My 5 Favorite Reads of 2018

2018 was a wonderful reading year. I beat my goal of 36 books by about 10. 17 of these books were nonfiction and not eligible to make this list. Out of 30 books, these are the top five fiction reads. Starting from least favorite to most treasured read.  For an in-depth look at my 2018 reading check out Books Read in 2018.

image from Goodreads.com

5. Traitorborn–  Has everything I like about “Hunger Games” in it but tells the story in a fresh, compelling way.  My favorite aspect of this series is that there are not “good” characters (at least from my perspective).  Most of the characters, our hero included, have a piece of the solution for their dystopian society and they are also holding on to part of the problem.  It’s refreshing to have a complex group of characters I can empathize with some times and despise other times.  Where so much conversations happening around me are polarizing, it’s nice to read a book that reaches for full open conversation and understanding, without surrendering one’s agency.   For more on this series check out my Kindle Unlimited post.

Image from Goodreads.com


4. Dragon Ridden– Don’t let the cover fool you, this was just fun and well written.  There isn’t any messaging in it, it’s just an immersive fantasy read and sometimes that’s enough.  Pure escapism, a well-developed fantasy world distinct from earth, and a cast of well-rounded characters.  It’s enough. For more on this series check out my Kindle Unlimited post.

image from Goodreads.com


3. End of Days– Dark, thoughtful work with a great balance of action and tense “waiting”.  Left me wondering about the conclusion all the way to the end and it leaves just the right amount open ambiguity to make me think about it for days afterward but still find satisfaction with the close given to us.  I’m sorry “Traitorborn” is on its second book while “End of Days” is a complete series because I think if I could compare the conclusions of both books, it may flip their positions on this list.  Still both books are wonderful.  Sold to young adults but they hold positives for all age groups.  

image from Goodreads.com


2. Card of Chaos–  Complex, excellent execution, everything I look for in the retelling of classic fairytale/folklore.  It begins with humor and ends in affection.  I like how the author draws the reader in and connects us with this strange if familiar world.  Loved the beautiful scenes, the deep philosophy and the language.  It may be my second favorite book of the year, but it’s my first recommendation to others.

image from Goodreads.com


1. The Book of Etta– Enjoyed every second.  I know this is a polarizing book because it explores gender roles, what gender is, and whether sex and gender can be two separate things.  The beauty of this book: it can explore the internal struggle being genderqueer/trans/gay/bi ect  often brings and ignore all the political bullshit that’s happening in our own world.  Here we can enjoy a human vs self moment.  We can see all the factors in the book which exacerbate the struggle and rail against them without hating our own culture.  Sometimes the call to action in a book can cut short a person’s thoughtful introspection, but The Book of Etta lacks this baggage and I’m beyond grateful.  Where the first book took a premise, I didn’t feel was true but expounded on it in a way that pushed me to read on, Etta felt right from the first words.  I knew Etta, I’d been Etta, and I sometimes still am Etta.  I knew Flora and have been her too.  Heck, there was a part of me that felt like I’d been Alma before and that I knew her.  The beauty of this book is that it allowed me to feel and it allowed me to celebrate so many aspects of who I am as a person.  Everyone will have a different time reading it.  But, it’s the jewel of my 2018 reading list.  


Happy New Year!  What were your five favorite reads of 2018?  Was your reading list similar?  Do you have any recommendations for me?  What are your reading goals for 2019?   

6 Reasons I Stopped Reading Daily Science Fiction

image from open clipart.org by j4p4n

Long time readers of the North Alabama Writers’ Group blog may know I started a monthly series called “The Best of Daily Science Fiction”. For this series, I read every story Daily Science Fiction published each month and featured the works I enjoyed.  I stopped the series after Feb even though I read all the stories through April.  I stopped posting the series because:

1. Creating a post with so many links and references was a hassle.  It takes a long time to write, edit, and find a photo for most posts.  What takes 20 minutes to write ends up taking an hour and a half to get set up for publication.  These Daily Science Fiction posts took FAR longer because I would research the authors of stories I featured and link to other works/sites where readers could find them.  The feedback I got wasn’t worth the time.  

