Friday, October 30, 2015

REVIEW: Blitzkreig (Origins of the Prime, #1) / Christopher Vale

TITLE: Blitzkreig (Origins of the Prime, #1)
AUTHOR: Christopher Vale
PUBLISHER: Self-Published

Science Fiction - Superhero

Sometimes, all you want are superheroes who do awesome things, and man, does Blitzkrieg deliver! The story tells the origins of a group of superhumans, the results of Nazi experimentation during World War II. After a harrowing opening that describes the merciless Nazi experiments that led to the creation of the superpowered children, the kids' lives take an unexpected turn when the Americans invade and whisk them off to a new life. Afraid that the Soviets might be creating their own race of superhumans, the Americans train the rescuees from the Nazi experiments to fight for them. A few years later, the kids have grown into newbie superheroes-to-be and are then thrown into a world of secret missions and thrilling intrigue. Our heroes eventually learn of a long-lost Nazi secret that could unleash great power... and must get to it before the Soviets do.

I don't want to say too much more because that would ruin all the twisty-turny action that takes place, so suffice it to say that there's LOTS of action and mayhem throughout. The plot barrels forward like a bullet train, whisking you from thrill to thrill. The universe reminded me somewhat of X-Men: First Class (in the whole starting with Nazis and leading to superhumans battling evil during the Cold War thing), but is unique in its own ways. Also, X-Men: First Class is one of my favorite things ever, so anything that evokes that is awesome in my book.

The characters are forced to deal with a variety of issues... demons from the past, questions of allegiance and loyalty, learning to work as a team... the push and pull that comes with finding yourself and your place in the world while also trying to save the day. Much of the story evokes classic comic book themes and action scenes, which totally come alive in your head. Lovers of superhero fiction and comic books will eat this up.

Christopher Vale has lived in seven states and three countries. He has stared across a minefield in Guantanamo Bay, traversed steamy jungles in the South Pacific, and survived twin babies. Now he embarks on his newest adventure as he and his wife raise their three beautiful boys while developing their own self-publishing brand, creating fun, fast-paced novels of imagination and wonder.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Which literary monster are you?

In celebration of Halloween, Grammarly put together the fun little personality quiz. I got Pennywise! What about you?


Sunday, October 25, 2015


The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry...

Today, I'm using my blog as a confessional. This kinda makes me want to crawl into a hole and pull it in after me. Okay, just like ripping off a bandaid, right? Here goes...

My book covers are whitewashed.

In the Jane Colt trilogy, Jane and her brother Devin are meant to be biracial/Eurasian. It's not really a factor story-wise because the books take place in a far-flung space opera future where neither Europe nor Asia exist anymore, but it mattered to me. Partly because nonwhite characters (especially main characters) are terribly underrepresented in sci-fi (I'm looking at you, Firefly, with your Chinese props and Chinese swearing but no Chinese people). And partly because I'm Asian and, hey, wouldn't it be nice if there were space opera protags who looked like they could share an ancestor or two with me?

I pictured the interstellar siblings as looking something like this:

Chloe Bennet
Philippe Day
(Interesting to note... both actors pictured chose to go with Western names rather than the Asian names they were born with: Chloe Wang and Philippe Sung)

This is how they're portrayed on the books' covers:


Don't get me wrong... I love how both covers turned out and okay'd them both, even knowing I was whitewashing my own characters. The reason for this was simple: I couldn't find any Eurasian models in the stock photo libraries. In fact, I could barely find any Asian models (and the few I did find didn't fit the characters). Dark-haired Caucasians were the closest thing the photo libraries had to offer, so I ran with it. And loved the covers I got. And felt guilty about loving the covers I got.

I've spent hours and hours and hours combing stock photo sites, and they're overwhelmingly white. I suspect that this is because these sites exist to sell images, and those are the ones that sell. It's disheartening. And it's not like I could afford to stage my own photo shoot. I suppose I could always have asked for covers that didn't feature characters, but I'm a personal fan of faces on covers, so no fair making me give that up on my own damn books.

Anyway, all this is to say that lack of diversity is a problem across the board. So c'mon, photo libraries! Do better!

