My Favorite Reads in 2015

It’s that time of year again! So grab a cup of tea, your favorite cushion, and LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THESE BOOKS! *

* Books included are ones that either made me cry great buckets or knocked my socks off and then ran away with them to Vegas.

Because seriously, I read some great books this year. What should we start with first, the crying books? Are these crying books? One word for you: YES.


Buckets, people. So many buckets. By far this was the best single-volume book I read this year. It is spectacular and intimate and SFnal in its own way. I dare you to read it and not fall in love.

WHO FEARS DEATH by Nnedi Okorafor

Will you cry?  Oh, yes. But you will be transported and you will celebrate victory even at great cost. This is some epic, immersive SF. I wish I’d read it sooner. I’m also off to chase down a copy of Okorafor’s LAGOON next.

UPROOTED by Naomi Novik

I have enjoyed the first couple of her Temeraire series but folks, this book, THIS BOOK. Oh my god, I cried, I cheered, I lived and breathed this book and I will flail my arms at you about it and press a copy into your hands.


This series by Jeff VanderMeer, which I read in one go once I got my hands on these gorgeous editions, colonized my brain completely which is perfectly fitting. I couldn’t stop thinking about it while I read the trilogy; I still haven’t gotten it out of my system after putting it on the shelf. (Hell, you can pick up the first book right after finishing the third if you don’t want to, or can’t, leave.)

SIGNAL TO NOISE by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia

Runner up to the crying books! This is one hell of a first novel debut from mythic short story writer and editor Moreno-Garcia. I respond the most to books with intense, personal voice, and SIGNAL TO NOISE delivers a fully-realized, low-magic, high-personal stakes novel.

BAD FEMINIST by Roxanne Gay

Hilarious collection of essays, the kind that make you want to fist-pump the air while you’re reading. So good. And if you want to get some Gay in bite-sized chunks of awesome, I highly recommend her Twitter feed, which besides being funny AF is also a fine guide on the art of troll-busting.

SYLLABUS by Lynda Barry

This book came to my attention via a Brain Pickings article, and all I can say is that this felt like a gift from the universe. Barry’s work has obsessed me since I got my hands on this volume and has reconnected me to that fledgling, dusty artist I pushed to the back of the closet a long time ago. If you have ever picked up a pencil to do something other than write with it, please read this book.


A close runner-up to the best-of books for the year is the Lizzie Borden Chronicles duology by Cherie Priest, MAPLECROFT and CHAPELWOOD respectively. It hit the same Weird buttons that the Southern Reach trilogy hit for me. I loved them to pieces and hope more are coming. I am two thirds of the way through Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha series with RAPTURE on tap for this year. Phenomenal world building and a ball-busting protagonist that’s so much fun to follow. Speaking of world building, there was Fran Wilde’s debut UPDRAFT, too. My favorite SFnal essay collection was INDISTINGUISHABLE FROM MAGIC by CAT VALENTE, (Her latest adult novel, RADIANCE, came out last fall and is so far delightful.) The MAMMOTH BOOK OF SF BY WOMEN was a solid anthology and speaking of short fiction, I really connected to the slim volume of stories titled JAGANNATH by Karen Tidbeck. I owe my writer buddy Andy thanks for giving me a copy.

I did mightily enjoy THE JUST CITY by Jo Walton, but found its sequel, THE PHILOSOPHER KINGS, didn’t strike the same cord and affected my enjoyment of the whole. I wish it was whole, a single book, the more I think about it. I also wish there was another book between them. Still, a very interesting thought experiment. Worth checking out.

Swinging over to non-fiction again, THE NOW HABIT by Neil Fiore and MAKE IT MIGHTY UGLY by Kim Piper Werker (which I am technically still reading) are both very different books but under the hood both deal with the same thing. There are people in my life that I would happily push copies of these books into their hands if I didn’t think I’d get the stink-eye for trying. Related to these two reads, I’m also committing to a second round of guided Morning Pages, care of Julia Cameron’s WALKING IN THIS WORLD. Yes, there is woo-woo, yes, Cameron seems oblivious to the gifts afforded to her because of her class and money, but the process works. Serendipity is a thing. In fact, as I settled in to it last night, the first chapter is all about beginning, about starting, about not thinking about the end product until the end product is actually at hand and giving yourself over to the process day in and day out.

