Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sign up for the BRAVE NEW GIRLS cover reveal!

Tina and I have the cover for the second BRAVE NEW GIRLS anthology in the house, and we aim to reveal it on FEBRUARY 21 along with the stories that were selected!

Help us spread the word! Click here to sign up for the reveal.

Aaaaand... that's all. Shortest blog post ever, I know! Now, to go back to reading the submissions... we've got some good ones so far...



Thursday, January 12, 2017

Star Wars Chat with Russ Culchamiro!

Episode I: The Fandom Menace

Hey everyone! As you may know, I'm kind of into Star Wars. Just a little :-P. Turns out, so's my fellow sci-fi author, Russ Colchamiro... except he sees the franchise quite a bit differently from me. See, Russ and I are 20 years apart, which means we're different generations of nerd. So we decided it'd be fun to talk about Rogue One and our different perspectives.

We did the chat over Facebook Messenger over the course of two days, so we'll be posting in two parts. Part I is below. Or, you can read it on Russ's website with all the pretty pictures (he was much better about formatting the whole thing!

FAIR WARNING – SPOILERS THROUGHOUT!
 
Russ: Mary. We’ve both seen Rogue One. What did you think?
Mary: I really liked it!! I loved seeing new parts of the Star Wars universe. And they all fit perfectly into the world of the originals... It was pretty stunning how much Rogue One ‘felt’ like an extension of those movies (unlike the prequels—which I also liked, but whose shininess always clashed with the rundown universe we love). I also really loved the new characters. Chirrut was my favorite, with his blend of dry humor and spiritual idealism. And I loved his interactions with Baze. I also really liked Jyn. She’s an interesting character, and it was great seeing a flawed and amoral woman lead a film. And of course the action was thrilling (I could go on).

That being said, I didn’t LOVE love it as much as I did The Force Awakens, which had more of the Star Wars spirit. Star Wars has always been about hope and idealism (in the fairytale mold). Rogue One talks about hope a lot, but doesn’t offer much at the end. And I’m not a fan of the Rogue One soundtrack... Apparently the composer was only given four weeks to knock off John Williams (and you can tell).

Still, Rogue One is a really well made film (with some awesome acting and cinematography) and a great addition to the Star Wars film canon. What did you think?

Russ: I actually loved it. It has its flaws, but the intensity drew me in all the way to the final frame. But it's interesting to me that you said it didn’t have hope. Yes, the characters in Rogue One don’t live to fight another day, but they sacrificed themselves for the greater good. Heartbreaking, but I would argue that their sacrifices paved the way for hope. There was a sense of desperation that we haven’t seen since Empire, and parts of Revenge of the Sith.

Now about the music … it was actually my biggest complaint. No matter the reasoning behind it, to me, it’s not a complete Star Wars movie without the classic soundtrack. What the filmmakers offered us was a poor knockoff. There were specific beats in the story that were perfectly queued up for the classic music to kick in, and it was a dud when that music wasn’t there.

But getting back to Jyn. You said she was amoral. How so? I didn’t really see her that way. Disillusioned, yes. But I saw her as waiting to be, pardon the pun, awakened.

Mary: Sorry, I thought we were doing spoiler-free, so I didn’t elaborate. But if we’re talking about the ending... Yes, there ultimately is hope for the rebellion. But not for the characters themselves. Rogue One is ultimately a tragedy, and really, this is the first time Star Wars has been tragic. Even with Episode 3... You knew Anakin was going to be redeemed. Jyn, Chirrut, Cassian, etc... They’re just gone. I didn’t mind how it ended — I thought it worked for the movie — but it didn’t feel very Star Wars-y.

Music: I completely agree. I think it would have been better off if it hadn’t tantalized us with brief glimpses at the original music that wandered off in different directions. Like the theme music over the opening title... It opens with a perfect fifth jump just like the Star Wars main theme, but then gives us different notes, which is just a huge let down. Anyway, enough music nerding for me!

RE Jyn: When we meet Jyn, she’s neither good nor evil. She’s just out for herself, which is perfectly understandable. She doesn’t believe in the rebellion... The empire planting their flags everywhere is "not a problem if you don’t look up." She’s like Han Solo... He’s amoral when we meet him and doesn’t become good until he saves Luke at the very end. In RPG terms, I see Jyn as chaotic neutral. Of course, like Han, she makes the leap to chaotic good at the end, when she sacrifices herself for the greater good.

I loved that character arc for her. Women in SFF are almost always portrayed as either good or evil, period. They’re not allowed to inhabit that gray area of characters like Han. They’re not allowed to be a bit unlikable, yet still the hero. Jyn was groundbreaking in that sense.