*whew* Glad I got that off my chest...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How I avoid burnout

Burnout is a huge issue in the creative industries, especially when the passions of artists are exploited by those who tell us the work is its own reward. Because for us, it's true. We write, paint, sing, and dance because that's what we love doing, whether we get paid for it or not. And that makes it easy for people to expect us to do these things for free in exchange for "exposure."

Now I'm not saying that working for exposure is always a bad thing. Heaven knows I'm perfectly happy to speak at events, lead workshops, write blog posts, and even contribute fiction for zero zip zilch nada. And I'd be a hypocrite to say the practice is always bad since I asked fellow authors to donate stories for the Brave New Girls anthology (since we were on a shoestring budget from a crowdfunding campaign and all the proceeds from sales go to a scholarship fund). Those who ask us to work for free are usually doing so because they have no money themselves. Like small conferences/conventions, where attendee and vendor fees barely cover the cost of renting the venue, and the like.

And of course, there's the ever-present favor-swapping that occurs when no one has any money. I'll read your book if you'll read mine. I'll write that blog post and thank you for hosting it because I need content for my social media pages. I'll make this book trailer if you'll read and review my novella.

Then, finally... I'll write this book, with all the research and plotting and toil that goes into it, even though there's a very real possibility that no one in the world will ever deem it good enough to read.

The problem with this kind of work-for-the-sake-of-the-work world is that it can very quickly lead to burnout. You're working your ass off for a reward that may or may not happen day in and day out. Sometimes, you feel like you're working into the aether, expending tons of energy for no return. And wondering if any of this is worthwhile, or if you're doomed to work, work, work and never receive anything in return.

I've fallen into that pit many-a time. Those moments of rage and despair and depression where I wonder, What the hell am I even doing? Would I be happier if I quit?

For some people, the answer is yes, and there's nothing wrong with that. Our creative pursuits will seldom lead to any kind of material reward, so if it's not fun anymore and it's making you unhappy, there's really no point. Screw those who look down on "quitters." Do what's right for you.

For others, the answer is no. I realize that despite the thankless toil, I just wanted to tell stories. That if the universe collapsed and I was somehow left alone in the abyss, I would tell my stories into oblivion until I, too, fell.

That "aha" moment was the main factor that kept me from burning out. But there were other factors too. Steps I took, sometimes purposefully and sometimes subconsciously, that keep me from collapsing under the endless work and exhaustion. They are:

  • Don't hold yourself to someone else's standards. People work at different paces. Just because that obnoxious author on Facebook posts his/her 10,000 word a day victories over the WIP doesn't mean you have to write that fast as well. Just because that prolific author on Twitter is self-pubbing a book a month doesn't mean you have to keep up. If it's not right for you, it's not right for you, and what's working for them isn't a universal standard.
  • Don't compare yourself to others. I know, I know, it's hard not to look at that author who subbed her first draft NaNo novel to an agent, got signed in a week, then sold the book a month later to a Big Cat Publisher who gave them a six figure advance and heralded them as the Next Big Thing. But most of us won't be that person. That person literally won the lottery. No, I'm not just being a Millennial. I mean literally. Because this whole world of creativity is completely, utterly, and eternally subjective, and it will never be "fair." Just like the lottery. No, it's not a perfect storm of perfect characters and perfect writing. It's a stroke of insane luck that struck a chord with either The Powers That Be or The Masses. We can't all be unicorns.
  • It's okay to take breaks. Even long ones where you don't touch a book for months. Your brain needs time to reset. In fact, during these breaks, it's okay if you don't even read or look at writer forums or anything. Think about it this way: If you were training for a marathon, wouldn't you have days where you just don't run because otherwise you'd rip your muscles apart? And you don't run marathons every day, for crying out loud. Some people are superathletes and do a number a year. Others of us are less suited for that, and doing just one is a big effing deal. So let yourself reset. It's not laziness. It's recuperating.
  • Don't pin all your hopes on one thing. You never know what's going to be your "big break" so don't obsess over that one novel thinking this will be it, only to find yourself curled under your blankets in a fetal position when the world gives a collective shrug in response. In fact, many people never have that one Big Break that skyrockets them into Stephen King territory. For most, it's a slow and steady trickle of books balanced with a day job that pays the rent. If you hate your day job, don't count on your book to get you out of it. Even famous writers you've read about in the newspaper have day jobs teaching at universities and the like.
  • If you're already published, stop staring at your sales. Because at a certain point, there ain't nothing you can do about 'em unless you've got ten million dollars to spare on a huge publicity blitz and a print run that floods bookstores so people literally have no choice but to see your book. Keep doing publicity pushes, by all means, but understand that there's only so much you can do without a Fairy Godmother or Daddy Warbucks. Zero effort will lead to zero sales, but a million percent effort won't lead to a million sales. I know. It's not fair.
Basically, this all boils down to Acceptance. That last stage of grief. That Zen principle of letting go of desire. Which is counterintuitive in a creative field that's all about desire. But trust me, sometimes the only thing to do is to care less about certain things and remember why you're doing this in the first place. For your book. For your characters. For you.

