blogging, community

Some Uncomfortable Truths

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Good morning! For those of you hoping for a light and fluffy blog read – sorry, today, this isn’t it. There’s been a lot on my mind lately that I feel we, book bloggers, readers, and writers, need to talk about, and not all of it is pleasant.

In my traditional fashion, I will be discussing some hot button topics, throwing in random cute animal pictures in between, so that we can soften the blow, while still getting to the heart of very important matters.

Can’t say I didn’t warn you. So, here we go.

When I was younger, I read several novels tackling racism and civil rights, on breaking down the walls and how to start building bridges. I’m afraid my younger self has forgotten a lot of titles and authors; but I do remember the focus was on tolerance, leading to empathy, on all sides. Not just on demanding white people pay for what their ancestors had done to people of color. Sometimes the conversation only got as far as recognizing racism was real, and that it was wrong; maybe that was as far as those characters could go, based on the setting or the premise. But I still think that was a necessary step.

Developing empathy for suffering endured by people that you can’t completely relate to is crucial to increasing understanding and inclusion. I don’t see it as pity, nor is it condescending. Empathy makes us better human beings.

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Here’s the vital other side of that coin: Too many people don’t seem to understand that ALL forms of prejudice are wrong. Too many people are still screaming about injustice, without admitting to their own faulty views.

Would you march in a Black Lives Matter protest, but feel very strange if your son or daughter brought home a significant other of a different race? Do you push for people who look just like you to read “important” books on racism — but only the titles written by someone who shares your exact perspective on the topic? Do you scream about rights for all, but wouldn’t give up your spot in the grocery store line to a disabled person?

I may be in the majority race in my country, come from a “respectable” background, economically and class-wise, have a college degree and work in a profession requiring some intellectual effort. HOWEVER, I have absolutely experienced prejudice. Because I’m autistic — meaning I’m “different” from many people — what’s a natural state of being to me may make others feel odd — for no reason other than it’s unfamiliar or out of their realm of experience.

So, the groundwork being laid, let’s get to the heart of this post:

Uncomfortable Truth #1: People of color can be racist, too.

In Misty Copeland’s autobiography (Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina), she relates having a stepfather, a black man, who held very discriminatory views on Hispanics and Asian-Americans and Caucasians. She relates how she was aware of the subconscious racism in ballet, as she struggled to be awarded roles that were almost always performed by white women. But she also didn’t hesitate to give credit to the white people who appreciated her talent and helped further her career. And there is a definite tone in this memoir of recognizing that no one had the right perspective in this matter, and that views on race, color, and culture within this melting pot country are complex, and continuing to grow and change.

This is more true than the current gatekeepers on the discussion of racial relations want to admit. I’m really tired of reading novels and non-fiction that promote the theory that every single white person must be racist in some form, whether they’re aware of it or not. I shouldn’t have to be afraid of giving a diverse book a bad review because I genuinely thought it was poorly written. I didn’t like The Hate U Give, purely due to what I felt was a flawed execution of the plot itself, nothing to do with the tough theme it covered. The author’s second novel, On The Come Up, I thought was great, and gave it a glowing review according to my standards of character development and story cohesion.

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Uncomfortable Truth #2: Cancel culture is more dangerous than the thing it’s trying to cancel.

Just because an author is white, writing about white people, DOES NOT mean this author is racist. Jumping on social media and screaming that certain people need to be “cancelled” without having any proof that their point of view is problematic does more harm than good. And we really need to stop pushing the idea that it isn’t okay for natives of whatever group to celebrate their own culture.

In her amazing non-fiction title, Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria?, Dr. Beverly Tatum points out that “race shaming” won’t solve anything. She also touches on the often-overlooked fact that there are more than two races, and trying to paint all whites as racist, or all blacks as violent, all Asians as computer nerds, all Hispanics as drug addicts, etc., are equally harmful stereotypes — whether the stereotype comes from outside, or from within, your own community.

She also brings up the willingly-ignored truth that people need to be around their racial and cultural peers, and that not only is there nothing wrong with having a spouse, friends, acquaintances of your own ancestry group, doing so actually encourages a sense of pride in where you come from. To purposefully shut out other groups, or believe them to be inferior, is discriminatory. But if you’re, for example, a WASP who knows lots of other WASPs, that on its own isn’t the problem.

shouldn’t have to apologize for being most familiar with British and European culture and history, since it’s also my own. This doesn’t mean I’m not appreciative of or cool with other cultures. Do I read books/watch movies and TV shows with diverse casts? Yes, totally. Is that all I read? No, because I like to mix it up.

Doesn’t a healthy combination sound more…well, inclusive?

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Uncomfortable Truth #3: Forcing diversity is inauthentic, and promotes division, not the opposite.

We’ve all heard the complaint — “Oh, look, it’s the token minority character.” Deliberately shoehorning in POC or disabled or LGBT characters does holler, “See how politically correct we are!” And it turns out this approach has backfired. Since many of us do have diverse relationships in our lives, we’d much prefer more natural and authentic representation. And we pretty much resent the notion that we “need” a group of (let’s be honest, mostly white, straight, abled, wealthy) powers-that-be telling us that “hate is stupid.”

I generally write middle-class white characters, but this is just because I know this culture firsthand, so I’m presenting a honest point of view. I do include characters outside of this group as well, and not to seem “woke,” but because it makes sense — I’m writing about an organization with international ties and members who are either immigrants or bi-racial. That simple.

Why aren’t we encouraging more Own Voices to increase everybody’s education on various ethnic groups? I’d never presume to “hijack” the story of a religion or nationality that I haven’t lived personally.

