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Author of queer, quirky sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

More Breaking News: Blog Tour! New Release!

Hello hello!

So, another promo-y post because there's more fun stuff to announce. First, the Euphoria/Dysphoria blog tour with my coauthor Nic Wilson is kicking off soon! 

Check out each blog on the day of the tour to hang out for exclusive flash fiction, recipes based on the book (mmm...rats...delicious!), and to hang out with us in the comments. You don't want to miss this one. 




December 1
Roxanne’s Realm
www.roxannerhoads.com

December 2
Sapphyria's Book Reviews
http://saphsbookblog.blogspot.com/

December 3
The Creatively Green Write at Home Mom
www.creativelygreen.blogspot.com

December 4
Lisa’s World of Books
www.lisasworldofbooks.net

December 5
Deal Sharing Aunt
www.dealsharingaunt.blogspot.com

December 8
Anya Breton Author's Blog
http://blog.anyabreton.com

December 9
The Reader's Hollow
http://thereadershollow.wordpress.com

December 10
Share My Destiny
http://sharemydestiny.blogspot.com

December 11
Paranormal Romance and Authors That Rock
www.pratr.wordpress.com

December 11
CBY Book Club
http://cbybookclub.blogspot.co.uk

December 12
JeanzBookReadNReview
http://jeanzbookreadnreview.blogspot.co.uk/

December 15
Fang-tastic Books
www.fang-tasticbooks.blogspot.com


And that's not all. Look what else is finally out! 





You can grab your copy right here. It's got all the diversity and queer representation you can expect from my books--i.e., PoC are front and centre--in a love story set long after the apocalypse. An apocalypse that might sound familiar if you've read The Underlighters. Is that a hint? It might be. Check back for info on the blog tour for this baby, too! There will definitely be prizes.

***
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Descripturbation: How to (and How Not to) Describe Characters

Hello hello!

Today I'm going to talk about one of the thorniest and most often-ridiculed issues in writing--character descriptions. Some authors describe every pimple, dimple, dent, and wrinkle of lace; some basically avoid description at all, which can leave readers feeling as though the characters are no more than wooden silhouettes with "Protagonist's Name Here" taped to them.

So, what does too much detail look like? 


Women's clothes often get the brunt of this. The men's clothes in the same works are often less elaborate, but have a look at the paragraph below.

"Her blue paisley dress had delicate puce and chartreuse ribbons on the puffed sleeves. The layered chiffon skirt was hooped, and numerous petticoats trimmed in yellow lace spilled out from beneath its voluminous edges."

Now, that's ugly, in many ways. There are too many adjectives, some passive voice, and the actual dress combination is pretty hideous. But fancy steampunk/Victorian dresses are easy to ridicule. What does overdescription with a male character in a more contemporary setting look like?

"His perfect nose was Euclidean and his brow was high and fair. He had deeply-set brown eyes with smooth lids, and his eyes twinkled under dark brows and short black lashes. His mouth was slender-lipped and his smile, very wide. His dimples dotted golden cheeks and the creases of his grin reached almost to his dark sideburns. Slick, anthracite hair that had been gelled into perfection flopped insouciantly off to the side.

His neck was slim but strong and his golden skin showed through the opening of his blue and white plaid button-down shirt, a real second-hand item, not a designer look-alike. His Gotye t-shirt had stylized doves and hands opening on it, and his jeans--which were fashionably worn and ripped, but had obviously been broken in--had a dove embroidered on the pocket as well. I stared at his Converse sneakers and fell in love."

As a friend said, "I just think it's kinda awesome that someone who writes so well can just as easily write so BADLY at the drop of a hat."

These two paragraphs are excessively detailed, to an irritating extent, because whatever else was happening in the scene stops DEAD to let the description show itself out.

"His brown eyes sparkled as he grinned at me. He ruffled his slick black hair and leaned back, his band t-shirt peeking through a plaid button-up."

This rewrite is a bit simpler, but it still gets the feeling across without stopping the action dead. It also makes the description more active, contextualizing his eyes and hair with expressions and an action.


What about insufficient detail?


My personal prejudice is that "less is more", but if a story is full of lush descriptions elsewhere, it's probably okay to let yourself go in the character descriptions. For first drafts, it's also okay to go a bit bananas--you can always cut things later. For those of us who write fantasy and sci fi, there are extra challenges, because the books exist in unique universes.