OH, and of course there's this:
  • For God's sake, get some sleep. Seriously. Coffee is awesome, but nothing beats sleep for making sure your brain doesn't implode.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Report from KidLitCon!

This past weekend was KidLitCon, KidLitosphere's annual conference (KidLitosphere is a community of reviewers, librarians, teachers, authors, illustrators, publishers, parents, and other book enthusiasts who blog about children's and young adult literature). I had the honor of speaking on a panel about intersectionality with Guinevere and Libertad Thomas, aka the Twinjas. Unfortunately, Zetta Elliott (who, in addition to being a speaker, was also the moderator) couldn't make it due to illness.

Wellp. Time to wing it.

Though Zetta was unable to attend in person, she was able to send us her presentation and notes (which I read aloud while doing my darnedest not to stutter… I succeeded maybe 60% of the time).

We started off with a little background. Intersectionality is the study of intersections between forms or systems of discrimination, domination, or oppression. Types include race, gender, sexuality, ableism, politics of appearance, classism, socioeconomic status, language bias, religion, and whole host of other traits. The concept was first named by legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989. The big idea surrounding intersectionality is that people are complex beings that don't fit into neat little boxes. A person can be among the oppressed in one aspect and among the privileged in another.

The example Zetta gave in her presentation was the recent controversy surrounding the quote "I'd rather be a rebel than a slave" that's been used to promote the film Suffragette, which is about white feminists in the early 20thcentury. This quote is offensive because it implies that slavery is a choice, and black women certainly didn't ask to be enslaved. The example I gave later during my own spiel was the incident that first brought intersectionality to my attention: Patricia Arquette's 2015 Oscar speech. On the stage when accepting her award, she called for equal pay for women. Huzzah! But then backstage, when she was asked to elaborate, she stated that women had been fighting for the rights of people of color and gay people, and it was time that people of color and gay people fight for women.

… Because there are no women of color? Because there are no gay women? Because there are no gay women of color?

And therein lies the problem of white feminists: In fighting the oppression of patriarchy, they sometimes forget that they are privileged in other aspects. In Patricia Arquette's case, she is among the oppressed because she is a woman in a male-dominated society. In Hollywood, at least, she is likely among the oppressed for being a woman over 40 (ageism). However, she is also privileged because she is white, able-bodied, straight, attractive, American, and wealthy.
The many facets of identity. Source: Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women

Feeling a little bad for picking on Patricia Arquette (she's a great actress, and it's great that she took a stand even if it was a little misguided), I offered up myself as another example of how a person can be oppressed on some fronts and privileged on others. I, too, am a woman in a male-dominated society (down with the patriarchy!). I'm also a racial minority. However, I'm a so-called model minority, which saves me from some of the discrimination other minorities face (people see me walking down the street in a hoodie and assume I'm just a sloppy math nerd, rather than a criminal up to no good). I also come from a relatively privileged socioeconomic background, being among the upper middle class with parents who paid for my college education. Also, I'm able-bodied, relatively svelte in a fat-shaming culture, and still counted among the young in a youth-worshipping society.

The point is… Identity is complicated. And one of the biggest issues we fact today is that we live in an underdog-loving culture. Everyone wants to see themselves as the scrappy oppressed rebel fighting the System. So they look only to their problems and fail to acknowledge their privileges. In fact, they can get very defensive when their privilege is pointed out.