Nor would I want someone else to do the same to my own tale.

As far as we’ve come in this conversation, there’s still a long way to go.

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blogging, books

A Bookdragon’s Wish List

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I don’t like to talk about my age. It’s not that I feel old. It’s that I don’t want to feel old if I accidentally reveal too many details that concretely set me in a particular decade of origin.

But at the moment, I’m making an exception, because yesterday I became The Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Yes, that’s right, I turned…42.

Now, I’m aware that the notion I might suddenly be imbued with some amazing powers, status, or secret knowledge based solely on bearing this number is a fanciful one. But, hey, haven’t we all had enough reality for a while?! So let’s indulge in some daydreaming.

So, since I am ruling all for the next 12 months, what’s on my wish list? And of course, being a bookdragon, I will have very specific demands — er, “requests” regarding the bookish world.

Shall we get to it?

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No stickers on the dust jackets of hardcovers. Like, ever again. I know, I know, some of them are supposed to peel off easily, but too many of us have suffered tragedies as a result of 95% of stickers not coming off well. So, they shall be abolished!

There will be a limit on how high books can be priced. I feel the complaints about the cost of new titles with my soul. There are SO MANY interesting publications that I a) can’t get from the library and b) can’t afford to buy myself. From now on, bookstores won’t charge more than $20 for a hardcover and no more than $12 for a paperback. Yes, that includes online retailers!

Summaries on the back or the inside cover will no longer be misleading. This is absolutely a trend in recent years. It’s frustrating. It means I go into a book expecting something completely different to what I end up reading. So, be on notice misleading-blurb-creators!

Novels will adhere to a strict limit of 400 pages or less. No one has the time, or the energy, to read those great whalloping doorstops anymore. And if people are forced to get to the point already in their storytelling, they’ll actually have to leave out all those extraneous subplots and purple prose and 15 paragraphs describing the bathroom antiques. Onward to a more satisfying reading experience!

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Overused tropes will become a thing of the past. Look, I love the archetypes as much as the next well-read creature. HOWEVER, we’ve all had to suffer through faaaaaar too many Chosen Ones, Special Snowflakes, Mary Sues (female and male), love triangles (even love squares?!), inner circle betrayals, and enemies-turned-friends. It’s time for some NEW stuff.

Diversity will just be part of the deal. No need for agendas shoved in our faces, or bandwagon topics shoehorned into a story that could actually do without them. Biracial kids or non-traditional families or a range of disabled characters will just exist, in the way the author intended.

Authors are finally using more unique or uncommon names for characters – let’s keep this up. All through the early 2000s, character lists read like The Biggest Baby Names of that decade. No wonder we couldn’t tell anybody apart. Nowadays, though, protagonists — especially in YA fantasy — are a lot more likely to be called Maisie and Judd, rather than Bella and Finn. I wholeheartedly support this.

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On the other side of this, fantasy names will be PRONOUNCEABLE. Thousands of wonderful fantasy premises have been ruined by the authors insisting their characters bear monikers that only Klingons can pronounce. While I’m at the helm, this is getting locked in a closet (and the key being melted down).

Romance can take a break. Yes, romance is a big part of many people’s lives, and for many readers, the romance in fiction can be very escapist and satisfying. BUT there are more things to life than romance — including close friendships, sibling bonds, and extended relatives that feel like nuclear family. And many of us experience these, too, and would like to see more of them in novels. So, here’s my edict that authors will focus more on friendships than first loves or rebounds for a while.

Covers will only be appropriate, beautiful and/or amazing, and relevant to the story underneath. No shirtless dudes or swooning women with more clevage than sense. No collages of primary colors that tell us zero details about the plot or themes. And no hard-to-read fonts that mean we thought the title was “This Nebulous Sea Serpent” but turns out to be “This Nefarious Seashell Poppet.”

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Happy endings will be much easier to come by. I once wrote an entire post about how I can’t stand the intense negativity and grimdark elements in almost everything anymore. It is possible for characters with a rough backstory or a hard struggle on page to still get the girl or boy, run off to a serene little farm and raise wombats. Here’s to peaceful conclusions!

History, whether it’s nice or not, shall be accurately presented. Sorry-not-sorry, folks, but attempting to rewrite history is in fact dangerous. We have to remember all the bad stuff, so that we can ensure it doesn’t happen again. I’m all for alternative histories, or alternative futures — I’d like to read more of both, actually — but we can’t determine that erasing the past makes the future better. So we’re maintaining warts and all.

We’re promoting graphic novels as real books. They already are real, I know this, but too many snobs still pshaw graphic novels. They’re a fantastic medium for kids learning to read, or those who struggle with reading (this goes for teens and adults, too).

Series that should have ended a while back…will be done. As much as I love some of these long-running tales, they can seriously wrap up and ride off to that lovely little wombat farm. We all have our favorites that just feel…stale now, and I think we can all agree that endings don’t have to be sad, or unnaturally prolonged. We can say goodbye, and survive afterwards.

All right, this does it for my proclamations! What would you add to this list for the year you turn 42 and have all-powerful bookish status for a year?

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blogging, self-publishing

Welcome to the Future (of The Invisible Moth)

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Good morning. Did you know that…in a little over 2 days…the decade is ending??

Now, don’t panic. This is not necessarily a cause for concern. I mean, this is a pattern that gets repeated every 10 years, and many of us are still here, x number of new decades onwards, to report that, in fact, life does carry on.

(It does, right?!?!)