Bottom line: if you want to make something, do it. And that’s going to be my theme for 2016. Make stuff. Send it out. Do it again.

And when I’m not making stuff, you’d better believe I’ll be reading.



A Wild Post Appears!

You know it’s been a while since you posted a blog when the interface on WordPress has changed enough for you to do a double take. But, onward!

(Peaks to see when last entry was…)  Yikes! Well, let’s get caught up.

letsdothisLook, November was a blur! I threw all my spoons into NaNoWriMo and while I didn’t walk away a winner I did walk off with 30,000 words on the novel I had absconded off with to the Rainforest Writer’s Retreat this past February. I’m closing in on a completed draft, hopefully by the end of December.

IMG_3437There was also the mid-December launch of Pulp Literature #9 and within its pages, my short story Hothouse Flower! Look at how pretty it is! With my name on the cover and everything! Want a copy? Head over to the magazine website here and get yours (print or digital). All earlier issues are also available in both formats for purchase. As well they have a Patreon and yearly subscriptions.

Stephanie paws and cradles the magazine affectionately like a totally normal person, and is certainly not muttering, “PRECIOUS,” over and over again.

Now, where was I?

To be honest, once the heady rush of NaNoWriMo had passed, my brain shut off for a couple of weeks. I spent the time catching up on a few books and re-outlining what I had so I could go into the last quarter of the draft guns blazing and ghosts screaming. December hasn’t been all that quiet, so I’m looking forward to my holiday break with a not insignificant amount of anticipation.

In fact, I’ve decided to take five of those days and make myself my own little writing retreat. Put some serious words – maybe even finish! (Hey, it’s only got 25,000 words to go.) I loved Rainforest, but going back this February is not in the cards. That said, I should be able to recreate most of it — the structure, for example, the single focus, the utter immersion — in my own apartment. It’s a matter of will and planning and this year I have both. I’m super excited, and trying not to feel guilty about basically noping out of the world for five days.

2016 is stirring on the horizon and I will, before the year turns, get up my favorite reads from 2015. I haven’t been online with as much regularity as usual (for me); even Twitter’s taken a hit in tweet-frequency though it’s still your best bet to find me. But hey, my lack of online blather is because I’ve been writing. On track for 100,000 words this year, which feels good to type, and I’m looking ahead and making plans for 2016 to be a productive and creatively satisfying year. So Allons-y!




A Submission, A Sale, and A September Well Spent

Dear, it has been a while hasn’t it? Hmm, where to start. Oh yeah, leaving the country for — record scratch — Spokane?!

(I know they are nowhere near each other, but when I see the word Spokane it reminds me of that old Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs has to bring the lost penguin to Hoboken. Anywho…)

Yes, mighty Sasquan. Forest fire smoke that blanketed the town. The unease that crept in every so often if the Hugos were mentioned. A decentralized setup for the convention and the hotel rooms kept with the (unintended) disjointed vibe. Panel shenanigans (as always). Did my first reading at a Convention thanks to the gracious Steven Gould who opened up his slot to Viable Paradise alumni. I shared it with Sarah Goslee and Camille Griep, and read an excerpt of the novel I’m shopping around.  Hosted not one but two and a half room parties — the first a VP reunion, the second a private Hugo watching party, and the half our mini Dead Dog on the Sunday night. Bonus points for discovering that I can  drink gin or bourbon neat or on the rocks. Plus macarons, Dune sunrises, smoked salmon, cloudberry liqueur, screaming ourselves hoarse, terrible tea and always, always books.

By far the best experience of World Con was my roomie, Sarah. I met Sarah sideways, through the larger Viable Paradise network online after I came back from the Island. We’ve laughed and joked and commiserated and written together in Google Hangouts entirely online for almost four years and this was the first time I could hang out with her in person. World Con was as good as it was because of Sarah. Can’t wait to room with her again.