But privilege is not a crime. It's a state of being. And having privilege pointed out shouldn’t be seen as an attack. Fact is, life is hard for everyone, and no one likes being told that they're advantaged because, in their minds, that negates all the hard work and dedication they've put into getting where they are. Privilege is also invisible. You only see how far the finish line is from where you're standing—most people don't look behind them to see how much further others have to go. I myself had a kneejerk reaction of "But I worked so hard to get into college!" when my Princeton privilege first occurred to me. It's not fun realizing that you're not as tough and self-made as you thought you were. And of course, that's followed by, "Well, what am I supposed to do about it?" Like all the men out there who, when it's pointed out that they're the advantaged ones in a patriarchal society, say, "Well, I can't stop being a man! What do you want me to do about it?"

The lovely Libertad and Guinevere, plus a very unflattering pic of me
Answer: Just acknowledge it. Because understanding your own identity and its position relative to others is the first step to understanding the systems of discrimination around us. And understanding is the first step to eliminating.

Identity is also complicated within individual factors. The Twinjas talked about how complicated intersections of race can be. They are of Afro-Cuban descent, which means they are both black and Latina in a society that can often only think of people as one or the other. And representations of these intersections in books are hard to find.

After giving our little spiels, we opened up the forum for questions and had a lively and refreshingly honest discussion with the audience about what intersectionality means and what we can do as book bloggers, librarians, teachers, etc. One question that came up was, "How do keep up with all these shifting terms?" Answer: Read. A lot. Thinkpieces, opinion columns, essays… there is an abundance of free content on the internet that discusses matters of identity. Read them, listen, and think. And don't be afraid to ask questions. Hey, I didn't know what intersectionality was until earlier this year, even though the concept's been around since I was a year old.

Another question was, "How do you avoid offending people?" Honestly, you can't. There are so many people with so many perspectives that someone is always going to be offended. The best you can do is to take what you know and try to avoid causing offense. And if you do, find out why it was offensive. Apologize if apology is merited (it isn't always… plenty of people are offended for the wrong reasons. Like the religious extremists who are offended by the very idea of gay marriage). And if you were in the wrong, try not to do it again (and be willing to admit you were wrong… which is probably the hardest thing for a human being to do).

All in all, I had a great time being on the panel and learning from my fellow panelists as well as the audience. And I met a lot of great people afterward. My only regret is that it had to end. Here's to KidLitCon!

Monday, October 5, 2015

REVIEW: While You Were Gone / Kate Moretti

Contemporary Fiction - Women's Fiction

WARNING: This review will be a bit spoiler-y to those who haven't read Kate's first novel, Thought I Knew You.

Let me start by saying I'm coming into this novella biased for a number of reasons. First of all, I'm a huge fan of Kate Moretti's previous works: Thought I Knew You and Binds That Tie. Secondly, I'm a sucker for books about classical music, and OMG THE HEROINE'S AN ORCHESTRA VIOLINIST!!! Thirdly, I like Kate's writing so much that I published her myself in Brave New Girls, the anthology about girls in STEM that I co-edited. Fourthly, I watched this book go from a vague idea to an actual book, which is always thrilling. I chatted with Kate  when she was first brainstorming what she'd do with a Thought I Knew You companion novella (I may have pestered her about writing about the Other Woman you meet in TIKY because I'm a fangirl and wanted to know what happened from her POV). And fifthly, Kate sent me an early draft to vet for classical music-type things (I play violin and spent my teen years as a dedicated orchestra girl), so I kind of feel like one of the book's aunties (not my baby, but sometimes feels a little like it).

Also, *disclaimer time* Kate and I share a publisher (Red Adept Publishing), but this is NOT one of the reasons I'm biased (neither Red Adept nor Kate asked me to review this book, and my opinions are completely my own honest thoughts, etc. etc. Sage's Blog Tours did send me a free review copy, but I'd already bought and paid for the novella with my own cashie money because I love Kate's work and I wanted to read more).

Damn. I think that intro's longer than my review's going to be. Let's get to it then.