Ahem. Yes, it does, really.

I’m generally not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but 2019 was an odd kind of year for my family, and now that we’re finally back into some resemblance of “normal,” I feel secure enough to take a look at how my writing and reading life has been going, and determining what does or doesn’t work anymore.

This reflection means some changes are coming to my platform as well.

Big Change #1: I’m doing away with my hard-and-fast rule of DNF-ing whatever book, whenever, however. 

2017 and 2018 were massive years of not finishing books. It was like I couldn’t find the attention span or the devotion within myself to commit to reading past page 20 and hoping it would get better. And in retrospect, I feel I did a disservice to all those novels I just lobbed into the return box in the library parking lot with a frown of disdain. What if one of them had turned out to be my next favorite?

So, while I’m not imposing a ban on buying books, or a limit on how much I read next year, I am going to stick to books I choose for the monthly library-funded discussion evening, and what Owl Crate gives us these forecoming 12 months. And I am going to finish EVERY SINGLE ONE.

Ouch. The force of that ambition actually hurt a little.

Big Change #2: My blogging schedule will not, in fact, be in any way a schedule.

I have PLANS, and WANTS, and IMPORTANT THINGS to take care of, in Life, the Universe, and Everything, in the very near future. Hence, for the first time since I started this blog, I will not freak out if I can’t get a post beautifully crafted and onto WordPress every 72 hours exactly.

And I’d like to focus more on the sort of in-depth discussions, regarding all types of fandom stuff, that I’ve made a stalwart of this platform in the last couple of years, and really enjoy. Engaging with the community is great, and I’d much rather keep that up than go back to the “same old, same old” of generic-feeling reviews and posts that just remind people I’m around.

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Big Change #3: My publications will not, really, be on a schedule, either, but I intend to make them OCCUR.

There is something to be said for constantly sharing snippets of your WIP with people who are eagerly awaiting its release. Especially if you’re not a big-name author, but big enough that self-promotion, and reminding critics you exist and they liked your previous work, comes highly recommended by your publisher.

However, I found that in 2019, I got so caught up in worrying that loyal readers would simply forget about me just because I hadn’t released any new snippets, news, or even talked about what I was working on in ages, that any joy of sharing the progress and anticipation was totally not there. And that merely added to the already incredible amount of stress I was under, due to Life being a true jackass back in the spring.

So, I’ve made an executive decision: Not attempting to build press or expectations or, really, anything coming up to the actual release of a new book is the way forward. For me. Not that I’d advise it for anybody else or across the board. But there are only so many hours in a day, and in the next 365 of them, I want to ACCOMPLISH a hell of a lot. Therefore, I must manage such accordingly.

I shall be WRITING, rather than building the suspense.

Sorry (not sorry).

Big Change #4: I am plunging into ebooks and wider distribution (aaaaaaaaahhhh, help me!!!).

Yes, I am terrified to undertake this process. Scared of all the digital things that could go wrong, of how many more people could dislike my work after reading it on an electronic device, of how horribly my grand plan could backfire by turning me into the most griped about indie author online.

Cough. Sorry (really this time). This headfirst dive is happening despite all my fears, because I keep getting support and encouragement from friends. (Who really should be made aware now, you may quite possibly have to drag me kicking and screaming to the actual uploading.)

BUT. Not going to lie, I need to increase my marketing, my presence, and my writer’s resume, and this is one of the most common, and overall simple, ways to do so.

Big Change #5: I will be letting someone else handle my next blog tour for a special release or important re-release. 

Yes, both of these types of readings are in the mix, and I’ve decided that I can’t handle arranging ARCs and the promotional stuff right now. So, if you’re a fan of my stuff (thank you!!!), look for news probably in the spring about who’s going to wrangle all of that and where you can sign up if you’d like to participate.

Basically, the biggest aim for 2020 is to complete more and be less stressed. And while streamlining the process will be an adjustment and maybe not easier to begin with, I know that going forward my plate needs to show a little more white under the stuff.

You got that metaphor, right?

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blogging

When You’ve Been Blogging For So Long…That You Don’t Know What to Blog About Anymore

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This is a real thing. An actual issue. Yes, it’s limited to the blogisphere, but the struggle is real. We have proof, by all the frustrated Tweets and sudden absence on WordPress or Blogspot of people who used to post once a week. Notifications of new blogs or follow-up comments begin to vanish from our inboxes. Every once in a while, people will make formal announcements that they’re giving up blogging to spend more time with their families, go to college, take on a new job or project or venture. But more often than not, there’s just this kind of quiet lack of presence…and then one day, after weeks or even months, a post appears — and the blogger just openly admits: They have no idea what to write about anymore.

Now, to most people, this is a matter not even worth expending effort on. So you used up all your ideas for blogging? Then just stop blogging. It’s not as if you were being paid for it. But, wait! we all shout. It isn’t that simple! We met some of our best friends through our blog! We can’t just abandon the community!

And this is the cry that’s heard the loudest: We aren’t just a random gathering of faceless screen names in a cyber void. Those screen names with pictures who leave us lovely comments aren’t bots or uncaring, cold keyboard taps. While blogging in general isn’t something that’s really promoted as a tool for career growth or as a fun trend anymore, those of us with an established blog and committed subscribers are aware it also won’t disappear overnight. And many of us look forward to even few-and-far-between posts from our friends — because, yes, that is what they are.

However, the very real problem remains: What do you do when the ideas just hightail it for the hills, and every notion you explore either doesn’t interest you at all, or you’ve already written about it, or you’ve seen it done on so many other blogs?