2. I didn’t enjoy reading Daily Science Fiction.  It pains me to type this, but the truth is: most of the stories Daily Science Fiction aren’t fun, interesting, or unique.  And I want to like Daily Science Fiction, but I can’t. 

 3. Reading the stories there and trying to pick “good ones” was lowering my standards.  While I compiled stories for March’s post, I included anything that “was a story” even if I thought that story was cliche.  Reviewing the stories to post spiralled me into a depression.  Where were my standards?  Since when has “almost having a conclusion” good enough?  I would never accept something so sloppy in my work or in the work of my fellows.  Why was I recommending work that didn‘t inspire emotion or new thoughts?  To fill out a blog post, no I wouldn‘t do it.

4. Daily Science Fiction has a terrible website.  It‘s slow and often crashes.  This is annoying when one is trying to comb through it for cross links.  It’s also pretty frustrating when I would try to rate the stories only to have the site continually crash.  I suspected the site craps out intentionally if you‘re giving a low score to a story most people seem to like.  This conspiracy theory is probably not true, but it‘s hard to keep pleasant thoughts for a site that refused to load consistently.  It is a professional paid market, get some web support!  

5. I hate the layout of Daily Science Fiction’s website.  I would try to search for ALL the stories from authors I enjoyed or from authors I was “on the fence” to read more, and the search engine was super clunky.  Also Daily Science Fiction lets repeat published authors write very different bios for each story they submit so I often had to read through as many stories as possible, read the story AND the author bio again looking for hints.  They should just have a directory with the most up-to-date bio of each published author in alphabetical order and include links to any publications they‘ve ever had within Daily Science Fiction.  This is website networking 101.  If the goal of your publication is to offer short scifi work to readers and feature writers others might otherwise never read, make it easier for readers to find more from these writers!

6. The website is ugly.  This is petty and not worth mentioning when a site is easy to navigate, but Daily Science Fiction isn’t well laid out.  Being on a site that crashes often, takes a while to load, and doesn‘t search well, gives a person a long time to see how unpleasant the whole experience is.  The over all aesthetic quality matters a lot more.  Guess what, Daily Science Fiction isn‘t winning any awards in color scheme or intuitive navigation.  

Tell me about your experiences.  What turns you off to a website?  What do you look for in a flash or in recurring newsletters?  Do you read Daily Science fiction and if so, what’s your experience as a reader?  Have you published through Daily Science Fiction and what was that experience like?

November Open Calls for Submission Round Up

from openclipart.org by raseone

 

To be included in this issue markets must pay at least $.01 a word.  Some flat rates only pay that if writers stick to the minimum word count, and royalty pay = all bets are off.

Nov 11th

Speculative City:  open word count suggests nothing above 5,500 word count.  Looking for a speculative work using the theme “knowledge” has a preference for under represented characters within the genre but accepts all stories. responds in 90 days.  pays $20-$75

Shooter: 2,000-7,500 words the theme is rivalry “Send us stories, essays, reported narratives and poetry on anything to do with competition, antagonism, warring forces and individual foes. The context might be sports, business, romance, politics, survival; the characters might be students, frenemies, parents, current and former lovers, courtroom opponents. As ever, the theme is open to wide interpretation.” pay $25 a story

Nove 12th

Pseudopod: 1,500-6,000 words “We’re looking for horror: dark, weird fiction. We run the spectrum from grim realism or crime drama, to magic-realism, to blatantly supernatural dark fantasy. We publish highly literary stories reminiscent of Poe or Lovecraft as well as vulgar shock-value pulp fiction.” pay is $.06 a word

Nov 14th 

One Story: 3,000-8,000 words looking for literary fiction that stands on it’s own. 3 month response time. pay $500 and 25 contributor copies

Bikes in Space, the Non Binary Edition: 500-8,000 words on bikes in space scifi/fantasy genre with author and characters with non binary gender expression pay is at least $30 with 5 contributor copies