That said, it's often a good idea to trust the reader. They can imagine things, they know how tropes work, and it's okay to skim over descriptions a bit when referring to something that should be ordinary. Wastebaskets, for example, or toilets. Focus on what's different, not just what's the same. For both characters and the setting, it's often wise to add bits of description throughout the book, sprinkling them in. Using relative descriptions can also be helpful in keeping the reader immersed. One of the best things you can do is make a description active, so that the character interacts with their environment rather than being set apart from it. Here's an example.

"She smiled and stretched her long, tanned limbs. She was tall and stringy, and her grey-streaked black hair gleamed like steel in the light of the twin suns."

We know she's on an alien planet--possibly one with low gravity--and that she's an older woman already. It's not a lot, but it can go a long way. But that's the easy stuff--what about specific character description issues?

Source. This is a great resource.

How do we describe diversity without having to say, 'this character is black or Japanese'?


The best thing you can do is get yourself a colour palette of skin tones. Dark skin comes in many, many shades--there are some incredible resources to explain some of those shades.

"Her reddish-brown skin glowed in the sun, and she squinted, her full lips curving into a smile. She unholstered her pulse rifle and trained it on the scruff-rat leisurely, then fired."

Now, you could describe her skin as 'chocolate' coloured, but that kind of description has really fallen out of use. The problem with food-like descriptions is that it's othering and a bit creepy when all protagonists are edible. It's fine in small doses--and I've seen black authors use "almond eyes and chocolate skin" as descriptors, and "creamy" or "milky" skin do get used to describe white characters, but Asian characters don't have "teriyaki or sesame skin" and Latino characters don't have "corn tortilla" skin, Nor do, say, First Nations people have "pemmican complexions". The problem is that people are sometimes unaware that the way they describe others is fetishizing (which makes a person into an object) or just plain absurd.

When it comes to describing eye shape and colour, "almond" eyes are used a lot for Asian characters, but this has become contentious and annoying for the same reason mentioned above. The jury's out on good ways to describe monolids and epicanthic folds, but mentioning 'angled' eyes, 'crinkled' eyes, 'smooth' lids, deeply-set, or teardrop-shaped eyes are all possible choices. It's better to talk to someone from the ethnic background you're trying to describe if you're not sure. As always, research is your friend.


Any final words?


We'll all make mistakes. That's life, and that's writing. Experiment and do research, and run things by friends who can mock you safely (without being too mean) if you're worried that something sounds ridiculous. And, of course, there's always asking your editor or beta readers.


***
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Monday, 24 November 2014

Breaking News: Cover Reveals! New Releases! A Street Team!

Hello hello!

So it's been a while since this happened, but I finally have a post that's related to--gasp--my writing and work. Nic Wilson is a cool science fiction writer whose work has been on my blog a couple of times, and perhaps unsurprisingly, we've become pretty good friends. We even teamed up to write a book. Katie de Long, collaborator and instigator, was also involved. Together, we crafted exactly what you'd expect.




Buy the thing here! 

Execution above or extinction below... 


Survival is hard enough in the poverty-stricken streets of the Lower Blocks, and this woman is far from the first to flee the Engineers who oversee the City. But now Christine's a target: hunted by the aristocracy, her future uncertain, and past laid bare. And a person with Christine's powers can't afford to be caught. 


Humanity built the Foundation to elevate themselves from the poisoned earth, but Christine and Ilsa must choose whether to descend to hell below, or remain in hell above.



Please note, Euphoria/Dysphoria contains a lesbian romance, graphic violence, and some disturbing material. It is intended for mature readers.



But that's not all. After the Garden will also be launching soon.





Memories of another life and lover guide her, but are they even hers? She is a Bearer—keeper of past lifetimes and gifted with strange talents. Ember must find her answers away from safe Longquan Village, snared instead in the sensuality and dangers of The City. Hidden among spider farmers and slaves, prostitutes and weavers, a nest of people like her are waiting.

A powerful man outside The City raises his forces, determined to hunt down the ‘demons’ who could taint his followers. Threatened from without and within, can the Bearers even trust each other? 


And there's still more. A couple of blog tours will be coming up in the next few months to celebrate the launches of these books, and you know what that means--Rafflecopters! Swag and loot! Not only will I have some signed paperbacks, I'll have things like exclusive book-based jewelry, both featuring cover art and jewelry I've created, bookmarks, and even weirder bits of loot! Sure, some of it will be on offer for contests, but street team members will have special perks. In addition to the treasures, you can count on cover previews, snippets, advance notice of sales and new releases, and superb ways to waste your time on Facebook at work with other fans!