Considering that this situation is what I’m facing right now, here are some tips I’m compiling (partly to jumpstart myself, but hopefully they’ll work for you, too):

  • Don’t keep making excuses for not being around. It’s one thing to politely explain that you’ve been super busy, and just haven’t devoted precious spare time to creating something for the blog. People will appreciate the honesty, and the manners you used. But in the end, it’s YOUR life, and you owe no one a new post every 72 hours.
  • If you’re not feeling a topic, pick something else. For example, I gave up doing tags about 2 years ago. While it was always lovely to be tagged and know people wanted me to join in, it also became a hassle to complete all the questions (especially if I just couldn’t think of an answer!), and despite people’s nice intentions, I felt pressured. For those of you who still participate in tags and enjoy it, rock on! But it was something I had to let go.
  • Search the internet for suggestions on how to expand your blog. No, I don’t mean expand your platform, and take on more responsibility. I mean, if you’ve only been book blogging, start writing occasionally about another hobby or an issue you’re passionate about. I write about reading, the author life, autism, and sometimes my kids. Having a mix of all these things generally provides me with a deeper well of inspiration.

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What if you’ve done all of this and the words still aren’t flowing? Or even trickling?

  • There’s no shame in taking a break. And you don’t even have to tell people why. You can, as I mentioned before, to be polite. But there’s no obligation whatsoever. So don’t feel guilty.
  • Don’t be afraid to shake it up when you return. Would you rather not talk about books for a while, and shift to movies and TV shows? Or you’d prefer to share pictures of your family vacation? Go on a rant about the last time you had to wait in line at the bank? Go for it. The trick is to write about ANYTHING in the same style you always have. Make the content, whatever its focus is, as engaging as you did to get all your subscribers. You are why people keep reading your material, stay on the notifications list, and look forward to your first new post in 6 weeks.
  • Get some help from the community, by accepting guest posts, or conduct interviews to schedule in during your “dry spell.” I’ve done this before, when I desperately needed to set aside time to finish a novel or do something else, and my blog was just kind of in the way at that moment. It was really easy to just upload a file and schedule publishing. And people will often be interested in what your friends have to say, too (so don’t worry about guests temporarily taking over meaning your views plummet).

Despite the fact it gets harder over time, many of us don’t want to completely give up our blogs, so we’ll always keep coming back with further content, even if it’s not entirely original or doesn’t go viral. Even if you’re, say, an indie author, and you are trying to increase your platform by having an active online presence, a frequently-updated blog isn’t seen as a requirement, the way it was even a few years ago.

So while there are some people I would absolutely miss if they just vanished into thin air, I can also understand why that might happen. Life becomes so busy with family and work and, well, living, anyway; if your blog becomes an integral part of yours, then you make time for it. But if blogging becomes a burden, then, yes, just drop it.

But, this post is about how to maintain such a space. Just remember to like the maintaining, don’t get burned out, and do allow other things to come in.

Maybe you can even share about how blogging less actually gave you more.

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blogging, community

What It’s Really Like to Work in a Library

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You think you know libraries. They’re quiet, calm, tranquil places of wisdom, learning, a corner of the world where you can hide away and lose yourself in someone else’s fictional creation.

None of this is actually untrue; but there’s more to the story than the common image. Also gone are the days of librarians being 100-year-old ladies with blue hair and huge glasses who threateningly shush you if you dare to whisper a reference question to a fellow patron. We tend to be moms with kids still at home, politely checking out whatever materials you pass our way, no judgment, only shushing you if you’re really pushing the limit.

And we are busy. You wouldn’t believe how much we have to do to complete the supposedly simple tasks that result in you having those coveted books and discs in your hands. It isn’t just scanning the barcode and placing it on a shelf or in a bag. Oh, no. It’s not more complicated, but the process is more time-and-energy-consuming than many realize.

For example: We begin our day with collecting all the items people returned the evening before, or early in the morning, when we weren’t open. Most libraries have a “dropbox” outside the building, which does just what it says on the tin. And we go out in whatever sort of weather to toss into bags and haul inside the realistically several dozen returns.

Then we can begin processing which returns are going back on our shelves, to other libraries, or are going on hold for someone else who has requested that title. When you need to scan the barcode and find where an item is going…at least 50 times…all in the half hour before the library once again opens to the public for the day… You get the idea.

And when people start arriving, they bring more returns with them. And they need things (how dare they). They need to collect their holds, and check more stuff out, and print or copy or fax things, and…

And when the printer is down and the IT guy is forbidding you to get near a single computer, even to make the literal 3-foot-high stacks dwindle quicker… Yeah, you get it.

Being a library clerk is a position that requires patience, and flexibility.

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And if you thought that working in a library would be a bookworm’s paradise… Well, not quite.

The fact is, we simply don’t have the time to peruse all the interesting new titles that cross our paths. Even when we’re not at work. And there are days when you go home and the thought of handling another book just…isn’t appealing.

But there absolutely are bookworm perks to this position, too. Free ARCs, and first shot at brand new releases. Not being charged to use the copier, fax, or printer. Not having to wait in line to check out your selections, because you can glide right behind the desk and do it yourself!

You also never have to wonder what next month’s book club pick is, since you’ve just been discussing it with your co-workers (and you get a copy early, too). If there are extras in giveaway piles (leftover from programs and events), you may not even have to ask for those.

One thing that definitely has not changed about libraries since I was a kid is: They are positively overflowing with books. And not just regular fiction and nonfiction; there’s also large print and paperbacks, audiobooks and movies and TV series, plenty of YA and MG and picture books, not only currently bestselling authors, but plenty of great writers you’ve never heard of. One of the joys of the job remains seeing readers (and watchers) find their next favorite.