Karen Caughee's life is a mess. As a dedicated member of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, she dreams of being the next Concertmistress and taking her passion for music to the next level. But with an alcoholic mother to take care of, a boyfriend she's drifting apart from, and stiff competition from her frenemy in the violin section, she ends up succumbing to the whirlwind of pressures and botching her audition. Just when it seems things can't get any worse, she's in a car accident that causes a devastating injury - one that keeps her from playing her violin.

She finds solace in the man who pulled her from the wreck, an American named Greg whom she'd met earlier that evening by chance. Greg gives her the support she sorely needs, but she only sees him when he's in town for a business trip. And though she's fallen hard for him, she starts to realize that he's not who she thinks he is... and he's put her in a terrible position.

I love that Kate used this novella, a companion piece to Thought I Knew You, to explore Karen's untold story. Karen's only seen briefly in TIKY as the infamous Other Woman. TIKY is about Claire Barnes coming to grips with her husband's disappearance and struggling with his betrayal, and Karen's more of a symbol than a person. While You Were Gone takes what TIKY set up and flips the infidelity tale on its head. Karen becomes a fully realized character, and I love seeing the story from the other side.

WYWG is really, in many ways, a character study. It delves deep into Karen's struggles and passions, letting her tell her side of the story in her own voice. I love that it shows that the Other Woman is a person too. Kate has a real talent for breathing life into her characters and making them feel real. The conversational voice and the complex emotions, the romance and the betrayal... I enjoyed every moment in this novella. Especially the scene in which Claire confronts Karen... same dialogue as in TIKY, but told from Karen's perspective.

We live in a world that loves to make quick, snap judgments of people and is always in a rush to put them into little boxes with labels on them. Readers of TIKY (including myself!) did just that to Karen, the Other Woman in an extramarital affair. By giving Karen a voice, Kate shows us how every story has multiple sides, and even unlikable figures are also human beings. And sometimes, they aren't what you think.


Despite Karen Caughee’s intense focus on her music, her life is drifting out of its lane. Her alcoholic mother keeps calling from bars for early-morning rides, her boyfriend doesn’t think she gets him, and that Toronto Symphony Orchestra position she applied for ends up going to her friend, Amy. By chance, she meets American Greg Randolf just before she’s in a car accident. He pulls her from the wreckage, but after major surgery, her recovery is slow. Without her music, her life’s pursuit, Karen is pushed further adrift.

Greg stays by her side while she heals, and he sees her every time he’s in Toronto for work. Without any other support or friendship in her life, Karen craves his enthusiastic attention, and their friendship deepens to love. Though she’s fallen hard for him, he doesn’t share everything with her. In one heartrending moment, Karen’s life comes to a crossroads, and she must face the full truth about who Greg is, and about who she has become.

Kate Moretti lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and a dog. She’s worked in the pharmaceutical industry for ten years as a scientist, and has been an avid fiction reader her entire life.

She enjoys traveling and cooking, although with two kids, a day job, and writing, she doesn’t get to do those things as much as she’d like.

Her lifelong dream is to buy an old house with a secret passageway.

Visit Kate:

Goodreads page:
Twitter: @KateMoretti1

Red Adept Publishing Page: 


In which I pester Kate Moretti, New York Times-bestselling author of Thought I Knew You, Binds That Tie, and While You Were Gone, with nosy questions about her writing career.

Hi Kate! Welcome back to Zigzag Timeline. Since the last time you were here (in June 2014), you’ve taken the leap from small press author to Big 5 author. What’s that been like?

Well so far, it’s not that different than small press J. I’m still writing, revising, editing, repeat, repeat, repeat. I think things will pick up next summer, with the release of THE VANISHING YEAR in September 2016, but I have no idea what to expect. I’m nervous and excited, though! I can’t wait to see what happens.

Your latest book, While You Were Gone, is a companion novella to your first book, New York Times bestseller Thought I Knew You. What inspired you to write WYWG and tell part of TIKY’s story from a different perspective?

I love the idea that there’s always two sides to any story. I’ll admit the idea to write it was a bit strategic, I wanted a novella out between my novels. But I really don’t know any writers who can write something from strategy alone. You still have to get into the plot and characters and feel the story. For me, it was a natural progression. Greg was never an evil person in my mind. He made morally suspect choices, but he had reasons. Karen was always kind of victim of circumstance. Once I thought of them like that it seemed so possible for them to get together. I wanted to know their details.