Curious? All you need to do is click here. Once I see that you've requested to join, you'll be in!

***
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Monday, 17 November 2014

Euphoria/Dysphoria

Now available on Amazon

Execution above or extinction below... 






“Please help me. I'm pregnant.” 
A chance encounter with a fugitive has turned Christine's life into a nightmare. 

Survival is hard enough in the poverty-stricken streets of the Lower Blocks, and this woman is far from the first to flee the Engineers who oversee the City. But now Christine's a target: hunted by the aristocracy, her future uncertain, and past laid bare. And a person with Christine's powers can't afford to be caught. 

Humanity built the Foundation to elevate themselves from the poisoned earth, but Christine and Ilsa must choose whether to descend to hell below, or remain in hell above. 

From post-apocalyptic authors Nicolas Wilson (Homeless), and Michelle Browne (The Underlighters) comes Euphoria/Dysphoria, a biopunk dystopia. 

Please note, Euphoria/Dysphoria contains a f/f romance, graphic violence, and some disturbing material. It is intended for mature readers.

Buy it here: 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Cult Classics for the Modern Cult (series)

Now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Smashwords, and Kobo eBooks






Nine insane short stories with a B-movie flair fill out this anthology. There's a little violence, some adult (18+) content, and some heartbreaking love stories. Polish your fangs, spray on some fresh formaldehyde, and clean the crypt before your date arrives--being a monster doesn't mean you can't fall in love, and a collection of sad, funny tales are coming to a Kindle near you.























Ten insane short stories from the B-movie realm fill out this anthology. There's a little violence, some adult (18+) content, and a lot of completely bizarre creatures. Straighten your altar to the dark gods, pop open a can of your favorite mutagen, and hold on tight--there are threats much bigger than Godzilla, and they're coming to a Kindle near you.

Frost and Other Stories

Now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Smashwords, and Kobo eBooks






Containing a handful of short stories and the novelette 'Frost', this holiday anthology brings together stories about the dark side of the season. This blackly humorous and chilling collection explores aspects of the holidays you won't read about in Chicken Soup for the Soul. Get your whiskey; it's going to be a long night.

Tomb Beasts Need Love, Too


Now available on Amazon






Makeda and Lixbeth are overjoyed to be on their honeymoon at last. When they finally arrive at the distant, abandoned temple of the Uthranzi, they savour the chance to relax together without any distractions. But just how alone are they? 

Caution: this book includes adult/mature content, lesbians, and Canadian spellings, as well as a tentacle monster. If any of these things offend or bother you, flee while you still can.


Buy it here: 

Monday, 10 November 2014

Samuel Peralta: Radar

Samuel Peralta: Radar: Against the violet sky my Piper Saratoga banks and shifts, a paltry sparrow lost in the expanding gloom. Dimmed in a room below me, the...

Samuel Peralta: Noir

Samuel Peralta: Noir: At the violet hour, a tent’s unexpected shelter from constables and rain. Past doorway, beaded threshold, the lacqueria, the ivory famili...

Samuel Peralta: N. poeticus

Samuel Peralta: N. poeticus: It started with your voice, your shimmering breath spiraling downward through the water's depth - calling - so strange! - my name. I...

Friday, 7 November 2014

On Epic Disappointment: Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi

Hello hello!

Right on the heels of a cheerful column, I have to discuss something really disappointing.

I'm going to put a large content warning on this post. If you're easily triggered, get out now. I won't be discussing anything gory, but I'd hate to know that someone had a panic attack as a result of this post.

Two personalities that a lot of people respected and admired have been outed as sex offenders. I didn't have much of an attachment to Bill Cosby--to be completely honest, I never watched him as a kid and always found him slightly off and creepy--but I did listen to Q on CBC Radio pretty often. In my first year of university, I would marathon old podcast episodes of the show while I studied.

At the time of writing this--Oct 27th; I sometimes write blog posts well before they're released--several articles have come out today.

The first thing I saw was this. Then Ghomeshi responded here. And then, after a day of carefully-worded contemplations and discussion with friends, I saw this.

This was really upsetting. It's been a while since I was a regular listener, but I had a good opinion of Q--it's a fun show, the interviews were thoughtful, and the music was quite good. What the experience did show me, though, is that there's a reason people defend sex offenders.