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I also have a new appreciation for the community services libraries provide nowadays. Yes, I’ve been taking advantage of sending White Fang to the kids’ programs for free for years. But since being “on the other side of the desk,” I’ve begun to realize just how important a library can be, as a fixture in a small town where many residents have few resources when it comes to technology and extracurricular activities. Until the means catches up to the vision of how people are supposed to be living in the 21st century, we’ll be here.

And I’m sure even long after that. The general public being literate is a relatively new concept in the world. We librarians still have a lot of work to do.

And some complications or frustrations or obstacles aside, most of us really enjoy what we signed up for.

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blogging, reading

Books of 2019: What Lives Up to the Hype (Or Not!)

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Good morning! We’re not yet addressing the fact that summer is vanishing before our very eyes. Apart from that one sentence. Ahem. (And we’re also going to ignore the quandary of it being the first of the month and me not yet tackling my newsletter, an impending hurricane in the southern Atlantic, or the new school year nipping at our heels. A-HEM.)

Anyway, I know that I haven’t read many of this year’s most hyped books; partly because I’ve been reading less personally, but also since most of what I’ve read in the last 8 months were published in previous years, and I’m just now getting to them, or I read them only for book clubs. So, for now, I’m going to focus on 2019 releases that I did actually read in 2019!

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi:

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This was my first ever Owl Crate book! So honestly, I will always think of it fondly in those terms. I wrote a whole review on the conundrums with this text, but for the sake of space in this post, suffice it to say that while the characters were mostly charming and the style lovely, this just felt too fluffy and intangible. I had a massively hard time understanding the characters’ motivations, or why the plot was going the direction it was. And since I’m generally a persnickety reader, I wondered if I was just being a bit too harsh. But after some discussion with other bloggers earlier in the year, it looked like this title is part of a new trend in YA: The trend of not explaining anything to the readers and confusing the bananas out of them, therefore pulling away their full enjoyment of the story. (And that in itself is an entire separate conversation…)

So, this one fell flat for me, sadly.

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas:

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After being extremely disappointed by this author’s debut, the much acclaimed The Hate U Give, I picked up her sophomore release after setting aside a huge amount of skepticism. And I am so glad I did. You can find my full review of this in a separate post as well, but I’ll happily highlight On The Come Up again. It’s a novel that rings true with regards to racism and poverty and the inner city struggle. The characters didn’t feel like cliches, and despite being a middle-class white girl who isn’t into rap at all, I completely related to Bri and her family and wanted them to succeed. This is how you write contemporary fiction that addresses relevant issues without being preachy, folks.

Go read it (if you haven’t already).

Wicked Fox by Kat Cho:

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Unfortunately, here I am drowning in the sorrows of loss, for what could have been and definitely was not.

About 16 months ago, I started noticing that every new publication seemed to be fitting a hidden requirement: Somewhere, there was now an unadvertised rule among publishers, that all books have to be at least 350 pages long, and around 40% of that needs to include drawn-out, angsty, unrealistic subplots that distract the MC, and the readers, from the actual point. A little bit of this, I don’t mind, and can even be fun, if written right. However, now it’s become an epidemic. Wicked Fox absolutely falls victim to it.

Pages 1-150 of this debut novel were fun, cute, interesting, even briefly terrifying. The MC and her love interest were precious, together and as individuals. I felt for their respective concerns, and hoped that there wouldn’t be too much trauma before it was all over. And then…the derailment of useless subplots kicked in.

I literally skimmed the rest of the book, guessed the big “twist,” and hit what should have been a satisfying ending with a whole lot of, “Well, that took waaaaaaay too long to get to what I knew was going to happen, anyway.”

It’s become too tedious for me to read this sort of novel, several times in a row, being let down every single round. Wicked Fox felt like some kind of last straw. It’s certainly contributed to my decision of swearing off YA for a while, and trying to find adult or MG fiction that isn’t too tropey or irritating.

(Si-gh.)

But, I will end this post on a more positive note…

The Boy Who Steals Houses by CG Drews:

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This is not a warm and fuzzy book, and don’t expect for a minute that your heart won’t be ripped to shreds, because it totally will. But The Boy Who Steals Houses accomplishes what too many YA contemporaries fail in — it realistically, poignantly, and with an ending that gives you hope portrays how some kids are simply forgotten about, tossed aside, or put in last place in society for being different than the majority. It’s also about grief and loneliness, how you can heal, and what family can really mean. I don’t recommend starting this without a box of tissues and half a chocolate cake by your side; but as long as you’re armed, have at. This is a title I had the privilege of beta reading a while ago, and had been looking forward to seeing in its final form. If you read contemporaries, and don’t mind tearjerkers, definitely grab your copy. In fact, even if the genre isn’t your usual, try this one. CG’s unique and heartfelt style will draw you in from the first page.

And I did write a feature post on TBWSH as well, if you’re inclined to look it up in the blog.

All right, I’ll step off my shameless-self-promotion-box, and leave you all to hopefully a safe and happy holiday weekend!

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blogging, pop culture

A Bookdragon Gone Rogue

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In the last year, I’ve decided to go distinctly against the grain of what most book bloggers have been obsessing over  cultivating as part of their platform. I opted out of Netgalley (mostly because I realized I couldn’t afford an e-reader or decent Smartphone), got off Goodreads, and never created an Instagram profile. I no longer keep a physical TBR, an active log of what I’ve recently read, and the only cohesive reviews I’ve put together in the past several months have been on this blog.