It was great to get out of Vancouver, too, and I had a lot of fun even though I came back exhausted. I still don’t know if it’s my Con. I understand what people mean when they say you go to World Con not for the convention but for who else goes to the convention. When I went to the World Fantasy Convention in 2012, I did mope a little about the lack of science fiction but really dug the panels. Discussions went deeper and I left with a lot to chew on, including story fodder. Next year, I want to go to something new, like ReaderCon, WisCon or Fourth Street Fantasy. Something smaller, but specialized. Plans are in the works.

When I got back home, it was back to the last round of novel revisions, this time line and copy edits. I read every word of that novel out loud over the course of the next three weeks (my poor neighbors) and fixed them as best I could. I sent out the full manuscript to the second agent that wanted it. Fingers crossed, little buddy! Hope they like you! (Of course, eggs, basket: I need to start querying other agents, too.)

What also came in September? My contract for a short story sale. I’d received the acceptance back in July but sat on it until it was official. And now it’s official! Hot House Flower (one of my Viable Paradise stories) will appear in Pulp Literature Issue #9 this January in both print and digital. Just finished the edits on that story, too. SUCH EXCITE.

And speaking of Viable Paradise, it’s that time of year again. Sarah’s off to be one of the House Elves, and my friend and writing buddy Andy was accepted into the VPXIX class (after literally years of pestering him to apply). As they always do every October since going, my thoughts return to the island. I’ve gone back to my notes and the audio recordings, even my journal, several times since then. But as I pick up the WIP I was totally cheating on my novel with this past February, I’m going to listen to the lectures fresh, take new notes, and then compare them to what I wrote and thought back in 2011.

I’m a firm believer that you really only understand the advice you need most when you hear it, and the rest just has to wait until you’re ready. I want to see how far I’ve come since then, if I have. I’d like to think so but I also believe you don’t know what you know, either, until you’re tested. Has everything happened at the speed I wanted, or hoped? No, but I haven’t been standing still, either.

So my homework will be part nostalgia, part honing the blade, part looking for the clever bits I missed I wasn’t ready for them at the time. I will envy every class that liminal experience to come, and I want to live up to that promise.

Spokaning It

Last minute items are getting packed up for my trip to Spokane, host of this year’s WorldCon Sasquan. Always that last minute juggle of clothing, hygiene products, assuring the cat that I will return, and deciding what books to read and notebooks to bring. (Because, you know, I’ll have time for these things. Not really.)

Normally I plan conventions out to the nth degree. Morning until night, everything is scheduled. I come home with a brain that’s been turned into a turducken, happy but exhausted and wrung out. As an introvert, especially. ESPECIALLY.

Not so this year. I am not going to give into the urge to mindlessly schedule every minute of my time. I’m going to wander, I’m going to say yes to social events, I’m going to leave gaps in my days to just wing it and I’ll scurry off to find some quiet time if I need it. No guilt.

And I’m not going to back out of the reading — 12:30 pm on Saturday! I’ll be sharing a five-minute teaser from the novel I’m shopping around thanks to the graciousness of Steven Gould, SF writer extraordinaire! He’s offering to share his reading slot with Viable Paradise alum including myself, Sarah and Camille. This is awesome and terrifying and I hope there will be drinks after.

But I’m most excited to see people I have not seen in several years, and meet people I’ve only known through the blessing (and sometimes curse) of Twitter. I suspect I will be tweeting up a storm when I am there. Particularly Saturday. I have blue hair (on the bottom), an owl backpack, and I’ll have my name on a card dangling around my neck. Come say hello!

Summer’s Kitchen Sink

Two months is a longer break than normal for me. I’ve been focusing on novel edits to the exclusion of nearly all else as work has picked up and is taking up more brain space. Blog got the short straw. Not that I haven’t wanted to talk about stuff!