It feels like a real betrayal to know that someone you like and respect hurt someone else. Multiple people? It's even worse. Discovering that they aren't the person you thought they were is hard to handle, especially at first. Surely not, I thought. This has to be a misunderstanding. It's much easier to blame victims because they seem like faceless antagonists. Everyone's familiar with the idea of a woman vengefully ruining a man's career our of jealousy or spite. The truth, though, is that few assaults are reported to police.

These stats are absolutely horrible. I don't know any women who haven't been, at a minimum, catcalled, verbally harassed, or groped inappropriately--myself included--and while I won't disclose the number of friends I have who are survivors, the number is much, much too high.

Ultimately, no matter how much I'd like to support Ghomeshi, my personal feelings have to come second. That's really hard to do when you're fond of a celebrity, but avoiding the truth only feeds rape culture. And it's rape culture that makes it so easy to push things aside, to chalk the incidents up to a "crazy" woman or a few "crazy" women. It's easy to do this, but if we want those statistics to go down, we can't. We have to listen to the voices that cut deeply, that strip our illusions away. The price of not doing so is letting others get hurt for the sake of a dream.

But at the end of the day, the people we set on pedestals are still human beings. And human beings haven't learned to stop doing terrible, terrible things.


***

 Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog for more. 

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Story of a Scarf

Hello hello!

Well, as those who follow my Instagram may be aware, I'm not only a writer, I'm a crafter. I knit, bead, work with wire, do a little bit of crewel embroidery, and sew.

Since I was a kid, I've had a fascination with softness. Silk and velvet (velour, too) would make me halt in place. Even now, I love to stop and touch things that look soft (with permission, of course, when applicable). Bits of ribbon, of lace, of velour and velvet, and even of satin overflow from the craft shelves in our living room.



Source. Though I only have two shelves, and it's not this, um, tidy.


I'd had many of my scraps for years--some, for over a decade. A stint in theatre camp while I was in elementary school (grade school, as it's called outside Canada) bright me quite a few opportunities to save little scraps of fabric from the art projects we worked on. With access to a box of leftovers from the theatre projects the university students would run, I ended up with a small pile of treasures. Still others came from doll clothes, old projects of my own sewing, and even rummage boxes. There were even a few bits from old velvet roses from chocolate boxes, Christmas ribbons, and a Halloween costume's cape.

I saved these bits and fragments, positive that some day I'd make something useful from them. I worked on other projects, repaired skirts, modified others...and the scraps sat in a shoebox, waiting. I tried to sew them into a tiny quilt, but the stitches were too crooked. I soon gave up and shredded it. The scraps sat, waiting, a tiny pile of soft memories. I'd made a few other strangely-shaped and unusual scarves, some with trims. They challenged my skills, but I'd learned to be bolder.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, the lightbulb moment I'd been waiting for arrived. I realised I could use bits of the ribbon to frame the scarf and could arrange the patches so they'd roughly fit together and form a rectangular shape. By using a flatter, larger piece of fabric to back it, I wouldn't have to deal with the rasp of the seamy edges of my neck or craft something that looked good from only one side.

I arranged my patches, shifting and flipping them, coordinating colours. I sewed with whip-stitch and flat-stitches, layering some sheer fabrics over others. The scraps puckered a little, creating a ruched effect all over the scarf and adding even more texture.

Finally, it was finished.



Source: me! The scarf is folded in half.


I'd worked on special and challenging projects before, but the one I've just finished is probably one of the best. It's a way of visualising a lot of my life--bits of things I worked on when I was a kid, growing up in the back of my parents' medical clinic, to scraps from old doll's clothes that fascinated me, to more recent acquisitions. It's not perfectly even, but bits of lamè, velvet, netting, velour, satin, and rayon mix and mingle in long stretches. Bursts of colour like fireworks.

I don't think I could be happier about this. I can think of a few personal lessons I learned from sewing it, but they matter less than the pure joy of having this abstract mosaic, this map spanning from my childhood to now.

Sometimes, the end result really is more important than the journey.

***
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Writergate: A Few Words on a Burgeoning Controversy

Hello hello!

Oh, godsdamnit. The other community I belong to, the writing community, is starting to get almost as ugly as the gaming community. This article and this one illustrate the problem. When an author thinks it's acceptable to stalk and assault a reviewer over their hurt feelings, we have a major problem.


The history


It's worth noting that I'm *not* a reviewer. An editor, yes, and definitely an author, but I only review for fun and don't take submissions. It'd be a conflict of interest, as well as being far too much of a workload on top of everything else. So, where do I stand on this?

Well, I should probably preface this with my own experiences. Last year, I had to pull out of GoodReads after a group went after one of my books rather nastily. It was pretty crushing. There were some very homophobic comments in the reviews, some unfair points...you get the idea. Until that point, I'd had a policy of contacting reviewers who had given me low ratings to ask them for more feedback so I could improve my writing. Most reviewers were friendly, kind, and appreciated the politeness of the contact, so we parted on good terms.

This time, I got overwhelmed. The thing is, I made the mistake of making one complaining comment in a thread about the book. One of the reviewers took exception to this and delivered a scathing private lecture to me. The thread was deleted, but that didn't stop the lecture. What did I do? I left the page, did some crying, spoke to friends in private, and cried some more.



Sherlock gif, because I can. Also because a chained Moriarty is a good visualization for the way certain reviews can make one feel.


How could I have fixed it?


Then I tried to figure out how I could have handled it better. For one thing, better use of categorization, making sure that people were aware the story was about a bisexual character, and that it contained strong language would all have helped. And, of course, just not reading some of the negative reviews--in spite of the morbid, painful curiosity--would have been wisest. Mentioning that it has a somewhat unreliable narrator could have helped too. Most of all, though, I wish I'd had the content editor I have now to work with me back then. Just getting the practice of taking criticism would have been so helpful in insulating me from my own reaction and upset feelings.

Ultimately, it would have been nice to be able to talk to some of those reviewers, but in the context of reviewing culture, it wasn't, and still isn't. Is it a bad idea to ask for some more feedback and thoughts from a particularly well-written bad review? Maybe not. Is it a bad idea to thank someone for a really nice review and tell them about your next book? In theory, not at all.



The hidden catch


However, we're not working in a situation where that kind of interchange is possible. Instead, the indie scene has become a minefield. Roving bands of reviewers mock books for laughs--and authors go berserk, harassing, stalking, and now physically assaulting reviewers.

This has to stop. Yes, bullying has gone on from both sides. That does not justify unprofessional behavior or actually threatening people over hurt feelings. This article has a good overview of the Hale vs Harris case and the hurt feelings. The thing is, snark has become enshrined in the reviewing community...but authors seem to respond with disproportionate aggression and ire.

I would love to have professional, calm dialogues be the norm for authors and reviewers, but right now, too many people are reacting violently and abusively to make that tea-sipping discussion possible.



How do we fix it?



First, authors need to exercise discretion in handling bad reviews. Just not reading them can be a really good start.

Second, if you do read them, do it with a critical filter. Look for details about marketing rather than seeing it as your book, your baby, that's getting slapped. It can feel like that, but it won't help you learn anything useful.

Third, it's worth noting that while the customer isn't always right, snarking back at them won't help. Ever. Under any circumstances. It's better not to contact reviewers at all, and certainly not in public. At best, it makes you look whiny; at worst, well, there are websites devoted to the results. Far too many of them.

Fourth, being able to take a joke will make you look good. So if you *can* be cool about things, well, sometimes that turns out okay.

Fifth, it's worth keeping in mind that most reviewers--even the snarkiest--usually aren't trying to stab you in the heart. Making a few snarky jokes for attention, sure, but it's quite rare that they're actually out to burn you.

Sixth, remember that every snarky retort to a reviewer can come at the price of your career.

Seventh, make sure you have a support network of discreet people that you can vent to so that you don't make stupid Facebook posts that insult your readers. NEVER INSULT YOUR READERS.

Eighth, if you see a repeated issue, it may be worth revising the book. Not always, but sometimes it can be a good idea. After all, the advantage of indie publishing is that we *can* do this stuff, right?

Ninth, if you're actually attacked, report that shit to the website itself. It doesn't always work, but it's better than taking things into your own hands.

Tenth, if you have no idea what to do, don't do anything at all.



 I realise it's an overly dramatic gif with a blue filter. I'm not apologizing.

Final words? 


It would be great if we could all talk like adults and be respectful towards each other, no matter how painful the differences of opinion can be. If you read this article and you still don't like the advice, consider reading this and this and also this. If you disagree with someone, hitting them is not the solution. If you absolutely have to hit something, try printing the review out and taping it to a punching bag. If you still feel the urge to commit violence after all that, it might be a good idea to seek help.

How do you handle nasty reviews--or authors? Any good coping strategies? Let me know in the comments.

***
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 



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