And does all of this unstructured approach make me feel more…chaotic? unprepared? ready to run off to Albania to herd goats? Nope. In fact it’s…liberating. Relaxing. Indulgent.

I don’t panic about my traffic and stats. (No, I genuinely don’t right now.) I don’t care if I missed a trend or hashtag game. Does this make me seem less friendly or less subscribe-able? Not sure. Maybe? (Hopefully not.)

I just want to enjoy what I read, and be reading it because I want to. Trying to keep up with who was reading what and which trend or bandwagon they were covering just made my head spin. So I gave up the sprint.

And, honestly, I have no regrets. Watching my fellow book bloggers becoming increasingly agitated over Instagram deciding to turn evil, over the fierce competition for ARCs, the pressure to post positive reviews no matter their own opinion on the title just makes me certain of it. Life is too short and other things more important than to get caught up in unnecessary drama that will send lifelong readers fleeing a pastime they once reveled in.

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So, now we come to the inevitable critique of this discussion: Since “bookdragon” is a title that came about as a result of behavior like hoarding masses of books, getting the jump on new releases, following what’s “in”, and keeping tabs on the ebbs and flows of the publishing industry, if I’m opting to abstain from a whole lot of this, do I still get to carry my “bookdragon” card?

I say yes.

And in addition, I think more of us should choose to go rogue.

I think we should start new movements, to bring reading back to this place of being about armchair adventure and emotional rollercoasters and perspective growth, rather than about status and position and fleeting popularity.

We should begin to forget why we wanted to be a book blogger…and remember why we wanted to share our favorite books with others.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the “early days”, when we’d simply gather together to flail over the latest announcement from a beloved author, our genre’s newest publications, a debut title that broke all the tropes, or just simply loving books. Loving to read.

miss this.

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Can we please go back to maintaining the bonds, instead of stepping up rivalry? Shouting from virtual rooftops, “HA! 22 BOOKS IN 31 DAYS! LOOOOSERS!”, really doesn’t make you a more accomplished person. Or very nice.

There’s been such an abrupt shift. When I first became aware of book blogging actually being a thing, and actively joining in the reading and commenting, I was so excited it could barely be contained. (Okay, that’s a flatout lie. I didn’t really bother containing it at all.) As a lifelong reader and writer, I had found my people and it was the best.

Then, almost before we knew it, there were lots of people either leaving blogging or social media entirely, citing too much pressure and subsequent burnout. Instagram is quickly becoming the same thing. And many authors — trad and indie, big and small — have been treated appallingly on Twitter because their titles didn’t line up with what bloggers (with no control over these publications) wanted.

The atmosphere has grown too toxic, too fast.

So, I went rogue. And I’m encouraging others to do so as well.

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I’ve made some of my best friends these days from getting into book blogging. Supporting each other was something we did so well. Nowadays we feel splintered.

None of these problems are by far universal or applied to every aspect of a booklover’s lifestyle. But there’s definitely (sadly) enough garbage going on to sufficently dampen a lot of people’s former enthusiasm — including mine.

And as a bookdragon, I’m going to do more than blow smoke about it.

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Autism, blogging

Is Spring Here Yet?: Featuring What I May or May Not Be Doing with My Life After The Longest Winter Ever

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So, for those of you who live in places where it snows, can we all just agree, now, that this was the LONGEST WINTER EVER? It feels like the last 5 months in fact spanned at least 15. I definitely feel like I should’ve had a cameo in Game of Thrones. Usually I embrace living in a region where all 4 seasons are in concrete representation…but not this go-round.

Anyway, I don’t think it helps one sliver that this rollercoaster of a winter finished for us with a strong bout of sickness that we’re still trying to kick. There’s been multiple days — sometimes in a row — of more rest than doing anything else, which has led to falling behind on other stuff (welcome to my writing goals getting completely tossed out the window), and domino-effect-issues like the contents of the freezer reaching uninspiring levels. Poor Muffin and White Fang are still on the road to recovery, while the cat seems largely unscathed (yay), and my husband and I are finally turning the corner.

By some miracle, I’ve still been able to do at least a little editing on my current projects, and the distant dream of having a book ready to release in the next couple of months is still alive! I’m not going to be anywhere near as bold as to slap an actual date down, but it may still happen, and I am awesome with that!

Otherwise…

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Interestingly, I haven’t even been reading very much. I did complete a re-read of books 1-3 in Kyle Robert Shultz’s delightful Beaumont and Beasley series, mostly before he releases a million new novels and I realize I forgot everything that took place previously. (Ahem. My memory generally is much better than that, but, hey, it’s been a hell of a time.)

I have been able to make it to recent book club meetings at my local library, which is important for me as a self-published author, because I don’t have a highly-paid marketing team behind my titles, so I need all the exposure I can get. And joining in community events (and they are small, as we live in a rural area between the big cities) means I have the chance to share my street cred, which increases that, and it all keeps rolling merrily along.

And can I just say…the promotion part of indie authorship is much harder than a lot of folks realize. Yesterday I noticed a Tweet that mentioned since Amazon changed its review policies, it’s harder for readers of indie authors to leave reviews supporting our work. This becomes Reason # 4736 I don’t use Amazon for self-publishing. If anyone who has loved my books would like to leave a review on the new Barnes and Noble links for my re-releases, please, feel free! It only takes a B&N account (which costs nothing to have), and a few minutes of your time, and when you do something like this for your favorite indies, it really makes our day!