Russ: I agree with that. Jyn was given the chance to have a significant yet tragic arc that had some weight to it.

But speaking of intense. Vader. Whoa. That was awesome! Not a lot of screen time but he definitely made his presence known

Mary: Yes!! I loved Vader’s role. That was the badass Vader I always wanted to see... Vader at the height of his evil power. We don’t really see that in the originals, and I think it’s just because of the technology of the time. Now, we understand why he’s so feared, why those Rebels looked so terrified at the beginning of A New Hope.

Speaking of OT characters, what did you thing of CGI Tarkin?

Russ: Mixed feelings. The performance was really good, with the same understated, cold-hearted delivery as Peter Cushing in New Hope. But ... the technology isn’t totally there yet. He looked just ‘fake’ enough where it felt a bit creepy.

Also … what did u think about Krennic? Ben Mendelsohn is a good actor, and I’d love to see the footage of him that they cut from the movie, but I didn’t really fear him as much as he was just an ambitious weasel.

Mary: Krennic? He was all right. He wasn’t scary so much as a representative of a larger evil... Really, he was a high-ranking thug. Which I didn’t mind, to be honest. Vader and Tarkin were the ultimate villains, even though they had less screen time. I wish they hadn’t gotten so cocky with their CGI, though. If they’d only used transmissions/holograms, even full body shots, they could have gotten away with it. But the close-ups looked plastic to me. Good plastic, but plastic nonetheless. The performance by the actor behind the CGI was well done, though.

CGI Leia worked because she’s only seen for an instant. Also, it’s a lot easier to CGI a pretty teen with smooth skin LOL. Also, how thrilling was it to see the original rebel pilots?

Russ: Absolutely! I loved those original pilots! So cool! And one of my favorite nerd moments was learning that the same crystals that powered the light sabers were being mined to power the Death Star. Great use of duality — a physical embodiment of dark vs. light theme.

And how awesome was Donnie Chen as Chirrut! “I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.”

Mary: Yes! That’s going to be an iconic line... almost as iconic as “May the Force be with you.” I’ve seen people quoting it already. I loved everything about his character. Though now, having seen a real martial arts master in action in the Star Wars universe, suddenly all the Jedi look like actors with sticks! Which is hilarious because Chirrut isn’t a Jedi — despite several articles mistakenly calling him one.

What are your thoughts on K2? Everyone kept praising Alan Tudyk’s performance, but it mostly fell flat for me. Some moments were funny, but most of the quips felt forced, like he was trying too hard to be the comic relief.

Russ: Yeah ... I wasn’t blown away. Not great, not terrible.

So .... we’ve kicked around Rogue One. How would you rate it compared with Force Awakens?

Mary: It’s hard to compare the two since they’re such different movies. Overall, I liked The Force Awakens more, but that’s not because it was necessarily ‘better’ than Rogue One. Breaking it down, Rogue One wins for originality, The Force Awakens wins for enjoyability and that special Star Wars ‘something’ (and for soundtrack). I also liked the characters of The Force Awakens more... I think it’s because there are fewer of them, and so we get to know each a little better.

What did you think?

Russ: I had really mixed feelings about Force Awakens. There were great nerd moments, like the first time we saw the Millennium Falcon, Han and Chewy, R2D2 and C3PO. I was cheering and fist pumping! There were some great action sequences, and for my money, Rey is one of the very best characters in the entire franchise. She’s tremendous. And yet ... Force Awakens was, essentially, a remake of Star Wars, where they blow up the Death Star. Again. And Snoke? Meh. Pretty much just Golem with a throne instead of a ring. The movie looked great, but it lacked originality. Whereas Rogue One, I agree, didn’t have the same ‘magic’ as we might call a classic Star Wars movie, but to me it felt much more urgent, intense, and original. And given that Rogue One ends literally seconds before A New Hope begins, I’m really interested in watching them both back to back. It feels like it’ll give A New Hope an entirely different feel. So all in all, for me, Rogue One was the far superior movie, even though it has its flaws.

Mary Fan and I are both science fiction authors and Star Wars nerds, but as we’re 20 years apart in age (Mary the youthful spitfire here – ha!), we thought it would be fun to chat about Rogue One, see where we agreed, where we disagreed, and where this newest Star Wars movie fits on the list of our favorites.

In Part I of this chat, we discussed Rogue One. Here we rank the Star Wars movies.



Russ: OK, Mary. So ... with eight Star Wars movies under our belts so far ... rank them in terms of how much you enjoyed them and would want to watch again most. Include at least some commentary next to each choice. Go!

