number of musical tracks and posted them here and elsewhere; it was fun for me and hopefully enjoyable for other folks too, but it also meant that the individual pieces were scattered and somewhat disorganized. So I went ahead and collected the pieces up into a single collection for streaming and download and called it The Summer EP. It’s already up on YouTube/YouTube Music, and TIDAL, and will show up elsewhere in the next couple of days; arrival of indie stuff on music services is more or less at their pleasure.
Actually, that’s not quite fair of me. I have the ability to schedule a release, and in fact did schedule the release of this EP, under the slightly different name of How I Spent My Summer Vacation, last Friday, and sure enough, on midnight of September 30, HISMSV smoothly populated into all the music services. Whereupon I discovered that one of the tracks was not the actual track I intended, but a fragmentary test track of a plug-in I had just gotten. This meant I had to spend several days recalling that EP from every single service it was available on, and then reposting it under a new title so as not to create any confusion. Fortunately (heh), no one was expecting the release, so no one aside from me was inconvenienced in any manner whatsoever.
Likewise, as I pulled the initial EP release, I also pulled the previous “single” versions of the EP tracks, both to clear up visual clutter on my streaming service artist pages, and to help with tracking streaming and downloads, so they would not be split across two iterations of the same track. I initially hesitated to pull the single tracks because I was worried I would mess up someone’s playlists or something, but then I noticed that the most popular of the tracks had slightly over 100 streams on Spotify, and then I was all, yeah, it’s actually probably okay to do that.
In addition to being streamable, the EP will be/is purchasable at Amazon, iTunes and elsewhere; I set the price at $2.99, and the individual tracks at 69 cents (yes, nice, I know), which in both cases are the lowest amount I could set the prices via DistroKid, the service that distributes my stuff. I don’t have it up via Bandcamp, partly because I need to see if there are any conflicts with DistroKid with me putting it up there. If there aren’t, I’ll post it there soon. Buy it if you like! I will take your money! BUT–
— honestly, if you have any interest in this music at all I am perfectly fine with you just streaming this EP. I can, how to put this, be patient with the remuneration of this aspect of my creative life in a way that perhaps other people putting out music cannot. If you take the $2.99 that you might take to purchase this EP and instead apply it to the purchase of another independently-released artist, you know what, I would be good with that. I mostly just think it’s neat I can make music and then put it out into the world and have people find it.
I do like the music I made, too. This particular EP is the sound of me figuring out my DAW and a bunch of my other musical equipment and software, and I think that shows in the production. On the other hand, unlike Music For Headphones, my previous release which was entirely loop-based, every sound on Summer is programmed and/or played by me, and that’s a significant development, at least for me. It’s all me, baby. And, uh, a whole bunch of software I’m still learning to get sounds out of. Summer represents my “state of the art,” as it were. It’ll be fun to see where it goes from here.
In any event: The Summer EP, by me. Out and about in the world. In fact, here are all the tracks, in EP sequence. Enjoy.
Master storyteller Mur Lafferty is back, and in her new novel Station Eternity, she confronts the question of what would really happen if the one thing that always happened around you, was the one thing you wish would never happen…
I am of Generation X, and grew up with Murder She Wrote, watching Jessica Fletcher solving mysteries in her Angela-Lansburiest way. And even though we loved watching those mysteries, one joke became common: Jessica Fletcher was clearly the most successful serial killer in history. Why else would she conveniently “be around” to solve murders that frequently happen around her?
As I got into more and more murder series, every story had the same thing: an amateur sleuth would happen across a murder and then solve it. Sometimes in a “sexy, exciting” way, like Miss Fisher, or sometimes in a “gentle, wholesome, eat your strawberry-scones” way, like Father Brown or Miss Marple. Midsomer Murders was the exception as those folks were homicide detectives, but their cozy English county had a per capita murder rate 248 times higher than England and Wales.
The amateur sleuth is a trope, but it’s accompanied by another trope: no one ever mentions how it’s weird that murders always happen around our sleuths? They don’t even have to wander far from home before encountering a body–but if they do go on vacation, people die then too. I hadn’t found anyone that addressed this obvious thing.
It also bugged me how the protagonists in these stories are well liked among friends, if not local law enforcement. I always thought if Jessica Fletcher came visiting, people should run screaming.
But if that happened, it would suck. Life would be really lonely. And so Mallory Viridian was born.
In classic amateur sleuth style, Mallory is conveniently around for murders, and almost always solves them. Unfortunately, because of this, she is not a popular person. She can’t keep a job, so she makes a living novelizing her cases. She has no friends. Most of her family is dead. She stays away from her neighbors. Forget about a love life. And she’s terribly lonely.
But hey, I’m a science fiction writer, so I like to solve problems with outrageous spacey stuff. I was inspired by these mystery stories but also Babylon 5*, and I wanted a space station with a lot of aliens who don’t think much of humans and weren’t too keen on them visiting en masse.
But they’ll take an ambassador. And someone who asked for sanctuary. And someone with a really weird, murdery problem. So Station Eternity, a sentient space station, allows three humans aboard to live among species like alien hive minds and rock folks with surprising abilities. Among her new community, Mallory hopes whatever makes murders happen around her applies only to humans.
When writing, the hardest thing I had to puzzle out was the actual murder magnet curse/ability. If I directly addressed the “murders happen around this person” effect, I needed to address why it happens. It took a lot of editing, and of course I’m not going to spoil it here, but I hope I stuck the landing.
What I loved about this project was exploring the fish out of water story. Having only three humans on a station presents problems; even small issues like finding a hairdresser or dentist, or realizing that even with auditory tech to translate language, our humans can’t read alien script or body language. It’s challenging to create aliens that both are alien and also characters that readers can relate to, but a fun challenge.
Station Eternity is my nerdy love letter to these classic cozies, using aliens and space to understand their most persistent, unspoken, trope. I hope folks find it fun and appropriately murder-filled.
* J Michael Strazynski wrote for Murder She Wrote and created Babylon 5. If anyone can get a copy of Station Eternity into his hands, I’d be much obliged.