(Wow, I worked that plug in pretty seamlessly…)

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In non-writing-or-reading news…

Hmm, there’s really not much. I think by now everyone knows (or may have come across hints) that personally February was rather brutal, and a lot of March was picking up the pieces of that. For privacy reasons, I’m not sharing certain details with the entire world, but suffice it to say, it was hell in a handbasket. Not even kidding.

Now, the positives from this: At the moment, there has been some significant progress made, and while there are still a few loose threads, we are, praise the Lord, a far cry from where we were. In the midst of all these appointments and meetings and schedule changes and costs that weren’t there before, we have received so much heartfelt emotional, social media, and even financial support that we remain eternally grateful for. I would be flatout lying if I claimed it hasn’t gone a long way towards helping me make it through. Waking up every morning terrified of what the day would bring was an absolutely horrible feeling. Knowing there are people who have my back, even in the darkest moments, gave me that little push to keep going.

So, what’s coming up next?…

April is going to be a month featuring autism, and not much else. It’s Autism Acceptance/Autism Pride Month, as typically it’s been a month where organizations pushing for a cure to neurological and developmental disorders try to get people to feel sorry for us, and we’re just not tracking with that anymore. So the goal of the online Actually Autistic community is to reclaim this month, to share what we love about how we are, and to push for people to love us, to hell with “awareness.” Especially since many people who are aware of autism still judge and condemn us, which makes our platform for tolerance nearly impossible. Hence shifting the focus of the campaign, and this is an endeavor I am more than happy to get behind.

I will be blogging only about once or twice a week, though, in April, in the interest of getting more writing and editing done, and I can. Not. Even. with the idea of May showing its face. So if you notice I’m not around as much, it’s simply due to expending my energies elsewhere. Forsooth!

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blogging, books

Bookdragon New Year’s Resolutions (Guaranteed Not to Fail!)

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As long as you follow these instructions.

Don’t blame me if you stray from the path.

Common Resolution 1: Tackling that TBR.

Step 1: Don’t add anything new to your TBR until December 2019.

Step 2: Spend the next 11 months reading books you already own, have requested from the library, or as ARCs.

See how easy that was? Your wallet, your shelves, and your family will thank you.

Acceptable rule-breakers: You find out about a 2019 new release from a favorite author that you didn’t know existed; a friend lends you a book you’d feel guilty holding onto for an entire year; the book club you’re in features a title you don’t currently have or had even intended to go near.

Common Resolution 2: Review books in a polite amount of time.

Step 1: Set a deadline for when you need to have certain titles read by.

Step 2: Read said titles.

Step 3: Write said reviews and post them or schedule posting in advance.

Hints on how to make this stick: Don’t request more than one ARC a month; don’t tell more than one person a month you’ll write a review; don’t commit to reviewing *every* *single* *book* you finish. And always, ALWAYS, refer back to the Ultimate Rule on how to control your TBR.

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Common Resolution 3: Complete your WIP and get it on Wattpad/sent to an agent/self-published

Step 1: Type these words into your 62,845K word total manuscript: THE END.

Step 2: Find beta readers you trust to give tactful but beneficial feedback.

Step 3: Engage an editor or Critique Partner (CP) you trust to put said feedback into action.

Step 4: Do the dang editing. Don’t procrastinate. DON’T STRAY FROM THE PATH, YOUNG PADAWAN.

Step 5: Post on Wattpad. Send to agents. Or upload to a self-publishing website and press Enter.

Okay, this one I’m oversimplfying, I know. But, seriously, all you aspiring writers out there, GO FOR IT! The worst that will happen is that you determine this venture didn’t pan out. But publishing or becoming published is the ultimate Shroedinger’s Cat: You will absolutely never know what would have been if you don’t try.

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Less common resolutions include: Spending less time on social media, reading less hyped books, trying more new authors, and branching out into other genres.

My suggestions for all of these are so simple you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself: Do them.

In all seriousness, though, I really hate to see what the competitive nature of book blogging has done to bookworms who just love to read. Not that I think we should do away with book blogging or anything that extreme — I owe SO much to my beta readers and reviewers and social media followers. But I truly believe that our biggest, and most acted on, resolution this year should be to go back to a love of the written word as the primary reason for doing all of this. It literally DOESN’T MATTER how many books we read in one year, how many ARCs we got approved for, how many reviews we posted, or how all of that compares to other bloggers. We’d do quite well to realize that.

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blogging, reading

Biggest Reads of 2018: Likes, Dislikes, Whys and Why Nots

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Good morning! So, since closing my Goodreads account, the major comment I received is that my reviews would be missed. In response, I promised more reviews on the blog. Let’s start out with a bang, shall we?: My biggest reads of this year, whether it was because of hype, personal anticipation, or something I learned about myself as a reader.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

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This was a diversity title that I picked up purely because I’d seen it advertised on Goodreads. Normally, the hype alone meant I wouldn’t even consider it; hyped books and I do not have the best of relationships.

But, yes, I caved. Children of Blood and Bone held the promise of being distinct. Its focus is an African empire, a fantasy realm based on tribal history, and there were no overt modern political soapboxes. Did it deliver? In that regard, yes.

There is plenty of action and excitement and plot. The characters don’t feel like cardboard cut-outs (even though they are all archetypes), most of their decisions and motivations ring true, and the world-building is intense.