Mary:

8 ) Revenge of the Sith. There’s plenty to enjoy about the movie in terms of sets and costume and creature design, but really, how can anyone take Anakin’s fall seriously? Sith had the burden of bridging the gap between the arrogant 20-year-old we met in Ep 2 and Darth freakin’ Vader, and it failed. Does Anakin really think turning to the Dark Side and killing children will save Padme? And how did he get there after, literally minutes before, declaring that he was going to ‘stop’ the Dark Side?? The whole thing was so abrupt. Not to mention, I can’t forgive what they did to Padme. She goes from a kickass heroine to barefoot and pregnant, weeping all the time and needing a big strong man to tell her what to do. And then she dies of a broken heart. WTF??? WORST. MOVIE.

7) The Phantom Menace. Another unpopular opinion — yay! I have lots of those about the prequels haha. For some background, I actually watched Phantom before the originals... as a pre-teen in 1999. I thought baby Anakin was adorable, and you know what? Jar Jar was actually kinda funny. Of course, he's ridiculous to me now that I’m no longer 11. Just like the Ewoks. Also, that final confrontation with Darth Maul is the best lightsaber fight in the whole series.

6-5) Oof, this one’s hard. I'm going to cheat and call it a tie between Rogue One and (unpopular opinion time!) Attack of the Clones. Rogue One was a really well made film, yes, but I don’t know how often I'd want to rewatch it (there’s only so much tragedy I can take!). Attack of the Clones was not a fantastic movie, but definitely the best prequel. And I really enjoyed watching it. Forget terrible lines about sand... Did you see that fight between Jango Fett and Obi-Wan? How about that high-speed chase through Coruscant? And the introduction to the clonetroopers was chilling because you know what they'll become... it's a fantastic prequel in how it teases the originals. The costume and set design are amazing. Of course, it felt like a different world from the originals, but I didn’t mind that. .... The Rebellion exists on the fringes of the galaxy, which is why we get all the grungy tech in the originals. The prequels are about the Republic at its height... of course it's going to look very different. Just as Chicago looks very different from, say, Camden.

4) The Force Awakens — Fantastic movie. Yes, it was essentially a remake of A New Hope, but A New Hope is just every monomyth ever in space. And yes, Snoke was kind of awful, but Rey and Finn are two of my favorite characters ever. Finn’s actually pretty original... we haven’t seen really seen a turncoat in the film canon before. It was also a thrill catching up with our original trio, even if it was brief and rather tragic. I think that connection to the originals is what really sparked my fan obsession. And I’m so curious to see what they’ll do with Kylo Ren’s character! I actually wonder if Carrie Fisher’s death (May the Force be with her) will change his fate, since Leia’s role is being rewritten for Ep 9.

3) Jedi -- The least of the originals because those Ewoks get more ridiculous every time I watch the movie (even though I thought they were adorable as a kid). The Force Awakens nearly unseated it, but I love that final confrontation with Luke, Vader, and Palpatine too much.

2) A New Hope -- Gotta love the original, with its mix of fairytale idealism and grungy, almost dystopian tech. Also, it has the best ending, with the way it treats you to little victories that lead to bigger setbacks (like rescuing Leia only to lead the Empire to the Rebel base)... all to build up the tension and make that final moment of victory fantastic.

1) Empire -- I mean, it's EMPIRE!! Need I say more?

Your turn!

Russ: Interesting rankings! For the most part, we definitely don’t see eye to eye here (although we agree on at least our favorite). Ha-ha! Here’s me:

8 – The Phantom Menace – Darth Maul was incredible to watch aaaand … that’s about it. I won’t even go into Jar Jar. This could have been a much better movie had the classic Star Wars mysticism been a core underpinning of the narrative, but, aside from Darth Maul, for me, a big, unwatchable dud.

7 – Return of the Jedi – This is kind of weird one for me. The interplay between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor was pretty awesome, and some of my favorite scenes in the entire franchise. But — and I know I’m gonna get nerd hated on this one — I was never a fan of the Joba the Hutt rescue sequence, and the Ewoks are just too silly. I wanted to love Jedi, especially after Empire, and I saw the original in the theaters as a kid, so they’re forever a part of ongoing childhood, but Jedi falls mostly flat for me.

6 – Attack of the Clones – Yes, the relationship between Padme and Anakin is ridiculous, but I liked the nourish feel to the first half, the sequence with Obi Wan and Jengo Fett on the clone water base was very cool, and, aside from the arena sequence, the last 45 minutes is thrilling. I know it’s not a ‘great’ movie, but I love watching it.