So here is a brief update, and ramble. Back in my home town there’s a pizza joint called Cortina’s that’s been around forever and that my parents would sometimes order when I was really little. The building was completely distinctive, red metal, white trim, a monstrous circle meant to look like a stylized pizza and there was a mural on the sloping roof a dark haired woman eating a messy, oozing slice of pizza. Their bestseller? Something they called the Kitchen Sink — a little bit of everything.

And that’s what this blog post will be, too. Links ahoy!

Stuff I am excited about!

So close to finishing this final edit! I’ve given myself a hard deadline of August 18 (soft deadline end-of-July, but I’m counting this Canadian long weekend, shh).  Then that full goes out to the second agent. When I get back from my trip I will ping some new agents but will be moving on to other stuff.

That trip? It’s World Con! I’ll be flying down to Spokane to take in Sasquan from August 19-23. It’s my first since Anticipation 2009 in Montreal and this time I will know people! And me and my roomie and fellow VPer Sarah will be throwing a party! And when I was slightly drunk I agreed to read something in a spot during Stephen Gould’s reading! (That last bit might need it’s own subheading of things that terrify me. Hahaha.)

Syllabus-Cover_525I’ve become obsessed with everything Lynda Barry. Barry is a cartoonist and teacher who has been publishing for years. It all started when (and I don’t know how) I saw reference to her book Syllabus. I borrowed it from the library, ordered a copy before I’d finished reading it, and have since been buying and reading whatever I can and generally singing her praises. It’s also got me drawing again. My thanks, Barry.

Stuff I am loving!dccomics_ad_SU_v5

Two shows will become forever entwined for me with 2015. They are great, soaring examples of television that expand what’s possible and transform the medium.

I caught up on the entirety of Steven Universe right before Steven Bomb 3.0 dropped and immersed myself completely in the wonder that is Sense8. Both of these shows bring us stories that we’ve just never seen on television.

sense8They give us great characters across all spectrums of race, class, ethnicity and they ask big questions without pat answers. One does it in the frame of a kids show with musical numbers, yet is frank about sexuality, colonialism and PTSD. The other uses the old science fiction trope of linked minds to intense heights as the characters struggles with state surveillance, identity and empathy. I haven’t cried/laughed/cheered at a show that hard, that completely, in a very long time. I haven’t been this joy-flaily about television in a very long time. After Doctor Who and Sherlock, I was afraid I couldn’t.

Stuff I’m not loving as much!

I also spent time going through seasons one and two of Twin Peaks, and tweeted the crap about it. Good times! Also, narratively, broken times, but it’s given me a lot of food for thought. It’s always been on my “gotta see” list even though I missed the first time around for reasons I can’t remember and now it’s coming back next year. It may get it’s own blog post. We’ll see. I’m much more excited about the new X-Files that’s filming in Vancouver right now.

Stuff that can just stop right now!

THIS HEAT.Go watch Steven Universe to find out who this is. Vancouver has been suffering with an abnormally long and hot summer. We’ve basically had unrelenting sunshine for four months straight. Grass has been dead for weeks. Trees are already giving up their leaves. It’s rained twice, not nearly enough, and reservoirs are at 69%. It’s meant forest fires everywhere, including some so close to the city that it turned the sky yellow-orange and it smelled like the campfires for days.

(And speaking of setting things on fire, the Federal election that won’t happen until October but has been called early because the Conservative Party believe themselves to be unaccountable, spendy ass-hats. ARGH!)

Stuff it — back to happy!

Okay, let’s bring it back around to good stuff: I’m super excited that my friend and writing buddy Andy was accepted to this years Viable Paradise class! I’ve only been bugging him, literally, for years. The fun part right now is all the teasing (though this year’s bunch are very quiet on the message list), but the good stuff comes after once they’ve all come back from the island. I had a post on that topic I was noodling back in June that I’d like to revisit and post.

But for now, I have to stop procrastinating. I have managed to edit about 7,600 words today, and I still have about 20K left on the novel. Can I do it by the end of this long weekend? Perhaps, perhaps not. But I am very close and finishing it before my August 18 deadline is absolutely happening and that feels pretty good.