Now, here’s where it fell flat: IT IS TOO DANG LONG. What is the trend with making YA novels 550 pages?!?! While holding up this tome of a book, I was afraid my wrists would snap. I had to read the majority of it sitting with it propped next to me on the armchair or at the kitchen table. And it started getting into too many subplots that felt like they were there mostly to increase page numbers, and the overall story wouldn’t have suffered without them.

This further affirmed to me that I am not ready to give up on diversity titles…but I also am not changing my mind about really long books anytime soon.

My rating: 3 out of 5 shiny moths

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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I first heard about this book, and considered it a vital part of the cultural conversation, but I would skip it.

What changed? Peer pressure. It was everywhere, and there were weeks when you couldn’t even log onto Goodreads or Twitter without seeing something about it. Now, after having tried it, I can concretely say: No.

My opinion has nothing one whit to do with race. This is a book that did come along at a time when we need to be discussing things like police discrimination against minorities, based solely on preconceptions and stereotypes instead of cold, hard facts.

Here’s where my frustration lies with The Hate U Give: Its entire premise is faulty. Starr is the most unreliable witness ever, as she did not see what happened. She cannot confirm nor dispute the police officer’s account. That makes the whole plot absolutely nothing but an extremely biased social commentary, and in my view, that makes for a lousy piece of fiction.

My rating: No numbers, but the moths are drooping and sad

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

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This was also a selection due to social pressure — but kind of the opposite, as people have been saying it’s so awful, I sort of wanted to prove them wrong. Did it?

Well, yes, and no. This novel was actually the one Harper Lee originally submitted to her publisher, not the beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Go Set a Watchman is about an adult Scout — just Jean Louise, in this case — and most of the material that became Mockingbird is definitely in its infancy. Watchman could easily be considered a sequel (and I think the publisher was guaranteeing sales based on that theory), though that’s rather unfair to Ms Lee, who never intended to write a sequel, and in fact thought this manuscript had been long forgotten or even lost.

The story is very 1960s American South, and it captures a pivotal moment in that culture that we’d do well not to ignore or pass over. Lee’s talent for storytelling is evident, but her particular flourish really wasn’t yet crafted. So Mockingbird remains the classic we all should promote, and Watchman should be a cautionary tale about the dangers of signing away all your rights to a big city publisher.

My rating: 2 quietly perching on a magnolia tree moths

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

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I picked this up on a whim with a birthday gift card. It was pretty good, but I don’t know that I’d read anything else by this author. The premise was a combination of a poor guy on Long Island whose house is literally falling into the sea, and flashbacks of a traveling circus that eventually connected with the narrator in the present day. This sort of style doesn’t quite work for me, and sure enough, I found myself skimming or even skipping the majority of the flashbacks. It took me too long to figure out how they connected to the narrator, and those chapters were too lengthy for in-between parts. Also, I’ve never had much interest in circuses, so that made me squirm with impatience to move on.

My rating: 3 crystal ball gazing moths

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

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This book and the next taught me more about myself as a reader in recent history than any of the others. In the spring, I joined an adult-book book club at my local library, which I normally wouldn’t do — and this selection just nailed it home to me why. A Piece of the World begins as a love letter to the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World, then devolves into unbased assumption, and then full-out fabrication on the lives of what were real people. The surviving descendants of the Olsen family should sue the living daylights out of this author.

And yet, this was a book club favorite. The other members seemed to have absolutely no realization that this wasn’t just a portrait of a certain moment in history, it was slander and libel. I was among the few who saw this un-novel for what it really was.

My rating: 1 very agitated moth

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

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Again, usually I don’t read thrillers or unreliable narrators — and now The Woman in Cabin 10 has secured my never trying furthermore.

It was also a book club selection, and I got very disenchanted after the first 100 pages. The building action sharply dropped off, the secondary characters who had been developing literally vanished from the page for several consecutive chapters, and the ending was rather anti-climatic, bordering on nonsensical. But here’s what got my goat the most:  The narrator wasn’t actually unreliable, she had depression and anxiety. When an author takes an unstable woman and puts her in a situation where murder may or may not have been committed, then makes it out to be she’s “unreliable” because of pre-existing mental illness, that is NOT COOL.

And once more, most of the book club thought this was a great story. To me, it was just painful, and pointless, to read.

My rating: 1 beating its wings against a brick wall moth

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

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Color me disappointed. You mix a well-liked author with alternate history, fantasy, and Bonfire Night (one of my favorite holidays), and how could that not be a win?

Well, maybe the story is too busy, but trying to weave political and religious overtones into a novel that threw in a bit of a vague magic system, and plenty of family and personal drama, all together, made me merely struggle to get engaged. And the alternate history kept tripping me up (for example, there’s nothing on record of Guy Fawkes even having a son who participated in the Gunpowder Plot). Maybe this type of genre just isn’t for me.

No numbers: The moths were too confused to even be present 

The Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic by Eliot Schrefer

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This middle-grade fantasy is wonderful. The plot moves right along, the characters are lovable (or hateable where necessary), the emotions are real, and the whole story just draws you in from the start. I can’t recommend this enough to fans of animal fantasy. Normally I don’t commit to reading an entire series before the next book is even announced, but I will be keeping my eyes peeled for whatever comes after Mez’s Magic, 110%! (Finally, a winner!)

My rating: 4 exuberant and dancing moths

The Word Collector by Peter H Reynolds

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How can a picture book make you cry? This one totally does, and will. This author is a new favorite of mine. Check out all his other titles as well; you’ll cry over every single one, and thank Mr Reynolds for turning you into a puddle of disconsolate mess. The prose and messages are spot-on and incredibly beautiful.

My rating: 5 collapsed, joyously weeping moths

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