5- The Force Awakens – Lots of cool moments, it looks great, and Rey is an absolute star, but there’s a lot of been there done that here.

4- Revenge of the Sith – For all of its issues (poor Padme, the relationship with Anakin, blech), this is the movie where things go dark and gruesome for our heroes, with Ewan McGregor at his absolute peak as Obi Wan. Flaws aside, it’s kinda badass, and if it’s on, I’m watching it.

3- A New Hope – It’s the original, and the magic is still there. The first 45 minutes feels almost painfully slow by today’s standards, and the light saber duel between Vader and Obi Wan is laughable now, but the characters sing, and the ending is as awesome as ever.

2- Rogue One – We discussed this at length already, but I’ll say that it kept me riveted all the way through, and makes A New Hope all the better.

1- The Empire Strikes Back – Hands down the best. Yoda. Lando. Luke and Vader. Han in peril. You know the rest. Pure gold.

ABOUT RUSS COLCHAMIRO
He’s a science fiction and comedy author who writes lots of goofy stuff, particularly his Finders Keepers trilogy. But if you want to learn more, you’re visiting his site. Click hereor follow him on Twitter@authorduderuss and Facebook at www.facebook.com/RussColchamiroAuthor


Monday, January 9, 2017

COVER REVEAL: All It Takes / Clare Dugmore

Hey everyone! Today, I'm revealing the cover of ALL IT TAKES from Clare Dugmore... coming soon from Snowy Wings Press!

And without further ado...


All It Takes is one night to change the rest of their lives.
Graduating Uni, travelling Europe and buying her own place – these are on Megan Green’s to-do list. At just twenty-two, becoming a mother isn’t.
Fast cars, expensive clothes and bedding a different women every night – this is how Kian Murphy spends his time when not in the MMA ring. Pre-natal scans and birthing classes are not on his agenda.
After a chance meeting and passionate encounter, Megan finds herself pregnant with Kian’s child. But with a womanizing reputation, and a temper that often leads him into trouble, Kian is hardly boyfriend material, let alone father material.
Now Megan and Kian must work out if they have All It Takes to turn their one-night-stand into a relationship that will connect them for a life-time.
All It Takes is a dual-POV new-adult, contemporary-romance about responsibility, love and discovering who you are in life.
Pre Order On Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N4LXGMV
Pre Order On Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N4LXGMV/

Monday, January 2, 2017

What I'll spend 2017 doing

I spent this weekend at New Year's Eve PartyCon in Allentown, hanging out with horror authors Stephen Kozeniewski, Mary San Giovanni, and Brian Keene. It was a small con, but still pretty fun. And some point, the topic of the new year came up (naturally) and someone mentioned a superstition that what you did on New Year's Day would represent what you'd do for the rest of the year.

So, if that superstition holds true, I'll spend 2017...


  • Hanging out with horror authors
  • Manning author tables at conventions and such
  • Speaking on (poorly attended but wonderfully enthusiastic) convention panels
  • Driving long distances
  • Eating ramen
  • Petting my cat
  • Making schedules and project plans
  • NOT cleaning my apartment or going grocery shopping, despite the mess and the lack of anything in the fridge
  • Freaking out about all the stuff I've agreed to do (but in a good way? maybe?)
  • Writing like a maniac, fueled by a bottle of red wine

Sound pretty accurate.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

In a Nutshell: Why Firefly is Cultural Appropriation

As you may know, the whole 10 Unpopular Opinions thing is going around Facebook right now. One
Asians pictured: 0
of mine was that Firefly (great show! love it!) is cultural appropriation (and makes me cringe while I'm loving it! we have a complicated relationship!). I've gotten a lot of flak about this one from (all white, all male as far as I can remember... not an accusation, just a fact of my personal experience) people over the years... it's probably my most unpopular (SFF-related) opinion ever, other than that Revenge of the Sith is the worst Star Wars prequel (but I digress).
I've given the whole spiel about why Firefly is problematic (still one of my favorite shows! such a complicated relationship!) on countless panels and during countless one-on-one conversations with fellow geeks, so when one of my Facebook friends commented on my post asking me to explain, my in-a-nutshell response was pretty much locked and loaded.

And so that I'll be able to copy/paste it in the future instead of typing it all out again, here it is on the blog:



The issue with Firefly is that it features Chinese culture -- Chinese clothes, Chinese language, Chinese decor, etc. -- but no Chinese people (there are maybe 3 random extras who appear to be East Asian). And it's no better behind the scenes. So basically they took all the cool Chinese stuff but didn't want any actual Chinese folk on their show.