I will have taken The Star Door as far as I can on my own with the help of beta readers. It’s time to do this last bit, and let it go. I will spend parts of August revisiting my short fiction to see what state it’s in and start back up on the novel I was working on during Rainforest. I should have a completed draft on that by end-of-year.

And then we’ll see what happens next. 😉

Our Strange Bookish Ways

Everyone’s got a post about the Hugo Awards, so here’s mine. I’m glad I’ve chewed on it some, as my original thoughts just before the nominations were announced and those days immediately after were, to be blunt, furious.


People have written great and exhaustive posts the subject. HereHereHereHere. And hereAmong many, many other thoughtful people. Settle in — reading it will take a while. Bring whisky. You’ll want it. It continues on, the commentary, though the frequency is thinning. Sasquan attendees have their Hugo packets and folks are reading, or not reading, as they deem fit. Supporting and attending memberships have surged since the slate and the announcement of the nominees. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out this August.

Why so many posts? Because the Hugos matter.

But at the same time, they aren’t the only game in town. Never were. The Nebulas are upcoming, there’s the Tiptree Award, and of course, the World Fantasy Awards. Beyond best-of lists and official recognition, there are so many great podcasts and blogs that talk about books critically and with unabashed love that I’m not suffering the loss – if you could even call it that.

I’ve never agreed with every nominee and winner before, but that was never the point of the Hugos. The discussion, before and after, is way more interesting. This was the first year where I was able to nominate, having read enough current fiction to be excited to vote. And what the Puppies did, while juvenile and ultimately proving there was no great conspiracy, doesn’t take away the experience I had reading those books and talking about them with others.

Have you read The Mirror Empire? The Goblin Emperor? We Have Always Fought? Women Destroy SFWhat Makes This Book So Great? Indistinguishable From Magic? My Real Children? The Girls of the Kingfisher Club?

‘Cause hot damn, it was a good year of reading for me.

Maybe instead of doubling down for 2016 as some are threatening, they should just, I dunno, do what you’re supposed to when it comes to the Hugos? Read books, talk about them, and then everyone nominates the stories that really move them. It’s not hard.

Sure, you can game the system, but what does that really prove in the end?

Unless you like the taste of ash.


Copious Amounts of Words, Salmon – On Rainforest

It’s called the Rainforest Writers Village, but everyone just calls it Rainforest. I’ve heard about it through friends, but only in the last two years has it changed from something on my radar to something I wanted to do, then finally something I set out to do. When I bought my ticket last year, I still wasn’t sure if I would be able to go. Being able to plan and do things hasn’t been within my grasp until the last few years (and it’s something I naturally mistrust for the stranger that it is to me).

That said, after getting back I understand why Patrick Swenson, the all around spectacular human being that runs this crazy/quiet show, has added a third week due to the overwhelming popularity. Seems fitting to be writing and posting this on the last day of the (inaugural) third session.

Going to Rainforest was like taking a hi-res photograph of my life as it is, and running it through every filter the program has and then ‘shopping the hell out of it. Keep the colors, the trees, the water, and the sky. Remove the buildings, unless they are small and their bones are polished hardwood. This extraction opens up more grey, more blue, more green, and moss-covered limbs and grass and mist raking through the teeth of the forest on the other side of the lake fill in the space. Subtract the traffic, the horns, wheels rolling on asphalt, but leave the birdsong, the water against the shore as they are so that the sound of fingers on keyboard, pens scratching on paper, voices hushed in creative conspiracy, take their rightful places.

Take away the Internet, too. As the elusive elk were to the ubiquitous geese, so was the internet to the writer. Odds were good that if you looked up in the Lounge during one of the silent writing periods, you would see a writer with their hand pressed against the building frame to try can catch the wifi, while in the small parking lot a lone writer would hold their cellphone up to the sky in mute desperation.

Take away all the things in your life that you need to fit your writing around and flip it — now all the rest has to fit in around your writing.