Nov 15th 

Lamplight: up to 7,000 words “dark fiction, both short stories and flash fiction. We want your best. But then, doesn’t everyone? No specific sub-genres or themes, just good stories. For inspiration, we suggest “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits”” pay is $.03 a word

Gehenna& Hinnom Books: 250-3,000 for flash and 3,001-5,000 word short story “We are looking for stories that fit the themes of Weird Fiction and Cosmic Horror. Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy are all welcomed, as long as they fit in the realms of Weird and Cosmic. All stories must also be speculative in some way. What we mean by this is that we don’t want stories based in realism.pay is $45 for flash and $55 for short story

Apparition: up to 1,000 words on the theme security pay is $5 flat rate

Nov 16th

Nothing’s Sacred3,000 words max “The horror within can range from subtle to grotesque, psychological to physical, dark to full out terror so long as it is character driven. Theme wise, Nothing’s Sacred is relatively open outside of distasteful stories of rape, the degradation and/or humiliation of women, and child porn of any kind.”pay is $.05 a word and accepting the magazine’s hypocritical title

Nov 25th

Moonlit Dreams/ Moonlit Nightmare: 1,500-10,000 words “short stories that explore the nature of the psyche, the world (or worlds) around us, and that speaks in some way to the theme presented. Stories should be well crafted and flushed out, having elements of a great story that could be told for generations to come. Including such things as romance, intrigue, comedy or drama are all par for the course as far as I’m concerned – the key is to write a story that lingers both in your heart and mind by the time the last page is turned.” pay is $.01 a word

Nov 30th

Mickey Finn 20th Century Noir: about 5,000 words under 3,000 is probably too short and over 8,000 will be too long “An annual anthology of hardboiled and noir crime fiction to be released each fall beginning in 2020, Mickey Finnwill pick up where the three-volume Fedora anthology series left off, pushing hard against the boundaries of crime fiction. Contributors will be encouraged to push their work into places short crime fiction doesn’t often go, into a world where the mean streets seem gentrified by comparison and happy endings are the exception rather than the rule.” won’t hear back to Feb 2019 pay is royalties 

The Twelfth Planet Press: 17,000-40,000 words “We want gritty pieces that challenge the system and punch the patriarchy in the face. We want stories that resist and rebel… and maybe also books that comfort & inspire. For when things are bad out there in the world. We are looking for books that feed the angry soul.” pay is $300 plus royalties

Third Point Press: up to 3,500 words no theme or genre guidelines pay $10 and a copy

Moonlight a Queer Werewolf Anthology: 1,000-2,000 words “Whether your werewolves are in space, school, or ruffing it in the outdoors, it doesn’t matter to us! We are looking for stories that span genres and tones. Your werewolves may be moody or the life of the party. All that matters is that they are openly queer and that there is an engaging story around them to be told.” pay is $.07 a word

Crannog: under 2,000 words no genre or guidelines pay is $50 per story

Apparition: 1,000-5,000 words on the theme of resistance “Apparition Lit is seeking original, unpublished speculative fiction that meet our quarterly theme. Speculative fiction is weird, almost unclassifiable. It’s fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and literary. We want it all. Send us your strange, misshapen stories.” pay is $.03 a word

Podcastle: up to 6,000 words “looking for fantasy stories. We’re open to all the sub-genres of fantasy, from magical realism to urban fantasy to slipstream to high fantasy, and everything in between. Fantastical or non-real content should be meaningful to the story.” pay is $.06 a word

Nov 31st

Martian Migraine Press Monstrous Outlines: 1,500-7,000 words “an anthology of horror and weird fiction with a focus on the theme of camouflage: people, entities, monsters, gods, even concepts, that masquerade as things other than themselves. Predators in plain sight, deities on their down time, sublime extra-dimensional terrors slumming in 4D. We want to see stories of exceptionally well done camouflage, all the more baffling and frightening for its seamless nature. We want to see stories of seeming where the hidden thing is poorly hidden for a number of reasons: perhaps there are layers to its camouflage, or perhaps it doesn’t care how well it hides. Imagine the moment when the perfectly hidden thing reveals itself. When the poorly hidden thing reveals itself. We’re also interested in duplicates, doppelgangers, and shapeshifters.” pay is $.03 a word

Dec 1st

Remnants: word count varies a post apocalypse shared world story/series go to the site for details.  Pay: royalties

2100 A Health Odyssey: “give us your best 3,000-word short story that challenges today’s assumptions about the future of health care in the U.S. We’re offering a first prize of $10,000, second prize of $5,000 and other prizes for runners up and current employees, students and alumni of Jefferson.

Compelling Science Fiction: 1,000-10,000 words science fiction genre pay is $.06 a word

Deadman’s Tome: 4,000-7,000 word short story OR flash “Horror and dark fiction about demented psychopathic killers with a winter holiday setting” pay $10 plus royalties

 

 

October Call for Submission Round Up

It’s that time of the month again!  The time I round up all the open calls for submission I can find.  This time around I took a queue from Chris’ post on Dragon Con and only added calls where the writer is paid at least $.01 a word.  Until I looked for it, I didn’t realize how little some of these venues pay.

Oct 15th

Shifters United: 20,000-35,000 words on urban fantasy involving shape shifters ideally non-traditional variety pay is a royalty structure

Oct 24th

NonBinary Review: up to 5,000 words that have a clear connection to Dante’s Inferno could be the themes or the characters or setting.  pays $.01/word

Oct 31st

Heroes of the Apocalypse: 5,000-15,000 words with stories of “end of the world” author’s choice of how the end happens but the heroes must fight against the end of the world.  pay is royalty based.

Our Loss Anthology: up to 8,000 words on loss/pain looking for a creative way to incorporate the theme pay is a profit sharing thingy

The Realm of British Folklore: There doesn’t appear to be any word count but he is looking for British Folklore theme.  No specification on traditional vs more modern settings.  Pays $.01/word

Barking Sycamore: up to 1,000 words creative unthemed issue that appreciates neuroscience diversity, queer, or poc characters. pays $.01 word

PseudoPod: 1,500-6,000 words looking for horror, dark, or weird fiction pays $.06/word 

Nov 1st

Spring Song Press: 1,000-10,000 words “Steam and Laces Steampunk anthology” fantasy speculative fiction.  Pays $.01/word

Millhaven Tales: 2,000-8,000 words winter guidelines are action/adventure/western payment is a royalty based scenario 

The First Line: 300-5,00 words “As we trudged down the alley, Cenessa saw a small ___________” pays $25-$50

Concrete Dreams: 5,000-10,000 words on urban/modern fantasy is a kickstart campaign with a poorly laid out website (which is why I linked to HorrorTree instead of their junk site) but they plan to pay $.04/word

Unlocking the Magic: 3,000-6,000 words in the fantasy genre (no scifi) Looking for the common stereo type of the mentally ill person being susceptible to magic, but using self care to enhance instead of threaten their abilities. A healthy look at how magic/religion/ceremony can play with mentally ill pay is $300/story

All About that Genre, that Genre, that Genre

image from open clipart.org by SteveLambert


When I queried agents over my novel Follow Me: Tatter Veils, I got one personal rejection.  The agent (and I apologize as I can’t find the email to name him) told me a major stumbling block I might encounter in pitching my novel is that I suggested it for multiple genres.

My mind makes connections.  If someone followed my thought process, it’s like one of those mind maps except almost everything connections to each other some way.  In all my work pulling together this massive 75,000 word work, I’d never thought opening it up as a genre crossover would limit my ability to market.

Since then, I describe Follow Me: Tattered Veils as an Urban Fantasy. It fits considering the book happens in present day world and introduces magical/mythic elements into an otherwise mundane setting.

Except, it also doesn’t fit.  Follow Me: Tattered Veils is at its heart a book about obsession and stalking.  The protagonist, Roxi, is living her daily life when Gerry, an ancient unpredictable fae being, deigns to take notice of her.  From there, it’s a cat-and-mouse game of near brushes and tense attempts from Gerry to lure Roxi into his world.  The novel culminates in a chase through faery land where Roxi must either save her friends and escape this dangerous world or surrender her autonomy to Gerry.   

Could be Magical Realism.  I use the concept of fae glamour to make these otherworldly beings hide in plain sight.  I suggest this idea of two realities, the one we know and this other layer waiting underneath that Gerry, Roxi, and others work with.  It isn’t the traditional secret society type deal, more like an alternative experience of reality.

But, I think Magical Realism has more magic integrated that’s just a shoulder shrug.  Everyone knows about it, accepts it, and moves on.  My magic systems imply they are real like Christianity and like Christianity, few people have or seek a genuine experience.

My colleague Lionel Green, suggested the back was “terrifying” and he read straight through that part “non stop”.  It makes me wonder, is my work horror?  There are both the real world and fantasy elements of the book that are horrifying.  

In my heart, the book is a lot more about how a woman experiences the male gaze.  In that way, I think Follow Me: Tattered Veils might be women’s fiction.  The men who have read the book suggest that they “enjoyed reading it.  Good on its own, but I’d never buy this book based on the description.”  Does this feedback mean I’m marketing the book badly for both genders or is the work intended for a female audience? 

This sort of bullshit was why I wanted an agent.  Don’t they help you find and speak to an audience?  What do they do?  Because I had the idea, wrote it, edited it, and submitted it. So I’m just wondering when someone else comes in to help or if publishing is a solo journey.    

Alas, I need to choose the genre too.  Is there any part of publishing that isn’t a struggle?

Does anyone else have trouble identifying their genre?  Do you think being in the right genre is core to success?  Have you written anything that someone has labeled a cross over?

What about summarizing long works or picking which elements are most paramount?  I am so invested in Follow Me: Tattered Veils, sometimes it’s hard for me to know what’s important.  Any tips or tricks?  Do I Google search what’s hot and sell it that way?

The 10 Best of Dailyscienefiction.com’s February Stories

1. “Motherland” by Jasmine Ang started Feb strong.  Emotionally charged, the work explores the theme of separation.  The “science fiction” angle comes in, I believe, by providing an example of how technology both lessens the sense of separation and intensifies it.  Feb is the coldest month of the year here in Alabama so feelings of isolation and sorrow seem to dovetail my weather perfectly.

 

2. “Lingua Flanka”  by David M. Armstrong was heavy handed.  The opening and the middle felt intellectually insulting.  I’m including it because it covers themes that I think are important to discuss but even then, the work feels muddied.  Like Armstrong wanted to be controversial but didn’t understand how to do even that basic part well.  I appreciate the attempt for artists by interspersing different narrative elements, but the execution left a lot to be desired.  Great theming and ambition.

 

3. “Dispell” by Preston E Dennett was cute.  The fantasy theme was notable, and given my preferences, made me more likely to enjoy it.   There were elements that I found distasteful.  The female voice, in particular, felt stilted, as if the author had never spoken for very long with a woman or as if the author has only known and women in very shallow ways.  But I thought the punch line at the end was worth the read.  And I want to give the author some props for trying to explore an element of society it seems clear he doesn’t get.  There’s both a thoughtful and boorish execution to it.

 

4. I really love Mary E. Lowd’s work.    “Heart of the Gas Giant”  is a continuations of her other stories.  I’m beginning to see a larger picture where her characters go to the same places in space to achieve different goals, or where we will focus on a different main character but still get an update on the last main character.  Her ability to summarize the last stories in a line or two, are pretty inspiring.  I’d like a  collection of all her little works in a larger work.  She brings a childlike joy and wonder to the vast array and variation of space.  But her stories are written in a way I think all ages could appreciate them.

 

5. “Resolve, in Four Heartbeats”  by Kell Rajasalu is great.  The work is confusing in several angles, but by the end, I understood the basics of what had happened and felt like I’d read a longer arch than she’d offered.  She had deeper characters in her short than make authors achieve in novel length works.

 

6. I really enjoyed “Kicking the Football” by Margaret Sessa-Hawkins.  It’s sweet and very tightly written.  While it has a huge advantage because it’s about characters we are all largely familiar with, it still successfully captivates it’s own unique concept.  This to me, is the spirit of excellent fan fiction and what elevates something from copyright infringement to it’s own concept.

 

7. “The Ones Who Chose the Rain” by George Edwards Murray  was a sad story.  I don’t know exactly what I liked, possibly the genre, but the work struck me.  It’s filled with ennui and pain.  Don’t read if you’re depressed.

 

8. “Introducing Your Parents to the Spoils of Adventure” by Bryan McNab was funny, told in second person, and fantasy genre.  What more do you need?

 

9. “The Sword” by Mari Ness  was a fun update on a “classic” medieval scenario.  I didn’t love it, but it was a cute short story with a reasonable close.  There was a story earlier this month that I waffled on whether in include and ultimately dismissed it because there wasn’t enough going on and this one made it in because there was a “diverse voice” and I am swayed by scenes I see less if even when I think they lacked some indefinable element.

 

10. “Fight for the Stars” by Shannon Fay was a well constructed complete world.  She took a story that I’d have hated to see play out in the three hour movie and boiled it down to an enjoyable 1000 words.  The story kept me engaged in each word.  Instead of liking it “in spite of it’s length” as I do many short stories, I actually think the format os part of what allowed me to be taken in and really become enchanted by it.

 

Overall, February was an interesting month for Daily Science Fiction.  The works I chose were by authors who had a lot less on their resumes than last month’s authors.  I wonder if there is a trend to how Daily Science Fiction groups it’s works.  It has felt random as a reader, but collecting through collecting all the works I found value in, I hope to find patterns.  Impatience is a major fault of mine though, so I’ll have to see what next month brings!

 

Want to check out January’s Science Fiction picks?  Check it out here

Author’s Blogs and Websites

This isn’t really an exhaustive list. I’ll dig up some more and add them later or post in a separate post. Most of these authors I’m friends with or follow and Facebook and they cross post or link their blog articles to their Facebook pages. I really need to find more blogs about writing itself – the posts in these vary between promotion, cross-promotion, reviews (not just of books), and some politics (but I’ve omitted the ones who are mostly political).

Adam Troy-Castro is a novelist and short story writers who writes most SF and horror. He also writes book review columns. He has a huge Facebook following because he’s witty, opinionated, and likes to engage people in discussions. In fact, he posts occasionally to remind people who’ve followed him for other reasons that he is a professional writer. There are a lot of good, in-depth movie reviews here.

Steven Barnes is a writer I’ve been reading a long time, starting with his collaborations with Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle in the 1980’s. He teaches Lifewriting seminars and writes a lot about life coaching, Afrofuturism, and martial arts.

John Scalzi is a hugely successful SF writer. He isn’t very active on Facebook, but is all over Twitter. His blog, Whatever, is extremely popular and often controversial. One of the cool things he does is to use his large audience to let others promote their books (look for the posts titled The Big Idea:)

Ari Marmell‘s blog, Mouseferatu, is mainly used to keep his readers up-to-date with what he’s working on. Ari has written for RPG games and has quite a few novels as well, including one of the funniest fantasy novels I’ve ever read, The Goblin Corps, and an urban fantasy series set in the 1930’s about a Fae detective named Mick Oberon. He has a Patreon which gives his supporters free stories, beta reads of chapters as they’re completed, and a few other perks.

Stephanie Osborne is a local Huntsville writer who is retired from NASA. Several of her books are small press published, including her latest series, the Displaced Detective, which are about Sherlock Holmes transported to the modern day United States. She’s also collaborated on several books with Baen authors, including Travis Taylor, another Huntsville native (and star of the show, Rocket City Rednecks).

As far as what I read online about the process of writing, I’d say it’s most often Reddit’s r/Writing or some of the other subreddits about fantasy and SF writing, reviewing, etc. Maybe that should be another blog post to go over the various writing subreddits.

BONUS:

John Picacio is a cool artist and an acquaintance of mine from a few conventions. I like his art (I have two framed prints of his at home and several of his Loteria series cards) and he’s a cool guy. I used his Loteria painting La Sirena as a partial inspiration for “The Rusalka’s Embrace” story I wrote recently.