IF the show had featured Chinese (or at least East Asian) cast members and had a decent number of Chinese (or any kind of Asian) writers and directors behind the scenes, this would not be an issue. But why having any actual Asians in a show about a world that's 50% Asian? *eyeroll*

It would also be less of an issue if Asian Americans were regularly represented in the media. But Asians are severely underrepresented (especially Asian *Americans*), so to take their culture without hiring any of their people in visible roles (I say visible because I don't know who did the visual effects, set dressing, etc) is just a slap in the face. (Also, slightly off topic, media originating from Asia -- martial arts films, anime, etc. -- doesn't count as representation for Asians in *America*)



Et voila!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

My NaNoWriMo Fail

It's no secret that I've been struggling to get any writing done these days. Lord knows I've whined about it on this blog (and Twitter) enough times. I've spent the past several months trying to pinpoint a cause... that the day job has made me too busy, that I agreed to too many extracurricular activities, that back-to-back shockers in October and November (one personal, one political... the latter is probably obvious for anyone even tangentially aware of U.S. politics and the former is, well, personal) threw my mind into an anxious/depressed state that left me unable to be productive.

NaNoWriMo--National Novel Writing Month for any novs out there--always exacerbates the awful feeling of being a writer who's not writing, whether due to time conflicts or writer's block. It's tough to see all those inspirational memes floating around social media, plus all your writer friends boasting about banging out thousands and thousands of words per day. Not that there's anything wrong with either--those who are being productive have every right to celebrate. It magnifies one's sense of inadequacy.


Me trying to write
This past November's NaNo was supposed to be a reset of sorts for me. I'd been blocked for ages, but had come up with a plan to get back into the groove. And it worked... for about a week. I got the first half of my NaNo goals done and then just... stopped writing. And I couldn't blame time conflicts this time, since I used the time I'd set aside for writing to binge-watch silly TV shows. My goal wasn't even to write a full novel... it was to write 15,000 words in two projects, for a total of 30,000 words (and I've been known to write 50-70k in a month, so this was a laidback goal for me). But all I got were 15k for the first thing and a page for the other. Yep, a single, lonely PAGE. And though I had plenty of time to turn that page into more, just thinking about writing anything prompted a gut response of "NO." The same kind of silent but visceral response your subconscious gives you when you see a spider or something else you just would not want to touch.

While in this pit of despair, I found this Medium article that included a quote from the great Ursula K. Le Guin: 


“Don’t try to go against the flow, to work when work seems futile. Let it be. Let the block stay uncarved, or the word be unwritten — until it wants to take shape, to speak. What nobody in America teaches any more is how not to act, not to keep busy, how to wait … My guess is, you need to be still while your strength is gathering; and when it has gathered, you will know the direction you need to go — and you’ll go on there.”


Man, that was just what I needed to hear. And after seeing that, I thought back to all that time I spent not writing before launching a career of sorts... how I went from being an avid dreamer in middle/high school, churning out multiple novels that shall never be spoken of again, to not writing a single word for about six years during college and the years framing it. And how, when I did dive back in around summer of 2011, six years' worth of ideas congealed into a book that basically flew out of my head in the span of about two months (it became ARTIFICIAL ABSOLUTES). 

And I came to realize that, while I could beat the words out of me if I absolutely needed to, knowing that's where my head was at was causing the "NO" reaction.



While I don't plan to stop writing for another six years (especially since I've got deadlines for two things), it was good to remember that not writing, that failing at goals, is all part of the process.

Here's hoping that, when I get my act together again, what comes out will be awesome :-)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Chessiecon Schedule!

I'll be back at Chessiecon this year! If you're in the Baltimore area, come out and see me! Here's the location: 

RADISSON HOTEL NORTH BALTIMORE

2004 Greenspring Drive
Timonium, MD 21093


And here's my con schedule:

Friday, November 25
9:45 PM Reading (Greenspring 2)
10:30 PM LGBTQ Content: Plot or Set Dressing? (Greenspring 3-5)

Saturday, November 26
10:00 AM Literary Agents and Query Letters: What, How, and Why (Greenspring 3-5)
11:15 AM Silent Symphonies: Incorporating Music into Literature (Greenspring 3-5)
5:30 PM Evolution of Women in Fantasy (Greenspring 1)
6:45 PM Group Book / Art / CD Signing (Atrium)

Sunday, November 27
10:00 AM Being a Woman on the Internet (Greenspring 3-5)
12:30 PM The Handmaid's Tale in the Real World (Greenspring 3-5)

Hope to see you there!