The insecurities that had front-row seats with me when I went to Viable Paradise were still there this time, but their tickets were way in the back, their barbed heckling reduced to formless grumbling. I could worry less about fitting in because I knew people there. I was there to write, not have material critiqued.

But I was still worried — would I work? Would I get as much done as I hoped? And what did I really hope to get done?

That was a legit concern. Right before I abandoned writing for about four years, I had asked for a weekend away for my birthday: no boyfriend, no pets, no making dinner, no laundry. I planned to spend the weekend at a remote bed and breakfast and write my novel. All of it, most of it, I couldn’t tell you now what I thought that goal would actually mean. It was an impossible goal, that’s the takeaway. My crushing lack of words, lack of even one damn word, made me feel like such a fool, and sent me scurrying home to bury all my notebooks for a long time.

Rainforest was different in a lot of ways. I am not the same person as that young woman who stared out the window watching snow melt off the rooftop, her insides twisting tighter and tighter. A lot has, thankfully, changed in thirteen years. (I suppose it was my pupa state.)

We arrived Wednesday in rain, and I picked at the Scrivener file that night after our meal. I started early on the Thursday by editing the remaining 18,000 words of a novel I had started and set aside a year ago. Once that was done, I slotted it all into a couple of spreadsheets, listing characters and locations, major plot events, information revealed, and that took the entire morning of the Friday.

But would I write? Really? I set aside all my expectations — do something — and started. And they came. Nearly 2,000 words on the half Friday, 3,300 words on the full Saturday, and another 2,000 on the Sunday morning. 7,300 words all day. Not bad.


And besides the writing, there was everything else. From Viable Paradise, my year and others, there was Kelly and Janice and Fran and Nicole and Tucker and Casey, and I met other writers, too, some I knew from Twitter like Tracie and Amy, and new people altogether. I walked the road with Deborah, she of soups, and Janka, she of yarn hats, to see the elk that would not be seen. I watched a rainbow appear out of the morning mist, one color at a time, and watched the heron watching us from a trio of logs that floated together just off shore. I ate a lot of salmon, until I discovered the hidden menu. I tasted whisky that was smokey and smooth and wonderful. I saw a man don a set of horns, sing and kill on the Ukulele, the whole group joining in. I did my least squeaky fan-girling ever to Nancy Kress, whose work I love, to tell her how much it meant to me to see her, and other women who wrote science fiction, on the old TVOntario show Prisoners of Gravity.

If you see it, you can imagine it and then, if you work at it, can be it.

I even managed to read a little from books I brought for research, watched half a documentary on James Randi (also research), and journaled. Rainforest was profoundly restful and helped retune my antenna. Life should fit in around the writing, that’s the natural order. Now it’s a matter of pushing the blocks around to make it happen.

At Viable Paradise, Jim MacDonald lead off the lectures explaining that novels are a liminal experience. The workshop, too, was a liminal experience — we were all passing through a door from one place into another. It was worth marking, that boundary, because all stories occur within boundaries. Lives, too.

And yet when I left Viable Paradise, I feared it would not be liminal for me the way it would be for the others. I felt like someone had opened the door to the wardrobe, showed a glimpse of Narnia and then returned me back to my tiny room, the wardrobe forever locked. A lifetime of looking in will do that to you.

Leaving Rainforest, saying my goodbyes, I looked around and for the first time felt — knew — that this wasn’t a one-off, it wasn’t an ending. I even said to Nicole in passing that Rainforest felt like part of a continuum this time, part of a discussion, a calling, a community — a life’s work. It wouldn’t end when I got in the car, or later the train. It only ends when I stop.

I don’t know if I will go to Rainforest next year, and not for lack of wanting to go. It’s wonderful, and I will go again I am sure, but there are lessons of living that I can take and put into practice in my life right now, every day.

While Clarion sounds amazing, six weeks writing short stories wouldn’t suit me. I’m a novel writer. Taos Toolbox changed from being on my radar for years to something I wanted to do about two years ago. I think it’s about time that I make Taos Toolbox something I set out to do.