What was it like revisiting the character of Greg, who first made his appearance in TIKY and is depicted from an entirely different perspective in WYWG?

It was fun. I like Greg. I’m probably the only one? I just like that how a person is viewed has everything to do with perspective, right? To Karen, he was this laid back, kind of fun guy who saw her for who she felt she was, deep down. Something that most people never bothered to do. Then to Claire, he was stressed out and miserable. Some of that is projection, too. You see people based on what you need them to be in that moment. Then who is the real person? I think the answer is “all of them”.

I’m a total sucker for classical music, so I love that Karen’s a violinist! What inspired you to make her a member of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and what was it like writing about a musician?

Well you can only write so much if you only write “what you know”. I know nothing about classical music, symphonies, orchestras. Nothing. I played the piano for a lot of my life but I struggled so much with timing because I didn’t have a lot of patience. I would have been a terrible musician! In short, it was scary because I never knew if I was saying the right things, doing the right things. I worry about the things you can’t find on Google, the minor details. I have good beta readers!

You’re a member of Tall Poppy Writers, a group of women’s fiction authors. What’s your work with them been like?

I love the Tall Poppies. We write similar fiction, or at least share an audience. Collectively, we must have a hundred years of publishing experience. I can ask them any question I have and someone will know the answer. We read each other’s work, promote each other, support each other, and commiserate when required. I love having a small tribe. We’re meeting for a summit in New York City at the end of October. If I say summit, I can write it off. If I say pajama party with wine, I can’t.

Every writing journey has its ups and downs. What’s the most terrifying, awful, OMG-why-am-I-doing-this moment you’ve had to face as an author?

So, I can’t be sure, but I think my agent is kind of a renegade. Our first round of submissions was huge. Like 40 editors. I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s pretty unusual (most others I’ve heard are 10-20 subs at a time). I was at Walt Disney World with my family, the happiest place on earth and within that week, we got back about 30 rejections. I know rejections suck for everyone. But, I do think most people don’t get back 30 rejections in the span of four days. I just kept reading these rejection emails, one after the other, set to It’s a Small World. Just a little maddening.

Though you’re primarily a women’s fiction author, you stepped outside your comfort zone to write a YA sci-fi short for Brave New Girls (and it is amazeballs). What was it like shifting gears like that?

It was HARD. My story was by far the weakest story in the book. I couldn’t write aliens or futuristic or dystopia or whatever. I don’t even read that! I had to set it on earth, in the real world, today.  And it still took me forever. I just love the cause, I had to be part of it! I’m so lucky to be included. I love Meg, I love her character but sometimes I don’t think I did her justice.  

How is 2015 Kate—bestselling author of three books who’s signed with a power agent and has a contract with a Big Cat Publisher—different from 2011 Kate—aspiring author seeking advice on writer’s forums? If you could tell 2011 Kate one thing, what would it be?

This question is embarrassing, Mary. For God’s sake. I’m the same person. I might even tell 2011 Kate to enjoy all her ego and bluster because it’s the most confident she’ll ever feel. She was so stupid, she didn’t know enough to doubt every sentence.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer aiming to be a bestseller like you someday?

Just keep writing and if someone tells you you can’t do something, find another way to do it. There are a million ways to keep going in this industry. Keep an open mind and do your homework, research, and make the best decisions you can. And keep writing.

What’s next for you? Can you tell us a bit about the book you have coming out next year?

The Vanishing Year (Atria Books, Sep 2016) is about a woman who runs from her past. She seeks out her birth mother only to discover that someone will stop at nothing to keep them apart. It’s a redemption story, really. I can’t wait to see the final book!

Kate Moretti lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and a dog. She’s worked in the pharmaceutical industry for ten years as a scientist, and has been an avid fiction reader her entire life.

She enjoys traveling and cooking, although with two kids, a day job, and writing, she doesn’t get to do those things as much as she’d like.

Her lifelong dream is to buy an old house with a secret passageway.

Visit Kate:

Goodreads page:
Twitter: @KateMoretti1

Red Adept Publishing Page: